Luther? Not Luther.

As I go along here with my research in to Luther, I get the opportunity to research whether or not Herr Luder actually said something or not. Quotes get attributed to him (and this does happen with other scholars, too, I’m sure) but they aren’t actually direct quotes from him. They might be damn good summaries of his concepts, but they aren’t direct quotes. So, this may be the only entry for this topic or there may be more…we’ll see as time drags on…
Here is the most recent attributed quote I had the privilege of researching:
“God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does”

Is this quote from Luther? No, it’s not from Luther.
Here’s what I found:
Turns out, Steve Paulson on page 182 of his Luther for Armchair Theologians, writes this exact sentence when he’s talking about Luther’s concept of the freedom of a Christian. “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”  Paulson does not quote anyone–meaning, there are no quotation marks or is there a footnote indicating the source. Now, I read Freedom of a Christian recently (when I was searching for this particular quote) and didn’t find those words, but the idea is there.

And then there’s this:
The quote is also found (in a slightly variant form) in Gustaf Wingren’s Luther on Vocation. The quote is found on page 10 in the section “The Kingdom of Heaven” in the chapter “Earth and Heaven.” The only difference in the quote being “our.” So, per Wingren: “God does not need OUR good works, but OUR neighbor does.” Wingren’s book dates earlier (1957) than Paulson’s (2004).

Interestingly, in the section where Wingren uses this quote with the “our”s, he is referring to a work of Luther’s entitled, “Kirchenpostille.” This work does not appear in the WA or the LW. And it seems obscure. It’s located in the: Sämmtliche Schriften in either vol 11 or 12. I did a search  for the german words for neighbor in vol. 11 (;id=mdp.39015074631709;view=1up;seq=36;start=1;sz=10;page=search;orient=0): Nachbar and Nachster (umlaut over the a). Nothing came up with “Nachbar,” but a few pages of references popped up for Nachster. From a cursory reading of the references, I did not find the quote above in question–as in, I did not find that specific set of words in that specific word order as a solid quote. However, again from a cursory my-German-is-merely-okay-because-I’m-out-of-practice-translating read it seems that in the selected references Luther is advocating for works for neighbors. Coupling this advocating of works for neighbor with his doctrine of justification (considering his adamant stance that we keep works and law out of the justification event (no works are required from our end to be justified and only are we justified by faith in Christ which is a gift from God Himself)) it would make sense to conclude: God does not need our works but our neighbor does.

So, in the end, Paulson may be playing off of Wingren who is summarizing Luther’s Kirchenpostille about our works toward our neighbor. Luther doesn’t put these words together in this succinct quote; can you get there from Luther? Seems so.


Another plausible option is this: sometimes what happens with a good summary quote from someone else about another scholar is that it can get reabsorbed back in to the scholar as an authentic quote because it fits well, and really, in our case, Wingren is speaking about Luther and Vocation and speaking well, so the quote gets attributed to Luther although, it’s Wingren. Another possibility could be, considering Paulson’s adaptation of it, is that it’s such a common LutherAN saying that the quotation reference isn’t even needed because it’s become a (LutherAN) colloquialism.When a piece of information or a quote becomes so commonly used, quotation marks or references to source will ceased to be used because it’s been adopted into common knowledge, and it is quite possible that this has happened with: God does not need our/your works, but our/your neighbor does.

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