Luther On The Propriety Of Using “Only” In Romans 3:28

Second you may say that I translated the New Testament conscientiously and to the best of my ability. I have compelled no one to read it, but have left that open, doing the work only as a service to those who could not do it better. No one is forbidden to do a better piece of work. If anyone does not want to read it, he can let it alone. I neither ask anybody to read it nor praise anyone who does so. It is my Testament and my translation, and it shall continue to be mine. If I have made some mistakes in it—though I am not conscious of any and would certainly be most unwilling to give a single letter a wrong translation intentionally—I will not allow the papists [to act] as judges. For their ears are still too long, and their hee-haws too weak, for them to criticize my translating. I know very well—and they know it even less than the miller’s beast—how much skill, energy, sense, and brains are required in a good translator. For they have never tried it.

…But to return to the matter in hand! If your papist wants to make so much fuss about the word sola (alone) tell him this, “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and says that a papist and an ass are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic jubeo; sit pro ratione voluntas [I will it. I command it. My will is sufficient reason]. We are not going to be the pupils and disciples of the papists, but their masters and judges. For once, we too are going to be proud and brag with these blockheads; and as St. Paul boasts over against his mad raving saints [II Cor. 11:21ff.], so I shall boast over against these asses of mine. Are they doctors? So am I. Are they learned? So am I. Are they preachers? So am I. Are they theologians? So am I. Are they debaters? So am I. Are they philosophers? So am I. Are they dialecticians? So am I. Are they lecturers? So am I. Do they write books? So do I.

I will go further with my boasting. I can expound psalms and prophets; they cannot. I can translate; they cannot. I can read the Holy Scriptures; they cannot. I can pray; they cannot. And, to come down to their level, I can use their own dialectics and philosophy better than all of them put together; and besides I know for sure that none of them understands their Aristotle.23 If there is a single one among them all who correctly understands one proemium [preface] or chapter in Aristotle, I’ll eat my hat. I am not saying too much, for I have been trained and practiced from my youth up in all their science and am well aware how deep and broad it is. They are very well aware, too, that I can do everything they can. Yet these incurable fellows treat me as though I were a stranger to their field, who had just arrived this morning for the first time and had never before either seen or heard what they teach and know. So brilliantly do they parade about with their science, teaching me what I outgrew25 twenty years ago, that to all their blatting and shouting I have to sing, with the harlot, “I have known for seven years that horseshoe-nails are iron.”

Let this be the answer to your first question. And please give these asses no other and no further answer to their useless braying about the word sola than simply this, “Luther will have it so, and says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the whole papacy.” It shall stay at that! Henceforth I shall simply hold them in contempt, and have them held in contempt, so long as they are the kind of people—I should say, asses—that they are. There are shameless nincompoops among them who have never learned their own art of sophistry—like Dr. Schmidt and Doctor Snotty-Nose, and their likes—and who set themselves against me in this matter, which transcends not only sophistry, but (as St. Paul says [I Cor. 1:19–25]), all the world’s wisdom and understanding as well. Truly an ass need not sing much; he is already well known anyway by his ears.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 183, 185–87.

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    • Richie,

      This is fascinating. Thank you again!

      I would not say that they were “Roman Catholic Bibles.” I understand what you intend but I would rather say, “medieval.” The medieval church taught doctrines and practices that became Roman Catholic, at Trent, but the medieval church, as your linked post shows, wasn’t always “Romanist” or Roman Catholic. Clearly they were preserving the Augustinian faith that Rome condemned at Trent (session 6, 1547).

  1. While reading this powerful passage from Luther, I imagined the following scenario, which could be played out in hundreds of Presbyterian churches today: It’s a typical adult Sunday school class in your average tall-steeple, First Presbyterian Church in Anytown, Deep South, USA. (This culture is in my DNA; I know whereof I speak.) Someone – let’s say the teacher – reads the entire passage above. The reaction, though immediate, is mostly unspoken. (Southerners can be polite to a fault). Word spreads quickly that the teacher is causing division in the church. He is radical, unloving, and lacking in grace. He stirs people up for no good reason, and criticizes our Roman Catholic neighbors. Worst of all, he reads things that upset the balance of our comfortable, middle- and upper-middle class, go-along-to-get-along world. (Well, they wouldn’t actually say as much, but that lies behind the response.) Over the coming months, the teacher will be marginalized, and equilibrium will be restored.

    In some Reformed quarters today, the “real” Luther would be as dangerous as he was 500 years ago. In many ways, we tend to reject the valiant warrior and exalt the delicate snowflake. It’s really very sad.

    • I should add that this would not be the reaction in every congregation. There are many strong, mature Christians out there who would “get it.” The backlash would happen more often than many of you might imagine, though.

    • I agree, and the type of environment you describe is precisely the type of environment that needs Luther’s language the most and for the reasons you describe.

  2. Just one more remark on Luther’s tone in the passage above. A few years ago, there was a push for the creation of “safe spaces” at the PCA General Assembly. I wish I had known then what I know now of the left-wing social and political background of “safe spaces.” And today I’ve added one more tool to evaluate current trends: WWMD, “What Would Martin Do?”

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