Adding ALONE to Faith Alone


I have read numerous times where it has been said that Luther admitted to adding the word ALONE to the scripture talking about being saved by faith. ( I think when he was translating the Greek scripture to German).

Has this been documented anywhere?



Yes, it is in the Bible:
James 2:24
You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.


Yes, but this isn’t an accurate way of putting it. Translators have to add words all the time to make their point clear. If you read Luther’s treatise On Translating, you’ll see his rationale. I don’t know sixteenth-century German well enough to know if he was right, but I’m sure his theological biases influenced him, as they do all translators. That’s still not the same thing as simply “adding” a word.

I don’t mean to sound like a snob here, but chances are you aren’t going to get the point unless you’ve actually tried to do some translating yourself.

Final note: don’t get hung up on Luther’s rude language, and don’t stop (as most Catholic readers seem to do) with the paragraph in which he says “Luther will have it so!” It’s in the next paragraph that he starts to give his rationale.



You mean this?

“If your Papist annoys you with the word (‘alone’ - Rom. 3:28), tell him straightway, Dr. Martin Luther will have it so: Papist and *** are one and the same thing. Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil’s thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors in Popedom.”


This is a classic example of what I mean. Why ignore the actual rationale Luther gives in the next paragraph? What you quote is empty bluster–it’s irrelevant. If you really cared about the issue, you’d attend to the substance of what Luther said. Either you haven’t actually looked at the treatise or you are deliberately ignoring the substantive part in order to score a cheap point.



Edwin, could you post the next paragrph or two? Thanks!


After reading the following from Luther I can only say he’s looney. He spends much time discrediting the “Papists” and puffing himself up, and below, he totally disses the meaning of “full of Grace”. He is so angry that he can’t think straight and by this time, anything the Papists say, to him, is mere junk.

**Now when the angel greets Mary, he says: “Greetings to you, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” well up to this point, this has simply been translated from the simple Latin, but tell me is that good German? Since when does a German speak like that - being “full of grace”? One would have to think about a keg “full of” beer or a purse “full of” money. So I translated it: “You gracious one”. This way a German can at last think about what the angel meant by his greeting. Yet the papists rant about me corrupting the angelic greeting - and I still have not used the most satisfactory German translation. What if I had used the most satisfactory German and translated the salutation: “God says hello, Mary dear” (for that is what the angel was intending to say and what he would have said had he even been German!). If I had, I believe that they would have hanged themselves out of their great devotion to dear Mary and because I have destroyed the greeting.

   Yet why should I be concerned about their ranting and raving?  I will not stop them from translating as they want.  But I too shall translate as I want and not to please them, and whoever does not like it can just ignore it and keep his criticism to himself, for I will neither look at nor listen to it.  They do not have to answer for or bear responsibility for my translation.  Listen up, I shall say "gracious Mary" and "dear Mary", and they can say "Mary full of grace".  Anyone who knows German also knows what an expressive word "dear"(liebe)  is: dear Mary, dear God, the dear       emperor, the dear prince, the dear man, the dear child.  I do not know if one can say this word "liebe" in Latin or in other

languages with so much depth of emotion that it pierces the heart and echoes throughout as it does in our tongue.**


What is “looney” about the argument that “liebe Maria” is a good translation of “Maria kecharitomene”?

Jabronie, I should have said “the next few paragraphs.” Here they are:

For you and our people, however, I shall show why I used the word
"sola" - even though in Romans 3 it wasn’t “sola” I used but
"solum" or “tantum”. That is how closely those asses have looked
at my text! However, I have used “sola fides” in other places,
and I want to use both “solum” and “sola”. I have continually
tried translating in a pure and accurate German. It has happened
that I have sometimes searched and inquired about a single word
for three or four weeks. Sometimes I have not found it even then.
I have worked Meister Philip and Aurogallus so hard in translating
Job, sometimes barely translating 3 lines after four days. Now
that it has been translated into German and completed, all can
read and criticize it. One can now read three or four pages
without stumbling one time - without realizing just what rocks and
hindrances had once been where now one travels as as if over a
smoothly-cut plank. We had to sweat and toil there before we
removed those rocks and hindrances, so one could go along nicely.
The plowing goes nicely in a clear field. But nobody wants the
task of digging out the rocks and hindrances. There is no such
thing as earning the world’s thanks. Even God cannot each thanks,
not with the sun, nor with heaven and earth, or even the death of
his Son. It just is and remains as it is, in the devil’s name, as
it will not be anything else.

   I also know that in Rom. 3, the word "solum" is not present in
   either Greek or Latin text - the papists did not have to teach me
   that - it is fact!  The letters s-o-l-a are not there.  And these
   knotheads 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 accurate, it belongs there.
   I wanted to speak German since it was German I had spoken in
   translation - not Latin or Greek.  But it is the nature of our
   language that in speaking about two things, one which is affirmed,
   the other denied, we use the word "solum" only along with the word
   "not" (nicht) or "no" (kein).  For example, we say "the farmer
   brings only (allein) grain and no money"; or "No, I really have no
   money, but only (allein) grain"; I have only eaten and not yet
   drunk"; "Did you write it only and not read it over?"  There are a
   vast number of such everyday cases.
   In all these phrases, this is a German usage, even though it is
   not the Latin or Greek usage.  It is the nature of the German
   tongue to add "allein" in order that "nicht" or "kein" may be
   clearer and more complete.  To be sure, I can also say "The farmer
   brings grain and no (kein) money, but the words "kein money" do
   not sound as full and clear as if I were to say, "the farmer
   brings allein grain and kein money."  Here the word "allein" helps
   the word "kein" so much that it becomes a clear and complete
   German expression.
   We do not have to ask about the literal Latin or how we are to
   speak German - as these asses do.  Rather we must ask the mother
   in the home, the children on the street, the common person in the
   market about this.  We must be guided by their tongue, the manner
   of their speech, and do our translating accordingly.  Then they
   will understand it and recognize that we are speaking German to

Then he gives a bunch of examples, which you can read by following the link I posted earlier. This is a clear exposition of what we would now call “dynamic equivalence.” It’s a recognized and commonly used method of translation–probably most translators today would favor it, though I have some qualms about it. It is certainly not some “looney” idea Luther cooked up to justify his hatred of the “Papists.” Many Renaissance translators were moving in that direction. As with Luther’s questions about some of the debated books in both OT and NT canons, he was part of a broader intellectual trend but was far more belligerent than most in how he put it (and far more decisive and radical in how he acted on it), so he’s drawn a lot of flak.



Because he is irrational in this paragraph. Why would he be anymore rational in the next? He makes his point quite clear -he is trying to score a cheap point and make himself the tradition and criteria by which we interpret Scripture. If he’s in heaven; when I get there (by God’s grace), I want to ask him why he said this…

Prayers and petitions,


I’ve dealt with this.

Luther Added The Word “Alone” to Romans 3:28?

James Swan


From Thomas More - (Dialogues Concerning Heresies)

