Light for our path: Martin Luther vs. books

Why was Martin Luther against so many of the books that are in the Roman Catholic Bible and some that remain in ours also? Also, why did the Protestant Bible throw away so many books, ones it had before the Reformation? 

James F. Pope

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is one of the great Reformation emphases. The term underscores the truth that Scripture alone is the source and foundation of our faith. Since that is the case, it is important to understand what constitutes “Scripture.” Your questions help sharpen that understanding by addressing some misconceptions. 

Opinions of Martin Luther 

Like other theologians before and after him, Martin Luther had opinions of certain biblical books. His views on the book of James, for example, are well-known. To Luther, the book of James seemed to support the idea that people contributed to their salvation by their good works. However, a careful look at the context of the book of James reveals that the author is reminding Christians that good works flow from saving faith. Still, Luther had concerns about the book of James, as well as the books of Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. 

So how do we regard these concerns and thoughts of Luther? We recognize them as his opinions. While we thank God for giving Luther many insights into God’s Word, Luther is not the foundation of our faith. Jesus Christ is. Luther’s writings are not the foundation of our faith. The Bible is. Sola Scriptura. We can disagree with Luther when it comes to something like his views on the book of James. There is no disagreeing, however, with Jesus Christ, and he is at the forefront of the answer to your second question. 

A pronouncement by Jesus Christ 

Your second question refers to the Apocrypha—the seven additional books that are in Roman Catholic Bibles. There is a faulty starting point with the question though, thinking that all followers of God have always recognized the apocryphal books as being divinely inspired. That is not the case. The apocryphal books were never included in the Hebrew Bibles of God’s Old Testament people. The Jews listed the Old Testament books in three categories: the law, the prophets, and the writings. The apocryphal books were not included in any of those categories. 

Jesus himself testified to that during his earthly ministry. When the risen Lord appeared to his frightened disciples on Easter Sunday evening, he explained that his suffering, death, and resurrection were all fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. He told them: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). (The psalms are prominent among the “writings.”) Jesus pronounced the Hebrew Bible—without the Apocrypha—to be the authoritative Word of God.  

So, it is really not a case of the Protestant Bible throwing away books it had before the Reformation. When it comes to the Apocrypha, it is a matter of the Roman Catholic Church adding those books to its version of the Bible. And, incidentally, Rome officially did that in 1546, three years after Luther’s death. 

Finally, you might be interested to know that Martin Luther included the Apocrypha in the German Bible he produced. His preface said the Apocrypha was not inspired but was useful for reading. That was another way of indicating “Scripture alone.”  


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

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