Saturday, May 21, 2005

Luther and the New Testament

From Protestant apologist, James Swan (TertiumQuid at Catholic Answers Forum ( ):

I pointed out that Steve Ray made a comment about Melanchthon stopping Luther from removing books from the Bible, and how Ray provided no documentation for this. ... here we find Henry G. Graham making a similar undocumented assertion:

"Even in regard to the New Testament it required all the powers of resistance on the part of the more conservative Reformers to prevent Luther from flinging out the Epistle of St. James as unworthy to remain within the volume of Holy Scripture – ‘an Epistle of straw’ he called it, ‘with no character of the Gospel in it’. In the same way, and almost to the same degree, he dishonored the Epistle of St. Jude and the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the beautiful Apocalypse of St. John, declaring they were not on the same footing as the rest of the books, and did not contain the same amount of Gospel (i.e., his Gospel)." ...

Ray infers that Luther wanted to create his own canon, while most scholars recognize Luther holds to a “canon within a canon” [see Roland Bainton, Studies on the Reformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963) 5]. Paul Althaus explains that Luther “allows the canon to stand as it was established by the ancient church. But he makes distinctions within the canon” [See Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 83].

The fathers of Lutheranism, for centuries, understood Luther's view of the canon much the same way as Steve Ray and Henry G. Graham. I think the reason the Graham and Ray may not have included documentation of their claim, is that it is a well-established fact taught within Lutheranism. Why document the obvious? Yet, it appears from the sources you cite, revisionism has made such facts less obvious to all. But for sake of documentation, consider the following from Lutheran theologian, Francis Pieper ...

Francis Piper (1950) , a Lutheran theologian, wrote of Luther's view of the antilegomena:

"he will not class them with the 'right certain chief books of the New Testament.'" (Pieper, Francis, "The Witness of History for Scripture (Homologoumena and Antilegomena)," Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950], pp. 330-38,)
Lutheran's admit that this means that Luther personally did not consider such books (eg. Hebrews, Revelation, James, Jude) as canonical, and that every person can come to their own judgment on the matter. This remained Lutheran teaching for centuries. In fact, several years ago in a discussion with a Protestant, I quoted from the Epistle of James. He told me that he rejected that epistle as not in his Bible. Where'd he get that idea?

Francis Pieper continues to explain:
the fathers of the Missouri Synod recognized the distinction between the homologoumena and the antilegomena. They did, however, leave it to the individual to form his own views regarding any of the antilegomena, for they were divided in their opinion regarding, e.g., the Apocalypse. In the second volume of Lehre und Wehre (1856, p. 204 ff.) the question regarding the homologoumena and the antilegomena is thoroughly ventilated in the article entitled: “Is He Who does Not Receive or Regard as Canonical All Books Contained in the Collection of the New Testament to be Declared a Heretic or Dangerous False Teacher?” Walther writes:

"What induces us to discuss this question is the fact that Pastor Roebbelen in connection with the glosses on the Revelation of St. John published in the Lutheraner also stated that with Luther he does not regard the Apocalypse as canonical. "
So it seems that per Lutheranism, one can simply pick and choose what chapters and verses of Sacred Scripture they consider canonical, and which parts are not Divinely inspired and so not worthy of our belief.

Pastor Roebbelen was a Lutheran minister in the 19th century, who rejected the Apocalypse as canonical, citing Luther as his authority. The Lutheran Pieper continues to cite from the Lutheran theologian, Walther:
we believe that it is not stamp an otherwise unimpeachable theologian as a dangerous false teacher, who renders the very Word of God suspect ... This would be thoroughly un-Lutheran. For our dear fathers in the faith, with hardly an exception till after the time of the Formula of Concord, regarded and declared all or at least some of the antilegomena as not belonging to the canon (ibid)
Quoting from the Lutheran theologian, Chemnitz, Pieper wrote:

"This entire dispute, then, resolves itself into the question whether it is certain and indubitable that these books are the divinely inspired Scriptures. The entire antiquity responds that this is not certain, but has been doubtful because of the contradiction of so many." (ibid)
It is certain to Catholics. Nevertheless, when Catholic writers say that Luther did not include these books within his personal canon, they do so based upon the centuries of assertions by Lutheran theologians.

God bless,



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