Sola Scriptura or Prima Luther? What Did Martin Luther Really Believe About the Bible?

By COGwriter

Most people realize that the genuine true Church of God cannot be part of the Roman Catholic Church. However, some do not realize that the genuine Church of God is not part of the Protestant reformation movement led by Martin Luther (our history predates Luther, and the actual Roman Catholic Church for that matter, please see the History of Early Christianity).

Regarding the Bible, those in the real Church of God believe that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and, and is profitable for doctrine" (II Timothy 3:16, NKJV throughout unless otherwise stated).

Did Martin Luther agree?

Martin Luther publicly taught that only the Bible should be used as doctrine. One of the rallying cries of his movement was sola Scriptura (translated in English as 'the Bible alone'). This is one of the major positions that many professing Protestants respect Martin Luther for.

Although Martin Luther stated that he looked upon the Bible "as if God Himself spoke therein" he also stated,

My word is the word of Christ; my mouth is the mouth of Christ" (O'Hare PF. The Facts About Luther, 1916--1987 reprint ed., pp. 203-204).

[Specifically, what Martin Luther wrote in German was ""Ich bin sehr gewiss, dass mein Wort nitt mein, sondern Christus Wort sei, so muss mein Mund auch des sein, des Wort er redet" (Luther, 682) - also translated as "I am confident that it is not my word, but Christ's word, so my mouth is His who utters the words"(God's words - the violence of representation. Universitatea din Bucuresti, 2002. http://www.unibuc.ro/eBooks/filologie/meanings/1.htm, September 25, 2003).]

Did Martin Luther really revere and believe the Bible more than his own opinions? This article will quote Martin Luther extensively to assist the reader in answering that question.

Martin Luther Added to the Book of Romans

The Bible, in Romans 3:28, states,

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

Martin Luther, in his German translation of the Bible, specifically added the word "allein" (English 'alone') to Romans 3:28-a word that is not in the original Greek. Notice what Protestant scholars have admitted:

...Martin Luther would once again emphasize...that we are "justified by faith alone", apart from the works of the Law" (Rom. 3:28), adding the German word allein ("alone") in his translation of the Greek text. There is certainly a trace of Marcion in Luther's move (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, pp. 64-65).

Furthermore, Martin Luther himself reportedly said,

You tell me what a great fuss the Papists are making because the word alone in not in the text of Paul…say right out to him: 'Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,'…I will have it so, and I order it to be so, and my will is reason enough. I know very well that the word 'alone' is not in the Latin or the Greek text (Stoddard J. Rebuilding a Lost Faith. 1922, pp. 101-102; see also Luther M. Amic. Discussion, 1, 127).

This passage strongly suggests that Martin Luther viewed his opinions, and not the actual Bible as the primary authority--a concept which this author will name prima Luther. By "papists" he is condemning Roman Catholics, but is needs to be understood that Protestant scholars (like HOJ Brown) also realize that Martin Luther changed that scripture.

Perhaps it should also be noted that Martin Luther also claimed that the word for "alone" was needed for a translation into the German language, but that is really only true if one feels that the word alone must be added (according to one person I consulted with who studied German). The truth is that Martin Luther intentionally added a word and many sadly relied on it.

A second rallying cry for followers of Martin Luther was the expression sola fide (faith alone). But it appears that Martin Luther may have intentionally mistranslated Romans 3:28 for the pretence of supposedly having supposed scriptural justification for his sola fide doctrine.

He also made another change in Romans. Romans 4:15 states,

...because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

Yet in his German translation, Martin Luther added the word 'only' before the term 'wrath' to Romans 4:15 (O'Hare, p. 201).

This presumably was to attempt to justify his position to discredit the law.

Martin Luther Made At Least One Other Intentional Mistranslation

Martin Luther has also been charged with intentionally mistranslating Matthew 3:2, Acts 19:18, and many other scriptures (ibid, p. 200).

