The Protestant Revolt

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546 A.D.) was the very first Protestant to revolt against the long standing teaching and organization of the Catholic Church which had faithfully maintained Christ’s messaged for nearly 1500 years.  His revolt sparked a widespread grab for power among the European aristocracy.

 

The drawing power of the Catholic Christian message which resonates in the mind of man provided an irresistible path to power for demagogues.  Heretics sought fame and fortune.  Opportunistic aristocrats sought to appropriate the wealth of the church in art and precious often jewel and gold encrusted relics not to mention lands which countless generations of monks and nuns had salved over to drain swamps and create productive self-sustaining farmland proved irresistible.

 

WRITING AND THE EVOLUTION OF LANGUAGE

 

Writing was independently and unequivocally invented only twice in all of human history.   The first emergence was in Mesopotamia from 3500 to 3000 B.C. from whence it spread notably to Egypt and then across the European-Asian continent.   The second was in the New World in central Mexico before about 300 B.C.  There is some minor debate about an independent evolution of writing in the Indus valley civilization but which is so rudimentary as to hardly be distinguished from simple ornamentation without any linguistic connection.   No other examples across the world have any reasonable claim on independent invention.

 

The earliest uses of writing were to record financial transactions between trading centers and also for taxing purposes of a central government.   But these quickly evolved to record stories and oral traditions passed into myth.   Only later was writing in many many lands used establish written laws and to enshrine moral codes as the necessities of civilization and more sophisticated inquiry evolved.

 

But language evolves so much so, that the original faithfully maintained and copied manuscripts describing the precepts of a religion become unintelligible to the common populace.  This happened to the Jews who originally spoke Hebrew and recorded the Old Testament in that language.   As the Jews were dispersed around the Greek speaking Mediterranean after the fall of the First Temple, they translated the Bible into the common trading language of the day, namely Greek.   But by the time of Christ, everyone spoke Aramaic and only the scribes and High Priests could interpret the words.

 

The New Testament was recorded mostly in Greek which was the lingua franca of its day.  As French later became the universally accepted diplomatic language and German the universally accepted language of Chemistry and Physics which in modern times has shifted to English for financial and scientific transactions.

 

Other examples of this difficulty are the Coptic language which recorded the New Testament in Egypt and was essential to deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Or the Latin Bible and services which was reformed in Vatican II in the 1960’s to reflect modern languages which no longer understood Latin words.

 

CATHOLICS STRUGGLED TO SPREAD THE WORD

 

St. Jerome was directed by the Catholic Pope to translate the Bible into the common language of Rome and the Roman Empire spread across the Mediterranean sea.  This Latin Bible provided access for Christ’s words across many nations where the original Hebrew and Greek were no longer in common usage.  Indeed trading transactions in this era were conducted mostly in Latin and this Bible helped to not only spread Christ’s message but to help establish a uniformity of theology.

 

With the advent of the printing press by Gutenberg, his first works were the Bible.  Written manuscripts, or the light of learning from earlier times, which were maintained by Catholic Church were maintained only in the copy houses of religious institutions.   Each copy took thousands of hours of delicate labor and was expensive in materials as well.  In the German vernacular of the day, there were many versions of Bibles which was a best seller.   Martin Luther sought to enter into this crowded and thriving market with an original version.

 

One of the first translations of the Bible was by Raban Maur (776 A.D.) who translated from Latin into Teutonic (old German.  Indeed by 1522 A.D. when Martin Luther's translation was first published, there were no less than fourteen different versions of the Bible in High German and at least an additional three in Low German.

 

LUTHER’S NEW THEOLOGY

 

Protestants dramatically changed not only the form of worship but the theology as well.  

The words “faith alone” only appear once in the Bible [in James 2:24 “You see that a man is justified (saved to go to Heaven) by works and NOT by FAITH ALONE.”] in which the concept is condemned and said to be false.  This was recorded from the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles recounting the teachings of Jesus Christ and incorporated into the Books of the Bible by the Catholic Bishops at Nicea in 325 A.D. the substance of which was under the direction of Pope Sylvester I.

But in 1519 Martin Luther decided that he had a better understanding of what was right than Christ and his Apostles.  On his own initiative he said he had a better idea, namely that he could do ANYTHING he liked and could commit any sin he wanted to commit without repentance and still go to heaven.   All he had to do was to somehow believe in Christ and no one could tell him any different.  His reasons were not that he was inspired by God to make this change in Christian bedrock doctrine that you had to obey the Ten Commandments, but rather that he was better and smarter than anyone else.   So he changed the Bible in many places but notably in Romans 3 where he REWROTE the Vulgate text to say that one is saved by “faith alone.”

