Luther, Protestant theology and the Epistle of James...


This is specially a question for my Protestant/Lutheran brothers,

Luther rejected the Epistle of James (among others), and based his entire theology on a Bible without that epsitle in it.

Now, since Protestants today don’t reject the Epistle of James, Luthers theology ought to be flawed in their view, since it’s based on an incomplete Scripture. Yet I still hear Luther’s teachings being preached almost as he would’ve done it himself, and Luthers books are considered almost authoritative in my church.

I acutally admire Luther a bit for being frank… he found that his theology contrasted with James, and he threw out James rather than just pretending there was no conflict. He read what he saw and he got offended by it… fine. But Lutherans today seem to try and twist James into saying something that fits right into Luthers theology.

Fight on! :wink:

  • Steffen


Another thing that completely baffles me about Lutherans and others who follow Luthers teachings is how do they let him get away with taking the 7 books out of the OT canon. If any Pope had taken out anything from the bible let alone 7 complete books, he would have been called the devil himself.


Luther did not take out / throw out any books of the Bible. I’m sure others will correct me if I’m wrong, but his translation included ALL of these books, although he did include a footnote for the apocryphal books. He expressed doubts about some of the NT books (James, etc.), but - in the end - decided that they all had a proper place as part of the canon. Incidentally, his doubts mirrored some of those in the early church as the canon was being established.


Ok…he called them apocraphal or basically that they were of no avail and not scriptural. Yes, there were many disagreements in the early church over which books were inspired and which were not but in the end, around the 400’s, the canon of scripture was decided on and confirmed by 2 additional councils. The folks who didn’t necessarily agree during the whole discussion period did accept the canon of scripture as it was established and there was no further dispute over it in the Church until the 1500’s.


I don’t think there was an actual dispute in the 1500’s as far as James goes (which the OP is suggesting). Luther at one point called James “an espistle of straw”, but eventually saw that James was not an opposition to other epistles (Romans and Galations in particular), but was a beautiful example of how grace, working through faith produces works pleasing to God. This is not a contradiction to “sola fide” as many think because only through faith can we receive God’s grace in order to produce works of love. James was specifically addressing those who today might belong to the Once Saved Always Saved crowd. They thought that once they believed in the message of the Gospel, they were homefree and could act and do as they please. But James points to the “freedom” of the law through Jesus Christ and how we as believers want to express our faith through our actions. We don’t want to be like the demons (Jas 2:19) - “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

As far as the OT deuterocanonical books, that might be better discussed in another thread (perhaps already has been), but “These books were not accepted as Scripture by such Jewish writers of the first century as Philo and Josephus; the Jewish council at Jamnia (c. 90 A.D.); and by such eminent Christian writers as Origen and Jerome. About 400 A.D. the great Christian scholar Jerome, whose translation of the Latin Vulgate remains the basis of the official Roman Catholic Bible, strongly maintained that these books were “apocryphal” and were not to be included in the canon of Scripture.” (taken from


For the umpteen millionth time:



Early in in public life he said some things about it which has led many to conclude that, at that time, he did not consider it as important as, say, the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. Sometimes the way he chose to say this was rather more forceful than we would like.

Later in life, however, he revised this view and said some very charitable things about it although it does seem clear that his conviction that the doctrine of Sola Fide clearly articulated gives a given book of the Bible more importance caused him to continue to hold James in a secondary position.

If you look at the table of contents of any edition of his translation of the Bible, you will see that he translated and included James as fully canonical.


Here is an excellent page talking about Luther’s position on the canon.

James Swan does a pretty good job of laying things out in a bit more nuanced a fashion than you’re likely to get from most apologetic outlets.


James Swan? The anti-Catholic apologist? Hardly someone I want to get information on Luther from when he doesn’t get Catholicism right! Has anyone see the debates on Luther between James Swan and Dave Armstrong?


Amen, he may as well be refering us to the false beliefs of Matt Slick.


Judge the data on its own merits.

One might just as easily say exactly the same sorts of things about Armstrong, Madrid and Akin. What good does it do to dismiss the testimony because you don’t like the testator?

I try to judge every argument on its own merits. After all, its only fair.


What difference does it make what the symantics are?

Sola Fide denies and protests the literal translation and interpretation of the epistle of James.

To me the incredulous thing to note is that position is often taken from a Sola Scriptura standpoint where literal hermenutics become nothing more than contradictory liberalizm.

For a protestant literalist, literal translation is only a matter of convenience as a means to protest. If we are to take the bible literal as they promise to do you must arrive at the Eucharist, Baptism, Confession, Intercession, the Primacy of Peter and essentially the fullness of the Faith in the Pillar and Foundation of the Church which sola holds the keys to the kindom and the promise to loose and bind.