Matthew 3:2 states,

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

Martin Luther, in his German translation, according to at least one Catholic source, changed the word 'repent' to 'mend' or 'do better' (ibid, p. 201), presumably to justify his position that one does not need to obey God's laws through repentance. Others disagree on that point and indicate that the German term chosen can or should be translated as repent.

Yet, irrespective of the translation (as I do not know enough German to have a strong opinion), Martin Luther did not seem to teach strong real repentance as he taught,

Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but believe more boldly still. Sin shall not drag us away from Him, even should we commit fornication or murder thousands and thousands of times a day (Luther, M. Letter of August 1, 1521 as quoted in Stoddard, p.93).

Martin Luther seemed to overlook what the Book of Hebrews taught:

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).

The Bible, in Acts 19:18, states,

"And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds..."

Yet according to one source, Martin Luther rendered it, "they acknowledged the miracles of the Apostles" (O'Hare, p. 201).

There are several possible reasons why Martin Luther intentionally mistranslated Acts 19:18, but the point on this article is to show that he did.

Another point to be made is that by making mistranslations of the Bible, Protestants have given Catholics reasons to ignore them (cf. 2 Peter 2:1-3). Here is what one Catholic priest has written:

The proponents of Protestantism made false translations of the Bible and misled people into their errors by apparently proving from the "Bible" (their own translations) the correctness of their doctrines. It was all deceit, lying and hypocrisy. (Kramer H.B. L. The Book of Destiny.  Nihil Obstat: J.S. Considine, O.P., Censor Deputatus.  Imprimatur: +Joseph M. Mueller, Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, January 26, 1956.  Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), p. 224).

Perhaps I should add that many important Protestant-accepted doctrines would have been understood as false if later Protestant translators also would not have made their own intentional mistranslations of other parts of the Bible, especially in the New Testament. Yet, many who profess sola Scriptura even in the 21st century do not know that some of what they have relied on has been intentionally mistranslated.

Martin Luther Preferred to Change John 1:14

Martin Luther also taught,

And John 1 says: "The Word was made flesh," when in our judgment it would have been better said, "The Word was incarnate," or "made fleshly" (Disputation On the Divinity and Humanity of Christ February 27, 1540 conducted by Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546 translated from the Latin text WA 39/2, pp. 92-121 by Christopher B. Brown).

This was apparently done to justify his belief that Jesus was fully God and fully human while on the earth.

As Martin Luther correctly pointed out, John 1:14 states that "the Word was made flesh", yet John 1:14, combined with Philippians 2:6-7 show that Jesus 'emptied Himself' (the proper Greek translation; see Green JP. Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, 3rd ed., 1996, p. 607) of His divinity while on the earth.

If not, He could not have been tempted as we are, which He was,

"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" Hebrews 4:15-16).

This is discussed more in the article on Binitarianism.

Martin Luther Stated Jesus Meant the Opposite of What He Said

The Bible, in Luke 10:28, states,

"And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live" (KJV).

Yet Martin Luther taught,

To do means to believe-to keep the law by faith. The passage in Matthew: Do this and thou shalt live, signifies Believe this and thou shalt live. The words Do this, have ironical sense, as if our Lord should say: Thou wilt do it tomorrow, but not today; only make an attempt to keep the Commandments, and the trial will teach thee the ignominy of thy failure (O'Hare, p.205).

Although Martin Luther mentioned Matthew's account (which is in Matthew 19:16-21), the quote in question is actually from Luke 10:28. It is because of such misinterpretations of what the Bible states that many Protestants have tossed out the necessity to keep the ten commandments, even though scholars agree that they were kept by the early Christians (please see the article The Ten Commandments and the Early Church).

Martin Luther's comments clearly suggest that he felt that Jesus meant the opposite of what He said in Matthew 19:16,

"But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments".

Two articles of related interest may include What Did Jesus Teach About the Ten Commandments? and Hope of Salvation: How the Genuine Church of God differ from most Protestants

Martin Luther Taught Certain Books of the Bible Were Questionable

Martin Luther had different views of various books of the Bible. Specifically, he had a fairly low view of the Books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation.

The Catholic Encyclopedia claims:

As for Protestantism, the Anglicans and Calvinists always kept the entire New Testament But for over a century the followers of Luther excluded Hebrews, James, Jude, and Apocalypse (Reid, George J. Transcribed by Ernie Stefanik Canon of the New Testament. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Martin Luther himself was the obvious reason why, as he wrote,

Up to this point we have had the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation. In the first place, the fact that Hebrews is not an epistle of St. Paul, or of any other apostle (Luther, M. Prefaces to the Epistle of the Hebrews, 1546).

Regarding the New Testament Book of Hebrews Martin Luther stated,

It need not surprise one to find here bits of wood, hay, and straw (O'Hare, p. 203).

He also wrote,

St. James' epistle is really an epistle of straw…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it" (Luther, M. Preface to the New Testament, 1546).

and

In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works…Besides, he throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the apostles and thus tossed them off on paper. Or it may perhaps have been written by someone on the basis of his preaching (Luther, M. Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, 1546).

Interestingly the Epistle of James is the only place in the Bible to actually use the term 'faith alone':

You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (James 2:24).

One would have to assume that the fact that James 2:24 contradicted Martin Luther's sola fide teaching would have been a major reason that he discounted this book of the Bible.

Protestant scholars have recognized that Martin Luther handled James poorly as they have written:

The great reformer Martin Luther...never felt good about the Epistle of James...Luther went to far when he put James in the appendix to the New Testament.

(Radmacher E.D. general editor. The Nelson Study Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1997, p. 2107)

Martin Luther taught,

Concerning the epistle of St. Jude, no one can deny that it is an extract or copy of St. Peter's second epistle…Therefore, although I value this book, it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are supposed to lay the foundations of faith (Luther, M. Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, 1546).

To me, Jude does not sound that similar to 2 Peter, but if even it is, should it be discounted? Maybe Martin Luther discounted it because it warns people:

...to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

And this, sadly, is not something that Martin Luther really did (though he did sometimes make some efforts towards that).

Perhaps none of Martin Luther's writings on the Bible are as harsh as what he wrote about "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:1). Specifically he wrote,

About this book of the Revelation of John...I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly-indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important-and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep…My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it" (Luther, M. Preface to the Revelation of St. John, 1522).

Another reason Martin Luther may not have been able to accommodate this Revelation of Jesus Christ is because he clearly violated this warning,

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).

Martin Luther took away from this book through his comments about it, and this is the same Martin Luther who (as shown previously in this article) added words to the Bible that were not there.

Martin Luther's Comments on Books of the Old Testament Show A Hate for Things Jewish

As the following quotes show, Martin Luther did not care for several books in the Old Testament either:

"Job spoke not as it stands written in his book, but only had such thoughts. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probable that Solomon wrote and made this book."…

"Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it...Solomon did not, therefore, write this book."…

"The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much..."

"The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible." (as quoted in O'Hare, p. 202).

Furthermore, Martin Luther had little use for the first five books of the Old Testament (sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch):

Of the Pentateuch he says: "We have no wish either to see or hear Moses" (Ibid, p. 202).

Martin Luther hated the Jews, which may be why he was against Esther, the first five books of the Bible, and other parts of the Hebrew scriptures.

Notice that Martin Luther advised his followers,

...to burn down Jewish schools and synagogues, and to throw pitch and sulphur into the flames; to destroy their homes; to confiscate their ready money in gold and silver; to take from them their sacred books, even the whole Bible; and if that did not help matters, to hunt them of the country like mad dogs (Luther’s Works, vol. Xx, pp. 2230-2632 as quoted in Stoddard JL. Rebuilding a Lost Faith, 1922, p.99).

