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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

OEMR - The Epistle of Straw? 


As a Lutheran, this does hit close to home. I found a United Methodist website that reproduced several of Martin Luther's comments on the Epistle of James:


"Saint John's gospel and St. Paul's epistles, especially that to the Romans, and St. Peter's first epistle are the true pit and marrow of all the books. They should justly be the first books, and every Christian should be advised to read them first and most, and by daily reading to make them as familiar to himself as his daily bread.
In them you do not find described many works and miracles of Christ; but you do find depicted in a masterly manner how faith in Christ overcomes sin, death, and hell, and gives life, righteousness, and salvation. This is the real nature of the Gospel …

These books show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salutary for you to known even though you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James epistle is really an epistle of straw compared to them, for it lacks this evangelical character." (W-DB 6, 10 Plass 988)

and yet, about the new testament itself, Luther says
The New Testament is only the gospel preached: "This is nothing else than the message by which the Spirit is offered to us and grace for the forgiveness of sins, purchased for us by Christ Crucified-and all entirely free, through the pure mercy of God the Father, who thus favors us unworthy creatures, who deserve damnation rather than anything else."

After the gospel preached is the exhortations, which are to "animate those who have already been justified" so that they might "Practice love in good works, and courageously to bear the cross and all other tribulations of this world" (W 18, 692 in Plass 987-988).

and yet, again, Luther quotes James
His comments on Prayer-do not ever give up on prayer, "Let us, therefore, pray boldly and confidently" supported by James 5:16. (Plass 1097)

"So the question is asked: How can justification take place without the works of the Law, and how can no justification take place by the works of the Law even though James clearly says: 'Faith without works is dead' (2:26) and 'By works a man is justified' (2:24), adducing the examples of Abraham and Rahab? And even Paul says (Gal 5:6): 'Faith (which) worketh by love' and above (Rom 2:13): 'The doers of the Law shall be justified"? Answer: the apostle distinguishes between the Law and faith, between the letter and grace, and so also between their works. He calls those works 'works of the Law' that are done without faith and grace, by the Law, which forces them to be done through fear or through the enticing promise of temporal advantages. But he calls these 'works of faith' which are done in the spirit of liberty, purely out of love to God. And these can be done only by those who are justified by faith. But the works of the Law contribute nothing toward this justification, nay, they greatly hinder it, because they will not let a man realize that he is unjust and in need of justification. ...

"There when the blessed James and the apostle say that man is justified by works, they are disputing the false conception of those who contended that a faith without works would be sufficient. However, the apostle does not say that faith is without its characteristic works-for then there would be no faith at all since 'activity reveals the nature of a thing' according to philosophers-but that it justifies without the works of the Law. Therefore justification does not require a living faith, which performs its works. (W 56, 248f in Plass 720-721).

Luther also uses James 1:14 to argue about sin that "the great enticement is within you, and you must first run and flee from yourself" (W 10 I, 1, in Plass 1302).

In James 2:26, Luther explains that before God, we are justified by faith alone, without works, but "Before the people and himself, he is justified through works, that is, he thereby becomes known and certain himself that he honestly believes and is pious" (W10 III, 287 f in Plass 1231).

James 4:7 "resist the devil" We should, in fact, be afraid of sin and temptation, but "we should not stay in terror; we should turn again to grace" (W-T 1, No. 407). (p 1349)
Also in response to temptation, Luther exhorts us to call upon God and pray (James 5:13)
(W-T 1, No. 956 in Plass 1350)

Ewald M. Plass, compiler, What Luther Says: An Anthology Three Volumes. (St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959).
W is the Weimar Edition of Luther's Works
W-Br is the Weimar Edition of Luther's Letters Briefe
W-DB is the Weimar Edition Deutsche Bibel
W-T is the Weimar Edition Tischreden



But of all of these comments, the one that has stuck has been "epistle of straw." Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (catholicism.org) has a lot to say about this:


That Martin Luther called the Epistle of St. James “an epistle of straw” is a well-known fact. Those just learning it should not be surprised when they read it, though. After all, in making up his new religion, Luther’s ultimate recourse was to his own intellect. About the nicest thing we can say of such a criterion for truth is that it was not given a divine promise of inerrancy....

Since [Luther] did not think virtue and vice had any role in man’s salvation, and since he had little of the former and much of the latter, the book was simply not to his heretical and immoral tastes....



And, if these sites [1] [2] are accurate, someone at EWTN thinks that Luther eliminated James from the Bible:


Answer by Fr. Robert J. Levis on 01-23-2002:
Shawn, All or most of the Bibles printed for Protestant usage omit the Epistle of James from their New Testament list, following the decision of Martin Luther who claimed this Epistle was merely one of straw. However, many of these Bibles list this Epistle separately as an apocryphal work. God bless. Fr. Bob Levis



Here's what a United Church of God web page says:


Frustrated by religious leaders who claimed this book supported their mistaken ideas that people could buy their salvation through monetary gifts to the church, Luther uttered his ill-advised phrase. Consumed in the debate, he went beyond a proper understanding of the Scriptures and dismissed James's statements that works are a necessary evidence of faith.

