Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Response to Catholic Apologist Robert Sungenis on Luther Inserting The Word "Alone" In Romans 3:28

I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be given an opportunity to respond to comments from Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis. Here’s a question and response from the CAI June Q&A page:

Question 37- Martin Luther Quotes

Hi Robert;

My name is Peter Porcellato. I have contacted you in the past for apologetcs help and I own some of your works. I just finished reading some of your dialogue with Dr Michael S. Horton titled "Is Justification by Faith Alone?". I came over to see what you had to say with this issue because I was on James Swan's Blog (do you know him?) and have been reading some of his papers refuting Catholic comments about Luther. The reading has shaken me somewhat in that he very compentently reveals the faultiness of Catholic Apologists' research into Martin Luther and shows where they are in error regarding the accusations that they levy against him. I want to provide you with
a link to a paper I just read of his where he offers explanation as to why Luther put the word alone after faith in his Romans translation.

I am a devout Catholic and enjoy being so so please don't think that I am trying to set you up or anthying like that. I respect and admire men such as you, Patrick, Karl, and Scott, but if you guys are taking Luther quotes out of context and are inadvertantly using faulty sources then I must admit that this has me a little flumoxed. Would you mind taking a look at a small sample of his writting? I have posted the link to his paper that I just finished reading. I would ask you to parouse his blog to understand why I take his writting seriously.

I look foreward to your comments

R. Sungenis: Peter, tell Mr. Swan he needs to read my book Not By Faith Alone. In it he will find the following quote from Martin Luther on page 527, which is taken from Protestant Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, p. 363:

"Are they doctors? So am I. Are they learned? So am I. Are they preachers? So am I. Are they righteous? So am I. Are they disputors? So am I. Are they philosophers? So am I. Are they writers of books? So am I. And I shall further boast: I can expound Psalms and Prophets; which they cannot. I can translate; which they cannot....Therefore the word allein shall remain in my New Testament, and though all the pope-donkeys should get furious and foolish, they shall not take it out."

Again, Schaff notes Luther's words on p. 362: "If your Papist makes much useless fuss about the word sola, allein, tell him at once: 'Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,' and says, 'Papist and donkey are one thing....For we do not want to be pupils and followers of the Papist, but their masters and judges."

Let’s stop right here and look at the quotes Sungenis is using. Here again is an opportunity to show Peter the “faultiness of Catholic Apologists' research into Martin Luther.” The selective citation offered by Sungenis portrays Luther as maliciously inserting the word “alone” into Romans 3:28. Luther is painted as outrageous- he shows a total disregard for the sacred text, simply making it say what he wanted it to. Frankly, I am shocked that Sungenis would put forth such a bogus method of citation.

Peter, please tell Mr. Sungenis that he needs to actually read the link provided to him. Had he read it carefully, he would’ve seen I used the same quotes from Luther that Sungenis is directing me toward from his book, Not By Faith alone. Rather than direct people to a secondary source (Schaff), I provided a link to the actual text from Luther, his Open Letter on Translating (1530). This letter has been widely available for many years now. In the link Peter provided, I work through the letter, placing Luther’s comments in a context.

The first section of the treatise is actually fairly angry, sarcastic, and humorous. Luther is fed up with his Papal critics. His anger was fueled against them for an ironic reason- they rallied against his translation, while at the same time utilizing it for their own new translations. A strong Papal critic of Luther (Emser) did just that. Schaff points out,

“…And yet even in the same chapter [Romans 3] and throughout the whole Epistle to the Romans, Emser copies verbatim Luther’s version for whole verses and sections; and where he departs from his language, it is generally for the worse.” Source

Luther’s anger is clearly seen in the quotes Sungenis uses. In their context, they show Luther blasting away at his Papal critics. One can almost feel Luther’s anger towards them. They discredited him as a doctor of theology and his academic abilities were above most. Indeed, he had done the work necessary to be taken seriously. His critics criticized his German translation while at the same time stealing it for their own translation- this infuriated him, and rightly so.