And he personally defended his rewriting of the Bible in his OWN WORDS, namely

“You ask why in translating the words of Paul in the 3rd chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, "We hold that a man is justified without the works of the law, by faith alone," and you also tell me that the papists are causing a great fuss because Paul's text does not contain the word sola (alone)… It is my Testament and my translation, and it shall remain mine…  If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing…’  Let this be the answer to your first question. Please do not give these donkeys any other answer to their useless braying about that word sola than simply this: "Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope.”

 

Martin Luther wrote “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger...No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day" (Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment) Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: _Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften_ Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590).

 

THE WORD OF MAN OVER THAT OF GOD

 

But while this was the most egregious and complete REVERAL of all prior teaching, Luther went on to dismiss and discount, or to substantially modify, or to eliminate entirely an additional 18 out of the long standing 66 books of the Bible to include (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, Jonah, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation).   Whether or not this was justified because Martin Luther’s interpretations were better than that of God in the form of Jesus Christ and the accounts of the eyewitness Apostles can be debated.   But what cannot be ignored is the manifest and massive and complete REVISION of theological doctrine that rightly or wrongly had at least been UNCHANGED for 1500 years.

 

Some of Martin Luther’s personal writings justifying these revisions include

 

1.      In regard to the book of Hebrews Luther stated “It need not surprise one to find here bits of wood, hay, and straw”.

2.      “St. James' epistle is really an epistle of straw…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.  In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to 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 preachin. (Luther 1546 A.D. after he relegated this strongly edited book to an Appendix at the end).

3.      “Concerning the epistle of St. Jude, no one can deny that it is an extract or copy of St. Peter's second epistle…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.”

4.      "Job spoke not as it stands written in his book, but only had such thoughts. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probable that Solomon wrote and made this book."…

5.      "Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it...Solomon did not, therefore, write this book."…

6.      "The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much..."

7.      "The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible."

8.      Furthermore, Martin Luther had little use for the first five books of the Old Testament (sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch):  Of the Pentateuch he says: "We have no wish either to see or hear Moses".

And on and on and on…

 

LUTHER’S INTOLERANCE

 

Again in a manner CONTRARY to Christian teaching as to “love one’s neighbors as one’s self”, Martin Luther stoked up fires of hatred which swept across Europe.  Various noblemen supported his break-away theology in various power grabs giving way to religious wars (Protestant vs. Catholic).   Again in Martin Luther’s own words of new found rationale for intolerance and bigotry that as so far removed from Christ’s teachings as to be more pagan than Christian:

 

Martin Luther again writes “The Catholic Church [and its tolerance] is the "great harlot of the Apocalypse".

 

But in igniting religious wars that Martin Luther saw in his lifetime at his urgings (more than 100,000 deaths of mostly Catholics but others as well and razing of entire villages), Martin Luther personally wrote

 

“Pure devilry is urging on the peasants…Therefore let all who are able, mow them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel.  You must kill him as you would a mad dog…”

 

“The authorities must resolve to chastise and slay as long as they can raise a finger…It may be that those who are killed on the side of the authorities is really a martyr in God’s cause.  A happier death no man could die.  The present time is so strange that a prince can gain Heaven easier by spilling blood than by praying“

 

“I, Martin Luther, slew all the peasants in the rebellion, for I said that they should be slain; all their blood is upon my head. But I cast it on the Lord God, who commanded me to speak this way” (Werke, Erl. Edition, lix, p. 284 ‘Table Talk’ as quoted in Stoddard JL. Rebuilding a Lost Faith, 1922, p.96).

 

Nor did Martin Luther fail to attack minorities in an intolerance that is more reminiscent of looting of barbarians than from any religious convictions.

Martin Luther writes “[I instruct you]...to burn down Jewish schools and synagogues, and to throw pitch and sulphur into the flames; to destroy their homes; to confiscate their ready money in gold and silver; to take from them their sacred books, even the whole Bible; and if that did not help matters, to hunt them of the country like mad dogs.

Martin Luther again writes “Accordingly, it must and dare not be considered a trifling matter but a most serious one to seek counsel against this and to save our souls from the Jews, that is, from the devil and from eternal death. My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss in sulphur and pitch.”

Today if anyone sought to teach such intolerance, not to mention actively participate, they would be properly condemned by all, and especially practicing Christians, and so these founding principles are muted.  But to the extent they are principles that inform Protestant sensibilities, of intolerance and hatred, they are a disgrace not suitable for any reasonable civilization.

 

REFERENCES

 

“An Open Letter on Translating” written by Martin Luther, September 15, 1530.  See the Weimar Edition of Luther’s Works (Band 30, Teil II, pages 632-646), translated by Dr. Gary Mann for Project Wittenberg and edited by Michael D. Marlowe, June, 2003.  http://www.bible-researcher.com/luther01.html

 

http://www.cogwriter.com/luther.htm