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July 17, 2007 / vivator

Luther’s view on four books of New Testament

In his German translation of New Testament Martin Luther placed four books: Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation at the end and did not assign any number to them.  The reason is he did not consider them to be in the same level with the other twenty-three books.   Concerning Hebrews he wrote:

Thus it is plain that this [Hebrews] is the work of an able and learned man; as a disciple of the apostles he had learned much from them and was greatly experienced in faith and practised in the Scriptures.  And although, as he himself testifies in chapter 6, he does not lay the foundation of faith – that is the work of the apostles – nevertheless he does build well on it with gold, silver, precious stones, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3.  Therefore we should not be deterred if wood, straw or hay are perhaps mixed with them, but accept this fine teaching with all honour, though, to be sure, we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, pages 394-395

He particularly disliked James and labelled it to be epistle of straw.

This enables one to observe that the Epistle of James is no truly apostolic epistle, for it does not contain a single word about these things.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 30, page 12

I praise it and consider it [James] as a good book, because it sets up no doctrine of men but vigorously promulgates the love of God.  However, to state my opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle,

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, pages 395-396

Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, page 362.

His opinion on Jude and Revelation was expressed in his own words.

Therefore, although I value the book [Jude], it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books, which are supposed to lay the foundation of faith.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, page 398

My spirit cannot accommodate itself to the book [Revelation].  For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it; Christ is neither taught nor known in it.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, page 399

Even to the remaining twenty-three books he placed them in different levels. 

Therefore John’s Gospel is the one, fine, true, and chief gospel, and is far, far to be preferred over the other three and placed high above them.  So, too, the epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter far surpass the other three gospels, Matthew, mark, and Luke.

In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine.  

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, page 362.

To Luther whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Pilate, and Herod wrote it.

Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching.  Again, whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Pilate, and Herod were doing it.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, page 396



Leave a Comment
  1. Newchasm / Jul 23 2007 12:55 pm

    I don’t see the jump to not being apostolic except for James. In this he states his ‘opinion’ without trying to prejudice others to it. I see the rest as if Luther trying to argue what is of higher caliber. He throws in authorship only to try and give weight to apostles over their immediate followers. The problem with it is that this would exclude Paul if applied elsewhere. He is inconsistent and alone in his opinion. There is no protestant axe to grind against James but Luther’s. Furthermore, Luther was not the sum of reformation as some people think.

    The only ground Luther has in what he says is over the books of higher caliber and clarity. John is clearly exhalted by Luther because it does most clearly teaches salvation and the trinity. I would even recommend it to others for that end. Unlike Luther, I feel no need to denegrate books to promote it.

  2. vivator / Jul 23 2007 9:56 pm

    “There is no protestant axe to grind against James but Luther’s. Furthermore, Luther was not the sum of reformation as some people think.” The post is meant to raise awareness of this fact and as you wrote some do think Luther was the sum, or I should say hero (or whistle blower?) of Reformation.

  3. luciasclay / Jul 7 2009 11:21 am

    The irony to me is that Luther includes the four books you reference in his “Bible” in the same way as he includes the Dueterocanonicals. And yet my protestant upbringing, and most I talk to, will declare he rejected the Duetero’s and accepted these 4 books brushing away the issue by saying “ultimately he put them in”.

    What I find even more startling is that Luther threw out James for, among other things, not speaking of the passion of Christ. Yet if Luther had understood the Wisdom of Solomon’s prophetic nature in the 1st and 2nd chapters, and their centrality to everything in the NT, he would have seen James directly referring to the passion when he said the entire passage ending with “You have killed the righteous man”. But Luther didn’t understand the nature of Wisdom of Solomon despite lamenting what a central role it played in the Church.

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