Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Shameless Popery: When To Stop Reading a Text

I came across A Fascinating Concession By Albert Mohler on the Shameless Popery blog. The post has little to do with Mohler, but turns out to be the typical Roman Catholic rhetoric on Luther's translation of Romans 3:28. For a response, see my post Luther Added The Word "Alone" To Romans 3:28? as well as, Debate: Did Martin Luther Mistranslate Romans 3:28?

When I say Shameless Popery put up a "typical" post on this issue, take a look at where they stopped citing Luther's Open Letter on Translating. They stopped quoting Luther right before he actually provides exegetical reasons for his translation of Romans 3:28. Shameless popery? No, that's shameful popery.

At the time I saw their post, there were 41 comments, and as I quickly skimmed through them, it appears no one even bothered to check the context. Now that's shameful as well.

When should one stop reading a text? At the end of the text.


Shameless Popery does at least quote Luther saying:
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.
Many Roman Catholics miss the historical context as to why this treatise is angry, sarcastic, and humorous in tone. Luther shows himself 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. In other words, Luther's translation had been plagiarized by a Roman Catholic apologist, while they criticized him at the same time. A strong Papal critic of Luther (Emser) did just that:
 “We have seen that scribbler from Dresden play the master to my New Testament. I will not mention his name again in my books, as he has his Judge now, and is already well-known. He admits that my German is sweet and good. He saw that he could not improve upon it. Yet, eager to dishonor it, he took my New Testament nearly word for word as it was written, and removed my prefaces and notes, replaced them with his own, and thus published my New Testament under his name!”
Luther does explain his translating methodology in his Open Letter on Translating "for you and our people": "For you and our people, however, I shall show why I used the [German equivalent of the] word sola — even though in Romans 3 it was not [the equivalent of] sola I used but solum or tantum."


The Space Bishop said...

Regarding Luther adding "alone" to the text. He wasnt the first. Irish monks did so in their glosses on the Wurzburg manuscript. The link below describes this and mentions some more people who added "alone" before Luther.

The Space Bishop said...


James Swan said...

Space Bishop,

That's a great find! Thanks.


Joe Heschmeyer said...


Claiming that I'm indulging in "shameful popery," without bothering to raise the criticism with me directly (either in the comments, or by email) is more akin to gossip than fraternal correction. Next time, if you have a problem, say something to my “face” (cf. Gal. 2:11).

In any case, the point of my original post was threefold:

1) Mohler claims that “justification by faith alone” is distinct from “justification by faith,” since the former is the standard Protestant position, while the latter is the Catholic position: namely, belief in a “faith that works in synergistic mechanism.”

2) Romans 3:28 says that we are “justified by faith,” not “justified by faith alone.” So if Mohler is right that “justification by faith” is a formulation of the Catholic position, and is contrary to the Protestant belief in “justification by faith alone,” then he’s done a great job of showing why Romans 3:28 proves something other than sola fide.

3) I also pointed out that Luther deliberately altered the text of Romans 3:28 to make it support “justification by faith alone.” As a matter of historical fact, this is undeniable, since he said as much.

Do you deny any of these three points? It doesn’t appear so from your response. Rather, your whole criticism seems premised off of the idea that I didn’t explain why Luther felt “justified” (forgive the pun) in altering the text of Romans 3:28.

Except that I did. I quoted two paragraphs of Luther’s explanation (specifically, giving the response that Luther told his readers to give if anyone challenged them on this point). I then summarized his other reasons thusly: “Ultimately, Luther’s position was that ‘justification by faith’ implies ‘justification by faith alone.’ But that’s what make Mohler’s argument fascinating, because he flatly denies this.” That’s the point of my post (and what distinguishes it from being just another “‘typical’ post on the issue” of Luther’s translation of Romans 3:28). I’m not sure how you missed all of that.



James Swan said...


I am under no obligation to directly contact you if I either critique or respond to something you post on a public blog. Your blog is public, you make public statements. Nor does Galatians 2:11 or “fraternal correction” even remotely apply- as I consider the zealous defenders of Romanism to be evangelized or refuted.

You aren’t even consistent with your admonitions, for back in 2012 Shameless Popery cited and critiqued one of my articles and (if I recall correctly) never bothered to inform me. There certainly weren’t any comments left on the post that was used informing me of it usage.

Luther's intention, a perfectly allowable intention, was to translate the Bible into an easily comprehended form of popular German. Hence, his translation at times employed forms of dynamic equivalence, as many translations do. Word-for-word translations can be cumbersome and awkward, and not appealing to average readers. Rather, many translations seek to maximize readability with a minimum of verbal distortion by translating according to “concept.” In translating Romans, Luther tried to present the “impact” of what the original Greek had on its first readers, and to present the German style and idiom equivalent for his readers.

An honest translator, Luther freely admitted the word “only” does not appear in the original Greek at Romans 3:28. He never sought to have the word added into any ancient manuscript. He states, “I know very well that in the original text this word does not occur. Nevertheless it belongs in any good German translation… Whenever we place two things in opposition and want to make clear that we acknowledge or accept the one and reject the other, we use the word ‘only.’ ‘The farmer brings no money but corn only.’ ‘No, at the moment I really have no money, but only grain.’ ‘I have only eaten, but not yet drunk.’ ‘Have you only written, without rereading?’ This is the form which we use in countless expressions: over against ‘not’ or ‘none’ we have the word ‘only,’ to make the contrast clear.”

Luther approached the work of a translator honestly. If Luther was attempting to radically distort the New Testament, his “doctored” work failed in many ways. Luther did not add the word “alone” to Galatians 2:16, nor did he remove “alone” from James 2. Even in his revision of the Latin Vulgate, Luther left the Latin of Romans 3:28 as it was, because the contrast was apparent.