Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, January 25, 2008

Adventists, Martin Luther and Quotations

There is an interesting phenomenon one can see on the internet among Adventist websites. As most of us know the Adventist church feels a special affinity for the Ten commandments because as the Seventh-day Adventist name indicates we hold to the Seventh day Sabbath as a continuing part of the law. In order to bolster this idea many Adventists have taken to using an article written by Steve Wohlberg entitled Protestants Testify about the Ten Commandments. The article begins with a “quote” from Martin Luther and follows with some other famous Protestant quotes. I am only going to deal with the first quote because I think it demonstrates all that is needed in regard to this type of Adventist use of sources. While you will find this quote used on many Adventist sites I am using Steve Wohlberg’s website. The quote is as follows:

I wonder exceedingly how it came to be imputed to me that I should reject the law of Ten Commandments....Can anyone think that sin exists where there is no law?...Whosoever abrogates the law must of necessity, abrogate sin also. Martin Luther, Luther's Works (trans., Weimer ed.), Vol. 50, pp. 470-471; originally printed in his Spiritual Antichrist, pp.71, 72.

The implication for Adventist use is that the Law specifically the ten commandments are to be continually kept by Christians and even the Protestants agree with that idea. For those who know anything about Martin Luther they know that Luther had a lot to say about the law and this simplistic quote seems contrived. In fact when you look at the ellipses you immediately should become suspicious. One website which offers Ten Martin Luther Myths presents Luther’s view of the law very succinctly:

7. Luther Was an Antinomian and Hated the Law of God
Recently a friend wrote me and said charges about Luther being an antinomian were circulating in his church. Luther's theology indeed has a place for the law of God and its use in the life of a Christian. The law for Luther was dual purposed: it first drives one to see their sin and need for a savior; secondly it functions in the life of a Christian to lead one to a correct understanding of the good one ought to do. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Luther knows how important Moses and the law was in his theology. In Luther's Small Catechism the Ten Commandments were placed first because he wanted people to understand that God is wrathful against sin. The negative prohibitions in the Ten Commandments clearly showed our need for a savior. Also in his Small Catechism, Luther suggests a daily regiment of prayer and includes a verbal reading of the Ten Commandments.

The quote that Steve Wohlberg used is in fact in the context of this Antinomian charge and actually represents a very small fraction of the paragraph that Luther wrote. After we look at the full statement of Luther we will see what he had to say about the law with reference to the Sabbath as that is the reason these various websites have posted Wohlberg’s list of “quotes”. I keep putting the word quotes in parenthesis because I am not convinced what Wohlberg does in the list with Luther’s words is really a quote. Fortunately for us there is an website which has given us the article Luther wrote. A Treatise against Antinomians written in an Epistolary way, by D. Martin Luther, translated out of the high Dutch original; containing the mind of Luther against Antinomians and a recantation of John Agricola Eislebius their first father.

As the first footnote indicates this is the same material that Wohlberg is referencing.

1. This edition of Luther's treatise "Against the Antinomians," is excerpted from Samuel Rutherford's "Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist," (1648), part II, chapter XI, pages 69-80, where it is translated from the High Dutch in its entirety. The reader may wish to compare the text to a more recent translation available in Luther's Works (American Edition), volume 47, pages 107-119, the text of which he will find to be in agreement with that which is provided here.

The paragraph in question reads as follows, I have highlighted in red those portions that Wohlberg excerpted as the quote above:

And truly, I wonder exceedingly, how it came to be imputed to me, that I should reject the Law or ten Commandments, there being extant so many of my own expositions (and those of several sorts) upon the Commandments, which also are daily expounded, and used in our Churches, to say nothing of the Confession and Apology, and other books of ours. Add hereunto the custom we have to sing the Commandments in two different tunes;3 besides the painting, printing, carving, and rehearsing them by children, both morning, noon, and evening; So that I know no other way than what we have used, but that we do not (alas!) as we ought, really express and delineate them in our lives and conversations. And I myself as old as I am, use to [have it for my custom to] recite them daily, as a child, Word for Word; so that if any should have mistaken, what I had written, he might (seeing and feeling as it were, how vehemently I use to urge these Catechetical exercises) in reason have been persuaded to call upon me, and demand these or the like questions. What? Good Doctor Luther, dost thou press so eagerly the ten Commandments, and yet teachest withal, that they must be rejected? Thus they ought to have dealt with me; and not secretly undermine me behind my back, and then to wait for my death, that so they might afterwards make of me what themselves pleased. Well, I forgive them, if they leave these courses. Verily, I have taught and still teach, that sinners must be moved to Repentance by the preaching & pondering of the sufferings of Christ, that they may see how great the wrath of God is against sin: and that it cannot be otherwise expiated but by the death of the son of God: Which is not mine, but Bernard's doctrine. But why doe I mention Bernard? It is the doctrine of the whole Christian world, and which all the Prophets and Apostles have delivered. But how doth it hence follow,4 that therefore the law must be taken away? I find no such inference in my Logick; and I would gladly see or hear that Logician, that would demonstrate the truth of this conclusion. When Isaias saith, chapter 53, I have smitten him for the sins of my people; I pray tell me; here Christ's sufferings are preached, that he was smitten for our sins: Is the Law hereby rejected? what is the meaning of these words: For the sins of my people? Is not this the sense of them: Because my people have sinned against my law, and not kept the same? Or can it be imaginable, that there should be any sin, where there is no law? Whosoever abrogates the law, must of necessity abrogate sin also.5 If he must suffer sin to be, he must much more suffer the being of the law. For the Apostle saith: Rom. 5: Where no law is, there is no sin. If there be no sin, then Christ is nothing. For why died he, if there were no law nor sin, for which he ought to die? Hence you may see, that the Devil intends, by this Ghostly Gambold to take away, not so much the law, as Christ, the fulfiller of the law.

That is a Word count of 557 words in this paragraph of which Wohlberg’s quote of 39 words, which makes it about 7% of Luther’s actual statement.

Now let us look at more a more specific statement of Luther.

This calls for a wise and faithful father who can moderate the Law in such a way that it stays within its limits. For if I were to teach men the Law in such a way that they suppose themselves to be justified by it before God, I would be going beyond the limit of the Law, confusing these two righteousnesses, the active and the passive, and would be a bad dialectician who does not properly distinguish. But when I go beyond the old man, I also go beyond the Law. For the flesh or the old man, the Law and works, are all joined together. In the same way the spirit or the new man is joined to the promise and to grace. Therefore when I see that a man is sufficiently contrite, oppressed by the Law, terrified by sin, and thirsting for comfort, then it is time for me to take the Law and active righteousness from his sight and to set forth before him, through the Gospel, the passive righteousness which excludes Moses and the Law and shows the promise of Christ, who came for the afflicted and for sinners. Here a man is raised up again and gains hope. Nor is he any longer under the Law; he is under grace, as the apostle says (Rom. 6:14): “You are not under law but under grace.” How not under law? According to the new man, to whom the Law does not apply. For the Law had its limits until Christ, as Paul says below (Gal. 3:24): “The Law, until Christ.” When He came, Moses and the Law stopped. So did circumcision, sacrifices, and the Sabbath. So did all the prophets. (Lectures on Galatians, Works Vol. 26 page 6-7 Edited Pelikan, translated Caemneyer, Concordia Pub. House St. Louis 1960)

Speaking of images in his Deuteronomy Commentary Luther writes:

Therefore let us avoid these men of blood and not allow them to draw us into Judaism. Paul says to us (1 Cor. 8:4): “We know that an idol is nothing in the world,” and all those external things are free, even if they are images assigned to some divine worship. Let us remove such external things through the Word or do away with them with the common consent of the government and of those under whose power they are. Those things, however, which we have only for as sign and memorial, let us have freely, so that we ourselves do not finally also succumb to the spirit of bloodshed and sedition might somehow be tolerable if they only destroyed images and did not also bind conscience by calling this a necessary work, put us under the wrath of the Law, and robbed us of freedom. But since one must now affirm the liberty given by God, let us tell them that Moses in no wise pertains to us in all his laws, but only to the Jews, except where he agrees with the natural law, which, as Paul teaches, is written in the hearts of the Gentiles (Rom. 2:15). Whatever is not written there we should include among the ceremonies that were necessary for the people of Moses but free for us, as also the Sabbath is, as Paul (Col. 2:16) and the last chapter of Isaiah (66:23) bear witness. ( Lectures on Deuteronomy, Works Vol. 9 pages 81-82 Edited Pelikan, translated Caemneyer, Concordia Pub. House St. Louis 1960)

I have many differences with Martin Luther, the above does not endorse his positions it is only to correct the inaccurate material that is being spread by certain Adventists.

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