Was Dr. Martin Luther King jr. a Christian?  Deity of Christ, Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection of Jesus


Was Dr. Martin Luther King jr., a Christian?  I have always thought so from what other Christians have said about him and some quotes that I have seen from him.  For example here is a quote from a Baptist denomination "Dr. King was a committed Christian and a Baptist...His teachings and actions were based on biblical ideas as interpreted by Baptist tradition."

I never really looked into the issue until I came across some material of his at Stanford Universitie's website.  In the writings of Reverend Martin Luther King jr. he clearly denied the Deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His bodily return, His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and His bodily Resurrection.  A person cannot deny these essential doctrines and still be a genuine believer in Christ.

Dr. Martin Luther King jr., did alot of good for America and the civil rights of millions of oppressed blacks and minorities and should be heartily commended for this.  However, He should not be promoted by Christian leaders and Christian magazines as a Christian and believer in Jesus Christ when in his writings he clearly and frequently denies the essential doctrines of the historic and orthodox Christian faith once for all delivered unto the saints. 

Dr. Martin Luther King jr.:

"Turning now to our main objective, I begin with a process of elimination. First we may say that any doctrine which finds the meaning of atonement in the truimph of Christ over such cosmic powers as sin, death, and Satan is inadequate...

The objection to the Latin type of theory--the Anselmic theory of satisfaction, the penal theory of the reformers, and the governmental theory of Grotius--is found in the abstract and impersonal way in which it deals with such ideas as merit, guilt and punishment; {the guilt of others and the punishment} due them are transferred to Christ and borne by him. 

Such views taken literally become bizarre.  Merit and guilt are not concrete realities that can be detached from one person and transferred to another.  Moreover, no person can morally be punished in place of another.  Such ideas as ethical and penal substitution become immoral.

In the next place, if Christ by his life and death paid the full penalty of sin, there is no valid ground for repentance or moral obedience as a condition of forgiveness.  The debt is paid; the penalty is exacted, and there is, consequently, nothing to forgive...

Again, it may be noted that the Latin theory falls short of the fully personal and Christian conception of God as Father.  It presents God as a kind of feudal Overlord, or as a stern Judge, or as a Governor of a state.  Each of these minimizes the true Christian conception of God as a free personality.

Now we turn to a theory which seems to me best adapted to meet the needs of the modern world, viz., the moral or personal type.  Here we move into a different realm of thought, a change from the abstract to the empirical. The other theories of atonement have dealt in meaningless abstractions with no basis in concrete reality.  Penalty has been treated in such an abstract manner that it may be transferred to an innocent person.  Mechanical relations have taken the place of personal relations.  But the atonement will not be understood in such abstract and speculative terms; it is from the standpoint of humanity as the growing family of God that the atonement is to be understood."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "A View of the Cross Possessing Biblical and Spiritual Justification," Volume I: Called to Serve, 29 November 1949 to 15 February 1950)


"The purpose of "higher criticism" is solely to prepare the ground for constructive building. It sees the Bible not as a textbook written with divine hands, but as a portrayal of the experiences of men written in particular historical situations...

The results of this modern study of the Scripture have brought about two great advances.  First we have come to see that the old proof text method of citing Scripture to establish points of doctrine is both unsound and inconclusive."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "How to Use the Bible in Modern Theological Construction," Volume I : Called to Serve, 13 September-23 November 1949)


"Among the beliefs which many modern Christians find difficult to accept are those dealing with eschatological hopes, particularly the second coming of Christ, the day of judgment, and the resurrection of the body.  In an attempt to solve this difficult problem many modern Christians have jettisoned these beliefs altogether, failing to see that there is a profundity of spiritual meaning in these beliefs which goes beyond the shackles of literalism...

Therefore it is our job as Christians to seek the spiritual pertinence of these beliefs, which taken literally are quite absurd...

It is obvious that most twentieth century Christians must frankly and flatly reject any view of a physical return of Christ.  To hold such a view would mean denying a Copernican universe, for there can be no physical return unless there is a physical place from which to return.  In its literal form this belief belongs to a pre-scientific world view which we cannot accept....

