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?
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:
How, then, do we incur such terrible anger, envy, and hatred on the part of such great and holy children of God? There is no other explanation for this than the one cited earlier from Moses—namely, that God has struck them with “madness and blindness and confusion of mind.” So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them. (Luther's Works, Volume 47.266)
Then Luther goes on to suggest what should be actually done by the government.
First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them...Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed...Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them...Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb...Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews...Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping...Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow. (Luther's Works, Volume 47.268 - 271)
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:
And you, my dear gentlemen and friends who are pastors and preachers, I wish to remind very faithfully of your official duty, so that you too may warn your parishioners concerning their eternal harm, as you know how to do—namely, that they be on their guard against the Jews and avoid them so far as possible. They should not curse them or harm their persons, however. For the Jews have cursed and harmed themselves more than enough by cursing the Man Jesus of Nazareth, Mary’s son, which they unfortunately have been doing for over fourteen hundred years. (Luther's Works, Volume 47.274)
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.
In Der Judenspiegel (Cologne, 1507), he demanded that the Jews should give up the practice of usury, work for their living, attend Christian sermons, and do away with the Books of the Talmud. On the other hand, he condemned the persecution of the Jews as an obstacle to their conversion, and, in a pamphlet, Warnungsspiegel, defended them against charges of murdering Christian children for ritual purposes. In Warnungsspiegel, he professed to be a friend of the Jews, and desired to introduce Christianity among them for their own good. He urged them to convince the Christian world that the Jews do not need Christian blood for their religious rites and advocated seizing the Talmud by force from them. "The causes which hinder the Jews from becoming Christians," he wrote, "are three: first, usury; second, because they are not compelled to attend Christian churches to hear the sermons; and third, because they honor the Talmud." (wiki Johannes_Pfefferkorn)
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:
Q: What is the Missouri Synod's response to the anti-Semitic statements made by Luther?
A: While The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod holds Martin Luther in high esteem for his bold proclamation and clear articulation of the teachings of Scripture, it deeply regrets and deplores statements made by Luther which express a negative and hostile attitude toward the Jews. In light of the many positive and caring statements concerning the Jews made by Luther throughout his lifetime, it would not be fair on the basis of these few regrettable (and uncharacteristic) negative statements, to characterize the reformer as "a rabid anti-Semite." The LCMS, however, does not seek to "excuse" these statements of Luther, but denounces them (without denouncing Luther's theology). In 1983, the Synod adopted an official resolution addressing these statements of Luther and making clear its own position on anti-Semitism. The text of this resolution reads as follows:
WHEREAS, Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are a continuing problem in our world; and
WHEREAS, Some of Luther's intemperate remarks about the Jews are often cited in this connection; and
WHEREAS, It is widely but falsely assumed that Luther's personal writings and opinions have some official status among us (thus, sometimes implying the responsibility of contemporary Lutheranism for those statements, if not complicity in them); but also
WHEREAS, It is plain from Scripture that the Gospel must be proclaimed to all people--that is, to Jews also, no more and no less than to others (Matt. 28:18-20); and
WHEREAS, This Scriptural mandate is sometimes confused with anti-Semitism; therefore be it
Resolved, That we condemn any and all discrimination against others on account of race or religion or any coercion on that account and pledge ourselves to work and witness against such sins; and be it further
Resolved, That we reaffirm that the bases of our doctrine and practice are the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and not Luther, as such; and be it further
Resolved, That while, on the one hand, we are deeply indebted to Luther for his rediscovery and enunciation of the Gospel, on the other hand, we deplore and disassociate ourselves from Luther's negative statements about the Jewish people, and, by the same token, we deplore the use today of such sentiments by Luther to incite anti-Christian and/or anti-Lutheran sentiment; and be it further
Resolved, That in our teaching and preaching we take care not to confuse the religion of the Old Testament (often labeled "Yahwism") with the subsequent Judaism, nor misleadingly speak about "Jews" in the Old Testament ("Israelites" or "Hebrews" being much more accurate terms), lest we obscure the basic claim of the New Testament and of the Gospel to being in substantial continuity with the Old Testament and that the fulfillment of the ancient promises came in Jesus Christ; and be it further
Resolved, That we avoid the recurring pitfall of recrimination (as illustrated by the remarks of Luther and many of the early church fathers) against those who do not respond positively to our evangelistic efforts; and be it finally
Resolved, That, in that light, we personally and individually adopt Luther's final attitude toward the Jewish people, as evidenced in his last sermon: "We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord" (Weimar edition, Vol. 51, p. 195).
I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow. (Luther's Works, Volume 47.268 - 271)
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.
Your question was did Lutherans recant some of Luther's writings about the Jews in 1983, and the answer is yes. See this link and search "anti-semitism", you'll find this statement:
Synod deplores and disassociates itself from Luther’s negative statements about the Jewish people and the use of these statements to incite anti-Lutheran sentiment.