But the most troubling aspect of Sungenis’s Luther quotes, is that had he actually read Luther’s Open Letter on Translating, he would have seen that Luther actually goes on to give an explanation of why he uses the word "alone" in Romans 3:28-

I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text — the papists did not have to teach me that. It is fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these blockheads stare at them like cows at a new gate, while at the same time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text -- if the translation is to be clear and vigorous [klar und gewaltiglich], it belongs there. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had set about to speak in the translation.”

Luther continues to give multiple examples of the implied sense of meaning in translating words into German. He then offers an interpretive context of Romans:

So much for translating and the nature of language. However, I was not depending upon or following the nature of the languages alone when I inserted the word solum in Romans 3. The text itself, and Saint Paul's meaning, urgently require and demand it. For in that passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law. Paul excludes all works so completely as to say that the works of the Law, though it is God's law and word, do not aid us in justification. Using Abraham as an example, he argues that Abraham was so justified without works that even the highest work, which had been commanded by God, over and above all others, namely circumcision, did not aid him in justification. Rather, Abraham was justified without circumcision and without any works, but by faith, as he says in Chapter 4: "If Abraham were justified by works, he may boast, but not before God." So, when all works are so completely rejected — which must mean faith alone justifies — whoever would speak plainly and clearly about this rejection of works will have to say "Faith alone justifies and not works." The matter itself and the nature of language requires it.”

Sungenis continues:

"Schaff goes on to say that Luther claimed to add allein to Romans 3:28 for the sake of clarity, but he did not do so for Gal 2:16. Schaff then cites Meyer and Weiss whom he references among 19th century Protestant exegetes who affirm that allein has "no business in the text [of Rm 3:28] as a translation." In John Eadie's The English Bible, p. 292, he cites Coverdale's 19 NT notes in his 1535 edition of the Bible, upon which Coverdale writes concerning Luther's addition of allein to Romans 3:28: "Romans 3:28, Some reade, By faith onely -- Luther. Text is 'through faith' -- Tnydale."

Schaff raises an interesting point. One has to wonder though, exactly what Sungenis thinks it proves. What image of Luther is Sungenis trying to put forth? Sungenis began by presenting out-of-context quotes that show Luther as a raving madman disregarding the Biblical text and inserting words for no other reason than because he wanted to. Now, we see that Luther could’ve inserted ‘allein’ into Galatians 2:16, but did not. This shows…what? Probably Sungenis thinks it proves Luther was inconsistent. But stop and think for a moment. Had Luther actually inserted ‘allein’ into Galatians 2:16, Sungenis would still be criticizing him! If anything, that Luther did not put ‘allein’ into Galatians 2:16 should show that Luther was not trying to maliciously tamper with the Biblical text. His was not the method of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, attempting to “doctor” the text.

But the question remains, why did Luther not insert ‘allein’ into Galatians 2:16? I can only speculate, but I think that understanding Luther’s view of the priority of the New Testament books may shed some light here. Luther considered Romans the heart of the Bible. In other words, the book was the key to all the others. All the other Biblical books were to be interpreted by Romans. Luther says of Romans:

This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes” [LW 35:365].

In this epistle we thus find most abundantly the things that a Christian ought to know, namely, what is law, gospel, sin, punishment, grace, faith, righteousness, Christ, God, good works, love, hope, and the cross; and also how we are to conduct ourselves toward everyone, be he righteous or sinner, strong or weak, friend or foe—and even toward our own selves. Moreover this is all ably supported with Scripture and proved by St. Paul’s own example and that of the prophets, so that one could not wish for anything more. Therefore it appears that he wanted in this one epistle to sum up briefly the whole Christian and evangelical doctrine, and to prepare an introduction to the entire Old Testament. For, without doubt, whoever has this epistle well in his heart, has with him the light and power of the Old Testament. Therefore let every Christian be familiar with it and exercise himself in it continually. To this end may God give his grace” [LW 35:380]

So, there really was no need to insert ‘allein’ into Galatians 2:16. If one followed Luther’s advise, and became thoroughly familiar with the theology of Romans, when one reads Galatians, one already knows what Paul means.

