Apart from their connection of baptism and salvation, the Reformers adopted many other heresies. Zwingli held that “noble” heathen who had never heard of Christ would be in heaven, and only maintained the salvation of unbaptized infants by vitiating the Biblical doctrine of original sin (Romans 5:12-19).[i] Luther either questioned or denied the canonicity of Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation, as well as several Old Testament books, providing a basis for the rise of theological modernism in Germany a century after his death. In Luther’s preface to James, from his first edition of his German New Testament, he stated that “this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients . . . I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle; and my reasons follow. In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works. . . . This fault, therefore, proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle. . . . [T]his James does nothing more than drive to the law and to its works. Besides, he throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the apostles and thus tossed them off on paper. . . . In a word, he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task in spirit, thought, and words. He mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture . . . Therefore, I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books.” In a Tabletalk comment in 1542, Luther affirmed, “We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school [Wittenberg], for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. . . . I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did. . . . Besides, there’s no order or method in the epistle. Now he discusses clothing and then he writes about wrath and is constantly shifting from one to the other. He presents a comparison: ‘As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead’ [Jas. 2:26]. O Mary, mother of God! What a terrible comparison that is! James compares faith with the body when he should rather have compared faith with the soul! The ancients recognized this, too, and therefore they didn’t acknowledge this letter as one of the catholic epistles” (Luther’s Works (LW) 54:424). He also said, “Some day I will use James to fire my stove”[ii] (cf. Jeremiah 36:23-32).
Luther wrote concerning “the epistle of St Jude . . . he also speaks of the apostles like a disciple who comes long after them and cites sayings and incidents that are found nowhere else in the Scriptures. This moved the ancient fathers to exclude this epistle from the main body of the Scriptures . . . it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are supposed to lay the foundations of faith.”[iii] Concerning the book of Hebrews, Luther wrote that the book “does not lay the foundation of faith . . . Therefore we should not be deterred if wood, straw, or hay are perhaps mixed with [sound teaching in the epistle] . . . to be sure, we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles.” In certain places, Hebrews is, “as it stands . . . contrary to all the gospels and to St. Paul’s epistles” (LW 35:394).
In Luther’s Preface to the Revelation of St. John (1522), he wrote, “About this book of the Revelation of John . . . I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic. . . . For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; 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.[iv] 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. Many of the fathers also rejected this book a long time ago; although St. Jerome, to be sure, refers to it in exalted terms and says that it is above all praise and that there are as many mysteries in it as words. Still, Jerome cannot prove this at all, and his praise at numerous places is too generous. . . . My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book.”
In his Preface to the New Testament (1522), Luther stated, “John's Gospel is . . . far, far to be preferred to the other three and placed high above them. So, too, the Epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter far surpass the other three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.”
Luther’s relegation of portions of the New Testament canon to a secondary status is followed by “conservative” modern Lutheranism to this day. Lutheran editions of the Bible in the centuries after the Reformation generally contained their Reformer’s prefaces to the Scriptures along with the books, perpetuating his blasphemies among the following generations of Lutherans.[v]
Luther attacked portions of the Old Testament as well. He said, “Job didn’t speak the way it is written [in his book] . . . One doesn’t speak that way under temptation.”[vi] He affirmed that “The [author of the] book of Solomon's Proverbs [is like] . . . the author of the book of [the Apocryphal book of] Ecclesiasticus. [He] preaches the law well, but he is no prophet. [Ecclesiasticus] is not the work of Solomon, any more than is the book of Solomon’s Proverbs. They are both collections made by other people. . . . [Concerning the book of] Esther . . . I wish [it] had not come to us at all, for [it has] too many heathen unnaturalities. . . . Daniel and Isaiah are [the] most excellent prophets.”[vii] In Luther’s Preface to Ecclesiastes, he wrote, “Now this book was certainly not written or set down by King Solomon with his own hand. Instead scholars put together what others had heard from Solomon’s lips, as they themselves admit at the end of the book . . . In like manner too, the book of the Proverbs of Solomon has been put together by others, with the teaching and sayings of some wise men added at the end. The Song of Solomon too has the appearance of a book compiled by others out of things received from the lips of Solomon. For this reason these books have no particular order either, but one thing is mixed with another. This must be the character of such books, since they did not hear it all from him at one time but at different times” (LW 35:263). Luther stated concerning “Esther . . . [that] despite [the Jews] inclusion of it in the canon [it] deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical” (LW 33:11). Before Luther attacked inspired books of the Old and New Testaments, instead of trembling before them (Isaiah 66:2), he should have considered more carefully that “Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:13; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; Proverbs 30:5-6; Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19).
