Sunday, November 30, 2003
Why Adopt the Subjective Genitive Reading?Grammatical Reasons It is important that we recognize that it is impossible to settle the question of the meaning of pistis Iesou Christou on grammatical grounds alone. Paul’s epistles contain both unambiguous subjective genitives (e.g. Romans 3:3; 4:16) and objective genitives (e.g. Philippians 3:8). The genitive construction can often bear either objective or subjective senses. For example, when we talk about ‘the knowledge of God’, are we referring to God’s own knowledge or to knowledge about God? The phrase is ambiguous taken by itself. We can say much the same thing about pistis Iesou Christou. Narrowing our attention to Paul’s uses of pistis and the genitive we should recognize that, apart from the disputed cases in which the genitive refers to Christ in some form or other, they are all ‘unmistakably subjective’ (Hays). Romans 3:22, one of the places where pistis Iesou Christou occurs, has a few unambiguous subjective genitive uses of pistis in close proximity (Romans 3:3; 4:12, 16). Perhaps some of the strongest grammatical evidence for the subjective genitive reading comes from the parallel between the expression ek pisteōs Abraam in Romans 4:16 and the expression ek pisteōs Iesou (Christou) as it occurs in Romans 3:26 and Galatians 3:22. Whilst the debate cannot be finally resolved on the grounds of grammar, the evidence does lean strongly in favour of the subjective genitive reading. As it constitutes the most natural reading of the expression, it should be our first choice. The burden of proof is with those who would seek to argue for an objective genitive reading. The Narrative Substructure of Paul’s Theology Narrative in the Epistles In Richard Hays’ book, The Faith of Jesus Christ, he argues for the subjective genitive reading by appealing to a narrative substructure to the book of Galatians. In fact, Hays’ argument for the narrative substructure is more central to his thesis than his argument for the subjective genitive. Hays wishes to place the question of the meaning of pistis Iesou Christou within the ‘framework of a more comprehensive debate about the story-shaped character of Paul’s theology.’ Many authors have tried to ‘demythologize’ Paul’s gospel, claiming that Paul’s gospel proclamation should be restated apart from any narrative framework. Whilst Paul does allude to a narrative, this narrative is not foundational to his message. Within his epistles Paul is imperfectly moving towards an expression of his gospel that has shed the unnecessary narrative elements. Hays strongly opposes such positions, arguing that narrative is central and foundational to Paul’s gospel. Paul’s argument in Galatians presupposes a narrative throughout. This narrative is for the most part hidden from view and only fragments and allusions to it are present in the text. However, the argument could not stand without it. Whilst the narrative substructure can shed little light upon the formal structure of the epistle, it serves as the ground for the argument throughout. For too long we have been inclined to view books such as Romans and Galatians as virtually self-standing declarations of the gospel. As these books are not narratival in form we have all too easily presumed that the narrative of the ‘gospels’ is largely peripheral to the gospel itself. Even when the gospels and epistles have not been divorced, their union has been quite unhappy. One of the greatest gains of the work of N.T. Wright and other New Perspective authors has been their ability to demonstrate the great unity between the gospels and the epistles. Hays analyzes narrative fragments in Galatians 4:3-6 and 3:13-14 using Greimas’ narrative model (an approach that should be familiar to readers of N.T. Wright) and detects that they are both references to the same story pattern seen from different perspectives. Within the ‘topical’ sequence (the topical sequence(s) is/are what come(s) between the beginning and the end of the story — the ‘initial’ and the ‘final’ sequence) Jesus plays the role of ‘subject’. Hays claims, on the basis of 3:14, that in this ‘topical’ sequence pistis plays the role of ‘helper’ (without specifying exactly what pistis refers to). Having established the pattern of the story in these places, he then views 3:21-22 within the same framework. In verse 22, the phrase pistis Iesou Christou appears. Recognizing that verse 22b expresses the ‘topical’ sequence of the story, Hays relates it to the pattern already established from 4:3-6 and 3:13-14. Having done this, it becomes clear that, if Hays’ analysis of the narrative structure is correct, pistis Iesou Christou (at least in this verse) cannot be an objective genitive. Following Northrop Frye, Hays argues that a story has different aspects. The mythos of a story refers to it viewed as a linear progression in narrative sequence. The dianoia of a story is the meaning or theme of the story. Whilst the mythos views the parts in their place within the narrative sequence, the dianoia views the elements of the story in the light of whole story. The dianoia can never be severed from the narrative, because it is discovered within the narrative. The meaning of the text is rooted in the text. Reflecting upon a story or poem, the narrative elements are ordered in a manner that frequently differs from the sequence of the narrative itself. In Galatians, Paul assumes his readers’ knowledge of the mythos of the story. However, they have missed the ‘point’ of the story. In Galatians Paul is arguing for the dianoia of the story — ‘Jesus the Messiah crucified’. Narrative Logic Paul’s argument is governed by a ‘narrative logic’. A narrative possesses ‘shape’ and ‘sequence’. Narrative logic is governed by these two aspects of a text. The ‘logic’ of narrative sequence refers to the order in which events occur within a story. The elements of a story are not randomly ordered. However, the ending does not follow from the beginning by a strict logical necessity. The manner in which one event follows from another is characterized by fitness (as Hays terms it) rather than strict logic. The conclusion should not be ‘predictable’, but it should be ‘acceptable’. The logic of narrative shape has regard to the ‘“world” of possible and appropriate action’ established by the story. This ‘logic’ recognizes ‘patterns of order and value’ posited by the story. It ‘configures’ narrative elements into significant patterns, patterns which are integral to the story itself and not imposed upon it. Hays maintains that the whole of Galatians 3 is governed by a ‘participationist soteriology’, which belongs to the logic of narrative shape. Hays argues that Galatians 3 and 4 work within such a framework of logic. His argument centres upon the place of the Torah within the story. The Torah is after the promise to Abraham until the coming of the Messiah. Paul’s critique of the Torah flows from his appreciation of the place that it possesses within the salvation narrative. Those who seek to go back to Torah are denying the whole logic of the narrative sequence of the story. It is like the king’s daughter choosing to return to live with the dragon after having been delivered by the knight (a particularly colourful illustration from Hays!). ‘Pistis’ in the Narrative Framework Hays seeks to integrate the various elements of Paul’s argument into this logical framework. He pays particular attention to the place of pistis in 3:23 and 3:25. The place of pistis in these verses has been variously understood in history (a new redemptive-historical period, a new body of doctrine, a new way of relating to God, etc.). Hays argues that none of these suggestions do sufficient justice to the fact that pistis refers to a particular event that ‘came’ (although they all contain important elements of truth). Paul uses an aorist rather than a perfect participle; it should be translated ‘because the faith came…’ rather than ‘now that the faith has come…’ Hays shows that ‘the faith’ in these verses is closely related to Christ so that ‘the coming of pistis is virtually identified with the coming of Christ himself.’ The role of the Torah was until the coming of pistis (vv. 23, 25) or the Messiah as the promised seed (v.19). The only other occurrence for the verb apokaluptō in Galatians, apart from 3:23 where it refers to pistis being ‘revealed’, is in 1:16 where the object is God’s Son (see also 1:12). Hays argues that this pistis should be taken as a reference to Christ as the ground of faith, not merely as its object. Christ does this by His life of faithfulness, culminating in His faithful death. By doing this He acts as a representative figure, enacting a pattern of redemption that determines the existence of others hoi ek pisteōs (‘those of faith’ — ‘the faith people’). Hays writes:—
In a mysterious way, Jesus has enacted our destiny, and those who are in Christ are shaped by the pattern of his self-giving death. He is the prototype of redeemed humanity. Thus, for Paul, “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” has an incorporative character.… Jesus is not merely a good moral example; rather, his story transforms and absorbs the world.It is, of course, misguided to ask whose faith is being referred to by the term pistis in verses 23 and 25. It is both Christ’s own faith and it is the faith of those who participate in Him and recapitulate His life. As Hays observes, we participate in Christ and in His destiny ‘not only vicariously but also actually’. Christ is the Head of a new humanity. Our Faith and the Faith of Jesus Christ Taking these observations back to Galatians 2, there are a few further observations to be made. In verse 16 there is a clear reference to believing ‘in’ Christ Jesus. S.K. Williams has interpreted this phrase by referring to the parallel expression in Galatians 3:27 which refers to being ‘baptized into Christ’. Just as one is ‘baptized into’ Christ, so one ‘believes into’ Christ. This is the means by which we come to be ‘in Christ’. This involves adopting Christ’s own ‘life-stance’ of pistis.
To adopt this stance is to trust and obey Him who raised Jesus from the dead, to believe like Christ, and thereby to stand with Christ in that domain, that power field, created through his death and resurrection.Christ is not so much the ‘object’ of our faith as He is the One who is its pioneer, creator and chief exemplar (Hebrews 12:2). It is interesting that, in a number of key places, Scripture seems to suggest that our faith is primarily directed, not towards Christ, but towards God the Father (e.g. Romans 4:24; 1 Peter 1:21). This, of course, is not to deny that Christ is clearly presented by Scripture as the object of faith on a number of occasions. In Galatians 2:20 we read that the life that Paul (of course, some have interpreted the ‘I’ to mean Israel) now lives in the flesh he lives by the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved Paul and gave Himself for Paul. Is this a direct reference to Christ’s own faithfulness? Probably not. However, it clearly refers to a new animating force within Paul’s life. Paul has been crucified with Christ and now he no longer lives but Christ lives in him. The animating principle of Christ’s own life — His pistis — becomes the animating principle of Paul’s life as Christ lives in Paul. Dunn has argued against the subjective genitive understanding of pistis Iesou Christou (the subjective genitive reading is rejected by a number of New Perspective authors, not least Don Garlington and James Dunn). One of the arguments that he has brought forward is against the subjective genitive reading of dia tēs pisteōs autou in Ephesians 3:12. He claims that the ‘faith’ mentioned in verse 17 of the same chapter must be referring to the same faith that is mentioned in verse 12. As the ‘faith’ of verse 17 is a faith in the hearts of believers, verse 12 cannot be taken as a reference to Christ’s own faithfulness. Apart from the fact that, viewed in isolation from verse 17, the subjective genitive reading of verse 12 would be more consistent with the biblical way of expressing this theme (where this theme occurs in Hebrews, it is our ‘faithful’ High Priest who is the primary focus, not our personal faith in Him — Hebrews 4:16; 10:19), we should also recognize that Dunn’s argument with regard to verse 17 does not stand. The observations made on Galatians 2:20 have, I believe, application here. Surely verse 17 makes far more sense when we read it as saying that Christ dwells in our hearts by the living principle of faith that guided His own life, rather than merely by means of our own personal faith. The passage seems to be primarily stressing God’s agency, not our own. To focus on the contingency of Christ’s indwelling upon our personal faith would, I expect, disrupt the flow of Paul’s prayer. Of course, the principle of faith by which Christ lives in us must also be thought of as our own faith. Once we understand this, we will appreciate that no dichotomy need be drawn between Christ’s own faith and the faith of the Christian. The very least that we can say is that any denotation of the one necessarily connotes the other. The phrase pistis Iesou Christou is beautifully ambiguous. As Hays and others observe, Paul’s language is very allusive and poetic. In Western theological traditions we have tended to try to argue that Paul speaks univocally and that there is only one right interpretation of such phrases. Poetic thought can be clear without being univocal. Hays, in particular, has done great work in challenging the general models for Pauline interpretation. Reading Paul is like listening to a symphony or reading poetry. True accuracy of interpretation consists in attuning our ears to the text. We need to hear the echoes of the OT Scriptures in the epistles; we need to learn to navigate the webs of allusions and interplaying themes. Accuracy of interpretation does not necessitate the elimination of all ambiguity in the text. Just as it is futile to claim that there is only one meaning to a poem, so we must recognize that the Pauline epistles — and indeed, the Scriptures as a whole — have many levels of meaning. Rather than focusing on narrowing the interpretation down to the single meaning, we need to open up the texts to reveal their multifaceted significance. I was intending to complete this material on the faith of Jesus Christ within a couple of posts. However, to do it justice I feel that it is far more expedient to spread it out a bit. Hopefully I will be able to post the rest within the next few days. I trust that the compelling nature of the subjective genitive reading is beginning to become apparent. It should be clear that it provides a way to safeguard the Reformed truths that I mentioned at the beginning of my previous post. In the next post I would like to demonstrate the effect that the subjective genitive reading has upon the argument of some key Pauline passages: Galatians 3, Romans 3 and Philippians 3. I would also like to show how Christ’s faithfulness relates to God’s righteousness, thereby addressing some of the questions that will have been hanging over from my post on that subject.
Saturday, November 29, 2003
A CHURCH of England bishop who offered to make Jonny Wilkinson an honorary canon of his cathedral if he helped England to win the rugby World Cup has come under pressure to fulfil his promise. Speaking before the final at the installation of new lay canons, the Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, suggested the player should join their number if he spurred England to victory. The bishop’s spokesman said Dr Saxbee was now uncertain whether to approach Mr Wilkinson or to “kick the idea into touch”.
