Thursday, February 4, 2021

Fruitless Efforts By Roman Catholic Apologists To Explain Away Romans 3:28

  • Discussion:
          -The purpose of this article is to interact with a number of Roman Catholic claims regarding Romans 3:28 and justification by faith alone. Following are a few excerpts from the author alongside with a critique:

          "Romans 3:28 is a key verse in the differences between traditional Protestants and Catholics. You will notice that Paul says a man is justified by faith (pistei in Greek). When Martin Luther translated the letter to the Romans into German in the sixteenth century, he added the word alone —but alone is not in the original Greek text. The phrase “faith alone” does occur in the New Testament: one time, in James 2:24. There the inspired apostle denies that justification is from faith alone. Let me quote it: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

          Romans 3:28 is part of a context contrasting faith and works. The latter is excluded by the Apostle Paul as being an available avenue of justification before God. The Good News Translation, which is approved by the Roman Catholic Church for adherents to use in study, renders Romans 3:28 as follows:

          "For we conclude that a person is put right with God only through faith, and not by doing what the Law commands."

          James 2:24 is part of a context about the demonstration of a saving faith. That text addresses justification from an evidential perspective.

          "Paul categorically excludes works from our salvation. But what kind of works is Paul talking about? If we believe the entire Bible, we need to see how Paul’s words fit together with James’s words, because James clearly says that “a man is justified by works.” If Paul and James mean the same thing by works, then they contradict one another. Since you and I both believe that the Bible cannot contradict itself, we must agree that Paul and James mean two different things by the word works."

          Notice how a distinction between works in James and works in Paul has to be invented in order to circumvent the implications that Romans 3:28 has on Roman Catholic theology concerning salvation. The Apostle Paul undoubtedly had the Mosaic Law in mind when he wrote Romans. However, there is much more to it than customs such as circumcision. The Mosaic Law also had commandments to love God and love neighbor. Paul brings up the prohibition against coveting, which is a part of the Ten Commandments (Romans 7:7). James would indeed have these kinds of works in view. Moreover, Roman Catholicism regards these aspects of the Law as being necessary for justification while rejecting other aspects such as circumcision and Sabbath observance. 

          "A careful reading of Galatians will show that Paul is using works of the law to refer especially to the law of circumcision. He is so strong about this that he says in Galatians 5:2, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” Paul’s opponents in Galatia wanted to bring the Gentile Christians back into the Old Testament law. These are the works of the law that Paul is fighting against, and they have no place in our justification. Paul is saying in essence that Gentile Christians do not have to be circumcised and live like Jewish Christians in order to be saved."

          No reason has been given as to why we should limit Paul's focus to ceremonial and dietary laws when he speaks of "works of the law." His only point of emphasis when discussing the instance of justification before God in Romans and Galatians is faith. Hence, we see the reason for such passages being appealed to as evidence of justification by faith alone. Assume for the sake of argument that the Apostle Paul had the narrow focus of the Mosaic Law (not including good works in general) in mind when he mentions "works of the law." The Roman Catholic Church would still stand condemned according to his teaching.


  1. An excellent observation regarding the rendering of Rom 3:28 as "only through faith" in the GNT.

    Hodge notes that:
    The Romanists, indeed, made a great outcry against that version as a gross perversion of Scripture, although Catholic translators before the time of Luther had given the same translation. So in the Nuremberg Bible, 1483, "Nur durch den glauben." And the Italian Bibles of Geneva, 1476, and of Venice, 1538, per sola fede. The Fathers also often use the expression, "man is justified by faith alone;" so that Erasmus, De Ratione Concionandi, Lib. 3., says, "Vox sola, tot clamoribus lapidata hoc saeculo in Luthero, reverenter in Patribus auditur."
    (Charles Hodge, Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, [Philadelphia: William S. & Alfred Martin, 1864], p. 156).

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, a Jesuit priest and historian, provides a substantial list of Patristic authors who use the term "faith alone" just as Luther. See: (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series, [New York: Doubleday, 1993], pp. 360-361).

  2. Very good analysis regarding the on-going struggle of Catholics to understand James' comments regarding works and salvation. In referencing Abraham and Rahab, James was merely stating that their "works" were a confirmation (evidence or fruit) of their profession of faith. This is true of every believer; there must be evidence in our behavior that substantiates our mere profession. Even the thief on the cross was able to manifest evidence of his salvation. The context of James 2 clearly shows that sending a hungry person away with well-wishes only instead of a meal is a contradiction of the Lord's teaching.