Thursday, May 27, 2004

Did Martin Luther Believe That Jesus Had Carnal Relations With Mary Magdalene and Others?

Dave Armstrong vs. "BJ Bear" & "Bonnie" (+ EL Hamilton)

From a discussion on the public, Protestant-moderated CARM Catholic Discussion Board. Perhaps we could call this discussion "Luther's Magdalenology" (???). BJ Bear's words will be in green. I believe he is a Lutheran. Martin Luther's words will be in red. "Bonnie" is a moderator on the CARM board, and is married to a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor. Her words will be in blue. EL Hamilton's words will be in purple.

* * * * *

Fri Aug-08-03 05:29 PM

#71769, "Is true that Martin Luther believed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married?"

["Orthodox" cited a reference in which someone wrote in Time Magazine that Luther believed Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married]

Dave G. Armstrong
Sat Aug-09-03 11:27 AM
#72005, "Weird Luther quotes about Jesus (?????)"
In response to Reply #34

[ . . . ]

I found one citation from Luther along these lines . . . My best guess is that it is a sarcastic, put-on type of comment from Table-Talk or similar sort of writing and rhetoric. Thus context would be supremely important to get the sense of what he is trying to say. So I'm extremely skeptical of this being a literal belief of Luther's. On the other hand (assuming for the moment that it is an authentic citation), it is a very interesting (and of course, prima facie, alarming and blasphemous) comment and I would like to learn more about what he meant, and to see context. It is from the Weimar edition of Luther's Works in German (WA). Here it is:

Christ committed adultery first of all with the woman at the well about whom St. John tells us. Was not everybody about Him saying: "Whatever has he been doing with her?" Secondly, with Mary Magdalene, and thirdly with the woman taken in adultery whom he dismissed so lightly. Thus even Christ, who was so righteous, must have been guilty of fornication before He died.

(D. Martin Luthers Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe [Hermann Bohlau Verlag, 1893], vol. 2, no. 1472, April 7 - May 1, 1532, p. 33)

If [anyone] could find out more about this from some German-speaking Luther scholar, I would be most appreciative, and we could all correctly understand this strange quote, and truth would be the winner rather than innuendo and gossip and rumor.

Dave G. Armstrong
Sat Aug-09-03 11:48 AM
#72018, "Looks like Table-Talk"
In response to Reply #36

[ . . . ]

I'm trying to find more info. on this and I came up with this tidbit:

Source: St. Catherine's Review (a Catholic periodical)
"The 'New' Martin Luther" (May-June 1996 issue):

In "Table Talks" Luther got drunk one night and told some of his fawning sycophants that Jesus must have been an adulterer because even He could not resist temptations of the flesh. He went on to claim that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and the Samaritan woman at the well.
Note that if Luther was drunk, the absurdity and blasphemy and heterodoxy of the comment would be readily explained.

Dave G. Armstrong
Sat Aug-09-03 12:32 PM
#72025, "Corroboration from WELS (Lutherans)"
In response to Reply #38

From a WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) Q & A page:

A person who is determined to put Martin Luther in the worst possible light (as Peter Wiener evidently is) can use a quotation recorded in Table Talk. In the Spring of 1532, Luther said:
Christ was an adulterer for the first time with the woman at the well, for it was said, "Nobody knows what he's doing with her". Again, with Magdalene, and still again with the adulterous woman in John 8 <:2-11>, whom he let off so easily. So the good Christ had to become an adulterer before he died.

(Luther's Works, American Edition, Volume 54, p 154)

The editor's footnote on the same page reads:
What Luther meant might have been made clearer if John Schlaginhaufen had indicated the context of the Reformer's remarks. The probable context is suggested in a sermon of 1536, . . . in which Luther asserted that Christ was reproached by the world as a glutton, a winebibber, and even an adulterer.
Clearly, the man who staked his life for time and eternity on Jesus Christ and magnified him in his preaching. teaching, and writing is not to be taken literally when he says, "Christ was an adulterer...".
So, Luther actually said this, according to a very conservative Lutheran web page. It's in Table-Talk, just as I suspected. And it is in the English translation of Luther's Works. Apparently (and unfortunately) the context is not included in that edition. Perhaps it is in the German edition. Until that is clarified, I prefer to err on the side of caution and the benefit of the doubt and charity towards Luther, and agree that the above explanation is probably the correct one.

Dave G. Armstrong
Sat Aug-09-03 03:59 PM
#72057, "Further Thoughts on Luther"
In response to Reply #41

Luther is a fascinating character. A number of opinions about his interesting, colorful, complex personality have been set forth by scholars on all sides, ranging from being a total madman, a drunkard, bipolar, moody, "the brilliant, tormented, tempestuous, passionate genius," righteously indignant reformer of corrupt Christendom, and all options in-between. We know for sure that he suffered from recurring serious depression. Of that there can be little doubt. He seems to have been of a melancholy temperament. Who knows? I come down somewhere in the middle, I suppose, but I am no expert on Luther (let alone his personality), in terms of what a true scholarly expert is.

