Do Unto Others?

The following disturbing extracts are from a treatise titled The Jews and Their Lies, written by Martin Luther toward the end of his life:

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. . . . I shall give you my sincere advice:

First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. . . .

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. . . .

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

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. . . .

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. . . .

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. . . .

Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam. . . . One should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants. . . . Let us eject them forever from this country.”

Bernhard Lohse noted in his book Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development that these views merely reflected the prevailing attitude toward Jews at that time. “These proposals . . . are neither original nor harsher than those that others at the time had made, and across all ecclesiastical and spiritual persuasions,” he wrote.

Richard Marius, in Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death, put it more bluntly: “With respect to the Jews Luther was part of a cultural stream that runs like an open sewer through our history.”

Despite this historical context, however, it must be noted that Luther’s stand on this issue is at complete variance with the teachings of the Bible. The apostle John, for example, pointed out: “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen. . . . He who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20–21).