Steadfast Media Pick of the Week — Was Luther Anti-Semitic?

Was Luther Anti-Semitic?

Uwe Siemon-Netto argues against the notion that Martin Luther was anti-Semitic. He argues that while Luther wrote some unfortunate things later in life they need to be understood in the context of the times and his life.



Steadfast Media Pick of the Week — Was Luther Anti-Semitic? — 22 Comments

  1. “Was Luther Anti-Semitic?”

    The Issues, Etc. interview with Uwe Siemon-Netto was on October 29, 2004. Earlier that year, in his article, “Luther and the Jews” (The Lutheran Witness, Vol. 123 No. 4, April, 2004, pp. 16-19), Uwe Siemon-Netto answered the question this way:

    “So he [Luther] was an anti-Semite after all, wasn’t he? He was not. Anti-Semites are racists, and racists appeared on the scene much later in history—after the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Luther did not think of Jews in ethnic terms; his bias was religious. Just before his death he admonished the princes to treat converts from Judaism as brethren.”

    On p. 17 of the linked article is a box giving “The Synod’s Response” from their Q&A column for October 1994. The current LCMS response to the question, “What is the Missouri Synod’s response to the anti-Semitic statements made by Luther?”, can be seen in “LCMS Views – Contemporary Issues: Luther’s anti-Semitism” (pp. 13-14).

  2. I’m grateful, as are most members of my Dad’s side of our 3 generations, come from Jewish decent, Luther was not anti-semitic!

    If he would have been, why would so many Jews (non practicing then) convert to Lutheran?! Half Catholic, half Lutheran. Those who are not just so in name, are the Lutherans. Who serve, who value their Faith, it’s Doctrines, who’s lives & every aspect of it, are governed by that Faith. They were & we are Lutheran for a reason!

    No, Luther was not. He wrote that piece, on one of his not-red-letter days. No Jew, practicing or not, would ever convert, to those that decry or hate them.

    3 generations of my family, are mercifully, lovingly, & most blessed Lutheran, for a reason.
    They were not & did not. Be mindful though, the old addage is true, “those who do, are no Jew.”
    To Jews, we are not Jewish, but we still are. It’s the only ancestry, that cannot be separated from a faith.
    No, Luther was not. My family proves it in spades.

  3. FYI,
    Look & do your homework.
    How long, did the Inqui. last? Luther had a price on his head, under it. Those who do not know their history, Theological or historical, will repeat it.

    This piece, speaks well of it.

    If I could link, Mel Brooks, History of the World Part 1, w/that, I would. That, was the Inqui, .
    If someone else can, please do! No wonder, so many Jews, became Lutheran!
    Luther was like Moses, he wanted to see it, sometimes, you have to wait, on Him. His time, not ours, theirs, or anyone else’s. It took a few centuries, for the doing, but it did get done.
    Luther just was not here or was allowed to see it, be done.

    If ya can link that Mel Brooks piece, I & mine, would be most grateful!

  4. A different and controversial set of responses to the question is provided by Eric. W. Gritsch (author of Martin – God’s Court Jester: Martin Luther in Retrospect [1983] and more than ten other books), in the concluding chapter of his latest book, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2012, 158 pages).

    Gritsch (a retired XXXA pastor/professor) has an autobiography, The Boy from the Burgenland: From Hitler Youth to Seminary Professor (Infinity Pub., 2006, 739 pages).

  5. Carl #4,
    You have got to be joking….1983?

    Try the expultion of the Jews, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the late 1800’s.
    Try their expultion under Edward the 1st in England, (Ivanhoe).

    Jews know & will only acknowledge the Old Testament, New Testament, & Luther in this.

    You are looking at this, through your own eyes & knowledge. That is not how you reach, speak, or teach.

    Carl, luv ya to bits, but ya need to do your homework from their side & point of view, not ours!

  6. Hey, Dutch, don’t shoot the messenger!

    In The Cresset, Michaelmas 2012 (Vol LXXVI, No. 1, pp 54-55) Darrell Jodock has a review of Gritsch’s 2012 book, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism. In his review Jodock explains the difference between the “anti-Semitism” used by Gritsch and the “anti-Judaic” concept used by Luther (and Siemon-Netto):

    For the author [Gritsch], “anti-Semitism” is essentially an irrational hatred of, hostility toward, or prejudice against the Jews. Because Luther’s stance went beyond a calm theological judgment, Gritsch quite understandably dismisses the claim of some other scholars that Luther was “anti-Judaic” rather than “anti-Semitic” But Gritsch’s exclusive reliance on the concept of “anti-Semitism” obscures an important distinction between “anti-Judaism” and “anti-Semitism.” To be sure, the two concepts overlap, and the effects of one are not necessarily less serious than the effects of the other, but the distinction is still helpful. “Anti-Judaism” operates in a religious framework. It rejects the validity of a religion—of Judaism. In Luther’s case, it involved supersessionism, the idea that Christianity had superseded Judaism and that the latter was a thing of the past. This theological basis remained constant; it was present in 1523 as well as in 1543. On the other hand, modern anti-Semitism has a racial basis. For it, Jews are a malignant presence in society, whether they are religiously observant or not. For anti-Judaism, a Jew who converts ceases to be a problem. For anti-Semitism, a Jew who converts is still a Jew. My purpose is not to “save” Luther from the charge of anti-Semitism, but to argue that the distinction between “anti-Judaism” and “anti-Semitism” is useful when understanding what undergirded Luther’s position and when sorting out its relationship to the Holocaust. Even if he misinterprets the Scriptures, Luther bases his arguments on the Bible rather than racial theory. By contrast, Nazi anti-Semites claimed the support of nineteenth-century racial interpretations of history and early twentieth-century biological science. This shift mattered, because, in the end, removing “the malignancy” was only possible with “the final solution.”

  7. In his review Darrell Jodock also provides an explanation of Gritsch’s subtitle of his book (also included in the italicized quote at the beginning of Gritsch’s Conclusion chapter, p. 138) – “Consequently, Luther’s attitude to the Jews is against his better judgment.”

  8. Carl,
    Um….LCMS mission, Apple of His Eye LCMS ministry. You are the king of look up’s & info, send the link & info.

    Luther, considering there was a price on his own head, for/under the Inquisition, truely thought in the beginning, Jews would convert in droves. One by one yes, in droves, no. Monday morning quarterback game.

    Luther in his last days, wrote alot of things, he should not have penned. That, paper was just one of. Bonhoeffer, was taken not because of Lutheran leanings, but because he was part or parcile, of spiriting Jews out. Lutherans, some did & were willing to run a huge risk for the doing. Sharing w/any Jew, then or now, carries a risk.

    In WWI, my great grandma, ran a huge risk, feeding the Poles, in the pow camp, down the road. My Papa wrote & told us about it. The Kirche, was too far to attend weekly. High Holidays, baptize, confirm, marry, & bury, as he said. Live daily, always.

    LCMS Apple of His Eye, Carl. There are more mischlings, than just my family!

  9. Carl,
    Ck Wiki. Mischlinge, were usually Protestant. Things that make ya go, hmmm…

    I am not ashamed of being German, Danish, Hungarian/German Gypsy, or Jewish. To say so would be to say I am ashamed of my own family. I’m not. I am of Jewish decent. 3 of 4, the oldest lineage, is German/Dane, the name is Jewish root.
    Is anyone here at BJS ashamed of their lineage? Why?

    I just can’t celebrate mine, the way others can. To do so, is to celebrate the Law, which who would?! Who could?!
    No, I’m glad & thankful of all of mine, Jewish is just a part. However, when I read, I know, that’s me, there in the OT. Just as it is, you or anyone else.
    Carl, never forget, we are all, adopted sons & daughters & why, we most certainly & mercifully are!

  10. Dutch, when you use the word, “Jew” or “Jewish,” are you using the word to distinguish a religion, a culture, a genetic heritage, a race of people, or are you using some other definition?

  11. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    First, many thanks to Mr. Yamabe for finding and posting Dr. Siemon-Netto’s and Pastor Wilken’s excellent interview on this subject. This classic interview has stood the test of time for its usefulness, in great part due to the superior abilities of its two speakers.

    Second, Lutherans need to realize that this topic is one of several “obstacles” to the Lutheran faith for many Americans. We need to learn how to speak intelligently to this subject when it comes up in conversation. Many Americans equate “Nazi” with “Lutheran.”

    Third, I was recently asked to do a similar topic for KFUO. My interview covers more information about the Lutheran church in Germany in the Nazi era, based on the recent book by Lowell Green published by CPH, but also covers similar ground as Dr. Siemon-Netto with respect to Luther. The results are available here:

    Fourth, the present issue of LOGIA is titled “Luther and Anti-Semitism.” It has several excellent articles on the subject and few book reviews on the topic too. You may obtain a single issue here:

    Thanks again to Brian and the editors at BJS for finding “Great Stuff” for all of us to study, enjoy, and use!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  12. In discussing various sections of Martin Luther’s 1543 book, Vom Schem Hamphoras, full title: Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlecht Christi (Of the Unknowable Name and the Generations of Christ), one may want to refer to this translation of Vom Schem Hamphoras. The translation is provided in eight parts, links to which are provided in the Table of Contents included in Part 1.

    Part 1 also includes a link to Martin Luther’s essay, “On the Jews and Their Lies,” translated by Martin H. Bertram.

  13. Blessings Pastor Nolan!
    The Logia piece, is fantastic. Page 7, where it states, “…he wanted to restore the Messianic heritage to Israel…” is what I was trying to get at, albeit, badly done. I agree, sometimes, I think we tend to forget how to speak to others from different faiths. Basic understandings of theirs & what they will leave behind & what will happen if they do, sometimes, gets lost. I’m very glad, it didn’t with my Grandma!

    Here is the link for the LCMS RSO, Apple of His Eye

  14. I’ve had some discussions with people before about this. Those who think Luther was anti-semitic (which, btw, encompasses pretty much anybody of middle eastern descent, not just Jewish) have pointed to the language he uses concerning his diatribe against Judaists.

    What is ignored, however, is that Luther uses such harsh terms with Romanists, Turks (Muslims), and others as well. It was personal for him insofar as that he loved the truth, not because somebody looked different than he did.

  15. Carl #17,
    You are still missing the point. You are looking at this thru your own eyes, not through their’s.

  16. Dutch, I’ve quoted from, summarized, or referenced nine different sources dealing with the issue of Luther and the Jews. As for your point that I am “missing the point” (which seems to partly include linking to Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1), it is not clear what your point is.

  17. Carl,
    It’s kind of easy. You reach, witness & teach, w/them in mind, not just what all we know. We don’t know the toll & what they may have to leave behind.
    It isn’t just a praise band or happy clappy. Some leave much more. Listing Lutheran works, isn’t helpful, if ya want to link to those some here may want to reach.

  18. Dutch,

    I think you are confusing my referencing various Lutheran documents for discussion on this thread with the notion that I am providing evangelism tools to distribute to Jews.

    As for any nonbeliever who becomes a Christian, they will leave behind their false beliefs behaviors, various aspects of their culture, and there may also be strains in relationships with family and friends who are not Christians.

    Of course, if a Christian converts from Islam, that Christian may also literally lose their head.

  19. I had read that what upset Luther about the Jews was from reading the Talmud, which has some extremely disturbing contents.

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