Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Ten Martin Luther Myths
06/30/2007 - James SwanI regularly get e-mail from people I don't know asking questions about Martin Luther. I've even had people contact me in the hopes I will help write their research papers for school (I will not!). Recently, I was sent a few Luther questions, and I was amazed certain myths still circulate. Despite the explosion of cyber-information, here are ten that somehow still survive.
1. Luther Threw an Inkwell at Satan
Recently I found a Jehovah's Witness attempting to prove Luther was a psychopath. He brought up the story in which Luther hurled an inkwell at Satan. The story is not true. It first appeared towards the end of the sixteenth century, and is said to have been told by a former Wittenberg student. In this early version, the Devil in the guise of a monk threw an inkwell at Luther while he was secluded in the Wartburg. By 1650, the story shifted to Luther throwing the inkwell at Satan. Like any bizarre legend, the story morphed, and houses where Luther stayed had spots on the walls, and these were also said to be inkwells that Luther threw at the Devil.
2. Luther's Evangelical Breakthrough Occurred in the Bathroom
This same Jehovah's Witness denigrated Luther by repeating a newer myth, that Luther's understanding of Romans 1:17-18 came to him while in the bathroom in the tower of the Augustinian cloister. In the twentieth century, many approached Luther by applying psychoanalysis to his writings. Psychologist Eric Erikson took a German phrase uttered by Luther and interpreted it literally to mean Luther was in the bathroom when he had his evangelical breakthrough. Erikson concluded, from a Freudian perspective, Luther's spiritual issues were tied up with biological functions. But, there was not a bathroom in the tower. The phrase Erikson interpreted literally in German was simply conventional speech. Luther really was saying that his breakthrough came during a time when he was depressed, or in a state of melancholy.
3. Luther Repented and Re-entered the Church on his Deathbed
I've come across this one on popular Catholic discussion boards. No, it is not true. One of Luther's early opponents popularized the account that Luther was a child of the Devil, and was taken directly to Hell when he died. Now though, more ecumenically minded Catholics hope for the ultimate in conversion stories. Luther died around 3:00 AM on February 18, 1546. His last words and actions were recorded by his friend Justus Jonas. Luther was asked, "Reverend father, will you die steadfast in Christ and the doctrines you have preached?" Luther responded affirmatively. Luther also quoted John 3:16 and Psalm 31:5. In his last prayer he said to God, "Yet I know as a certainty that I shall live with you eternally and that no one shall be able to pluck me out of your hands." These are hardly the words of a Roman Catholic waiting to enter purgatory.
4. Luther's Hymns Were Originally Tavern Songs
Some involved in Contemporary Christian Music use this argument to validate contemporary styles of music being used in church: if even the great Martin Luther found value in contemporary music being used in Church, shouldn't we likewise do the same? In actuality, Luther used only one popular folk tune, I Came From An Alien Country, changed the words, and named the hymn, From Heaven On High, I Come to You. Four years after he did this, he changed the music to an original composition.
5. Luther Spoke in Tongues
Charismatic cyber-apologists have put this one out. They refer to an old quote from a German historian who stated, "Luther was easily the greatest evangelical man after the apostles, full of inner love to the Lord like John, hasty in deed like Peter, deep in thinking like Paul, cunning and powerful in speech like Elijah, uncompromising against God's enemies like David; PROPHET and evangelist, speaker-in-tongues and interpreter in one person, equipped with all the gifts of grace, a light and pillar of the church..." Luther though held, "Tongues are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers. But later on, when the church had been gathered and confirmed by these signs, it was not necessary for this visible sending forth of the Holy Spirit to continue."
6. Luther Added The Word Alone To Romans 3:28
This is frequently brought up by the zealous defenders of Rome. Luther is said to have been so careless and outrageous with his translation of the Bible, he simply added words to make the Bible say what he wanted it to. Luther gave a detailed explanation of why the passage has the meaning of alone,and this explanation has been available online for years. This charge also shows an ignorance of church history. Roman Catholic writer Joseph A. Fitzmyer points out, "...[T]wo of the points that Luther made in his defense of the added adverb were that it was demanded by the context and that sola was used in the theological tradition before him." Fitzmyer lists the following: Origen, Hillary, Basil, Ambrosiaster, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Bernard, Theophylact, Theodoret, Thomas Aquinas, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Marius Victorinus, and Augustine [Joseph A. Fitzmyer Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993) 360-361].
7. Luther Was an Antinomian and Hated the Law of God
Recently a friend wrote me and said charges about Luther being an antinomian were circulating in his church. Luther's theology indeed has a place for the law of God and its use in the life of a Christian. The law for Luther was dual purposed: it first drives one to see their sin and need for a savior; secondly it functions in the life of a Christian to lead one to a correct understanding of the good one ought to do. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Luther knows how important Moses and the law was in his theology. In Luther's Small Catechism the Ten Commandments were placed first because he wanted people to understand that God is wrathful against sin. The negative prohibitions in the Ten Commandments clearly showed our need for a savior. Also in his Small Catechism, Luther suggests a daily regiment of prayer and includes a verbal reading of the Ten Commandments.
8. Luther Acted Like a Protestant Pope
Catholic apologists perpetuate this one. They tend to reduce everything to a need for an infallible interpreter. They use highly rhetorical or polemical comments from Luther out of context, rather than those statements when Luther evaluates his value and his work. Toward the end of his life, Luther reviewed his work and stated, "My consolation is that, in time, my books will lie forgotten in the dust anyhow, especially if I (by Gods grace) have written anything good." And also, "I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board" [LW 34: 283-284].
