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Luther Read All Scripture Through Paul's Doctrine

Luther: 'Any OT Book At Odds With Paul Is Uninspired'

Luther's faith was as much in Paul as in Jesus: "I believe in Christ and Paul His Apostle more than in all Councils." (James McKinnon, Luther and the Reformation (N.Y.: Russell & Russell 1962) Vol. III at 49.)

As a result, the young Luther was so convinced by Paul that Luther read all of the Bible -- including Moses and Prophets -- through Paul's doctrine of Grace. Luther removed in his mind as straw anything that endorsed works in the OT as inauthentic. Even if it came from Moses or the Prophets, it was supposedly not inspired!

In Karl Rudolf Hagenbach, A history of Christian doctrines (T. & T. Clark, 1881) Volume 3 at 57, we read:

[In] the Preface to W. Linkens, Annotatt. über die fünf Bücher Moses, [Luther writes that Moses and the prophets oftened erred like James by building on straw of works]: "And without doubt the prophets studied Moses, and the later prophets studied the earlier ones, and wrote down in a book their good thoughts, inspired by the Holy Ghost. And though these good and true teachers and searchers sometimes fell upon hay, straw, and wood, and did not build of pure silver, gold, and precious stones alone, yet the foundation remain; the rest will be burnt up by the fire of the great day, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. iii. 13). "In another place he says (Walch, vii. s. 2044): 'Moses and the prophets preached, but in them we do not hear God Himself; for Moses received the law from the angels, and so had a less high order. When now I hear Moses enjoining good works, I hear him as I do one who executes the orders of an emperor or prince. But this is not to hear God Himself. For when God Himself talks with men, they cannot hear anything but pure grace, pity, and all that is good.'"

Luther's Paul-Onlyism Destroys The Bible

This doctrine of Luther destroys the entire foundation of the Bible: it now all rests upon Paul as the final and only thorough revelation supposedly from Jesus. Gasparin in 1854 was talking about those who repeated Luther's views, and that it undermined the foundations of the Holy Scripture. Gasparin wrote in The Concessions of Apostle Paul that the church now accepts the Bible is progressive in revelation that was all built on lies and fables of the past until one like Paul would straighten it all out. Gasparin wrote:

"But some still go further ...they have substituted the idea of successive accomodations for that of revelation.... In proportion as a new lie gained a footing among the chosen people, God allowed the publication of a prophetic book, or of one that pretended to be so, which took advantage of this lie, adopted it, and made it a provisional means of religious education! Thus the Jewish people were led on toward evangelical truth by one fable after another; just as the pagans were prepared for its reception by their idolatry!" Id. at pages 62-63. 

So Gasparin was saying this kind of view undermines that anything is truthful in the Bible - particularly one who now declares God has been tolerating error in the Bible prior to the coming of the 'gospel.' And with Luther, this view meant anything prior to Paul's Gospel that was not consistent was a fable or mistake or lie that God allowed to eventually show the truth through Paul.

Luther: 'Any NT Writing At Odds With Paul Is Inferior to Paul Even if From Jesus'

In Luther's Preface to the New Testament of 1522, Luther placed Paul above the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. He also placed John's Gospel above the same three gospels because of how he translated pisteusin to mean believe rather than obeying which we now know was its true meaning in these Johanine passages:

'From all this you can rightly judge among all books, and make distinction as to which are the best. For John's Gospel and St. Paul's Epistles, especially that to the Romans,' and St. Peter's First Epistle, are the true kernel and marrow among all the books. These should be fairly the first, and it would be advisable for every Christian to read them first and most of all, and through daily reading to make them as common as the daily bread. in these you do not find much description of the works or miracles of Christ. But you do find developed, in a masterly fashion, how faith in Christ overcomes sin, death, and hell, and gives righteousness and blessedness, and this is the true nature of the gospel. . . . For if one were to be deprived of either the works or the preaching of Christ, I would prefer to forego the works rather than the preaching, for the works do not help me. But his words, they help me as he says, John v. 51. [Note the subordination of the historical interest in Christ's life to the religious interest in his doctrine.] Because, now, John writes little of the works of Christ but much of his preaching, whereas the other three Gospels write much of his works buts little of his words [Note: this is absurd, as the synoptics contain all the parables, while none appear in John], therefore John's Gospel is the one dear, true, chief gospel, and to be much preferred to the other three, and to be exalted above them. And also the Epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter are far in advance of the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In fine, St. John's Gospel and First Epistle, St. Paul's Epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter's First Epistle,—these are the books which show Christ to you, and teach everything which it is necessary for you to know, even though you never saw or heard any other books. ("Luther's Criticism of Scripture," The Bibliotheca sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary: 1906) Volume 63  at 18, citing Luther Preface to the New Testament from E.A. lxii, 137.)

Therefore St. James' Epistle is really an epistle of straw. For it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it. (Law, Epistle of James (1980) at 1.)

Luther's Change of Heart

However, by 1545 Luther had a change of heart on his doctrine of faith-alone previously formed in reliance on Paul. It thus should come as no surprise that this paragraph quoted above was deleted in 1545 -- a year before Luther's death. Luther evidently no longer wanted to be remembered teaching the superiority of Paul over the synoptic gospels, and over all Christ's parables and greatest sermons. ("Luther's Criticism of Scripture," id., at 20)("the paragraph was suppressed in the last edition of his Prefaces to the New Testament in 1545.") "It was Luther himself who edited these comments out." (James Swan, "Six Points on Luther's Epistle of Straw," Aomin.org (2007).)

Luther Once Called Teaching Jesus' Repentance Gospel Deceitful

But before that transformation by Luther in 1545, one must realize how strenuously Luther in 1520 condemned the Gospel Jesus taught as deceitfully deficient if we did not add Paul's corrective about faith freeing us from the necessity of obedience / works:

If the influence of custom is added and confirms this perverseness of nature [that works can bring salvation], as wicked teachers have caused it to do, it becomes an incurable evil and leads astray and destroys countless men beyond hope of restoration. Therefore, although it is good to preach and teach about penitence, confession and satisfaction, our teaching is unquestionably deceitful and diabolical if we stop at that and do not go on to teach about faith.

(Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520) excerpted in Luther's Works 327 (Harold J. Grimm, editor), at 363 quoted by Feldman at 311 fn 33.)

Thus, here Luther said if one preached what Jesus preached, "repent or perish," or "heaven maimed or hell whole" (Matt 18 / Mark 9), or those who call him "Lord Lord" but "do not do the will of God in heaven" are excluded from heaven (Matt 7), and the one preaching does not include Paul's Gospel -- the gospel which teaches those who believe Jesus was Lord and rose from the dead (Romans 10:9) no longer have to obey the Law and are "free" in Christ, are "deceitful" and "diabolical." Thus, if Luther was wrong, as he later realized he was, wasn't it deceitful and diabolical to teach 'faith alone' any longer by his own standards? Wasn't any doctrine that misleads any of us away from Jesus' Way of Salvation, by Luther's criteria, a deceitful and diabolical doctrine? Food for thought on how God may view garbling the gospel delivered by Jesus Himself.