Sunday, July 15, 2007

Lost In Translation

Over at Pyromaniacs, Dan asked a really good question that bears being discussed on the front page, not just the combox.

He writes:

Sincere question --- after reading Spurgeon here, I am wondering why so many then still use Latin language on a lot of the blogs and even in churches with the Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura words - when it can be confusing unless you studied the Reformation or know Latin, you don't know what those Latin words mean.

Why not just write the English words of Sola Fide etc. so people can easily understand them and not have to do a double explanation of both what the Latin words mean in English and then explain what the English words mean.

I am being sincere, why keep using Latin instead of saying those words in English. I am not saying we shouldn't say "Justification by Faith Alone" or "Salvation by Grace Alone". but why not say them in English. 98% of the time i see them only listed in Latin, which then seems like you need to be an inser to know that they mean or feel an outsider that you don't know Latin.

The words of Spurgeon made we wonder about that, so I thought I would ask.

Thank you!


Dan, good question.

There have been numerous answers, so I'll repeat them here for the benefit of our readers:

Phil Johnson is quite direct:

If I'm speaking to or writing for someone whom I have reason to think probably doesn't understand a term like sola fide, I would ordinarily try to explain it, or not use it at all. We use some terms like that because in contexts where they are familiar, they make really nice shorthand.

And if I sometimes forget to translate those expressions in contexts where people are confused by my usage of them—mea culpa.
Scott Hill adds:

Dan, I agree that if someone doesn't know the Latin we use then we have not communicated, but I am not for doing away with terms like Sola Fide, or simul justus et peccator and just using the English translation.

For me personally when I here these terms I not only think of the theology, but also the history of the reformation itself and the great men of God that surround that history.

I generally use the terms to one, teach the meaning of the latin term, which means using english, and two to teach some reformation history.

As for our blog name, we just thought it sounded cool.

Djp contributes:

Dan, if I may chime in one more thought:

I don't think there's one word-choice template to use, that works for every audience. Paul spoke the same message to the Antiocheans, the Corinthians, and the beards at Mars Hill, but he used some different terminology and quotations and lines-of-approach to each. I've preached the same message in rescue missions and fancier churches, but the wording I use has some variation.

I definitely think the Sola's are useful, but either only to those who know the meaning, or if we explain them. For instance, I once preached a Reformation Day sermon which I titled Five 'Alones' That Changed Everything. My springboard was Romans 1:17, and from it I preached the truth expressed by the five Sola's, explaining and applying. From what I'm told, the Lord graciously used it for those with and without a Biblical background.

The redoubtable Centurion continues:

Dan --

On the one hand, I'm all for making discipleship like any educational process. For example, first you learn numbers and sets, then you learn arithmetic, then you learn division and multiplication, then you learn algebra, etc.

On the other, eventually you have to learn the technical language. people who play baseball have a technical language which is -required-; people who play video games even have a technical language which is required (for example, everyone knows what happens when some noob get pwn'd). In the same way, if you're serious about understanding the Christian faith, you'll have to learn some theology, and the language of theology is littered with Latin and Greek.

Does someone have to affirm sola fide and homoousios to become a Christian? Not hardly. Do they have to learn -- for their own good, for their own discipleship -- that it is only faith in Christ which saves, and that Christ is of one substance with the Father? Yes, I think so.

Technical language is hardly a liability. It strikes at the heart of the claim that our faith is some kind of brainless, anti-intellectual thing which men accept and follow blindly.

Finally, I add:

By continuing to use these Latin terms, we are anchoring ourselves to the Reformation. The Reformers and the Protestant High Orthodox, as one reads their theologies, were concerned to anchor themselves to the Ancient Church. The Ancient Church was concerned to anchor itself to the Apostolic Church, and they, in turn, anchor themselves to the Old Covenant Community (for example, the frequent use of Isaiah in the works of John, and the whole Book of Hebrews, and that's just for starters!). So, we're only following precedent.

Further, even if we translate "Sola Scriptura" for example, to "Scripture Alone" we aren't explaining anything. In fact, we could be exacerrbating the problem. The "Sola" language is borrowed from Aristotelian categories of causality, but if you bring them over in English, as in this case, one can give the impression that "Scripture Alone" means "Scripture only," which is a mistake. It only refers to the rule of faith such that Scripture alone is infallible, but tradition is fallible and useful. So, the English rendering still requires some explanation and may also result in a bigger mistake on the part of the hearer than "Sola Scriptura."

Let's take "Sola Fide." On the one hand we speak of "justification by faith alone" but Sola Fide can be misread (as it often is as "salvation by faith alone"). That too is a mistake. Justification by faith alone (Sola Fide), in the Reformed tradition, is a species of Sola Gratia, for we anchor justification by faith alone in grace alone. We take the two together to form a unit: justified by faith alone and saved by grace alone), and they stand in a particular relationship to each other. In English, I fear this often gets lost.

Taken apart, you wind up with hyper-Calvinism (by collapsing all the decrees into one of grace and forgetting that the covenant is unconditional in terms of merit but not in terms of instrumentality) or Arminianism (by divorcing Sola Fide from Sola Gratia completely or treating Sola Gratia as quantitative, not qualitative, as if there's a certain amount of grace emanating from God and a certain amount of grace emanating from the person, and these together result in justification, with justification ultimately grounded not in grace alone, but faith, that is to say, on the basis of faith itself, not merely as an instrument connecting us to the righteousness of Christ).

In short, no matter if you use English or Latin terms, you'll wind up having to explain the terms.

I'd also add that I think the use of historic terms is useful to encourage the flock to get acquainted with historical theology and church history. We live in an age where, let's face it, the popular literature has been dumbed down greatly. What was considered common knowledge in the 19th century (or even the 17th!) is today considered "too hard," or "for preachers." This, of course, leads to a people who are "destroyed for lack of knowledge," and we can see exactly what Isaiah had to say about that. Keeping the historic language thus not only keeps us anchored, it provides, I would hope, an incentive for study. Certainly, we should explain our use of these terms, but there is also a time, as we often tell our children (or at least I know my parents and teachers often told me), "Go look it up." We need to do that from time to time with our own people in our churches and our readers on the blogs, for their good. Let us not cultivate a generation (as lamented by the writer of Hebrews) that "should be teachers but are still drinking milk" (paraphrased).

So, here's a suggestion. The next time you deliver a Sunday School lesson or teach on a Wednesday or Sunday night (since these are smaller, more manageable groups for most of us) give your class or congregation some homework. Tell them to look something up in the week between and then come back to discuss it/teach it the following week. It's high time we put the "school" back into "Sunday School," and that's also a creative way to give an invitation @ the end of your services to get away from the "walk the aisle and make a decision" style of invitation, yet keep the tradition alive, but refocused.


  1. So, here's a suggestion. The next time you deliver a Sunday School lesson or teach on a Wednesday or Sunday night (since these are smaller, more manageable groups for most of us) give your class or congregation some homework. Tell them to look something up in the week between and then come back to discuss it/teach it the following week. It's high time we put the "school" back into "Sunday School," and that's also a creative way to give an invitation @ the end of your services to get away from the "walk the aisle and make a decision" style of invitation, yet keep the tradition alive, but refocused.

    Good suggestion! How about "Come back next week after reading the ECF with an eye towards the sola fide view of justification."

    That ought to be an interesting bit of anchoring for your students.


  2. Good point. It should help them see the sheer heresy of denying a sola fide and sola gratia view of justification.

  3. 1. Touchstone, they might learn that justification by faith alone isn't a solely Protestant concept, unlike you, who quote from Catholic Answers like its gospel truth.

    We can find Sola Fide in them too.

