The History of Justification by Faith Alone up to the Reformation

Thomas R. Thompson

The history of the doctrine justification by faith alone is difficult to trace before the Reformation in the 1500's. A clear line of development of this doctrine from the Apostles to Martin Luther simply does not exit. This does not mean however that this doctrine is a modern invention. The doctrine of justification by faith alone has its foundation in the purpose of God entering the human race in the person of Jesus. The doctrine of justification by faith alone may have received notable attention as stated by Martin Luther, but his statement concerning this doctrine is simply an answer to one of the oldest questions that face mankind. That question being, by what means can a person's sins be forgiven? Whereas the doctrine of justification by faith alone was essentially not a concern of the church before the Reformation, the church was concerned about the means by which one is forgiven of his sins.

The history of justification by faith alone is really the history of the church attempting to find the answer to this question, how can a man be forgiven of sins, and by what means is it accomplished? The early church viewed baptism as a means by which sins were forgiven. This made perfect sense to them for Peter himself said to repent, and be baptized for the remission of sins. This immature thinking that some human work was effectual for the remission of sins, would lead to further errors. For example, if baptism was indeed effectual for the remission of sins, how are sins to be remitted after baptism? The early church should have considered this problem, and concluded that baptism was not effectual for the remission of sin. They should have determined that no human work could accomplish this, and looked more deeply into what Christ accomplished on the cross.

However, they did not do that, and instead started the foundation of a system whereby man can atone for his own sins. This foundation would be built upon for 1500 years. Each successive generation after the Apostles would add new works for man to do to atone for his sins. Each successive generation would corrupt God's plan for the remission of sins more than the previous generation. Towards the end of this corrupting process, a system would be in place that relegated the atonement of Christ to something symbolic, and irrelevant. Instead of the atonement viewed as the only sufficient means for the remission of sins, a complete system is erected whereby sinful man atones for his own sins. This system would become a stench in the nostrils of Martin Luther, and to expose its corruption was something he was willing to lay down his life to do.

Therefore, to trace the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the development of the system whereby man atones for his own sins must be considered first. Then it will be seen how the doctrine of justification by faith alone would rise in response to such a corrupt system. This corrupt system starts growing while the Apostles are still alive. Consider Paul's response to the initial corruption of the atoning work of Christ.

Paul defends the basis for the forgiveness of sin (c. 55)

Paul started a church in Galatia, where the teaching of justification by faith alone was clearly proclaimed and accepted. He taught one's only basis for the forgiveness of sins is faith in the merits of Christ's sacrificial death. After a time Paul received word this church had departed from its initial foundation. He was amazed at the early believers departure from the truth, and sent them a letter in an attempt to guide them back to the truth they initially received. This Paul states in the opening of his letter to the Galatians.


  • I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel... (Gal 1:6)

This young church was being agitated by Judizers. These Judizers were actively trying to bring the Gentile Christians back under the law and into the fold of Judaism, and it appears they were successful. The Judizers were teaching that faith in Christ was needed for the forgiveness of sins, but it was not enough. They were teaching that circumcision was also needed. Paul proves the error of this false doctrine by showing God has never changed His method for forgiving sins. He uses the example of Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness. Paul references Genesis 15:6 when he writes the following.


  • Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. (Gal 3:6)

Paul was emphasizing that a person's only basis for salvation is in the merits of Christ. If one wants to add circumcision, almsgiving, baptism or anything else, Paul says Christ will then be of no profit to that person, and "he is a debtor to do the whole law," (Gal 5:3)

One may consider this a minor error to add things concerning righteousness to the gospel, but history shows this not to be the case. The problem is, once something is added room for something else can always be found. Paul knew of this danger and warns the Galatians by saying, "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." (Gal 5:9) That is, accepting doctrinal error concerning how one is justified will cause one's whole doctrinal system to collapse. The doctrine of justification by faith alone gets so corrupted in the next few hundred years, it is essentially unrecognizable by 250 A.D. The shift started after the apostles. While some of the Apostolic Fathers give evidence they understood the doctrine of justification by faith alone, they certainly did not understand the need to fight for its purity.

