The devil that Martin Luther fought against is the same devil we wrestle with today, pitting brother against brother and preventing the spread of the Gospel any which way he can. The Jewish leaders had the same type of stronghold the Catholic leaders had, keeping the true Gospel away from their people. Martin Luther had turned his heart toward the Jewish people and sought to include them in the Reformation for most of his life...but something changed...
So that slippery old Satan,
that evil mean Grinch,
that nasty Non-Mensch,
he thought of a trick,
he hatched up a plan
and he cooked it up quick.
He could send over gossips to bend Luther's ear,
or tempt young miscreants to prey on his fears
by committing misdeeds so rash and so bold
they would turned his heart cold,
hardened like stone,
...against Jewish folk.
Luther dealt with the same type of divisive lies, false teachings, racial tensions and sneaky rumors that we face today and we can learn as much from his mistakes as we can from his successes. He wrote some angry and disturbing words in this book. He also revealed much about the false teachings that were being used by Pharisaical leaders to keep Jews from coming to Christ. And if we look carefully, we can learn more about how to minister effectively to Abraham's prodigal children, our long lost brothers and sisters the Jews, and how to combat the false religious teachers of our own day.
Martin Luther highlights specific types of false teaching that were occurring in the Jewish synagogues. Let's have a look and see what we can learn from his observations:
The Prosperity Gospel:
According to Martin Luther, the Rabbi's of his day were teaching a type of Prosperity Gospel which claimed that the Messiah would come and take away the gold and silver of non-Jews and give it to people of Abrahamic descent. He was incensed because he felt the Jews of his day were committing usury by taking advantage of non-Jews and twisting Scripture (Deut. 23:19-20) to do it. He spoke and wrote against such usury with the same passion, intensity and anger with which he wrote against the abuses of Catholic Church leaders in taking advantage of others. He was wrong to stereotype all Jewish people as users and should have focused his critique on the teaching itself and the leaders who perpetuated it, the same way he focused his attentions against Catholic leaders who did the same. But he was right to preach against this false prosperity gospel and we should follow his example today because this is one of the primary tools Satan is using to ruin the teaching of the church and cause would-be-believers to mistrust and fall away.
Luther reported that the Rabbi's of his day called Jesus tola, which means a hanged malefactor. They lied about Jesus and Mary, referring to Jesus as the bastard son of a whore, the offspring of a smith with whom Mary had intercourse. LIES! One rabbi called her Haria instead of Maria, which means "a heap of mud." Not only was there outrageous and blatant disrespect which is blasphemous, but they were committing outright heresy by claiming that Jesus was not the Son of God. Martin Luther was right to be angry. If those words don't bother you, you probably aren't a Christian. Luther's responses may have been offensive and incendiary, but they were heavily provoked and much more about religion than race. All believers should be zealous for God and for His name. But we should also be wise about the manner in which WE represent that name and carefully guarded in our reactions.
Luther believed that the Jewish leaders were teaching a type of racist theology similar to what alt-right white supremacist cults teach in America today. According to Luther, they claimed to be God's only people and to be of "high, noble blood, birth and descent" from Abraham and that all other people were less than human, regarded as worms and unworthy of salvation, including Gentiles, whom they called Goyim. According to Luther, they denied the image of God in all people and the truth of Scripture which declares: Understand, then, that those who have faith are the sons of Abraham. They refused to acknowledge that: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And they failed to believe the prophecy given to Abraham: And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command. (Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:28, Genesis 22:18)
Martin Luther got overheated in his response. I think that most of us have written something in the heat of the moment and later realized that our words could have been more "gracious," "seasoned with salt" and "wise toward outsiders," the way the Bible says they should be. But opposing these false teachings was correct, appropriate and necessary. It is unfortunate that in correcting them for their failure to recognize the image of God in all people and to honor the value of all people, he devalues and degrades the Jews with his own words.
