Study Committee Report, Supporting Document 2

For supporting document 1, go here. This post is my paper on N.T. Wright’s book What Saint Paul Really Said. It goes page by page (mostly) up through the justification chapter (chapter 7). This gives the lie to Matt’s ridiculous statement here.

This paper is an extended summary and critique of N.T. Wright’s book What Saint Paul Really Said, up through the seventh chapter. This paper includes related discussion of relevant passages in his Romans commentary, as well as his book Climax of the Covenant. N.W. Wright’s name will be hereafter abbreviated “NTW,” and his three books, respectively, as WSPRS, Romans, and CC. All references to page numbers are references to WSPRS, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

 

Chapter One: “Puzzling Over Paul”

He starts with a brief survey of the most important 20th century interpreters of Paul. Understandably for NTW, he starts with Schweitzer, a theologian whom NTW much admires. Schweitzer insisted that the Jewish background for understanding Paul was more important than the Hellenistic background, contrary to the history-of-religions school. Schweizer also held that “being in Christ” was more fundamental to the Gospel than justification by faith.

Then, NTW even more briefly analyzes Bultmann. Bultmann, according to NTW, answered the background question by saying that Paul abandoned his Jewish background (after all, he was the apostle to the Gentiles), and instead took on the Gentile persona. NTW’s summary appraisal of Bultmann runs like this: “I regard the claim to be able to think Paul’s thoughts better than Paul could himself to be extremely dubious…” (pg. 15).

Next up is Davies. “Davies argued in his major work Paul and Rabbinic Judaism that Paul was, at bottom, a Jewish rabbi who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Jewish Messiah” (pg. 16). NTW’s appraisal of Davies is generally positive, saying that he set the agenda for post-war scholarship. Furthermore, “Davies’ work signals a new attitude to Judaism on the part of post-war scholarship” (pg. 16). NTW regards Davies as the beginning of the changing of the tide from viewing Paul as responding to Jewish legalism to Paul merely modifying his existing Judaism.

Next, he analyzes Ernst Käsemann. Käsemann was a sort of synthesis between Schweitzer and Bultmann. The background of Paul was Jewish, but the center of his theology was justification by faith alone. Käsemann thinks that Paul did not abandon Judaism, but was critiquing it from within (pg. 17).
Then, of course, we have Sanders. NTW highly appreciated what Sanders had done: “cut the ground from under the majority reading of Paul, especially in mainline Protestantism” (pg. 19). NTW regards “his basic point as established” (pg. 20), though admitting that “serious modifications are required” (pg. 20).

NTW concludes the chapter by saying that “the current situation in Pauline studies is pleasantly confused” (pg. 20). The four major questions (history, theology, exegesis, and application) are being answered very differently by various theologians. The idea of a center of Paul’s theology is in great controversy. He polemicizes a bit against A.N. Wilson, who argued that Paul is the real founder of Christianity as we know it (and therefore that Paul contradicts Jesus).

As I see it, the best contribution of this book to NT studies is precisely this last point: NTW argues vociferously that Paul does not contradict Jesus, contrary to much liberal exegesis. We can be thankful that NTW does argue this to great effect, especially in the appendix to this book, where he takes on Wilson in a much more detailed way.

If there is one major criticism that I have, it has to do with his overly optimistic appraisal of what Sanders has done. On pg. 19, he says that “Most Protestant exegetes had read Paul and Judaism as if Judaism was a form of the old heresy Pelagianism, according to which humans must pull themselves up by their moral bootstraps and thereby earn justification, righteousness, and salvation. No, said Sanders,” and NTW agrees with Sanders here. This is a major historical blunder. As far as I can tell, the majority of Reformed scholars have insisted that Judaism was a Pelagian religion. However, the Pelagian religion also talked about grace. The difference is that the Pelagians denied supernatural grace. Pelagians can talk all the time about grace, grace, and more grace, as Sanders has shown that Judaism does. However, they never say “grace ALONE.” Pelagianism insists that God’s grace has to be active. But it does not insist on grace alone, which is so essential to justification. Having read through Sanders’s book Paul and Palestinian Judaism, I can say that he shows major deficiencies in his understanding of systematic theology. He thinks he is describing something that will undermine the Protestant exegesis of Paul (and he admits that he does not know Luther’s work), and yet the thing he describes as being Second Temple Judaism (abbreviated 2TJ) is outright Pelagianism.

