**Q:****In my daughter’s sixth grade Confirmation class (LCMS), she was taught that Martin Luther thought that the New Testament books of James and Revelation were not correct and should not be included in the Bible. I had never heard this. I did see reference to the book of James in your Q&A section on Martin Luther but no mention of Revelation. Can you clarify all of this for us?
****A:****Luther’s controversial writing concerning the Epistle of James and the Revelation can be found in Volume 35 of Luther’s Works, American Edition, pages 395-397 and 399-400.
An excerpt from his “Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude” – "…I praise [the Epistle of James] and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God… However, …I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle, and my reasons follow. [Luther rejected Jude from the canon, but WELS does not specifically address it.]
"In the first place it [James] is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works [2:24]…
"In the second place its purpose is to teach Christians, but in all this long teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ…
“In a word, he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore I cannot include him among the chief books [Translation: Luther rejected James from the canon], though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him,”
Lutherans generally do not agree with Luther’s devaluation of this epistle.
An excerpt from Luther’s earlier preface to Revelation: "About this book of the Revelation of St. John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.
“First and foremost, the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the gospel… I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it…” [Translation: Luther rejected Revelation from the canon.]
In 1530, Luther revised the Preface, but had not really changed his view regarding Revelation:
“…Some of the ancient fathers held that it was not the work of St. John, the Apostle… For our part, we still share this doubt. By that, however, no one should be prevented from reading this as the work of St. John the apostle, or of whomever else he chooses…”
Lutherans generally do not agree with Luther’s devaluation of the book of Revelation.
When Luther wrestled with the question of whether these books belong in the canon of scripture, he was not questioning the inspiration or the authority of god’s word. The question for him was what is properly part of God’s Word.**
**Luther appointed himself as the authority to make the decision as to what is “properly part of God’s Word.” **
**For Luther to think that he – rather than Jesus and the Apostles from whom the Church inherited the Scriptures of the Old Covenant knows better than they what belongs in the Scriptures – is the ultimate in egomania. And for him to think that he – rather than the Church who wrote the New Testament (the record of the New Covenant) – knew better than the Catholic bishops who canonized the NT and formed the Bible which books belong in the canon is the ultimate case of megalomania.]
As with other questions of faith and doctrine, Luther is never the final authority.**
[If Luther is not the authority in the Lutheran church(es), who is? It’s every single individual, deciding the canon of Scripture for himself, and interpreting it for himself, as he is taught by Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura.]