Friday, November 28, 2003
Justification by the Faithfulness of Jesus ChristThroughout their history, evangelical Christians have strongly maintained a salvation that is by Christ alone. To an outsider it may appear as if the prodigious amount of ink spilt to protect this truth is excessive. However, I believe that evangelicals have rightly perceived the threats that such a truth will always be exposed to. If our salvation is built upon a synergistic foundation we will have no cause for hope or assurance. No superstructure built upon such an alloyed basis can survive long. If any aspect of our salvation ultimately rests upon anything other than God’s free grace in Jesus Christ we might as well abandon all hope. Unfortunately, having strongly defended the fact that salvation is by Christ, through faith alone evangelicals have been decidedly less able in their definitions of what this ‘faith’ actually is. This has led to painful and continual introspection for many. It is an unparalleled tragedy that the truth of justification by faith alone that illuminated many benighted hearts in the days of the Reformers with the new dawn of assurance has become, in the hands of many of their successors, one of the greatest barriers opposing the reception of this blessing. What is it about the faith that saves that enables us to have confidence in God’s presence? One of the most popular misunderstandings of the nature of the faith that saves is that it consists of believing true propositions about Christ. Many people think that God thought that works were too hard and so He decided that He would save people on the more lenient basis of their belief in particular propositions. For others the faith that saves is a particular ‘psychological disposition’ (as Hays terms it). These views are, of course, wrongheaded. The faith that saves cannot be a surrogate ‘work’ (as the term is generally used). Many respond to such challenges by arguing that faith is not so much man’s work as it is God’s work in man. This view generally fails to take into account the fact that exactly the same claim can be made regarding man’s works (e.g. Ephesians 2:10). These approaches lead to many problems down the line, particularly as we try to construct a consistent ordo salutis. However, there are two chief problems with such approaches that I would like to draw attention to. The first problem common to all of these views of faith (whether psychological or intellectual) is that the necessary connection between faith and Christ is left unclear. Christ is often seen as little more than the passive object of our personal faith. It is also far from clear from Paul’s arguments in Galatians and Romans (as they are commonly read) why Christ needs to be the object of our faith. As Richard Hays points out, Christ was not the direct object of Abraham’s faith (I think that Hays is right to argue that John 8:56 should not be employed as a means to avoid this very real problem). It seems strange that Paul should bring Abraham forward as an example in Galatians and Romans if he is arguing for faith in Christ. Whilst most Christians could demonstrate why Christ is the object of faith, Paul does not seem to be arguing for this position very cogently in His epistles. A further problem arises when our attention is drawn away from Christ to our own faith. Whether we like it or not, this has often been an effect of the general reading of Paul’s teaching on salvation. If Paul’s argument is that faith, rather than meritorious works provides the precondition for salvation, we will always be tempted to look for faith in our hearts, rather than looking to Christ. The ‘Pistis Iesou Christou’ debate In recent years there have been considerable changes in the field of NT scholarship. Following the advent of the New Perspective many aspects of the old understanding of Paul and his relationship to Judaism were seen to be untenable. The quiet alley of Pauline scholarship has been transformed into a noisy thoroughfare of ideas. Traditional readings that had stood virtually unchallenged for centuries suddenly found themselves overturned. The interpretation of Paul has been thrown into a degree of flux that probably exceeds anything that has occurred since the Reformation. An ideological earthquake has changed the contours of our understanding of Pauline theology forever. As the dust begins to settle we recognize the far-reaching effects of the changes that have taken place. There are a number of positions within Pauline theology that have been taken for granted for so long that most have adopted them without question. Such positions are now being re-evaluated. One thinks of the interpretation of the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ in Romans. In most evangelical commentators, this phrase as it occurs in Romans 1:17 and elsewhere is treated in the light of Martin Luther’s conversion experience. Even if Luther is not mentioned (he often is), it is Luther’s question that is brought to the text. God’s own personal righteousness is clearly (according to this position) a threat to the sinful human being. It demands perfect legal obedience and so we must interpret this phrase to refer to a righteousness that is given to the sinner (by imputation). After a significant upheaval in the church’s understanding of Scripture, it will always take a while before a new consensus begins to emerge. Luther’s understanding of the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ soon gained the hegemony in evangelical circles, despite the fact that amongst the early Reformers a number of different understandings of the phrase existed. If the text of Romans was designed to answer Luther’s question — How can I find a gracious God? — then Luther’s understanding of ‘the righteousness of God’ was certainly the most cogent. Whilst there once was a consensus in evangelical circles that Luther’s way of framing the problem was generally correct, this consensus no longer exists. A number of middle courses can be charted between Luther’s dichotomy between righteousness imputed to the believer and God’s own righteousness requiring perfect obedience. We can often forget how greatly the questions we bring to the text can determine the answers that we receive. The legitimacy of the questions that most evangelicals have been accustomed to bring to books such as Romans and Galatians have been severely challenged by recent scholarship. They are the wrong questions to bring to the text. As people have taken for granted for so long that Paul is answering the question of how an individual can get right with a holy God, they are very disturbed by the idea that Paul may have been answering questions about God’s keeping of His covenant and about how Christians should relate to each other within the church. For most evangelicals the first is an OT question and the second is not very significant as evangelicals generally have little more than a ‘functional ecclesiology’ (as Wright puts it). When different questions are brought to the text, our reading of the text will take a very different form. We have already seen this to some degree with the understanding of Paul’s usage of the terminology of righteousness. For many centuries people have read the Greek term pistis Iesou Christou to mean ‘faith in Jesus Christ’. If Romans and Galatians were written to answer Luther’s question, this reading is obvious. How does an individual get right with a holy God? By believing in Jesus, not by moral effort. However, if Luther’s question is the wrong one, our understanding of this phrase is thrown into some confusion. If the correct question is more along the lines of ‘How has God kept His covenant promises and set the world to rights?’ the answer ‘by faith in Jesus Christ’ simply does not make sense. In one of the latest translations of the Bible, the New English Translation (NET), Romans 3:21-26 reads as follows:—
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed—namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him as the mercy seat by his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.Most people reading this translation will be struck by the translation of verses 22 and 26; we are used to the reading ‘through faith in Jesus Christ’. The NET translators went to great lengths to determine how to render these verses. Having spent much time trying to ascertain the direction of the best of NT scholarship, they opted for the reading above. The debate on the meaning of the pistis Iesou Christou has ‘decisively turned’ (Luke Timothy Johnson’s words) in favour of the reading ‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’. While many still argue for ‘faith in Jesus Christ’, they are rapidly finding themselves in a minority in academic circles. The NET represents a significant milestone in the development of the debate. Claims for reading pistis Iesou Christou as ‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ are by no means new. Little attention was given to writers such as Johannes Haussleiter (1891) and Gerhard Kittel (1906) when they argued for the reading. The ‘objective genitive’ reading (which treated Christ as the object of faith) was so entrenched that it sensed little challenge from such positions. Kittel himself was pessimistic about the possibility of his position being accepted. It all seemed far too radical. Kittel and others were, of course, well aware that the language of ‘faith in Christ’ lay at the very heart of the Protestant understanding of the gospel. Any claim that it should be understood differently would have met with a very frosty reception. Should the understanding of the term be changed, many others things would have to be changed to fit in with it. There was little chance of this happening. The debate was revived in the 1950s by Gabriel Hebert and Thomas Torrance, who argued for the subjective genitive reading. Unfortunately they argued that Paul’s uses of pistis carried a ‘Hebrew’ rather than a ‘Greek’ meaning. James Barr’s book, The Semantics of Biblical Language powerfully attacked their misguided use of etymology as a support for their position. Had Hebert and Torrance built their position more clearly upon contextual or theological grounds their arguments might have met a better fate. The debate did not end at this point; there were too many good reasons to adopt the subjective genitive reading. In the late seventies, the world of Pauline scholarship was rocked by the work of E.P. Sanders and others as the New Perspective emerged. Terms such as ‘the righteousness of God’ were being re-evaluated by authors like Ernst Käsemann. A mainstream reconsideration of pistis Iesou Christou was bound to follow. In 1981, Richard Hays wrote his seminal Ph.D. thesis on the faith of Jesus Christ. This work, later published by the Society of Biblical Literature, has served to focus the debate and is largely responsible for the widespread acceptance of the subjective genitive reading today. Recent years have seen numerous works on the subject. Since Hays’ thesis, Ian Wallis and others have done extensive research in the place of ‘Jesus’ faith’ in the thought of the early church. The debate is by no means over. However, the subjective genitive reading can no longer be casually dismissed now that a general consensus favouring the objective genitive no longer exists. The subjective genitive reading is supported by many major scholars, among them N.T. Wright, R.N. Longenecker, L.T. Johnson, B. Witherington III, S.K. Williams, J.L. Martyn and M.D. Hooker (objective genitive supporters include J.D.G. Dunn, F.F. Bruce, M. Silva, S. Westerholm). It is important that we appreciate that the subjective genitive reading is not being followed for novelty’s sake. There are compelling reasons to adopt it. Even some opponents of the reading are willing to admit that the theology of the subjective genitive reading is ‘powerful, important and attractive’ and is ‘wholly compatible with Paul’s theology’ (James Dunn). I hope to lay out some of the reasons why someone would adopt the reading in my next post. The general consensus that once existed on the meaning of pistis Iesou Christou was reached more on the basis of theological presuppositions taken to the text than on the basis of exegesis. Few commentaries of the past give much attention to the meaning of the phrase. It was taken for granted that Paul was contrasting two human actions: believing in Jesus or earning merit by the law. Scholarship has challenged many of assumptions that once governed the understanding of the text. Nowadays, it is very hard to argue either from the Pauline epistles, or from Jewish texts of the same period, that the Judaism Paul was engaging with was Pelagian in the manner that has previously been assumed. We have been forced to re-examine the text. None of these things should surprise the person weaned on the theology of authors such as Ridderbos and Gaffin. In a soteriology that places the emphasis upon the historia salutis and salvation by participation or recapitulation, the concept of ‘the faithfulness of Christ’ seems far more natural than it does within a soteriology that absolutizes the forensic aspect of salvation. I am convinced that as we read about the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, we will be able to see certain neglected aspects of our salvation more clearly. These will in turn serve to clarify and flesh out many of the aspects which we already know and treasure. Against the claims of those who would claim that this is a ‘revolutionary’ reading, I would like to stress the constructive role that it plays within our theology. It does not overthrow anything that Reformed theologians have held dear. It does, however, have many positive truths to teach us and can contribute much to our understanding of Christ’s role in our salvation. It sharpens our focus upon soteriology and can serve to protect us against a number of errors, not least that of separating Christ’s benefits from His Person. This is a very, very sketchy introduction to the pistis Iesou Christou debate. My next post will present some of the reasons why I believe that the subjective genitive interpretation of the phrase is to be preferred.