    When Tertullian writes his treatise On Baptism, he specifically mentions people during his day who were opposing baptismal regeneration in favor of sola fide.

    George Salmon wrote:

    "An unlearned Protestant perceives that the doctrine of Rome is not the doctrine of the Bible. A learned Protestant adds that neither is it the doctrine of the primitive Church (The Infallibility of the Church [London, England: John Murray, 1914], p. 39)

    You, Touchstone, are a stellar example of this.

    Here are some selections from St. John Chrysostom:

    "For this is [the righteousness] ‘of God’ when we are justified not by works, (in which case it Were necessary that not a spot even should be found,) but by grace, in which case all sin is done away" (On the Second Epistle of St. Paul The Apostle to the Corinthians, Homily 11).

    "Thou seest the power, thou seest the gift bestowed not by works, but through the Gospel. These are objects of hope: for both were wrought in His Body. And how will they be wrought in ours? "By the Gospel."" (Homilies on 2 Timothy, Homily 2).

    So, he excludes works and then talks about justification by faith:

    "Now since the Jews kept turning over and over the fact, that the Patriarch, and friend of God, was the first to receive circumcision, he wishes to show, that it was by faith that he too was justified. And this was quite a vantage ground to insist upon (periousiva nivkh" pollh'"). For a person who had no works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely. But for a person richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of faith in a strong light" (The Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul The Apostle to the Romans, Homily 8).

    "Now to prevent your saying, How, when liable for so great sins, came we to be justified? he points out One that blotteth out all sins, that both from Abraham’s faith, whereby he was justified, and from the Savior’s Passion, whereby we were freed from our sins, he might confirm what he had said" (The Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul The Apostle to the Romans, Homily 9).

    "Then, as they made great account of the Patriarch, he brings his example forward, and shows that he too was justified by Faith. And if he who was before grace, was justified by Faith, although plentiful in works, much more we. For what loss was it to him, not being under the Law? None, for his faith sufficed unto righteousness" (Homilies on Galatians, Chapter 3).

    "Attend to this point. He Himself who gave the Law, had decreed, before He gave it, that the heathen should be justified by Faith" (Homilies on Galatians, Chapter 3).

    That's just a sample. More can be provided. I seriously doubt you've actually read much of the Early Church Fathers.

    It seems like you could stand to read D.H. Williams book Evangelicals and Tradition:

    “The doctrine of justification by faith did not originate in the period of the Reformation, nor is the teaching a unique emblem of Protestantism. Evangelical scholars Timothy George and Thomas Oden have rightly observed that justification by faith was not a new teaching invented by the Reformers. Apart from New Testament documents, justification by faith finds its roots in the early church. Stated positively, the exegesis of justification by faith is a catholic and pre-Reformation teaching, and the Reformers themselves found precedents for this teaching in the early fathers, even as they went in new directions with these ideas….The late-first-century letter known as 1 Clement contains almost solely quotations from the Hebrew Bible yet exhibits a predominance of Pauline themes, such as frequent reference to believers as God’s elect, the use of doxologies, and contentions that God’s faithful are made just by faith….None of these instances [of soteriological comments in the earliest church fathers] reveals the initial expounding of a doctrine of justification by faith. It is accurate to say only that there are occasional moments of direct reflection on Pauline theology during the first three centuries, and when these instances do occur, there is often recognition that the righteous are made righteous by faith. Of course, one can also find very un-Pauline perspectives, such as the injunction in the Didache (19:10) for one to work to ransom one’s sins (though the writer is not propounding a soteriology). The Shepherd of Hermas, likewise, presents the Christian faith in terms that demonstrate almost a complete ignorance of God’s gracious act of redemption in Christ….Origen rarely articulates the one without the other [faith and works]. In his commentary on Romans, Origen presents faith as a truly personal relationship with Christ grounded solely on receiving faith, just as it had happened for the thief on the cross or the woman who was a sinner (Luke 7)….[For Origen] Belief that does not yield the fruit of good works is therefore in vain. The efficacy of saving faith, as Paul expresses it in unqualified and all-embracing terms, appears in Origen, though in brief and restricted ways….Hilary [of Poitiers] was the first Christian theologian to formulate explicitly what Paul left implicit by referring to God’s work of grace as ‘fides sola iustificat’: Because ‘faith alone justifies…publicans and prostitutes will be first in the kingdom of heaven’ ([Commentary on Matthew] XXI.14)….In general, the fathers maintained the free and unmerited character of God’s grace toward us, expressing it sometimes in the terms of justification by faith, although they saw ongoing justification in a different light.” (pp. 129, 131-133, 136, 140)

