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November 20, 2007 / vivator

Luther and Romans 3:28

Sola fide, Latin for “faith alone” was the Martin Luther’s battle cry against the teaching of the Catholic Church on Justification.   To support his doctrine he intentionally added the word “alone” in his German translation of Romans 3:28.   Luther admitted what he did and arrogantly defended it.

Here, in Romans 3[:28], I knew very well that the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text; the papists [Catholics] did not have to teach me that. It is a fact that these four letters s o l a are not there. And these blockheads stare at them like cows at a new gate.  At the same time they do not see that it conveys the sense of the text; it belongs there if the translation is to be clear and vigorous. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had undertaken to speak in the translation. But it is the nature of our German language that in speaking of two things, one of which is affirmed and the other denied, we use the word solum (allein) along with the word nicht [not] or kein [no]. For example, we say, “The farmer brings allein grain and kein money”; “No, really I have now nicht money, but allein grain”; “I have allein eaten and nicht yet drunk”; “Did you allein write it, and nicht read it over?” There are innumerable cases of this kind in daily use.

But to return to the matter in hand! If your papist wants to make so much fuss about the word sola (alone) tell him this, “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and says that a papist and an ass are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic jubeo; sit pro ratione voluntas [I will it; I command it; my will is reason enough” is line 223 from the famous sixth satire of the Roman poet Juvenal (ca. a.d. 60-140), directed against the female sex. Luther used the quotation when he wanted to characterize the capricious unlimited power of the pope]. We are not going to be the pupils and disciples of the papists, but their masters and judges. For once, we too are going to be proud and brag with these blockheads; and as St. Paul boasts over against his mad raving saints [II Cor. 11:21ff.], so I shall boast over against these asses of mine. Are they doctors? So am I. Are they learned? So am I. Are they preachers? So am I. Are they theologians? So am I. Are they debaters? So am I. Are they philosophers? So am I. Are they dialecticians? So am I. Are they lecturers? So am I. Do they write books? So do I.

Let this be the answer to your first question. And please give these asses no other and no further answer to their useless braying about the word sola than simply this, “Luther will have it so, and says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the whole papacy.” It shall stay at that! Henceforth I shall simply hold them in contempt, and have them held in contempt, so long as they are the kind of people-I should say, asses-that they are.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, pages 185 to 189

Some Protestants may argue that the word “alone” was also found in some earlier translations.  Since no languages are identical we may add words or reparaphrase to get the true meaning, instead of translating word by word.  Those early translations may carry the word “alone” but the translators did not intend to propagate new teaching “by faith alone salvation”.  By adding the word “alone” Luther made Romans 3:28 contradict James 2:24 – it is no surprise that Luther disliked James and rejected its apostolic origin.

Thus in 1532 Luther had said at table concerning the difference between St. Paul and the Epistle of James: “To him who can make these two agree I will give my doctor’s cap, and I am willing to be called a fool.”

Luther’s Work, Vol. 2, page 277f

That epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest. Up to this point I have been accustomed just to deal with and interpret it according to the sense of the rest of Scriptures. For you will judge that none of it must be set forth contrary to manifest Holy Scripture. Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did [The preacher of Kalenberg, when visited by the duchess, heated the room with the wooden statues of the apostles. The statue of James was the last and as the preacher shoved it into the stove he exclaimed, “Now bend over, Jimmy, you must go into the stove; no matter if you were the pope or all the bishops, the room must become warm.”].

Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, page 317

Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle; and my reasons follow.

In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works [2:24]. It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac [2:21]; though in Romans 4[:2-22] St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15[:6].

Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, pages 395 – 396



Leave a Comment
  1. Rev Dr David Poedel, STS / Jun 20 2008 8:07 pm

    All true enough. Would you care to comment on how the Vatican handled this issue in the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification”? Much of the polemics of the 16th-20th Centuries have ossified the positions of each Church.

    When attempts are made to discuss this inflammatory issue, Lutheran polemicists (and there are are a ton of them in my Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) will start flinging accusations that Rome never changes….which is partially true. Rome changes emphasis while never denying what she has said in the past…such is the nature of the Sacred Magisterium.

    As a cradle Roman Catholic who became Evangelical Catholic as an adult over 20 years ago, I speak the language of both Rome and Wittenberg. Perhaps if more of us who have crossed over to the “other side” and are not polemical about our past would get together and discuss these things without the rancor, things would go further in establishing better working relationships between our parishes in areas in which we are in agreement like pro-life activity and assisting young families in raising their children to follow Christ Jesus in His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church (and that includes both of our Traditions).

  2. vivator / Jun 20 2008 9:15 pm

    Thank you for your comment, reverend. I myself was once Ecangelical. As for the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Catholic and Lutheran I do not read it yet – thus I cannot make any comments.

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