This is part of my expanding Bible Manipulations series.
- Texts: Textus Receptus (Erasmus’s Greek 1519) –> Martin Luther’s German (1534)
- Manipulation: Luther added “alone” to the Greek — an example of dynamic equivalence in translation
- Purpose: doctrinal: emphasizes Luther’s doctrine of salvation (soteriology) — salvation by Grace alone rather than also by [Catholic] Church sacraments.
- Background: Martin Luther was the first to translated the Greek Bible into a language spoken by the common person in over 1,000 years! He did this around 1521-1522 while being protected in the Wartburg Castle in present day Thuringia after being excommunicate by Pope Leo X. The translation was largely responsible for that area’s dialect becoming present day German.
Luther added the word “alone” (allein in German) to Romans 3:28 even though it is not found it the Greek. Catholics attacked this addition to which Luther responded:
I know quite well that here in Romans 3:28 that in the Latin and Greek text the word “solum” [alone] is not present, and so Papists need not lecture me about such a fact. . . . But one must not ask the experts in Latin about what the German language should say, as these Jackasses do, but one must ask the mother off the house, the child in the street, the simple man in the market . . . and one must speak German with them.
– Martin Luther (translated by Avalos p 42)
Here is Luther’s Bible passage:
So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben.
So we now hold that a man is justified without works of law, by faith alone.
allein = alone
durch den Glauben = through faith
The Greek Text used by Luther:
Remember, there were many Greek texts available at that time, Luther used Erasmus‘ 2nd edition which became the “Textus Receptus”. I have included the Greek (with root meanings) here to show you that the word “only” is not included.
λογιζομεθα ουν πιστει δικαιουσθαι ανθρωπον χωρις εργων νομου
— The Textus Receptus; base text is Stephens 1550, with variants of Scrivener 1894.
logizomai (conclude) oun (therefore) pistis (faith) dikaioo (justify) anthropos (man) choris (without) ergon (works) nomos (law).
Most modern day translations in English don’t have Luther’s “alone”.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
|RSV & NRSV
For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
I did find this passage from the Japanese Living Bible with the “alone”/”only” (dake) present:
|Japanese Living Bible
In other words, our justification is only by believing faith in Jesus, not by good deeds.
My Conclusion: To be honest, though I understand how this word addition could end up in a big doctrinal battle, nonetheless it does seems to me that “alone” is indeed implied in the text. Sure, it was a translation liberty, but not one of the ones I would put in the top ten. What do you think?