The real trouble lies with Martin's advice to the government which appears in 6 points:
1. He recommends avoiding Synagogues and Jewish schools.
I have seen many online sources that claim Luther called for synagogues and Jewish schools to be burned down. The book translation I read simply calls for them to be avoided, but He does say that he believes Moses would have burned them down. In the Old Testament, it was appropriate and required that God's people tear down pagan altars, remove Asherah trees/poles and destroy the "high places" of Ba'al worship. This does not apply to synagogues at all and I strongly disagree with Luther on Biblical grounds. The disciples and apostles regularly taught in synagogues. In fact, these meeting places were one of the primary venues where early Christianity was taught. Acts 17:1-2 records that Paul and his traveling companions came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as was his custom, went in to them and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures. He journeyed on to teach in the synagogues of Berea (Acts 17:10), Athens (verses 16-17), Corinth (Acts 18:4), and Ephesus (18:19). Apollos was also received and taught in the synagogue (Acts 18:26) and then Paul returned on a different trip to the synagogue in Ephesus (19:8). The synagogue was a place where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was worshipped and early Christianity was proclaimed directly inside its doors. When a synagogue turned them away, they would teach in a different location, but the synagogue was usually the first stop.
It is also worth mentioning, that in addition to the synagogue in Athens, Paul also taught at the Aereopagus, or Mars Hill, in Athens. This was a place where multiple altars and monuments were erected in honor of numerous false gods. Centuries earlier, there had been a plague in Athens, they consulted with one of their famous poets, Epimenides, who instructed them to let some sheep loose on that very hillside and in the place where the sheep laid down to rest, there they should build an altar to the unknown God. They followed his instructions and the plague abated. That day at Mars Hill, Paul introduced those Gentiles to the once unknown, but now knowable God, the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Paul's method was reason and Biblical teaching. Paul did not tear down the physical monuments because He was much more concerned with breaking down the walls and idols people had constructed in their hearts. This is the same attitude and position we should take as believers. It would have been appropriate to walk right into those synagogues and share the good news about Messiah Yeshua (Jesus the Christ) just like the early disciples did, and then if they told lies about The Way, AVOID the synagogue and teach somewhere nearby, as Paul did (Acts 19:8-9). Respectful dialogue and patient, long-suffering teaching are they way we share and spread our faith. The Old Testament tearing down of pagan places of worship was a type and a picture of the spiritual battle we fight now. When Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, verses 10:4-5 about tearing down strongholds with God's word, he wasn't talking about demolishing buildings, but rather breaking down the walls and lies that keep people from coming to God.
His 2nd piece of "advice," was to not let Jews own their own houses. This makes me sick to my stomach. This type of speech is inexcusable and absolutely horrifying. He has judged all Jews by the alleged actions of a few and there is no justification for this to be found anywhere within the pages of Scripture. He was wrong.
His 3rd word of counsel was to take away Jewish prayer books and the Talmud. I do not advocate or approve of censorship like this. The people at Ephesus voluntarily incinerated their books of witchcraft, but there is perhaps some historical information to be gleaned from the pages of the Talmud--the writings of rabbi's. The problem is that the Jews have always depended much too heavily on extra-biblical literature and have elevated the writings of rabbis too high. They consider books other than the bible to be Holy books and this IS wrong and dangerous. It was the proliferation of extra-biblical writings that helped corrupt the Pharisees. No rabbinical writings are equal to Holy Scripture. The book of Titus bans mythical Jewish tales and requires overseers to protect the church from them, for example the book of Enoch is full of mythical and wrongful teaching which contributed to some of the racist theology mentioned above. It is wrong to take away prayer books.
4th--He wanted to forbid rabbi's from teaching
The synagogue section covered the appropriate ways to engage our opponents. While it would be absolutely right for a pastor/overseer to refuse to allow a false teacher to teach in a church or synagogue, it is dangerous and unwise to suggest that the government should have this power.
