Offenbarung des Endtchrists aus dem Propheten Daniel (1524)

Martin Luther and Seventh-day Adventists on Daniel 8 - Approach and Interpretation

Seminar Paper, 2008
33 Pages, Grade: 1.0



Statement of the Problem
Purpose of the Research

II. Background and Reception of the Responsio
Luther’s Development of the Antichrist Motif
The Origin of the Responsio
The Reception of the Responsio

III. Biblical Prophecies: Luther’s Interpretation and Approach
The Content of the Responsio
Luther’s Interpretation
Luther’s Approach

IV. Similarities and Differences to the Adventist Interpretation and Approach
A Summary of Luther’s Interpretation and Approach
A Summary of the Adventist Approach and Interpretation
A Comparison of the Interpretations and Approaches

V. Summary and Conclusion

Unpublished Material
Internet Material



Statement of the Problem

Andrews University holds in its Center for Adventist Research a considerable collection of tracts and pamphlets of the Reformation period.[1] Some of these writings still wait for a more thorough investigation than has been possible in the past. One of these tracts that has not yet received the due attention is Martin Luther’s Offenbarung des Endtchrists: auß dem Propheten Daniel, wider Catharinum (1524), a German translation of the Latin Ad librum eximmii Magistri Nostri Magistri Ambrosii Catharini, defensoris Silvestri Prieratis acerrimi, responsio (1521).[2] This book was written to Ambrosius Catharinus, and deals with the prophecy of Dan 8 on the manifestation of the End-Christ (the eschatological Antichrist). In the course of this paper I will refer to it simply as the Responsio. This Streitschrift could, however, be especially interesting for Seventh-day Adventists since their origin and message is undoubtedly connected to the interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel.[3]

Purpose of the Research

The aim of this study is to get a better understanding of the historical background of Luther’s Responsio and how he interpreted the prophecies of Dan 8 in that book. Further, I want to highlight parallels and diversities between Luther’s approach and the Adventist approach to the prophecies of the Dan 8.


First, the primary and secondary sources will be examined in order to comprehend the historical setting, in which the book was written as well as to identify the reasons for Luther to write his book. Its reception will be recognized in its translation into other languages, in the reaction of its recipient and of other contemporaries.

Second, the content of the tract will be summarized with a focus on Luther’s interpretation of and his approach to the prophetic text in order to understand which methods he used for the interpretation.

Finally, Luther’s interpretation, approach, and methods will be compared to the way modern Adventist scholars interpret the prophetic texts of the Bible to see similarities as well as differences, followed by an evaluation of both, Lutheran and Adventist prophetic interpretation.


This paper is only able to investigate the Responsio of Martin Luther with a special focus on his interpretation of Dan 8 and not his other discussions and expositions of biblical prophecy. An examination of those writings could be the object of a greater work that would probably give a greater and multisided picture of Luther’s approach to prophecy.[4] I will look neither at traditional Adventist interpretations of Dan 8 nor at presentations given by evangelists or lay people since also Martin Luther wanted to be considered as a theologian dialoging with other theologians.


