Did Luther in 1537 Condemn Paul As A False Prophet?
Elsewhere, we document from late 1531 onward, Luther changed his views about salvation by faith alone for one who already accepted Christ. Luther through his representatives in several church conferences said a second or "double justification" was now necessary based upon good works. See link. Only unbelievers were initially saved by faith alone, but a Christian needed a secondary justification. Id.
Also, we explained elsewhere that Luther originally in reliance upon Paul condemned any relevance of the Law given Moses. (See link.) Luther even proclaimed Paul abolished Sabbath forever. (See link.)
However, beginning in 1537, it finally dawned on Luther that anyone who abolished the Law was, by the Bible's clear words, a false prophet. See Deut 13:1-5.
Without ever repeating his earlier views on Paul's doctrines on salvation or the Law, Luther changed course on the Law. In the following quote from Luther's Antinomian Theses (1537) - recently reprinted as Don't Tell Me That from Martin Luther's Antinomian Theses (Lutheran Press 2004), Luther implicitly condemns Paul -- that is if you compare the early Luther with the later Luther. In fact, Luther's words have Paul seemingly very much in view:
"Where there is neither divine or human government, there is neither God nor man. The same is also true: Where there is neither God nor man, there is nothing, except the devil.
Therefore it must be that those who would rid the Church of the Law are either devils themselves, or siblings of the devil. It doesn't matter that they preach and teach a great deal about God, about Christ, about grace and the Law.
...The confession of those who would rid the Church of the Law is just like when the devil cries out to Christ 'You are the son of the living God.' (Luke 4:34: 8:28) [i.e., profess Christ with the mouth but do not obey God's Law.] It is also like the oath of every false prophet "As the Lord lives!" [what I say is true even though contrary to the Law] as Isaiah [8:20] and Jeremiah show. ***
What those who would eliminate the Law from the church say about God, about Christ, about faith, the Law, grace, and other things is much the same thing as a parrot who says 'Hello,' that is, it is said without understanding. It is simply impossible that one can learn good theology or right living from such persons.
Therefore one should run away from their teaching as the most harmful teaching of libertines, who give permission to all kinds of infamous deeds." (Don't Tell Me That, supra, at 67-69.)
I cannot help but note these words are after Luther's own doctrines now avoided any mention of Paul's anti-law comments where once he used to cite him incessantly, e.g., on the Law, on salvation without works, etc. Luther does not offer any explanation of Paul's contrary words to reconcile them somehow to this new view by Luther. He drops out any focus on Paul's difficult and contrary passages. Paul becomes invisible. In that same setting, Luther tells us to run away from any preacher, even if he preaches a great deal about God, Christ, grace, etc., if he says the Law is abrogated. Who more than anyone but Paul could Luther have had in mind as he wrote those words?
In Defiance of Christ & The Mature Luther's Warning, We Hear "Flee Moses" Is The Duty of A Christian!
But in obvious reliance upon Paul's anti-Law views, sincere zealous men like Paul Washer actually teach "flee Moses" and "turn to Christ" for salvation (as if they are contrary to one another). Washer insists in a high pitch shouting sermon that we must stop trying to "earn" our salvation by obedience / good deeds. (The latter is a common disparaging reference to Jesus' simple and blatant call to repentance and obedience for salvation.) See "What is Salvation in 2 Minutes" by Paul Washer (Aug. 2009).
What was Washer's Bible verse in support? None. He only quotes a song verse: "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling."
However, Jesus did not talk this way to the Young Rich Man. And Jesus did one better than Washer. Jesus gave a 30 second sermon on how to enter eternal life. It simply was: "obey the commandments," and then Jesus recites several of the 10 Commandments. See "Jesus Teaching to the Young Rich Man" and chapter 8 in PDF of Jesus' Words on Salvation - Jesus' Answer to the Direct Question on How to Obtain Eternal Life.
So we see that Luther by today has failed to influence a large segment of Christianity to adopt Luther's more mature lessons. Almost all evangelicals now treat as normative teachings what Luther says comes from some unidentified false prophets among us -- whether they preach alot about "Christ" or "about grace." Luther's words, not mine! And we can readily recognize that Luther meant Paul.
