His initial support for the Jews was not so much “counter-cultural” as it was counter-Catholic. That was his way of finding something else on which to disagree with the Catholic Church—in the hope that the Jews in turn would return the favor and support his false theology. But when he discovered that they didn’t he turned against them, and became more vicious, venomous, and hateful in his anti-Semitism than the Catholic Church had ever been. Stephen then continues:
- ‘First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools … This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians …’
- ‘Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.’
- ‘Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.’
- ‘Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb …’
- ‘Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside …’
- ‘Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them …’
- ‘Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow … But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, servants, cattle, etc., … then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc., … then eject them forever from the country …’”
The whole of Christian Europe was anti-Semitic at that time, and persecution of the Jews was common. The Crusades were as much an act of violence against the Jews as they were against the Muslims. Luther became more anti-Semitic than the rest, got worse and worse as time went by, and never softened his stance or changed his mind. He was more anti-Semitic on the day he died than he had been the day before.
When the Nazis persecuted the Jews, they were carrying out Luther’s recommendations. The Nazis did not persecute the Jews out of nowhere. The initial seeds were down by Luther and his supporters. He lit the fuse that caused it to happen. The following is an unabridged copy of an article by Cecil Adams, published in Washington City Paper in December 21, 2016. The article is in response to the question: “Did Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Reformation, instigate the Holocaust with his anti-Jewish writings, including his infamous On the Jews and Their Lies?” The article is titled: “Does Martin Luther Bear Some Responsibility For The Holocaust?” and is as follows (punctuation slightly revised):
“Did Martin Luther instigate the Holocaust? Call me a traditionalist, but I figure that accomplishment can stay on Hitler’s rap sheet. What we can safely say, though, is that (a) yes, the father of the Reformation did express starkly anti-Semitic sentiments in print and at great length. In the treatise you name, he explicitly advocates the persecution of German Jews, saying at one point, ‘We are at fault in not slaying them’. And (b) the Nazis couldn’t get enough of it. Luther hardly invented anti-Semitism; but as a towering presence in German culture, he proved very useful in legitimizing the aims of the Third Reich.
“Always opposed to the practice of Judaism, he couldn’t understand why anyone would take a pass on the Christian promise of salvation. Luther initially adopted a honey-not-vinegar approach toward its adherents. His 1523 treatise, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, condemned the Catholic Church for its mistreatment of Jews—not for humanitarian reasons, mind you, but because he felt it made Jews less likely to convert. On the basis of this position, a Jewish advocate solicited Luther’s aid in 1537 after Jews had been banned from the state of Saxony. Luther, by this time seemingly enraged at the failure of his conversion efforts, vehemently refused to intercede.
“Luther’s anti-Semitism reached full boil with the 1543 publication of On the Jews and Their Lies—basically a 65,000-word blast of what nowadays we’d call hate speech. After roundly condemning Jews as prideful, deceitful, indolent blasphemers, ‘possessed by all devils,’ Luther sets forth a program of action: he calls for the burning of synagogues; forbidding rabbis from teaching; banning Jews from owning homes; denying them legal protection; confiscating their texts and money; and setting them to manual labor. This diatribe wasn’t a one-off, as Luther followed it up with further, equally combative treatises and a later series of anti-Semitic sermons before his death in 1546. And its arguments weren’t ineffective—a reprint helped stir up a Frankfurt pogrom in 1614.
“In his classic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer argues that here Luther had basically drafted the blueprints for the Holocaust, concluding that his ‘advice was literally followed.’ We have no proof the young Hitler was aware of Luther’s anti-Semitic writings (the strongest stuff had been omitted from some editions of Luther’s collected work), or that they had a formative effect on his thinking; thus we can’t draw a direct line from Luther to Hitler to the Holocaust.
“However, it’s broadly true that Luther contributed to the culture of anti-Semitism that was especially virulent in Germany (although hardly unknown elsewhere—for example in Russia, where Luther had no comparable influence). And by the 1930s at least, the Nazis were well aware of Luther’s anti-Semitic work and used it to justify their actions. On the Jews and Their Lies was displayed prominently in a glass case during the Nuremberg rallies, and Nazi bigwigs regularly cited Luther as a kindred spirit. ‘No judgment could be sharper,’ Heinrich Himmler said of Luther’s writings against the Jews; ‘With Luther,’ according to Hans Hinkel of the Reich’s Propaganda Ministry, ‘the revolution of German blood and feeling against alien elements of the Volk was begun.’ Bishop Martin Sasse, prominent in the pro-Nazi German Christian movement, published a collection of Luther’s anti-Semitic writings, noting with satisfaction in its preface that ‘on November 10, 1938, on Luther’s birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany,’ and calling Luther ‘the greatest anti-Semite of his time.’ Nazi newspaper publisher Julius Streicher, who had received a first edition of On the Jews and Their Lies from the people of Nuremberg as a birthday present, referred to that work in his own defense while on trial in the same city after the war: ‘Dr. Martin Luther would very probably sit in my place in the defendants’ dock today, if this book had been taken into consideration by the prosecution.’
“Luther’s defenders emphasize that his prejudice against Jews was theological, rooted in their refusal to embrace Christianity, rather than strictly racist. But the relentless vigor with which he hammers away at ‘these base children of the devil, this brood of vipers,’ suggests more than a purely doctrinal bone to pick. As noted Lutheran scholar Eric Gritsch pointed out, Luther’s description of how Jews’ collective guilt for their supposed sins ‘still shines forth from their eyes and their skin’ certainly implies some racial component to his animus.
“In Luther’s example, Shirer suggests, Hitler found a traditional justification for not just anti-Jewish policy, but also for authoritarian rule; he contends that Luther’s own ‘passion for political autocracy ensured a mindless and provincial political absolutism’ in German society. The Nazis organized Luther Day celebrations, calling Luther ‘the first German spiritual Führer,’ and enlisted his teachings to support the idea that German exceptionalism and anti-Semitism were inseparable. We have no reason to think Luther would have approved of the Holocaust. But—and this is always the danger with rabble-rousers—he set his followers on the path.—Cecil Adams”
An intelligent search on Google for the connection between Luther and the Nazi persecution of the Jews or the Holocaust will yield much useful information that confirms that connection. As Cecil Adams has noted, it is unlikely Luther himself would have approved of the Holocaust (although given the vicious, relentless, and unrestrained nature of his attacks, especially towards the end of his life, makes one wonder about that too); but he lit the fuse that led to it.
The persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany did not occur in a vacuum. The reason why the Nazis were able to do as they did was because a strong anti-Semitic culture already existed in German society which made it possible. Without the existence of that culture in German society at the time the Nazis would not have been able to do what they did, and get away with it. And the chief architect of that culture in German society at that time had been Martin Luther. He was the one chiefly responsible for creating the cultural environment which made that persecution possible. He laid the egg that Hitler hatched.
Interestingly, the Book of Mormon also has something to say about the persecution of the Jews among the Gentiles:
2 Nephi 29:
5 O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.
Indeed, one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to bring about the gathering of the scattered remnants of the house of Israel, and their restoration to the lands of their inheritance in fulfillment of the covenant God made with their fathers:
2 Nephi 29:
1 But behold, there shall be many—at that day when I shall proceed to do a marvelous work among them, that I may remember my covenants which I have made unto the children of men, that I may set my hand again the second time to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel;
• • •
14 And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever.
The “marvelous work” mentioned in verse one refers to the Book of Mormon.
3 Nephi 29:
7 Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ.
8 Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn.
9 Therefore ye need not suppose that ye can turn the right hand of the Lord unto the left, that he may not execute judgment unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the house of Israel.
14 And behold, they [the words of the Book of Mormon] shall go unto the unbelieving of the Jews; and for this intent shall they go—that they may be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; that the Father may bring about, through his most Beloved, his great and eternal purpose in restoring the Jews, or all the house of Israel, to the land of their inheritance, which the Lord their God hath given them, unto the fulfilling of his covenant;
See also Romans 11:25–26. Luther was not an inspired servant of God, and should be rightly identified as such. He was a heretic, like the many others who had gone before him. “Faith alone” is a heresy. It is a doctrine of the devil. It is not inspired of God, and it is not supported by the Bible.
Revised January 19, 2018.