For it is not merely the hearers of Torah whom God considers righteous; rather, it is the doers of what Torah says who will be made righteous in God’s sight. (Rom. 2:13, Complete Jewish Bible)
Alone - When Skip extended an invitation to contribute to Today’s Word, I knew I would have some difficulty in matching his knowledge of the original languages. So rather than write about a Greek or Hebrew word that is in the Scriptures, I’m going to write about a word that can be found in the Scriptures, but not in the usual place that people expect it or are taught to expect it.
When Martin Luther confronted his own life, the Scriptures in which he was trained, and the then-current practices of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the sale of indulgences, he reacted. When asked at one time why he was so vehement in his attack upon the Pope and the church, his reply was along the lines that God always sent the thunder before he sent the gentle rain. And Luther was aware he was no gentle raindrop that could be pushed aside by anyone when he was convicted from the Scriptures alone.
So Luther, in his rejection of the then-current idea that man could contribute to his own salvation by buying indulgences, or even doing any other good work, put two words together than have framed the meaning of the Protestant Reformation since that time. Luther was convinced that there is nothing that man could do that would, in effect, earn him frequent flyer points which he might use if not for the whole journey into heaven, at least part of the way on his own efforts. We are justified, thundered Luther, by faith alone. And when he turned to Romans 3:28 and found the word “alone” was not there, he added it into his original German translation of Sha’ul’s letter. Later it was removed for the obvious reason that it wasn’t in the Greek text.
But the damage had been done. For when Luther argued for “faith alone” he was immediately confronted with the words of James, “you are justified by your works.” For Luther, this amounted to a contradiction in Scripture and his solution to this perceived contradiction was to suggest that the letter of James did not belong in the canon of Scripture, a rather convenient solution.
Apparently Luther had forgotten the words that Rabbi Sha’ul had written earlier in his letter that are our text for today. It is “doers of what Torah says” who will be justified, writes Sha’ul. And you notice that these words are echoed in James’ letter when he writes, “You see that a person is declared righteous because of actions and not because of faith alone” (James 2:24).
What are we to do, then, with the idea of “justified by faith alone?” After all, the only time in Scripture that the words “faith alone” appear together are in the phrase written by James, but then these two words are used negatively: you are not saved by “faith alone.”
Were both Sha’ul and James teaching that justification is something that is earned by works, good deeds, the keeping of Torah? I am sure they were not. But I am also just as certain that the words “justified by faith alone” create a much bigger problem than that which they were trying to solve. For if justification is by “faith alone” then duty and obligation to Torah take a backseat position in the life of the follower of the Messiah, rather than the front-seat position
In part 2, we’ll see how Rabbi Sha’ul deals with this issue of “faith alone.”
Topical Index: faith, alone, Romans 2:13, Luther