Now we need a generation that can bravely call out the name of Paul as a false prophet. A sincere dupe yet a false prophet nevertheless. Luther hesitated doing so for obvious social and political consequences created by his own previous success. But if a mature Luther could see his error, there is hope that when young church figures like Paul Washer are pressed by the laity to study the Problem of Paul, they will come to the same answers that the mature Luther found. Let's pray for that day to come, which I sense is fast approaching.
Study Notes & Email Critiques
Modern Publication of 'Antinomian Theses'
In 2008, Lutheran Press published Solus Decalogus est Aeternus: Martin Luther's Complete Antinomian Theses & Disputations (2008) Edited by Holger Sonntag 416 pages; Latin/English, available for $15.50 at Lutheran Press. This is advertised as the Antinomian Theses "for the very first time in English...." although the Lutheran Press published Don't Tell Me That in 2004 as an English translation of the same.
A book review of Don't Tell Me That--Martin Luther's Antinomian Theses from the Lutheran Concordia journal is at this link. This explains the context of Antinomian Theses was Luther's effort to reply to Agricola's position. Agricola was the first to propose dispensationalism -- that Jesus' words on the Law did not apply to us, but a prior dispensation. Hence, for Agricola, there was no duty to repent for violating the Law given Moses as the commands of Jesus that upheld the Law were now to be seen as no longer applying to us. The Concordia article in 2010 explains the context:
Toward the end of his life, Luther had to deal with a controversy that went to the heart of this distinction, known as the Antinomian controversy. Over several years, his friend and colleague, John Agricola, distorted the proper distinction, particularly in the area of repentance. During the final years of the 1530s, Luther wrote six sets of theses for public disputations addressing the distortions present in Agricola’s position.
Agricola’s antinomianism, an ever-present human attitude, provides a beneficial foil for contemporary discussions of the proper employment of Law and Gospel in the Christian life. Paul Strawn introduces his project by suggesting that “there is a general uprising in the Church nowadays against any preaching, teaching, ministering and music which would involve the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, convicting hearts of sin . . . ” (9). However, he adds that there is also a true joy that comes when God’s Word is properly used: “It is the joy that can only follow the confession of sin and the conviction, by means of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, that sin has been forgiven because of the atonement of Christ on the cross for that sin” (11).
Also the Concordia gives us references to further research on the topic:
Timothy Wengert’s Law and Gospel:Philip Melanchthon’s Debate with John Agricola of Eisleben over poenitentia (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997) is also very helpful in providing a broader historical setting for these theses. Basic background to the controversy is available in volume 4 of James Mackinnon’s Luther and the Reformation (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962, pages 161–179).
Luther's Early View More Harmful To Seek To Obey Than Avoid Sin
Luther in this period taught that any effort to do "good works" to satisfy God's requirement for justification (such as the repentance -- not faith -- that Jesus taught in the Parable of the Publican had "justified" the publican) is a "perverse Leviathan," and such works then become not "good," but "truly damnable works." (Martin Luther, Selections from His Writings (Knopf Doubleday 2011) at 71-72.) The full quote is:
(71) From this it is easy to know how far good works are to be rejected or not, and by what standard all the teachings of men concerning works are to be interpreted. If works are sought after as a means of righteousness, are burdened with this perverse leviathan, and are done under the false impression that through them one is justified, they are made necessary and freedom and faith are destroyed;
(72) Makes them no longer good but truly damnable works. They are not free, and they blaspheme the grace of God since to justify and to save by faith belongs to the grace of God alone.... We do .. condemn them [i.e., good works] on the account of this godless addition to them and the perverse idea that righteousness is to be sought through them…"
Hence, Luther in his faith-alone period taught you are damned for doing good works to maintain a right to salvation. Luther's early view clearly implies that Jesus's teaching is somehow inapplicable where he tells us in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats that salvation for those who call Him Lord (faith) turns on good deeds of feeding and clothing the poor. Jesus calls them the "righteous." In the Parable, only those with these good works of charity go to heaven. Those who call Jesus Lord without such good works (i.e., faith alone) Jesus clearly says will be sent to a place "of weeping and gnashing" with Satan and his angels.
No wonder Luther changed later to write the Antinomian Theses as well as adopt in 1541 Bucer's and Melancthon's views on Double Justification. In that doctrine, faith alone initiates an initial justification, but good works are necessary for final justification and salvation.
Luther prior to the Antinomian Theses attacked the Ten Commandments. Luther believed that the Mosaic Law, and reading it in particular, was bad for us. First, he wrote: "We must remove the Decalogue [i.e., 10 commandments] out of sight and heart." (De Wett, 4, 188.)