. . . It's even worse than what Time Magazine suggested: Jesus isn't even said to be married (as in some Mormon, neo-Gnostic, feminist, skeptical atheist, and theologically-liberal strains of thought), but rather, a fornicator.

. . . Luther did indeed say this terrible thing (the original context of Table-Talk being vocal ruminations over dinner -- and probably many jugs of beer in this case). I believe that he meant it in some non-literal sarcastic, melodramatic, tongue-in-cheek, or hyperbolic sense (from what I know of him).

But I would quickly add that the statement itself is blasphemous and shouldn't have been uttered or written in any context: humorous or sarcastic or not. What is so funny or "educational" or pastorally- or pedagogically necessary or edifying about our Glorious Lord and Savior Jesus fornicating with two or three women? What's the point in making such an outrageous statement in any way, shape or form, even if Luther didn't believe it literally, and was trying to make some point -- one that is almost peculiar and unique in Christian history to his own highly individual and frequently contradictory rhetoric?

In that sense, Luther doesn't "get out of" the sinfulness of his errant tongue, whether it was (in this instance) the tongue of a drunk man or not. I don't see a very big loophole. Perhaps we can cut Luther a little slack for his filthy mouth in other contexts, but when it comes to our Lord Jesus, that is where any Christian must draw the line and call Luther on his serious error.

. . . I would like to see the context of this remark, if there is one available in print somewhere, and hear what Luther scholars think about it (provided they can bring some real, relevant facts to the table, not just speculation and wishful thinking). Even the editor of Luther's Works in English did not know the "probable context" and had to refer to a sermon four years later which may have "suggested" the context. He is merely speculating. It seems plausible to me, but it is still speculation and not fact. So there is nothing improper whatsoever in wondering aloud what the immediate context was. It looks like it isn't available in English. Whether it is available in German editions of the Table-Talk is the question that interests me . . .

bj bear
Sun Aug-10-03 04:36 AM
#72166, "Time mag and others eat and bear the same bad fruit."

. . . Time magazine, St Catherine's Review as quoted on this board, and others bear the same bad fruit. There is no record that Luther said, wrote, or believed that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. These folks are using a secondary source or making it up.

St Catherine's Review apparent word of knowledge regarding Luther's sobriety at a specific time and place for which there is no information is remarkable. Of course this type of propaganda isn't surprising since folks using words like sycophants to describe the students and guests at Luther's home aren't unbiased.

So what was attributed to Luther by Schlaginhaufen in the spring of 1532?

{Martin Luther said,} “Christ was an adulterer for the first time with the woman at the well, for it was said, ‘Nobody knows what he’s doing with her’ . Again with Magdalene, and still again with the adulterous woman in John 8 <:2–11>, whom he let off so easily. So the good Christ had to become an adulterer before he died.” Luther's Works, v54, p154 © Concordia Publishing House.
It isn't rocket science and you don't have to be a Luther scholar to know that Luther believed Christ was without sin since he wrote it and said it over and over and over again. In fact if the only writing of Luther one read was my recent post . . . One would have more than enough to understand the context of what was being said in the quip attributed to Luther by Schlaginhaufen. In that post is a quote from Luther's lectures on Galatians, 1531, and published in 1535 thus framing the attribution of Schlaginhaugen. In particular:
For he does not say that Christ became a curse on His own account, but that He became a curse “for us.” Thus the whole emphasis is on the phrase “for us.” For Christ is innocent so far as His own Person is concerned; therefore He should not have been hanged from the tree. But because, according to the Law, every thief should have been hanged, therefore, according to the Law of Moses, Christ Himself should have been hanged; for He bore the person of a sinner and a thief—and not of one but of all sinners and thieves. For we are sinners and thieves, and therefore we are worthy of death and eternal damnation. But Christ took all our sins upon Himself, and for them He died on the cross. Therefore it was appropriate for Him to become a thief and, as Isaiah says (53:12), to be “numbered among the thieves.” And all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc., there has ever been anywhere in the world. He is not acting in His own Person now. Now He is not the Son of God, born of the Virgin. But He is a sinner, who has and bears the sin of Paul, the former blasphemer, persecutor, and assaulter; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer, and who caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord (Rom. 2:24). In short, He has and bears all the sins of all men in His body—not in the sense that He has committed them but in the sense that He took these sins, committed by us, upon His own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with His own blood.” Luther's Works V.26 P.276-277
[ . . . ]

Dave G. Armstrong
Sun Aug-10-03 11:50 AM
#72202, "I don't think this works"

Why? Because in one place Luther is talking about Jesus bearing the sins of mankind on the cross, but in the other he is talking about Jesus being "an adulterer for the first time with the woman at the well." In other words, this was a time other than when He was dying on the cross for mankind and bearing our sins, becoming accursed for us. That happens only at that time, not during His whole life.

