Martin Luther.

Commentary on Genesis, Vol. II online

. (page 1 of 40)
Online LibraryMartin LutherCommentary on Genesis, Vol. II → online text (page 1 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Ron Swanson


_The Hero of the Reformation, the Greatest of the Teuton Church
Fathers, and the Father of Protestant Church Literature_














- to -


This introduction or prospectus is supplementary to that in the first
volume on the Psalms, in that it likewise emphasizes, though from
different view-points, the history and fruits, as well as the present
need and future mission of the Protestant Classics of the greatest of
all reformers in their relation to the development of the human race.

Let us in this introduction briefly notice the following: The progress
of the movement to translate and circulate Luther's works in English,
and then emphasize the need of developing an interest to read them;
first, because of the relation of Luther and his writings to the
public library; and secondly, because as the chief of the Teuton
Protestant Church Fathers, we need to understand Luther in his
relation to the Greek and Latin Church Fathers, and our true historic
relations to them all.


With profound gratitude to Almighty God for his rich blessing bestowed
upon the publication and quick sale of the first volume, Luther's
Commentary on the Psalms, a book "the mourning soul cannot well be
without," we now send forth the first volume of his Commentary on
Genesis, with the confidence that those, who think with Melanchthon
that "a single page of Luther contains more sound divinity than many
whole volumes," will not change their opinion by studying this volume.
Having purchased all the copies of Luther on Galatians and his Notes
on the Gospels by Dr. P. Anstadt, and the right to reprint them, with
two other volumes about ready for the press, one by Prof. E. F.
Bartholomew, D.D., and another by Dr. Bernhard Pick, our progress is
encouraging, especially since the movement has taken an intersynodical
character with colaborers from every branch of our polyglot communion.


This volume on Genesis follows the first volume on the Psalms because
the volumes ought to be published first that are needed most and will
do the most good. As Professor of Old Testament Exegesis I found that
like "Luther on the Psalms" so "Luther on Genesis" was not accessible
to the English, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish students of theology,
Prof. Bugge's Norwegian translation of extracts from it being out of
print. Therefore we believe this volume also will be welcomed by all
Old Testament professors and students. While both these volumes will
be a healthy corrective to the Old Testament critics, their
contribution to the biblical knowledge and the devotional life of
Protestantism cannot be exaggerated. Though first delivered to
critical students they have also been extensively read in family
worship. Luther began and closed his blessed ministry in the church of
God not by fighting the Pope, but by expounding the Word of God. He
began by explaining the whole Psalter from 1513 to 1516 (before 1517)
forming volumes III and IV of the Kaiser Chronological Edition and
closed his life's labors by expounding the first book of the Bible,
Genesis, which composes volumes I and II of the St. Louis Walch
edition. He commenced with the penitential Psalms of David and ended
with Moses, the earliest writings of the Old Testament. The reason so
many preachers and congregations neglect the Old Testament is because
it is neglected in the seminaries. God willing a volume of Luther on
the Prophetical Books will be issued and then in all three years at
the seminary the students may have something of Luther on the
Pentateuch, Psalms and Prophets.


In the recent marvelous development of public libraries it is held if
it is the duty of the state to teach the child to read for the welfare
of the child and of the state, it is also the duty of the state to
offer the child something to read. Hence the library is being
supported by taxation like the public school, and the library
buildings are being erected near the high schools. It is as President
Roosevelt said while west recently, our civilization rests on the
church, the school and the library. The library is the child of the
church and school and will in turn greatly influence both. Luther, the
founder of the Protestant Church, and the founder of the Public
School, is also the founder of the Protestant Library. Yea, more,
nearly four hundred years ago he united the school and the library as
is proved by the following:

It is noteworthy that Luther closes his "Address to the Mayors and
Aldermen of all the Cities of Germany in behalf of Christian Schools,"
which is considered by educators for its pioneer character and
statements of principles "the most important educational treatise ever
written," by a powerful appeal in behalf of public libraries which I
give in full from Luther on Education by Prof. Painter.

Luther concludes that great educational treatise thus:

"Finally, this must be taken into consideration by all who earnestly
desire to see such schools established and the study of the languages
preserved in the German states; that no cost nor pains should be
spared to procure good libraries in suitable buildings, especially in
the large cities that are able to afford it. For if a knowledge of the
Gospel and of every kind of learning is to be preserved, it must be
embodied in books, as the prophets and apostles did, as I have already
shown. This should be done, not only that our spiritual and civil
leaders may have something to read and study, but also that good books
may not be lost, and that the arts and languages may be preserved,
with which God has graciously favored us. St. Paul was diligent in
this matter, since he lays the injunction upon Timothy, 'Give heed to
reading,' I Tim. 4:13, and directs him to bring the books, but
especially the parchments left at Troas, 2 Tim. 4:13.

