Something Very, Very Strange

I was born and raised a Protestant. One question I never asked myself was “Where did the Bible come from?” I mean, I knew that God inspired men to write historical accounts, songs and letters that have been collected together in the Book that we call the Bible. But what was the collection process like? Who did the collecting, and how did they know which books belonged in the Bible, and which did not? I just never bothered my pretty little head about it….

This is Part Five of my series on the canon of Scripture (Part One is here), and fortunately our hero has a better head on his shoulders than I did as a Protestant! In his search for the answers, he has come across some very disturbing information concerning the presence of the Apocrypha in early Protestant Bibles….

As you sort back through what you have learned, you feel the frustration mounting. So far your Protestant sources have told you that at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) seven books were added to the Catholic version of the Bible. The Catholics call these books “deuterocanonical” – Protestants call them the Apocrypha. However, all the Bible encyclopedias that you have checked assure you that the early English-language Bibles, from Wycliffe’s translation in 1384 to the KJV, all contained an Apocryphal section, although those sections varied in content – all with more Apocryphal books than are found in Catholic Bibles!

This makes no sense!!! If the Catholic Church ADDED books to the Bible at the Council of Trent, what in heaven’s name were Protestants doing when they also added these books to their Protestant Bibles??? Come to think of it, Wycliffe’s translation predates the Council of Trent by some 160 years – so he had this odd idea to add the Apocrypha to the Bible WAY before the Catholics thought of it! Something very, very strange was going on with the Apocrypha back in 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th-century England!

What you find particularly frustrating is that when you search online at Protestant sites that allow you to view English Bibles from the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, it’s hard to find a site that mentions the Apocryphal books that were included in those Bibles, let alone includes them for viewing. It’s as if the online Bibles have been “sanitized”. It’s as if it all never happened….

What’s up with that? Those Bibles did contain Apocryphal books – it’s a historical fact mentioned in Bible encyclopedia after Bible encyclopedia! At least some mention should be made of that on the websites….

And then there’s the New Testament problem. The Apocrypha is a collection of Old Testament books purporting to be Holy Scripture. But in your reading you’ve come across Wycliffe’s Protestant New Testament translation containing the book of “Laodiceans” – supposedly an epistle written by Paul! How did that get in there???

Wycliffe’s Bible at least keeps a normal New Testament order of the books, but you’ve found several 16th-century Protestant New Testaments in which Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation have been segregated from the rest of the books in a separate section at the end, as if the editors felt that they weren’t “ready for prime time!” For Heaven’s sake, what was up with that???

In frustration, you try a change of tack. You’ve already got your library’s copy of Metzger’s Canon of the New Testament, and you begin to search through the your Bible reference books while trying to remember everything you know about Martin Luther. Fortunately only a few weeks ago your church celebrated Reformation Sunday, and your pastor preached on the Great Reformer. He spoke glowingly of how Luther rescued the Christian Church from the darkness of the Middle Ages, from the clutches of the pope, and brought the church back to its original form (hence the term “Reformation”). He did issue a disclaimer, warning you that Luther was no “saint” – he was criticized by his fellow Reformers for his uncontrolled ego, his bad temper, and his foul language (the pastor said he couldn’t even repeat to you some of the things Luther said in his sermons). And Luther certainly espoused some odd doctrines, such as a belief that the Bible sanctioned polygamy (which Luther himself felt couldn’t be forbidden in certain situations!). But sola fide (faith alone!) and sola Scriptura (Scripture alone!), the rallying cries of the Reformation, are something that all Protestants owe to Martin Luther. It just goes to show, your pastor emphasized, how God can use anyone.

“Scripture alone!” sounded so great when you heard it several Sundays ago, but now somehow it rings slightly off-key when compared to what these Bible encyclopedias are saying. “Sola Scriptura” sounds wonderful – but only if you know what is Scripture and what isn’t – and the English Protestants of the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries certainly seem to have had no idea, with their Apocryphal books and their “segregation” of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation in the back of their Bibles! How could they have fallen into such serious error?

Well, hopefully Martin Luther can shed some light in this darkness!

You remember your pastor telling you that, while there had been 18 previous Catholic translations of the Bible into German, Martin Luther’s translation into his native language was so beautifully done that it set the literary standard for hundreds of years. You begin to search for articles on Luther in the Bible encyclopedias you have spread out on your library table, and in the books on the Reformation that you’ve found. You learn that he translated the New Testament into German in a version that was published in 1522. Luther’s theology could be summed up in the Reformation’s battle-cry of “justification by faith alone!” Luther derived this understanding of Scripture from the apostle Paul’s declaration that “the just shall live by faith” in Romans 1:16-17. The Hastings Dictionary of the Bible describes it this way:

With Luther the Reformation was based on justification by faith. This truth Luther held to be confirmed (a) by its necessity, nothing else availing, and (b) by its effects, since in practice it brought peace, assurance, and the new life. Then those Scriptures which manifestly supported the fundamental principle were held to be ipso facto inspired, and the measure of their support of it determined the degree of their authority. Thus the doctrine of justification by faith is not accepted because it is found in the Bible; but the Bible is accepted because it contains this doctrine.