Note the "reason" Luther gives for the charge of adultery: "for it was said, ‘Nobody knows what he’s doing with her’." This -- again -- puts the alleged incident in the context of Jesus' life before He dies on the cross. Luther continues: "Again with Magdalene, and still again with the adulterous woman in John 8 <:2–11>" (i.e., sequentially or chronologically during His life prior to His Passion). Luther: "the adulterous woman . . . whom he let off so easily" (this seems to imply that His action in so doing was indicative of His involvement in the adultery. Luther: "So the good Christ had to become an adulterer before he died." This is all referring to supposed adultery before Jesus bore our sins.

Therefore, the attempt to make this solely a variant of the theme of Jesus' bearing our sins on the cross does not (in my opinion) succeed, and some other explanation is needed which is much more plausible and satisfactory. I continue to give Luther the benefit of the doubt and don't think he was speaking literally, but this scenario is unconvincing to me, and the statement continues to be blasphemous in and of itself, whatever Luther's intent was. It is also quite possible (as always with Luther) that he flat-out contradicted other statements of his, or that he vacillated and had different opinions at different times. Luther was not a particularly systematic thinker.

Let BJ take his usual potshots at me. I don't care. I'm simply trying to find out what was in Luther's head when he said this objectively blasphemous statement . . . BJ (quite characteristically) described another paper of mine on Luther thusly:

. . . it isn't surprising to find that simple logic and a competent reading of primary sources demonstrate that the post misleads, misinforms, and is ignorant of primary source material . . . The absurdity of the 'analysis' above is demonstrated by a competent reading of the primary source . . . Such illogical and baseless 'analysis' is precluded by a competent reading of the primary source . . . Further reading of material of this quality is not profitable.

(Post: #70081, "For those interested in truth." Mon Aug-04-03 07:51 AM)

He added, describing my alleged method and motivations: "Not interested in what Luther wrote but interested in propaganda" (post: #70827, "RE: Unfortunately" -- Tue Aug-05-03 07:45 PM; same URL). Gee, this really makes for edifying, constructive, mutually-respectful conversation, doesn't it?

[Note: portions of the paper discussed have since been incorporated into a related paper, due to very similar subject matter: 2 Corinthians 5:21: Was Jesus Christ Literally Made Sin on the Cross? Did He Suffer the Horrors of Damnation? Luther and Calvin vs. the Church Fathers. It is also important to note that I did not call Luther a "Nestorian" per se in the original paper. I don't believe that. The title included the phrase "quasi-Nestorian." Referring to a comment of Luther's in his Detailed Explanation of Galatians which is still included in the above paper, I wrote (maybe a bit excessively, in retrospect): "This is blasphemy and it is Nestorianism. Perhaps Luther explains this in an orthodox Christian fashion elsewhere, and it is merely one of his many illogical, sarcastic, dichotomy-ridden utterances. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing his strong tendency to hyper-rhetoric. It is usually difficult to get at Luther's real opinion as he was so unsystematic and given to excessive rhetoric." Thus, I gave him a large benefit of the doubt, just as I have in this present discussion. Whatever BJ's opinion of my argument in the original paper is, his remarks above are unethical, judgmental, and uncharitable, as well as slanderous]

If I must be a liar and a deceiver and/or an incompetent boob because I dare to disagree with BJ (in this instance, not nearly as much as he thinks), so be it. I would hate to go through life thinking that my own opinion is the standard of every dispute, so that anyone who dissented must inevitably be intellectually dishonest. But that is what happens when polemics is given preference over calm, objective analysis of all the relevant facts of the matter.

This is what explodes Catholic-Protestant discussion and makes it impossible (at least with anti-Catholics). And this is precisely why I do not stay in this forum. Discussion is impossible under those loaded conditions . . .

Sun Aug-10-03 07:31 PM
#72282,"The probable source for TIME's comment on Luther..."

. . . [her letter to Time Magazine]:

In the future, when looking at any quotes you get on religious figures, please look at them in context, before making such a rash statement. And if you would like to know and understand Luther better, I would suggest you go to such orthodox, conservative sources as the website for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,, or the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church,, for information on him, instead.
I also wrote to the Concordia Historical Institute about this, and they sent me more information:
There is no evidence that I know of that would suggest Martin Luther
thought that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. There is, however, a comment
that he made in his Table Talk, in which he stated that Christ had committed
adultery with the woman at the well and with Mary Magdalene. The comment must be
understood, however, in its proper context, for Luther was not saying that
Christ had actually done these things but rather that he had been accused of
such by the world (John 4). This goes to Luther's undestanding of the nature of
the vicarious Atonement, Christ suffered for our sins even though he did not
commit them.
In other words, "He who knew no sin became sin for us." So, on the cross, Jesus became an adulterer, murderer, cheater, liar, etc. because God dumped all the sins of the world on Him then . . .