I can even agree, with Sanders and Schweitzer, that participation in Christ is the most fundamental article of salvation. However, that should not be made to push justification by faith out of the center. When we are united to Christ by faith-marriage, as it were, then we receive the benefits of our Spouse immediately, the most important of which is justification. Thus, imputation is no legal fiction, but an integral part of justification. More on this later on his justification chapter (chapter 7).

 

Chapter Two: “Saul the Persecutor, Paul the Convert”

In this chapter, NTW deals with Paul’s identity as a Pharisee. Which type of Pharisee was he? NTW starts with a helpful definition of the Hillelite and Shammaite tradition. Since this is helpful background info in any case to understanding Paul, I will reproduce his take on the two schools:

The Hillelites, broadly speaking, pursued a policy of ‘live and let live’. Let the Herods and the Pilates, and indeed the Caiaphases, rule the world- let them even rule Israel, politically- just as long as we Jews are allowed to study and practise Torah (the Jewish law) in peace. The Shammaites believed that this wasn’t good enough. Torah itself, they thought, demanded that Israel be free from the Gentile yoke, free to serve God in peace, calling no-one master except YHWH, the one true God, himself (pg. 27).

Of course, we should not understand NTW here to be exhaustively enumerating the differences between Hillelite and Shammaite schools. What we do see is NTW’s concern to put Hillel and Shammai on the first-century political map. He uses this distinction between the schools to argue that Paul could not have been Hillelite, despite his graduation from Gamaliel’s training (Gamaliel was Hillelite). So then, Paul was a Shammaite Pharisee, according to NTW.

He states on pg. 31 the three cardinal doctrines of Judaism (which he elaborates fully in his new book Paul: Fresh Perspectives, building on his Hulsean lectures, which were slightly modified to become the lectures of the 2005 Auburn Avenue Pastor’s Conference). These three doctrines are: monotheism, election and eschatology. “There is one God, the one true God of all the world; Israel is the people of this one true God; and there is one future for all the world, a future not very far away now, in which the true God will reveal himself, defeat evil, and rescue his people” (pg. 31).

On pg. 32, we find something extremely important for NTW’s understanding of Paul. He describes the belief of Saul that he grew up with (Saul was a legalist, “Proto-Pelagian, who thought he could pull himself up by his moral bootstraps”). He now thinks that that view is “radically anachronistic (this view was not invented in Saul’s day) and culturally out of line (It is not the Jewish way of thinking).” He says that in this particular, Sanders is right about Judaism. He then criticizes Sanders for leaving out the political dimension of 2TJ (and thereby taking the Hillelite position over against Shammai).

This old-fashioned view of salvation (the one he grew up with) NTW dismisses as a “timeless system of salvation” (pg. 32). He says that “Jews like Saul of Tarsus were not interested in an abstract, timeless, ahistorical system of salvation.” I can only presume that he means to describe the view of Judaism as legalism as this system.

What follows is part of his definition of justification (pp. 33-35). He says this: “’Justification’ is a law-court term, and in its Jewish context it refers to the greatest lawsuit of all: that which will take place on the great day when the true God judges all the nations, more particularly the nations that have been oppressing Israel. God will, at last, find in favour of his people: he will judge the pagan nations and rescue his true people. ‘Justification’ thus describes the coming great act of redemption and salvation, seen from the point of view (italics original) of the other (God’s final judgment will be like a great law-court scene, with Israel winning the case)… God’s faithful people…would be vindicated…’Justification’, the great moment of salvation seen in terms of the fulfillment of the covenant and in terms of the last great law-court scene, would thus also be eschatological (italics original): it would be the final fulfillment of Israel’s long- cherished hope…This event, this final justification, could be anticipated (italics original) under certain circumstances.”