Because of his belief that justification was by faith alone, Luther felt compelled to actually add the word “alone” (“sola” in Latin) into the text of his German translation in Romans 3:28 to cause it to read “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law.”


You quickly grab the KJV you have lying on the table. Romans 3:28 reads “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

You feel a sudden chill. Luther added a word to his German translation of Holy Scripture to prove his doctrinal point? You read his justification for this in his Open Letter on Translating (1530):

Let this be the answer to your first question. Please do not give these donkeys any other answer to their useless braying about that word sola than simply this: ‘Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope.’ Let it rest there…..

Boy, your pastor wasn’t kidding about Luther’s ego problems! Mr. Humility continues:

I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text — the papists did not have to teach me that. It is fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these blockheads 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 vigorous, it belongs there. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had set about to speak in the translation.

Luther goes on to insist that the German version just sounds better with the word “alone” in the passage in question, and then states:

However, I was not depending upon or following the nature of the languages alone when I inserted the word solum in Romans 3. The text itself, and Saint Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it. For in that passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law..

The text itself, and St. Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it?

“The matter itself and the nature of language requires it,” Luther assures you later in the text.

So Luther knew that the word “alone” was not in the original text, but because he considered “justification by faith alone” to be, as he put it “the main point of Christian doctrine,” he convinced himself that “the matter itself and the nature of language requires it.”

That’s news to you – you were under the impression that no one is ever allowed to ADD words to Scripture, no matter how strongly they feel that the addition proves the point that the Bible is trying to make! After all, isn’t that what the Apocrypha problem is all about – books being ADDED to the Bible?

The temperature in the library seems to have dipped precipitously. You shiver. You decide to wrap this investigation up quickly and head home. You’ve already made too many unpleasant historical discoveries….


For Part Six, please click here

On the feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Deo omnis gloria!

  1. said:

    we have to get this series out there. Thanks for putting the time and research into it. Perhaps consider putting together a little ebook, making it available as a free download?

  2. Mrk said:

    The same, tired, mythical arguments against Luther? Really? Will you be discussing the cardinals at Trent who also opposed the Apocrypha and why? Looking forward to that….

  3. Your comment is exceedingly vague. I have taken my material from Protestant authors – I can cite them for you if you would like. Which “myths” are you objecting to?

  4. Mrk said:

    Please use Luther’s entire argument on his translation, not how you parsed it. The myth is that his hyperbolic rhetoric is taken as argument(he was ticked off at his papal critics), and thereby ignoring his argument. His argument is better summarized here, from a longer passage of the same source: “So much for translating and the nature of language. However, I was not depending upon or following the nature of the languages alone when I inserted the word solum in Romans 3. The text itself, and Saint Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it. For in that passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law. Paul excludes all works so completely as to say that the works of the Law, though it is God’s law and word, do not aid us in justification. Using Abraham as an example, he argues that Abraham was so justified without works that even the highest work, which had been commanded by God, over and above all others, namely circumcision, did not aid him in justification. Rather, Abraham was justified without circumcision and without any works, but by faith, as he says in Chapter 4: “If Abraham were justified by works, he may boast, but not before God.” So, when all works are so completely rejected — which must mean faith alone justifies — whoever would speak plainly and clearly about this rejection of works will have to say “Faith alone justifies and not works.” The matter itself and the nature of language requires it.”

    His argument is much more clearly defined now, and would make sense to the hypothetical protestant in you post.

  5. I could not disagree any more strongly.

    As you know, I quoted Luther’s argument in a post last year called Sauce For the Gander . Luther’s argument is PRECISELY the same one used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to justify adding words to their New World Translation of the Bible. Protestant pastor Dr. Walter Martin commented on this extraordinarily deceptive technique:

    “In this particular rendering, Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt one of the most clever perversions of the New Testament texts that the author has ever seen. Knowing full well that the word “other” does not occur in this text, or for that matter in any of the three verses (16, 17, 19) where it has been added, albeit in brackets, the Witnesses deliberately insert it into the translation in a vain attempt to make Christ a creature and one of the “things” He is spoken of as having created. Attempting to justify this unheard-of travesty upon the Greek language and also upon simple honesty, the New World Bible translation committee enclosed each added “other” in brackets, which are said by them to ‘enclose words inserted to complete or clarify the sense in the English text.’”

    Martin Luther did not even have the decency to enclose his “ALONE” in brackets. He simply added it to the text as if it had been translated from the Greek. When Catholics called his bluff he resorted to exactly the same subterfuge as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They said their added word “other” completed or clarified the sense in the English text; Luther said “The text itself, and Saint Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it.”