Christ plus a moral life (c. 95)

Clement was a teacher of the scriptures who immediately followed the Apostles. It his writings, one finds clear evidences of his understanding that the only basis for sins being forgiving is the atonement of Christ. Consider this statement from a letter Clement sent to the church at Corinth.


  • So all of them received honor and greatness, not through themselves or their own deeds or the right things they did, but through his will. And we, therefore, who by his will have been called in Jesus Christ, are not justified of ourselves or by our wisdom or insight of religious devotion or the holy deeds we have done from the heart, but by that faith by which almighty God has justified all men from the very beginning. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Clement, Clement's First Letter, 32.3-4)

In some respects, Clement's statement on how one is justified is clearer than the Apostle Paul's. Not only does Clement affirm Christians are justified by faith in the work of Christ alone, but he also affirms that unless God calls a person he will never be awakened to place his faith in Christ. However, when confronting the morality problem in the Church at Corinth, Clement did not see this as a valuable weapon. Rather than providing an exhortation from the scriptures, emphasizing that Christians are dead to sin, and those living in immorality are not part of the body of Christ, Clement appeals to the social aspect of the gospel. This is a subtle shift. Clement leaves room in his teaching to suggest that a person becomes justified before God by living a righteous life. Whereas, the emphasis should have been that those who are justified by faith live righteous lives. Consider the below example of Clement's association of salvation with a moral life. Some in Corinth had removed church leaders from their offices, of which Clement is now rebuking.


  • Your contention and rivalry, brothers, thus touches matters that bear on our salvation. You have studied the Holy Scriptures, which contains the truth and is inspired by the Holy Spirit... You will not find that upright people have ever been disowned by holy men. The righteous, to be sure, have been persecuted, but by wicked men. They have been imprisoned, but by the godless. (Clement, Clement's First Letter, 45.1-3)

Clement here links the grounds of one's salvation to performing good deeds. This is a link that must never be made. The grounds of being forgiven are the merits of Christ alone, not the fallible works an individual produces. Clement should have exhorted the Corinthians to examine if they were truly in the faith, rather then trying to adjust their moral behavior. The Corinthians were producing evil fruit that was not consistent with a branch grafted into Christ. Rather than call attention to the tree they were grafted into, he was calling attention to the fruit that was being produced.

Clement did not intentionally desire to lead his listeners away from Christ as the only means of being justified, but if the teaching is not clear, it can point one in the direction of heresy. This is what happened during the period of the Apostolic Fathers. Their warning against heresies were not clear and sharp, and many were overtaken by false doctrines. Clement understood the Apostles teachings on this subject, he just did not understand the crucial nature of the doctrine, and how sinful men by nature desire to pervert it. Nor could Clement foresee into the future how far this doctrine would drift from the original Apostolic formulation of it.

In general though, the tone of Clement's letter is a mixture of forgiveness based on the merits of Christ, and the merits of man. This is an unholy mixture one must be diligent to avoid. The relationship between these was not clearly understood in the church at this time, and perhaps not by Clement either. The work of Christ as the only grounds for being forgiven of sins is being leavened with works based forgiveness by the teachers succeeding the Apostles. Rather than this error being recognized and cut out, it would leaven the whole doctrine in time. Then nothing could be done except start over. After this subtle leavening of forgiveness based on the works of Christ with the merits of man, more leaven would be added to it in the form of baptism.

Christ plus baptism (c. 100)

Among the writings of the early church leaders, many occurrences to the teaching of forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ plus baptism can be found. It was accepted without analysis and handed down in succession to each following generation. An example of this teaching can be found in "The Shepherd of Hermas." In this writing, Hermas describes a vision he had of a great stone tower being built upon water. He is told by the shepherd the tower is the church, and Hermas then asks why the tower is built on water. The shepherd answers.


