Mohler noted that Pope Benedict XVI famously affirmed the doctrine of justification by faith when writing about the apostle Paul, “but he would not add that crucial word ‘alone.’”I actually agree with Mohler here, but I think that this argument shows why Martin Luther was wrong on justification. See, the one who added “that crucial word ‘alone’” was Martin Luther, not
“Lacking the word ‘alone,’ that means justification by faith that works in synergistic mechanism with our own righteousness or attempts at righteousness and efforts to gain merit,” Mohler said.
Okay, let me step back to explain what we’re talking about here. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is the doctrine upon which, according to Luther, the Reformation rose or fell. And the theory was based in large part of his reading of Romans and Galatians, particularly Romans 3:28. In Luther’s German translation, it reads: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith alone apart from works of law.” But Luther added that word “alone,” and even conceded that the word for “alone” isn’t found in the original Greek, or in the Latin that he’s translating from. In his Open Letter on Translating, he wrote:
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.
Given that “alone” isn’t found in the Greek or Latin version of Romans 3:28, how should Protestants defend Luther’s insertion of the word, particularly when it seems to change the meaning of the one of the most hotly-contested passages in Scripture? Here’s what Luther suggested would be good enough for a Catholic (or in his words, a papist donkey):
But I will return to the subject at hand. If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas [“I will it, I command it, my will is reason enough.”]. For we are not going to be students and disciples of the papists. Rather, we will become their teachers and judges. For once, we also are going to be proud and brag, with these blockheads; and just as Paul brags against his mad raving saints, I will brag against these donkeys of mine! Are they doctors? So am I. Are they scholars? 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 logicians? So am I. Do they lecture? So do I. Do they write books? So do I.
I will go even further with my boasting: I can expound the psalms and the prophets, and they cannot. I can translate, and they cannot. I can read the Holy Scriptures, and they cannot. I can pray, they cannot. Coming down to their level, I can use their rhetoric and philosophy better than all of them put together. Plus I know that not one of them understands his Aristotle. If any one of them can correctly understand one preface or chapter of Aristotle, I will eat my hat!
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. Again, what he said was:
“Lacking the word ‘alone,’ that means justification by faith that works in synergistic mechanism with our own righteousness or attempts at righteousness and efforts to gain merit,” Mohler said.If he is right, and I think he is, what he has (no doubt inadvertently) established is that St. Paul and Pope Benedict XVI are synergists, unlike Martin Luther. How this helps the Protestant case on justification is beyond me.