Now why do I point this out? because i’m extremely skeptical of Catholic research on Luther’s canon. Here’s Steve Ray’s charge:
“Martin Luther understood the place of the Church in establishing the canon… He realized that if he could jettison the Church, or at least redefine it as “invisible” and “intangible”, he was free to reevaluate and regulate the content of the canon for himself. He actually began to function as his own pope and council. If it weren’t for his theologian Philip Melanchthon, Protestants would no longer consider James, Revelation, Hebrews, Jude and a few other books as inspired Scripture.”
Source: Steve Ray: “Bible’s Canon: Do Protestants or Catholics Have The Correct Books?.”
Ray infers that Luther wanted to create his own canon, while most scholars recognize Luther holds to a “canon within a canon” [see Roland Bainton, Studies on the Reformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963) 5]. Paul Althaus explains that Luther “allows the canon to stand as it was established by the ancient church. But he makes distinctions within the canon” [See Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 83].
Ray makes questionable points that make me wonder how familiar he is with Luther. Which “few other books” is Mr. Ray referring to? I am unaware of Luther ever seriously questioning the canonicity of any other New Testament book other than the four mentioned above. Ray also gives Melanchon far too much credit for the entire course of subsequent Protestantism. Melancthon’s theological opinions did not carry overly significant influence in other protestant non-Lutheran lands. For instance, Calvin in Geneva would hardly factor Melanchthon’s opinions as the decisive element in determing his theological perspectives.
Ray also seems to indicate, Luther’s views on the canon were somehow curtailed by Melanchthon. Ray says elsewhere,
“When Martin Luther rejected “popes and councils” he also realized that the canon was again up for grabs. He didn’t like James as we know, but he also placed Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation at the back of the book, not with the inspired books. **It was only later that Philipp Melanchthon convinced him to defer to long tradition ** and place the books back in the New Testament, back in the recognized order. How did Luther fail to recognize the self-authenticating writings?"
Source:Steve Ray, “New Testament Books: Self-authenticating? No Need for the Church to Close the Canon?”
Ray would do well to provide further information to substantiate this claim that Melanchthon was the primary reason Luther put books “back in the New Testament.” To my knowledge, there is no such document from either Melanchthon or Luther. I have e-mailed him in the past asking for a source, I recieved no response. I tend to think its because it does not exist.
I was given some links to Steve Ray’s material where he mentions the bit about Melanchthon stopping Luther from removing books, and more than one Catholic has said it to me. So, I went to work and researched it, and came up with nothing. Simply because Ray doesn’t cite his source, doesn’t mean I think he’s the bogeyman. Maybe he read someone say “Maybe Melanchthon stopped him” or something like that. I would really like him to simply document what he’s referring to.
To my knowledge, no such information exists as Ray describes Luther & Melanchthon. The most in depth treatment of Luther’s Bible was done by M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with A Collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934). This book is the most in-depth thurough treatment on this subject. Within 600 pages, Reu makes no mention of such an important discussion between Luther and Melanchthon. Reu does mention though that in 1521 Melanchthon did urge Luther to follow through with his plan of translating the Bible (Reu, 148). Reu notes an intriguing comment from Luther that Melanchthon forced him to do so: “*Hence Luther’s remark in Tischreden that Melanchthon had forced him to translate the New Testament (I, 487, 11 f)” * (Reu, 351).