Faith Only And Luther’s Mistranslation

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The Reformation Movement produced five main ideas:  Sola Scriptura (The Scriptures only–in refutation of the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church (ex-cathedra); Sola Fide (Faith only in refutation of the Catholic doctrine of works); Sola Gratia (Grace only in reaction to the Catholic Church’s doctrine of merits); Sola Christa (Christ alone-salvation is through Jesus Christ); and Sola Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone).  The problem lies with the doctrine of faith alone.  This doctrine omits love and love for God is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36-39).  There cannot be love for neighbor without love for God.  Love for God is the most important commandment.  “Faith worketh by love,” Paul states in Gal. 5:6.
Martin Luther mistranslated Romans 1:17 using a phrase borrowed from Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples.  Ben Witherington III makes the following statement, “Erasmus was prepared, however, for criticism when he prepared his Greek NT, and he got it, though there was a bit of a delayed response.  The first edition of 1516 produced few ripples, but when the second edition was published in 1519 this set off the fire alarm bell.  Erasmus would argue that correcting errors in a translation or copy of an original biblical text did not in any way count to disputing the inspiration of the divinely inspired text.  If someone argued it was impious to change anything in Holy Writ, he retorted that it must be worse then to allow scribal errors to stand uncorrected as they obscured the original meaning of Scripture!  Erasmus, in fact, when he publishes this own annotations, not only borrowed the title of Valla, but simply reran various of Valla’s notes.  Note that Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples also followed Valla’s lead, and mentions him in his 1512 commentary on Paul’s Epistles.  This is important for our purposes because Lefevre’s is the work which Martin Luther based his game-changing Wittenburg lectures in 1515-1519.  And here is where I note that it was Lefevre’s commentary on Romans that produced the phrase “by faith alone” which seems to have been noticed by no one–except Luther, who then mistranslated Rom. 1:17 as “for the righteousness of God was revealed by faith alone,” though it actually reads dikaiosune gar theou en auto apokaluptetai ek pisteos eis pistin. That last phrase can be rendered “from faith to faith” or “from the faithful (one) unto faith,” but it cannot be rendered “by faith alone.” So much for the Lutheran stress on sole fide.  (Sola Scriptura And The Reformation: But Which Scripture, and What Translation? JETS, 60/4 (2017): 817-828, p. 822).
Actually, the only place where “faith only” occurs in the NT is James 2:24.  “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”  Notice that the phrase is negated, “not by faith only.”  Luther did not like this statement in James and consequently desired to remove the book of James from the canon of the NT.  James argues that works (works of obedience) are required for justification.  Obedience to the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ is precisely what love for God demands.  “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (John 14:23-24).  Love and obedience go together.  Faith and obedience do too!  James illustrates justification by works using the example of Abraham.  Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac (his son) to God as God commanded him to do.  Whenever the word “works” is understood properly as acts of obedience to God and not as self-righteousness, then faith and works are not mutually exclusive.  Faith without works is dead (James 2:26).  No one will be saved by a dead faith.  A living faith is an obedient faith (Heb. 11:17-19; 11:8).  Faith worketh by love (Gal. 5:6) and so both faith and love lead to obedience to God’s commands.  Obedience to the Lord’s commandments is the way that disciples of Jesus are made.  “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe also things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:18-20–The Great Commission).