From the Inside Flap
The place and significance of Martin Luther in the long history of Christian anti-Jewish polemic has been and continues to be a contested issue. The literature on the subject is substantial and diverse. While efforts to exonerate Luther as "merely" a man of his times who "merely" perpetuated what he had received from his cultural and theological tradition have rightly been jettisoned, there still persists even among the educated public the perception that the truly problematic aspects of Luther's anti-Jewish attitudes are confined to the final stages of his career. It is true that Luther's anti-Jewish rhetoric intensified toward the end of his life, but reading Luther with a careful eye toward "the Jewish question," it becomes clear that Luther's theological presuppositions toward Judaism and the Jewish people are a central, core component of his thought throughout his career, not just at the end. It follows then that it is impossible to understand the heart and building blocks of Luther's theology (justification, faith, liberation, salvation, grace) without acknowledging the crucial role of "the Jews" in his fundamental thinking.
Luther was constrained by ideas, images, and superstitions regarding the Jews and Judaism that he inherited from medieval Christian tradition. But the engine in the development of Luther's theological thought as it relates to the Jews is his biblical hermeneutics. Just as "the Jewish question" is a central, core component of his thought, so biblical interpretation (and especially Old Testament interpretation) is the primary arena in which fundamental claims about the Jews and Judaism are formulated and developed.
About the Author
Kirsi I. Stjerna is First Lutheran, Los Angeles/Southwest California Synod Professor of Lutheran History and Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University. She is a docent at the University of Helsinki, and author or editor of eight books.