Did Martin Luther Get It All Wrong About Faith in Christ?

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In a sense, the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther discovered the “true” meaning of Romans 1:17: a person becomes “righteous” or “justified”—that is, in right relationship with God—by faith. Luther then applied this insight to other Pauline passages, particularly in Romans and Galatians, and thus was born the rallying cry of the Reformation: “Justification by Faith and Not by Works.” The classic “proof text” for this is Galatians 2:16, which the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates as follows (emphasis mine):

We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

Until recently, most New Testament scholars (particularly Protestant ones) have concurred in Luther’s understanding of Gal 2:16 and related texts, and this, of course, is what most of us—at least most of us Protestants—were taught and have believed: a person is justified not by obeying the commandments but rather through faith in Christ.


Westar Institute

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The Fourth R

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