Then, on pg. 35, he makes a rather incredible blunder, in my opinion. He says that Saul’s zeal for Torah was not, however, a Pelagian religion of self-help moralism, and then in the very next breath says, “Saul intended that he and others should keep Torah so wholeheartedly in the present that they would be marked out already as those who would be vindicated on the great coming day when YHWH finally acted to save and redeem his people.” If people are supposed to be vindicated on the final day of judgment according to their obedience to Torah, what in the world is the difference between that and Pelagianism? If Judaism did not have a justification at the beginning of their religious experience, how could one say that it is not a moralistic, legalistic religion? This, by the way, is one of the biggest problems with Sanders’s book: he claims up and down that Judaism was not legalistic, and then proceeds to describe an amazingly legalistic religion!

In the last section of the chapter, NTW discusses Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road. His first point is that Christ’s resurrection is essential to Paul’s experience. The significance of the resurrection cashes itself out in saying that Paul realized that “The one true God had done for Jesus of Nazareth, in the middle of time, what Saul had thought he was going to do for Israel at the end of time” (italics original, pg. 36). This meant that the coming age, which Jews expected, had now been inaugurated.
I think that NTW runs into problems here with his New Perspective slant on Paul, especially with justification. He says on the one hand that the final verdict that was going to be pronounced on the final day has been moved up to the present day. On the other hand, he says that that verdict is going to depend on the life led. In what sense, then, can he say that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)? He says later on in the book that justification is not so much about soteriology, but about ecclesiology. It’s how you tell who is part of God’s people (pg. 119). If that is true, then how can there be no condemnation, given the fact that people apostatize?

 

Chapter Three: “Herald of the King”

NTW starts out this chapter by saying that “For Paul, conversion and vocation were so closely identified that it would be hard even for a razor- sharp mind like his to get a blade in between them” (pg. 39). His unswerving loyalty to the God of Abraham never changed. What did change was that he viewed Israel’s long story has having come to a climax in Jesus of Nazareth (pg. 39). Paul’s true vocation was (according to NTW) to announce to the world that the crucified Jesus had been raised from the dead , and therefore vindicated, by Israel’s God. He was therefore, the Lord of the whole world (pg. 40).

The next section describes his thoughts on the word “gospel.” He claims that Paul did not mean an “ordo salutis” by this word. He argues that the Greek and the Hebrew background are both relevant for understanding this word. He goes to Isaiah 40:9, 52:7, 60:6, and 61:1 for statements from the Hebrew OT functioning as background to the idea of “gospel.” The Greek background is that the word “gospel” “is a regular technical term, referring to the announcement of a great victory, or to the birth, or accession, of an emperor” (pg. 43). He argues that the Isaianic promise was always that Israel’s true Lord would dethrone the pagan gods. Therefore, the dichotomy that has existed in the scholarly world between those who favor Hebrew background, and those who favor Greek background is a false dichotomy.

The next section expounds what he thinks the gospel is. He says that the gospel “is not, then, a system of how people get saved. The announcement of the gospel results in people being saved- Paul says as much a few verses later. But ‘the gospel’ itself, strictly speaking, is the narrative proclamation of King Jesus” (pg. 45). Presumably he means by “narrative proclamation of King Jesus” what he had said before about Israel’s God resurrecting the crucified Jesus, and that therefore Jesus is Lord of the world. NTW has introduced a false dichotomy here that seems to plague most of his theology. Is he really going to tell us that the gospel does not include the ordo salutis? What about Calvin who says that unless Christ is applied to us, He is of no benefit whatever? You cannot bifurcate the ordo salutis and the historia salutis in this way. They are connected by way of resurrection (thanks to Dr. Lane Tipton at WTS Philadelphia for this insight). If this is true, then justification itself would be excluded from the gospel, since justification is an ordo salutis category, NTW’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
Indeed, he says that “It is an obvious truism to say that the cross stands at the heart of Paul’s whole theology” (pg. 46). He destroys the old romantic conception of “the old rugged cross,” by saying that “their pretty ornament (referring to the cross) depicts the ancient equivalent, all in one, of the hangman’s noose, the electric chair, the thumbscrew, and the rack. Or, to be more precise, something which combined all four but went far beyond them; crucifixion was such an utterly horrible thing that the very word was usually avoided in polite Roman society” (pg. 46). What God has done, therefore, is to reverse the world’s values by turning shame into glory and glory into shame (pg. 47).

