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When Martin Luther Recanted

by Kathryn Frazier  
10/26/2010 / Church Life

October 31, All Hallow's Eve, 1517, Martin Luther, theology professor and Roman Catholic priest, nailed ninety-five theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. The Protestant Reformation had begun. And the seeds for the Holocaust were planted.

When pushed to recant his teachings before the council at Worms, Luther proclaimed with famous defiance, "I can not recant!" This is the stuff of legend. One man standing with God alone against a corrupt religious government. A youth pastor of my acquaintance actually had T-shirts printed in the man's honor. He speaks highly and often of Luther to the teens he shepherds, but like many Protestant leaders, he chooses not to teach the whole story.

Luther grew as popular with the masses as he was unpopular with the leaders of the day. He studied with Jews, because he believed that Christian faith could be found in a Hebraic perspective of the Bible, and he found in Jews fellow resisters of Catholicism. In 'Jesus Christ was Born a Jew', Luther called for compassion on Jews, who were subject to discrimination and forced to live in ghettos. Later in life, on the issue of compassion for Jews, with no prompting from any council, Martin Luther most vehemently recanted.

When the Jews he befriended refused to convert to Christianity, he reacted with fury. In 'On the Jews and Their Lies', Luther called for blood. He said that all Jews are lying, lazy, blasphemous thieves. Christian individuals and governments, he said, must take Jews' belongings, burn their homes, burn their synagogues and holy books, run them out of Germany and wherever they may be found, not allow them safe passage, make slaves of their young, and deal harshly with them, killing thousands in a day. He asserted that God's wrath would consume not only Jews, but anyone who showed them mercy, because showing mercy to Jews only makes them worse, he said.

Many Protestants who consider Luther a hero have never heard this murderous doctrine. But many have. I see leaders deliberately choosing to revise history to support their own denominational preference.

A favorite excuse for selective teaching is that we all are sinners. No man's life is without faults, so we overlook the bad and celebrate the good. C'mon. Not everyone provided fuel for the Holocaust. Really. That's not a thing to overlook.

I also hear, "Many of the Church reformers were Antisemitic. He just reflected the views of the day." As if that makes it OK. So, he joined the ranks of Rameses, Haman, and Antiochus. Not good company. Not a group I want to be aligned with.

And the best one, "I just accept all people." This statement means nothing in regard to Luther. The man is no longer among the living to be accepted or rejected. All we have is his theology, which insists that the problem with Christianity is that Christians did not kill all the Jews. I reject that.

I'm not against teaching history. Luther's life serves as a warning to us all. When he was on the side of the Jews, he saw great spiritual victory. He stood up to misuse of religion and preached salvation through faith in Christ alone. He translated the New Testament into the language of the people. Against the Jews, and under the curse of Genesis 12:3, he died bitter and sickly, an enemy of God. Let us learn a lesson from his life, rather than hold him up as a hero.

For more on the life of Martin Luther, visit

For more on his writing, 'On the Jews and their Lies', visit

Copyright 2011, Kathryn A. Frazier.
Kathryn lives with her husband and children in Tampa, Florida. It's hot there. And swampy. With gators. She's really brave.

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