What is the biblical basis against Sola Fide (salvation by faith alone, apart from works)?

Here is a question that was asked on Christianity StackExchange, as linked at the end of this article:

One of the key points of the Reformation was the doctrine of Sola Fide: that salvation is by faith alone, apart from works. The Reformers thought this was in contrast to the doctrines of the Catholic church.

What, then, is the biblical basis against the doctrine of Sola Fide?

Here is the answer I posted there, as also linked just above:

The doctrine of Sola fide (Latin for “by faith alone”) holds that:

God’s pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith alone, excluding all “works.”

And that:

God, on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus), grants sinners judicial pardon, or justification, which is received solely through faith.”

This doctrine is also commonly expressed as:

Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s righteousness alone.

(Source for these three quotes: the Wikipedia article on Sola fide)

Belief in Sola fide is confined almost entirely to Protestants, who constitute about 37% of the world’s Christian population (Source: Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population – Pew Research Center). In fact, it was the defining doctrine by which Martin Luther distinguished his new form of Christianity from the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, with which he was making a decisive break. Luther said:

This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification, is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness. (In Commentary on Galatians)

He said, further, that:

If this article stands, the Church stands; if it falls, the Church falls. (In In Quindecim Psalmos Graduum Commentarii)

The doctrine of Sola fide has therefore been adopted as an essential doctrine, if not the essential doctrine of Christianity by Lutherans and by Protestants in general.

However, the Biblical basis for this doctrine is exceedingly thin. Further, key parts of it are explicitly rejected by the Bible. Its adoption depends upon an ahistorical reading of the Bible, anachronistic definitions of key Biblical words, and hair-splitting ratiocination that has no clear basis in the Bible.

1. The Bible does not state the doctrine of Sola fide

The term “grace alone” appears nowhere in the Bible.

The term “faith alone” appears only once in the Bible, and in that one place it is explicitly rejected:

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

This is the one and only place in the Bible where the term “faith alone” appears. And it specifically rejects the teaching that a person is justified by faith alone.

Because of this statement in James, supporters of the Sola fide doctrine have pumped out a veritable flood of words in an attempt to show that James did not actually mean what he said, “that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” And yet, the fact remains:

In the one place in the Bible that the term “faith alone” appears, it is specifically and explicitly rejected as “justifying,” or saving, a person.

Further, there are no other places in the Bible where the specific wordings used to distinguish Sola fide from the other major doctrines of salvation occur:

  • The Bible does not say, “We are justified by grace alone.”
  • The Bible does not say, “We are justified through faith alone.”
  • The Bible does not say, “We are justified in Christ’s righteousness alone.”
  • The Bible does not say, “God has granted sinners judicial pardon.”
  • The Bible does not say, “Christ paid the penalty for our sins.”
  • The Bible does not say, “God’s pardon is granted and received through faith alone, excluding all works.”
  • The Bible does not say, “Justification is received solely through faith.”

None of the phrases commonly used to define and distinguish Sola fide from other doctrines of justification and salvation occur in the Bible. The various definitions of Sola fide sound sort of Biblical, but in fact they are non-Biblical. In other words, Sola fide is not stated in the Bible, nor is it defined using the Bible’s own statements. Its very definition depends on statements that are never made in the Bible.

Summary: The Bible simply does not state the doctrine of Sola fide. And in the one place in the Bible where that term occurs, the Bible explicitly rejects it.

2. Sola fide is asserted as an essential doctrine of the church, which impugns the Bible’s effectiveness as the primary source of Christian doctrine

As noted above, Martin Luther asserted justification by faith alone as an essential doctrine of the church, on which the church stands or falls.

For any doctrine to be considered essential to Christianity, it must be clearly stated in the Bible. Luther himself asserted the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Latin for “by Scripture alone”), meaning that the only proper source of doctrine is Scripture (commonly known among Christians as the Bible).

However, as shown just above, the doctrine of Sola fide is not stated in the Bible, explicitly or otherwise.

Further, until Martin Luther articulated it 1,500 years after the Bible was written, no denomination or sect of Christianity understood the Bible to teach justification by faith alone. In asserting Sola fide as an essential teaching of the Church, Luther is in effect charging the Bible with being so unclear in its teaching that for the first fifteen centuries of Christianity, no Christian church or theologian was able to see and perceive it as a central Christian doctrine.

Yes, some Protestants now assert that various Church Fathers and other early theologians taught faith alone, and quote various passages that they claim demonstrate this. But these assertions are contradicted by non-Protestant theologians, and by the wider context of the writings of those early Christian theologians themselves.

The very first figure in Christianity who is universally accepted as teaching justification by faith alone is Martin Luther (1483-1546).

It strains credulity to believe that a doctrine so unclear in the Bible that no one saw or asserted it as central Christian doctrine for the first one and a half millennia of Christianity could be the foundational doctrine of the Christian Church.

Summary: A doctrine that is so unclear in the Bible that it was neither seen in the Bible nor asserted as fundamental Christian doctrine by any Christian church or theologian for the first 1,500 years of Christianity cannot be considered a doctrine taught by the Bible as essential Christian doctrine.

3. Paul did not teach Sola fide

The Bible passages most commonly cited as supporting the doctrine of justification by faith alone come from the writings of Paul. For example, Paul says:

For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. (Romans 3:28)

And:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

First, notice that Paul did not say “by grace alone have you been saved through faith alone.” Paul never attributes justification to grace alone or to faith alone. Rather, he attributes salvation to grace and to faith.

Beyond that, interpreting the above and similar passages as teaching Sola fide betrays a fundamental ignorance of the historical and doctrinal context in which Paul made these statements.

Here is the short version of what Paul was actually saying:

By these statements Paul, “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), was asserting, against the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, that it was not necessary to observe the works of the Jewish Law, orTorah, such as sacrifice, circumcision, and the various dietary laws in Hebrew Bible. He recognized that Jesus’ teachings superseded those old ritual laws. And being a pragmatist as well, he recognized that Christianity would never spread far and wide in the pagan world if it required its converts to be circumcised and obey all of the Jewish ritual laws.

If you read Paul’s statements about being justified by faith apart from the works of the law in their context, you will almost always find a mention of “circumcision” or some other tell-tale word indicating that when he said “the law,” he was talking about the Torah, which is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.

It is well-known that Paul relied heavily on the Septuagint, a pre-Christian Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible commonly used by Greek-speaking Jews. Many, if not most of Paul’s quotations from the Old Testament come from the Septuagint. In that translation, the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word תּוֹרָה (towrah), “law,” was νόμος (nomos). When Paul used the Greek word νόμος (law), he was very often referring to how that word is commonly used in the Septuagint to refer to the Law of Moses.

For a statement in Paul that rejects Sola fide, see point 4 below. And the main passage from Paul quoted below is by no means the only one in which he says that we must do good works in order to be saved.

Summary: Paul did not teach justification by faith alone. When he spoke of being “justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the Law,” he was arguing that Christians are not required to follow the ritual Law of Moses, which is required of faithful Jews.

4. Sola fide is contradicted by many passages throughout the Old and New Testaments

As stated above, the doctrine of “justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s righteousness alone” is not stated anywhere in the Bible. And any doctrine that is not stated clearly in the Bible cannot be considered essential Christian doctrine, required for salvation.

However, that does not even come close to telling the whole story. There is an overwhelming number of passages throughout the Bible stating that our salvation depends not merely on our belief, but on obeying the commandments of God, and on loving and doing good works for our neighbor.

Here are only a very few of these passages, selected to represent the various segments of the Bible:

In the Law:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

In the Prophets:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be devoured by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
    (Isaiah 1:16-20)

But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. (Ezekiel 18:21-24)

In the Psalms:

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
    Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
    and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
    and do no evil to their friends,
    nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
    but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
    and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
(Psalm 15)

In the Gospels:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

And Jesus stated very clearly who from all the nations would be saved, and who would be condemned:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

“Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

In the Epistles:

Paul says:

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Romans 2:1-16)

And here is Paul’s famous statement giving love primacy over faith, which should put a spike in the heart of Sola fide for all time:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Paul agrees with James on this subject, who says:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. (James 2:14-26)

In the book of Revelation:

And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:10-15)

These passages and hundreds of others like them make it crystal clear that our salvation and our eternal life do not depend on faith alone, but also on our works, meaning on how we live.

The Bible does not make the Protestant theologians’ hair-splitting rational distinctions between faith and works, and which one justifies us, and which one follows from the other. Everywhere it says that if we want to be saved and enter into life, we must have faith and do good works just as we are commanded by God.