NTW definitely goes astray on pg. 47 when he talks about the significance of Christ’s death: “I suggest that we give priority- a priority among equals, perhaps, but still a priority- to those Pauline expressions of the crucifixion of Jesus which describe it as the decisive victory over the ‘principalities and powers.’ Nothing in the many other expressions of the meaning of the cross is lost if we put this in the centre.” Paul says that “Christ died for sinners” (Rom 5:6, 8). That seems to me to be the central meaning of the cross. Christ could have conquered the principalities and powers in some other way if we hadn’t sinned in Adam. Because we sinned in Adam, it was necessary for Christ to do it this way. I would say that the ordo salutis concerns were the driving force behind the cross, however salvation-historical Christ’s death and resurrection actually were. That is the plain teaching of Paul.

NTW talks about how his conception of Christ’s death works on pg. 48: “When we ask how it was that Jesus’ cruel death was the decisive victory over the powers, sin and death included, Paul at once replies: because it was the fulfillment of God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed he would undo the evil in the world.” I would say that the death of Christ means nothing without the resurrection. That was Christ’s conquering of death. I’m not sure NTW would disagree with this (see his Resurrection of the Son of God for more on this). But he doesn’t seem to have seen the center of Paul’s theology here. He does go on to speak of the resurrection in this chapter. But the significance of the resurrection is that “despite his shameful crucifixion-which, by itself, would have meant the shattering of any messianic aspirations he might have had- Jesus of Nazareth really was Israel’s Messiah, the true, God-given, anointed king.” I think he actually has the reasons for the crucifixion and resurrection confused. The cross and the resurrection was His victory over the powers (see Col 2:13-15, where cross and resurrection are both listed), especially death, and the cross was his proclamation, ironically enough, that Jesus was the true Messiah (though that was shown to be true at the resurrection as well).

 

Chapter Four: “Paul and Jesus”

This chapter deals with the question, “What did Paul think, at the deepest level, about Jesus?” (pg. 63). He notes that Jesus’ divinity is important in this discussion. He argues that Paul did indeed think of Jesus as divine, without ever leaving for a moment the home base of Jewish monotheism (pg. 63). The first section then deals with Jewish monotheism. He says that it was “a fighting doctrine” (pg. 63). It sustained Jewish opposition to the tyranny of Antiochus and Hadrian. A.D. 70′s destruction of Jerusalem proved the Romans’ point to their own satisfaction, but posed a problem to the Jew of continuing to adhere to their monotheism.

Within this context, NTW describes Paul’s Christology as having this remarkable feature: at the very moment when his Christology is highest is the very same moment when Paul is calling himself such a Jewish-style monotheist (pg. 65). NTW goes to 1 Cor. 8:1-6, Galatians 4:8-11, noting how Paul uses the Shema of Deut 6:4 in his formulation of Christology. His conclusion is this: “Paul has redefined the very meaning of the words that Jews used, every day in their regular prayers, to denote the one true God” (pg. 66). An interesting point for the discussion we have had on Jesus’ divinity is his statement on pg. 67: “Paul has taken the word ‘God’ itself and has filled it with new content. Or rather, he would say, he has discovered what its true content always was.”