Justification as LiberationThere are people today who would argue that any suggestion that ‘justification’ includes liberation is practically denying the foundation of the Christian faith — the hermetically sealed dogmatic categories of justification and sanctification. I stumbled across this while reading Calvin today:—
Respecting the phrase, the sanctuary shall be justified, some translate it — “Then the sanctuary shall be expiated;” but I prefer retaining the proper sense of the word. We know how usually the Hebrews use the word “justify” when they speak of rights. When their own rights are restored to those who have been deprived of them — when a slave has been blessed with his liberty — when he who has been unjustly oppressed obtains his cause, the Hebrews use this word “justified.” As God’s sanctuary was subject to infamy by the image of Olympian Jove being exhibited there, all respect for it had passed away; for we know how the glory of the temple sprang from the worship of God. As the temple had been defiled by so great disgrace, it was then “justified,” when God established his own sacrifices again, and restored his pure worship as prescribed by the Law. The sanctuary, therefore, shall be justified; that is, vindicated from that disgrace to which for a time it had been subject. [Commentary on Daniel 8:14]Justification cannot ultimately be distinguished from God’s activity of setting things to rights, just as faith cannot ultimately be distinguished from faithfulness. If people would only pay careful attention to the thought-world in which Paul operated — the thought-world of the Torah and the prophets — his epistles would make a lot more sense, and much of our dogmatics would suddenly begin to look very confusing.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Monday, November 24, 2003
Saturday, November 22, 2003
Friday, November 21, 2003
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Justification UnpackedWe will now begin to unpack the elements of Paul’s doctrine of justification. In my approach to this subject I am deeply indebted to the following works: Tom Wright, What St. Paul Really Said; Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology: Volume 1; Don Garlington, An Exposition of Galatians; Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul and his Galatians commentary and Peter Leithart’s fantastic article “Judge Me, O God”: Biblical Perspectives on Justification. As we do so I trust that we will be able to catch a glimpse of the multifaceted nature of the doctrine. The language of justification is complex, operating on a number of levels. The language of justification is generally understood to be forensic. Although the terminology of justification finds it origin in the law court, reading this language against the background of the OT we are led to see that the language of justification also operates on the planes of covenant and eschatology. In the Pauline corpus the concept of justification is inseparably related to the concept of righteousness. If we are to understand justification we must understand it against the background of the concept of righteousness, to which it is always correlative. Many Protestants have understood the language of justification against the background of the Roman law court. Whilst justification is certainly forensic language we should not immediately presume that any forensic system will enable us to fully appreciate what Paul means by it. By relating ‘justification’ to the concept of ‘righteousness’ we are better equipped to unpack the Pauline understanding of justification without placing it within an alien framework. As Don Garlington observes, ‘Strictly speaking, there is no independent doctrine of justification which is detachable from righteousness as a generic category.’ Righteousness in the Old Testament Protestants have often understood the term ‘righteousness’ to refer to conformity to the law in every detail. This understanding of ‘righteousness’ has in turn shaped the concept of ‘justification’. This understanding of ‘righteousness’ is quite alien to the biblical framework in which the term is employed. The language of ‘righteousness’ is central to the OT way of thinking. However, theologians have struggled to understand how this language operates. In the first volume of his Old Testament Theology, Gerhard von Rad discusses this problem. He argues that, by imposing Western presuppositions, violence has been done to the OT text. Within the West the language of righteousness has been understood to refer to ‘man’s proper conduct over against an absolute ethical norm, a legality which derives its norm from the absolute idea of justice.’ This absolute norm led to ‘absolute demands and absolute claims’. Understood this way, the question that remained to be answered was that of the identity of the absolute norm presupposed. Of course, no satisfactory answer could be given; the question was the wrong one to ask. In the OT actions were not measured against an absolute ethical norm, but were understood within the context of a relationship. ‘Righteousness’ referred to the fulfilling of the obligations of a relationship, not to the fulfilment of some absolute ethical norm. The righteous man is the one who satisfies the claims that a particular relationship (among the many relationships he is in) lays upon him. We can see this concept of righteousness in many places in the OT. One example will serve to illustrate. In 1 Samuel 24:17 we read (cf. 1 Samuel 26:23):—
Then [Saul] said to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil.”David’s righteousness was his faithfulness to the relationship that existed between himself and Saul, his king. Such an understanding of righteousness can help us to understand uses of the terminology that would otherwise be deeply confusing (e.g. Genesis 38:26). Perverted forms of ‘righteousness’ can exist as this previous case illustrates. Understood this way, we can also understand the manner in which the language of ‘righteousness’ is used of God Himself. When God is referred to as ‘righteous’, He is fulfilling the claims of the covenant that He established with His people. God keeps His promises because He is righteous (e.g. Nehemiah 9:8). As the biblical language of righteousness is ‘relationship’ language, it is ‘covenant’ language. When a man keeps the obligations of the covenant, he is righteous. When God saves His people, He is being righteous and keeping His covenant promises. In this framework we can begin to understand how God’s forgiving of sinners is a function of His righteousness (e.g. 1 John 1:9). The Law Court When a man’s faithfulness to a relationship was called into question, it was within the setting of the law court that the situation was resolved. Within the Hebrew law court there were three principal parties: the judge, the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff was the party bringing the accusation, the defendant was the accused party and the judge was the one who declared the defendant righteous or unrighteous. As ‘righteousness’ language is ‘relationship’ language, it functions in different ways, depending on which party it refers to. The ‘righteous’ judge is the judge who tries the case and executes the judgment according to the law. Within the setting of the law court, the ‘righteous’ defendant or plaintiff have that status as a result of the decision of the judge. The righteous judge vindicates or justifies the righteous party, bestowing upon that party a status that they did not possess before. The vindicated party is cleared of any blame. This clearing of blame constitutes the party as righteous. The parties in the case might seek to anticipate the future justifying verdict by appealing to the fact that they had been righteous in the relationship that was being judged. However, this should not be confused with the status of ‘righteous’ that is conferred upon a party by the court. The relationship between the court and the defendant should not be confused with the relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff. Whilst the defendant may have been righteous in his relationship with plaintiff, his righteousness in relationship to the court is only established by the final decision of the court. In the West we are too easily inclined to think of righteousness as some quality or substance. For this reason we fail to recognize the manner in which the verdict of the court can establish the status of the defendant. Either the justifying verdict must make the defendant righteous by infusing some substance into him or by transferring someone else’s righteousness like a piece of property. This is one of the principal reasons for N.T. Wright’s rejection of the language of imputation in its traditional Protestant use. Righteousness is not some substance that can be injected into someone or some object that can be transferred from one party to another. By its very nature, righteousness is bound to a particular party. The righteous status conferred upon the defendant by the court’s decision cannot be the judge’s own righteousness, nor can it be some quality within the defendant himself. The Nature of Judgment As righteousness language is relationship language, it is dynamic and ‘action-orientated’. The biblical nature of judgment, as it is also conceived of in the context of relationship, is also to be seen as dynamic and ‘action-orientated’. Protestants have all too often thought of