Posted Mar 31, 2017 by Michael L. Brown

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, focus will return to the leader of that movement, Martin Luther. What kind of man was he, really? More specifically, what kind of Christian was he?

At a recent conference of R. C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries, panelists Stephen Nichols and W. Robert Godfrey discussed “whether Martin Luther was guilty of anti-Semitism,” and there is good reason to raise this question.

As Nichols rightly points out, in 1523, Luther reached out with kindness and humility to the Jewish people, denouncing how the Church had treated them up to now with the hope that many would become Christians. Twenty years later, when that did not happen, and when Luther, now old and sick, had been exposed to some blasphemous, anti-Jesus writings penned by Jews in past generations, he wrote his infamous document Concerning the Jews and Their Lies.

In this mini-book, he told the German princes how to deal with “this damned, rejected race of Jews.”

First, their synagogues  should  be set on fire...Secondly, their  homes should  likewise be broken  down and destroyed....Thirdly, they  should  be deprived  of their prayer-books and Talmuds...Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more...Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely for­ bidden to the Jews....Sixthly, they ought to be stopped from usury  [charging interest  on loans]....Seventhly, let  the young and strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses...We ought to drive the rascally lazy bones out of our system....Therefore away with them....

To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden-the Jews.

Yes, all this came from the pen of Martin Luther. (Brace yourself. There’s more to come.)

Of this despicable document Nichols said that “Luther unleashes his rhetoric against the Jews and is very forceful in his rhetoric.” Very forceful? I’d call that a gross understatement.

Nichols continues:

Now we need to say that he was an equal opportunity offender. It wasn’t just—that rhetoric was not just reserved—for the Jews, he used the same rhetoric for the Papists, for the Anabaptists, for the nominal Christians, that he used for the Jews. But he was wrong. He spoke harshly, and I think he abused his influence that he had in speaking harshly. And so, we need to say that Luther was wrong in that. But this isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism, that’s really a 20th-century phenomenon.

Once again, I must take exception to these words, which minimize the horror of what Luther wrote.

Tragically, Adolph Hitler thought that Luther was a genius who figured out how dangerous the Jewish people were. And the date that many historians mark as the beginning of the Holocaust, Nov. 9, 1938, was the day that Hitler put Luther’s advice into practice, setting on fire and vandalizing Jewish synagogues, shops, and homes.

In that light, I cannot agree with Nichols in saying, “I think he abused his influence that he had in speaking harshly.” That, again, is a gross understatement, regardless of how ugly Luther’s rhetoric was towards other groups and regardless of how coarse the rhetoric of the day might have been. For a Christian leader, such writings must be renounced in the strongest possible terms, even with tears and wails.

Robert Godfrey, the other Ligonier panelist, commented:

Just to add one more thing . . . the one little that should be added is Luther, all his life, longed that Jews should be converted and join the church. Hitler never wanted Jews to join the Nazi party. That’s the difference between anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. Luther wasn’t opposed to the Jews because of their blood. He was opposed to the Jews because of their religion. And he wanted them to join the Christian church. If you’re really anti-Semitic, you’re against Jews because of their blood and there’s nothing Jews can do about that. There’s not change they can make to make a difference. You’re absolutely right, Luther’s language should not be defended by us because it’s violent against the Jews. It was not against an ethnic people, as you said, but against a religion that he reacted so sharply.

Is Godfrey right? Yes and no. On the one hand, the real issue was the Jewish religion (specifically, from Luther’s point of view, Jewish unbelief in Jesus) as opposed to being Jewish in and of itself. On the other hand, there was a fine line between the two, as historian Eric W. Gritsch pointed out in his book, Martin Luther’s Antisemitism: Against His Better Judgment.

He writes,

There is even a hint of racism in Luther when he commented on the unsubstantiated rumor that Jews killed Christian children. This crime "still shines forth from their eyes and their skin. We are at fault in not slaying them [the Jews]." Such a declaration cannot be limited to a specific historical context. It is timeless and means "death to the Jews," whether it is uttered by Luther or Adolf Hitler. Moreover, Luther himself was willing to kill "a blaspheming Jew": "I would slap his face and, if I could, fling him to the ground and, in my anger, pierce him with my sword.”

So wrote Martin Luther. And I find little comfort in the fact that he wrote about others, like the peasants, in similarly dreadful terms: “On the obstinate, hardened, blinded peasants, let no one have mercy, but let everyone, as he is able, hew, stab, slay, lay about him as though among mad dogs, . . . . so that peace and safety may be maintained... etc.”

Returning to Luther and the Jews, quotes like this make it difficult to separate his theological Jew-hatred from his ethnic Jew-hatred:

A Jew or a Jewish heart is as hard as stone and iron and cannot be moved by any means. . . . In sum, they are the devil’s children damned to hell . . . . We cannot even convert the majority of Christians and have to be satisfied with a small number; it is therefore even less possible to convert these children of the devil! Although there are many who derive the crazy notion from the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans that all Jews must be converted, this is not so. St. Paul meant something quite different.