II. Background and Reception of the Responsio

Luther’s Development of the Antichrist Motif

The writings of Luther’s[5] early years reveal only occasional statements about the antichrist which picture him as someone appearing on the stage at the end of the world’s history.[6] However, Luther did not share the popular speculations of the medieval antichrist legend[7] but he confined himself to the biblical statements about the antichrist without connecting them to the papacy.[8] Luther’s trouble with the Roman Church arose from a sincere concern for the Church. Seriously believing that Tetzel misrepresented the Church and the Pope, he tried to work through the regular organizational channels, and was astonished to meet opposition.[9] The first indication of a change of mind can be seen right after the discussions between Luther and the Roman cardinal Thomas Cajetan[10] (October 12-14, 1518 at Augsburg). In a letter including the Acta Augustana sent four days later to Wilhelm Link, he assumed referring to 2Thess 2:4 that the antichrist might probably reign in the Roman curia.[11] In preparation for the Leipzig disputation he studied the ecclesiastical jurisdiction and church history, and mentioned very carefully in a letter to Georg Spalatin that he does not know if the pope is antichrist himself or his apostle.[12] Christ is cowardly debased and crucified by the pope in the decretals. With a tyrannical purpose the papacy defies the Scriptures by its own laws.[13] Early in 1520 he wrote Spalatin: “I am practically concerned, and can hardly doubt any more that the Pope really is the Antichrist … because everything so exactly corresponds to his life, action, words, and commandments.”[14] Although Luther criticized the abuses in the papal office, these were not his sole reason for his opposition to the official church. Moreover, he considered the Pope, a human being, to claim Christ’s authority for himself.[15] Further, he recognized the denial of the central doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.[16] By 1520 he publicly called Pope Leo the Antichrist.[17] Later Luther and other reformers even wrote polemical songs against the Catholic Church and the Pope because they had realized very early that music is a powerful tool for the religious education of the people.[18]

The Origin of the Responsio

Luther wrote his tract against Ambrosius Catharinus after his excommunication by the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem of January 3, 1521, yet prior to his departure to Worms on April 2, 1521.[19] Although he experienced strong pressure during that time, his idea to write a tract on the Antichristian nature of the papacy did not suddenly spring up during those months. Already in December 1518 Luther mentions in a letter to Wenzeslaus Link that he is considering writing a tract on the reign of the Antichrist in the Roman curia.[20] One and a half years later, after receiving a book on the papacy by Augustin of Alvedt, he says that the time has come to make known the mystery of the Antichrist since his enemies do not want to hide any longer.[21]

He affirmed his announcement in the De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium (1520).[22] When writing his tract Auf das überchristliche, übergeistliche und überkünstliche Buch Bocks Emsers zu Leipzig Antwort in March 1521, he indicated twice that his plan already had some contours.[23] Now he was able to refer to biblical texts like Mat 24:15, 23; 2Thess 2:3.9; and Dan 8:23 when criticizing the papacy.[24] At the same time Luther became aware of two Italians that had written against him.[25] Shortly afterwards he got one of these writings. His friend, Wenzeslaus Link, send him from Nuremberg the work Apologia pro veritate catholicae et apostolicae fidei ac doctrinae adversus impia ad valde pestifera Martini Lutheri dogmata which was written by Ambrose Catharinus.[26]


[1] “A Catalog of Reformation Tracts in the Heritage Room of the James White Library, Andrews University,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 24, no. 1 (1986): 81-112.

[2] Martin Luther, Offenbarung des Endtchrists: auß dem Propheten Daniel, wider Catharinum, Transl. by Paul Speratus (Wittemberg: n.p., 1524).

[3] One might only look at e.g. P. Gerard Darmsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh-Day Adventist Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977), 20-45, 165-177, and C. Mervyn Maxwell, Magnificent Disappointment: What Really Happened in 1844 and It's Meaning for Today (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publication Association, 1994) in order to see that the origin of the Seventh-day Adventist movement is closely connected to the prophecies of Dan 7 and 8. Francis Nigel Lee, Luther on Islam and the Papacy (Brisbane2000); available from; Internet; accessed October 13, 2008; 4, states that Luther’s book against Catharinus reveals his “principal views about Daniel chapters 7 and 8.”

[4] Others did already start some work in that area connecting Luther’s eschatology with other important doctrines, as e.g. Winfried Vogel, “The Eschatological Theology of Luther,” (Term Paper, Andrews University, 198?); Leif Kr Tobiassen, “An Investigation into the Evolution of Martin Luther’s Views Concerning Antichrist,” (M.A. Thesis, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, 1948); David Merling, “A Review/Analysis of ‘An Investigation into the Evolution of Martin Luther’s Views Concerning Antichrist’,” (Term Paper, Andrews University, 1982).