  • Hear then why the tower is built on water: because your life has been and will be saved through water. (Hermas, The Shepherd of Hermas, 11.5)

The symbolism of the church being built on water baptism emphasizes the weight the early church placed on baptism. This to the modern evangelical is so far from Biblical teachings, one can easily find verses to refute it. But most in the early church did not have easy access to the scriptures. It would not be until 387 A.D. that the first list is produced that corresponds exactly with today's New Testament canon. Further, the Shepherd of Hermas was considered a canonical book by some churches. It was read during early worship services along with the canonical books.

This water baptism doctrine for the forgiveness of sins is not some spurious doctrine drifting among a few of the early churches, but rather is the dominate understanding of how sins are forgiven. By the year 250 A.D. it is being taught with fervor.


  • Although there can be no other than the one baptism, they [heretics] fancy they baptize. Forsaking the fountain of life, they promise the grace of living and saving water. Men are not washed there, they are dirtied; their sins are piled up, not purged. (Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church, 11)

Those holding this "Christ plus baptism" view recognized the deficiencies of this teachings. But rather than correct a bad teaching, more bad teachings are added in an attempt to cover the problems with the initial bad teaching. The initial recognized deficiency being, what is the state of those professing faith in Christ, but never baptized. Are their sins not forgiven until they are dipped in water? Cyprian, the water baptism champion "addresses" this question. He contends there exists two ways a person can still attain forgiveness, even though the person was not water baptized.


  • 1. If one is martyred. Cyprian says, "they are baptized with the most glorious and most precious baptism of blood, of which the Lord himself said, I have another baptism to be baptized with." (Cyprian, Letter 69, The Baptismal Controversy, 22)

    2. If the church neglected its duty to baptize. Cyprian says, "the Lord in his mercy is able to grant them indulgence and not separate from the privileges of his Church.." (Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church, 23)

The early church is now far from the Apostles teachings that man is saved on the grounds of Christ's merits through faith, and moving further away with each new generation. At this point in time, a few generations have passed since the Apostles, and the Apostles original teachings on forgiveness bases on the works of Christ are all but lost. But before this doctrine surfaces again, it would be buried even deeper in works based salvational systems.

The early church after having shored up, or so it thought, the problems with its baptism doctrine, a new problems arises. Up to now the majority belief was that one is justified by God through baptism, but the early church was soon forced to consider how to deal with sins committed after baptism.

Christ plus the faith of a confessor (c. 250)

Cyprian's solution at removing the weaknesses with the "baptism forgives sin" doctrine, was really no solution at all. He did handle a few additional problems with his enhancements, but the issue of what to do with sins committed after baptism is still not resolved. This becomes a significant problem for the early church.

The early church was persecuted by wicked and ruthless emperors. One emperor even passed a law making it illegal to be a Christian. If a person was suspected of being a Christian, he could be taken to court. If he at the court proceeding denied being a Christian, he would be released without any further actions. But, if he confessed to being a Christian, he would be tortured and most of the time it was unto death. Many Christians under such persecution were able to make noble confessions and admit they were Christians, even after being beaten without mercy for hours, and sometimes days. Yet some under the pressure lapsed, and denied being a Christian to spare their life. Those that were able to pass through the persecution were honored, and given special privileges within the church.

After the time of persecution was over, some of these lapsed Christians wanted to be forgiven and reinstated into the church. Those who were persecuted and did not lapse were taking it upon themselves because of their extra merits they were believed to have, to restore those who had lapsed. This Cyprian says is not valid. By divine law he says, only the bishops have such authority. Cyprian does propose a solutions to the problem.


  • Finally, it is possible for the lapsed, by undergoing martyrdom afterwards, to receive the promises of the kingdom. (Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church, 19)

To suggest the only way for a lapsed Christian to be restored is with his own blood, is to say Christ's atonement was not sufficient for certain sins. This same error was made by those who passed through persecution, and granted forgiveness to others based on their heroic faith. Rather than correct a bad baptismal doctrine, many more bad teachings in addition to the ones illustrated above will be created to prop it up. At this point it should have been observed that fixing their baptism doctrine one problem at a time was not working. They should have considered the bigger question, by what means are sins forgiven, rather then trying to determine how individual sins would be forgiven. The sadness in all this is that people are looking away from the merits of Christ in the atonement, and replacing His merits with their own. This trend will continue until the Reformation.

