Why did Martin Luther discard the book of Revelation?


If I’m not mistaken, Martin Luther discarded the book of James and Revelation in his initial version of the Bible.

I understand the he discarded James because of the problematic verse James 2:24 disproving his theology of “Faith Alone”. But why did he discard Revelation?


Luther’s comments on Revalations:

About this book of the Revelation of John…I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly-indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important-and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep…My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it” (Luther, M. Preface to the Revelation of St. John, 1522).


Luther included all of the modern canon (of both Protestant and Catholic varieties) in his translation. He personally disputed several books but included all of them in his German work. The fact that he disputed several books (Revelation, Hebrews, James) is that the 7 disputed books are known as antilogemena. Their authenticity was disputed in the early church and took time to accept. Unlike the 20 homologemena books which were accepted early by all churches. It’s more complicated than that of course, but that Luther disputed the inspiration of Revelation does not make him any different than many church fathers and Luther’s own Catholic contemporaries.


How foolish of Martin Luther to say such a thing! :eek:


Going slightly off topic here. Just want to know why certian texts of the bible were completely removed, and who removed them. Is there not something in the bible where God says not to change or remove any part of the “good book”?


Actually, you’re not as far off topic as you may think.
That quote you refer to doesn’t apply to the Bible as a whole - it applies to the Book of Revelation.

Revelation 22:18-19 explicitly states:
"I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book (Revelation): if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city described in this book."

As for Martin Luther - I’m sure there are many reasons why he did the things he did when he started his rebellion. Pridefulness and arrogance are 2 things that come to mind . . .


Thanx for that elvisman. much appreciated :thumbsup:


And I am sure that your assumption of his motives for why he began the Reformation is not said with any pride or arrogance whatsoever.

In all things charity.


I’m not talking about his motives. I’m aware of the fact that he was disgusted with the problem of men selling indulgences.
One of my problems with Luther is that he is seen as a “Reformer”, when, in fact, he was a Rebel.
He wanted James, Jude and Revelation out of the Bible because HE didn’t agree with them. He thought HE could trump the guidance of the Holy Spirit when it came to the canon of Scripture.
HIS arrogance led to separating faction after faction - the very thing St. Paul warned against.


How does one rebelling against practices which were foreign to ancient Christianity and to orthodoxy somehow connotate arrogance and pride? Do you honestly believe that Luther held his views in a personal vaccum against what early church fathers wrote about? If you do, I would suggest reading his source material rather than relying on apologetic works (that goes for both sides, not just Roman Catholics). His views on Revelation were no different than many of the ancient church fathers who questioned its canonicity… right down to the time of the Reformation itself from within the Catholic Church.

There is nothing in Revelation which explicitly rejects either Catholic or Protestant teaching and, unlike the alleged arguments with Luther’s view of James (which I would dispute), did not simply choose of whim to reject it, but rather, because it’s accuracy was questioned by the church (along with James, Hebrews, etc.)


I don’t think Luther intended things to go the way they did.


Luther was one can short of a six pack!!


You can find a quote or a writer to support any belief or view you care to hold. The fact is that at the time the canon was a settled issue for Catholics and James, Jude and Revelation were included, period. When Martin Luther came along and decided they shouldn’t be included he was doing so for reasons that were less than noble. That is James contradicted his theory of sola fide and had to be gotten rid of. I believe his attempt to get rid of those books were based more on his pride, intellect and sense of authority and less based upon any God-given right to judge these matters separate from a living and breathing Tradition and Magisterium of the Church.



Your decision to judge his motivations must be kept in mind that he has been dead for 500 years and neither you nor I can objectively look into his inner heart. While you’re free to throw ad hominems in his direction till the cows come home, the fact of the matter is that regardless of your views of his motivations or personality, Revelation was never unanimously accepted by many theologians, both ancient and contemporary to Luther. It was not decided by the Church until the Council of Trent (that is, the first ecumenical, hence, “infallible” council to do so). It also must be repeated that Luther did NOT remove it from his translation but included it with every other New Testament book.

“Because its interpretation is uncertain and its meaning hidden, we have also let it alone until now, especially because some of the ancient fathers held that it was not the work of St. John, the Apostle—as is stated in The Ecclesiastical History, Book III, chapter 25.  For our part, we still share this doubt. By that, however, no one should be prevented from regarding this as the work of St. John the Apostle, or of whomever else he chooses.” - Martin Luther LW 35:393, footnote 44.


As ChadS already stated - quite succinctly, I might add - the matter of the canon of Scripture wasn’t “up in the air” anymore. It was canon and the matter was closed. He called the Book of James, the “epistle of straw” because it smashed his belief in Sola Fide.
It was only at the pleading of his contemporaries that he DIDN’T delete these books. He was certainly prideful and stubborn.

