Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, June 03, 2005

By Faith Alone? The Irony!

I recently received email explaining that Mormons have departed from true Christianity because the Bible teaches salvation by faith alone, while Mormons think we need to keep commandments and obey God. "Faith alone" is an important theological concept for many people and is often taken as a given in deriding the position of the Church on the need for man to choose to follow Christ and strive to "keep the commandments" (as Christ taught in Matthew 19:17, Luke 18:18-24, Luke 10:25-38, Mark 12:28-34, Mark 10:17-22, for example). Actually, the KJV Bible does not even use the phrase "faith alone" (ditto for several other translations). However, there is a similar phrase, "by faith only." How ironic that the only occurrence of "by faith only" in the Bible is in a passage that explicitly declares that justification requires WORKS and "NOT FAITH ONLY." That passage is James 2:24: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Several translation of that phrase can be seen at Bible.cc.

A search of other translations revealed only one that had the phrase "faith alone," and it was the NIV for James 2:24: "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." Look at that passage again: "NOT by faith alone."

Somebody's got some explaining to do.

Part of the problem is a misunderstanding of what Paul means when he talks about "the law" and how it no longer applies. "The Law" in the New Testament typically refers to the Torah and the Law of Moses, not the idea of commandments from God in general. (See, for example, John 1:17: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.") When you read all those passages about the irrelevance of the law and understand that it's the Law of Moses that has been done away, it makes much more sense. That's why Christ would tell people asking about the way to eternal life that they must "keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17), but at the same time tell them that he was there to fulfill "the law and the prophets" (Matt. 5:17). He was there as the last great sacrifice that fulfilled the Law of Moses and the prophetic imagery and purpose of the Law. The phrase "the law and the prophets" refers to the Torah and the part of the Old Testament written by various prophets like Jeremiah. For basic information from the encyclopedia on that term, see the short article, "The Law And The Prophets."

Oh, one more twist of irony. There is one more translation of the Bible that has the phrase "faith alone." It's the Joseph Smith Translation - and it's in Romans 3:28: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law." Joseph added the word "alone"! Score one for the Protestants? Sure, if they'll accept the JST as an inspired (but not completed or canonized) work from a prophet of God. In this passage, though, "the law" is referring to the Law of Moses, in my opinion. Very interesting, though, isn't it?

1 comment:

john f. said...

Jeff, great topic and post. I have a few words about this posted over at my blog, looking a little at the history behind "faith alone" as taught by Martin Luther and the fact that in order to teach it, he had to reject the Book of James as scripture (although he claimed he still thought it could be uplifting in some senses). I'd be interested in your comments.