Accordingly, it must and dare not be considered a trifling matter but a most serious one to seek counsel against this and to save our souls from the Jews, that is, from the devil and from eternal death. My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss in sulphur and pitch (Martin Luther (1483-1546): On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543 as quoted from Luther's Works, Volume 47: The Christian in Society IV, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971). pp 268­293).

More on Martin Luther and the Jews (as well as some of his other doctrinal positions) can be found in the article The Similarities and Dissimilarities between Martin Luther and Herbert W. Armstrong.

Martin Luther Claimed that John Was the Only True Gospel

Although Martin Luther decried John for penning the Revelation of Jesus Christ, he did like John. According to Martin Luther,

The first three speak of the works of our Lord, rather than His oral teachings; that of St. John is the only sympathetic, the only true Gospel and should undoubtedly be preferred above the others. In like manner the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Paul are superior to the first three Gospels (O'Hare, p. 203).

Martin Luther's position on this, and some of his other matters, appear to be blasphemous and in contraction to II Timothy 3:16.

Martin Luther' German Translation of the Bible

Perhaps it should be mentioned, that while some have credited Martin Luther with being the first person to translate the Bible into German, this was not the case.

The first translation of the Bible into Teutonic (old German) was apparently by Raban Maur, who was born in 776 (O'Hare, p.183). Actually, by 1522 (the year Martin Luther's translation came out) there were at least 14 versions of the Bible in High German and 3 in Low German (ibid).

However, it is true that Martin Luther's translation, became more commonly available, and possibly more understandable (in a sense)--even though it did include his intentional translating errors.

Martin Luther Preferred to Change a Commandment

Martin Luther seemed to believe that the Sabbath command had to do with learning about God's word, as opposed to rest, as he wrote about it,

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1986, p. 10).

"We sin against the Third Commandment when we despise preaching and the Word of God...What does God require of us in the Third Commandment? A. We should hold preaching and the Word of God sacred" (Ibid, p. 68).

The Lutheran Confessions admit:

As we study Luther's expositions of the Decalog, or the Ten Commandments, we find that he does not quote the Third Commandment in its Old Testament form: 'Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy', but rather in the spirit of the New Testament: 'Thou shalt sanctify the holy day' (Mueller, John Theodore. The Lutheran Confessions. Circa 1953, p.10).

In another place, Martin Luther wrote,

Now follows the Third Commandment: "Thou shalt hallow the day of rest." (Luther, M. A treatise on Good Works together with the Letter of Dedication, published 1520. In Works of Martin Luther. Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds. Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915, Vol. 1, pp. 173-285).

It should be noted that Lutherans (and Roman Catholics) consider the Sabbath to be the Third, not Fourth, Commandment. The order that Martin Luther chose to accept was an order changed by Augustine (please see the article Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Church of God?) and not the order from the Bible or that as understood by the early Church (please see the article The Ten Commandments and the Early Church). Sadly, Martin Luther often accept Roman Catholic changes instead of believing what the Bible actually taught (and of course, he came up with other teachings that neither the Bible nor the Roman Church supported).

Martin Luther Preferred to Teach Doctrines That Did Not Have Proper Scriptural Support

Martin Luther apparently decided that he could not understand God, but that he should teach the unbiblical doctrine of the trinity. Notice what one Protestant scholar wrote:

For Luther, as for the German mystics, God is Deus absconditus, the "hidden God," inaccessible to human reason...

By emphasizing the sole authority of Scripture and downgrading the work of the church fathers and the decisions of the ecumenical councils, Luther created a problem for his followers. One the one hand, Luther wanted to affirm traditional theology with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ, but on the other those doctrines are not explicit in Scripture. They are the product of church fathers and the councils (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 314).

It should be noted here that NONE of the so-called "church fathers" prior to the end of the second century espoused any trinitarian position (more can be found in the article Did the True Church Ever Teach a Trinity?).