Dave G. Armstrong
Sun Aug-10-03 11:09 PM
#72337, "Yep, I'm gone. A statement"

. . . [I was] simply arguing a point of historical fact and interpretation of a very complex man . . . I basically agreed with you. I said that I believed what the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran person said about Luther's quote . . . At the same time I still didn't fully understand why Luther said what he did, and think it is blasphemous, in and of itself. I disagreed with BJ's argument (or is that impermissible for anyone to do?). I have agreed all along that Luther is not to be taken literally on this. But I don't fully understand what he meant, and am trying to find out . . .

The weakness of the "case for context" is apparent in the contradictory explanations offered above. Three positions have been set forth by Protestant defenders of Luther (implying that nothing whatsoever was wrong with his remarks):

1. "The probable context is suggested in a sermon of 1536, . . . in which Luther asserted that Christ was reproached by the world as a glutton, a winebibber, and even an adulterer."

--- the editors of Luther's Works in English.

2. Luther was referring to Jesus' taking of the sins of the world upon Himself on the cross. "One would have more than enough to understand the context of what was being said . . . from Luther's lectures on Galatians, 1531."

--- BJ Bear, self-proclaimed, anonymous Luther expert

3. A combination of #1 and #2

--- Concordia Historical Institute and Bonnie the Lutheran moderator on CARM

#1 contradicts #2 insofar as either one is regarded as the sole explanation. They are different explanations, not merely variants of one theory. This is quite obvious: one has to do with the metaphysical theology of what occurred on the cross; the other is a slanderous accusation from the enemies of Jesus. #3 illustrates, I think, the uncertainty of the interpretation and speculation on the context, since both are combined (a sort of "cover all possible bases" outlook).

It is quite possible, logically-speaking, that both might have factored in the actual underlying meaning, whatever it may be (this is non-contradictory) -- Luther would then be said to have had both notions in his head when he made his curious comment -- , or that there is another plausible interpretation. We simply don't have the context of the remark (it doesn't exist because it wasn't recorded by the hearer), and one can only guess on that context in light of similar Luther utterances. One cannot be dogmatic without that context, no matter how much they may wish this to be the case, in order to avoid the scandal and prima facie unsavory nature of the remark.

I submit that there exists a quite-plausible fourth option, already hinted at by St. Catherine's Review:

4. Luther had indulged in a few wines or beers too many when he made his objectively blasphemous and outrageous statement, and did not believe it at all. It is indefensible in and of itself, but can be discounted or excused (at least to some extent) on grounds of inebriation and temporary loss of faculties.
Internal evidence may perhaps suggest this, as the well-known Catholic writer Sir Arnold Lunn proposes. His book, The Revolt Against Reason (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951) was mentioned in this regard by the editors of Luther's Works in their footnote 100 on page 154, volume 54 (I have now seen this with my own eyes). His appraisal of Luther, is, I think, quite charitable and fair, and not similar in tone and tenor to those authors who might reasonably be described as anti-Protestant and/or anti-Luther; -- those who are determined to defame and slander Luther at all costs, including any dispassionate concern for historical truth. I shall quote his words (which I find at least as plausible and sensible as any of the first three attempts at explanation) at length:
Denifle quotes letters from Luther in which he condones adultery and fornication. Mr. [Gordon] Rupp's general line of defence is to insist that Luther cannot have meant what he appears to say because the writings and statements to which Mr. Wiener draws attention are inconsistent with Luther's teaching. Luther has certainly written many beautiful passages about marriage and chastity, but he is also responsible for statements which were the cause of great embarrassment to his supporters. The fallacy of Mr. Rupp's line of defence is to assume that Luther was a consistent character.

(The Revolt Against Reason, 45-46)

Those who have maintained that Luther himself was guilty of immorality have failed to prove their case.

(Ibid., 47)

To sum up, the charge of habitual drunkenness can be dismissed as absurd, the charge of sexual immorality as unproved. The case against Luther is based not on the alleged breakdown of his private morals but on his public utterances . . .

(Ibid., 48)

[referring to the passage in question, from Table-Talk]:

This is to be found in Luther's Table-Talk (Weimar edition, vol. ii, page 107) . . . Here is the original: --

Christus adulter. Christus ist am ersten ein ebrecher worden Joh. 4, bei dem brunn cum muliere, quia illi dicebant: Nemo significat, quid facit cum ea? Item cum Magdalena, item cum adultera Joan. 8, die er so leicht davon lies. Also mus der from Christus auch am ersten ein ebrecher werden ehe er starb.
This terrible passage raises many problems.

First. Can these words be interpreted mystically? Did Luther only mean that Christ takes our sins upon him? This is certainly not what he said. There is a whole universe separating the conception of a Christ who suffers for our sins and a Christ who commits our sins. Moreover, the mystical interpretation is quite inconsistent with the filthy suggestion that the disciples did not ask indiscreet questions when they found Christ with the loose woman at the well, or with the implication that Christ spared the woman taken in adultery, because he was her partner in sin.