Christ plus Apostolic Succession (c. 251)

Just when one might think the church is at a low and ready to rise out of the false theories of forgiveness it has been teaching, another false doctrine is introduced. Cyprian introduces a forgiveness of sins by church membership. With this false doctrine men are the gate keepers determining who is forgiven and who is not. He says, there is no salvation (forgiveness) outside the church. Cyprian's motives were pure. He was simply trying to protect the church from heretics, but in doing so damaged the church by the errors he introduced.

Cyprian was correct in his stating that there is no salvation outside the church, but he had the wrong definition of the church and this gave birth to even more errors. If he simply viewed the church as all those professing faith in Christ making up the spiritual body of Christ, he would have avoided much error. But instead, he viewed the church as the physical body of people whose local Bishop can be traced back to an Apostle, and whose doctrinal beliefs are the same as the Bishop of Rome.

This error should have been rejected when it first appeared, but instead it was nurtured and grew into a huge monster. If a believer in Christ does not accept this principle of apostolic succession tracing back to the catholic church at Rome, he was by reason of this doctrine considered outside of Christ and thus a pagan. Salvation was impossible for such a person.


  • He who does not keep this unity does not keep the law of God, nor the faith of the Father and the Son- nor life and salvation. (Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church, 6)

The true doctrine of forgiveness based on the merits of Christ alone is now nowhere to be found, and would not be found until the church drifts still further away.

Augustine- Christ plus baptism and the Lord's Supper (c. 400)

Augustine was not immune from the works based salvation teachings of his day. He was infected by them as well. Augustine may have placed more emphasis on one's sins being forgiven based solely on the merits of Christ, but he still does not look to that event alone as the basis for one's justification. Consider the following which he wrote during his conflicts with Pelagius, which occurred near the end of his life, and thus his most mature thoughts.


  • To the man who believes in Him that justifieth the ungodly his faith is imputed for righteousness. (Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book 1, Ch. 18)

One could point to this statement and conclude that Augustine believed the only basis for one's sins being forgiven is faith in the atoning work of Christ. However, when Augustine's statement is taken in its proper context, one finds something quite different. While Augustine does place a major emphasis on the atonement of Christ, faith in that work alone says Augustine is not sufficient to save. To the atoning work of Christ, the works of baptism and partaking of the Lord's Supper must be added. This Augustine states just a few chapters after this grand statement on justification by faith.


  • The Christians of Carthage have an excellent name for the sacraments, when they say that baptism is nothing else than "salvation," and the sacrament of the body of Christ nothing else than "life..." For wherein does their opinion, who designate baptism by the term salvation, differ from what is written: "He saved us by the washing of regeneration?" or from Peter's statement: "The like figure where-unto even baptism doth also now save us?"... If, therefore, as so many and such divine witnesses agree, neither salvation nor eternal life can be hoped for by any man without baptism and the Lord's body and blood... (Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book 1, Ch. 34)

Still further in this writing one finds Augustine's teachings on sins after baptism, the same as those who preceded him. That is, the merits of man are necessary to atone for sins committed after baptism. Consider the following quote from a chapter later in this same book with the heading "Works of Mercy- Means of Wiping Out Sins".


  • The Lord, ... was pleased to provide and endow with efficacious virtue certain healthful remedies against the guilt and bonds even of sins committed after baptism, for instance, the works of mercy, as when he says: "Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given unto you." (Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book 2, Ch. 3)

What Augustine has done with his teachings is make baptism and other works of man ingredients into being forgiven of sins, instead of faith in the atoning work of Christ. This teaching would be formally accepted at a church council in 529 A.D. It teaches that the justification of man is based on a work of man, namely baptism. This makes baptism part of the justification process. Consider what was concluded by the council concerning this teaching.


  • Canon 13. Concerning the restoration of free will. The freedom of will that was destroyed in the first man can be restored only by the grace of baptism, for what is lost can be returned only by the one who was able to give it. Hence the Truth itself declares: "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). (Council of Orange, [529 A.D.])