Many people today misapply Luther's words, not understanding the circumstances behind them. Martin Luther's life was one of dedication and chaste behavior. But his zealous words and arguments are sometimes taken out of historical context to excuse undisciplined lifestyles.



Josh S believes that it is all a language problem:


Luther the exegete understood both Paul and the Evangelists pretty well. However, where he, like other exegetes of his day, dropped the ball were texts that spoke of everything in circumvented, Hebraic fashion, James and Revelation being entirely composed of such writing. With respect to James, Luther's interpretation was that it was collection of rabbinic/Jewish moralisms with a vaguely Christian veneer adding a little gloss....

The conclusion of later exegetes is that Luther's entire estimation of James was completely incorrect, as studies of Hebrew, Hebraicized Greek, and koine Greek had a long ways to go yet. The fact is that Luther was far better equipped to handle the rather more straightforward Greek of Paul and the Evangelists than the subtle Hebraisms of James and John....



And, as I mentioned earlier, some believe that it is Paul, not James, who should be thrown out of the Bible.


I would like to share with you why I, personally, have come to the conclusion that Paul's theology differs substantially from the faith of Jesus*, and therefore cannot be considered Christian....

Paul clearly felt that the personal revelation that he experienced was of greater value than the years of instruction that the Apostles received from Jesus himself. To test the validity of this assertion, it is necessary to compare Paul's teaching with that of Jesus. If, in fact, Paul's teaching turns out to be a natural extension of that of Jesus, in the same way that a fully grown tree is the natural extension of a sapling, then there may be validity to his belief. If, however, the voice or spirit that Paul thinks communicated with him is unreliable, then we should expect to see Paul choosing a different path than the one Jesus chose....

Paul rejected the authority of the Apostles that Jesus appointed, and the Apostles that Jesus appointed rejected Paul. Paul lacked authority to preach, and his own letters make it clear that he did not possess a letter of recommendation from the authorities that Jesus instituted. Jesus did not institute the Twelve Apostles as a means of personal amusement or to fill his idle time; he did so to protect the Church from idle, heretical, or blasphemous doctrines. He did so with the intention of creating an institution that would preserve correct teaching. Paul chose to go outside of this institution, without a letter of recommendation, and without benefiting himself from its teaching or instruction. Not only do Paul's writings lack consistency or reliability, they cannot be considered Christian.



But most sources reject neither James nor Paul. Here's an example:


The alleged rhubarb between James and Paul has formed the ground for a variety of wacky theories, ranging from Baur's seminal "faith vs works split in early Christianity" to Robert Eisenman's attempts to make Romans 14:2 a slam by Paul against James' supposed vegetarianism (evidenced only by later 2nd century documents)....

Paul and James are NOT even addressing the same issues. Paul is teaching justification over and against specific observation of the Jewish law, such as circumcision (Rom. 3:1), and doing so with reference to a person prior to conversion. James is advocating the practical outworking of faith (i.e. validation) through generally moral behavior, but not through anything uniquely associated with the Jewish law, and after conversion. Is there any mention of circumcision or Jewish holidays in James? No -- he is concerned with caring for the poor, treating all people fairly, and holding one's tongue in check, once one is a believer. Quite simply, as Letham puts it, "The works of faith which James advocates are different from the works of the law that Paul condemns."...

As is often the case, critics seeking rivalry are missing the forest for the trees.



From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Comments:
I strongly disagree with Luther here. James lived with Jesus, as did all the disciples. He saw the Lord’s miracles, saw him crucified and raised from the dead. I put a lot more weight in the book of James than any of Paul’s epistles, for those reasons. Not to mention the fact, again, that the words of James clearly mirror the words of Christ and Paul’s do not. That doesn’t mean I think Paul’s letters should be thrown out of the Bible. I believe we should have them there for context. It just means that I will weigh Paul’s words and actions against those of Jesus when faced with a spiritual dilemma.

This quote of Luther’s does make a lot of sense to me:

He calls those works 'works of the Law' that are done without faith and grace, by the Law, which forces them to be done through fear or through the enticing promise of temporal advantages.

I guess maybe the difference is the motivation behind following the law. Are we following it in hopes of temporal advantages, or following it because God has shown His love to us and we want to love Him in return?

Not surprised that the Catholics railed against Luther’s views on James. He single-handedly destroyed the death grip they had on the Western world.
 
I like this continuation of Luther's comment that you quoted above:

But he calls these 'works of faith' which are done in the spirit of liberty, purely out of love to God. And these can be done only by those who are justified by faith. But the works of the Law contribute nothing toward this justification, nay, they greatly hinder it, because they will not let a man realize that he is unjust and in need of justification.

I don't really know anything about Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but I doubt their views are, as they say, "universal."

1517 may or may not be the year that changed thw world. Remember that the Eastern Orthodox movement had broken away long before this.

What I want to do in this series is look at why people regard Scripture A more highly than Scripture B.

And yes, I peeked ahead in the 5 x 5 x 5, and that probaby influenced my choice of topic.
 
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