Secondly, was Luther correctly reported? Probably, for no editor who was not mentally defective could include such a passage unless he was convinced that it was genuine.

Thirdly. Did this represent Luther's considered opinion? Certainly not. It may be that he made this statement when he was excited by wine. The rather incoherent mixture of Latin and German would be explicable on this theory . . .

(Ibid., 257)

Seeing that context is impossible to know for certain, and knowing what we know of Luther's thought, and from internal evidence in the controversial comment itself, I opt for #4 at this point. If BJ Bear or anyone else can offer me a better argument, perhaps I will change my mind.

"My take"
8/11/03 3:38 pm

Thanks for posting this, since I was wondering myself about that stray remark in the Time article. I'd be very interested in seeing the context, but at this point I think there are still alternate explanations more charitable than "Luther got drunk and started spewing blasphemies". After looking at the wording of the quote, I'm leaning toward the interpretation that the remark may have been part of a larger discussion of the absurdity of "guilt by association". One can easily imagine Luther being accused of approving of adultery at some point in his life. (He certainly approved of breaking monastic vows of celibacy, and was opportunistically tolerant of bigamy.)

This is the sort of agitated discussion one might have during a late night of drinking. In that case, Luther would have just been engaged in a little reductio ad absurdum:

If being tolerant of adultery is worthy of the same guilt as committing adultery, well then, look, Christ is an adulterer too! All those nasty things you say about me are the same sorts of nasty things they said about Jesus! So I guess we'll both be adulterers together, and hang the lot of you!
To me, that sounds like Luther, far more than the "sick joke" hypothesis does. So I guess I'd see it as being potentially part of a sarcastic rant, as opposed to being part of a developed theological argument, which would explain the sloppiness of the grammar and the poor choice of phrasing.

This is, I concede, a wild speculation based on my purely unscientific observation that 90% of Luther's off-kilter rants are personally motivated by Luther's defensiveness about any criticism of him. But it sounds at least credible enough that I would discourage any Catholic polemic along the lines of "Luther was a secret blasphemer who was just itching to defame Christ the moment he could use a pint of beer as an excuse".

[Catholic] Discussion Board

"Already saw it"
8/11/03 5:06 pm

I was just giving an additional option. So far we have:

1. Luther is just speaking about the imputation of sin. That seems to be the implication of Bjbear (and Dave below).

2. Luther was speaking about the idea of being accused of adultery, not about actually being guilty of it.

3. Luther was drunk, and not making any sense at all.

to which I would add:
4. Luther was speaking sarcastically as part of a reductio of some opposing argument, as part of a deflection of personal criticism.
If someone could figure out the context of the remark, it would be much easier to sort out these options. Number 1 seems fairly problematic to me, since it doesn't correspond well to the content of the quote. Luther doesn't seem to be speaking about a general atonement, but about concrete events in Jesus' long before the crucifixion. Number 2 is more plausible to me, I guess, but it still seems like Luther would be guilty of strange rhetorical overstatement.

[Catholic] Discussion Board

"Extremely interesting, EL"
Dave G Armstrong
8/11/03 5:12 pm

I think this does sound plausible and characteristically like Luther. I mentioned sarcasm as a live option early on in the discussion, just as speculation, before I did much research on it. This is a good theory you propose. I'm impressed, and think it is a legitimate and respectable fourth option.

Personally, I think it is the second most plausible after the "drunk theory." I still hold to the latter because the statement is just too extreme, even if intended as sarcastic in your sense. It strikes me as too impious, too blasphemous, even for Luther in one of his hyper-rhetorical moods or explosions of righteous indignation, and even given his propensity for extreme language.

But your scenario is, I think, far more plausible than the "slander" and "theological / substitutionary atonement" theories, because they seem to stretch the language too far, arguably almost into desperate or special pleading territory.

In any event, the "certainty" felt by the proponents of those options is misplaced. There simply is no context, so no one can make an argument from context. No one can find out what it is, as far as I can tell. That's what makes this discussion so interesting and difficult to definitively resolve. I saw the quote in the 55-volume set today. It exists in perfect isolation, recorded as such, with no context before and after. The Table-Talk consists of many such sayings, some shorter than others. This is a shorter one. The complete lack of context is what causes people to appeal to sermons from four years later and so forth, in an effort to figure out what in the world Luther could have meant.

[Catholic] Discussion Board

Mon Aug-11-03 07:45 PM

. . . I intend to write to the LCMS Historical Society and see if I can trace down those quotes, about adultery, and see them in context, if I can't find them on my own. You may be right, about the way Luther said it. And I would tend to agree with you. But I wouldn't accuse Luther of drunkenness, if I were you, since you were not there--small beer was regularly drunk in Europe in the Middle Ages, because it was safer than the water, and Katie even brewed it for her family and the students rooming with them.

