Lutherís Preface to James and Jude

Did Luther consider James Scripture?

A look at the preface to James and Jude

By Matt1618

The following is the translation from Luthers Works, vol. 35. pages 395-398. This is his preface to James and Jude. Now in green are some comments that Luther originally made that were in editions of his Bible prior to 1530. After 1530, the first comments in Green were removed. The second comments in green made by Luther were replaced by other comments that are in maroon in the editions after 1530. I do not give commentary, but I think that Luther speaks for himself: He does not consider James Scripture, even if the book was in his Bible. The Deuterocanonical books were also in his Bible. The four books that he considered not a part of the true canon, Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were never numbered with the other 23 books of the New Testament.

After that, I give a second translation of these same comments also given at the same time (1956) by Bertran Lee Woolf, The Reformation Writings of Martin Luther, vol. II, The Spirit of the Protestant Reformation, , London: Lutterworth Press, 1956, as found in a book edited by a John Dillenberger, editor Martin Luther : Selections from His writings (Garden City N.Y. Doubleday Anchor, 1961), p.35. This is a translation of the same preface to St. James and Jude. . I think it is plain as day that Luther considers these books as uninspired, but I will give you Luther's full preface so you can judge for yourself whether he considers these books (here James and Jude) inspired Scripture, but he also spoke of Revelation and Hebrews as well, similarly. I bold the sections that I choose to highlight, they are not of course highlighted by Luther or the editors of Luther's Works.

Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, 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 2:24). It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac (2:20); Though in Romans 4:22-22 St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15:6. Although it would be possible to "save" the epistle by a gloss giving a correct explanation of justification here ascribed to works, it is impossible to deny that it does refer to Moses' words in Genesis 15 (which speaks not of Abraham's works but of his faith, just as Paul makes plain in Romans 4) to Abraham's works. This fault proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle.

In the second place its purpose is to teach Christians, but in all this long teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ. He names Christ several times; however he teaches nothing about him, but only speaks of general faith in God. Now it is the office of a true apostle to preach of the Passion and resurrection and office of Christ, and to lay the foundation for faith in him, as Christ himself says in John 15[:27], "You shall bear witness to me.? All the genuine sacred books agree in this, that all of them preach and inculcate [_treiben_] Christ. And that is the true test by which to judge all books, when we see whether or not they inculcate Christ. For all the Scriptures show us Christ, Romans 3[:21]; and St. Paul will know nothing but Christ, I Corinthians 2[:2]. Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching. Again, whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod were doing it." (__ibid__).

But this James does nothing more than drive to the law and 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. Or it may perhaps have been written by someone on the basis of his preaching. He calls the law a "law of liberty" [1:25], though Paul calls it a law of slavery, of wrath, of death, and of sin.

Moreover he cites the sayings of St. Peter [in 5:20]; Love covers a multitude of sins" [1 Pet. 4:8], and again [in 4:10], "Humble yourselves under he had of God" [1 Pet. 5:6] also the saying of St. Paul in Galatians 5[:17], "The Spirit lusteth against envy." And yet, in point of time, St. James was put to death by Herod [Acts 12:2] in Jerusalem, before St. Peter. So it seems that [this author] came long after St. Peter and St. Paul.

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. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him. Therefore I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him. One man is no man in worldly things; how then, should this single man alone avail against Paul and all Scripture.

Concerning the epistle of St. Jude, no one can deny that it is an extract or copy of St. Peter's second epistle, so very like it are all the words. He also speaks of the apostles like a disciple who comes long after them [Jude 17] and cites sayings and incidents that are found nowhere else in the Scriptures [Jude 9, 14]. This moved the ancient Fathers to exclude this epistle from the main body of the Scriptures. Moreover the Apostle Jude did not go to Greek-speaking lands, but to Persia, as it is said, so that he did not write Greek. Therefore, although I value this book, it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are supposed to lay the foundations of faith.

End of first translation

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The next is the translation of the above, translated by a defender of the 'Reformation', John Dillenberger, editor Martin Luther : Selections from His writings (Garden City N.Y. Doubleday Anchor, 1961 (this is reprinted by permission from The Reformation Writings of Martin Luther, vol. II, The Spirit of the Protestant Reformation, translated and titled by Betram Lee Woolf (London: Lutherworth Press, 1956), ), p.35. Preface to James and Jude, pages 35-36.

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. Yet to give my own opinion without prejudice to that of anyone else, I do not hold it to be of apostolic authorship, for the following reasons:

Firstly, because, in direct opposition to St. Paul and all the rest of the Bible, it ascribes justification to works, and declares that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered up his son. St. Paul, on the contrary, in Romans 4[:3], teaches that Abraham was justified without works, by his faith alone, the proof being in Genesis 15 [:6], which was before he sacrificed his son. Although it would be possible to 'save' the epistle by a gloss giving a correct explanation of justification here ascribed to works, it is impossible to deny that it does refer to Moses's word in Genesis 15 (which speaks not of Abraham's works but of his faith, just as Paul makes plain in Romans 4) to Abraham's works. This defect proves that the epistle is not of apostolic provenance.

Secondly, because, in the whole length of its teaching, not once does it give Christians any instruction or reminder of the passion, resurrection, or spirit of Christ. It mentions Christ once and again, but teaches nothing about Him; it speaks only of a commonplace faith in God. It is the office of a true apostle to preach the passion and resurrection and work of Christ, and to lay down the true ground for this faith, as Christ himself says in John 15 [:27], You shall be my witnesses. All genuinely sacred books are unanimous here, and all preach Christ emphatically. The true touchstone for testing every book is to discover whether it emphasizes the prominence of Christ or not. All Scripture sets forth Christ, Romans 3::24 f.] and Paul will know nothing but Christ, 1 Corinthians 2 [:2]. What does not teach Christ is not apostolic, not even if taught by Peter or Paul. On the other hand, what does preach Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate or Herod does it.

The epistle of James, however, only drives you to the law, and its works. He mixes one thing with another to such an extent that I suspect some good and pious man assembled a few things said by disciples of the apostles, and then put them down in black and white; or perhaps the epistle was written by someone else who made notes of a sermon of his. He calls the law a law of freedom, although St. Paul calls it a law of slavery, wrath, death, and sin.

Yet he quotes St. Peter's saying that "Love covers a multitude of sins", and again "Humble yourselves under the hand of God"; further, St. Paul's word in Galatians 5, The spirit lusteth against hate. But St. James was killed by Herod in Jerusalem before St. Peter's death, which shows the writer to have been far later than St. Peter or St. Paul.

In sum: he wished to guard against those who depended on faith without going on to works, but he had neither the spirit nor the thought nor the eloquence equal to the task. He does violence to Scripture, and so contradicts Paul and all Scripture. He tries to accomplish by emphasizing law what the apostles bring about by attracting men to love. I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my bible; but I would not prevent anyone placing him or raising him where he likes, for the epistle contains many excellent passages. One man does not count as a man even in the eyes of the world; how then shall this single and isolated writer count against Paul and all the rest of the Bible


To all visitors Grace of Christ to you!

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Last modified September 25, 2002.