justification in terms of a heavenly pronouncement that goes unheard on earth. However, in the OT the judgment of the judge was seen primarily in its execution rather than in its declaration. The judge was bound to execute justice and not merely to declare it. Consequently, God’s justification of His people would be seen in His deliverance of them. When David asked for God to judge and vindicate him (e.g. Psalm 7:8) he was looking for God to crush his enemies and to lift him up. David was not looking for some ethereal pronouncement; he was looking for a physical deliverance. While David was being defeated by his enemies, his righteous status before God was being called into question. If David really was one of God’s righteous people, why wasn’t God coming to the aid of his cause? David was calling God to reaffirm his righteous status by delivering him from his enemies. As God is the judge, His own righteousness is bound up in the vindication of His people. As God justifies His people, He is seen to be righteous. When his people were suffering defeat, God’s own righteousness was being called into question. If God really was the righteous Judge, why wasn’t He aiding and vindicating His people? God’s deliverance of His people served as a vindication of both Himself as the Judge and of them as the defendants. This two-sided nature of justification is seen in many places in Scripture. This is why the psalmist could appeal to God to judge him according to his [the psalmist’s] own righteousness (e.g. Psalm 7:8), but also according to God’s own righteousness (e.g. Psalm 35:24). The righteousness of God and the righteousness of the covenant people were both placed into question when the enemies of God’s people prospered. Both God and His people were justified in their respective covenant roles when God delivered the people from their enemies. Covenant and Eschatology We should not fall into the trap of believing that the language of righteousness should always be seen within the context of the courtroom. The language can function in many informal settings and is not bound to the formal setting of the courtroom. A person treating another person as a faithful friend is just as much a case of justification as the execution of justice in the courtroom setting would be. Righteousness language flourishes in informal contexts in Scripture. Whilst we might be tempted to presume that a legal metaphor is being employed, we should recognize that the language is far more flexible than we might originally be led to believe. For this reason, we need not be tempted, at every encounter with righteousness language in Scripture, to draw a mental picture of the courtroom. Whilst this can sometimes help to clarify matters, it is by no means necessary. Sometimes the law court metaphor can even break down (e.g. Romans 4:5 and the ‘justification of the ungodly’ cf. Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 17:15). It is important that we recognize that the language of righteousness can work happily against the wider background of the covenant. Indeed, this is the place in which we will most commonly find it. As Wright points out:—
…the covenant between God and Israel is the basic context of meaning within which righteousness-language finds its home; and … the law court is the metaphorical context which gives particular colour to that covenantal language…Protestants have generally fallen into the trap of abstracting the language of righteousness from the covenant. Righteousness is conceived of as some substance or quality and rarely if ever presupposes a covenant relationship. Of course, this cannot but cause us problems. If the covenant provides the context in terms of which all of God’s dealings are to be understood, it is fatal to abstract justification from this context and hope to make sense of it. Once we recognize this, we will be more adequately prepared to understand further aspects of righteousness language. If OT righteousness language is to be understood in the manner that I have already outlined, we must recognize the strong relationship between justification and eschatology. Justification is far more than a bare declaration that someone is righteous. Justification necessarily involves putting things to rights. God’s justifying judgment is to be seen primarily in His execution of justice, rather than in the declaration of justice. In our day and age many people ask if God can be God if there is so much evil in the world. They wonder why bad things happen to good people. Surely God must intervene. These questions are not alien to the Bible. The doctrine of justification is the biblical answer to these questions. God will act to set things to rights. He will deliver those who trust in Him and destroy those who hate Him. He will vindicate His name from the accusations of the enemies of God’s people. He will make the difference between the righteous and the wicked clear (e.g. Malachi 3:13—4:3). Justification is the eschatological hope of the people of God. The covenant drama of the OT is played out against the metaphorical backdrop of the law court. As the God of the covenant and the righteous Judge, God’s righteousness is revealed over history in His dealings with men. The common OT phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ is used to refer to God’s eschatological vindication of His people as the righteous Judge and to His keeping of His promises as the covenant God. The covenant people believed that the righteous Judge who had made promises to His people would prove Himself to be righteous, vindicating His people by delivering them and setting the world to rights. Within the psalms and the prophets the eschatological nature of God’s righteousness is clearly seen. God’s righteousness is revealed by His promised salvation. In Isaiah 40—55 the theme of God’s righteousness is ever present. God has promised to redeem His people and set the world to rights. The revelation of God’s righteousness will occur when this salvation is accomplished. Summary To this point we have seen that, in the OT, righteousness language is covenantal language and law court language and should be understood to be eschatological in nature. God’s righteousness is his keeping of His promises to His people (covenant) and His vindicating of His covenant people against their accusers and enemies (law court); this is awaited as a future event of concrete deliverance (eschatology). Justification is, narrowly defined, God’s declaration that someone is righteous. This declaration takes the form of concrete actions. In a very general sense, God justifies people when he treats them as His faithful covenant partners (the law court metaphor can often be unhelpful in such situations; it has the tendency to formalize something that should not be viewed in such a manner). God can justify His people by delivering them from their enemies, making promises to them, by granting them access into His presence, or by a number of other ways. As justification is concrete in form, it can be more broadly defined as God’s setting to rights (or ‘rectifying’). The Relationship between OT and NT language Many people treat the OT and NT as separate and hermetically sealed units. The NT must be interpreted on its own terms and the OT on its own terms. The conceptual framework of the OT is radically different to that of the NT and one should not import concepts from one testament to the other. I am increasingly convinced that this approach is adopted because people are aware that their reading of the NT is quite alien to the covenantal framework of the OT. Last year I asked one of the most senior lecturers in the evangelical college about the relationship between the concepts of election in the OT and the NT. He responded by saying that whilst election in the OT was generally corporate in its nature, in the NT it is radically individualized and so we must keep the two firmly separate. The NT concept of election does not have a corporate aspect. He is a Reformed Baptist and he knew full well that key elements of his system would be under threat if he allowed OT concepts to trespass too far onto the pages of the NT. This serves as a good example of the approach taken by many. If you were to ask most people to develop the doctrine of justification from the OT they would probably quote Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4, verses quoted by Paul in Romans and Galatians. However, if you asked them to explain these verses in their original contexts, they would be hard pressed to do so. The manner in which the conceptual frameworks of the two testaments have been alienated from each other can be seen in many places. Ridderbos provides an example of this problem in his treatment of Romans 4:3’s quote from Genesis 15:6 in Paul: An Outline of his Theology. Ridderbos recognizes that