[5] On Luther’s life see e.g. Susan Linda Merritt, “The Protestant Reformation: Historical changes that made it possible,” (M.A. Thesis, California State University, 1998), 20-21.

[6] Martin Luther, D. Martin Luther's Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1883), 9:17, 24. For the first lecture on Psalms, see Hans Preuss, Die Vorstellungen vom Antichrist im späteren Mittelalter, bei Luther und in der konfessionellen Polemik: Ein Beitrag zur Theologie Luthers und zur Geschichte der christlichen Frömmigkeit (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1906), 91-93. On the popular views on the Antichrist see e.g. Donald Weinstein, Savonarola and Florence: Prophecy and Patriotism in the Renaissance (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970), 144, 186, 189; Jonathan B. Riess, The Renaissance Antichrist: Luca Signorelli's Orvieto Frescoes (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995), 82, 83, 91.

[7] The popular understanding of the Antichrist that was prevalent at the beginning of the 16th century was based on the writings of such prominent theologians as Bonaventure, Albert the Great, Thomas of Aquinas as well as Adso of Montier-en-Der and Hugh Ripelin of Strassburg. See especially Preuss, but Rebecca Wagner Oettinger, “Music as popular propaganda in the German Reformation, 1517-1555,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin, 1999), 242-246, as well. Preuss summarizes this medieval Antichrist legend well on pages 11-12. See also Robert W. Scribner, For the Sake of the Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation, rev. ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1994), 149. However, Luther was not totally exempt of being influenced by Augustine’s amillennial view, as Vogel, “The Eschatological Theology of Luther,” 8, 9, already pointed out.

[8] Konrad Hammann, Ecclesia spiritualis: Luthers Kirchenverständnis in den Kontroversen mit Augustin von Alveldt und Ambrosius Catharinus, Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte, vol. 44 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989), 125, 126; cf. Dennis Pettibone, “Martin Luther’s Views on the Antichrist,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 18, no. 1 (2007): 83; Merling, 1. Regarding the development of Luther’s views on the Antichrist see Thomas A. Dughi, “The Breath of Christ’s Mouth: Apocalypse and Prophecy in Early Reformation Ideology,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, John Hopkins University, 1990), 147-161; Pettibone, 81-100.

[9] Merling, 2.

[10] His civil name was Tommaso de Vio (1468 – 1534), and he was one of the most approved theologians of his time.

[11] Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, 1:270; cf. Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and the Devil (Cambridge: Belknap, Harvard, 1999), 188; George Waddington, A History of the Reformation on the Continent (London: Duncan and Malcolm, 1841), 1:201; Remigius Bäumer, Martin Luther und der Papst, 2nd ed. (Münster: Verlag Aschendorff, 1970), 54; Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 128; Pettibone, 84; Tobiassen, 27. See also John Berg, A Scriptural and Historical Survey of the Doctrine of the Antichrist (October 12, 2008); available from; Internet., 9. Berg states that by 1518 and 1519 Luther was only “suggesting privately that the Pope was the Antichrist.” In 1520 he was stating it openly.

[12] Luther , D. Martin Luthers Werke, 1:359. The letter is dated March 13, 1519. See also Will Durant, The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wycliffe to Calvin: 1300-1564 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), 349; Waddington , 1:201; Pettibone, 84; Marius , 188; Merling, 2, 3; Tobiassen, 26; Bäumer , 54.

[13] Cf. Merritt, 23, 24, quotes To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate, in which Luther states that the Roman Catholic Church drew three walls about itself for protection. One of these was that no one is allowed to interpret the scriptures but the pope. On this treatise see also Pettibone, 86, 87; MacCulloch , 128. On the Luther’s responses in To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate against the claims of papal authority see Nathan Montover, “The Political and Temporal Dimensions of Luther’s Doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers: A Case Study,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Lutheran School of Theology, 2008), 133-184.