9. Luther Was a Drunk
The historical record nowhere documents Luther ever being drunk. It does provide evidence that he did drink alcohol, and that he enjoyed drinking. One needs only to survey the massive output of work that Luther produced to settle the matter that he was not an alcoholic, nor did he have a drinking problem. Luther preached and wrote against drunkenness throughout his entire life with vigor and force.
10. Luther Said Imputed Righteousness is Like Snow Covered Dung
I saved this one for last, simply because I'm not sure if it's a myth or not. It does seem to me like something Luther would've said: "Therefore let us embrace Christ, who was delivered for us, and His righteousness; but let us regard our righteousness as dung, so that we, having died to sins, may live to God alone" [LW 30:294]. "Explanation of Martin Luther: I said before that our righteousness is dung in the sight of God. Now if God chooses to adorn dung, he can do so. It does not hurt the sun, because it sends its rays into the sewer" [LW 34: 184].
Utter Desperation: Watchtower Style
06/12/2007 - James WhiteTwo months ago I posted a response to Greg Stafford illustrating, once again, why Christians down through the ages have believed what the Watchtower denies: that Jesus Christ is identified as hwhy (Yahweh) by the New Testament writers. Over the past two months folks have sent me notes indicating that Stafford was working on a reply. Given how long it was taking, I predicted, to those same folks, a lengthy tome filled with all sorts of irrelevant material (aka, dust and smoke) all designed to "solidify the base" in essence, but not to provide much in the way of substantive interaction. And glancing over what has been posted, I must say my predictions were spot-on.
I confess, replying to Stafford is becoming as unpleasant as dealing with anything said by Dave Armstrong. You know that no matter what you say, or how you say it, your words will be subject to interminable spinning and death by a thousand qualifications. The "cheap shot" quotient is high indeed, and every opportunity to impugn my intentions and character is taken in full. Now, as there has been even more promised, I will not invest much time as yet (given it took him 60 days to respond to my posts, I figure I have a proportional amount of time to reply to his much lengthier tomes) in the current posts, but as I was saving the texts to my drive, my eyes fell upon this paragraph:
 Here White does it again! He completely misrepresents the text by saying that “it’s very clear” that in John 12:41 John is “quoting from the Septuagint there”! “Quoting from the Septuagint”? These claims are simply outrageous and go far beyond what is “very clear.” Again, White can argue, as can I, that there is a context in Isaiah which uses the terms forming the expression used by John, though he does not use the exact same expression, but this is then, for either side, not a case where John is “quoting from” the text of either Isaiah 6 or Isaiah 52/53, that is, when John says Isaiah “saw his glory and spoke about him.” White would have his followers and everyone else believe that John is actually, “very clearly,” “quoting from the Septuagint there”! He is not. In John 12:41 John may be borrowing language or using terms from Isaiah 6 or from Isaiah 52/53, but John is not “quoting from the Septuagint there.”
If this is representative of the rest of it, this will be an exercise in futility. I made it plain what I meant by "quoting," as my original statements demonstrate:
Let's remember that the Greek speaking audience of this Gospel would have possessed and read the Greek Septuagint, the LXX. I have asserted that John is plainly making reference to Isaiah 6:1 when he says Isaiah "said these things" because Isaiah saw His glory and spoke of Him. Stafford cannot allow this because, of course, he's one of Jehovah's Witnesses, and he cannot allow anything that would violate the central, definitional doctrine of the Watchtower. Let's compare. Here is Stafford's proposed reading:
Isaiah Source John's Reading kai. doxasqh,setai sfo,dra ei=den th.n do,xan auvtou/
Now compare mine:
Isaiah Source John's Reading ei=don to.n ku,rion ... plh,rhj o` oi=koj th/j do,xhj auvtou/ ei=den th.n do,xan auvtou/
The linguistic parallels are overwhelmingly clear. Finding a verbal form (doxasqh,setai) in 52:13, while ignoring the direct parallel found in 6:1, using the same verb (ei=don is the first person singular aorist form, "I saw," while John uses the third person singular, ei=den, "he saw," since he is referring to Isaiah) and the same noun (th/j do,xhj auvtou/, genitive form, vs. John's th.n do,xan auvtou/, accusative as the direct object of the verb) is a classic example of eisegesis created by external authorities. It is also important to note that the LXX differs from the Massoretic text at this point, so, John's focus upon the glory is all the more important and significant. There is only one reference to what Isaiah "saw" in these texts, and one reference to "his glory" as well, and it is in the introduction to Isaiah's temple vision. Given that John makes the direct connection of the one whose glory Isaiah saw with Jesus, you can see why Stafford cannot, presuppositionally, "see" the direct linguistic parallel.
Keep your eye on the ball, so to speak, for I can guarantee you, it is Stafford's goal to throw such a mass of "data" around as to obscure the actual issue (this is a long time modus operandi of Stafford, the replies and counter-replies that become so huge, so daunting, as to keep the discussion from having any impact). How would John's original audience have understood his words? Would the original audience of this gospel have made the connection to Isa. 6:1 given the forms used by John? Or would they go elsewhere for the background to John's words? Whose interpretation fits naturally, and whose is forced upon them by an external authority? We shall see.
Spong on the Apostle Paul
06/04/2007 - James WhiteI have often said that seeing folks saying these things has a different impact on us than just hearing it. So I am so thankful that the DVD of the debate with John Shelby Spong on homosexuality is now available. I posted a clip a few days ago, and here is a second. You can see how frustrating it was to try to get Spong to engage in meaningful cross-examination on the topic at hand, but I kept trying. Here Spong opines on the topic of the Apostle Paul. You could tell he did not want to go here, but since I was quoting his own writings, he did not have any choice. Of course, he hadn't read anything I had written on the topic, so he had no recourse.