A French Protestant named Rabaud declared,

Luther has no fixed theory of inspiration: if all his works suppose the inspiration of the Sacred Writings, all his conduct shows that he makes himself the supreme judge of it (Rabaud, Histoire de la doctrine de l inspriaation dans les pays de langue francaise depuis la Reforme jusqu a nos jours Paris, 1883, p.42 as quoted in O'Hare, p. 203).

Thus even Protestant scholars realize that Martin Luther considered Prima Luther to be of more importance than Sola Scriptura--those interested in doing God's will should heed the Bible, and most should read the article The Bible and Tradition.

Martin Luther held many doctrinal positions that did not have biblical support, as well as some that did (please see the documented article The Similarities and Dissimilarities between Martin Luther and Herbert W. Armstrong.

Martin Luther Declared That Part of Three Days Equaled Three Days and Three Nights

The Catholic-supporting Augustine declared through an odd calculation that three days and three nights equaled thirty-six hours as ratios of twelve came to thirty-six (please see the article What Happened in the Crucifixion Week?).

Martin Luther, who had been a Roman Catholic, also did not accept that Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights as he wrote,

How can we say that he rose on the third day, since he lay in the grave only one day and two nights? According to the Jewish calculation it was only a day and a half; how shall we then persist in believing there were three days? To this we reply that be was in the state of death for at least a part of all three days. For he died at about two o'clock on Friday and consequently was dead for about two hours on the first day. After that night he lay in the grave all day, which is the true Sabbath. On the third day, which we commemorate now, he rose from the dead and so remained in the state of death a part of this day, just as if we say that something occurred on Easter-day, although it happens in the evening, only a portion of the day. In this sense Paul and the Evangelists say that be rose on the third day (Luther M. Of Christ's Resurrection from volume II:238-247 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11).

However, Jesus clearly said He would be in the grave for three days AND three nights and this would be the sign religious leaders should pay attention to:

An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:39-40).

Jesus being the Messiah was to be proven by Him being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth like Jonah was in the belly of the great fish.

Should we believe the Bible or human tradition? Does anyone really believe that ratios of 12 are how Jesus expected His words to be understood?

Notice what the Book of Jonah states:

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).

Does any one really feel that Jonah was only in the belly of the fish for less than three days and three nights?

(Most Protestant commentators hedge on this and claim that parts of days is acceptable so 49 hours is possible--see The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1962 by Moody Press. Of course the problem with this is that even with 49 hours, it is not possible that Jesus was buried before sunset, about 6:00pm, on Friday and rose prior to sunrise, about 6:00am, on Sunday as that only adds up to 36 hours. Furthermore, if one takes the fact that Jesus died about 3:00 pm, as opposed to the time He was buried, that only makes 39 hours. Hence there is no way that any who actually believes the scriptures over personal interpretation can agree with Martin Luther.)

Conclusion

This author cannot agree with Martin Luther's assessment of the books of the Bible, nor Martin Luther's personal changes.

It appears that Martin Luther truly preferred the concept of prima Luther (the primacy of Luther) and not sola Scriptura when it came to doctrine.

Those of us in the true Church of God believe that all 66 books of the Bible are inspired and profitable for doctrine (II Timothy 3:16). Because we also believe that we are not allowed to add or subtract from the Bible (see Revelation 22:18-19), we cannot follow the teachings of Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther—who changed or diminished the importance of at least 18 of them (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, Jonah, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation).   

For more information on how the Church of God differs from Protestantism, please read the article, Hope of Salvation: How the Genuine Church of God differs from most Protestants. To understand the the relationship between the Bible and tradition, please read Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings.

For specific information regarding the teachings of Martin Luther, please see the article The Similarities and Dissimilarities between Martin Luther and Herbert Armstrong.

Back to home page www.cogwriter.com

Thiel B., Ph.D. Sola Scriptura or Prima Luther? What Did Martin Luther Really Believe About the Bible? www.cogwriter.com (c) 2003/2006/2007/2008/2009/2011/2012 0909