In the original context of Genesis 15:6 the words “righteousness” and “to reckon for” do not have the forensic significance that Paul, in harmony with the later legalistic-Jewish climate of thought, here attributes to them.He criticizes those who read Romans 4:3-5 in the light of the original sense of Genesis 15:6 and those who would impose the meaning of Romans 4:3 back upon Genesis 15:6. Similar problems can be observed with regard to Habakkuk 2:4. Of course, this is closely related to the problem I outlined in my previous post: the first century Jewish context becomes more and more determinative for Pauline exegesis. Paul is primarily interacting with a Judaism that has become divorced from the OT pattern of religion, rather than with the actual meaning of the Scriptural text. Consequently, the beliefs that we hold about this form of Judaism become more and more central to the interpretative task. The study of Second Temple Judaism can shed much light on the NT text. However, when it starts to exert so powerful an influence upon our interpretation we should really begin to question the place that it has been given in our interpretation. The centrality of the supposed character of Second Temple Judaism to the structure of much evangelical thought can be easily recognized by the reactions to the New Perspective movement in many conservative circles. For some it appears that by denying their particular understanding of Second Temple Judaism, the New Perspective might as well have denied the whole faith! One of the greatest benefits of the NPP is seen is the manner in which it permits the Bible to be treated as one whole book. The conceptual framework of the NT is directly related to that of the OT. When Paul quotes an OT passage he wants his readers to consider the original context. Paul’s principal conversation partner is Scripture itself and not a peculiar variety of first century Jewish heretics. Far from hiding the text behind studies in first century Judaism, this approach has opened up the text to a level of interpretation previously impossible. Anyone who has read Richard Hays’ book Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul will be aware of the huge benefits of this approach. Many scholars have sought to argue that Paul’s exegesis must be understood against the historical background of rabbinic midrash. Midrash has been used to give Paul the hermeneutical license that is presumed to be necessary to justify his interpretations. Hays rightly criticizes the tendency of the ‘midrash’ understanding of Paul to bring the hermeneutical task to a halt. Merely giving a name to Paul’s approach to interpretation is a far cry from giving a justification for it. Hays goes some way towards delivering Paul from the common charge of arbitrariness levelled against him. Wright goes even farther (at the end of The Climax of the Covenant) in justifying Paul’s exegesis. He argues that we should understand the narrative nature of Scripture to play a more determinative role in Paul’s hermeneutic than Hays has allowed for. Wright seeks to maintain that Paul’s exegesis, far from being arbitrary, appealed to the Scriptures in the public domain, and was not esoteric and subjective. Paul did not play fast and loose with Scripture. By bringing us back into contact with Paul, the biblical theologian, Hays and Wright have done evangelical scholarship an inestimable service. If they are right, an understanding of Scripture on its own terms will shed far more light on Paul’s exegesis than an understanding of the hermeneutical methods of Second Temple Judaism. The Righteousness of God in the NT I maintain that Paul uses the language of righteousness in a manner consistent with its OT use. I have no desire to present a full argument for this position. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I believe that a reading of Paul in the light of the OT use of righteousness language will make far more sense of him than the more traditional Protestant reading. I also believe that if we claim that Paul, whilst using the language of the OT, uses it with his own arbitrary meaning, we risk turning his epistles into esoteric texts. Paul stands as an heir to the OT understanding of righteousness. The burden of proof rests squarely on the shoulders of those who would argue that Paul uses the language in an idiosyncratic way. A further argument comes from the fact that righteousness language is clearly used in its OT sense in a number of places in Paul (e.g. Romans 3:5, 25-26). If we follow the traditional Protestant reading of Paul we will end up having to admit that Paul is writing in a very confusing manner. This is particularly seen in places such as Romans 3:21-26, where, if the common Protestant reading is correct, Paul switches the meaning of ‘God’s righteousness’ halfway through a sentence. Perhaps the deepest problem is seen in the fact that the general Protestant understanding of ‘the righteousness of God’ is not only unprecedented in the OT text, but is also foreign to its conceptual framework. When we see the degree to which OT Scripture permeates Paul’s letters, it is very hard to argue that his language is divorced from that of Scripture itself. In a number of the places in which Paul writes of righteousness, he is carefully echoing OT passages. One example is seen in Romans 1:16-17a:—
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed…Reading this alongside some of the following OT passages, the parallels that can be seen are quite striking.
Even Paul’s claim that he is ‘not ashamed’ can be seen to be related to OT language. Hays writes:—
The Lord has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.—Psalm 98:2-3
“Listen to Me, My people; And give ear to Me, O My nation: For law will proceed from Me, And I will make My justice rest as a light of the peoples. My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, And My arms will judge the peoples; The coastlands will wait upon Me, And on My arm they will trust.—Isaiah 51:4-5
With Isaiah, Paul could say, “I know that I shall not be ashamed [aischynthō], because the one who justifies me [ho dikaiōsas me] is near” (Isa. 50:7-8). Paul is not ashamed in relation to the gospel precisely because the gospel is God’s eschatological vindication of those who trust in him—and consequently of God’s own faithfulness. Significantly, Paul transforms Isaiah’s emphatic future negation (“I shall not be ashamed”) into a present negation (“I am not ashamed”). The present tense of Paul’s denial corresponds to the present tense of his declaration that the righteousness and wrath of God are being revealed (1:17-18); thus, Isaiah’s future hope rebounds through Paul’s voice into a new temporal framework defined by God’s already efficacious act of eschatological deliverance in Christ.Summary and Conclusion If the OT language of righteousness provides the background for our understanding of the NT use of the language, we will see a number of results in our understanding of the concept of justification. Justification will be understood in a far more eschatological and corporate setting. The doctrine of justification is cosmic in proportion and not merely individual. The redemptive historical significance of the doctrine of justification will finally be appreciated. In Christ God has set the world to rights, anticipating the final eschatological justification. God’s demonstration of His righteousness is a demonstration of His covenant faithfulness. The accuser of the brethren has been cast done and the people of God have been vindicated once and for all in the middle of history. The case against the people of God has been thrown out of court and the courtroom has become the place of Christ’s intercession for His people. Following this approach we are able to avoid the separation of the OT and the NT and bring them together into one coherent document. We are enabled to progress beyond the narrow context of the Roman law court and develop a multifaceted doctrine of justification. We are also enabled to relate the doctrine of justification more clearly to Christ. It is the Christological heart of justification that I hope to move onto in my next post.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Monday, November 17, 2003
Paul’s Doctrine of Justification by FaithPerhaps one of the greatest causes for contention between the common evangelical readings of Paul and the New Perspective come at this point. What is the meaning of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith? Perhaps one of the best ways to establish the meaning of Paul’s doctrine of justification is to study the manner in which he uses it. It is this that I now hope to briefly examine. In Galatians 2:16 Paul gives a concise expression of the doctrine of justification by faith in response to Peter. Although some question whether Paul is directly addressing Peter from verse 15 onwards, it is clear that what he says in these verses follows on from his statements to Peter. If we can establish the question that is being tackled by Paul we will be more equipped to understand the nature of his doctrine of justification. The Context and Continuity of Paul’s Argument Paul is seeking to argue that Peter is wrong to withdraw from fellowship with Gentiles. We ought to pay careful attention to the issue that Paul was addressing in Antioch. Peter was not denying that Gentiles were being saved or denying the validity of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. Peter was not arguing that Gentiles needed to submit to the Torah if they were to be right with God. Peter was not trying to earn his own salvation, nor was he encouraging the Gentiles to earn theirs. All that Peter was doing was refraining from eating with Gentiles. Paul summarized the issue by saying that Peter was ‘compelling’ Gentiles to ‘live as Jews’. Peter was doing this by means of manipulative social pressure, by withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentiles. The question that was being tackled was whether Gentiles should be pressurized to ‘live as Jews’ or whether