The Hidden Evil of Martin Luther
How did the brilliant and brave theologian Martin Luther, a hero of the Protestant faith, turn from being a loving advocate of the Jewish people to spewing hateful antisemitic rhetoric near the end of his life? What happened to cause such a drastic change of heart? Gateway Center for Israel's David Blease shares the shocking story of Martin Luther and how his choices affected history.
We all know Martin Luther, the German theologian and church reformer who’s famous for launching the Protestant Reformation and nailing the 95 theses on the door of the Catholic Church. This brilliant theologian and trailblazer who stood up to the corruption of the Catholic church in his day and insisted that the Bible was the final authority, not the Catholic church. Luther protested many evil practices at the Catholic church, including popular doctrine that salvation was through works. Luther rightfully insisted that salvation was by grace alone.
But there is another side of Martin Luther that is often overlooked today, and that is he ended up spewing horrible anti-Semitic hatred towards the end of his life, that he was one of the most anti-Semitic Jewish hating men in history. He wrote a book called “The Jews and Their Lies”, where he stated that in order to show God that we are good Christians, we should set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt, whatever will not burn.
400 years later, these evil writings ended up influencing the Hitler and Nazi movement. In fact, many have concluded that Hitler’s greatest inspiration for the Holocaust was none other than Martin Luther. Most people I have talked to have never heard of this side of Martin Luther, and I am in no way taking away from the amazing things that he did in the Protestant reformation. God used him in incredible ways. But I do think it’s interesting that I went to Bible school and I learned about this hero in the faith and yet never learned about this part of his life. Where did this hatred come from, and is it lying dormant in the hearts of many Christians today?
Interestingly enough, Martin Luther was not always against the Jewish people. In fact, he was once an advocate. When he read scripture, he saw the same thing we see regarding God’s chosen people, that the Jewish people are special to God, that they’re God’s firstborn, in Exodus 4:22, the apple of his eye, Zacharia, and his special treasure. So he wrote a book in 1523 called Jesus Christ Born a Jew. This book was written to confront the Christian Church about their antisemitism and argued that the reason many Jewish people have not accepted Jesus was because of the church’s attitude and lack of grace towards them. He wrote, they will only be frightened further away from it if their Judaism is so utterly rejected that nothing is allowed to remain, and they are treated only with arrogance and scorn. He later also wrote, when we are inclined to boast of our position, we should remember that we are but Gentile, where the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws. They are blood relatives, cousins and brothers of our Lord. Martin Luther then concludes in this book. Therefore, I would request and advise that one deal gently with them and instruct them from scripture. Then some of them may come along. Instead of this, we are trying only to drive them by force. Martin Luther shows great compassion and biblical clarity to love God’s people. But then something happened.
As years went on of him advocating for Jewish people and sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Most Jewish people didn’t accept Luther’s message of Jesus. We have to understand as Christians that many people will hear the gospel of Jesus one time and give their life to him, and that’s amazing. But unfortunately, because the Christian Church has done so poorly at genuinely loving the Jewish people, we have committed many atrocities to the Jewish people in the name of Jesus.
Throughout Christian history, great men of God have turned their back on the Jewish people and demonized God’s chosen. We’re going to listen to just a few. Justin Martyr, church father from 100CE to 165: “Oh, the promises of God made with you Jews are not yours but ours. We too would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in word all of your festivals. If we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because your sins and hardness of heart.” This is John Christendom, a church father and Archbishop: “The synagogue of the Jews are homes of idolatry and devils. Even though they have no images in them, they are even worse than heathen circuses. I hate the Jews for they have the law and they insult it.” Peter the Venerable, church Father and Saint 1092: “Truly, I doubt whether a Jew can be really human. I lead out from it’s den a monstrous animal and show it as a laughing stock in the amphitheater of the world. I bring thou forward thou Jew, thou brute beast.” And of course, Martin Luther, who wrote: “Their houses should also be razed and destroyed. All their prayer books and Talmudic writings in which such idolatries, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. Rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth at the pain of loss of limb and life. Even if they were punished in the most gruesome manner and the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted not in the hundreds of thousands, but the millions, they still must insist on being right.”
This is to say nothing of the actual atrocities committed like The Inquisition, The Crusades, The Holocaust, and hundreds more. I hope that these quotes shake you to your core. Antisemitism has been lurking in the church for centuries. It’s completely demonic because we know that we have a very real enemy. The Bible says we don’t war against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. I can assure you Satan hates the Jewish people because they are called the apple of God’s eye, and as the enemy of God, the devil wants to attack his beloved. And how heartbroken must God be that Satan uses the church to do it?
As Christians, we need to know that the gospel is good news to the Jewish people, but it hasn’t always been good news for many. The name, Jesus, invokes thoughts of love, joy, and peace to many of us. To many Jewish people, Jesus invokes thoughts of persecution, fear, and death. Martin Luther claimed to love the Jewish people, but when he didn’t experience the outcome he desired, he turned on them. And you may think, well, this would never happen today, but I promise you it is. According to the FBI, in the last three years, there’s been a 350% increase in antisemitism. You are currently 500% more likely to suffer a hate crime if you’re Jewish. And let me read you this quote from an evangelical pastor today with a very large following and a radio show. This pastor said this on air: “It is coming when Christians are going to lose their lives as they confront the synagogue of Satan. The Jews are coming for them. There will be a purge. When Jews take over the country, they will kill millions of Christians.” This is the same antisemitism used by Martin Luther and later Hitler. A technique to vilify the Jewish people for not accepting Jesus and turning our backs on them or turning our weapons towards them, God’s special treasure.
So what do we do? Hopefully this confronts any antisemitism that’s in our hearts. Hopefully this reveals that sometimes we claim to love people, but they’re really just a means to an end. And if they don’t get to the end in mind, we stop loving them. This is not the love that Jesus commands us to share in John 13:34 or Matthew 22:37. So today, would you pray for the Jewish people? Rather than turn your back on them when antisemitism happens around us, would you stand for them and stand with God’s firstborn?