Epistle of Straw?

Since we know that the Bible is an inspired book, every word being God-breathed and full of meaning, then what would motivate a preacher to come against a whole book of the Bible and say it was not from God?

If a leader in one of the denominations today came out with the statement that he did not believe that one part of the New Testament was God-breathed but was in error, that man would immediately be branded a heretic or a cult leader for coming against the authority of the word of God. But the man who started the Protestant Reformation, the famous Martin Luther, said just that. So how does he get away with it?

It is a well-documented fact that Martin Luther is quoted as having said that the book of the New Testament called James was an "epistle of straw."1 This can only mean it is going to burn like a pile of straw in the Day of Judgment.2 Why did he say that? Obviously it is because he did not like the things written in that portion of Scripture. But why? What bothered him so much about the words of James?

He did not like what James said about faith and works. It did not go along with his newfound doctrine, "saved by faith alone." Martin Luther's revelation of "saved by faith" is the foundation for his split from his former church, the Roman Catholic Church. He thought that the heavy burdens of good deeds that his church was extorting from her members were unnecessary. He had been tormented by a deep sense of guilt about his own behavior and inability to measure up to the good deeds necessary for his church to grant him freedom from purgatory and entrance to heaven. So, his revelation of "faith only" was the answer. According to his revelation, Martin Luther taught that salvation is by faith alone, thus anything else that might be expected from a believer would be heresy, or works salvation. Yet, the book of James explains just the opposite concerning salvation. So, of course, rather than doubt the authenticity of his own personal revelation about faith, he doubted the Bible.3

Faith that Doesn't Work

The point of the book of James is that any faith that is real faith will be obvious by the kind of deeds (works) it produces. If the faith does no works, then it is a faith that literally doesn't work. In other words, that faith will not gain for you the eternal life you hope for.

The book of James is so clear that it even says that "your religion is worthless" if it does not include the proper works. In this case the "works" James was speaking of was merely "controlling your tongue."4 Martin Luther was one who was famous for his "fiery invective" and coarse language. So, of course, he would not like that part in the Bible where it condemns men who, "With the tongue praise our Lord and Father, and with the same tongue curse men, who have been made in God's likeness."5

Today people still become angry and upset at the suggestion that a person who does not show proper works, as the book of James says, does not have real faith.6 They cry "Works Salvation" and defend their worldly, improper behavior with the words, "I am saved by faith." But in the Bible, in James, it says that "faith without works is dead." That means such faith cannot save you. James then goes on to explain what he means by works, using the simple everyday example of helping a needy brother who lacks proper clothes or food. It says that if you do not give him clothes and food, but just say, "God bless you," your faith is useless. He is not talking about such works as supporting local charity groups or sending money to feed the hungry in Africa. He is talking about the way we lead our everyday life, right here at home.

Although the leader of their Reformation had this view of "faith alone," Protestant Christians today do not say that they hate the book of James. How is it then that they can still say they follow the doctrines of Martin Luther? Understanding their reasoning will give you a key to what is going on in much of the religious fluff you see today across the denominational landscape. Believers have been handed a "gospel" that teaches a way to read the book of James and other equally pointed truths and yet mentally disconnect when thinking through (or taking) those truths to their proper conclusions. This is what James meant by "deceives his own heart."7

It is like saying, "Two plus two is four." Everyone knows that is right, unless you have come under a delusion. Under a delusion you can see "two plus two" and somehow know it equals four, but still go ahead and say with confidence that it equals five. You have no apologies. You can quote, "Faith without works is dead," and at the same time say, "You do not need to do anything." You can justify every contradiction to the commands of the Scriptures by saying to those who would want to obey, "That is legalism; salvation is a free gift."8

Useless Religion

So, we see a religion full of gluttony, drunkenness, and even murder in the name of God, by people (including Martin Luther himself) who will justify their actions with the thought that they are "saved by faith alone." But James boldly says, "Can that faith save him?"

James goes on to make the guidelines even tighter in writing to the believers, "If anyone one among you thinks he is religious, but does not bridle his tongue and deceives himself, this one's religion is useless."9

So what is the "useless religion" James is talking about? He is talking to believers here, isn't he? They think they have "saving faith" because they think they are "religious" -- but by simply "not bridling his tongue" such a one is exposed by his behavior as having useless religion.

So, what you do matters... if you have the faith that works.

He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)

Is obeying His commandments "works"? Is keeping the commandments just useless works which have nothing to do with being "saved by faith"? What then are we saved for, except the good works that are prepared for us to spend our lives doing?10

If you are the seed of Abraham, you will do the works he did, the Son of God said in John 8:39. James understood works, but he was obviously writing his letter to an element that had risen up in the early church that was denying the need to do anything, thus making the first church into a useless religion -- one with no works to show their faith.

The church must be built upon the foundation of hearing from God -- which is revelation. That is what our Master said to Peter when something other than flesh and blood spoke deeply to his heart one day, testifying that his Master was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.11 This promise of deep revelation to a man's heart would be the keys to the kingdom for the church, and hell could not prevail against this rock of revelation. But obviously by the time of the book of James, the church had come into a place where they were hearing from flesh and blood men who were deceiving them into believing something false. James labors to show them that the so-called "faith" these men preached is useless unless it leads them to do good works. They were not "saved" by that so-called "faith" that did not lead them to do good works. That kind of faith does not save anyone.

  • 1. Martin Luther writes: "In a word, St. John's Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul's Epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter's first Epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and good for you to know, 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 has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it." (In "Luther's Preface to the New Testament," published in 1522, revised in 1545, in the Works of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932, copyrighted by the United Lutheran Church in America, vol. 6. pp. 443-444., translated by C.M. Jacobs)
  • 2. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
  • 3. His own personal revelation caused him to reject as well the inspiration of the Book of Revelations: "I miss more than one thing in this book, and this makes me hold it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic... I think of it almost as I do of the Fourth Book of Esdras, and can no how detect that the Holy Spirit produced it... Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit gives him to think. My spirit cannot fit itself into this book. There is one sufficient reason for me not to think highly of it, -- Christ is not taught or known in it." From Luther's "Preface to Revelation" published in 1522, ibid, p. 488-489. He held similar views of Hebrews and Jude.
  • 4. James 1:26
  • 5. James 3:9; We cannot, with a good conscience, include any quotes of Luther's foul tongue, which was worse than a sailor's, but we can quote a common enough thought in his writings: "For I am unable to pray without at the same time cursing. If I am prompted to say, "Hallowed be Thy name," I must add, "Cursed, damned, outraged be the name of papists." Indeed, I pray thus orally every day and in my heart, without intermission."
  • 6. James 2:14
  • 7. James 1:26
  • 8. See the article about doublethink called Tools of Control.
  • 9. James 1:26
  • 10. Ephesians 2:8-10
  • 11. Matthew 16:16-19

The Twelve Tribes is a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, composed of self-governing communities. We are disciples of the Son of God whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua. We follow the pattern of the early church in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, truly believing everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible, and sharing all things in common.

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