Then follows a short discussion of Philippians 2:5-11, dealt with more fully in his CC, pg.s 56-98. His summary of the passage is on pg. 68: “1. Jesus was truly in the form of God, that is, he was equal with God. But 2. he did not regard this divine equality as something to exploit (watch out for different translations that get this vital point wrong). Instead, Paul says, 3. he offered the true interpretation of what it meant to be equal with God: he became human, and died under the weight of the sin of the world, obedient to the divine saving plan.” On pg. 69, he says this: “For him (meaning Paul), the meaning of the word ‘God’ includes not only Jesus, but, specifically, the crucified Jesus.”

Then, of course, he goes to Colossians 1:15-20 (also dealt with more fully in CC, pp. 99-119). He claims that “the argument hinges on the parallelism between the two halves of the poem” (pg. 70). The argument is that the passage is a classic monotheistic poem, such as one might find in the Psalms, with Jesus as the one God. He argues that these three passages (1 Cor 8, Phil 2, and Col 1) “are of vital importance. They give the lie both to the suggestion that Paul did not, after all, identify Jesus very closely with the one God of Jewish monotheism, and to the opposite suggestion, that Paul was Hellenist who, in divinizing Jesus, broke completely away from Jewish monotheism and invented, in effect, a new form of paganism” (pg. 70). It should be noted that in his new book on Paul, one of the three main categories of Paul’s thought, according to NTW, is the category of monotheism as redefined with Jesus in the center of it (see Paul in Fresh Perspective, pp. 83- 107). If one has heard his Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference lecture in 2005, one will discover that his argument is basically a written version of that lecture, also delivered in England as the Hulsean lectures. He says on pp. 71-72 that “It was Paul’s belief and contention, then, that at the heart of Jewish monotheism- within the oneness of the one God- lay a plurality, a reciprocal relationship. This, of course, strained at the borders of human language, even the God-given language of scripture; but one could clearly recognize ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor 4:6).”

So far in this chapter, I have very little to quibble with him about, except one not-so-small point about the Trinity. When one reads Calvin’s treatment of the doctrine in bk 1, ch 13 of the Institutes, one gets the distinct impression that the threeness of God and the oneness of God are equally ultimate (an impression that is, I believe, confirmed by Scripture). NTW seems to make the monotheism of God more ultimate than the Trinitarian nature of God. Perhaps the emphasis in 2TJ was on monotheism. However, Paul would surely not have lost an opportunity to avoid the charge that he was an atheist by Greek standards (believing in only one God) by fencing his belief of the monotheism of God in the threeness of God. It would have been a very key anknupfungspunkt (“contact point”) with pagans, especially given the question of the one and the many in Greek philosophy, which despite the best efforts of Schweitzer’s adherents, is still in the background, floating there somewhere.

The last part of this chapter deals with the Holy Spirit within monotheism. Passages include Gal 4:1-7, the background of which is the Exodus, and the foreground of which is the return from exile (pg. 72). I really wonder about this. How does this fit with Gal 4:3′s “when we were children”? I agree that there is a redemptive-historical point to the passage, but surely Luther is right in seeing a law-Gospel distinction here. That is a redemptive-historical distinction, is it not? This distinction should not be read as erasing the third use of the law. NTW’s summary of Paul’s pneumatology is on pg. 73: “The Spirit is not a being other than the one true God; to speak of God acting through his Spirit is to speak of God himself acting.”

 

Chapter Five: “Good News for the Pagans”

After clearly siding with Schweitzer on the Jewish background as being primary for understanding Paul’s thought, NTW goes on to talk about paganism and the precise relationship Paul sustains to the Gentile world. On the way, he gives this very interesting statement on pg. 78: “To begin with, a word about a word. We have learnt that there is no such thing as ‘first-century Judaism’, only first-century Judaisms, plural; the same is of course true in the non-Jewish world.” I remember him reacting (in his Auburn Avenue lectures 2005) to the two-volume set Justification and Variegated Nomism (a set designed to show that the Judaism against which Paul was reacting was actually legalistic, contra Sanders) by saying that in order for there to be Judaisms plural, there had to be a Judaism singular. I wonder if the AAPC lecture constitutes a change in position from his WSPRS (published in 1997). If (as I think) his statement in WSPRS is true, then there is no basis in 2TJ Jewish literature for saying that Paul wasn’t reacting against legalism. The question would then become this: against which Judaism was Paul reacting? This question can only be resolved by reference to Paul himself. This is one of the fundamental hermeneutical errors of the NPP, in that they say that Judaism wasn’t legalistic (except for 4 Ezra; see Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, pp. 409-418), therefore Paul wasn’t reacting against legalism but against exclusivism. However, if there are many Judaisms, as I think the first volume of JVN has conclusively proved, then we cannot assume that even the majority (to grant Sanders his point temporarily) of 2TJ texts dictate what Paul was or was not reacting against. That being said, we will move on.