The common Protestant objection that we would somehow merit heaven by our works, and that this invalidates good works as having any part in our salvation, contradicts the clear, overwhelming teachings of the Bible. We do good works not in order to “merit” or earn heaven and salvation, but because God commands us to do them. If we disobey God’s many commandments to love our neighbor and to do good deeds for our neighbor, then we have turned our back on God. And we cannot be saved if we turn our back on God. It’s that simple.

The Bible is very clear about the requirements for justification and salvation. The doctrine of Sola fide contradicts that clear teaching, which is stated hundreds of times throughout the entire Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

Further, the doctrine of Sola fide is not only non-Biblical, but it distracts the mind from the overwhelming teaching of the Bible that those who wish to be saved must believe in God and do good deeds of love and service to the neighbor. Sola fide is thus not only contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible, but actually detracts from and confuses the plain teachings of the Bible in the minds of faithful Christians.

Conclusion

The Bible never says that faith alone saves, nor does it say that grace alone saves. That idea never even occurred to any Christian theologian as a key teaching of Christianity until Martin Luther stated it 1,500 years after the Bible was written.

That’s because the doctrine of Sola fide simply isn’t in the Bible. The passages that are quoted to support it have been taken out of their historical context and therefore misinterpreted. The very use of the word “faith” to mean a belief that we hold to is alien to the Biblical meaning of faith, which is not belief, but faithfulness to God.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of passages in the Bible saying that if we wish to live, and to be saved, and to go to heaven, we must love our neighbor and do good deeds for our neighbor.

There are zero passages in the Bible that say that we are saved by faith alone. There are zero passages that say that works are merely the result of faith, but are not in themselves saving, as claimed by proponents of Sola fide. There are zero passages that say that love for the neighbor and good deeds for the neighbor do not justify or save us. There are hundreds of passages that clearly show that the opposite is true.

In short, there is no Biblical basis whatsoever for Martin Luther’s invention of the doctrine of Sola fide 1,500 years after the Bible was written, and especially not for his elevation of it to the central, foundational doctrine of Christianity, on which the Church stands or falls.

(Note: This post is an edited version of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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13 comments on “What is the biblical basis against Sola Fide (salvation by faith alone, apart from works)?
  1. Kal - El says:

    Lee Agape Greetings to you and your family. A Gift for you… an LDS view on True Salvation see – http://www.jefflindsay.com/faith_works.html

    May True Grace BeWith You and those you Love.

    In His Eternal Debt/Grace
    Kal El

    • Lee says:

      Hi Kal – El,

      Thanks for your comment, and for the link. I read and skimmed much of it. Of course, Protestantism represented a rejection of some key parts of Christianity as it had existed up until that time. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone was part of that rejection. It is, as the linked article says, not based on the Bible, but on Luther’s teachings, which were themselves an effort to make a decisive break with the Roman Catholic Church doctrinally.

      Though there are, of course, many points of difference between LDS doctrine and Emanuel Swedenborg’s teachings, there are also a number of similarities that may at first seem surprising. However, it is very likely that Joseph Smith had some knowledge of Swedenborg’s theology, which may account for some of the similarities. For more on this, see the article, Did Emanuel Swedenborg Influence LDS Doctrine? by Craig Miller.

      • Kal - El says:

        Lee thank you for the link, when time allows I will give it a look over. May True Grace be with you and your family.

        In His Eternal Debt/Grace
        Kal – El

      • Kal - El says:

        Lee I started a Thread: http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/66251-emanuel-swedenborg-and-joseph-smith/ on this topic of Joseph Smith and Emanuel Swedenborg in the General discussions Section.. Perhaps you can visit sometime. I am anakin7 there.

        May true Grace Be With you and Those you Love.

        In His Eternal Debt/Grace
        Kal El

        • Lee says:

          Hi Kal – El,

          Thanks for starting that new thread, and for linking to it here. I did fix your link above to point directly to the thread. I know a lot about Swedenborg, but not only a little about Joseph Smith and LDS doctrine, so I might or might not be very useful in that thread.

          I read the article linked by one of the participants there (Joseph Smith, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Section 76: Importance of the Bible in Latter-day Revelation, by J. B. Haws), and found it fascinating. Though it does contain a few inaccuracies, it provides some very good scholarship and ideas from an LDS perspective.

