LUTHER, LAW, AND FAITH
In Luther's theology, whatever God did before the crucifixion is invalidated. "For Christ hath abolished all the laws of Moses that ever were. Wherefore, the conscience believing in Christ must be so surely persuaded that the law is abolished, with its terrors and threatenings, that it should be utterly ignorant whether there were ever any Moses, any law, or any Jew. For Christ and Moses can in no wise agree. Moses came with the law, with works, and with ceremonies; but Christ came without law, or works, or ceremonies, giving grace and righteousness, remission of sins and eternal life: 'For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ' (St. John i.17)." 1
Luther makes six serious errors in this one comment. First, he asserts that "Christ hath abolished all the laws of Moses that ever were." But Yeshua said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill." (Mt.5:17)
Second, Luther says that "the conscience believing in Christ must be so surely persuaded that the law is abolished, with its terrors and threatenings, that it should be utterly ignorant whether there were ever any Moses, any law, or any Jew." But Paul's conscience did not operate that way. By Moses and the law, he was led to Messiah. (Gal.3:24)
In Messiah Paul did not become "utterly ignorant whether there were ever ...any Jew" Quite the opposite, he became fully Jewish. (Rom.2:28-29) Elsewhere Luther had recognized that: "Only he is a genuine Jew who is one inwardly (v.29), that is, who believes in Christ." 2 This Christ, in whom Paul believes, is the Son of David, the King of Israel. (Rom.1:3) The Apostle Paul said, "I am a Jew." Acts 21:39; 22:3)
Third, Gentiles were never under the Law of Moses. Whatever "terrors and threatenings" it may contain, it never applied to Luther or his Gentile audience.
Fourth, Luther claims that, "Christ and Moses can in no wise agree." But Yeshua said, "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" " (Jn.5:46-47)
And Paul notes, "So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good...For we know that the Law is spiritual...For in my inner being I delight in God's law; " (Rom.7:12,14,22) In his commentary on Romans chapter 7, Luther ignores these verses. In his theology, "Jews" are inseparably linked to "Law," and therefore opposed to "Christ."
Fifth, Luther maintains that, "Christ came without law or works, or ceremonies." Yeshua said, "But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me....If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works; that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father...For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me...Which one of you convicts Me of sin?..." (Jn.5:36; 10:37-38; 5:46; 8:46)
Yeshua came as a Jew, did the works of the Law, and observed the ceremonies which God had prepared before the foundation of the world. If Yeshua had come without works, then all the children of Adam would still be lost. "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men; even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." (Rom.5:18-19)
Paul was not hostile to the Law. He recognized that it is "holy, righteous, and good." (Rom.7:12) He knew that it is "spiritual" (Rom.7:14), and he said, "For in my inner being I delight in God's law." (Rom. 7:22)
It had not saved him, but it had led him to Messiah. Paul kept the ceremonies and festivals - Passover, Shavuos (Pentecost), Yom Kippur, etc. He purified himself, paid the expenses of sacrifice for others, and went to the Temple to demonstrate, in Jacob's words, "that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law." (Acts 21:20-26)
Paul himself, as a Jew, did things that Jews should do, but which should not be imposed on Gentiles. Paul's point here was twofold: 1. No one can be justified before God by the Law - "by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight;" and 2. Gentiles do not need to be circumcised and become proselytes-"how is that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
Sixth, there is no "but" in the text of John 1:17. It reads, 'For the law was given by Moses, and grace and truth came by Yeshua the Messiah.' Yeshua did not come in opposition to Moses. He came in agreement with Moses. As Yeshua said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" John 5:46-47
Luther's formulation of salvation "By faith alone" has often been misunderstood. He warned, "that no man should think we reject or forbid good works...But we imagine as it were, two worlds, the one heavenly, the other earthly. In these we place these two kinds of righteousness, being separate the one far from the other. The righteousness of the law is earthly, and hath to do with earthly things....we are made righteous by the Christian righteousness, which appertaineth nothing to the righteousness of the law, or to the earthly and active righteousness." 3
Nevertheless, there are three problems with Luther's position. First, he misunderstood the nature of what he calls "Christian righteousness." Biblically, that is based on faith in the acceptability to God of the life and death of Yeshua. If the life of Yeshua were not righteous by the standard of the Law of Moses, his death would not bring atonement. If the life of Yeshua were not righteous by the standard of the Law of Moses, faith in him would have no value.
Second, this teaching of his produced a faith that could not save. Luther acknowledged that the lives of those who followed him were not godly. "It is a sad fact that he sought to justify this, moreover.... 'Doctrine and life are to be distinguished, the one from the other. With us conduct is as bad as it is with the papists. We don't oppose them on account of conduct. Hus and Wyclif, who made an issue of conduct, were not aware of this...but to treat of doctrine, that is to really come to grips with things.' " 4
What a horrendous teaching, that doctrine is the reality, not life, as though they were two separate things.What a person really believes is not demonstrated by what they claim to believe. It is demonstrated by the life they live. As Jacob wrote, "...I will show you my faith by my works." (Jacob 2:18) As Yeshua will say on the Day of Judgment, "I never knew you. Depart from me you who practice lawlessness!" (Matt. 7:23)
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? ...faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by works, is dead." (Jacob 2:14,17 )
Third, Luther thought that "Christian works" were sufficient in themselves without faith. "How can baptism be more grievously reviled and disgraced than when we say that baptism given to an unbelieving man is not good and genuine baptism!..What, baptism rendered ineffective because I do not believe?...What more blasphemous and offensive doctrine could the devil himself invent and preach?... I put forth the following: Here is a Jew that accepts baptism, as happens often enough, but does not believe, would you then say that this was not real baptism, because he does not believe? That would be to think as a fool thinks not only, but to blasheme and disgrace God moreover." 5
He sounds very much like the very people he condemned for their faith in ritual.
1. Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther, Translated by Erasmus Middletown, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976, P.223
2. Commentary on Romans, Martin Luther, Translated by J. Theodore Mueller, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976, P.63
3. Commentary on Galatians, P.xiv-xv
4. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, Leonard Verduin, Erdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1964, P.108
5. Ibid., P.201
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