The Meaning of Saving Faith: Luther’s Interpretation of Romans 3:28 -- By: John D. Hannah

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 140:560 (Oct 1983)
Article: The Meaning of Saving Faith: Luther’s Interpretation of Romans 3:28
Author: John D. Hannah


The Meaning of Saving Faith:
Luther’s Interpretation of Romans 3:28

John D. Hannah

[John D. Hannah, Professor of Historical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary]

While doing research in the archives of the John Hay Library at Brown University, Carolyn Lenz discovered a handwritten account of the last moments of Martin Luther. This was the third manuscript describing Luther’s last words and actions found in a 16th-century book. Though written by an unpolished scribe, the anonymous account was penned by someone deeply moved by the loss of the Reformer to record either the events he observed personally or heard reported on the day of Luther’s death. Having arisen from bed that day Luther told his friend Justus Jonas that he was experiencing great pain and prayed aloud saying, “O heavenly God, you beloved Father of Jesus Christ, you have surely revealed yourself to me.”1

That sentence could be used as a way to organize the history of the Protestant Reformation, a movement led by the voice and pen of Luther. Having been reared within medieval Catholicism, he struggled vainly to find religious peace. The disclosure of that peace to the mind and heart of the Reformer marked the beginning of a movement that swept northern Europe, disrupted the hegemony of the Roman Church and created a rich heritage for those to whom God has revealed the same ground of peace.

What was the content of the religious truth that God had so graciously revealed to Luther, the peasant-born, university-trained professor of Bible at Wittenberg University? This article seeks to set forth at least one answer, hopefully the most important one, to that inquiry. The impetus for this search is twofold:

the crucial relevance of the answer for every generation, and the fact that this year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of Luther (on November 11, 1483). Luther’s impact on the modern world must never be doubted. Perhaps Aland’s assertion is correct: “The summary judgment must be that the intellectual life of the modern world would never have come into existence without Martin Luther and the Reformation.”2

The Theses concerning Faith: Their Background

The answer, at least in part, to the inquiry as to what the Lord revealed to Luther, which resulted in religious if not ecclesiastical peace, was the truth of justification by faith. Though he had understood justification within his Catholic heritage, the discovery of sola fides (faith alone) brought him peace and religious confidence. Thus it seems appropriate to celebrate the birth of this...

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