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“Faith Alone”, Paul, and James

 The very words “alone” or “only” are not grammatically next to the word faith in any of St. Paul’s letters.  However, in the epistle of James, we have these words, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes, “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

So which is it?  Is man justified by faith (Paul), or is man justified by works and not by faith alone (James).  Lutherans (and most non-Catholics) will affirmatively confess the former,[1] Roman Catholics the latter.  Whose right?

For an answer, we must note that the emphasis of James is different than that of Paul.  The context itself indicates this.

James, clearly, is speaking of how works demonstrate a faith already present (Read James 2:14-26), while Paul is speaking of the righteousness of faith (Read Romans 3:21-26, 28, 2-8, etc.).

As you read Paul in the sense that he is writing, that is, according to text and context, and with the words that he uses, even without the words “sola,” “alone,” or “only” preceding or post the word faith, the meaning Paul plainly intends is that righteousness is through faith, with no works attached whatsoever to justification (note esp. Romans 3:21, 28; 4:6—he doesn’t use the word “alone” or “only,” of course), but he does use the word “apart from” or “without,” depending how the Greek word is translated.

For clarification, Luther did not add “faith alone” in order to justify the Lutheran tradition (See the following).

LW35.OnTranslating-AnOpenLetter.SelectedQuotes

The text of Paul’s letter to the Romans itself indicates that righteousness is through faith, without/apart from anything that man does (See the following).

LW35.PrefaceToRomans.a


[1] For example, as in Robertson’s Word Pictures, “Jam 2:24 – James is discussing the proof of faith, not the initial act of being set right with God (Paul’s idea in Ro 4:1-10). And not only by faith (kai ouk ek pistewj monon). This phrase clears up the meaning of James. Faith (live faith) is what we must all have (2:18), only it must show itself also in deeds as Abraham’s did.”

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