Romans 3:28 says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (NKJV). When Martin Luther translated the book of Romans from the Greek into German, he rendered it, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the deeds of the law.”
Catholic apologist Bob Klaus from the Catholic Legate website recently commented on my link, *Luther Added The Word "Alone" To Romans 3:28?* . Bob contends that I miscited Catholic writer Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s book Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, [The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993)].
If you scroll through my link, you’ll notice that I cite Fitzmyer on various theologians previous to Luther who recognized the implied meaning “alone” in Romans 3:28. In other words, Luther wasn’t the first to read Romans 3:28, and see the force of the passage strongly implied the adverb “alone.”
Klaus’s allows for the possibility that I may have unknowingly mis-cited Fitzmyer. That’s good- it’s always best to allow for the benefit of the doubt. I’m not beyond making errors, nor am I above correction. In fact, I appreciate it [Interestingly, Fitzmyer made an error as well in one of his bibliographic references].
Bob says he strongly suspects I may have taken Fitzmyer somewhat out of context. Let’s take a closer look at Bob’s concerns, to see if I’ve done some mis-citing “somewhat”. Also, i'm going to take a look at some of the other issues Bob raised.
#1. Luther Did Not Mistranslate Romans 3:28, And I did not Mis-Cite Joseph Fitzmyer
Bob Klaus Says:
“…[N]one of the sources listed intended to convey a sola Fide soteriology in their writings...which is precisely the theological message Luther sought to convey when he inserted the word "only" in his Biblical translation. None of the above fathers who used the phrase "faith alone" meant it in the same way that Luther meant it.”
“Fitzmyer did not say that Luther's justification was based on a correct understanding of the CONTEXT of the patristic writings.”
“So what Luther wound up doing is inserting a word in his translation that is clearly absent in the original Greek text, and then justifying it by citing patristic sources out of context. What Luther meant by "faith alone" and what the Church fathers meant by "faith alone" are two entirely different things.”
One has to first recall the usual Roman Catholic argument against Luther: that is, Luther mistranslated Romans 3:28 by inserting a word. What we’re talking about here is translation. What we’re not talking about is usage. Klaus is arguing about usage, when I’m presenting arguments about translation. In other words, how certain church fathers understood the nature of faith is not the issue- indeed many of them do not agree with each other.
The issue is, do the words used by Paul in Romans 3:28 imply “alone”? Others previous to Luther noted that “alone” was implied in the verse- Fitzmyer proves this. Fitzmyer lists others previous to Luther who likewise translated Romans 3:28 (and Galatians 2:15-16) by adding “alone” (See my link, *Luther Added The Word "Alone" To Romans 3:28?*).
Bob Klaus went on to provide more citations from Fitzmyer’s book in his attempt to prove “the entire context of Fitzmyer's book actually paints a very different picture than what the smaller excerpt, when considered of and by itself, from Swan's blog might lead one to conclude.” Read through Bob’s quotes from Fitzmyer for yourself. Ask the following question: Does Fitzmyer say anything about Luther mistranslating Romans 3:28 in the extended context Bob provides? No, he doesn’t.
In my essay *Luther Added The Word "Alone" To Romans 3:28?* , one of my points was show that Luther’s translation of Romans 3:28 was based on an exegetical reading of the text. The text infers “alone” and other besides, and previous to, Luther saw this as well. Since my point was about translation and not usage, I did not mis-cite Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s book Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary. I used Fitzmyer to show that others, who probably had different motivations than Luther, likewise saw the text inferred "alone".
2. Luther’s “Biased” Translation
Bob Klaus says,
“Ah! But, the fact that [Luther] made a biased translation of Romans for his followers, and so tampered with the words of Scripture itself shows that Luther was NOT merely offering an opinion, but was stacking the deck and eliminating any competing opinion. In other words, by changing the words OF SCRIPTURE ITSELF (something no father or doctor ever did), Luther was forcing Christians to adopt his interpretation ALONE --- that is, he was robbing Christians of the freedom to interpret Romans 3:28 in any other way, and so taking a mere theolegoumenon (theological opinion) - a novel and unprecedented one at that (his "faith alone" theory) - and making it MORE than a theolegoumenon. Luther was unilaterally proclaming his theolegoumenon to be a DOGMA --to be the Word of God itself! Yet, Luther had no magisterial authority to do such a thing, but was forcing his own opinion on the rest of the Church. And THIS is why we rightly criticize his action.”