5th--Medieval Travel Ban
He wanted to remove protection for Jews from traveling. Considering all of the Old Testament admonitions for God's people not to harm sojourners (foreigners) living among them. I believe this applies to Christians treating foreigners well. I realize that he was viewing all Jews in the same way we might view religious terrorists, but this sounds very ominous. The Gospel was spread because of the ability of Jews to travel throughout the Roman empire, under protection as citizens, especially in the case of Paul. I fail to see merit or value in this ban.
6th--He forbid the practice of usury.
Ending usury, or taking advantage of people is good, but taking people's money and possessions because you SUSPECT that everything every Jew owns is stolen--this is absurd and absolutely ridiculous. It seems that there may have been some predatory lending or shark-like banking practices occuring and certainly this is wrong for anyone claiming to be one of God's people. But the Gospel calls for us to give up materialistic pursuits willingly, NEVER to take such things away from someone else.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
1. The Gospel of Greed, or Prosperity Gospel is a false gospel that leads people away from the one true God and causes them to take advantage of each other
2. Racist theology is contrary to Scripture, drives a wedge between brothers and sisters and prevents the spread of the true Gospel.
3. Satan wants to corrupt children by corrupting the teaching in churches/synagogues, schools and homes. We see this actively occurring in our society.
4. You can't judge an entire group of people based on the actions/alleged actions of a few. Stereotyping is bad. Look at how all of our nation's police have been judged by the actions of a few the same way it seems Martin Luther judged all of the Jews, and realize how unfair it is. We should also remember not to judge all Muslims based on the actions of Islamic terrorists. They are also the appropriate recipients of the good news of Jesus Christ.
How Should We Carry On?
1. Our attitude must always be redemptive and centered on the good news of Jesus
2. Our language must always be redemptive, as speaking to those created in God's image and must minister grace to those who hear it
3. It doesn't matter how much knowledge we have, if we don't have love, it all goes to waste and we will be fruitless.
4. For all the good that Martin Luther and the other Reformers did, they also made mistakes. We can respect their courage, honor their positive contributions and appreciate their work, but we must also take seriously our sacred responsibility to study the word for ourselves, catch their mistakes, and correct them.
As Christians, we should have compassion on our prodigal brothers and sisters, Jews who have not yet accepted Jesus as their Messiah. One Saturday, while in Seminary, I was cleaning at McKinney Bible church, which is near an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue. We looked out the window to see an elderly couple walking through the parking lot in the Hot Texas sun on their way to and from synagogue, observing the Sabbath. They could not start their car, because that would be considered starting a fire, and their Pharisaical interpretation of the Law forbids it on the Sabbath day. Jesus taught that the Sabbath was created for US, not the other way around. It was created to give us REST. It took tremendously more labor for them to walk a mile or two to church than it would have taken to simply turn a key and drive. This is the futility of their belief system.
The greatest sadness of Martin Luther's tirade against the Jews is the harm it did to the cause of Christ. His biggest mistake was to think that God had rejected the Jewish people and forsaken them forever. It is true that God punished Israel. But even during their exile, Jeremiah wrote to them: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.....For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God. (Jeremiah 29:11, 51:5) Isaiah 54:7 further explains: For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. God returned them to the promised land and sent the Messiah to them. Romans 11:1 asks the question directly in a New Testament context to show us that God still has His heart turned toward Israel: Has God cast away His people? Certainly not.....God has not cast away His people... Paul then explains that we Gentiles have been included, grafted on to Abraham's family tree, and God is more than willing, even eager, to re-attach Jews who place their faith in Jesus. The book of Revelation reveals that many Jews will come to Christ. Our position toward them must always be redemptive. Our posture is that of an outstretched hand. As Peter and Paul encouraged, Our speech should be gracious, respectful, seasoned with salt so that it will minister grace to the hearers. Our words should be carefully chosen with the Gospel in mind. Our writings should do the same.