    Here's the abstract of his journal article:

    This essay challenges the criticism usually levelled at the early Fathers prior to Augustine for not articulating a view of justification by faith that corresponded with Pauline Christianity as reflected in the formulas of the sixteenth-century reformers. Not only is such a view anachronistic and tends to assume that there was (or is) a uniform definition of justification, but there is evidence that Latin theology before Augustine promulgated the tenets of unmerited grace and the necessity of righteousness that come only through justifying faith. In particular, the Matthew commentary of Hilary of Poitiers explicitly formulates a biblical theology of ‘fides sola iustificat’, and probably contributed to a revival of interest in the Pauline Epistles by the end of the fourth and early fifth centuries.

    If you'd actually taken the time to study this topic and do your own homework, with the zeal with which you are pressed about macroevolution, Touchstone, O Learned One, you'd know this.

    If you differ with Williams, Oden, and George then I expect to see your detailed rebuttal of this work as well as his work on this subject in Journal of Ecclesiastical History.

    Oh, and quoting internet Catholics and bits from Catholic Answers won't qualify as a rebuttal, I want to see your rebuttal.

    2. Of course, the ECF don't "anchor" anything. The Protestant rule of faith is Sola Scriptura, not Sola Ecclesia. We can be true to tradition and tradition be incorrect. What they would find is that the dogmatic construction of the doctrine of justification was inchohate and ill formed at worst, which proves what exactly about the doctrine of Sola Fide itself?

    3. So, what we have from you is just an inept attempt to justify your own rule of faith, which amounts to "peer review" in the realm of theology, and, by limiting your rule of faith the Ancient Creeds, you get to eliminate that with which you disagree.

  4. Gene,

    So, would studying the ECF on sola fide anchor your students to that doctrine, in your view? I can't tell from what you've posted.

    On one hand, sola fide is in there, which is something I don't dispute (in my readings it just seems to be quite the exception rather than the rule). On the other hand, ECF dogma on the subject was "inchohate[sic]". But even if the ECF are generally inchoate as a whole on this issue or many issues, that has meaning in and of itself, as a *historical* anchor, if nothing else.

    In any case, it was the "school" being put back into "Sunday school" that *did* put me in much better touch with the ECF, and I think that is a good thing. Given the reactions it spawned in the class, though, I'm not sure doctrinaire Calvinists would see that "anchoring" as a good thing. As you said, the ECF are no kind of anchor at all.


  5. So, would studying the ECF on sola fide anchor your students to that doctrine, in your view? I can't tell from what you've posted.

    You are reading far more into the word "anchor" than I actually stated.

    I never stated that such study would anchor anybody to a specific doctrine, as if history is a proper measure for our rule of faith itself. Rather, I stated that we use these historic terms, in part, to anchor ourselves to the Reformation. "The Reformation" is not a doctrine.

    This is no different than the Reformers and the High Orthodox who were themselves often concerned, particularly in polemic theologies, to anchor themselves to the Ancient Church. (This, of course, was done to answer Rome on its own grounds).
    "The Ancient Church" is not a doctrine.