As a non-Catholic, Jewish believer in Jesus, I am indebted to Luther’s positive contributions and recognize the hellacious battle he fought with corrupt traditions. But I appeal to followers and admirers of Luther today: Please do not minimize the horror of what he wrote (against the Jews and others). Please don’t downplay all this as an example of Luther having “feet of clay” (in the words of Nichols).

There is a lot of blood on those clay feet – including Jewish blood.

Let’s own it with sadness and grief. To do otherwise is to be less than honest with the memory of Martin Luther.

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sarmint posted a comment · May 30, 2017
I found it at: https://web.archive.org/web/20140803220115/http://tquid.sharpens.org/luther_Jews.htm
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sarmint posted a comment · May 30, 2017
I found Luthers last statement: "Now I am going home, and perhaps I will never preach to you again, and I have blessed you and prayed you to stay always close to God's Word ... I see the Jews are still among you. Now we have to deal with them in a Christian manner and try to bring them to the Christian faith that they may receive the true Messiah who is their flesh and blood and of the seed of Abraham—though I am afraid Jewish blood has got watery and wild these days. Yet they must be invited to turn to the Messiah and be baptized in him ... If not then we must not suffer them to remain for they daily abuse and blaspheme Christ. I must not, you must not be a partaker of the sins of others. God knows I have enough to do with sins of my own, but if they will give up usury and receive Christ we will willingly receive them as our brethren . . . but if they call Mary a whore and Jesus her bastard still we must exercise Christian love towards them that they may be converted and receive our Lord . . . this I tell you as your Landeskind not to be partakers of the sins of others. If they turn from their blasphemies we must gladly forgive them, but if not we must not suffer them to remain! I'm not a nativ english speaker, what does suffer them to remain mean? Kill them? Anyway: I'm very interested in Luther. Since I'm from Norway and we have strong Protestant roots. Almost no other Christian large majority. Nobody dares to speak about it. So I'm glad that you as a Jew actually at least dares mentioning him. God bless.
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mcmolson posted a comment · Apr 18, 2017
I just want to say thank you. Your response to this question "fits" me. I am very proud to be a Lutheran -- a protest-ant :) -- and of my Lutheran heritage. But sometimes I have joyously posted Luther quotes on FB and have been gently reminded by my Jewish friends that not all of Luther's quotes are quite so brilliant. So I've done a little research occasionally and been unsatisfied with responses to this question that make excuses for Luther's abhorrent writings. Two phrases come to mind: 'It is what is' and 'Nobody's perfect'. Luther taught that we are all Saints AND sinners. Even Martin Luther.
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Wafaring Stranger posted a comment · Apr 05, 2017
“NEED i SAY MORE ???” Yes, could you please tell me who made you Luther’s judge, jury and executioner? If you are drawing your conclusions based solely on this article, you should really do more study into the life of Martin Luther. Shortly before his death he stated in one of his last sermons regarding the Jews "We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord." Since your post makes several references to I John, I will close with one from I John 1:9 “ If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.
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caucazhin posted a comment · Apr 03, 2017
as a gentile believer i say u are right on the money MB ! ! ! Luther was a vulgar " worker of iniquity " as far as this is concerned ..... 1 JOHN 3 15 Everyone who hates his brother ((( is a murderer ))) and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. LUKE 6 28 " Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. ' MATTHEW 5 44 " But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," 1 JOHN 4 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, ((( he is a liar ))) for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 JOHN 2 9 If anyone claims to be in the light but hates his brother, he is still in the darkness. 1 JOHN 1 6 If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. NEED i SAY MORE ??? Although i would also say that the Jews no doubt have their sins and there are many stereotypical criticisms of Jews that i believe are correct both then & now, hating anothers sin and hating them are 2 different things completely ! ! ! so ....." Let he who is without throw the first stone " I do think the Jewish people should be more self reflective and honest with themselves about there own sinfulness. Anyone can only be as honest as his own honest self criticism. im for one am a half English & American and although the British empire has done some good concerning spreading the gospel in the distant past and toward Israel with the Balfour Declaration and such theyve also done much harm across the globe throughout the centuries with their attitude of superiority MANiFEST DESTiNY, slavery & their wars of lust for power & control of the globe as did the Spanish, French and now America to a certain degree. The British ultimately betrayed the Jews & the Arabs @ the end of WW1 & WW2 for Arab oil the new black gold. Many many lies were told to both and much of what they did was ultimately for there own " EARTHLY " power this is all documented very well in the 2 videos below and elsewhere. THE CYRUS CALL https://vimeo.com/ondemand/cyruscall https://www.visionvideo.com/dvd/501269D/cyrus-call THE FORSAKEN PROMiSE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNXKc5jgYyY https://cmewonline.com/2013/11/09/calling-britain-to-her-knees/ https://www.visionvideo.com/dvd/98324D/cyrus-callforsaken-promisejerusalem-covenant-city-set-of-three https://www.amazon.com/Forsaken-Promise-Narrated-Ian-Cullen/dp/B000OQDRJG