"All the kingdoms that have been distinguished in the world have
bestowed care upon this matter, and particularly the Israelites, among
whom Moses was the first to begin the work, who commanded them to
preserve the book of the law in the ark of God, and put it under the
care of Levites, that any one might procure copies from them. He even
commanded the king to make a copy of this book in the hands of the
Levites. Among other duties, God directed the Levitical priesthood to
preserve and attend to the books. Afterwards Joshua increased and
improved this library, as did subsequently Samuel, David, Solomon,
Isaiah, and many kings and prophets. Hence have come to us the Holy
Scriptures of the Old Testament, which would not otherwise have been
collected and preserved, if God had not required such diligence in
regard to it.

"After this example collegiate churches and convents formerly founded
libraries, although with few good books. And the injury from the
neglect to procure books and good libraries, when there were men and
books enough for that purpose, was afterwards perceived in the decline
of every kind of knowledge; and instead of good books, the senseless,
useless, and hurtful books of the monks, the Catholicon, Florista,
Graecista, Labyrinthus, Dormi Secure (names of Latin grammars and
collections of sermons), and the like, were introduced by Satan, so
that the Latin language was corrupted, and neither good schools, good
instruction, nor good methods of study remained. And as we see, the
language and arts are, in an imperfect manner, recovered from
fragments of old books rescued from the worms and dust; and every day
men are seeking these literary remains, as people dig in the ashes of
a ruined city after treasures and jewels.

"Therein we have received our just due, and God has well recompensed
our ingratitude, in that we did not consider his benefits, and lay up
a supply of good literature when we had time and opportunity, but
neglected it, as if we were not concerned. He in turn, instead of the
Holy Scriptures and good books, suffered Aristotle and numberless
pernicious books to come into use, which only lead us further from the
Bible. To these were added the progeny of Satan, the monks and the
phantoms of the universities, which we founded at incredible cost, and
many doctors, preachers, teachers, priests and monks, that is to say,
great, coarse, fat fellows, adorned with red and brown caps, like
swine led with a golden chain and decorated with pearls; and we have
burdened ourselves with them, who have taught us nothing useful, but
have made us more and more blind and stupid, and as a reward have
consumed all our property, and filled all the cloisters, and indeed
every corner with dregs and filth of their unclean and noxious books,
of which we cannot think without horror.

"Has it not been a grievous misfortune that a boy has hitherto been
obliged to study twenty years or longer, in order to learn enough
miserable Latin to become a priest and to read the mass? And whosoever
has succeeded in this has been called blessed, and blessed the mother
that has borne such a child! And yet he has remained a poor ignorant
man all through life, and has been of no real service whatever.
Everywhere we have had such teachers and masters, who have known
nothing themselves, who have been able to teach nothing useful, and
who have been ignorant even of the right methods of learning and
teaching. How has it come about? No books have been accessible but the
senseless trash of the monks and sophists. How could the pupils and
teacher differ from the books they studied? A crow does not hatch a
dove, nor a fool make a man wise. That is the recompense of our
ingratitude, in that we did not use diligence in the formation of
libraries, but allowed good books to perish, and bad ones to survive.

"But my advice is not to collect all sorts of books indiscriminately
thinking only of getting a vast number together. I would have
discrimination used, because it is not necessary to collect the
commentaries of the jurists, the productions of all the theologians,
the discussions of all the philosophers, and the sermons of all the
monks. Such trash I would reject altogether, and provide my library
only with useful books; and in making the selection I would advise
with learned men.

"In the first place, a library should contain the Holy Scriptures in
Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German and other languages. Then the best and
most ancient commentators in Greek, Hebrew and Latin.

"Secondly, such books as are useful in acquiring the languages, as the
poets and orators, without considering whether they are heathen or
Christian, Greek or Latin. For it is from such works that grammar must
be learned.

"Thirdly, books treating of all the arts and sciences.

"Lastly, books on jurisprudence and medicine, though here
discrimination is necessary.

"A prominent place should be given to chronicles and histories, in
whatever language they may be obtained; for they are wonderfully
useful in understanding and regulating the course of the world, and in
disclosing the marvelous works of God. O, how many noble deeds and
wise maxims produced on German soil have been forgotten and lost,
because no one at the time wrote them down; or if they were written,
no one preserved the books; hence we Germans are unknown in other
lands, and are called brutes that know only how to fight, eat and
drink. But the Greeks and Romans, and even the Hebrews have recorded
their history with such particularity, that even if a woman or child
did anything noteworthy, all the world was obliged to read and know
it; but we Germans are always Germans and will remain Germans.