    It is Rome and the East that tries to ground its doctrine in history, not the Protestant tradition, except perhaps some (misguided) Landmark Baptists. We "anchor" ourselves in historical theology in this regard, to answer Rome on her own terms. This does not mean we don't look to historical theology. Sola Scriptura has never denied the valid uses of that discipline.

    That said, such study would inform them that it is not, as Roman Catholics claim, something new, and it would inform them of the reasons why there are mistakes in the exegesis of some terms. For example, Augustine did not know Hebrew. "Augustine understands the verb iustificare to mean ‘to make righteous,’ an understanding of the term which he appears to have held throughout his working life. In arriving at this understanding, he appears to have interpreted -ficare as the unstressed form of facere, by analogy with vivificare and mortificare. Although this is a permissible interpretation of the Latin word, it is unacceptable as an interpretation of the Hebrew concept which underlies it.” [R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone : The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, (Grand Rapids: Baker books, 1999), 99].

    So, in part, a good study of historical theology would also help us to see where, when, and why particular errors crept into the church over time - and for similar reasons, this is the reason we study history itself more broadly in the general populace is it not?

    On one hand, sola fide is in there, which is something I don't dispute (in my readings it just seems to be quite the exception rather than the rule).

    I know you enjoy rewriting the history of what you have stated in times past, but in point of fact, you have been quite explicit on this to the contrary. You are welcome to change your tune, but you are not welcome to rewrite your words of the past as if this is what you have been saying all along.

    You have plainly stated that:

    a. Scripture lacks the perspicuity to establish justification by faith alone.

    Here is what you said: As far as sola fide goes, scripture doesn't provide the same level perspicuity on this issue, over against the "died for our sins, was buried, rose on the third day, ascended to the right hand of God" formulation that Paul provides as a synopsis of the Gospel message.

    All you've done here, aside from deny the perspicuity of Scripture as a whole is forget that Paul was writing to the Corinthians to refute an error. That error was that the belief that there is no Resurrection, for Christ did not rise. Paul is not making a universal statement that would not include justification by faith alone in the message of the gospel. that is that which would constitute a credible profession of faith. What you've done is set one set of Scripture over against another.

    I would say that Romans 3 - 6 are very clear indeed. So is Galatians. In fact, Galatians 3 rather clearly links Sola Fide to the section of 1 Corinthians you like so much.

    This isn't to say that one must understand all the ins and outs, as it were, of the doctrine to be saved. Rather, it is to say that one must reject all claims to personal merit in order to be saved through faith in Christ, and it is a good sign that a person may be unregenerate if they reject the doctrine, not out of ignorance, but out of a cultivated denial. This goes to the difference between a saving profession of faith and a credible profession of faith, a subject about which I have written many times.

    b. Justification by faith alone is a Protestant distinctive.

    Here is exactly what you wrote in the past:

    As a proof of this, I would simply point to both the absence of solafidian canons in the ecumenical creeds, and the millenia-long held doctrines of non-Protestant Christendowm that specifically deny the assertions of sola fide, specifically with regard to the economy of salvation, sacraments and the Last Judgment.

    Correct or no, the doctrine of sola fide is a manifestly Protestant theological distinctive. It cannot point to the kind of perspicuity that gave rise to the canons of the ecumenical creeds. If it's the right reading of scripture, it's remains a late/minority position with respect to the history of the Church.

    1. Apparently, your definition of "perspicuity" is indexed to how much agreement can be had between Catholics and Protestants.

    2. It is not at all a late opinion, and there is no basis for calling it a minority opinion.

    3. If it was taught in the Ancient Church (and it was), then it is not a Protestant distinctive.

    Of course the creeds don't mention Sola Fide...that wasn't a pressing issue at the time the creeds were drafted. You can't deduce anything from the creeds about Sola Fide one way or the other.