Peter had any right to refrain from eating with them. Paul’s argument in this chapter must answer this question. Most evangelicals presume that to ‘live as a Jew’ is to be a closet Pelagian, seeking to gain merit points with God. Peter, by pressurizing Gentiles to live as Jews, was encouraging them to buy into a system whereby they had to earn their own salvation. Getting the Gentiles to adopt Jewish practices was merely the tip of a Pelagian iceberg. Paul saw that Peter had stumbled at this point and had opened the door to the whole works’-salvation agenda of the Judaizers, who were maintaining that people were saved by faith and moral effort (‘works’). Whilst Peter himself was probably not guilty of trying to earn his own salvation, he was tempting the Gentiles to earn theirs. Pressurizing Gentiles to adopt Jewish practices was certainly the tip of an iceberg of error in Paul’s understanding. However, this error is not as simple as believing that one can earn one’s own salvation. The common evangelical reading rapidly departs from the context established by the dispute in Antioch and ends up with Paul debating with Pelagians and semi-Pelagians. The problem with this approach is that the latter part of Paul’s argument in the chapter is very hard to relate to the specific problem at Antioch. To maintain the continuity of Paul’s argument the common evangelical position has to prove that adopting Jewish practices led to some form of Pelagianism or admit that Pelagianism, even if mentioned in the passage, is totally peripheral to Paul’s argument. The continuity of the argument depends upon the tenuous presumption either that the men from James had the intention of encouraging the Gentiles to earn their salvation or that the law was intrinsically a system of salvation by merit. The first option is clearly not justified — and certainly not necessitated (as I hope I have already demonstrated in earlier posts) — by the text. The second goes right against the OT teaching on the Torah. Unfortunately, some have reread the OT in the light of the Pelagian hypothesis, doing untold damage to the meaning of Scripture. It must be remembered that the argument is directed firstly against Peter, not against the Judaizers. Whatever we may believe about the Judaizers, it is hard to argue that Peter was presenting the Torah as some system of works’-salvation. Peter was maintaining the distinctions of the Torah in regard to the people that he ate with, to avoid offending the Jews. If he was teaching that Gentiles could only be saved by becoming Jews (although not considering the Torah to be a meritorious system), the common evangelical reading would make slightly more sense (although it would still be demonstrably wrong). However, this would involve Peter radically turning from his previous position, in which he both recognized the validity of the mission to the uncircumcised and recognized that there was no real distinction between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10:28, 34-35; 11:1-18; Galatians 2:9). The text gives us absolutely no basis for claiming this. Peter was merely practicing old distinctions, he was not theologically arguing for their necessity. Paul’s argument is directed against the practice of Peter, not against supposed intentions of the Judaizers. The means by which Peter was compelling people to live as Jews was by withdrawing from Gentiles. He was not arguing for the necessity of living under the Torah if an individual was to be saved. What he was doing was establishing the Torah as a barrier within the church. Justification: Ecclesiology or Soteriology? A lot of criticism has been levelled at N.T. Wright for his claim that the doctrine of justification is not so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology. Whilst it should be stressed that Wright and others like him are by no means denying that the doctrine of justification is also about soteriology, we ought to take the time to carefully examine their claims. If Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith was to really be an answer to the situation in Antioch, it must be relevant to the issue of who you eat with. In the context of Galatians 2 justification has to be about ecclesiology. Even if we presume that the Judaizers were teaching salvation by works, given the fact that Paul’s argument is addressing Peter’s practice, any attack upon a Pelagian soteriology is a digression from the point at hand. If Paul’s response to Peter’s withdrawing from eating with Gentiles out of fear of the Jews is: ‘Peter don’t you realize that an individual goes to heaven when he dies by believing in Jesus and not by working really hard to merit God’s favour’, we could be forgiven for being confused. The argument that a man is saved by faith and not by meritorious works sounds decidedly incongruous in the context of the dispute at Antioch. At worst it is misleading and is a misrepresentation of Peter, at best it is irrelevant to the issue in hand. In another context, Wright has made the helpful analogy between exegesis and riding a bicycle. If you go too slow you will fall off. This danger is always present in books such as Galatians and Romans. Many evangelicals have been weaned on expository sermons that proceed through these books virtually verse by verse. Each verse is gradually treated as a self-standing proposition designed to answer the questions that you have brought to the text, rather than the questions raised by the context. One of the things that has really helped me to understand these books is to repeatedly read them straight through in single sittings. Once this has been done to Galatians, the common evangelical reading is seen to be disjointed and untenable. In Galatians 2, the doctrine of justification focuses on addressing the issue of our relationship with other Christians, rather than on the issue of how we get into a relationship with God. Before we appropriate Galatians 2:16 as an answer to our disputes we must recognize how it served as an answer to the dispute at Antioch. The question being answered is one of ecclesiology — is it permissible for Jews to withdraw from fellowship with Gentiles? — not one of soteriology — how can an individual sinner get right with a holy God? Once this is understood, the burden of proof is placed upon those who would argue that Paul’s doctrine of justification in Galatians 2 is about soteriology. The Demise of the ‘Pelagian Hypothesis’ The New Perspective is often attacked for allowing the study of Second Temple Judaism to dictate the meaning of the Scriptures to us. I think that this charge is a very weak one. The ‘Pelagian hypothesis’ has held Protestants in its thrall for so long that people fail to realize how hard it is to derive this understanding from a study of the text itself. All the time a perfectly plausible and, indeed, compelling reading of the text can be obtained by approaching the text on its own terms. Having probed the text, I firmly believe that the most satisfying reading by far is that provided to us by Wright, Hays and others from within the New Perspective movements. The ‘Pelagian hypothesis’ has formed a Procrustean bed of distinctions between law and grace and misunderstandings of the Torah that has hampered evangelical theology for centuries now. If evangelicals could only step back and realize how all-conditioning their theory about Second Temple Judaism has become they would not be trying to take the mote out of the eye of NPP scholars. Reading through writers such as Ridderbos, one soon gets the impression that the ‘Pelagian hypothesis’ has created a number of problems for their theology. Whilst they accept its general validity, they spend a lot of time seeking to limit its influence. They want to make clear that there is no antithesis between Paul’s teaching on the law and that of the OT. Paul is attacking a misconception of the law and not the original intention of the law. Ridderbos tries to clear Paul from the charge that by operating with the (Pelagian) misconception of the law propounded by ‘Jewish-synagogical nomism’ his whole treatment of the law is rendered suspect (of course, the fact that Paul is dealing with situations within the church is easily forgotten). Ridderbos maintains that Paul nowhere confuses this misconception of the law with the actual teaching of the OT. Ridderbos writes:—