Sungenis concludes by recommending his book:

"I suggest you get a copy of Not By Faith Alone. I have a whole section on Luther at pages 517-554."

I would suggest that one reads this book like I read books: critically. If you’re a Roman Catholic, don’t be afraid to check the facts. It’s obvious with the quotes used by Sungenis above, his was not an accurate presentation of Luther’s reasoning. I don’t have a problem with anyone being critical of Luther’s insertion of ‘allein’ into Romans 3:28, but at least argue against Luther’s reasoning, rather than misusing a context in order to prove Luther simply inserted the word because he wanted to, devoid of reasoning.


Robbie said...

Another outstanding post. A blessing.

Free Grace

Churchmouse said...

Hi Jim,

Peter stated that he was a Catholic to the marrow, but he comes off as someone who wants "yeas" to be "yeas" and vice versa. I can only hope that after he reads this, it will spur him to read things as you stated--"critically" even if it sets him on his heels due to faulty research in his own camp. He has so much to gain if he can see the polemics involved and allows Luther's own words to bring context. Too many of Luther's teaching falls by the wayside as a result of isolating citations to suit the naysayers.


Oddball Pastor said...

Excellent work as always Jim.

Sungenis, like many, would benefit from a bit of ad fontes research on Luther.

I find it odd that Sungenis would lift arguments from Schaff while not following Schaff's concluison...

I see you're moving up in the apologetics world... Pretty soon you'll be dealign withthe top of the RC apologetic food chain... whoever that is.

James Swan said...

Thanks guys-

Churchmouse said...

Regarding Peter's other email to Sungenis, Peter wrote:

Hello Robert:

I sent some an e-mail last week regarding a blog site run by a Mr James Swan. Did you get a chance to visit it yet?

Since then, I came across a quote that I wanted to get your opinion on it. Here it is:

In dialoging with Roman Catholics on sola fide, I have sometimes argued from their point of view: that is, the doctrine of justification was not, at the time of Luther’s writing, dogmatically defined in the Roman Catholic sense. In other words, Luther had freedom to hold the view on justification that he did within a Roman Catholic framework. I picked up a copy yesterday of Jaraslov Pelikan’s book, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation [New York: Harper and Row, 1964].

I found this quote on page 51-52 quite interesting:

“Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a 'nude imputation' that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification.”

I share this for one reason: don't get sucked into those silly arguments that "sola fide" was a theological "novum" previous to the Reformation. Pelikan says elsewhere:

"All the more tragic, therefore, was the Roman reaction on the front which was most important to the reformers, the message and teaching of the church. This had to be reformed according to the word of God; unless it was, no moral improvement would be able to alter the basic problem. Rome’s reactions were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone—a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers—Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition."

Source: Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (New York: Abingdon Press, 1959), pp. 51-52.

Again, I am Catholic to the marrow, but I do not know how to respond to the above. I would appreciate your input on this , too, if you don't mind.

R. Sungenis: Peter, I'm afraid Dr. Pelikan is speaking much of this analysis from his own Lutheran bias. There was no teaching of "faith alone" in the patristics or medievals. Trent was following the tradition of the Church. This is precisely why Luther said he rejected the Fathers, since none of them taught faith alone. I have reams of quotes from him to this effect in my book Not By Faith Alone. We only have two or three references to the phrase "faith alone" in the patristics, and when you read them in context (e.g., Clement of Rome) you understand that they were not speaking of Luther's concept. Moreover, if there was some doubt as to how the Church was to understand justification, Luther did the Catholic Church a favor, as all heretics do, in that he made her sit down, cogitate, and write down her doctrines so that everyone would know what, precisely, the boundaries were. That is the way most Catholic doctrine is formulated and codifed -- the Church is squelching some heretic who tries to refute the traditional teaching. You really need to get a copy of my book Not By Faith Alone and read Chapter 9. You'll find out what the score is.