We’ve already pointed out that Luther’s translation of Romans 3:28 is within the realm of reason. In order for Bob’s point to have weight, he should at least look at Luther’s translation of all the verses that are relevant to this discussion. Luther did not add the word “alone” to Galatians 2:16, nor did he remove “alone” from James 2. Also of note, is that Luther did a revision of the Latin Vulgate. The editors of Luther's Works point out: "In Jerome’s Vulgate the Latin actually was: per fidem sine operibus legis. Luther retained this reading unembellished in his 1529 revision of the Vulgate. WA, DB 5, 636" [LW 35:182]. In other words, Luther was not presenting a twisted translation. Bob is seeking to distort Luther’s work based on one verse, and that one verse, can be rightly rendered using the word “alone”.
Klaus goes on to say,
“And, if you have any question about Luther's self-righteous opinion about this, consider his own testimony on the matter: "Because I am certain of my teaching, with it I will judge over the angels, so that whoever does not accept my teaching cannot attain heaven, because it is God's, not mine." (Luther, WA 10II, 107, 9). ...and .... "....I am not put off at all by passages of Scripture, even if you were to produce six hundred in support of the righteousness of works and against the righteousness of faith, and if you were to scream that Scripture contradicts itself." (Luther, LW 54, 20). ...and .... "If the Papist make much fuss about the word sola (alone), 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 Papists, but their masters and judges." (Luther, LW 13, 66;54, 74). Real open-minded guy, wasn't he? He continues, mimicing the style of St. Paul ...."Are they doctors? So am I. Are they learned? So am I. Are they preachers? So am I. Are they disputators? 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. ....Therefore, the word "alone" shall remain in my New Testament, and though all the Pope-donkeys should get furious and foolish, they shall not take it out." (Ibid). "
I expected more from Bob at this point, as he did have access to my link which puts these quotes in a historical 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
Bob Klaus went on to say,
“It is true that Luther wrote those words in anger against certain Catholic critics (whether or not his anger was justified in some cases is up for debate since some of the very people who criticized Luther's actions also took his translation and used it as their own -- with a few modifications of course...such a striking out the word "alone" in Rom 3:28).”
There isn’t any debate. Luther’s anger against his critics was justified. I suggest Bob does some study on Emser, Eck, and Cochlaeus and gets a taste for the written nonsense Luther endured from these men. Next, Klaus can look past Luther’s anger and rhetoric, and concentrate on the reasons Luther gave for translating Romans 3:28 the way he did.
“However, the bottom line here, aside from any bombastic rhetoric by Luther, is that he pointed to himself as the authority on the issue above and beyond whatever magisterial and historical opinion had to say on the matter. Simply stated, he inserted the word "alone" into the biblical text NOT because the German language demanded it, but rather because promotion of the novel doctrine of sola Fide, an invention of Luther's alone, was aided by the insertion of the word.”
And around and around we go. Luther says the German language called for it it, Bob says it doesn’t. Bob uses the standard Catholic apologetics 101 approach: pick out those sections from Luther that paint him as an outrageous heretic and ignore all the sections from Luther’s Open Letter On Translating that are reasonable and relevant to truth.
3. The Tangent of Usage
In regard to “usage” I recently looked at this in my response to Robert Sungenis: A Response To Robert Sungenis On Church History, Luther, and the Doctrine of Justification. It is entirely possible that Luther misunderstood Augustine, Ambrose, or whomever, on what they meant by “faith alone.” Luther though honestly pointed out in 1527, “In Augustine there is little of faith; In Jerome, nothing. Not one of the ancient teachers is pure in the sense that he teaches pure faith.”[Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, entry 1501]. Note, Luther said these words 3 years before he penned his Open Letter On Translating. Bob Klaus needs to remember the context of Luther’s Open Letter deals specifically with Romans 3:28 and translating. When Luther says, “Moreover I am not the only one, or even the first, to say that faith alone justifies. Ambrose said it before me, and Augustine and many others”; he was referring to translation, and not usage. Hence, Klaus’s excursion into what Augustine meant by “faith alone” really isn’t relevant.
