Luther & James Swan Blaspheme (Christ’s Sinlessness)

Luther & James Swan Blaspheme (Christ’s Sinlessness) September 10, 2020

James Swan (who runs the Boors All blog) fancies himself an expert of Martin Luther and his theology, and takes pride in refuting (so he thinks) every jot and tittle of Catholic apologetics, which occasionally cites Luther, when he agrees (or largely agrees) with Catholic positions (especially mariological ones). I’ve been refuting him since 2003 (see his lengthy section on my Anti-Catholicism page).

Credit where it is due: I freely grant that, many times, he helpfully points out distortions and biases in Catholic apologetics efforts with regard to Luther. On a few occasions, he has helped to convince me of some fine points regarding Luther’s views.

That said, he also — unfortunately — is not above regularly exhibiting extreme biases and mistakes (and, sad to say, outright lies) of his own, distorting what Catholic apologists argue about Luther (above all, my own efforts in this regard). Sometimes, he strays into flat-out heresy and blasphemy, not just by Catholic orthodox standards, but by Protestant theological / creedal / confessional criteria as well. And he does so in the present instance by following Luther in an error, and not recognizing that Luther was wrong (even by later Lutheran standards).

In an article dated 15 June 2007 (“Luther and the Immaculate Conception? The 1540 Disputation On the Divinity and Humanity of Christ”), Swan (his words in blue below, and Luther’s in green) cites Luther:

Disputation On the Divinity and Humanity of Christ
February 27, 1540
conducted by Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546
translated from the Latin text WA 39/2,.92-121 by Christopher B. Brown

On the Immaculate Conception of Mary:*

Argument: Every man is corrupted by original sin and has concupiscence. Christ had neither concupiscence nor original sin. Therefore he is not a man.


Response: I make a distinction with regard to the major premise. Every man is corrupted by original sin, with the exception of Christ. Every man who is not a divine Person [personaliter Deus], as is Christ, has concupiscence, but the man Christ has none, because he is a divine Person, and in conception the flesh and blood of Mary were entirely purged, so that nothing of sin remained. Therefore Isaiah says rightly, “There was no guile found in his mouth”; otherwise, every seed except for Mary’s was corrupted.

Luther does appear to express orthodox Catholic christology in this excerpt. He has noted that Christ in his Divine Nature and — most importantly — “because of His incarnation and inherent Godhood / deity / divinity (though he uses the phrase “divine Person”) is not afflicted with either original sin or concupiscence. He gets details of Mary’s immaculate conception wrong (for an exposition of that, see my 2010 paper, “Luther & the “Immaculate Purification” of Mary“). But that is a different issue from his christology, which is — in this particular statement — in accord with Catholic orthodox christology.

Now here is where Swan not only gets Luther’s stated position wrong, but descends into heresy and blasphemy at the same time:

I exhorted this Catholic to stay away from topics he didn’t know anything about. . . . 

Oh, the deep wellsprings of irony here! . . .

1. The Holy Spirit was present at Christ’s conception to ensure his sinlessness.

2. During Christ’s conception, the Holy Spirit sanctified Mary so that the child would be born with non-sinful flesh and blood. [my bolding and italics] 

Huh?! Jesus, being God, and God from all eternity, just as the Father and Holy Spirit are, doesn’t need the Holy Spirit to “ensure his sinlessness.” Nothing in Him needs to be protected in this way. Sinlessness is an inherent, intrinsic, unchangeable attribute shared by all three Persons of the Holy Trinity. It can’t be either lost or obtained. It’s there from all eternity in all three. Moreover, to imply (even worse) that Jesus’ sinlessness is in danger but for the sinlessness of Mary is to make God dependent on one of His creatures, and this (like the other false tenet)  is outrageous blasphemy and rank heresy, smacking of the serious error of Nestorianism.

Luther didn’t teach it, in this excerpt, but Swan thinks he did, and Swan also appears to take the position himself, or (at the very least) to not realize that it is blasphemous and heretical. If he did, he would (as all good Christian apologists do) point out its wrongness and danger for his readers.

Catholic theology, on the other hand, holds that Mary’s Immaculate Conception was not necessary to preserve anything about Jesus (though the virgin birth was, I believe, necessary for the incarnation to take place). Rather, we contend that Mary’s immaculate conception was merely “fitting” or “appropriate.” The dogmatic declaration of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 uses the word “fitting” three times.
Swan (like all who are weak in the art of disputation and/or apologetics) has a way of repeating things endlessly, fallaciously thinking that this gives his arguments (or pseudo-arguments, as the case may be) the appearance of strength. The big downside of that is that if he gets something drastically, scandalously wrong — as presently — then he is compounding his error (as a teacher of others) by repeating it.
But in the next example, it looks like Luther, too (often not given to logical consistency or constancy), committed the same error that Swan then follows: not considering its heretical implications:
Rather than discussing Mary’s sinlessness, Luther insisted Christ’s sinlessness was due entirely to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit during conception. Mr. Armstrong seems to have missed this completely. (from: “Luther’s Theology of Mary: a Response to Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong,” June 2003)


Luther’s later writings insist Christ’s sinlessness was due entirely to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit during his conception. In 1532 he preached:

Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are… [Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 3, ed. John Nicholas Lenker. ( Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 291]. [my bolding and italics] (from: “Did Martin Luther believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary?” [link], 9-30-10)

Luther’s later writings insist Christ’s sinlessness was due entirely to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit during His conception. [my bolding and italics] (from: “Real Catholic TV: Luther and the Immaculate Conception”, 12-9-11)
Rather than discussing Mary’s sinlessness, Luther’s later writings insist Christ’s sinlessness was due entirely to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit during his conception. (from: “Interfaith Mary: ‘Mother Mary And Martin Luther,’ Reviewed”, 12-27-17)
Rather than discussing Mary’s sinlessness, Luther’s later writings insist Christ’s sinlessness was due entirely to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit during his conception, not Mary’s[my bolding and italics] (from: “Luther’s Theology of Mary… Facebook Style”, 8-25-20)
Six times, Swan has expressed the same heretical, blasphemous lies. Shame on him. If he wants to teach others online and expect to be granted respect and teaching “authority,” then he ought to get up to speed as to basic christology and theology proper (the theology of God). This is why it says in the Bible:
James 3:1 (RSV) Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.
Hebrews 5:12-13 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; [13] for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child.
The Bible also states:
Proverbs 9:8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

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