[14] LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1950), 2:255; Kurt Werner Stadtwald, Roman Popes and German Patriots: Antipapalism in the Politics of the German Humanist Movement from Gregor Heimburg to Martin Luther (Genève: Librairie Droz, 1996), 182; Pettibone, 85.

[15] Tobiassen, 40; Bäumer, 54.

[16] Berg, 9.

[17] Mark Jeske, An Exegesis of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10 (October 13, 2008); available from; Internet, 6. See such works as To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Against the Execrable Bull of Antichrist, and later his harsh attack, Das Papstum zu Rom vom Teufel gestiftet. On Luther’s views on the papacy see Lee, 54-56. However, Luther was not the first who called the pope or the papacy “Antichrist.” See Pettibone, 82, 83; Bäumer , 55, 56, 59-63. On the treatise The Babylonian Captivity see Pettibone, 87, 88. On his response to the papal bull Exsurge Domine see ibid., 89, 90. See Tae Jun Suk, “The Theology of Martin Luther between Judaism and Roman Catholicism: A Critical-Historical Evaluation of Luther’s Concept of Idolatry,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Drew University, 1999), 147-164, on Luther’s transition from a Roman Catholic to being a Protestant as can be seen from his writings between 1519 and 1523. Although Luther labels both, the Pope and the Turks, as manifestations of the Antichrist, only the Pope was considered by him as the real antichrist since the Pope worked from within and deceived the soul. The Turks were working from without and did not sit in the temple of God as the Pope did. See Vogel, “The Eschatological Theology of Luther,” 16; cf. MacCulloch , 133.

[18] Oettinger, 245-288.

[19] Hammann , 129; cf. Merritt, 21.

[20] Luther D. Martin Luthers Werke, 2:270, 264 (Martin Luther to Wenzeslaus Link, December 18, 1518).

[21] Ibid., 2:120 (Martin Luther to Georg Spalatin, June 8, 1520).

[22] Idem, Three Treatises: An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate. A Prelude to the Babylonian on Captivity of the Church. A Treatise on Christian Liberty, Introductions and translations by C. M. Jacobs, A. T. W. Steinhaeuser and W. A. Lambert (Philadelphia, Pa.: Muhlenberg Press, 1947).

[23] Idem, D. Martin Luthers Werke, 7:641, 661.

[24] Quoted in Dughi, 149.

[25] Cf. Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, 2:275 (Martin Luther to Georg Spalatin, March 6, 1521); ibid., 2:277 (Martin Luther to Johann Lang, March 6, 1521).

[26] Ibid., 2:282 (Martin Luther to Wenzeslaus Link, March 7, 1521); ibid., 2:283 (Martin Luther to Georg Spalatin, March 7, 1521). The work of Catharinus is available in the following edition: Ambrosius Catharinus, Apologia pro veritate catholicae et apostolicae fidei ac doctrinae adversus impia ac valde pestifera Martini Lutheri dogmata (1520), Edited by Josef Schweizer, Corpus Catholicorum, vol. 27 (Münster: Aschendorff, 1956).

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Offenbarung des Endtchrists aus dem Propheten Daniel (1524)
Martin Luther and Seventh-day Adventists on Daniel 8 - Approach and Interpretation
University of St Andrews  (Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary)
Protestant Theological Heritage
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Martin Luther, Ambrosius Catharinus, Antichrist, Prophet Daniel, Reformation, Prophetie, Prophecy, Thomas Cajetan, Georg Spalatin, Papacy, Responsio, Interpretation, Hermeneutik, Hermeneutics, Sola Scriptura, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, allegorical method, eisegesis, linguistic analysis, literary analysis, little horn, Pope, Papsttum, Adventists, Adventisten
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M.A. Denis Kaiser (Author), 2008, Offenbarung des Endtchrists aus dem Propheten Daniel (1524), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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