Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 12, 1950

"Faith Only" Texts In Context

Franklin T. Puckett, Atlanta, Georgia

Martin Luther was a Catholic monk in Germany at the beginning of the 16th century. When John Tetzel came into Germany selling indulgences, Luther raised his voice in protest. The controversy gained heat as the days went by, and Luther finally nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Catholic church in Wittenberg, and challenged any Catholic anywhere to meet him in an open discussion of the same. Naturally, this brought down on his head the wrath of the Roman hierarchy. He was called before the dignitaries of the church, both civil and religious, and given his choice of recanting or being excommunicated.

Confronted with this choice, Luther made reply, "It is evident that the pope and the councils have frequently erred; and unless I can be persuaded by the text of the scripture, or by the clearest reasoning therefrom, I cannot, I will not, recant." He stood firmly by his convictions, and was ultimately excommunicated from the Roman Church.

"Faith Only" Doctrine Begun

So intense was Luther's hatred for Catholicism and everything connected with it that when he was excommunicated, he swung to the other extreme, and began to emphasize the doctrine of salvation "by faith alone." This was in rebellion against the Catholic doctrine, of salvation by works. Determined to oppose and overthrow this doctrine, Luther let his prejudice blind him to the actual teaching of the scripture. He even went so far as to insert the word "alone" in his translation of Rom. 3:28, making it read, "We know that a man is justified without the works of the law, by faith alone." That word "alone" is simply not in the original, Luther added it himself. Being unable to reconcile James' positive statements on the subject of faith with his own ideas of salvation by "faith only", Luther declared that James was uninspired! He rejected the book of James as being non-canonical Luther's doctrine has come down to this day, and is taught in the creed of nearly every denomination. The Methodist Discipline has it in Article IX; the Baptist Manual maintains it in Section 5. Other creeds of nearly all major denominations have it in one way or another. Denominational preachers proclaim it constantly. It is simply impossible almost to listen to a denominational sermon on the radio without hearing the doctrine taught. The listeners are told to "only believe; kneel beside your radio; give your heart to Jesus, and you'll be saved this instant."

The Scriptures Used

Nearly all the preachers who contend for the "faith only" theory of salvation go back to the personal ministry of Jesus to find their proof texts. The healing of the centurion's servant (Matt. 8) is a favorite. Concerning the faith of the centurion Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee." A careful reading of the whole story is necessary to see exactly what happened. The centurion had come to the Master because his servant was grievously ill. He had desired that his servant might be healed. And in response to his request, Jesus said, " be it done unto thee." So be what done? Why, the thing he had requested—the healing of his servant. That is the thing he had asked, and that is what Jesus granted. There is not the slightest hint that conversion, or remission of sins, or eternal salvation, is even hinted at in the passage. He had wanted his servant healed of a physical illness. And on the basis of the centurion's faith (not the servant's!) the miracle was wrought. Hard pressed indeed must be the man who will try to find the doctrine of "salvation by faith only" in such a passage!

Another favorite text is that which tells of the healing of the woman who had had an issue of blood for 12 years. (Matt. 9) When the woman had pressed through the crowd, and had touched the hem of his garment, Jesus turned and said unto her, "Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole." Denominational preachers pounce upon this as a strong text in favor of the "faith only" idea, declaring emphatically that this woman was saved by faith, and by nothing else. But look at the text: this is a case of physical healing, not of salvation. Furthermore, even in this case the person was not healed by faith alone. She pressed through the crowd; she touched the hem of his garment. Her faith had expressed itself in an overt act. It was a faith that acted, that found an expression; hence, not "faith alone."

The story of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10) is often used in an effort to uphold the "faith only" theory. "And when he had heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they called the blind man, saying unto him; Be of good comfort; rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole." Those who read into the story an example of "faith only" fail to read verses 49 and 50. These verses plainly declare that the man (1) cast away his garment, (2) rose, and (3) came to Jesus. The blessing he received was not on the basis of faith alone, but was on the basis of a faith that obeyed, then acted. And even then, it was physical healing that he received, not salvation from sin.

Cases of this kind might be multiplied. And they are multiplied by denominational preachers. There is the palsied man of Mark 2. In this case there was involved the forgiveness of sins—but it is of small comfort to the "faith only" advocates, for the man who was healed and blessed received his blessing on the faith of his friends—the four men who had carried him to Jesus, letting him down through the roof. For the record says, "And when Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." Again, there is the ruler of the synagogue, whose story is told in Luke 8. His daughter was raised from the dead, but her resurrection was on the basis of her father's faith, not her own!

In all of these cases the pattern is much the same men and women received physical healing or blessings of one kind or another, sometimes on their own faith, sometimes on the faith of others. But in every instance, when faith was involved, the blessing came after faith had expressed itself.

That is exactly the plan of salvation by which alien sinners are saved. They are saved by faith when faith expresses itself in obedience.