A controversy ensued on the CARM board about this thread. Offensiveness and insult is apparently often in the eye of the beholder. I happen to be highly offended by BJ Bear's untrue remarks and descriptions directed towards myself which provoked me in my condemnation of them; words like, e.g.:

"misleads" [implied: possibly deliberately and deviously, or simply through incompetence]
"ignorant of primary source material"[sheer intellectual and apologetic incompetence]
"absurdity of the 'analysis' above" [derisive use of quotation marks]
"illogical and baseless 'analysis'" [ditto]
[failure to do a] "competent reading of the primary source" [charge of basic incompetence]
"Propaganda is not effective when proper citations are given"{someone else approvingly cited this statement of BJ Bear's, from my last encounter with BJ,on the CARM Board] [mere "propaganda" rather than legitimate respectable research]
"Not interested in what Luther wrote but interested in propaganda" [ditto]
All of this less-than-edifying, less-than-charitable terminology was used by BJ Bear. Why (a particularly important distinction) should the reaction to a demonstrable slander be considered as equally wrong as, or even more so than the initial slander? If the slanders were forbidden and disallowed in the first place -- as they are clearly against board rules -- then I wouldn't have to condemn them and then be falsely accused of the very thing that I detest, and that which I merely protested against (precisely because it was unethical and a rules violation).

"Diane S", who occupies the highest position in the CARM "moderator hierarchy," agreed with me that statements like the ones from BJ Bear, recounted above, were indeed against board rules:

Diane S
Thu Aug-14-03 04:13 AM
#73001, "Hello everyone, Please accept my apology........"

. . . Those familiar with my style of moderating, note that I will edit the post immediately if I observe any comment considered even mildly personal in content. Meaning that if you discuss the posting style, research methods, comment on the possible motives, or opinions as to reading comprehension of the poster, it is considered OFF the topic of Catholicism, and is discussing the poster NOT the topic of the board and is considered a rule violation. In other words, we are not interested in hearing your opinions of the apologist on the boards, BUT that you stay with debating or discussing the topics . . .

. . . in the future, I will continue to EDIT or delete ANY comment on the person, no matter who you are, or how you try to word the post. If you comment on any person posting on this board, it will be edited, if at all negative.

. . . Just remember folks, we will one day give an account of every word we speak. Pray before you hit "post message". It truly is not necessary for you to tell us YOUR opinion of an apologist methods or style of debate and writing, give us some credit and allow us to form our own opinions. You simply should post your research and facts and let those reading decide who or what is teaching TRUTH.

I will be praying for all of you. Oh how I LONG for the day, when we all can learn to simply discuss our differences in love, minus the sarcasm, editorials and negative comments on one another and personalities . . .

"Balance, please"
8/11/03 11:23 pm
[responding to another poster who was quite hostile to Luther]

It's not as if we don't have an enormous body of evidence to support the orthodoxy of Luther's Christology, and there is good anecdotal data corroborating his absolute hostility toward blasphemy of any sort. It just seems so hard for me to believe that there isn't some deeper logic behind the remark. Granted, Luther being Luther, it may be rather convoluted and idiosyncratic logic. But I don't think anyone with even a modest familiarity with the vast corpus of Luther's work (and that's all I'd claim for myself) would want to dump it in the trash simply on the basis of some random weird quote dredged up from who knows what context. There is no question what Luther's formal opinion of Christ's sinlessness was-- i.e., that Christ was sinless by nature, but "made sin" by imputation-- since his whole theory of the atonement hinged crucially on that point. Quoting here from his Galatians commentary:

Christ is personally innocent. Personally, He did not deserve to be hanged for any crime of His own doing. But because Christ took the place of others who were sinners, He was hanged like any other transgressor. The Law of Moses leaves no loopholes. It says that a transgressor should be hanged. Who are the other sinners? We are. The sentence of death and everlasting damnation had long been pronounced over us. But Christ took all our sins and died for them on the Cross. "He was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12.)

All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, blasphemer that ever was or ever could be on earth. When He took the sins of the whole world upon Himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer; burdened with the sins of a Peter who denied Christ; burdened with the sins of a David who committed adultery and murder, and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord. In short, Christ was charged with the sins of all men, that He should pay for them with His own blood. The curse struck Him. The Law found Him among sinners. He was not only in the company of sinners. He had gone so far as to invest Himself with the flesh and blood of sinners. So the Law judged and hanged Him for a sinner.

In separating Christ from us sinners and holding Him up as a holy exemplar, errorists rob us of our best comfort. They misrepresent Him as a threatening tyrant who is ready to slaughter us at the slightest provocation.

I am told that it is preposterous and wicked to call the Son of God a cursed sinner. I answer: If you deny that He is a condemned sinner, you are forced to deny that Christ died. It is not less preposterous to say, the Son of God died, than to say, the Son of God was a sinner.