Luther's doctrine on the deadliness of good works likely emanated from Luther's view that studying the Law would pervert your mind. As Paul stated in Romans 7, Paul would not have known to covet his neighbor's goods absent the Law's command. As a result, Luther early on believed teaching obedience by citing the Law would pervert your behavior, and make you sin more, as Paul said was the case. For further excellent discussion in a YouTube from LaVidaEterna on this issue, see beginning at the 2:11:06 mark of this video link.
Clearly, we see in Antinomian Theses a complete reversal in Luther's attitude toward obedience or any danger from reading the Law. He now preaches it is dangerous for anyone to say obedience is no longer required, or that ignoring the Law is better than reading it.
Melancthon, the right-hand-man to Luther, early on in Loci Communes, defended the notion that 'obeying is itself sin' principle, citing Paul: "Paul, in nearly all his letters, but especially in Romans and Galatians, does hardly anything but teach that all works and all efforts of human power are sins or vices [peccata or vitia]. You have Romans 3:9 where he says: 'All men...are under the power of sin." (See Melancthon and Bucer (ed. Wilhelm Pauck) (John Knox Press, 1969) at 37.)
Luther emphasized another time that as long as you had faith and charity, you had to follow no other laws:
…of no avail and must be done away with. Mark these words: All our works are worthless. I am your justification, says Christ our Lord…We don't care a straw for man-made laws…Where true Christian charity and faith prevails, everything that a man does is meritorious and each one may do as he pleases, provided always that he accounts his works as nothing…What matters it if we commit a fresh sin! So long as we do not despair but remember that Thou, O God, still lives! (Robert H. Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York 1957) at 652; Hartmann Grisar, Luther (ed Luigi Cappadelta) (6 vols.)(St. Louis 1913) Vol. II 63, 339, quote on page 63).
Incidentally, initially Luther's emphasis upon Paul led him to exhort sinning to show your confidence in Christ. Luther wrote in 1521:
Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides... No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day." ('Let Your Sins Be Strong, from 'The Wittenberg Project;' 'The Wartburg Segment', translated by Erika Flores, from Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften, Letter No. 99, 1 Aug. 1521)
Clearly again, this is quite unlike what Luther says in Antinomian Theses.
Email Critique from Scholar
Sonntag Email 4/25/2013
Under the title contained in the subject line of this email, you published a post offering a warm review of Don't Tell Me That!, a work closely related to one translated by myself, and published in 2008, Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus.
It escapes me why you can come to the conclusion, after reading the one or the other, that Luther would be one some anti-Paul trip here or anywhere else in his mature years. Nowhere in these works does Luther suggest that salvation is not by faith in Christ alone, but also by deeds of the law. Instead, he taught the solid agreement between Paul and Jesus on this and any other matter, as the same Spirit spoke through Jesus and through Paul.
You mention a "double justification." Luther indeed taught it, not just in his mature years, but from his earliest years as a Reformer. I refer you simply to his 1519 sermon on two kinds of righteousness and to his 1520 work on Christian freedom. You can find both in the American Edition of Luther's Works. The latter is also available from Lutheran Press in a free download version, also prepared by Paul Strawn, the man behind Don't Tell Me That. Luther's 1529 Large Catechism contains more of the same.
Yet regarding this "double justification" Luther makes this important distinction: the first justification is by faith, as you rightly point out. And it alone is for salvation, namely, by the imputation of Christ's righteousness to those who believe in the gospel alone. The second justification is a fruit of that first justification. While a necessary fruit of genuine faith, it is not for salvation, but for the incipient sanctification in love and good works of those already saved by faith in Christ alone.
When Luther here, in Don't Tell Me That! and elsewhere, rejects those who teach about Christ and grace and law in an antinomian manner, he means to reject those who say that the law, both as condemnation of sin and as exhortation to good works, is no longer to be taught to the Christian. He does not reject the proper teaching on Christ and grace, which he saw masterfully taught in Paul as well as by Christ in the gospels, according to which we are saved by Christ alone who acquired God's forgiving and saving grace, which the gospel announces as God's verdict of "not guilty" to sinners convicted by the law. Yet Christ, and this is what is denied by antinomians old and new, also earned the Holy Spirit as gift by which the believers are empowered to begin to live a life of holiness and renewal according to God's moral law, the Ten Commandments. This new life will be perfect first when the believers in Christ will be raised from the dead on the Last Day.
