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Reformation Doubts About Paul

1. Youthful Luther Feels Free To Reject Paul

Luther expressed criticism of Paul, emphasizing our freedom to reject Paul's 'unsuitable' reasonings when present. Schaff points this out in History of the Christian church (Scribner: 1888), Volume 6 at 37 where Luther discusses Paul's contention that in God's promise to Abraham's "seed" that the word "seed" (Paul said) had a singular meaning. To this Luther said:

My dear brother Paul, this argument won't stick. (Id., at 37, quoting Luther, Erl. Ed. II 252, Luther, Commentary on Galatians 3:16 (1535).)

As the People's New Testament recounts:

Many have thought that Paul made a grammatical mistake. Even Luther says: "My dear brother Paul, this argument won't stick.'' The criticism is that sperma, the Greek word rendered seed, is a collective noun and may include all Abraham's descendants. (Link.)

Similarly, Luther criticized Paul's analogy of Hagar and Sarah in Gal. 4:24. Dr. F. Watson comments: "He [i.e., Luther] described the argument St. Paul derived from Hagar and Sarah as too weak to hold." (Frederick Watson, D.D., Inspiration (London: 1906) at 232-33.)

How so? In Luther's commentary on Genesis 16, Luther snipes at Paul's analogy when he says: "If anyone cares to look for allegories, let him do so." What precedes this is that Luther challenged Paul's analogy directly, and Luther says Hagar has a positive image of representing the church. Luther admits Paul has a negative image of Hagar as the Jewish people condemned to have to obey the Law. (See J. Todd Billings, The Word of God for the People of God (Eerdman's 2010) at 175.) Luther thus concludes Hagar is "saintly," representing the church, and concludes: "If anyone care to look for allegories, let him do so. I am satisfied with this literal meaning which the historical account itself represents." Id.

Thus, at complete odds with Paul, Luther concludes Hagar "symbolizes the church itself," and not the "ungodly synagogue" as  Paul had depicted Hagar to represent. (Mickey Leland Mattox, Defender of the most holy matriarchs: Martin Luther's interpretation of the women of Genesis in the Enarrationes in Genesin, 1535-45 (Brill, 2003) at 158.)

Whether Luther himself was also allegorizing is beyond the point. The conclusion of Luther was that Paul's view of Hagar was a view too weak to hold. So Luther reversed it. Indeed, it is impossible to believe what Paul taught --- that Hagar symbolized Israel bound to keep the Law while Sarah symbolized the church freed of the Law. Sarah was the mother of Jacob, later renamed Israel. How then could Hagar symbolize Israel?

Hence, Luther twice corrected Paul, not treating Paul as always fully inspired.

2. Carlstadt Teaches Paul's Words Inferior To Those of Jesus

In 1517, Carlstadt founded with Luther the Reformation. In 1520, Carlstadt was worried Luther was putting too much emphasis on Paul over Jesus's words. So Carlstadt wrote Canonicis Scripturis. In this work, Carlstadt boldly taught that Paul's words were inferior to Jesus's words.

"The Spirit of the Apostles is not a guide equal or greater than the Lord, thus Paul within his letters does not have as much authority as has Christ." (For a complete discussion, see our Carlstadt Research page.)

As a result of this difference, and related ones, Luther persecuted Carlstadt in a book entitled "The New Judas." Luther's pressure led to the Wittenberg city government  expelling Carlstadt. Id.

In the 1520s, Luther incited German rulers to kill 100,000 of the Brethren who were inspired by Carlstadt's teachings to demand their own church government where all would be equal brethren in the church -- no more superior hierarchy. Luther claimed that these 100,000 should be ruthlessly killed like "dogs" because they defied Paul's words that government rulers are agents of God (Romans 13:1-3). Luther said their defiance of rulers, even if preceded by good faith protest and negotiation, justifies killing them en masse without trial. For the horrifying and bloodthirsty calls for mass murder by Luther which were carried out on Carlstadt-inspired Protestants, see our article Luther Destroys JWO Movement.

3. The Mature Luther Turns From Paul And Back To Jesus

Ironically, much later in life, from 1531-1546, Luther abandoned the faith alone doctrine of Paul and the anti-Law views of Paul. First, Luther did everything surreptitiously he could do to unwind the damage he had done by the faith alone doctrine, in conformance with his aide Melancthon's previous change in the same doctrine. Luther tried to use an ecumenical conference with the Catholic Church to take an explicable step away from his own youthful faith-alone Paulinism. He evidently planned to sell the agreement as a reasonable step for Christian 'unity.' See our Preface to Jesus' Words on Salvation.

So at this ecumenical conference, Luther's agents supported agreeing to secondary justification of a Christian by works, i.e., after initial justification by faith alone, a Christian could only remain justified by a secondary justification by works. This is known as the Double Justification doctrine.

However, at the last minute, the Catholic church rejected the secondary justification of a Christian by works, claiming justification is solely by baptism, and withdrew agreement. Id.

After Luther's death in 1546, Melancthon, as head of the Lutheran church, employed Major to set forth in On the Necessity of Good Works, the need for a doctrinal change. They both succeeded limiting faith alone, and introducing into the Lutheran church that works are essential for a believer, in obedience to Christ's teachings while defying those of Paul. Id.; see also our page Major and Melancthon.

Tragically, in 1580 -- after the death of Major and Melancthon -- the faith alone Paulinist party among Lutherans revived and quashed the back-to-Jesus movement that Luther and Melancthon spearheaded toward the end of their ministries. Id.

Finally, in this same later period of Luther's life- in 1537 to be precise, Luther condemned in Antinomian Theses as a false prophet anyone, even one who talks much about Christ or "grace," who seeks to abrogate any part of the Law given Moses. See our page discussion. Because Luther insisted in the 1520s that Paul abrogated all the Law given Moses (including the moral law component, as well as the Sabbath) who more than Paul did Luther have in view by 1537 in identifying such a false prophet?

4. Adam Pastor During Reformation Period

Adam Pastor (died 1560/70)[bio at our webpage], a Mennonite Pastor and leader, likewise rejected Paul in his only surviving work -- Contrast / Difference Between True Doctrine and False Doctrine. According to Dosker's summary:

He evinced little sympathy with Paul, whose doctrine of salvation was apparently repugnant to him. Christ, his life, his words— that is the content of his religion. (Henry Elias Dosker, In The Dutch Anabaptist: the Stone lectures delivered at the Princeton  theological seminary (Judson Press, 1921) at page 60.)

 Pastor's views were a strong one among the denominations ridiculed by Catholics as "anabaptist" (rebaptizers, from a Latin term). We know these groups today as the Brethren, Mennonite and Amish. In that early era, they were largely anti-Paul. As our article on Luther Killed the JWO Movement in the Reformation explained:

Today we know the Anabaptists by their proper names that show they are a diverse group: the Amish, the Mennonites, etc. These anabaptist groups disliked the excessive reliance on Paul to the detriment of following Jesus' statements and example. As one historical account puts it:

A thorough-going Christo-centrism is the indisputible tenet of anabaptism. To be a Christian means, not to cling to Paul's `gospel' (or Luther's reading of Paul)-- which invariably seems to set him in opposition to both James and Jesus--but to live in conformity to the way of life taught and demonstrated by Jesus in the gospels.****

When it came to the Bible, Anabaptists started from Jesus and interpreted everything in the light of him--unlike the Reformers whom Anabaptists suspected of starting from doctrinal passages [from Paul] and trying to fit Jesus into these. (So What's All the Fuss About Anabaptism (2004) reprinted at http://anabaptist.lifewithchrist.org/permalink/8135)