The final doctrine of the second coming is that whenever we turn our lives to the highest and best there for us is the Christ.  This is what the early Christians were trying to say."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "The Christian Pertinence of Eschatological Hope".  Volume I : Called to Serve, 29 November 1949 to 15 February 1950.)


"Others doctrines such as a supernatural plan of salvation, the Trinity, the substitutionary theory of the atonement, and the second coming of Christ are all quite prominant in fundamentalist thinking.  Such are the views of the fundamentalist and they reveal that he is oppose (d) to theological adaptation to social and cultural change.  He sees a progressive scientific age as a retrogressive spiritual age.  Amid change all around he was {is} willing to preserve certain ancient ideas even though they are contrary to science."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "The Sources of Fundamentalism and Liberalism Considered Historically and Psychologically," Volume I : Called to Serve, 13 September-23 November 1949.)


"The orthodox attempt to explain the divinity of Jesus in terms of an inherent metaphysical substance within him seems to me quite inadaquate. To say that the Christ, whose example of living we are bid to follow, is divine in an ontological sense is actually harmful and detrimental.  To invest this Christ with such supernatural qualities makes the rejoinder: "Oh, well, he had a better chance for that kind of life than we can possible have." In other words, one could easily use this as a means to hide behind behind his failures. So that the orthodox view of the divinity of Christ is in my mind quite readily denied.  The true significance of the divinity of Christ lies in the fact that his achievement is prophetic and promissory for every other true son of man who is willing to submit his will to the will and spirit of God.  Christ was to be only the prototype of one among many brothers."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "The Humanity and Divinity of Jesus," Volume I : Called to Serve, 29 November 1949 to 15 February 1950.)


"In this paper we shall discuss the experiences of early Christians which lead to three rather orthodox doctrines--the divine sonship of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the bodily resurrection...

But in the minds of many sincere Christians this creed has planted a seed of confusion which has grown to an oak of doubt. They see this creed as incompatible with all scientific knowledge, and so they have proceeded to reject its content...

The first doctrine of our discussion which deals with the divine sonship of Jesus went through a great process of developement...
We must remember that the Logos concept had its origin in Greek thought.  It would {was} only natural that the early Christians, after coming in contact with the Greeks would be influenced by their thought.

Saint Paul and the early church followers could have never come to the conclusion that Jesus was divine if there had not been some uniqueness in the personality of the historical Jesus...Why did Jesus differ from many others in the same setting?  And so the early Christians answered this question by saying that he was the divine son of God.

The second doctrine in our discussion posits the virgin birth.  This doctrine gives the modern scientific mind much more trouble than the first, for it seems downright improbable and even impossible for anyone to be born without a human father.

First we must admit that the evidence for the tenability of this doctrine is to shallow to convince any objective thinker...To begin with, the earliest written documents in the New Testament make no mention of the virgin birth.  Moreover, the Gospel of Mark, the most primitive and authentic of the four, gives not the slightest suggestion of the virgin birth.  The effort to justify this doctrine on the grounds that it was predicted by the prophet Isaiah is immediately eliminated, for all New Testament scholars agree that the word virgin is not found in the Hebrew original, but only in the Greek text which is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for "young woman."  How then did this doctrine arise?...

It was believed in Greek thought that an extraordinary person could only be explained by saying that he had a father who was more than human.  It is probable that this Greek idea influenced Christian thought...

The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story.  This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death.  From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine?...They expressed this in terms of the outward, but it was an inner experience that lead to its expression."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "What Experiences of Christians Living in the Early Christian Century Led to the Christian Doctrines of the Divine Sonship of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, and the Bodily Resurrection," Volume I : Called to Serve, 13 September to 23 November 1949.)


"...This is only one of many examples that I could give to prove the similarity between the developing Christian Church and the Mystery Religions.

This is not to say that a Saint Paul or a Saint John sat down and copied these views verbatim.  But after being in contact with these surrounding religions and hearing certain doctrines expressed, it was only natural for some of these views to become a part of their subconscious minds.  When they sat down to write they were expressing consciously that which had dwelled in their subconscious minds.  It is also significant to know that Roman tolerance had favoured this great syncretism of religious ideas. Borrowing was not only natural but inevitable...