    I feel that your quarrel is with the late Dr. Martin who condemned this tactic in no uncertain terms.

    I also feel that the integrity of your argument falls apart at this point. Either adding to Scripture is wrong, or it is not. Protestants claim that the Church added 7 books to Scripture, and they point out that IT IS WRONG to do that – it IS wrong, but the Church added nothing to Scripture. It is a historical fact, however, that Luther added a word to Scripture, a word which he admitted was not in the original Greek, but which he “needed” to add to shore up his novel proposition that justification is by faith ALONE.

    So, it is or is it not wrong to add to Holy Scripture?

    You cannot have it both ways.

    I believe that my hypothetical Protestant’s hair would be standing on end at this point…..

  6. Mrk said:

    I think the other piece of this is that this “alone” translation was somehow novel to Luther(another Catholic myth), the late Catholic writer Dr. J. Fitzmeyer mentioned several other sources of this translation prior to Luther (Joseph A. Fitzmyer Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series ) –such as Origen, Hillary, Basil, Augustine,…., so this was not some JW idea that Luther cooked up, but had been bubbling for centuries. (Maybe Messrs Fitzmeyer and Martin can duke it out?)

    Regarding the books, that I believe the Catholic Church even called the Deuterocanon(Secondary Canon) did not carry the same authority until Trent, and even then with strong objection from several cardinals and theologians. The books are either equal to Scripture, or they are not. You cannot have it both ways.

    This poor hypothetical Protestant will probably be pulling that hair out, now…

    • Let me begin by apologizing for my use of ALL CAPS in certain places. I am not shouting. Since the “comments” section will not allow me to underline words, italicize them or put them in bold font, I have no other way to call attention to the phrases which I would like to emphasize.

      And now to your comments:

      It is imperative that we distinguish between “translations” of the Bible and patristric commentaries on the Bible. Luther TRANSLATED the Bible into German, and inserted a word (“alone”) which was not found in the Greek original. THIS WAS A SIN. The Church Fathers in their discussions of the book of Romans sometimes used the phrase “faith alone” – a very different thing from trying to insert the word “alone” into the Bible. I can and do sometimes use the phrase “faith alone” in my writing. The question is, do I mean the same thing Martin Luther meant by this phrase, i.e., am I endorsing the doctrine of sola fide?

      You cite from Fr. Fitzmyer’s writings. You don’t own a copy, do you? Perhaps that is why you missed his comment further on:

      “The irony of the situation is that the adv. “only” was earlier derived from that “right strawy epistle,” jas 2:24: “you see that a human being is justified by deeds, and not by faith alone” (ouk ek pisteos monon”). Once this Jacobean phrase entered the theological tradition, it was eventually used to explain Paul’s assertion in 3:28. James’ position is usually understood as a refutation not of Paul’s teaching, but of an antinomian caricature of his teaching, to which his own generic and sometimes unguarded formulation (e.g., 4:2) was eventually open. Paul was speaking of “deeds of the law” (Jewish deeds in observance of the Mosaic law), whereas James was referring to “deeds” that flowed from faith (Christian deeds). Again, James uses a restricted and narrow sense of pistis, seemingly meaning no more by it in the immediate context than an intellectual assent to monotheism (2:19b). Lastly, James understands Abraham as having been justified by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac (a deed), and not by his faith (2:21). See J. Jeremias, “Paul and James,” Exp Tim 66 (1954-55): 368-37; Reumann, “Righteousness,” 270-275, 413: Luck, “Der Jakobusbrief und die Theologie des Paulus,” TGI 61 (1971): 161-79. Even so, one must further ask whether Luther meant by “only” what his predecessors meant.”

      Fr. Fitzmyer (who is still very much alive, by the way) makes a good point in that last sentence: no one can claim that Luther meant by “only” what the Church Fathers meant. The Church Fathers simply did not teach the Protestant notions of sola fide, sola Scriptura, imputed righteousness, once-saved-always-saved, etc. Respected Protestant scholars of different denominations admit this:

      “It is clear beyond all reasonable doubt to me that Luther’s, and by extension all of Protestantism’s, teaching on justification, insofar as it differs from Roman Catholic theology, was TRULY NOVEL. It was not simply the recovery of the Augustinian or pre-scholastic doctrine of the Church; it was AN UNPRECEDENTED INNOVATION.” Robert C. Koons, Lutheran

      “A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into the western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or ever been contemplated, before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification ­ as opposed to its mode ­ must therefore be regarded as A GENUINE THEOLOGICAL NOVUM.” Alister McGrath, Anglican