        • Kal - El says:

          Lee thanks for fixing the link so it goes right to the thread. Awesome that you were able to go to the thread I started there and read the linked article by one of the participants. Perhaps you can correct the minor inaccuracies there by way of communicating on the thread your thoughts and observations. Introduce yourself there and tell about your quest/journey to the road you are on today. Let them know that Anakin7 invited you to participate. For info on the LDS Church/Faith a good place to start is http://www.lds.org or http://www.mormon.org

          May True Grace Be with you and those you Love.
          In His Eternal Debt/Grace
          Kal – El

        • Lee says:

          Hi Kal – El,

          I’ve created an account there and written a few posts on that thread. Thanks again for starting the thread, and for the reference and your introduction there.

  2. Kal - El says:

    Lee read post # 27 on the thread I started. A LDS individual would like you to read his post to you. May True Grace be with you and those you love.

    Kal – El

  3. David Clark says:

    Your article is one big straw man. None of your verses seem to threaten Sola Fide except James 2, which makes me think you don’t understand the doctrine or you are purposely misrepresenting it to destroy it (straw man). The doctrine is not faith alone, faith alone, faith alone! The doctrine is that faith is the only instrumental cause that God uses to impute the righteousness of Christ into the believer. That saving faith I just mentioned is never alone. Right there refutes all of your passages except James 2, and all I did was state the doctrine correctly which you failed to do. A true Christian who has true saving faith will never only have faith. Now James 2 when read in context is referring to how a living faith is vindicated or demonstrated, and that is through works. When read in context this is clear, you can’t just pull out James 2:24 from context and claim to refute the doctrine established everywhere else in the Bible.

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      I was going to write a full refutation, but then I reread my article, and realized that what I have written there already refutes your claims. So I would mainly suggest that you read the article again.

      The definitions of the doctrine of justification by faith alone that I quoted and refuted are taken from Wikipedia. I didn’t supply my own definition. If you think the Wikipedia definitions are wrong, then I would encourage you to take it up with Wikipedia.

      And as I said in the article, not a a single one of the statements you or any other Protestant makes to define and explain justification by faith alone is ever made in the Bible. I was going to list them in refuting your claims, but then I discovered that I’ve already listed most of them in the above article. So I’ll just add three more to cover your claims about the doctrine:

      • The Bible does not say, “God . . . imputes the righteousness of Christ into the believer.”
      • The Bible does not say, “Faith is the only instrumental cause that God uses” do this.
      • The Bible does not say, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.” That was Calvin.

      You have simply added three more things to the long list of ideas and beliefs that are part of the doctrine of justification of faith alone that the Bible doesn’t say. Every single one of the beliefs that Protestants state as part of the doctrine of justification by faith alone was made up by human beings, and does not appear in the Bible.

      I was also going to refer you to additional articles that also show how wrong and unbiblical the doctrine of justification by faith alone is. But I find that I already listed them at the end of the article. I would encourage you to read those articles as well.

      In short, everything you have said here to attack the above article is wrong. Which, in turn, makes me wonder whether you have actually read and understood the article.

      Contrary to your statement that this doctrine is “established everywhere else in the Bible,” you can’t quote a single verse from the Bible that states a single element of justification by faith alone, or that states the doctrine as a whole.

      That’s because nowhere does the Bible teach such a doctrine, or any of the elements that make up that doctrine. They were all invented by human beings, starting with Martin Luther, 1,500 years or more after the Bible was written.

      I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself, without the thick lenses of Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. If you do this, you will see that the Bible simply doesn’t teach justification by faith alone, but in fact rejects it, and that what I have written here and in the other linked articles is what the Bible actually does say.

      Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free from the false, human-invented doctrines that you have been taught.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        Would you say that Protestant (and other) theologians base their accepted doctrines more on the explicit words that the Bible uses, or is it mostly based a larger theological interpretation of those words and events?

        For instance, think in terms of books and movies: very rarely will either one of those just come right out and say ‘I am about *THIS* subject.’ Far more often than not, we deduce the subject and themes of a book or movie by taking a step back, looking at the bigger picture, and trying to make sense of what we see before us. It seems to me that Protestants are fully aware that there are very few (if any) verses which spell out in very obvious and explicit language the doctrines they believe in, but rather they arrive to those conclusions because it’s the only way to make sense of the Biblical data. You may not have a verse that says ‘you are saved by faith alone,’ but ‘faith alone’ may be the only way to explain themes and events in the Bible. You may not have any one verse that says ‘penal substitution,’ but again, the doctrine of penal substitution is arrived at as the only plausible way to make sense of what we are reading.