Although Augustine was mired in the works based salvation system of his day still, he stood against the majority view that man with his free will is able to desire the things of God. Augustine said that man's free will is capable of many things, but it was ruined by sin and now incapable of leading to man's justification unless it is first liberated by grace. That is, man's mind is not only incapable to leading him to justification, it will not even desire justification unless God changes it. This thought would be a key element of Martin Luther's thinking on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Thus Augustine does not turn the theological thinking of his peers to the merits of the atonement of Christ, but rather supports the continual drift towards salvation based on the merits of man. The drift continues, and with the next generation it will include assent to creeds for one's justification.

Christ plus Propositions (c. 500)

The works based salvational system so clearly presented by Cyprian is still having a major influence hundreds of years later. This can be illustrated by an early church writing called the Athanasian Creed (not believed to be written by Athanasius). It states in clear terms that some believed correct doctrine resulted in one's salvation. From the council of Nicea (325 A.D.), to the council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.), orthodox statements concerning the Trinity had been established. Heretics were still challenging these statements, and as a result, some came up with a new document stating that those who did not affirm the decisions of these early councils were not considered true Christians. The church is trying to protect what it considers precious, but deals with the issue wrongly. These innocent intentions keep leading the church further and further away from the truth. Consider this short portion of the Athanasian Creed.


  • Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance... Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It took the church about 400 years to define its doctrine of the Trinity. Within that 400 years, the church really only placed boundaries around this Biblical doctrine. It did not explain the mystery of the Trinity, it only placed bounds around what was considered orthodox. Therefore, the church wrestled with this doctrine for over 400 years, yet in near the year 500 A.D. the church now teaches one must affirm it to be save. The goal of protecting the faith from heretics was noble, but their approach has no scriptural support. This continues the slide further into doctrinal error.

The church for the most part was stagnate for the next 500 years, a period of time known as the middle ages. No major theological contributions would arise during this time. At the end of this period however, an important contribution to the justification by faith alone doctrine would be made. Anselm shows that salvation based on any merits of man is a contradiction.

Man cannot pay the debt owed for his sins (c. 1050)

Until Anselm of Canterbury it was rare for anyone to speak as if he understood that man has nothing to offer God in exchange for the forgiveness of sins. The dominant thought was being baptized, or performing some act of charity was sufficient to cancel sins committed. Anselm is his writing "Why God became Man," explains why this is not possible. Anselm shows man has no capability to make satisfaction to God for even the smallest of his sins.

Anselm starts by explaining what it means to sin, and how to make satisfaction for it. He notes all the thoughts and labors of a man ought to be subject to the will of God. This is the debt that all men owe to God, and it is sin to not give Him that. No one who pays this debt sins, and anyone who does not pay it sins. Should one sin against God, it is not enough to simply return what was taken. To make satisfaction one must return more than was taken. It is not enough for someone who has injured another to restore his original condition without giving some compensation for the pain and injury suffered. (Anselm, Why God became Man, Book 1, Ch. XI)

When man sinned in the garden, and surrendered his will to the devil, he took from God whatever God planned for humanity. Therefore, according to strict justice in order to make satisfaction with God, man would need to conquer the devil to regain what was lost. Since man was conquered by the devil and stole what belonged to God, and God lost it, so by the fact of man conquering the devil, the devil loses and God regains it. In addition, man would also need to justify as many men as God had planned for the Heavenly City that was lost due to the fall. However, sinful man is incapable of this, because a sinner cannot justify another sinner. Therefore man has no capacity to merit any justice from God for the things he does. Anything man may consider offering to God is only giving to God what is already owed. (Anselm, Why God became Man, Book 1, Ch. XXIII)

It would not be until 500 years later and Martin Luther, that many would understand the full weight of Anselm arguments. In the light of such convincing arguments, it makes previous church council matters on reinstating lapsed Christians and the like seem rather petty. Man has no ability to do penance for any of his sins, so it seems rather foolish to construct systems whereby satisfaction is made to God based on man's so-called merits. If the church considered this bigger problem initially, they may not have invented so many things for one to do to obtain forgiveness of sins. They did not before Anselm, nor after him. As a result the church continues to develop its merits based salvational system, until the weight of this system brings about its own collapse.

