The Anti-Semitism of Martin Luther

martin-lutherTowards the end of his life, Martin Luther espoused vehement views towards the Jews in his writing and sermons. His most famous of anti-Semitic written works was On The Jews and Their Lies (1543), where Luther refers to the Jews as, “an incorrigible whore and an evil slut”,[1] “the multitude of the whoring and murderous people”,[2] “the devil incarnate”,[3] “…let themselves be slaughtered like wretched cattle”[4] and most damnably “We are at fault in not slaying them.”[5]

How did Martin Luther get to the point of being that hateful toward the Jews? I believe there are three reasons for Luther’s anti-Semitism.

  1. His failure in Jewish evangelism

    Initially, Luther was sympathetic towards the Jews in the hope that they would be won over to Christianity, but as the Jews persisted in their resistance to Luther’s appeals, Luther was greatly frustrated and began to speak out against them.[6]

  2. Outside peer influence

    There are three key people who could of played an integral part in influencing Luther toward his anti-Semitism. Firstly, Erasmus could’ve played a role in influencing Luther, particularly considering Erasmus said: “If it is Christian to hate Jews, then we are all good Christians.”[7] Secondly, it’s quite possible that Luther could’ve been influenced by Anton Margaritha’s anti-Semitic book Der gantze Jüdisch Glaub (The Whole Jewish Belief), which he read in 1539.[8] Finally, we should point out that Luther was heavily influenced by Augustine and also possibly by his anti-Judaic legacy, which ultimately would’ve contributed to the formulation of Luther’s doctrine of supersessionism.

  3. His strong sense of German nationalism

    Martin Luther and German nationalism are inextricably linked. It has been argued that Luther’s message was “not for Christendom, but for the German people – for he was not a Christian, he was first and foremost a German.”[9] As for the Jews, Luther viewed the Jewish community not only as a religious congregation but as a separate race. By default, then, Jewish meant anti-German.[10]

In conclusion, Martin Luther’s relationship with the Jews was doomed to failure, considering his influences, experiences and cultural upbringing. Sadly, Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic legacy was championed by the Nazi party and played a significant role in the outworking of the Holocaust. If only Luther could have seen the full germination of his seeds of hate, he would have been able to avoid being implicated as an influence in one of the greatest human tragedies in world history.


[1] Martin Luther, ‘On The Jews and Their Lies’ in Luther’s Works, Vol 47 (1543). p. 9, Online:  [Cited September 20, 2012]

[2] Ibid,. 10.

[3] Ibid., 22.

[4] Ibid., 23.

[5] Ibid., 37.

[6] Emily Paras, ‘The Darker Side of Martin Luther,’ in Constructing the Past, Vol. 9 (2008), Iss. 1, Article 4, p. 4, Online: [Cited September 21, 2012]

[7] Stephen Conway, Luther and Anti-Semitism (1992) Online:  [Cited September 21, 2012]

[8] Michael Sydow, ‘Martin Luther, Reformation Theologian and Educator’ in Journal of Theology, Vol. 39 (1999), Iss. 4, Article 1, p. 18, Online:  [Cited September 21, 2012]

[9] Daphne M. Olsen, ‘Luther and Hitler: A Linear Connection between Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler’s Anti-Semitism with a Nationalistic Foundation’ in Masters of Liberal Studies Theses. Paper 20 (2012), p. 10, Online:  [Cited September 21, 2012]

[10] Ibid., 43.


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