Luther's canon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Luther's 1534 Bible

Luther's canon is the biblical canon attributed to Martin Luther, which has influenced Protestants since the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. While the Lutheran Confessions specifically did not define a biblical canon, it is widely regarded as the canon of the Lutheran Church. It differs from the 1546 Roman Catholic canon of the Council of Trent in that it rejects the deuterocanonical books and questions the seven New Testament books, called "Luther's Antilegomena",[1] four of which are still ordered last in German-language Luther Bibles to this day.[2][3]

Despite Luther's personal commentary on certain books of the Bible, the actual books included in the Luther Bible that came to be used by the Lutheran Churches do not differ greatly from those in the Catholic Bible, though the Luther Bible places what Catholics view as the deuterocanonical books in an intertestamental section, between the Old Testament and New Testmanent, terming these as Apocrypha.[4][5][6] The books of the Apocrypha, in the Lutheran tradition, are non-canonical, but "worthy of reverence," thus being included in Lutheran lectionaries used during the Divine Service; the Luther Bible is widely used by Anabaptist Christians, such as the Amish, as well.[7][8]

Deuterocanonical books[edit]

Luther included the deuterocanonical books in his translation of the German Bible, but he did relocate them to after the Old Testament, calling them "Apocrypha, that are books which are not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read."[9]

Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation[edit]

Some Catholic sources state and certain historians contend that until the definition of the Council of Trent issued on April 8, 1546, the Roman Catholic Church had not yet dogmatically defined the contents of the biblical canon for Catholics and thus settled the matter.[10][11][12][13][14][15] In the 4th century the Council of Rome had outlined the books which now appear in the Catholic canon.[16]

Luther considered Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Revelation to be "disputed books", which he included in his translation but placed separately at the end in his New Testament published in 1522. This group of books begins with the book of Hebrews, and in its preface Luther states, "Up to this point we have had to do with the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation." Some[who?] opine that Luther's low view of these books was due more to his theological reservations than to any historical basis regarding them.[1]

In his book Basic Theology, Charles Caldwell Ryrie countered the claim that Luther rejected the Book of James as being non-canonical.[17] In his preface to the New Testament, Luther ascribed to several books of the New Testament different degrees of doctrinal value:

St. John's Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul's Epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and St. Peter's Epistle—these are the books which show to thee Christ, and teach everything that is necessary and blessed for thee to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book of doctrine. Therefore, St. James' Epistle is a perfect straw-epistle compared with them, for it has in it nothing of an evangelic kind."[18]

Thus Luther was comparing (in his opinion) doctrinal value, not canonical validity.

However, Ryrie's theory is countered by other biblical scholars, including William Barclay, who note that Luther stated plainly, if not bluntly: "I think highly of the epistle of James, and regard it as valuable although it was rejected in early days. It does not expound human doctrines, but lays much emphasis on God's law. […] I do not hold it to be of apostolic authorship."[19]

Sola fide doctrine[edit]

In The Protestant Spirit of Luther’s Version, Philip Schaff asserts that:

The most important example of dogmatic influence in Luther’s version is the famous interpolation of the word alone in Rom. 3:28 (allein durch den Glauben), by which he intended to emphasize his solifidian doctrine of justification, on the plea that the German idiom required the insertion for the sake of clearness. But he thereby brought Paul into direct verbal conflict with James, who says (James 2:24), "by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" ("nicht durch den Glauben allein"). It is well known that Luther deemed it impossible to harmonize the two apostles in this article, and characterized the Epistle of James as an "epistle of straw," because it had no evangelical character ("keine evangelische Art").[20]

Martin Luther's description of the Epistle of James changes. In some cases, Luther argues that it was not written by an apostle; but in other cases, he describes James as the work of an apostle.[21][verification needed] He even cites it as authoritative teaching from God[22] and describes James as "a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God."[23] Lutherans hold that the Epistle is rightly part of the New Testament, citing its authority in the Book of Concord.[24]

Lutheran teachings resolve James' and Paul's verbal conflict regarding faith and works in alternate ways from the Catholics and E. Orthodox:

Paul was dealing with one kind of error while James was dealing with a different error. The errorists Paul was dealing with were people who said that works of the law were needed to be added to faith in order to help earn God's favor. Paul countered this error by pointing out that salvation was by faith alone apart from deeds of the law (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:21-22). Paul also taught that saving faith is not dead but alive, showing thanks to God in deeds of love (Galatians 5:6 ['...since in Christ Jesus it is not being circumcised or being uncircumcised that can effect anything - only faith working through love.']). James was dealing with errorists who said that if they had faith they didn't need to show love by a life of faith (James 2:14-17). James countered this error by teaching that faith is alive, showing itself to be so by deeds of love (James 2:18,26). James and Paul both teach that salvation is by faith alone and also that faith is never alone but shows itself to be alive by deeds of love that express a believer's thanks to God for the free gift of salvation by faith in Jesus.[25]

Similar canons at the time[edit]

In his book Canon of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger notes that in 1596 Jacob Lucius published a Bible at Hamburg which labeled as Apocrypha Luther's four Antilegomena: Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation; Lucius explained this category of "Apocrypha" as "That is, books that are not held equal to the other holy Scripture". David Wolder, the pastor of Hamburg's Church of St. Peter, published in the same year a triglot Bible which labeled those books as "non canonical". J. Vogt published a Bible at Goslar in 1614 similar to Lucius'. In Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus published in 1618 the Gustavus Adolphus Bible with those four books labeled as "Apocr(yphal) New Testament." Metzger considers those decisions a "startling deviation among Lutheran editions of the Scriptures".[26]

Usage among Nonconformist Protestants[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Luther's Antilegomena". Retrieved 2020-07-15.
  2. ^ "Gedruckte Ausgaben der Lutherbibel von 1545". Archived from the original on 2001-05-14. note order: …Hebräer, Jakobus, Judas, Offenbarung
  3. ^ "German Bible Versions".
  4. ^ Hiers, Richard H. (1 October 2001). The Trinity Guide to the Bible. A&C Black. p. 148. ISBN 978-1-56338-340-3.
  5. ^ Kurian, George Thomas; Lamport, Mark A. (10 November 2016). Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-4422-4432-0. Luther's Bible included the Apocrypha and Anglicans use Bibles that (typically) include the Apocrypha but it is considered worthy of reverence but not equal in authority to canonical scripture.
  6. ^ The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopædia and Scriptural Dictionary, Fully Defining and Explaining All Religious Terms, Including Biographical, Geographical, Historical, Archæological and Doctrinal Themes, p. 521, edited by Samuel Fallows et al., The Howard-Severance company, 1901, 1910.
  7. ^ Readings from the Apocrypha. Forward Movement Publications. 1981. p. 5.
  8. ^ Wesner, Erik J. "The Bible". Amish America. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  9. ^ Kitto, John (Editor), (1845). A Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, Vol 1, (p556). Mark H Newman, NY
  10. ^ "The Canon". New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Publishing. 2003. pp. 20, 26.
  11. ^ Reid, George (1908). Canon of the Old Testament. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Co. Retrieved 7 October 2019. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  12. ^ Reid, George (1908). Canon of the New Testament. New York: Robert Appleton Co. Retrieved 7 October 2019. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  13. ^ Gamble, Harry (2002). The Canon Debate. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. p. 291.
  14. ^ Lienhard, Joseph (1995). The Bible, the Church, and Authority. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press. p. 59.
  15. ^ Edmon, L. Gallagher (2017). "1. The Development of the Christian Biblical Canon". The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis. U.K.: Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780192511027.
  16. ^ Jurgens, W.A., ed. (1970). "The Decree of Damasus [A.D. 382] - 910.t". The Faith of the Early Fathers: Pre-Nicene and Nicene eras. Vol. 1. Liturgical Press. p. 406. ISBN 978-0-8146-0432-8.
  17. ^ Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Basic Theology.
  18. ^ "Vorrhede". Das Newe Testament Deutzsch. Translated by Luther, Martin. Wittenberg: Wikisource. 1522.
  19. ^ Martin Luther, as quoted by William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible. The Letters of James and Peter (1976), revised edition, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 7.
  20. ^ "History of the Christian Church, book 7, chapter 4".
  21. ^ Die deutsche Bibel 41:578-90
  22. ^ Luther's Large Catechism, IV 122-24
  23. ^ Luther's Works (American Edition) 35:395
  24. ^ The Lutheran Study Bible. Concordia Publishing House, 2009, p2132
  25. ^ "Faith and Works". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Archived from the original on 2013-12-20. Retrieved 30 Sep 2015.
  26. ^ Metzger, Bruce M. (1989) [1987]. "X. Attempts at Closing the Canon in the West". The Canon of the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 244–245. ISBN 0-19-826180-2.