"Since God has so graciously and abundantly provided us with art,
scholars and books, it is time for us to reap the harvest and gather
for future use the treasures of these golden years. For it is to be
feared (and even now it is beginning to take place) that new and
different books will be produced, until at last, through the agency of
the devil, the good books which are being printed will be crowded out
by the multitude of ill-considered, senseless and noxious works. For
Satan certainly designs that we should torture ourselves again with
Catholicons, Florists, Modernists and other trash of the accursed
monks and sophists, always learning, yet never acquiring knowledge.

"Therefore, my dear sirs, I beg you to let my labor bear fruit with
you. And though there be some who think me too insignificant to follow
my advice, or who look down upon me as one condemned by tyrants; still
let them consider that I am not seeking my own interest, but that of
all Germany. And even if I were a fool, and yet should hit upon
something good, no wise man should think it a disgrace to follow me.
And if I were a Turk and heathen, and it should yet appear that my
advice was advantageous, not for myself, but for Christianity, no
reasonable person would despise my counsel. Sometimes a fool has given
better advice than a whole company of wise men. Moses received
instruction from Jethro.

"Herewith I commend you all to the grace of God. May he soften your
hearts, and kindle therein a deep interest in behalf of the poor,
wretched and neglected youth; and through the blessing of God may you
so counsel and aid them as to attain to a happy Christian social order
in respect to both body and soul, with all fullness and abounding
plenty, to the praise and honor of God the Father, through Jesus
Christ our Saviour. Amen."

Wittenberg, 1524.

In his "Table Talk" Luther continues thus:

"The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure or limit
to this fever for writing; every one must be an author; some out of
vanity, to acquire celebrity and make a name; others for the sake of
lucre and gain. The Bible is now buried under so many commentaries,
that the text is not regarded. I could wish that all my books were
buried nine ells deep in the ground, by reason of the ill example they
will give, every one seeking to imitate me in writing many books, with
the hope of procuring fame. But Christ died not to favor our ambition
and vain-glory, but that his name might be glorified.

"The aggregation of large libraries tends to direct men's thoughts
from the one great book, the Bible, which ought, day and night, to be
in every man's hand. My object, my hope, in translating the
Scriptures, was to check the so prevalent production of new works, and
so to direct men's study and thoughts more closely to the divine Word.
Never will the writings of mortal man in any respect equal the
sentences inspired by God. We must yield the place of honor to the
prophets and apostles, keeping ourselves prostrate at their feet as we
listen to their teaching. I would not have those who read my books, in
these stormy times, devote one moment to them which they would
otherwise have consecrated to the Bible."


The foregoing literal quotations on the library; its divine origin and
its biblical and ecclesiastical development from the time of Moses;
its interlingual and international importance; its satanic and
anti-Christ-like dangers; its true mission and relation to the church,
school, family and state; the comprehensive sample catalogue of a
model library; and the words that when libraries tend to direct men's
thoughts from or against the one great Book they are complete
failures; these and other like thoughts of Luther, who was born only
15 years after the death of Guthenburg, his countryman, the inventor
of printing; these words so warm, clear and wise of the hero of the
Reformation, uttered nearly 400 years ago, prove that Luther and not
Franklin was the father or founder of modern libraries of printed
books and documents.

In W. T. Fletcher's "Public Libraries In America," of the Columbian
Knowledge Series, published in Boston, 1899, we read on page 10, "But
when did the public library movement begin? Not even the Reformation,
with its tremendous assertion of the right of man to spiritual
freedom, brought about the change so designated. Franklin more than
any other originated this movement." It is strange that in all the
recent and growing bibliography on the library there is little or no
tendency to trace the origin of the Protestant library to the
Protestant Reformation. Yet Mr. Fletcher says on p. 37, "It is a
significant fact that everywhere the clergy are found foremost in
advancing the library movement." He certainly does not mean the
Catholic clergy.