…for Paul the failure of Israel lay in this: that by failing to appreciate the true nature of God’s election (Rom. 9-11), they have not been able to see the law in the proper light, but have viewed it as a means for setting up their own righteousness (Rom. 10:3).For Ridderbos, Paul is starting from the position of his opponents and he binds them to their false point of departure. The theology of Ridderbos is very much redemptive historical. He does not want to set up an antithesis between the OT law and the NT way of salvation. However, he wants to maintain a redemptive historical critique of the law. Consequently, Paul’s battles with ‘Pelagian’ Judaism have a tendency to distract from the main issue, which is to do with historia salutis and not the ordo salutis. If the Torah was in no sense a covenant of works and Paul is merely attacking a delusion of Second Temple Judaism, the weight of Paul’s argument shifts decisively to the areas in which he critiques the Torah on a more redemptive historical basis. Should the exegetical necessity of adopting the ‘Pelagian hypothesis’ in approaching the Pauline epistles be undermined, there is no pressing theological reason to prevent followers of Ridderbos from abandoning it. It would have the welcome effect of emphasizing the centrality of the historia salutis and prevent Paul’s discussions with his Jewish contemporaries from clouding the issue. Calvinists have long believed the ‘third use’ of the law to be the principal use intended by God and have been more attuned to the redemptive historical role that the law was designed to play. Many have valiantly struggled against the controlling influence of the ‘Pelagian hypothesis’ for these reasons. They have been concerned that people distinguish between the original intention of the law and the misuse of the law by the Judaizers. Any reader of Norman Shepherd’s book, The Call of Grace, will have been struck by his constant wish to prevent the ‘Pelagian hypothesis’ distorting these issues. I contend that as Reformed theology becomes more and more aware that the Torah was not ‘the covenant of works republished’, the appeal of the NPP will grow. This will occur for a number of reasons. Firstly, the ‘Pelagian hypothesis’ will be recognized to be an unnecessary appendage to Reformed theology. The exegetical Gordian knot that it has tied us up in can be cut quite simply and the centrality of the redemptive historical issues can be expressed far more clearly. There will be few theological reasons to refrain from denying the ‘Pelagian hypothesis’. If the ‘covenant of works’ view of the law is chimerical and detached from any real basis in the law as God delivered it, Paul could easily articulate his relationship with the Torah without ever engaging with the issues raised by Pelagianism. Secondly, as people learn to view the Torah apart from the covenant of works they will be able to see grace where formerly they saw merit. They will be able to see that much of the ‘merit theology’ in Second Temple Judaism has been read into the texts. The existence of Pelagian Judaizers will seem increasingly implausible. As the historical work of Sanders and the exegetical work of NPP authors such as Dunn, Wright and Hays provide the opportunity to jettison the ailing hypothesis once and for all, people will jump at the opportunity. I hope to move on to unpack some of the different elements of justification itself in my next post. Having done this I would like to conclude by proving the practical value of the NPP approach to the doctrine of justification by applying it to a number of problems in the church today.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
The Nature of Paul’s GospelPaul’s gospel was not, unlike many modern versions of the gospel, a timeless and abstract system of truth propositions. Paul’s gospel was a public declaration and not a mere personal invitation. Paul’s gospel was the proclamation of the universal Lordship of Jesus the Messiah and the breaking of the Kingdom of God into history. The gospel was no more a ‘personal invitation’ than the proclamation of a Roman emperor’s accession to the throne would be. The gospel was a public fact. Every empire, kingdom, government and ruler was called to take heed and obey the gospel. Paul did not believe that the sphere of the kingdom of God was limited to the human heart. The gospel, the proclamation of this new kingdom, was to be embodied as a social reality. In Galatians 2:14 Paul claims that Peter and the other Jews were not being straightforward about ‘the truth of the gospel’. This was a response to Peter’s withdrawing from fellowship with Gentiles. It is very clear that Paul considered the ‘truth of the gospel’ to be more than just the beliefs of the church. The ‘truth of the gospel’ was to be incarnated in the practices of the church. Peter clearly was not denying the legitimacy of Paul’s Gentile mission in public statements. In all probability Peter was one of the staunchest defenders of the legitimacy of the Gentile mission. However, he was denying its legitimacy in his practices. By withdrawing from fellowship with Gentiles he was denying the fact that God had made Jews and Gentiles one in the Messiah. If the gospel was true in declaring that God had made no distinction between Jew and Gentile and that they were one in Jesus, it was a serious thing for Peter to allow the old distinctions to creep back into the church. The church was to embody the reconciliation that it proclaimed. If God really has made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, this distinction is one to be overcome within the church. If the church acts as if this distinction still exists, it is going against the truth of the gospel. Richard Hays expresses the question that was being faced in Antioch very well:
At the end of the day, was there to be one church or two “separate but equal” churches? … Was there to be one table where Jews and Gentiles could eat together as brothers and sisters in Christ, or was it necessary to maintain two separate tables, symbolizing the separate cultural identity of the Jewish Christians?Peter’s belief that Jews and Gentiles were one in Christ was next to worthless if he was unwilling to embody it in his praxis. Peter might have been unwilling to theologically defend the division between Jews and Gentiles in Antioch. He seemed to be more intent upon keeping up good appearances with the Jews. Had he been acting on the basis of theological convictions he would have sought to live consistently as a Jew himself (cf. 2:14). In all likelihood, Peter believed that he could go along with the cultural exclusivity of the Jews and still maintain that God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile. He was acting on fear and not on principle (as, in all probability, were the men from James). Paul demonstrated that it was insufficient to theologically assert the equality of Jews and Gentiles without positively embodying the fact in praxis. The gospel is a message about God being reconciled with men. The gospel is a message about transformed lives, and a message that transforms lives. The gospel is a message that declares the new creation and effects the new creation. The regeneration of Israel and the recreating of the world is what the gospel is all about. The gospel cannot be abstracted from reality. The gospel is about a public fact. The Gospel versus the Status Quo If the gospel declares that the distinction between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down, Christians are called to actively live out this fact. Peter and the men from James might have wished to avoid appearing revolutionary in their challenge to the status quo. However, they were called to challenge the status quo. Even were they to accept the status quo whilst denying it any normative role, they would still be undermining the gospel. The status quo, which embodied a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, was to be actively broken down. Suppose a father and mother adopted a new child. They inform their children that they now have a new brother. It is not enough for the other children to proclaim this to be true as a mere propositional truth; they must treat their new brother as a brother. Were they to exclude their adopted brother from their activities they could not excuse themselves by saying that they were not denying the proposition that he was their brother. In a like manner, if God had adopted the Gentiles into His family, the Jewish believers were to treat them as brothers with all of the privileges that they themselves possessed. Segregation simply wasn’t an option. The status quo had to be overturned. The gospel by its very nature rules out its being reduced to indicatives that we can passively recite. The gospel is an imperative, an imperative to challenge the status quo and to live out the reality that has been ushered in by the Messiah. Peter, whether he liked it or not, was called to live in a way that was scandalous and offensive to his Jewish compatriots. He was to break the taboos of his old Jewish culture in order to embrace a new culture, the culture of the kingdom of God. He was to break down the old distinctions and live according to new ones. The gospel presents a challenge to all other cultures. Every claim to cultural exclusivity is nullified by it. A gospel that permitted the practice of Jewish exclusivity within the church would be a neutered gospel. If the claim of the Jews to exclusivity were not challenged, how could the gospel challenge the claims of the empire of Rome to exclusivity? Paul was defending the supremacy of the culture of the kingdom of God, over against the existing cultures. The Christian faith could not be assimilated to Judaism; Jews must submit to the gospel. The practice of Jewish exclusivity by Peter represented a challenge to the cultural imperative presented by the gospel and to the supremacy of God’s kingdom over all other kingdoms. No culture can tame the gospel. The gospel cannot be domesticated to Jewish culture; Jewish culture must be transformed and changed by the gospel. Of course, I can’t wait to apply this all. However, before I go into a detailed application, I would like to give closer attention to Paul’s doctrine of justification in the context of Galatians 2. I hope to engage with the common evangelical reading of the passage and to demonstrate that it is untenable in the light of what Paul has actually written. Having done more ground work, I will be able to make some fuller applications later on.