      “The Reformers tested this assumption by the self-interpreting Scripture which they found they had and discovered that the assumption was mostly justified in the case of the fathers (save that APART FROM AUGUSTINE NONE OF THEM SEEMED TO BE QUITE CLEAR ENOUGH ON THE PRINCIPLE OF SALVATION BY GRACE AND NOT EVEN AUGUSTINE HAD FULLY GRASPED IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS.” J.I. Packer, Reformed

      And so, I reiterate that while certain Church Fathers did use the phrase “faith alone,” they DID NOT embrace Luther’s concept of “faith alone.” And certainly none of them produced a Bible translation in which the word “alone” was inserted into Romans 3:28. THIS IS NO CATHOLIC MYTH – THIS “ALONE” TRANSLATION WAS NOVEL TO LUTHER. IF IT WAS NOT, WHY DID LUTHER NOT SIMPLY POINT TO THE OTHER BIBLE TRANSLATIONS WHICH HAD INSERTED THE WORD “ALONE”? He could not do that – he could only lamely cite Church Fathers who had mentioned this phrase in their writings without ever validating Luther’s unusual understanding of the term.

      As to the use of the term “deuterocanonical” – are you not familiar with the term “antilegomena,” i.e., books of the New Testament whose authenticity or value has been disputed (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation)? It literally means “things spoken against.” This term is used by Protestant and Catholic scholars alike, and it implies no disrespect to those books. The term in no way implies that those books are not Scripture, and neither is the term “deuterocanon” an admission that the disputed books of the OT don’t belong in the Bible.

      And now an appeal, my brother – if you’ve bothered to read this far (I know it’s a long response). You love God; that is evident from your interest in defending what you consider to be Biblical teaching. I know you believe that adding anything to Scripture is a perversion of the truth, but in your eagerness to defend Luther, whom you admire, you have allowed yourself to be blinded to the fact that he committed a gross sin when he added the word “alone” to his Bible translation, just as it is a sin for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to add words to Scripture. Please take a step back and take an honest look at what you are defending. You can still be a committed Protestant and yet distance yourself from the awful sin of perverting God’s word by adding to it or subtracting from it.

  7. Mrk said:

    Renee, lots to respond to, but I want to get on reading your posts. I don’t have Mr Fitzmyer’s book, but I may try to get a copy of it. 1. There’s a reason that the word “alone” created such a kerfuffle on both sides. Modern translations do not have it, at least none of mine do. Luther was drawing a line in the sand and creating a stink, much like he did with his 95 theses, because he saw grave errors in the church, and like many of his predecessors, he wanted to create dialogue to correct. I have no problem calling it a “sin”, but the spirit in which it was done, I do not. Be careful about calling it a “gross sin”, as it was a translation–and like most translations, it needs to be readable in the new language–meaning changing words.(Catholic German translations did the same.) This particular word happened to be “loaded”Like Luther, I do see that word in that phrase. I do believe that faith alone justifies, but I believe it is only manifested here through our actions (works) much like James says, I can “say” I have faith, but I can also “say” alot of things I don’t believe or proscribe. My actions speak to my faith. The problem Luther had was the church’s prostitution of works into earning merit–everything Jesus criticized the Pharisees about. And what He died for–our merit didn’t help His work on the cross. Paul addressed it in Galatians, again. Of course, it continued to creep back in. I think the problem with some Catholics today, is they don’t look at Luther in context to church history–which was a mess.
    2. I don’t think it’s fair to say that all the church fathers would have disagreed with Luther on Sola Fide. They didn’t live in his time, they could never respond to what he did or believed. 3. Terms like deuterocanon and antilegomena(i will add that to my lexicon : ) )show the respect scholars took with these writings. I have been taking a “step back” on alot of things over recent years, and there are many things I take issue with the modern evangelical church. But continued study of church history, looking for God’s hand in it all, only has convinced me that, gradually, the Catholic church left its path.

    • Very, very reasonable. I like this kind of dialogue, Mark!

      I do, though, think that “gross sin” is not an overstatement. To shove a large segment of Christianity off-kilter by the insertion of a word into Scripture is huge. From my perspective, you “see that word in that phrase” because Luther taught you to. If it does not belong there, he did you a rather serious disservice.

      I was not claiming that the Fathers would or would not have disagreed with Luther on sola fide – that would be pure speculation on my part. What I was claiming is that their use of the phrase “faith alone” cannot be used as support for sola fide, because that simply is not what they were addressing. That is why I find the list of Fathers trotted out in defense of Luther’s insertion of the word “alone” into Scripture misleading in the extreme. Luther’s addition of the word “alone” into his translation was unprecedented, and claiming that the Fathers did the same thing is deceitful (I don’t mean deceitful on your part – I am referring to the people who keep circulating this list online for folks like you to find.) We are all looking for the Truth – and He is not served by half-truths and shady allegations.

      I love the fact that you are studying the writings of the Fathers! God bless your efforts!

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