John the Baptist called Him "the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Being the unspotted Lamb of God, Christ was personally innocent. But because He took the sins of the world His sinlessness was defiled with the sinfulness of the world. Whatever sins I, you, all of us have committed or shall commit, they are Christ's sins as if He had committed them Himself. Our sins have to be Christ's sins or we shall perish forever.

....The papists invented their own doctrine of faith. They say charity creates and adorns their faith. By stripping Christ of our sins, by making Him sinless, they cast our sins back at us, and make Christ absolutely worthless to us. What sort of charity is this? If that is a sample of their vaunted charity we want none of it. (Chapter 3, pp. 106-135 )

Luther loved wild talk and hyperbole. That was just his nature. To some extent it was a symptom of the era in which he lived. To some extent it was a conscious imitation of the Scripture-- Christ telling everyone to "hate his family", or promising to tear down the temple, were most certainly viewed as bizarre behavior by the Jews. Whatever Luther was trying to say, I feel reasonably confident that he did not actually intend to teach that Christ committed adultery.

By the way, I'm not a Lutheran, and I don't feel much need to defend his formal theology, which I reject on several important points. Morever, I think there's plenty of room to criticize him ad hominem for, say, his botched handling of the Peasant's Revolt, or his anti-semitism. I just don't think that a "Luther as blasphemer" angle is likely to impress many Lutheran scholars as a serious-minded critique.

[Catholic] Discussion Board

"I agree with EL"
Dave G Armstrong
8/12/03 10:22 am

Please let us know if you find any other relevant information or have any more thoughts on this. As I said, there is no context to be had, so all we can compare are scholar's views of their best guesses as to Luther's meaning and intent, based on related utterances.

They seem to be pretty difficult to come across, at least judging by my attempts at the seminary library yesterday where I could only find one observation by a Catholic writer -- itself cited by Luther's Works; otherwise I wouldn't have discovered it.

I've added your insightful remarks to my paper . . . I appreciate your calm, fair-minded discussion of this issue. I have every confidence that you and I can continue to be an example of a Protestant and a Catholic talking about a controversial aspect of Luther without taking shots at each other, and actually enjoying it as an educational and exploratory foray into fascinating subject matter; i.e., engaging in the rare novelty of talking and interacting.

[Catholic] Discussion Board

I've stated repeatedly that context for this statement has not been, and cannot be produced, due to the nature of Table-Talk, yet I think it is an relevant discussion because it is interesting to speculate as to what Luther really meant -- just as Christians talk about what various biblical passages mean. No one I have yet found except rabid anti-Protestants think that he intended his remark to be taken literally. If that were the case, interpretation would be a simple matter.

I would like to highlight some of the statements made by Lutherans on a Lutheran discussion board. This board is called "Luther Quest Discussion Group" and the thread is entitled, "General Discussions: Luther & Mary Magdalene":

If indeed the source of the original Time article was Table Talks, it might be important to note this word of caution by E.G. Schwiebert in his exhaustive biography Luther and His Times.
. . . Copied by twelve table companions over a period of twenty-some years the Table Talks are often unreliable, of uneven quality, and written at varying periods of time. Certainly little, if any, of the material was copied in the Reformer’s presence. Rather, the copyists later recorded in their rooms their recollections of the evening’s conversations. These recordings, purported to be the exact words of Luther, were often invented and embellished, and additional errors crept in later when the table companions began to copy stories from each other. In time it was difficult to know by whom and when the original might have been made. Melanchthon on one occasion warned some of the table companions as to the hazardous nature of such practice, realizing that posterity would read meaning into these conversations that Luther had never intended. Furthermore, where every topic imaginable was discussed and the conversation was spontaneous, it is difficult to distinguish jest from serious statement. It is hardly fair, then, to hold Luther responsible for all that has come to us in the Table Talks. Obviously, a careful checking against evidence from Luther’s own writings and additional sources is absolutely essential.


I am in agreement with this, insofar as one certainly cannot deduce Luther's views from the Table-Talk alone (the last sentence in particular is a crucial point). Yet BJ Bear takes the comment seriously enough to be "absolutely sure" (or so it seems) that it has a certain obvious interpretation (but, amazingly enough, his differs from the one taken by the editors of Luther's Works).

If we could dismiss the remark that cavalierly as of no import whatever, then why waste time defending its probable or certain meaning? One would and should then simply say that Luther's words in Table-Talk "were often invented and embellished" and go off and play tennis or watch a movie. BJ Bear didn't do this. He was, rather, improperly dogmatic. The "middle," sensible position, then, is to take it seriously as something beyond "silly" and irrelevant, and discuss its meaning (which is something other than literal). This is what I have done, and what others (such as the Protestant EL Hamilton) have done also.

As Pastor Kirchner points out, the context of Luther's informal musings while bending the elbow is abundantly clear.

(Michael L. Anderson -- Psychiatrist and pastor and elder in the LCMS -- on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 03:02)

This reflects my theory that Luther had simply had too many drinks when he made the comment.
"As Pastor Kirchner points out, the context of Luther's informal musings while bending the elbow is abundantly clear."