Peter, you must ask yourself: Would Pelikan use the alleged Lutheran "bias" Sungenis assumes and compromise his integrity as a historical scholar? Remember, we are talking about a man who is respected by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars. Furthermore, we are talking about a man that, prior to his death in May, was Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. And, we are talking about a a man who converted to Orthodoxy in 1998. Hmmm...he doesn't seem like someone who would compromise anything for the sake of denominational bias. Although the book Jim cites from was written in 1959, at no time do you find Pelikan retracting his statements regarding these historical facts. And why should he? There was no bias involved. Would I listen to Sungenis over this great historical scholar? Not in a million years. Although I know it takes time and much study, I would suggest that you get to reading and stop indulging Sungenis' assumptions.


FM483 said...

Peter, in a way it is admirable that you wish to defend your Roman Catholic beliefs, but in another way you are resisting truth from the Scriptures by insisting that you be fed through specific avenues such as Sungesis. I would encourage you to read the Scriptures and let God speak to you directly through His Word. Be bold and venture into the writings of other learned men, such as the Reformers themselves. Form your own opinions and pose your own questions rather than be led by another man. I myself test everything and everyone against the Word of God. This is a good method of learning – by testing everything as the Bereans did in Acts 17. I would encourage you to survey summaries of the Reformational profession of faith as contained in the Book of Concord. These Confessions include the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed. Luther’s Small Catechism is also included and it nicely summarizes the basics of Christian doctrine. I would urge you to read and think about the Augsburg Confession, especially Article IV(Justification), and the treatise “The Power and Primacy of the Pope”. These are fairly short treatises and very readable to the average man, quoting Scripture, Church history, and the fathers frequently in establishing their doctrinal positions. Over time, you will find yourself consulting the Holy Scriptures rather than people such as Sungenis whenever you become puzzled with questions. Let your mind be conformed to the Word of God rather than the words of men. The Truth shall set you free.

For your information, in addition to Holy Scripture, the 16th century Reformers quoted many of the fathers of the early Church in the Lutheran Confessions. This included quotes on sola scriptura, faith, free will, etc..., contrary to what Sungenis claimed. An interesting summary of such quotes is contained in the following paper:

Sam said...

Luther's addition of the word "alone" and his subsequent claim that Romans has precedence over all of the other books of the Bible is interesting to put it politely. I would not tolerate this kind of reasoning on any other issue and a can't imagine anyone of intelligence who would. For one and a half thousand years everyone else had it wrong... Please tell me that 40 years as a Protestant were based on something stronger than the ego of a troubled priest.

Anonymous said...

Sam makes a valid point that in 1.5 thousand years, surely there were "other tranlations" before Luther came up with his own.

How many of these "other translations" used the word -alone-as Luther did?

Also, how many "new translations"
since Luther, actually used the word -alone- as Luther did?

And, is Luther's translation still the official bible of the Lutheran Church of today?

Nik A Morris

James Swan said...

Sam makes a valid point that in 1.5 thousand years, surely there were "other tranlations" before Luther came up with his own.

Nik- i suggest you read this link-

Luther Added The Word "alone" To romans 3:28?

Sam said...

Nik-i - please do read the information at this link... None of the writers referenced would have subscribed to sola scriptura. That Luther had to elevate Paul above all other authors of Books of the Bible is nothing more than an ego trying to overcome facts. Luther is contradicted by the text of the Bible so he simply chooses to ignore the authors. I seem to recall pride as a deadly sin and one that shows itself over and over again for us Christians to see. Think of the too many of the Popes, Jim Baker, Calvin... Reading Luther's description of himself is enough for me to understand what he was.

Anonymous said...

Luther was a complete idiot. Anyone who thinks that Romans is the heart of the Sacred Scriptures is complete heretic. The Holy Gospels have always been the heart of Sacred Scripture. Secondly quit trying to make excuses for why Martin Luther inserted texts into Sacred Scripture. He was a heretic like th rest of you.

Anonymous said...

If memory serves, Romans 3:28 in my formerly RC wife's RC-edition TEV Bible (now called the Good News Translation) contained Luther's famous "alone" or "only". The Bible edition itself bore the imprimatur and nihil obstat.