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Did Luther Add "Alone" to Romans 3:28?

Those who defend the Roman Catholic teaching on Justification often accuse Martin Luther of adding the word "alone" to the text of Romans 3:28 to facilitate his own theological view on this vital subject. They allege that Luther was so careless and outrageous with his translation of the Bible in that he simply supplied his own extra words in order to make the Bible say what he wanted it to say.

In this instance, they maintain that Luther's translation of Romans 3:28 was an innovation and an unjustified (pardon the pun!) one at that.

"So halten wir nun dafür, dass der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben" (Literally: "We therefore conclude that a man is justified without the works of the law, only through faith").

The truth is that:

• Luther gave a detailed explanation of why the passage properly bears the meaning of alone and is a translation issue rather than a theological issue – in other words, the Greek text supports him (this explanation has been available online for many years).

• These uninformed Roman Catholic apologists are also unaware that their accusation also betrays an ignorance of church history.

Even the Roman Catholic writer Joseph A. Fitzmyer is honest enough to clarify, "...[T]wo of the points that Luther made in his defense of the added adverb were that it was demanded by the context and that sola was used in the theological tradition before him."

Fitzmyer lists the following in support of Luther's translation: John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Origen, Hillary, Basil, Ambrosiaster, Bernard, Theophylact, Theodoret, Thomas Aquinas, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Marius Victorinus, and Augustine.

[Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993) 360-361].


The issue to Luther was a translation issue far more than a doctrinal issue in his translation of Romans 3:28. He was simply striving to bring the precision of the Greek into the German.

Paul is setting up an exclusive statement. "We conclude that a person is declared righteous" (λογιζόμεθα ⸁γὰρ δικαιοῦσθαι). But then Paul front-shifts the instrumental dative for emphasis (prolepsis) out of its normal position. So we would add weight and emphasis to this by saying something like, "We conclude that a person is declared righteous by faith!!!"

Next Paul continues with a very strong ablative adverb (χωρὶς). We would express this in English by saying something like, "without any sort of law-works at all!"

When anyone claims that Luther added a word to the German it carries with it the unspoken assumption (accusation) that he added to the meaning of the Greek. This is simply not the case.


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