Bob Klaus says,
"There is a sense of malevolence that polemicists on the Catholic side often attribute to Luther's motivations that may not be quite fair. It is entirely possible that Luther believed that Augustine and Ambrose taught a primitive form of sola Fide. I don't doubt that inserted "alone" into the text because that is what he thought Paul meant to convey to his readers. Regardless of his motivation, the end-result is the same: a corruption of the text itself. "
One needs to weigh Bob’s criticism above to see if he deals fairly with Fitzmyer’s research. Fitzmyer provides a plentiful list of those previous to Luther who saw Paul’s intent to be “faith alone” in Romans 3:28. Do these men also stand accused by Bob of corrupting the text? Bob seems to imply that only Luther stands accused. By what standard does Bob determine who stands condmened for corrupting the text?
I have found most Roman Catholics very misinformed as to what Luther meant by “faith alone”. As the editors of Luther’s Works point out, “[Luther] never intended to say that true faith is, or ever could be—much less should be—without good works. His point was not that faith is ever “alone,” but that “only” faith without works—hence the term “faith alone”—is necessary for justification before God"[LW 35:195, footnote 63; See also my paper, *Did Luther Say: Be A Sinner And Sin Boldly?* ]. The justifying faith that Luther spoke of was a living faith. “Faith,” wrote Luther, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” Luther says, “Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith…”
4. Bible Translations Previous To Luther’s New Testament
Bob Klaus says,
“Also notice that Luther was citing patristic writings...he did not cite any previous Bible translations. Luther's point would have had more weight had previous Bible translations inserted the adverb in question.”
“…[H]ere it must be pointed out that Luther did not follow a tradition of Catholic "translators," but rather Church Fathers and theologians. Prior to Luther, Romans 3:28 was never translated with the adverb "alone" inserted...and, contrary to popular opinion, there were several translations of the Bible into the vernacular German prior to Luther's translation (although Luther decided to translate his from the original languages instead of translating the Latin Vulgate into German).”
“Please consider that Luther's was NOT the first German translation of the Bible (merely the first to be translated from the Greek). In none of those other German translations did the word "alone" appear. Therefore all other translators "took exception" to Luther's addition of a word that did not exist in the original text.”
Klaus has to realize Luther had a limited selection of sources, and he should know that the Vulgate was the primary translation used during the 16th Century. In other words, Luther may not have had access to a large corpus of Biblical translations when doing his research. Had he had more sources, he probably would have noted that Catholic translations prior to Luther used the terminology of faith alone with respect to Romans 3:28. The Nuremberg Bible of 1483 had "allein durch den glauben," while the Italian Bibles of Geneva in 1476 and even 1538 had "per sola fide."
Commenting on Paul’s argument in Romans 3, The great Reformed theologian Charles Hodge points out: “If by faith, it is not of works; and if not of works, there can be no room for boasting, for boasting is the assertion of personal merit. From the nature of the case, if justification is by faith, it must be by faith alone. Luther’s version, therefore, ‘allein durch den glauben,’ is fully justified by the context.”[Source: Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans, rev. ed. (1909; reprint, London: Banner of Truth, 1972), p. 100]. Hodge also points out that despite Catholics continually balking at Luther’s translation, Catholic versions of the New Testament also translated Romans 3:28 as did Luther: “So in the Nuremberg Bible (1483), ‘Nur durch den glauben.’ And the Italian Bibles of Geneva (1476) and of Venice (1538), ‘per sola fede’”[Source: Ibid]. Hodge wrote in 1909. The evidence Bob is requesting has been around a long time. Will it change Bob’s mind? I doubt it.
