Is it true that Martin Luther was calling in his books for killing Hebrew people and that the Lutherans of the USA in 1983 officially recanted this part of Luther's writings?
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Alright I might be one of the few people on this earth that 1) loves the Jewish people, 2) Has married a true Jew by descent, who converted to Christianity after our marriage. 3) Will publish the worst dirt on Luther that can be found. 4) Will then be so crazy as to defend Luther, not against his sin here but in how it should be viewed in context and as still being a man of God.
Note: It is not possible for me to be brief on handling this question.
First the prosecution of that nasty Luther
Here is the worst of Luther's writings which is naturally seized upon by any wanting to portray Luther as personally hating the Jews if they refused to accept Christ and it is pretty offensive in deed:
Then Luther goes on to suggest what should be actually done by the government.
Note: He does suggest they be allowed to live like gypsies in barns or group hostels and thinks the money in 'safekeeping' is there to be returned at least in part if they stop ridiculing the Christian faith and join the national religion, but the rest of these statements can pretty much be understood as is.
He only tones his ranting down slightly to distinguish between government treatment of blasphemers under law and personal vengeance by saying regular persons should not curse them are harm them, just see them as wicked while continuing in their blasphemy. He does also offer reverse sentiments and thinks they ought to treat them as 'brothers' if any become Christian, but these sentiments seem much too little and much too late to excuse his fiendish hate:
Summary Prosecution statement: Luther was a hateful man that hated the Jews (among others, the Pope being the most hated). Although he did not want people to personally injure them he supported the murder of good Rabbis who refused to stop publicly teaching and supported the heinous inhumane crimes of confiscating or destroying virtually all their livelihood and culture, offering Jews no more than meager slavery in near inhumane conditions. It is simply inexcusable on all accounts, and any Christian worth the name should denounce this part of Christian history forever. In fact Luther might properly be said to have planted early seeds of the Nazi regime, with his attitude leading to the more recently unparalleled crimes of Hitler during the holocaust.
The defense of that oh so lovable Luther
First, as deplorable and terrible as this is we should keep in mind at the time in history this was fairly standard treatment throughout the world for heretics and blasphemers. Before modern history, religious crimes were mixed with civil criminal codes and as a consequence Catholic governments burned Protestant heretics at the stake, and some later Protestant governments did similar evils, not to mention what the Turks and Christians did to each other. There was no proper division of church and state.
Second, this is the worst of Luther's writings and I would not equate his sins herein as necessarily worse than the low points of many godly men. He did not personally make love to his neighbor's wife and then personally orchestrate his murder as King David, the man after God's heart, for example. The truth is that we are so evil, even as Christians, which are still so much more righteous than unbelievers, that if our lives are analyzed by the morals of future generations none of us will smell like roses.
Third, although the Jews still believed in the Laws of Moses, Luther did not go so far as to cruelly propose that they be applied to them. If under the law a person simply picking up sticks on the Sabbath, or a child who is rebellious to their parents should be publicly executed. If under the law idolaters should be killed, their land burned, their houses burned, their woman turned into slaves etc., what would the Law prescribe for those who continued to reject their Jehovah in Christ? No, Luther did think, as every nation did at that time, that some of the Laws of Moses were useful for the state to apply, but he even at his worst held the Christian belief that the full extent of the Law of Moses should not be applied to those who owned it.
Fourth, most of his sentiments came from the common belief that Jewish people were getting unfair favorable treatment from the government, while others were being criminally prosecuted for blasphemy and the like, or other injustices, on smaller matters. This was believed to be due to their great deal of wealth and it did not seem right that foreigners to the country should take advantage of the poor German people through high interest rates, while the poor were being often treated so harshly by the rich. I find this to be a weak point of defense but it must be observed that the German people were prone to racism not 'out of the blue' or from mere religious grounds, but out of general jealousies that the poor often have against the rich, who often oppress them. As Christians are also with many sins, it is not surprising that the world's jealousies of the unbelieving German people, would creep in to some degree into the thoughts of Christians.
Fifth, once the faith of Luther was almost fully stomped out of Germany, the secular majority of Germans (who were never really Christian to begin with) eagerly received humanistic philosophies in the place of professed faith. The result is just like Christ's parable who said that if a demon is cast out (by natural religious reform) seven worse spirits will come back. That is what literally happened. National fake belief in Christ, like any national faith, was replaced with the belief of 'the survival of the fittest'. This lead to the idea that killing the weak was supported by nature. This lead to Hitler and the holocaust. The rejection of the faith of men like Luther resulted in actual mass murder of the Jews. Whereas Luther's momentary rantings did not actually result in anything. Luther may have been expressing the popular view at that time with the greatest amount of charity, so while accused on great sins, he may have actually been the salt that postponed the eventual racism that possessed the nation.
Summary Defense statement: Luther never pretended to be politically correct. He expressed his views quite emotionally. Like most religious leaders of that time in history, he felt some part of Old Testament law could be applied to society that most Western countries no longer believe, or comprehend at all. It is hard for us to understand but we would have probably acted poorer than Luther if we had lived at that time. When looking at all of Luther's writings as a whole, he held out the most loving, peaceful and truthful message that could be found anywhere else in the world. Luther was a man of God, and it is difficult to find anyone in history more worthy of the title. Luther was a man after God's own heart.
Was it true he was calling for the murder of Hebrew people? Yes in a weak sense. He positively lobbied for the charge that preaching the rejection of Christ in the synagogue should be considered to be as bad as heresy or blasphemy. No, in that he did not support personal hate or the harming of their persons. All in all I would say, no. Even in the case of blasphemy as a capital crime, the Bible never considers capital crimes, which people are all equally warned of before enacted by the state, as murder.
Is Luther's attitude in these passages excusable? I would say not at all. There is nothing in them that is consistent with the volumes of sentiments in the rest of his writings, or much more importantly in the New Testament. His attitudes here are not Christian to me. Do I think Luther was a man of God? Yes, without doubt. I can only say that without blinking for about half a dozen people I have read about.
I have found something quite unexpected that has somewhat lessened my shock of Luther's point of failure. In quite a shocking discovery I have been surprised to find that Luther's basic fault was not breaking free of a well established common prejudice of his time. Not only did the German people and all of Europe have these intolerant views but Luther's recommendation to the government is actually more or less a repetition of a previous Jew converted to the Catholic faith in Germany just under forty years earlier! He actually thought this harsh and biting attitude would help him reach his fellow Jews as a form of a missionary effort. As nonsensical as this is it shows the public view of how conversions and influence could take place is far different from how we see things today.
The recommendations were first published by the Jew, Johannes Pfefferkorn in 1507.
It is hardly objective to consider this subject without considering this unusual historical context. Something very hard I admit to even try to comprehend.
Yes, it is true that Luther published anti-semitic writings -- writings that were even used by the Nazi Party in support of its horrendous treatment of Jews. The case that Luther's writings were terribly anti-semitic was, in fact, made by the Luthern Church Missouri Synod itself, seeking to distance itself from that hot potato. On the FAQ section of the Synod's website, it states:
Did Luther expected "Hebrew people" to work and sweat after they have been killed?
Therefore it is nonsense to think he called for their killing.