        I also recall you saying a number of times that if something were so fundamental, so essential to our salvation, wouldn’t the Bible articulate it in clear and simple language? Why would we have to go through all these sophisticated theological wrangling in order to figure it out for ourselves? That’s a fair point, but I believe a great (maybe even majority) of theologians don’t believe that it’s essential to know *how* you are saved, but rather that it’s sufficient to know and that you *are* saved. You don’t have to know *how* faith in Christ leads to your salvation, just that you *faith* that it does. In that regard, it’s not necessary for the Bible to explicitly lay out the way in which salvation is ultimately granted.

        I’m not saying I accept these Protestant doctrines, but the point of all this is maybe that pointing out that there’s single verse that explicitly spells out their doctrines is one part of a *larger* hermeneutics by which we *assess* those doctrines, and is both too simplistic and insufficient unto itself as a means of saying they’re necessarily un-Biblical.

        Now, I’ve seen you on more than just a few occasions actually interact with those interpretations outside of pointing out that Protestants can’t point to a single verse that explicitly says the things they believe in, but the latter seems to be more a dominant theme in your articles about their beliefs, and there’s enough thoughtfulness and intellectual muscle in their ranks to do them a bit more justice than ‘show me where it says Sole Fide/Penal Substitution etc.’

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Yes, I’ve had Protestants make all of these arguments in response to my attacks on justification by faith alone and penal substitution as being unbiblical and false.

          However, all of these arguments have major problems. I’ll take them in the order you present them.

          First: The Bible is quite clear in many places what it’s about.

          Just to pick one: salvation. In the Old Testament, salvation is mostly about physical life and death, prosperity and ruin. And the Old Testament is crystal clear in passage after passage that these are the stakes, and that if you do this you’ll receive life and prosperity, whereas if you do that you’ll receive ruin and death.

          The New Testament is also very clear that if you repent from your sins and live a life love and service to God and the neighbor instead, you will be saved spiritually, and if you don’t you will be doomed spiritually.

          I completely disagree that the Bible isn’t all that clear on what its theme is. Based on my extensive reading of the Bible, it is very clear, and there’s really no need for fancy human theologians to “figure it out” for people and provide some “larger theological interpretation.” Any person with basic reading comprehension can read the Bible and get a pretty good idea of what it’s about and what you have to do to be saved.

          Even people who have had false, unbiblical doctrines hammered into their heads still commonly live according to what the Bible teaches, and are saved thereby. That’s how clear and powerful the Bible is. It can cut through all of our human confusion and fallacy, and still convey the message of eternal life to those who sincerely seek it.

          Second: Protestant doctrine is very far from “the only way to make sense of the Biblical data.”

          Swedenborg made far better sense of it while rejecting the entire edifice of Protestant doctrine. But it’s not just Swedenborg. For 1,500 years, Christians of all stripes made sense of the Bible without a single Protestant doctrine, because neither Protestantism nor its signature doctrines of justification by faith alone and penal substitution existed.

          In short, the idea that justification by faith alone and penal substitution are “the only way to make sense of the biblical data” is not only wrong, but just plain silly. ‘Nuff said.

          Third: No, it’s not necessary for people to understand the mechanism of salvation. There are many abstruse, non-common-sense doctrines about the mechanisms of salvation in Swedenborg’s theology that I believe are true, but than no one really needs to know in order to be saved.

          However, people do need to know what they themselves must believe and do to be saved. And the Bible is quite clear on these subjects, without the slightest need for the doctrines of justification by faith alone and penal substitution.

          In fact, those doctrines do real damage to the Bible’s teaching on what people must believe and do to be saved. They make it sound like believing is far more important than doing, when the Bible says the opposite. Faith and belief in the Bible are useful only in leading people to repent from their sins and to live a good life, which is what actually saves people. Penal substitution makes it sound like it doesn’t matter if we’re sinners because Christ paid for all of our sins anyway.

          No matter how many times fancy theologians say that you still have to repent, not sin, and live a good life, what comes down to ordinary folks from their doctrine is, “If I believe the right thing, I’ll be saved.” And the corollary is, “Even if I sin, I’ll be saved.” There are millions of Protestants who think this way, despite all the fancy theologistics that fancy Protestant theologians engage in. So their doctrines confuse people’s minds and do damage to the plain, clear teachings of the Bible about what leads to eternal life.

          Fourth: Any “larger hermeneutic” to justify justification by faith alone and penal substitution has a further basic problem. Not only is the Bible clear on what we must believe and do to be saved, but it states very clearly that the key Protestant doctrines of justification by faith alone and penal substitution are wrong.