If you examine the libraries of our day and judge from their contents
and spirit, the conclusion irresistibly comes to one that they do not
know their own father or founder. Their walls often are decorated with
fine pictures of illustrious men, Carnegie and other liberal donors;
but in no public library, not even in districts of our country where
the German and Scandinavian taxpayers are in the majority do we find a
picture on their walls, "Martin Luther, the Founder of the Library
Among the Protestant Teutonic Nations." Though Carnegie should expend
all his fortune on libraries alone, his donation to the library idea
would be unworthy to be compared with that of Luther. Besides what
Luther wrote urging the Teutonic nations accepting his teachings to
erect libraries or "book houses" as he called them, and besides what
he did in other ways to encourage the collection of the writings of
the Germanic nations, this Teuton of the Teutons, their child and
father, born, as I said, only fifteen years after the inventor of
printing died, wrote a library of 113 volumes in the infancy of
printing, which is still today the leading classic library of
Protestantism, which has been translated and retranslated in part into
every language of the globe and influenced every Protestant and many
Catholic authors, and is or should be the foundation and center of
every library that is not anti-Protestant. Alas! Alas! It is not so in
our own Protestant land, the United States. He seems to be feared more
as a leader of a sect, which he never was, than loved and honored as
the hero of the Reformation and the very soul of the Protestant
Teutonic literary activity and its treasures. However I am not so
greatly concerned to have Luther honored as the father of the modern
library by hanging his picture on their walls. There is a better way
for the Protestant library to honor their father and that is to
purchase his writings complete in the German, Scandinavian and English
languages and then interest their German, Scandinavian and English
citizens to read them. True some libraries have a dozen or more books
written about Luther, his life, etc., but not a single book written by
him. All the books that others have or may write about him are as
nothing compared to what he himself wrote in explaining the Holy
Scriptures and the fundamental principles of our modern aggressive
Protestant civilization. If they are the happy possessors of a few
books translated from our great Teuton church father, the books are
often in such poor and antiquated English that no one can nor will
read them with any comfort. Librarians and pastors and Protestant
laymen, what have you up-to-date in your library from the heart and
pen of the father of Protestant literature? Look now and see, and make
a note of what you find and write us, and we may be of some help to
you in completing your collection.

But what is the use for libraries to purchase Luther's works in
German, Scandinavian or English when the people do not call for the
books and read them. Therefore we have given emphasis to their cry
that is going abroad in the land.


Why? Because as a true intelligent Protestant you cannot read any
thing better. Millions of people have said and millions more will say
next to the Bible they received more from Luther's writings than from
all other books combined. And if you take the Protestant professors of
our land, and for that matter of all lands, they all together would
come far short of making a Luther. He was not only ahead of his times,
but on many subjects he is far ahead of our age. Yes, when we keep
company with Luther we feel we are behind the times, on subjects like
Romanism, Protestantism, Christian schools, Christian libraries, the
Christian family, the Christian state, and many Christian social
problems. It is possible to go backwards as well as forwards.

How can I read Luther when I have not his books and I cannot afford to
purchase them? Our cry is not Buy Luther! Buy Luther!! Buy Luther!!!
But Read Luther! Read Luther!! Read Luther!!! Many buy Luther's works
and do not read them. They can afford to purchase them all and as they
have a beautiful book-case with glass doors, perhaps the finest piece
of furniture in their homes, as the style now is (for what is a home
without an up-to-date book-case?), they subscribe for all Luther's
works for a show in their book-case, and we ask can you name a set of
books that makes a better show in any public or private library than
Luther's works, especially in a Protestant library? They are also
really a far better investment than these large, thick, cheap but
dear, subscription books, which are nice only while they are new and
then they fade and the outside becomes as bad as the inside. When you
look at the libraries of many Protestant homes, you pity them, first
because of what they have not and then because of what they have.

But Luther's writings should go into the home library not for a show
nor for an investment, but to be read. Perhaps there is no passage of
Scripture that our homes should take to heart just now more than the
advice of Father Paul to his spiritual son, Timothy: "Give heed to
reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the gift that is in
thee." 1 Tim. 4:13-14. Give heed that you read something, that you
read the best, and give heed how you read, that the gifts in you may
not be neglected. Then the right, sound exhortation and pure teaching
will follow. Notice the order is first, give heed to reading. Many
have never read any writings of Luther except perhaps his small
catechism. They have not built very well on the foundation laid. When
one thinks of the solid Christian books our German and Scandinavian
parents read and what the children read now-a-days, you must sigh.

Again many say I have now more books than I can read and if I buy more
I will not read them. Well, you will not lose much if you do not read
many books you have, but if you would sell these and buy a few of the
classic writings of Protestantism and read and read them again and
again, you would be blessed, and just such a work is Luther on


I have spoken of those who can afford to buy Luther's works and do buy
them, and yet they do not read them. There is another class much
smaller but much better; namely, those who enjoyed the study of their
catechism and the little they have read here and there in extracts
from Luther and they long to read more, but do not know where to get
the books or have not the money to buy them. To all such let our
pastors, parochial and Sunday school teachers and all others say on
every occasion possible that such works can be had in the public
library. If you do not find them there make application on the little
blank slips the library furnishes for the public to request the
library to secure the books desired. If they do not do so at once have
your neighbors repeat and repeat the same request. This is the way the
latest trashy novels are introduced in public libraries, for they buy
only what the public asks for. These libraries are supported as a rule
by taxation and the Germans and Scandinavians are heavy taxpayers and

Online LibraryMartin LutherCommentary on Genesis, Vol. II → online text (page 1 of 40)