In fact, as you can read for yourself in Solus Decalogus, Luther himself explained his early exclusive focus on Christ and his grace as being caused by the utter legalism he found in the church he grew up in. Without ever recanting it, he recognized that this came to be misunderstood by some to mean that the Christian now had the license to do as he pleased. Given the unbridled life he witnessed among his contemporaries beginning in the late 1520s, he wrote his catechisms and then also had to engage the antinomians in the 1530s and 1540s. Yet this did not lead him to retract the gospel of free grace. It merely caused him to reemphasize the importance of teaching the law for believers, both to convict them of their sins but also to admonish them to do good.
So, there is a "double justification" taught by Luther, one "forensic" and one "effective." But this teaching did not lead him to come up with a synergistic way to salvation, as if we were saved by faith only in the beginning and by faith and / or good works later on. According to Luther, even the mature Luther of the 1530s and 1540s, we are saved by faith alone, not the works of the law, just as Luther had learned it so well from his favorite NT book, Paul's letter to the Galatians.
A good companion volume to Luther's antinomian theses and disputations is his 1539 treatise on the church. This too is contained in the American Edition referenced above. It has also been retranslated by myself and published again by Lutheran Press. You can download it here. There you will also read about Luther's condemnation of the antinomians as fine Easter preachers who spoke well about Christ's forgiveness of all sins, but who failed to be good Pentecost preachers, who speak about the Holy Spirit who sanctifies those who believe in Christ. Yet here too, Luther never recants Paul's gospel of free salvation in Christ alone by faith alone.
Rev. Dr. Holger Sonntag
My Reply of 4/25/2013
I appreciate very much your comments. I do have a question for you. Did Melancthon beginning in 1536 take double justification further than you suggest was Luther's view -- that Melancthon now taught good works were necessary for salvation? I wrote a detailed tracing of Melancthon with Major later taking Lutheranism into this path. Only after Melanchton's death did the Lutheran Church in 1580 end the Majoristic controversy by reversing the change in salvation doctrine effectuated by Melancthon. See CH. 1 of Jesus' Words on Salvation.
Also, in the course of that chapter, I detail that after Melancthon adopted a salvific double justification from beginning to end, Luther chose him with Bucer, who had a similar view, to be Luther's delegates to the 1541 Regensberg conference, full well knowing these men's views. At that conference, those men on behalf of Luther proposed double justification with that 'fuller' view and put it in the proposal to the Catholic side. In my chapter 1, I suggest this demonstrates that Luther moved from the view of faith alone as satisfactory also for a believer, and instead adopted the version of double justification of Melancthon and Bucer -- Luther's appointed delegates to the 1541 conference -- which held that double-justification salfivic version since 1536. Again, this is all detailed in ch. 1.
So this proves there are at least two types of double justification. (I am not agreeing with you Luther ever spoke of double justification earlier and then defined it as you suggest he did; I will look into that.) As you categorize Luther's doctrine of double justification, in both versions faith alone initiates salvation. However, in one version, such as Tyndale, Major and Melancthon taught for sure, works was necessary for the believer to be saved. (Melancthon rejected bondage of the will from the 1520s onward.) Works are not merely a fruit in this view that necessarily follows from faith. Rather, it must be exhorted -- as Christ taught in the "heaven maimed" or hell whole passages (Mark 9:42-47; Matt 18) that the consequences of not repenting and turning from sin was hell.
I did not quote Don't Tell Me That on the issue of double justification but about antinomianism. The point is the words of Luther as plainly readable in the passage I quote is not differentiating some legitimate use of the Law to guilt people into faith. Here, in these passages, Luther transgresses his own youthful teachings that Paul legitimately abolished Sabbath, for example. We were free of any guilt from not obeying Sabbath. See my article Paul Abolished Sabbath -- quoting Luther. And Luther transgresses that Luther earlier taught Paul abolished the entire Law even the moral law. And thus we were free from feeling any guilt from disobeying it. See Luther's Commentary on Galatians (given in early 1531 but printed in 1535). See my topic "Luther was Sometimes on the Right Track in the Sermon" from ch. 5 of Jesus Words Only.