49. I do not much marvel that many like them well, since there is no country that lacks plenty of such as are wicked, who follow their own foolish affections no matter what is reasonably spoken to them. And these people pretend to believe that no one is able to confute Luther or Tyndale, no matter how madly they argue. And truly it is madness to follow them when one sees on the one hand the faith of Christ continued in the Catholic Church over the centuries producing so many glorious Saints, martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins, and on the other hand one sees their sect destroying the sacraments, engaging in acts of sacrilege, blaspheming the Saints, and destroying all devotion among Christians. And also when one sees on the one hand the continuance of the faith testified by so many thousands of miracles, and by the teaching of all the holy fathers, and on the other hand a fond friar [Luther] and his fellows teaching us vice as fast as the others ever taught us virtue, and all of them breaking their priestly vows of celibacy, and urging others to do the same. No matter how many heretics go out of the Church, it will always be well known by the profession of that faith, and those sacraments, which has continued from the beginning and which the holy doctors of the Church always had in honour and reverence, and which was testified to by God himself through the incessant miracles, that no sect of heretics could ever allege in support of any teacher of theirs. These heretics are the forewalkers of the head of all heretics, namely Anti-Christ, who when he comes will confuse many through false miracles. And yet these heretics can show no miracles in proof of their doctrine. Indeed, all their doctrine and living is all set upon sin and beastly concupiscence, and is completely contrary to the doctrines of all the old holy doctors. However, when Christ at the last shall return, he will restrain the work of Anti-Christ, and of the devil himself, and will repair and restore his Church, and will gather all the flock together under himself the shepherd, and will deliver a glorious kingdom to his Father of all the saved people from the time of Adam to the last day to reign henceforth in joy and bliss incogitable in Heaven together with the Father, Himself, and the Holy Ghost. And may God grant the grace for these seditious sects to cease, and for the favourers of those factions to amend, so that, stopping our ears from the false enchantments of all these heretics, we may walk with charity in the faith of Christ’s Catholic Church, and may be partners of heavenly bliss, which the blood of God’s own Son has bought for us.


I’ve been doing quite a fair bit of reading on Luther lately. A lot has been written about the man in attempts to make him out to be a glorious saint. A lot has been written that tries to make him seem possessed.

I have known a few people that suffer from scrupulosity. It is a defect of conscience by which the slightest mistake or sin tends to wrack the sufferer with intense guilt and despair. In my opinion Luther almost certainly suffered from this affliction, but was far too proud and stubborn to accept spiritual direction for its relief. Instead, he invented his previously unknown doctrine of ‘faith alone’ (sola fide), a belief entirely unheard of in the centuries preceding him. It was a unique and novel way to deal with the torments of his defective conscience. After all, if one’s works are of no meaning whatsoever, how easy it is to brush off those pangs of conscience! It worked so well for him that he had to invent ‘sola scriptura’ when the successors of the apostles came calling to correct his erroneous publications.

Some accounts note the amazing speed in which Luther produced his first translation. I forget the details, but I think I recall the publish date being around a year after he mentioned to a friend in a letter that he intended to perform a translation! This suggests that Luther relied heavily on other contemporary German translations and the Vulgate, rather than a translation from the Greek texts. (The old canard that Luther’s was the FIRST German translation is of course poppycock).

I find arguments that Luther was a deliberate diabolical sabotuer unconvincing. But the man surely had major issues. I’m sure he honestly thought he was presenting the actual meaning of the text. Delusion is a powerful thing. Since history proves that there WERE other German texts in circulation, it seems to me that the entire motivation of the man in producing his own translation was to give Scripture the spin needed to prop up his disordered theology which he constructed to soothe his tormented conscience.

But I only play a psychologist on TV. Oh wait, not even that.


Ah my poor faulty memory. Not a year to translate the whole bible. 10 weeks (!?!) to translate the whole new testament. Thats the time that elapsed between when he wrote to one friend that he intended to do it and a second letter to another announcing that he had finished.

Hard to see how you could do a genuine translation from the ancient languages in that amount of time. One source I read noted that Luther himself never claimed that his translation was a total retranslation from the original Greek, but that later followers started the claim.


Interesting topic


The answer to the reasoning has already been given numerous times so I don’t feel a need to repeat it. Since Lutherans don’t use bibles that have the word alone in this passage (it was removed hundreds of years ago) the point is kinda moot…

Luther’s translation was a significant improvement over the German bible translations. Other that one word out of tens of thousands of words, there were never any real questions or criticisms about the job he (and the others who assisted him did). Catholic translators rushed out their own “improved” translations and copied entire sections of Luther’s bible translation (giving no credit to him of course). It was that good.

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