Posts From October, 2018

Was Martin Luther anti-Semitic?

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Nazis used Luther’s writings against the Jews to justify their anti-Semitism and nationalism. Martin Luther has been accused of being anti-Semitic. Lutherans for many years tried to hide Luther anti-Jewish literature, but we couldn’t keep his negative attitude toward the Jews secret. The Christian world knows about Luther anti-Jewish teaching. As we are celebrating the Reformation of Martin Luther, the question that I’m going to answer in this sermon is whether Martin Luther was anti-Semitic. Martin Sasse, the pro-Nazi Lutheran bishop advised Lutherans the following: “The German people must hear the words of this man [Martin Luther], the greatest anti-Semite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews.”[1] During the time November 9 to November 10, 1938, in an incident known as “Kristallnacht,” Nazis in Germany set fire to Jewish synagogues and schools and killed many Jews. Kristallnacht took place on Luther’s birthday.

Martin Luther wrote influential book against the Jews titled “On the Jews and Their Lies.” Nazis used this particular book to justify the Holocaust. In his book, Luther advises Christians to carry out sixth remedial actions. These are as follows:

First, Luther told Christians to “set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn.”

Second, he recommended that “their houses also be razed and destroyed.”

Third, he advised that “all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.”

Fourth, he declared that “rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.”

Fifth, he urged that “safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.”

Sixth, he wrote that “usury should be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping.”

This teaching is disturbing. How can Luther’s attitude toward the Jews be justified?

First, we need to look at the broader context of Luther. In his first initial writing, Luther advocated for better treatment of the Jews. In his 1523 essay That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, Luther condemned the cruel act against the Jews and urged Christians to treat them kindly. He hoped that the Jews would convert to Christianity if they received better treatment.

Second, one of the most significant issues that disturbed Luther was exploitation of the people by major banking houses of Europe. The banking system involved in a shameful level of usury: the exploitative level of interest rate. German Jews controlled that industry. Martin Luther was against the Jews who were taking advantage of the poor Christians.

Third, the hostile and negative rhetoric that Luther employed in his book, the Jews and their lies, are used all over his writings to attack the Papacy, Anabaptist, and nominal Christians. Luther was wrong in using harsh and abusive language. However, we cannot say that this is anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is a 20-century phenomenon. Luther was following the approach of the New Testament that describes the Jews as the betrayal of Christ and the gospel, and as failure to recognize Jesus as the coming Messiah. It was not an ethnic motivation that led Luther to this, but it was theological motivation.

Throughout his life, Luther wanted the Jews to convert and join the church, but Hitler never wanted them to join the church or Nazi party. That is the difference between anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. Luther was not opposed to the Jews because of their race and blood, but he was opposed to the Jews because of their religion as he was opposed to the Muslims because of Islam. If you are anti-Semitic, you are against the Jews because of their blood and race, and the Jews cannot do anything to change their blood or race. Luther attacked and offended the Jews with a purpose to convert them to Christianity. But the Nazi exploited Martin Luther’s writings during the Third Reich.

It is dangerous to assume that some Christian writers were not sinners. Luther as a human being was a sinful man. He thought, said, and did sinful things, so are we. It is ridiculous that people dismiss Luther, Augustine, Calvin or Aquinas because they found issues in their lives, but they do not disqualify themselves for things they say and do. God never used a sinless person to guide or write stuff for us. As Martin Luther said, all of us are sinners, and all of us are in need of God’s grace. All of us are sinners, and because of Jesus Christ, we are also righteous.

[1] Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners (New York: Vintage, 1997), 265.

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Hebrews 5:1-10

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Many Christians have the impression that the clergy have a higher calling than other workers. By the Middle Ages, “religious” life — as a monk or nun — was widely considered holier than ordinary life, until Martin Luther challenged this thinking.

Your pastor is not perfect, but many assume she should be close, right? That is why when we hear of pastors or priests fall from grace we are so shocked by their behavior. They were the closest thing to Jesus we could see. We just expected more.

The author of the epistle to Hebrews explains that although the high priest enjoyed high status among Jews, he was weak like any Jew. “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people” (v.2-3).

In ancient Israel, the high priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins in addition to those made for the sins of the people. No one is immune from sin. When you confess your sins, you receive absolution. Since your pastor is a human being, she is a sinner in need of God’s grace. I need to confess my sin, too. I need to receive absolution. You noticed recently when we confess our sins, I confess my sin, too, and you offer me forgiveness. Your pastor provides you the means of grace, also she needs to receive Holy Communion, and needs your prayer.

The author of the epistle explains that the role of the high priest was to be mediator between God and people. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest offered sacrifices on behalf of his people’s sins. He also offered prayers and supplications asking God to forgive his people. He also drew near to people on God’s behalf in order to offer them guidance and assistance. He was able to sympathize with his people because he was a sinner just like them. If your pastor were 100% perfect, then she cannot sympathize with your weaknesses. Congregation is often-overlook the fact that pastors are, in fact, both human and sinful just like the people they are trying to lead.

Jesus Christ is the only person and high priest without any sin. The author of the epistle to Hebrews states that “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The author in chapter 5 distinguishes between high priests and Jesus. The high priest is guilty of sin but Jesus without sin.

However, Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses not because he is a sinner but because of his obedience and suffering. Christ’s compassion came from his profound experience of vulnerability through suffering. “In every respect” he has been tested as we are. Jesus becomes like his sisters and brothers in every respect so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest. Our Savior Jesus Christ has passed through all suffering and shame, and he knows our weaknesses very well.

God appointed Jesus to be the high priest for our salvation. He acts as a mediator between God and us. For Jesus to be high priest and mediator, he had to share in the experiences of those he represents-- hence he had to suffer.

The human high priest was a sinner and disobeyed God. “In actuality, the history of the high priesthood was an inglorious one, the office having become highly politicized, especially in the Maccabean and Roman periods that led into the time of Jesus. Opposition to the corrupt priesthood was one of the factors that led to the formation of the dissident ديسيدنت Qumran community, locus of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”[1]

Jesus Christ learned to be obedient through his suffering. Jesus Become the source of salvation for all who obey him, following his own perfection (v.9). You are invited to draw near the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ with confidence knowing that he understands your weaknesses and your needs. Jesus is a sympathetic priest who is ready to forgive you your sin. He also sympathizes with people who live in the shadow of death and sorrow. No one can understand you as much as Jesus does.

[1] Scott Shauf, “Commentary On Hebrews 5: 1-10,” Working Preacher, accessed October 21, 2018,