NT Wright on Justification…Again

Well maybe you live under a rock and don’t know this yet, but NT WRIGHT IS PUBLISHING A BOOK ON PAUL. AND IN IT HE WILL DISCUSS JUSTIFICATION.

I think people’s brains might explode over this, either because of the length of the book or because we’re going to have to re-hash the “justification as declaration” vs. “justification as action” argument for what must be the upteenth time.

Anyway (don’t ever use that transition in a paper, kids), Mike Bird has thrown us all into the deep end with this tantalizing quote from Paul and the Faithfulness of God:

[E]ven though Romans 3.21–31 is part of the same flow of argument as Romans 5—8, and Galatians 2.15–21 is part of the same flow of argument as Galatians 4—6, and even though these two larger arguments do develop a view of the spirit’s work in the transformation of character which can properly be seen both as virtue and as theōsis, this does not take away from the fact that when Paul speaks of initial justification by faith he means it as a very particular, specific claim. This ‘justification’ means that, ahead of any transformation of character other than the bare, initial pistis whose whole nature character is by definition to look helplessly away from itself and gratefully towards the saving work of the Messiah, this person is welcomed into the family on the basis of that confession of faith and nothing else. The inaugurated-eschatological assurance which this welcome provides is thus both forensic (the verdict of ‘not guilty’ in the present will be repeated in the future) and covenantal (full membership in Abraham’s family is granted at once and will be reaffirmed in the resurrection). The two dimensions join up in practical ecclesiology: the mutual welcome which Paul urges in Romans 14 and 15 is the concrete, bodily form which ‘forgiveness’ is supposed to take in the present time.

Bird then asks whether this will assuage Reformed-ish folk and if Wright seems to regard justification as both social and soteric.

I’ll venture a few thoughts:

1) Although the “forensic” language in the quote certainly seems to be a step towards his critics, in that it may suggest that NTW acknowledges that justification has an inherently soteriological significance, it still does not address what, in my opinion, is the crux of the issue. In Justification, as well as in various places in his other works, Wright argues that justification is not a legal action by God on a person that places them in his kingdom, but instead a declaration by God about their continuing status as part of his covenant people. It is, in other words, purely declarative act according to Wright, instead of what has historically been understood as a transformative and saving act. Nothing in the above quote suggests that Wright has shifted on this understanding, and of course nothing suggests that he hasn’t shifted.

2) That brings us to the second point – this quote has no context whatsoever. So, kudos to Mike Bird for getting us talking already.

One thing is certain; the blogosphere is going to explode once we all get a chance to work through PFG.

 

Nijay Gupta’s Review of Con Cambell’s Union with Christ

Union with Christ is without a doubt a significant aspect of Pauline theology. Over at Crux Sola, Nijay Gupta reviews Con Cambell’s highly anticipated work Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study (Zondervan, 2012).

Click here to read his review.

Article Accepted

I received news tonight that my article “Arbitrary Allegory, Typical Typology, or Intertextual Interpretation? Paul’s Use of the Pentateuch in Galatians 4:21-31″ was accepted for publication in Biblical Theology Bulletin. It still has to go to the copy editor, and I have no clue on the timeline for publication. But, the hard part is over.

I’ve been looking for a home for this article for a year now, and its been a hard search. This is probably my favorite piece from what I’ve worked on so far (even my dissertation – but who likes their dissertation anyway?), so I’m excited that the LORD has blessed me with the opportunity to publish it.

Here’s the abstract:

“This article begins by surveying the modern history of interpretation of Gal 4:21–31, and in doing so demonstrates that virtually no commentators from the time of Calvin have concluded that Paul accurately conveys the message of the Pentateuch’s narratives to which he alludes in his “allegory.” It then provides an alternate approach to the analysis of Paul’s interpretation of the Pentateuch in this passage, relying on the hermeneutical tool of intertextuality. It demonstrates, through four sets of intertextual connections within the Pentateuch, that the Hagar and Sinai narratives are intricately related and therefore appropriately read by Paul. It concludes that, instead of viewing Paul’s interpretation in Gal 4:21–31 as arbitrary allegory, modern commentators should give Paul a bit more grace in their analysis of his hermeneutic.”

