LUTHER'S ATTACK ON THE JEWS
From the lectured by Professor Phillip Cary
His most elaborate attack comes in 1543, in a treatise, 200 pages, called "On the Jews and their Lies" - and that tells you the focus of attack.
Luther is attacking their words - once again everything about Luther is "words" - words are the things of power for Luther. Words are what it is all about. He attacks what the Jews say, not what the Jews do. It is not that they killed christ for instance. He blames the Jews for killing christ, but everyone is to blame for killing christ, it's not distinctive of the Jews. He does have the distinctive Christian habit of saying the Jews killed Christ, not the Romans. But that's a minor detail for everyone is responsible for killing christ, by their sins. And that's not what is driving Luther's attack on the Jews.
His attack on the Jews is their lies! All the things they say which he thinks is false. For instance, he begins this treatise by attacking their "boasts" - he says: "They're proud of their fleshly descent from Abraham, of circumcision, their Mosaic law [that is the law of Moses], their land of Israel - they put their trust in these things they're proud of, things of the flesh; in affect they're putting their trust in justification by works, not justification by faith alone. That's the big LIE!
Okay, that's a standard theological attack Luther makes against lots of people. Again what's generating the attack from Luther is Luther's distinctive theology. The Jews want to put trust in things other than faith. We've heard that attack before and not just against the Jews.
He'll also say the Jews speak for the Devil!
But again, we've heard that attack from Luther against other opponents.
They speak for the Devil, because they speak against their own conscience - they contradict the Christian meaning of the Old Testament.
Now we're getting close to the heart of the issue. Once again for Luther, the enemy that he's attacking is lying because they're misinterpreting, uncertain about, twisting, the meaning of the Bible. Their interpreting of the Bible is the real underlying issue. And notice how this is different from the Genteel anti-Semitism. The Jewish Bible - the Old Testament as Christians call it, is NOT obsolete for Luther, far from it! The Jewish Bible is a Christian book; that's the whole issue for Luther. That's the center of his attack on the Jews.
The Jews don't realize the Old Testament is a Christian book. It bears witness to Jesus Christ. They are trying to twist the Bible to say it's not about Jesus. That's the fundamental issue he attacks them on. And that's where the real anger comes from.
And so you see, Luther's attack on the Jews fits the same pattern of his attack on lots of other enemies.
They [the Jews] are misreading the Scriptures. They're misinterpreting, they ought to know better, they know it does not say what they say it means; they are lying against their own conscience! They are speaking for the Devil! And Luther would say, "I don't want anything to do with them, I don't want to encourage anyone to believe them; I will certainly not be associated with their theology!" And so with Luther, we have to fling some filth at them, to make sure everyone stays away from them.
Now one of the striking things about Luther's attack on the Jews, is that it's a CHANGE OF MIND; it comes in 1543, all in the last decade of his life.
Two decades earlier in 1523, he writes a lovely little book, called "That Jesus Christ was born a Jew" - recognizing our Savior was a Jewish guy.
In that treatise, he's actually attacking the Pope. He says that the persecution of the Jews by Christians, is one more bad idea of the Papist church. He says: "Our fools, the popes, the bishops, and so on, have up to this time, treated the Jews in such a way, as anyone wishing to be a good Christian, would almost have had to become a Jew. If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts, and blockheads, teaching the Christian faith, I would have sooner been a hog than a Christian."
He sympathizes with the Jews, in 1523!
On the other side of it he expresses the hope that once the Gospel has been recovered and the Jews get treated kindly by Protestants, then all you have to do is present them with good Scriptural arguments, and they'll convert to Christianity. So he would say, stop persecuting them, argue Scripture with them. and what he does at the end of his treatise, he presents a series of texts from the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, and says, Well look, if you show these to the Jews, and what they imply is the Messiah has to be Jesus, then they'll convert!
You see, every Jew will admit in the Jewish Bible there are predictions of a Messiah. Lots and lots of Messianic passages about the Messiah in the Old Testament. But most of them don't unambiguously point to the one Jesus, they point to some kind of Messiah figure, and lots of other "messiahs" might have fulfilled this prediction; and the Jews don't believe Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecy, they are waiting for a Messiah yet to come.
So Luther's thinking; you take these particular passages; he points out 2 or 3 of them. and you show them to the Jews, and you show them the clear meaning of the passages, the clear text of Scripture, shows only that Jesus could be the Messiah. And so once they realize that, they will convert to Christianity, and then everything will be fine.
Weeellll..... that's a very hopeful thing.
Let me also mention, the nicest part of the treatise, what I like the best; he gets gets the point that I think is so important about the Biblical point about the Jews and Gentiles.
Jews and Gentiles are supposed to be blessings to each other. This is what he says towards the beginning of this treatise, that Jesus Christ is a Jew:
"If the apostles, who were Jews, had dealt with us Gentiles, as we Gentiles deal with the Jews [that is by persecuting them], there would have never been a Christian among the Gentiles. But since they, the Jewish apostles, dealt with us Gentiles in such a brotherly fashion, we in turn ought to treat the Jews in a brotherly fashion, in order that we might convert some of them."
So the project is to convert the Jews, and the project is to even bless the Jews. We've received a blessing from the Jews, we're supposed to give a blessing back.
That seem to me to BE THE BIBLICAL ATTITUDE!
Luther says, "And if some of them prove to be stubborn and stiff-necked, so what, we ourselves are not such great Christians after all."
Maybe the Jews will not convert.... but so what do you expect? They might be stubborn, but so are some of us, is Luther's thoughts.
Now that seems to me to be a reasonable attitude for a Christian to take.
BUT 20 YEARS LATER THE ATTITUDE IS VERY DIFFERENT!
I want to think about WHY Luther's attitude CHANGED!
TO BE CONTINUED