Do you not find it ironic that what Luther began morphed into more denial and protest that no longer even remotely resembles what he himself taught? Where are the fruits of what he did?

Liberalizm is a sin.


Granted but why not refer to the Coucils, Cannon or Catechism instead of someone renowned as a false teacher of subversion to the Truth regardless of what you feel are sincere intentions.

You could be responsibe for him leading astray someone you refered to him by your endorcement.


Indeed… It doesn’t really matter what Luther thought of the Book of James… or any other book for that matter. I believe the bigger issue is that He believed his authority outweighed that of the pope, the Church, and just about anyone else for that matter.


The point is that Luther didn’t “reject” the Book of James. See my first post in this thread.

And simply saying that he did without reference to context or circumstance is the same kind of historiographical mishandling you would accuse people like James Swan of.

You say it doesn’t matter because of all these other mitigating theological factors. But that’s just a dodge.

Don’t you see that Luther is no more wrong when we are dishonest about him and no less so when we tell the truth justly?


Luther read the entire New Testament in the light of the Pauline message that the just shall live by faith and not by works of the law — or rather in the light of his own understanding of Paul’s teaching. Should any particular passage of scripture appear to stand in opposition to this interpretation, then it simply does not have the authority of the word of God. This is the principle Luther applied to the teaching of James 2:21ff. He wrote in 1542 that he had been accustomed to interpreting James according the rest of scripture, but since some did not accept his interpretation of this passage, he simply said, “Then I shall make rubble of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did” (quote in Althaus 81, f.n.31). Luther wrote in 1543, “His [James’] authority is not great enough to cause me to abandon the doctrine of faith and to deviate from the authority of the other apostles and the entire Scripture” (quoted in Althaus 81). Once Luther remarked that he would give his doctor’s beret to anyone who could reconcile James and Paul (Bainton 259). this is a quote from an article found in MARTIN LUTHER VIEW OF THE EPISTLES OF JAMES BY DANIEL W. PETTY. apparently this was the way luther thought but later he decided to include the book . at least that is why i have read. hail mary full of grace…:slight_smile:


According to Luther’s own words, I cannot come to the conclusion that he did **not **reject the Epistle of James. He did not even consider it apostolic.

Therefore I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases…”

Read his preface to James here:

Also, you may want to read the debate between Dave Armstrong and James Swan:


[quote="mom2three]James Swan? The anti-Catholic apologist? Hardly someone I want to get information on Luther from when he doesn’t get Catholicism right! Has anyone see the debates on Luther between James Swan and Dave Armstrong?

Armstrong quoted Luther as saying the book of James was an “epistle of straw”, but that Swan guy did research to show Luther later retracted the statement. Then Armstrong had to go back and point out that Swan was right:

“[correction: (added on 9-26-04) it was helpfully pointed out by Reformed Luther researcher James Swan that these words appeared only in the original 1522 preface, not the 1545 version. Luther seems to have retracted this particular remark. I inadvertantly overlooked a footnote which explained that bracketed sections were later removed[/COLOR].”

But still, you really can’t trust that Swan guy. I would stay away from anything he writes. He is *very very *dangerous. Anybody who spends so much time reading, writing, and checking citations about Luther must be a guy who needs to get a life. I mean, we all know that Catholics are much more trustworthy in researching luther- sure Armstrong made a *little, tiny *mistake about the “epistle of straw”, but so what? Why should Armstrong have to check his citations when Luther was such a deceiving heretic who led so many people away from the true church?


And Mom, you may want to admit that that comment wasn’t in any edition of his commentary after 1522.

That is, his opinion had moved.

And He was a biblical scholar.

But for some reason Luther is not allowed to evolve in his appreciation of texts. Whatever we can find that he said which is worst and most damning is what we persist in repeating.

What do we mean by reject anyway? It would seem that the best way to prove that he rejected James would be for him to omit the epistle from his translation of the Bible into German, but he didn’t.

So how much did he really “reject” it?

Or did he maintain an odd scholarly reservation about it in light of the doctrine of Sola Fide as Myra indicates? And did he express that reservation in terms that seem bizarre to us?

And should we really be relying on quotations from hearers rather than documentary theological statements seeing that hearsay is never admissible in judgment against someone?

I think that too often our prejudice against Luther blinds us to balance in dealing with him.

This is a sin against charity.


This is ironic, coming from a poster to a message board on the website of a Catholic apologetics ministry which employs a full-time staff to do more or less exactly the same thing.:wink:


I have learned to embrace irony as a friend.

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