As for Revelation - it is indeed a far more Catholic book than Protestants are willing to admit, with its teachings about repetetive prayer, the Blessed Mother crowned in heaven, the Communion of Saints and so on.

As for the practice of selling indulgences, that was never sanctioned by the Church - it was corrupt men within the Church.


“Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God." - Martin Luther LW 35:395.

“In a word, he (James) 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, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.” - Martin Luther LW 35:396.

“In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw,  **compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. But more of this in the other prefaces.” - Martin Luther LW 35:362.

Context, context…**


It seems to me that Luther’s problems are the natural result of the denial of an infallible, authoritative teacher that is the Church. For once we question the Church, we are free to question decisions made on all levels, including the canon of the Sacred Scriptures.

And just because early on in the Church some Fathers were uncertain as to the status of Revelation and others (I’d like to see some sources for that claim, by the way, since the Fathers seemed pretty sure that Paul wrote Hebrews, which is a pretty bold claim about authorship, and the Fathers are our primary resource for believing that John wrote Revelation) does not mean that the matter was still open once Luther was writing. Were the Trinity or the Two Natures of Christ still open even though those issues were met with tremendous conflict? Do Lutherans believe the doctrine of Original Sin to be open to change even though the Eastern Church and many Eastern Fathers seemed to challenge it?

The Church had definitively decided the Canon - Luther really was in no position to alter it, and though I pray that his motives were sincere, his reaction to the Epistle of James is staggering if it was a true response - what holy, humble Christian would dare call any book of Scripture by such terms?

But TriuneUnity’s right - we have to be careful, since we cannot read Luther’s heart.


And there we go with the context - thank you, TriuneUnity, for providing us with that correction. I’m sure we would all hate to keep going around putting such terrible words in any man’s mouth. Thanks!


I can speak to whether Luther was right to question the canonicity of James. He was wrong in his views on the book, as well as Revelation and Hebrews. My point is not to contend that Revelation, is, in fact, non-apostolic, but to give Luther’s reasons for questioning its authorship. He based his views on the internal witness of the book as well as the historical fact that it was disputed. His comments on the book of James are largely in response to a comparison with the other gospels. His statement of it being an epistle of straw is a citation from 1 Corinthians, and he states that Romans, for example, is built on a foundation of gold, because of the way it beautifully expresses the gospel, whereas James speaks mostly in terms of law so it is a lesser work because the primary purpose of scripture is to witness to the saving work of Christ.

As far as the historical evidence of James or Hebrews… speaking to Hebrews Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History, III, iii, 5: “Some dispute the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it was rejected by the church of Rome as not being by Paul.”… Tertullian ascribed the epistle to Barnabas.”

“The fact that Hebrews is not an epistle of St. Paul, or of any other apostle, is proved by what it says in chapter 2:3], that through those who had themselves heard it from the Lord this doctrine has come to us and remained among us. It is thereby made clear that he is speaking about the apostles, as a disciple to whom this doctrine has come from the apostles, perhaps long after them. For St. Paul, in Galatians 1:1], testifies powerfully that he has his gospel from no man, neither through men, but from God himself.” Martin Luther LW 35:394.

t is still a marvelously fine epistle. It discusses Christ’s priesthood masterfully and profoundly on the basis of the Scriptures and extensively interprets the Old Testament in a fine way, Thus it is plain that this is the work of an able and learned man; as a disciple of the apostles he had learned much from them and was greatly experienced in faith and practiced in the Scriptures. And although, as he himself testifies in chapter 6:1], he does not lay the foundation of faith—that is the work of the apostles—nevertheless he does build well on it with gold, silver, precious stones, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 3:12]. Therefore we should not be deterred if wood, straw, or hay are perhaps mixed with them, but accept this fine teaching with all honor; though, to be sure, we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles.” Martin Luther LW 35:394.


Hmm, it’s good to see these sources, thank you. Although I would want to look carefully into Luther’s argument, not because I’m immediately skeptical of Luther, but because people have used similar arguments to “prove” that 1 Corinthians wasn’t written by Paul. In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the gospel (or the tradition, I forget which word) being validated and passed on to him by the other apostles. Some liberal scholars have taken this to contradict his message in Galatians, but Gary Habermas has made pretty short work of that by showing that while Paul received his Gospel from Christ, there was nothing preventing him from speaking with the other apostles and being handed a concise, creedal tradition. In essence Paul, in his humility, accepted tested and tried creedal expressions and formulas to appropriate in his preaching.

Now, I bring this up because I’m not sure if the same can be said to apply to Hebrews. Maybe, maybe not.

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