That Christianity did copy and borrow from Mithraism cannot be denied, but it was generally a natural and unconscious process rather than a deliberate plan of action.  It was subject to the same influences from the environment as were the other cults, and it sometimes produced the same reaction.  The people were conditioned by the contact with the older religions and the background and general trend of the time.

Many of the views, while passing out of Paganism into Christianity were given a more profound and spiritual meaning by Christians, yet we must be indebted to the source."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "A Study of Mithraism," Volume I : Called to Serve, 13 September to 23 November 1949.)


"His life and character are full of surprises which stimulate thought on great moral and religious problems.  From this we must not conclude that the Book of Jeremiah is infalliable.  That the book which bears his name is not orderly arranged, that many dates are not exact, are all obvious facts to the serious student.  But we should marvel in the fact that so much authentic material about the life and times of this great character has survived.
Many recent writers have been reluctant to admit that this prophecy came from Jeremiah.  They have raised many critical questions which demand attention.  One great objection is brought out by Duhn.  He argues that the passage is in prose and a style characteristic of the late expanders of the Book...

In this study time will not permit me to discuss the details of this argument either pro or con, but only to say that if the prophecy did not come directly from the mouth of Jeremiah it came through the memory of a reporter of the Prophet, Baruch or another.  Therefore, we may still be justified in listing this prophecy as a major contribution of Jeremiah to religious thought."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "The Significant Contributions of Jeremiah to Religious Thought," Volume I : Called to Serve, 14 September to 24 November 1948.)


"A group of competent scholars came on the scene who were both curious and discontent.  They were not willing to accept those things which appeared to be mythological and legendary as historical truths.  They dared, in the face of a world of fundamentalists, to apply the scientific method to a study of the old testament.  IT was these men who subpoenaed the old testament to appear before the judgement seat of reason...

For an instance the cosmogonic and theogonic views of the old testament are almost identical with those of Babylonian mythology.  This is not to say that the pentateuch writers sat down and copied these views verbatim.  The differences of expression attest to that fact. But after being in contact with these surrounding cultures and hearing certain doctrines expressed, it was only natural for some of these views to become a part of their sub-conscious minds.  When they sat down to write they were expressing consciously that which had dwelled in their sub-conscious minds...

This, in short, outlines the ancient Sumerian story of the flood. From this we can at least see that the Hebrews were not at all original in their deluge story.  This deluge story, like the Sumerian creation story, will be discussed in more detail in the next phase of our study...

Looking at the flood story from an objective angle we obviously see that the Hebrews have done nothing but taken a polytheistic picture and placed it in a monotheistic frame, thereby producing from Babylonian mythology an almost verbatim story...

Second, we must conclude that many of the things which we have accepted as true historical happenings are merely mythological.  They are merely modified links connected to the wide chain of mythology.  Again this conclusion will shock many.  But why so?  One needs only know that a myth serves the purpose of getting over an idea that is in the mind of the author. Therefore, it becomes just as valuable as the factual...

If we accept the Old Testament as being "true" we will find it full of errors, contradictions, and obvious impossibilities--as that the Pentateuch was written by Moses."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr., "Light on the Old Testament from the Ancient Near East," Volume I : Called to Serve, 14 September to 24 November 1948.)


"For a number of centuries, it was generally held that the period between the Old and New Testaments was a period of silence, and that no spiritual development was achieved within it.  It was believed that this period of silence was broken when the New Testament appeared on the stage of history.  Now the pendulum of interpretation is swinging in another direction. Most competent scholars have cast such positions out of the window.  They would all agree that in reality there was no period of silence. To be sure, it was a period of great spiritual progress, and in many instances greater than any preceding it in Old Testament times, even though the Old Testament was its logical prelude.  To my mind, many of the works of this period were infinitely more valuable than those that received canonicity.  The materials to justify such statements are found mainly in the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.  These works, although presented pseudonymously, are of lasting significance to the Biblical student."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr.,"The Ethics of Late Judaism as Evidenced in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs," Volume I : Called to Serve, 30 November 1948 to 16 February 1949.)