D.A. Carson and John Piper on Historical Background

Here’s an interesting video from Carson and Piper on the necessity of studying the historical background of a particular biblical book for preaching and teaching. You can see all three of the videos at The Gospel Coalition.

Making James and Paul Play Nice

Since all Bible blogging roads lead back to Near Emmaus, and since Brian LePort seems to continually blog about things that I’m already thinking about (get out of my head Brian!) I’m going to piggyback off of another one of his posts today. Yesterday Brian posted on the question of whether or not James and Paul were involved in a dispute or rivalry. While I’m not going to engage with much of his material here, I do want to argue for some similarities between Paul and James, and namely similarities in their writings to Christian churches and their use of Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Romans and James’ epistle both exhibit a number of parallels, including the following.

First, Ryan Armstrong lists parallels between Rom 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 (suffering produces endurance, etc.), Rom 6:23 and James 1:15-16 (the wages of sin is death), and Rom 2:13 and James 1:22 (doers of the law).[1] None of these parallels is particularly strong in the Greek; they should probably be categorized more as conceptual similarities rather than as textual connections. They do, however, show that James and Paul were at least thinking similar thoughts on different issues.

A more important and more textual parallel, though, lies between Rom 1:17 and James 2:23. Romans 1:17 is a quotation of Hab 2:4, which in turn is an allusion to Gen 15:6 where Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness. As Richard Hays has shown, because Paul has left out the crucial personal possessive pronoun of Hab 2:4 (“his faith”), Rom 1:17 should be taken as showing Paul’s twofold concern for “God’s own righteousness” being shown in the gospel and for “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.[2] Paul’s use of Hab 2:4, then, combines it’s original intention in Habakkuk of arguing for God’s covenant faithfulness while also making use of its allusion to Gen 15:6 and the need for all men to come to God through faith for justification. Gen 15:6 is also quoted by James 2:23. Thus both passages make reference to passages in the Old Testament that are intended to show how God operates in terms of salvation. Righteousness comes through faith. In other words, both of these writers use allusions ultimately to the same passage of the OT to help their readers understand what they are saying about justification.

This connection is made stronger by what comes after Romans 1 and what comes before James 2. In Rom 2:1-11, Paul argues that God has no partiality, specifically concerning ethnicity, and in James 2:1-13 God is said to have no partiality, specifically between the rich and the poor. Rom 2:6 says that each will be judged according to his works, and James 2:24 says that man is justified by works as well as faith.[3] More parallels could be shown, but the fact that these, along with the one noted by Armstrong between Rom 2:13 and James 1:22, all surround what are arguably the most important statements in each of the books – Romans 1:17 and James 2:23 – should point the reader to the fact that the two passages, and moreover the two books and thus the two corpuses, are clearly connected.

How we interpret these connections, as Richard Hays has noted in Echoes of Scripture (29-33), is of course the million dollar question. I’m inclined to say that they demonstrate that Paul and James are much closer on the issue of justification and even on their articulation of it than some scholars want to allow.

What about you?


[1] Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 41.

[2] Ryan Armstrong, “Canonical Approaches to New Testament Theology: An Evangelical Evaluation of Childs and Trobisch,” Th.M. thesis., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007, 104. The last two verses listed are also parallel to Matthew 7:26.

[3] I take ‘justification’ here in the sense that Paul uses ‘judged’ in Romans 2:6.

Pet Peeves, Soapboxes, and Hobby Horses

Was Paul intending for his readers to conjure this picture in their minds in Ephesians 6:10-20?

Or this?

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins (Isa 11:5).

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’ (Isa 52:7).

The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives. ‘And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,’ declares the LORD (Isa 59:15b-20).

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness… (Isa 61:10).