I don't see anywhere in your email any suggestion that the plain words of Luther in Antinomian Theses do not transgress what Luther had excitedly in his youth attributed to Paul as legitimate. Do you? Because if you do, I can detail again all the plain statements of Luther on Paul abolishing the Law and Sabbath, and then directly line that up with the passages I quote from Antinomian Theses in Did Luther Finally Condemn Paul as A False Prophet in 1537?
Given the substantive change on justification -- with Luther apparently lining up with Melancthon & Bucer on their different version of double justification from 1536 forward -- wholly unlike the earlier version you attribute to Luther (which I will investigate) -- this fits the 1537 Antinomian Theses which clearly undermines Luther's view of Paul stated so clearly and so often early in Luther's ministry of what Paul supposedly had done legitimately. Now in the Antinomian Theses, what Luther early on attributed to Paul is now the acts of a false prophet.
If you are correct, then your points at best suggest Luther would have re-interpeted Paul to line up with his new views, and soften his views of what Luther earlier said Paul had done to the Law. But Luther does not discuss in Antinomian Theses any change in his views about what Paul had done. Thus, the implication this leaves the reader who is familiar with Luther's writings about Paul and the Law earlier is have to ask 'what about the Elephant in the Room --Paul?" I would have to say to Luther: "You Luther have said nothing to defend Paul and reinterpret him in this work, yet the very acts Luther you now say are the works of false prophets were the very words you previously used glowingly about Paul's statements about the Law."
Or is there somewhere in Antinomian Theses that I missed where Luther says 'Paul means this about Sabbath,' and 'it is not antinomian' or "Paul I said earlier 'abolished all the law, even the moral law,' but "now I would say Paul did not do that." That is what is missing. I suggest it is missing deliberately because of the Diet of Regensberg delegate-choice of Luther. But I am open to your citing me to that contrary evidence.
Brother Sonntag's Reply 4/25/2013
Thank you for replying so quickly. I suggest we both do some investigating and reading. I, for one, need to read up on the book on Jesus' Words on Salvation you reference. I do want to keep this conversation going, though, but do not currently have the material at hand to quote you chapter and verse from the actual antinomian disputations of Luther or other writings of his.
My Reply of 4/25/2013
Thank you. My book Jesus Words on Salvation is completely free -- in PDFs of each chapter or in HTML. The link is here: Jesus' Words on Salvation. If you wish the book version, I can order you a copy from Amazon as well. Please let me know.
Update: No response yet as of August 4, 2015
Antinomianism Issue in Reformation
Luther made the above remarks about anyone who preaches antinomianism is a false prophet after Luther had taught antinomianism originally. When his pupil Agricola tried to continue the argument after Luther changed his view, Luther came out publicly and condemned Agricola. Here is a short summary of this controversy I wrote several years ago:
Antinomianism traditionally has meant claiming the Law of Moses is abrogated in its totality. (“Antinomianism,” Jewish Encyclopedia.) Luther’s reformation led some to find in Paul’s writings explicit antinomianism. Luther tried to stop this “far-reaching but logical conclusion” that stemmed from his commentaries on Paul. (“Antinomianism,” Catholic Encyclopedia) As a result of Luther’s struggle to stop Agricola, antinomianism came to be defined as:
Antinomianism [is] the view....that those possessing saving grace [are] exempt from the...laws of the community. Antinomians believed that salvation came through faith alone and that individuals who are saved need only obey the spirit within them rather than the moral law. (“Antinomianism,” http://www.ushistoryplace.com/glossary/a.html, The Longman History Place.)
Agricola deduced antinomianism from Luther’s readings of Paul. Even though the early Puritans tried claiming full-blown antinomianism was wrong, the substance of Agricola’s teachings are normative teachings today among most Protestants. Agricola first deduced that since no good works save you, no evil deeds cause you to lose salvation. As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains his view, “justified Christians... are incapable of losing their...final salvation by any act of disobedience to, or even by any direct violation of the law of God.” (“Antinomianism,” Catholic Encyclopedia.)
Agricola’s view is now part of the teachings on eternal security.
Second, Agricola deduced that the Jews were under one dispensation, but Christians under another. We are supposedly divorced entirely from the terms of the old, including its moral precepts. (Id.) Thus, Agricola deduced that any attempt to cite the letter of the law from the Bible was misplaced, even as to moral laws. Agricola’s dispensational logic is likewise a normative Christian teaching today.