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Aleithia1 posted a comment · Apr 02, 2017
While Luther's comments are quite disturbing I think it is clear that he had severe angst for all those he believed to be a disruptive element in the Christian, that is from a far more biblical perspective than that which existed prior to the explosion of the Protestant reformation as we know it. Luther saw himself not only as a reformer for the truth as it effected sinners individually but for society as a whole. In other words the idea was to bring about an entire change morally, socially and politically by the power of the gospel and retain a kind of Christian nationalism. All dissenters were enemies of the Christian state or Christendom. Any perceived disunity would bring the wrath of the civil authorities upon those who would not conform and even worse for those who openly repudiated Reformed doctrine such as the infamous Anabaptist's. The great error of the Reformers is their view that the Church and society are one in the same way ancient Israel was a covenant society under that dispensation. In fact Anabaptist's suffered far worse during and after the reformation than Jews ever did. So to make Jews the great objects of sympathy during the period even in Luther's Germany is an historical miscalculation. From the time that the rule and reign of Popery came into its greatest role of political dominance until the time of the reformation Christians suffered the worst tragedies and cruelties than any other people. And if you add the English church under Henry Christians who sought to obey the gospel as they knew it were the objects of persecution by the state church. But here is the problem, a state church! Whether Jew or a declared Christian heretic this is where the scandal lies. In not recognizing that the old covenant and the new are quite distinct in that the old was a national covenant of a particular people with national laws and rituals that everyone was expected to obey whether one truly loved the Lord or not. Whereas the new is a covenant that insists on a clear demonstration of a new regenerate heart. Generally speaking most Jews were not like David. Under the new we are all supposed to be like David. That is men and women after God's own heart. We have to understand Luther and the other reformers in their social and doctrinal context. They were men of their times although this does not excuse them, and Luther in particular. We must not also forget that Jews have persecuted their brethren who have embraced Jesus as Messiah and even those from among the nations who came to evangelize them with a loving heart. What we read in the new testament writings about their hatred of this Messiah whom we preach and those who follow him still holds true today as it did throughout Jewish history after the advent of Messiah. To what extent and degree only the Lord knows. So we can say that Jews who obstinately refuse their messiah even after they meet or hear the powerful arguments from a Michael Brown are anti-christ just as easily as we can say that gentiles have been antisemitic. It cuts both ways and we must remember that. Jews who perish without Jesus are as lost as any gentile who dies in their sin. And their torment will be great even as the scriptures declare.
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Wafaring Stranger posted a comment · Apr 02, 2017
Dr. Brown, why are you so obsessed with Anti-Semitism and the LGBTQ community? As a new viewer to your website, I have noticed that these two subjects consume a great deal of your time. With regard to your article about Martin Luther, you asked, “what kind of Christian was he?” and I was wondering what makes you think that you or any man or woman is qualified to answer such a question. Rather than spending so much time pointing out people’s prejudices and fleshly sins, would it not be more productive to spend time teaching them the WORD and leave the judging to the LORD?
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gkteruel posted a comment · Apr 01, 2017
I really believe that when we attempt to determine what the intentions of people where when they did what they did or said what they said, is a fools errand. I think that we should look at the behavior and whether it is in keeping with God's demands for us or not. If we do so, we will realize that what Luther said and did concerning the Jews were not in keeping with those demands and need to be called for what they were: abhorrent words and behaviors that should serve as an example of what not to do! Even so, God used this very flawed man to bring about the reformation of His church. We should be grateful to Luther for the latter without decrying the former in the strongest of terms!
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Dan Falcone posted a comment · Mar 31, 2017
Scholars today generally are in agreement that Luther suffered' from Asperger's syndrome. This is manifested with the capacity for prodigious output of writings and a abnormal ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time, coupled with a volatile temper when disagreed with. Asperger's also gives the individual a abnormal assessment of one's intellectual acumen, demonstrated by almost an (dare I say infallible) absolute intellectual certitude. Luther not only 'knew' he was the smartest guy in the room, but the smartest guy in Europe, just ask Erasmus. Be that as it may, Luther's christian love for the non-christian Jew or gentile could easily spill in to diabolical rhetorical hatred. (Asperger's ? or pride?) There is a very thin line between love and hate. Dr. Brown is an ethnic Jew, this prevents him from ever looking at men through the lens of a gentile. Speaking as an ethnic Jew Dr. Brown is right ~ Luther's 'hatred' for the Jewish community was not about ethnic 'tribe' but the blatant intellectual and ideological rejection of a theology of Jewish persecutors. The Jews were rationally correct for rejecting the book of their persecutors but theologically mistaken.