"In writing a paper on how modern Christians should think about man I find myself confronted with a difficulty.  This difficulty is found in the fact that my thinking about man is going through a state of transition.  At one time I find myself leaning toward a mild neo-orthodox view of man, and at other times I find myself leaning toward a liberal view of man...

In this transitional stage I must admit that I have become a victim of eclecticism.  I have attempted to synthesize the best in liberal theology with the best in neo-othodox theology and come to some understanding of man...With these propaedeutic concerns in mind we may turn to a more detailed discussion in which I shall list what seems to me the most important things that modern Christians should believe about man. 

1. Man is neither good nor bad by nature, but has potentualities for either.  It is a mistake to look upon man as naturally good or naturally bad.  Any one-sided generalization about man, whether it be a doctrine of original sin or a romantic idealization of man, should be rejected...

Yet in his dealing with even the worst of men, Christ constantly made appealed to a hidden goodness in their nature.  The modern Christian must believe that lives are changed when the potential good in man is believed in patiently, and when the potential bad in man is sought to be overwelmed....

I will readily agree, as stated above, that many of man's shortcomings are due {to} natural necessities, but ignorance and finiteness and hampering circumstances, and the pressure of animal impulse, are all insufficient to account for many of our shortcomings."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr.,"How Modern Christians Should Think of Man," Volume I : Called to Serve, 29 November 1949 to 15 February 1950.)


"With the rise of the scientific interpretation of the origin of the world and the emergence of the theory of evolution many thought that the basic Christian view of creation was totally destroyed.  This belief might be right in seeing the invalidity of the older view of a first creation, but it is wrong in thinking that all views of creations were destroyed with the rise of scientific interpretation. 

It seems quite possible to get an adequate religious view of the world in the light of emergent evolution and cosmic theism. Is it not possible for God to be working through the evolutionary process?  May it not be the God is creating from eternity?  Emergent evolution says essentially that in the evolutionary process there is a continuous incoming of the new. The question arises, from whence comes this emergence of new elements in the evolutionary process. 

The religious man answers, with a degree of assurance, that God is the source of the new emergents.  In other words, God is working through the evolutionary process.  As cosmic theism would say, there is an intelligent conscious mind working out its purpose through the evolutionary proces.  So that in the light of emergent evolution and cosmic theism we can come to an adaquate religious view of the world, viz., creative evolution.  Here we find creation and evolution existing together.  Here we may still hold to a creator God. 

Maybe we will conclude with Origin that God is creating from eternity, but this does not destroy the basic Christian concept of a God who is creator and sustainer of the universe...In the light of modern scientific knowledge religion proposes as its view of the world a theory of creative evolution.  Here we find creation and evolution existing together.  The religious man sees God working through the evolutionary process."
(Dr Martin Luther King jr.,"Examination Answers, Christian Theology for Today," Volume I : Called to Serve, 29 November 1949 to 15 February 1950.)

Quotes from our "Shepherds" Endorsing Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

"Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a committed Christian and Baptist, is honored in this article.  It describes his work and all of the wonderful things he has contributed during his life...Dr. King was a committed Christian and a Baptist.  He benefited from the many ministries of American Baptists, including graduation from an American Baptist-related college and seminary.  His teachings and actions were based on biblical ideas as interpreted by Baptist tradition.  His life reminds us of the struggles for freedom in our heritage," American Baptist Church, USA.

"No Christian played a more prominent role in the century's most significant social justice movement than Martin Luther King, Jr...The next issue of Christian History, a Christianity Today sister publication, will look at the ten most influential Christians of the twentieth century.  We probably aren't spoiling too big a surprise today as we run a profile from that issue on Martin Luther King, Jr," Christianity Today Magazine.

"And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?  Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.  The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.  And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.  My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.  Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock;  Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them."
Ezekiel 34:1-10

"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."
Romans 16:17-18


"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
Matthew 7:15
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.  And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.  And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not."
2 Peter 2:1-3
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
1 John 4:1