Man's merit based salvational system spins out of control (c. 1200 - 1500)

When the early bishops of the church first linked baptism and salvation together, it was a rather innocent mistake. The church was in the midst of a transition from the old covenant to the new covenant. Many were being killed, scattered, and persecuted. The scriptures were not easily accessible by the common people, and the New Testament canon was in the process of being established. This period can better be described as one of survival, rather than theological reflection. It is therefore understandable that they did not develop a solid understanding of the relationship between baptism and salvation. However, this innocent error became the fountainhead of many more errors. By the 13th century, these previous errors were gaining a structure, and would soon be firmly in place. For example, during this period a church council declared that sins committed after baptism would now need to be confessed to a priest. The priest would give the prescribed actions for the confessing sinner to carry out so his sins could be atoned for. It was mandated that this be observed at least once a year.


  • All the faithful of either sex, after they have reached the age of discernment, should individually confess all their sins in a faithful manner to their own priest at least once a year, and let them take care to do what they can to perform the penance imposed on them. [Fourth Lateran Council, Canon 21, [1215])

This foolish practice would give birth to more errors yet. With the structure in place of the priest prescribing atoning acts for one's personal sins, the confessing sinner became easy to manipulate. The church used this process for financial gain, and various other forms of persuasion. This grew into a system known as indulgences. Through the indulgence system, services could be performed on behalf of the church, or money given to support a church project, in exchange for laxer forms of penance to be performed. For example, when the church was involved with a crusade to gain back control of the holy land, the following degree was given.


  • It is our ardent desire to liberate the holy Land from infidel hands. We therefore declare, with the approval of this sacred council and on the advice of prudent men who are fully aware of the circumstances of time and place, that crusaders are to make themselves ready... We therefore, trusting in the mercy of almighty God and in the authority of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, do grant, by the power of binding and loosing that God has conferred upon us, albeit unworthy, unto all those who undertake this work in person and at their own expense, full pardon for their sins about which they are heartily contrite and have spoken in confession, and we promise them an increase of eternal life at the recompensing of the just; also to those who do not go there in person but send suitable men at their own expense, according to their means and status, and likewise to those who go in person but at others' expense, we grant full pardon for their sins. [Fourth Lateran Council, Canon 71, [1215])

By the 1500's, the system of indulgences became a means of raising money for church projects. Pope Leo X in 1516 granted indulgences to those who contributed to the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Commissioners, more commonly know as an indulgence preachers were appointed to collect money for this project.

Martin Luther came into contact with one such indulgence preacher that moved him to action. The thought of one buying satisfaction from God, in connection with his studying of the scriptures, caused Martin Luther much anguish. Luther concluded as Anselm did hundreds of years earlier. Man is unable to perform meritorious works for sins to be forgiven. In opposition to the popular Indulgence teachings of his time, in 1517 he wrote a list of 95 theses against indulgences, and nailed them to the door of the church in Wittenberg, and the Reformation was born.

A new beginning for justification by faith alone (1517)

The church journeyed for 1500 years trying to find the answer to that most important question, by what means can sins be forgiven. The church initially did not think the atonement of Christ alone of sufficient for the cancelling of sin. Then after struggling for years and years in 1517 the answer was clearly articulated. Not only was the atonement of Christ sufficient for the cancelling of sins, but no human works could be added to it to cancel sins. All that left of man was to accept by faith that a full payment was made for all sins past, present, and future.

When Martin Luther said "the just shall live by faith", he was really saying the old system of performing works in an attempt to satisfy God was all wrong. Our only hope of satisfying God is by having the merits of Christ imputed to us through faith. Man cannot contribute towards his own salvation. This is completely different than being forgiven of sin in baptism and atoning for personal sins after that on a regular basis. As James Buchanan correctly notes, the one is founded on the finished work of Christ, while the other depends on the imperfect works of sinful men. Man has no resources whereby to atone for any sins. All that he might do in an attempt to atone for sin would only be his duty.