In 1519, Luther exhorted his congregation to “call upon the holy angels, particularly his own angel, the Mother of God, and all the apostles and saints,” although later on he moved away from prayers to angels, Mary, and other dead people. Nevertheless, Luther kept a graven image of Mary in his study his entire life.[viii] Luther also believed his entire life in Mary’s perpetual virginity. He taught, “Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . [when Scripture speaks of the Lord Jesus’] ‘brothers’ [it] really means ‘cousins.’”[ix] Calvin similarly affirmed, “Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ,” arguing that “brothers” meant merely cousins or relatives.[x] Calvin never denied the perpetual virginity of Mary. Zwingli affirmed, “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.” Zwingli used Exodus 4:22 to defend the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.[xi]
Luther also taught that Mary was conceived without sin, as Christ was, preaching that “It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.”[xii]
The Bible teaches that Mary was a very godly woman (Luke 1:48), although John the Baptist was greater than she (Matthew 11:11). Mary needed to have Christ as her “Saviour” (Luke 1:47) because she was a sinner just like every other descendent of Adam (Romans 3:10, 23; 5:12, 19). The gospels record her bringing a sin offering for her uncleanness (Luke 2:21-24; Lev 12:1-8). Jesus was her “firstborn” son (Matthew 1:25; Lu 2:7), after which God blessed her marriage to Joseph with many other children (Matthew 13:55-56; John 7:5 + Psalm 69:8; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatiansl 1:19). She does not have special access to the Lord Jesus (Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 11:27-28) and praying to her, saying she is the queen of heaven, making her a mediator between God and man, and all other Catholic or Protestant additions to Biblical teaching about her are abominable idolatry (Deuteronomy 12:32; 1 Timothy 2:5; Isaiah 48:11). “Idolaters . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8).
[i] Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, 7:preface:11; 7:1:7:110; 8:2:9; 8:5:45; 8:3:29.
[ii] Weimer, “Tischreden” (5) pg. 5854, cited in “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?” by Mark F. Bartling; a paper presented to the Pastor-Teacher Conference, Western Wisconsin District, LaCrosse, WI, April 12, 1983.
[iii] See Luther’s preface to Jude in his first edition of the German New Testament.
[iv] Note that here Luther explicitly rejects the warning of Revelation 22:18-19! It goes “much too far”! Is the book of Revelation correct, and Luther in error, when the inspired prophecy warns that for he who add or take away from it (Is not rejecting its inspiration most certainly taking away from it?), “God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book . . . and . . . God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book”? Or is Luther correct, and the Word of God in error, so that God goes “much too far” here?
[v] “The German Bible available to homes in the Missouri Synod in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the Altenburger Bibel (Concordia Publishing House), contained Luther’s introductions to the New Testament books, giving his views about Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. The laymen therefore were acquainted with the view of [the] Scriptures [of Luther, questioning their inspiration].” The American Lutheran Synod of 1857 (minutes, pg. 334ff) affirmed, “The Lutheran church must leave it uncertain whether Revelation, or any of the other books of the New Testament which were spoken against by a few in the early church, were written by an Apostle or under Apostolic authority. . . . Consequently, it was an unwise, unchristian, and provocative act on the part of [a Lutheran minister] to conceal the actual status of the doubted New Testament books. Thereby he gave rise to rumors which cast aspersions on those who maintain the distinction between canonical books of the first and second rank; whereas in this distinction they were following the earliest church Luther, and the older orthodox theologians” (Quotations from “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?” by Mark F. Bartling; a paper presented to the Pastor-Teacher Conference, Western Wisconsin District, LaCrosse, WI, April 12, 1983.).
[vi] Luther on Job from the Table Talk, John Aurifaber’s version; LW 54:79.
[vii] Table-Talk Of Martin Luther Translated By William Hazlitt, Esq. Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society. Utterance XXIV. Available at http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/table_talk/table_talk.htm.
[viii] cf. Reformation Church History, Lecture 5, W. Robert Godfrey, (Grand Rapids, MI: Institute of Theological Studies); www.itscourses.org.
[ix] Sermons on John, chapters 1-4, 1537-39.
[x] Bernard Leeming, “Protestants and Our Lady,” Marian Library Studies, January 1967, pg. 9.
[xi] Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 424.
[xii] “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527.