The remark was uttered, as you say, during a meal during which the beer may have been flowing freely.

But the immediate context for this particular remark -- said to have been uttered at a dinner table in 1532 -- can scarcely have been a sermon delivered in 1536! The sermon was, as I said, ample evidence that the earlier statement is to be considered as ironical, not literal.

(Walt Tappert on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 03:40 pm)

So now three Lutherans are willing to entertain (at least in part, or as a live possibility) the "drunk theory." I submit, then, that this opinion is hardly a mere slap at Luther or "vilification" from Catholic polemical motives. Tappert is referring to the explanation of the editors of Luther's Works. He states that "I don't doubt that Luther's remark was intended to be anything other than ironical." BJ Bear, on the other hand, cites as a parallel or clarifying explanation, Luther's Lectures on Galatians from 1531 and apparently takes the view that the remark is dead-serious, and referring to Christ on the cross, bearing all the sins of mankind. His "certainty" is misplaced, and not held by the two men above, whose theories are closer to mine than BJ Bear's. Furthermore, BJ's opinion that the "drunk theory" flows from (no pun intended) mere Catholic bias falls flat, given the remarks above:
St Catherine's Review apparent word of knowledge regarding Luther's sobriety at a specific time and place for which there is no information is remarkable. Of course this type of propaganda isn't surprising since folks using words like sycophants to describe the students and guests at Luther's home aren't unbiased.
Such are the perils and follies of misplaced dogmatism and a lightning-quick willingness to charge bias in one's opponents . . . Later, Walter Tappert writes:
But, as the footnote to LW notes, this passage from Table Talk has been used against Luther in the secondary literature; whether that was what the reporter was thinking of (perhaps with several degrees of separation from primary texts), I simply do not know.

The remedy is not to deny that Luther did not say that Our Lord had committed adultery with the Magdalene, but to point out -- correctly -- that these words were, without doubt, used ironically, and not literally.

(Wednesday, August 06, 2003 - 05:01 pm)

Again, this contradicts BJ Bear, who takes the words literally, and refers them to the cross and substitutionary atonement. I would note also that the footnote referred to Sir Arnold Lunn's remarks, which I have cited almost in their entirety. Though (as a Catholic) he is not exactly a Luther defender or partisan, we saw above that he, too, did not interpret the remark literally, and defended Luther against charges of sexual immorality and habitual drunkenness. He wrote: "Did this represent Luther's considered opinion? Certainly not," and suggested that wine might be the culprit.

Tappert and Anderson later get into a typical, sadly common Christian feud in the following exchange:

. . . journalists can be capable of error, just as physicians and pastors can be capable of error. Journalists (or physicians or pastors) who make errors need not be bigots, haters, or even grossly incompetent; they may be nothing more than fallible human beings who made a mistake. If Time Magazine attributed a position to Luther which he did not in fact hold, just point out the error. There's no need to drag in the red-herring of "Luther hating."

(Walt Tappert on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 08:27 am)

. . . those with ears to hear, and frontal lobes to cogitate, will find that walt's hysteria is unmerited. No one has accused the reporter of "luther-hating," much as walt desperately wants the neandertal lc-ms folk to have said so. hey, anything to justify his own rash prejudices, which run pretty deep.

(Michael L. Anderson on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 07:25 am

So we see that the personal attacks are alive and well in Lutheran ranks as well, with even a psychiatrist joining in.

I couldn't discover by Internet searching whether Walter Tappert might be the son or relative of the late Theodore G. Tappert, Professor of the History of Christianity at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and translator of both the Book of Concord and editor and translator of Table-Talk itself in the 55-volume set of Luther's Works.

. . . I agree with Dave that the statement is strange (and outlandish) enough to be worthy of further study, if there's anything that can be reasonably determined (as opposed to merely speculated) about its context. I also think, of course, that it's unlikely to pan out as a silver bullet of anti-Lutheran apologetics.

. . . My thinking was that the adultery quote might have something to do with the statement in Time, insofar as Mary Magdalene and supposed carnal relations with Jesus would be involved in both scenarios. I trust that most people can see some similarity in subject matter, not ethics, which was the whole point, and see why they might both be discussed in this context. After all, people on the Lutheran discussion board saw some connection as they, too, wound up talking about the same quote, not about Luther and Mary Magdalene being married.

This is not a cut-and-dried case. That makes for good discussion, because one must get the gears in their head going round, to figure out wonderfully-intellectually-stimulating things like plausibility structures (just as you did in your ingenious proposal of Luther's intent, which I may still yet adopt).

Plausibility and theoreticals (i.e., more philosophically-oriented aspects) are far more appealing to me as discussion topics than the dogmatic "certainty" exhibited by BJ Bear. I take it that you feel the same way, which is perhaps one reason why I have enjoyed this dialogue with you so much.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 14 August 2003 from public Internet discussions.

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