5. Just What Was The Catholic Dogma Of Justification During Luther’s Time?
Bob Klaus says:
“[Luther’s] approach was fundamentally flawed in that he placed his own personal opinion above and against (perhaps due to his arrogance and ego) the Sacred Traditions of the Church that had NEVER interpreted Romans 3:28 in a manner that would convey Luther's novelty known as sola Fide. Thus, he was guilty of privately interpreting Scripture APART from the Church...something which is condemned by Scripture itself (2 Peter 1:20).”
There are two things going on here with Bob’s point: what he’s saying, and what he’s not saying. True, as Bob says, Luther’s particular understanding of Justification finds a lack of support in the generations that preceded him. One can find nuances of Luther’s view, but not a perfect correspondence.
But then again, what exactly what the Roman Catholic view of justification previous to Luther? Bob probably can’t tell you for one very devastating reason: there wasn’t a defined position on Justification previous to Luther.
“The medieval period had witnessed the emergence of a number of quite distinct schools of thought on justification, clearly incompatible at points, all of which could lay claim to represent the teaching of the Catholic church." [Source: Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (New York: Cambridge University Press, 259)].
“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.”[ Jaraslov Pelikan, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 51-52].
I’ve heard from at least three or four Catholic apologists that previous to dogmatic definition, there is room for debate and discussion. When it comes to Luther though, modern day Roman Catholics have no problem with forgetting this- Luther is viewed as following his own interpretation, rather than the tradition of the church. But, as Pelikan and McGrath note, there was not “one” tradition. Luther was really guilty of one thing, being a 16th Century Roman Catholic theologian, and doing what 16th Century Roman Catholic theologians do: theology.
Bob Klaus says,
“It is quite true that before the Council of Trent a wide range of opinions existed in Catholicism on the issue of justification. This is true, but only insofar as all binding dogmas (e.g. the authoritative decision of Trent) develop from competing theolegoumena (theological opinions), and so of course undeveloped theolegoumena existed in the Church before the dogmatic proclamation ended the debate. Yet, what is all-telling here is that NOT ONE of the pre-Tridentine theolegoumena on justification reflects the "faith alone" novelty of Luther! ...and this only hammers home the reality that NO ONE in the Church read Romans 3:28 as he did --ergo, no one shared his particular interpretation of Rom 3:28 or perceived the "implication" that Luther did. Luther introduced something that had never existed before; and an honest analysis of this history must recognize this.”
The irony is that even if one could come up with a list of Church Fathers who had a similar take on sola fide as Luther, it still would not silence Catholic apologetics against it. Klaus’s words are of course an example of the Roman Catholic double standard that I’ve written about before. Klaus is arguing Luther invented “justification by faith alone”. It didn’t exist until Luther. It can’t be verified in church history. It can’t be true. On the other hand, when the same historical standard is applied to certain Roman Catholic dogmas, like Mary’s Bodily Assumption, Purgatory, Indulgences, etc., this same historical standard is swept under the rug and hidden. One has to seriously question why a standard that Catholic apologists hold Protestants to is not likewise applied to their own beliefs. Wade through the corridors of church history and search for the threads of all Roman Catholic dogma. One falls flat of linking many of them back to the early church, or in some instances, even the Bible. At some point in history, many current Catholic beliefs did not exist. Protestants live by the principle, sola scriptura. In other words, history doesn’t prove what is true and what is not, the Bible does.
For those of you looking for a quick synopsis. Brent (aka "Oddball Pastor") succinctly summed up four of my arguments:
1) Klaus misrepresents the argument. No one has claimed Fitzmyer was saying the ECFs espoused protestant soteriology, only that the RC accusation that the insertion of “allein” was a novelty is false. That fact remains regardless of what the ECFs may have meant.
2) Klaus wants to play the conspiracy card while ignoring the fact that the evidence (ie, no adding “allein” in Gal or removing it in James) is such that no conspiracy exists.
3) Klaus baldly denies that "allein" is justified despite the insertion of the word “allein” in translations prior to Luther and in other languages. Regardless of what those other translators thought the implication of sola or alone or “allein” might be theologically, they agreed with Luther as a matter of translation.
5) Klaus wants to use one standard on sola fide and another on other Catholic doctrines.