          I simply don’t see how the Bible could be any clearer than to say:

          You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

          Now, if there were other passages in the Bible saying that we are justified by faith alone, there might be some room for doubt.

          But there aren’t.

          That is the only passage anywhere in the Bible that even mentions faith alone, and it specifically rejects the idea that we are justified by faith alone.

          And as for penal substitution, there are multiple passages in the Bible saying that God is utterly opposed to the whole principle behind it. Here are some of them:

          Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exodus 23:7)

          And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

          The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Numbers 14:18)

          When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. (Deuteronomy 25:1)

          Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both. (Proverbs 17:15)

          Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. (Proverbs 24:24)

          The Bible is very clear that God detests acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—which is exactly what the doctrine of penal substitution says God does. And it says that Lord will not acquit the guilty and will not leave the guilty unpunished—which is exactly what the doctrine of penal substitution says the Lord does. It says that God condemned Jesus, the only totally innocent person ever to live, to die on the cross, and that as a result of the death of this innocent man (who was God with us), acquitted every guilty sinner who believes that Jesus died instead of him or her.

          So it’s simply not a matter of the Bible leaving things open for a “larger hermeneutic” to determine that justification by faith alone and penal substitution are correct doctrines. The Bible specifically and emphatically rejects them both.

          Fifth: I used to think that there was “enough thoughtfulness and intellectual muscle” in Protestant ranks to make their doctrines at least sound plausible. And when I was young, I used to think that somewhere in the Epistles it said what they believe.

          Then I engaged in several close readings of the Epistles, and found that no, it never says what they believe.

          And then, more recently, I read most of two books by eminent contemporary Protestant theologians (Thomas Schreiner and R. C. Sproul) on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. And I found them so weak, nonsensical, and downright foolish that I no longer believe Protestants have even a single theological leg to stand on, or even a single valid argument for their doctrine. If the best contemporary Protestant theologians are reduced to basically saying, “Justification by faith alone is true because it’s the fundamental doctrine of the church, so that’s what the Bible must mean and that’s what people must believe,” then they have lost all credibility with me.

          I finally grew so frustrated with the circular logic, sloppy thinking, and just plain dumb (if you’ll excuse my French) readings of various Bible passages that I couldn’t take any more, and stopped reading halfway through the second book. I simply couldn’t force myself to wade through so much fallacious muck any longer.

          If that’s the best that the best Protestant theologians have to offer (these books were recommended to me by a theologically knowledgeable Protestant), then it’s clear to me that the Protestant theologians’ “intellectual muscle” is so weak and flabby that they can’t even do a single bench press for their doctrine, let alone put really solid muscle behind it.

          Really, I was shocked at how weak their arguments were. I expected at least to have to exercise some of my theological muscle refuting them. But their arguments were so shoddy and full of holes that it was more like poking a finger through a used tissue.

          Finally, to sum up: There is absolutely no good reason to believe in justification by faith alone or penal substitution except that various Protestant theologians and many Protestant preachers insist that they’re true. And that’s not a good reason to believe something. The Bible not only doesn’t ever say these things. It explicitly rejects them. And there are far, far better “hermeneutics,” or in ordinary language, ways to understand the Bible, than these specious doctrines.

          Further, these doctrines make God out to be a horrible, insane tyrant who sends billions of people to be eternally roasted in fire, even if they’re good, wonderful loving, caring people, just because they don’t believe the “right” doctrine, and who takes pleasure in seeing his own son brutally murdered as a “payment” for other people’s sins.

          These doctrines are full of horrific blasphemy against the good name and character of God. Not only are they unbiblical and false, but they are the worst kind of stinking theological feces flung in the face of God. That’s why so many ex-Protestants are now atheists. They recognize those inhuman and insane doctrines for what they are, and they want no part of it.

          So yes, I’ve heard all of these arguments. And they are all completely specious, wrong, and false.

          There is absolutely no good reason to believe in either justification by faith alone or penal substitution, and there are massive reasons not to believe them. Really, they are outside the pale of reasonable theological discourse. They are a theological version of believing that the earth is flat:

          Best line in the video: “It’s not okay to think that the earth is flat. This is not a viable argument.”

          It’s not okay to think that we are justified or saved by faith alone, and not by the way we live.

          It’s not okay to think that God considers us innocent because God punished Jesus instead of us for all of our sins.

          These are not viable arguments.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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