To add any of man's merits, of which he has none, to the atonement of Christ to be forgiven of sins, is to confess to God that the atonement of Christ was incomplete. It is to say that man in some way deserves to be praised, and receive honor from God for completing the saving of his soul. For without such help, God alone could not bring such a one to heaven. Man can thank Christ for his contribution to his salvation, but he cannot thank Christ for it unconditionally, for Christ did not secure the forgiveness for past, present,and future sins according to this false system. Such are the logical consequences of man attempting to add to the atoning work of Christ.

God used Martin Luther to expose the corruptions during his day, and as a result a new movement was started. This movement is known as the Protestant Reformation. The name Protestant is a good one, because it was a collection of people protesting to the unscriptural practices that were being done in the name of Christ. As Luther protested to the practices during his day, the need for protest still exists, since those practices Luther listed as unscriptural are still occurring today. The system of man atoning for his sins, and gaining indulgences are still being taught. While the abuses are not as great, the basic system is still in place. Consider the following proclamation by one of the leaders of this system.


  • With regard to the required conditions, the faithful can gain the Jubilee indulgence:

    1) In Rome, if they make a pious pilgrimage to one of the Patriarchal Basilicas, namely, the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, ... or some pious exercise (e.g., the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, the recitation of the Akathistos Hymn in honour of the Mother of God)...

    The plenary indulgence of the Jubilee can also be gained through actions which express in a practical and generous way the penitential spirit which is, as it were, the heart of the Jubilee. This would include abstaining for at least one whole day from unnecessary consumption (e.g., from smoking or alcohol, or fasting or practising abstinence according to the general rules of the Church and the norms laid down by the Bishops' Conferences) and donating a proportionate sum of money to the poor; supporting by a significant contribution works of a religious or social nature (especially for the benefit of abandoned children, young people in trouble, the elderly in need, foreigners in various countries seeking better living conditions). (Incarnationis Mysterium, Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, [November 29, 1998])

In conclusion then, the history of justification by faith alone is the development of two ways for one to be forgiven of sin. One way says the merits of man's works plus Christ are need for forgiveness. The other way says the merits of Christ alone received through faith are all that is needed. It is the opinion of this writer that the first way seriously degrades the work of Christ, for it implies the sinner is worthy of some praise for his salvation, but the scriptures teach that Christ is worthy of this praise.


Selected Bibliography


Primary Sources

Eusebius. The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1965

Greenslade, S. L., Early Latin Theology. Louisville: The Westminster Press, MCMLVI

Fairweather, Eugene R., ed. A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, MCMLVI

McGrath, Alister E. Iustitia Dei, A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Cambridge [Eng.]: Cambridge University Press, 1986

Schaff, Philip, ed. Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, on-line from The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Secondary Sources

Augustine, Saint. Confessions. New York: Penguin Books, 1961

Bainton, Roland H. Early Christianity. Malabar: Krieger Publishing Company, 1960

Berkhof, Louis. The History of Christian Doctrines. Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust

Bercot, David W., ed. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1998

Buchanan, James. The Doctrine of Justification. Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1867

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. Peabody: Prince Press, 1997

MacArthur, John, R.C. Sproul, Joel Beeke, John Gerstner, and John Armstrong, eds. Justification by Faith Alone. Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1996

Nevins, Albert J. Answering a Fundamentalist. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1990

Richardson, Cyril R., ed. Early Christian Fathers. New York: Touchstone, 1996

Shelly, Bruce L., Church History in Plain Language. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1982

Sparks, Jack N., ed. The Apostolic Fathers. Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing Company, 1978

Sproul, R.C. Faith Alone, The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995

Sungenis, Robert A. Not be Faith Alone, the Biblical Evidence for the Catholic Doctrine of Justification. Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing Company, 1996

Walker, Williston, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy. A History of the Christian Church, 4th ed. New York: Scribner, 1918

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