A common criticism made today of Luther and the Reformed movement is that Luther, reacting to the excesses of 15th century Roman Catholicism, read his criticism of 15th century Catholicism back into Paul’s criticism of first century Judaism. On the face of it the suggestion seems worthy of consideration. And as one reads Luther, it is clear that he is at pains to demonstrate the Scriptural basis for his criticism of 15th century Roman Catholicism. But when the full witness of the Church through all ages is considered, there is little weight left in this argument against Luther.
Consider for a moment the words of Robert Gusseteste, writing is the 13th century (200 years before Luther and the Reformation), who said “as Augustine points out, faith itself is given to us by grace. Hence I do not acquire mercy based upon my merit” (cited in Levy, I.C., The Bible in Medieval Tradition: the Letter to the Galatians, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2011, 231.). Or what of Bruno the Carthusian, writing in the 11th century, who said “Nor should one forget that Abraham was justified by faith since this took place prior to his circumcision. Surely Abraham obtained the blessing by faith alone” (cited in Levy, I.C., The Bible in Medieval Tradition: the Letter to the Galatians, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2011, 151). And Ignatius of Antioch, writing in AD 108, who said “For the beginning is faith, and the end is love. Now these two, being inseparably connected together, are of God, while all other things which are requisite for a holy life follow after them” (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-ephesians-roberts.html).
There is, clearly, an enduring teaching of the Church, dating from well before Luther and the Reformation, right back to the time of the Apostles themselves, that the heart and centre of the Christian religion is a message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone.