Luther is perhaps the most prolific German thinker. Kant, Hegel, Marx… their corpus pales in the face of Luther. Also, unlike Luther, they weren't concerned with the canon-texts of Western Christianity as received.

Nehemiah seems a problematic and deeply engaging "half-book" to me. The crux of the first exile and the second temple. The crux of empire versus refoundation of the Temple. Nehemiah's complex relationship with the state, and his inability to enter the temple. The significance of the text emphasised by name lists. It seems like a link between Kings/Chronicles and second temple texts.

As someone without faith, who has only the text, when I read Nehemiah I know that my reading is deficient from lack of study and context. But I also assume that major critics of the text have said something awesome. And Luther is just such an expansive critic who was deeply dedicated to the value of the text.

What does Luther himself in his works expound in exegesis of Nehemiah, or, if he does not conduct an exegesis, where does Nehemiah fit in within Luther's side comments?

Luther is a major reader whose impressions of a central text I find critically interesting. And sadly, given my lack of scholarly training, I can't conduct an adequate search myself.

1 Answer 1


As an aperitif, to whet someone's appetite for producing something more substantial, I would quote a couple of bits from a book about Martin Luther, in a chapter called "Rebuilding the Walls". This is with reference to Nehemiah, a page in the chapter showing a picture of the rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in Luther's German Bible.

"The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah is quaintly illustrated in Luther's German Bible by a woodcut in which the theme is from the Old Testament and the scenery from Saxony. The rebuilders of the walls are the Jews returned from Babylon. The stones, mortar, logs, saws, wheelbarrows, inclined planes, and derricks are precisely those employed to rebuild the walls of Wittenberg.

Very similar was Luther's application of Christian principles to the reconstruction of society. The pre-eminence of religion, the sole sufficiency of Christianity, the obligation of the Christian to be a Christ to the neighbor - these were the principles. The applications were conservative. Luther came not to destroy, but to fulfill, and against all misconceptions of his teaching sought to make plain that the traditional Christian ethic remained intact." Here I Stand - Martin Luther, Roland Bainton, p.232, 1988 edition, Lion

From what little I know, I would say that Luther had no real quibble with the book of Nehemiah. He read it understanding the ancient history of Nehemiah's times, and would see how its records helped trace the line of descent in the Jewish nation that would lead to the Messiah. He would see in it the degeneration of pure worship of God (that had led to the 70 year's captivity) and what was needed to restore that. He supported the empire where the empire supported the restoration of God' formerly exiled people - and it did. Building the walls and the temple were only part of that, as Nehemiah's actions against antagonistic enemies, and returned Jews who had lapsed in their religious and marital duties shows. But here is the concluding paragraph in that book to indicate how Luther would likely take lessons from Nehemiah in Luther's 'reconstructing' of the fallen-down Christian faith (as he saw it.)

"The sum of it all is this, that at certain points Luther's attitudes on economic and political problems could be predicted in advance. He would tolerate no wanton disturbance of the ancient ways. Rebellion was to him intolerable; [a bit like Nehemiah] but since religion alone is the paramount concern of man, the forms of the external life are indifferent and may be left to be determined by circumstances." [Ibid. p. 246]

That is no "exegesis of Luther's", so if anyone has such a thing, do detail it all in an answer following.

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