Last week I was listening to Mitch Pacwa, a Roman Catholic priest and a Jesuit, on a podcast of his call-in radio program. Someone called up about faith or the letter of James. I forget what exactly Pacwa said about it, but it was the typical Catholic answer to salvation by faith alone. Now I remember. Pacwa took issue with Luther, who explicitly added the word 'alone' when he translated. This was meant to show that Luther was dishonest in his translation of Scripture. (Not to mention that many modern translations, NIV included, are concept-for-concept, not word-for-word, so I'm not sure why Pacwa takes issue, unless he wants to find another chance to swipe at the Great Reformer.) Luther indeed added the word 'alone' in his German translation of Paul's Letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 28, which in the ESV reads, "28. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." Luther put the word 'alone' after the word 'faith', and Catholics rail against him for that.
My question is, "What part of 'apart from' do you not understand?" What part of "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness," (Romans 4:2-3), don't you understand?
Whenever the topic of Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is brought up with a Catholic, set your watchclock and take bets on how many seconds the discussion will get to James chapter 2, where he says, in contradiction to Paul, that man is justified by works. They place a ton of weight on this little letter as though it should drive the doctrine. Even if one took the letter as Scripture (let's get this clear--I don't, along with the early church up to the end of the 3rd century, and along with Luther), you have whole didactic chapters in multiple letters of Paul showing how you are justified through faith, and this stuff is never contradicted by the likes of, say, John and Jesus. So it would be the tail wagging the dog to say that, because of the Letter of James, you're really not justified by faith alone. The speed with which one goes to the letter of James (or to the Catholic mistranslation of Galatians 5:6--it's not "faith formed by love," but "faith expressing itself in love") smells fishy to me.
The sola-fide deniers claim to go with "the whole counsel of God", as though holding two contradictory truths together is a good habit of reason. Ever since James, people obstinately resist the Great News that we're justified by Grace Alone through Faith Alone.