    The truth is that the doctrine was inchoate and ill defined at worst, not that it was not taught or viewed as true, and since Patristics scholars admit that what we actually possess of the ECF is actually very little, you have no basis for calling it a "minority" view or late view. Further, the issues addressed by the creeds were the repudiations of particular heresies (Arianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, monotheletism, etc.), not "what is justification?" or "How is one saved?"

    Which "non-Protestant" canons that deny Sola Fide? The Lateran Councils? Notice that Touchstone is appealing to creeds and canons as if they are objective standards for a rule of faith but he denies objectivity, and he's now using nonecumenical canons while trying to hold to ecumenical canons as authoritative for his rule of faith.

    Given the reactions it spawned in the class, though, I'm not sure doctrinaire Calvinists would see that "anchoring" as a good thing.

    A. This is coming from a latitudinarian who has taken many opportunities on this blog alone (and I we could probably include Phil Johnson's too), to attack evangelicals, Reformed theology, etc. and who regularly defends enemies of the faith. One cannot help but think that they were probably reacting to you personally, not just the content of what you stated.

    B.I assume this is an advertisement that you are unfamiliar with the works of men like Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, Musculus, Witsius, Francis Turretin, and the entire High Reformed Orthodox cadre of theologians, as well as, in the modern period men like the 2 Hodges and Berkhof. You seem remarkably ill informed about the historical work of Richard Muller, Carl Trueman, R.Scott Clark, Martin Klauber, and Frank James III -- and that's just for starters.

    "Doctrinaire Calvinists," contrary to your low opinion of them, are often quite concerned about historical theology and being "anchored" to the ancient church. Historical theology is quite a well developed discipline in the Reformed tradition.

    C. I also taught church history to several of the men of my church last year, and they did not at all react negatively. In fact, most of the "doctrinaire Calvinists" I know have no problem with appealing to the ECF from time to time or discussing Ancient Church theology.The largest PCA church in my area teaches a whole Sunday School course on historical theology/church history. I know of no negative responses there. In my experience, many Reformed Baptist churches do quite well on this too. We simply don't ground our doctrine in them. We ground it in Scripture.

    As you said, the ECF are no kind of anchor at all.

    And how, pray tell are the Ancient Creeds a better anchor? Ecumenicity? But what determines "ecumenicity" is a proper rule of faith?

    Justification was simply not a theological issue in the pre-Augustinian tradition itself. What you find very often is a restatement of Paul. So, how would you know that Sola Fide is a "minority" position in that period or lacks enough support to be included for a credible profession of faith?

    If the Medieval Church in particular lost its way and ecclesiastical error ran rampant, then it ceased to be a vehicle of the visible church to convey right doctrine as the centuries wound on. It had established the creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon and demanded conformity, for example, but there's more to doctrine than that. Further, they weren't exactly unified in their understanding of those creeds either. Besides, facts about the Trinity and Christology don't answer the question, "How is one saved?"

    The Protestant confessions, recognizing those errors, simply drafted confessions that specifically addressed those errors, including repudiating the merit system, etc. in negative articles and stating justification by faith alone in positive articles. Ergo, these confessions are as "ecumenical" as the Ancient Creeds in that respect. They were drafted for similar reasons. Heresy crept into the churches, so the faithful drafted new confessions to repudiate the errors.

    If Scripture lacks the perspicuity to establish Sola Fide as true or at the very least for a credible profession of faith, then how do you know that you have the right deposit of faith in those creeds to which you appeal? Why is your historical frame of reference to be preferred over the Protestant frame of reference?

    For you, the infallible Scriptures are unclear, but the creeds are. You seem to hold a view of the perspicuity of Scripture not held by the framers of the creeds to which you hold out for a proper rule of faith to constitute a credible profession of faith.

    Further, those creeds have to be exegeted too. How do you know what the creed of Chalcedon actually means? What is the proper definition of "person?" Whose definition do we use? There have been several through the centuries.

    History doesn't determine doctrine. Councils don't determine doctrine. Only the Bible determines doctrine.