He defines paganism as denoting “basically, those who are neither Jews nor Christians, and carries the connotation of their developed world-view, in which religion and politics, superstition and magic, hope and fear, and sometimes ethics and morals, cluster together around a bewildering range of symbols and stories, developed over many centuries and involving many quite diverse cultures” (pp. 78-79).

His view of Paul’s relationship with this paganism is basically sound: (pg. 79) “The direction of Paul’s message was confrontation with paganism; he had good news for them, but it was good news which undermined their worldview and replaced it with an essentially Jewish one, reworked around Jesus.” This implies a polemical engagement (pp.80-83) with paganism as exemplified in the Mars Hill speech in Acts 17 (pp. 80-81). The hope for Gentile pagans was to participate in the Jewish story in Jesus Christ (pg. 82). Monotheism, of course, was one of Paul’s main concerns (pg. 83). He further argues that Paul’s critique of paganism “involved, as its reflex, a critique of Judaism. But it was not a critique from outside, from a pagan standpoint. It was a critique from within” (pg. 83).

Thence follows a description of Paul’s critique of Judaism from within (pp. 83-85). He says that Paul’s self-understanding as a prophet (which is hinted at) hints at the nature of his critique (pg. 83). NTW argues that Paul’s critique of Judaism does not involve a denial of certain doctrines that Judaism held dear, such as election. He argues that Paul is saying that Israel has failed, Jesus the Messiah has succeeded (pg. 84). Paul’s zeal for the true restoration of Israel’s purpose in the Messiah is therefore the basis for Paul’s critique of paganism. Paul’s message of salvation was the truth of which paganism was the parody (pg. 86).

Thence follows several categories in which this critique plays out: creation, cult, empire, humanity, history (as story-line), and philosophy/metaphysics. The conclusion is that Paul’s earlier zeal for persecuting the church was replaced by a zeal radically different in content, though similar in shape (pg. 92). “Paul the apostle believed it was his task to announce to the pagan world that the true God had revealed himself in his crucified and risen Son, thereby summoning the whole world to repentance” (pg. 93). On pg. 94, we see some shadowings of what he will say on justification: “Now that the great act had already occurred, the way you could tell in the present who belonged to the true people of God was quite simply faith: faith in the God who sent his Son to die and rise again for the sake of the whole world.” This knowledge of who is part of the people of God is the very definition of justification in NTW’s theology (see especially pg. 119).

 

Chapter Six: “Good News for Israel”

The central thrust of this chapter is that Jesus has completed Israel’s story. That is, Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant promises made to OT Israel. He starts off by reminding us that Paul has redrawn the picture of Israel’s God by putting Christ in the center of it. Now (pg. 95) he does the same with Israel’s history. This brings us to what is going to be the most disputed part of this chapter: his definition of dikaiosune theou (“righteousness of God”). He says that the “least inadequate translation is perhaps ‘the righteousness of God’”(pg. 95). I wonder about his discomfort with the “to righteous” language that E.P. Sanders tried (but failed to get the scholarly world on board with him). He gives as possibilities “just and justice,” or “righteous and righteousness,” but he neglects to mention the most obvious “justify.” As we will see, this is probably due to the fact that he doesn’t want Reformation baggage holding him down when it comes to justification.

He argues on pg 96 that a reader of the LXX would have had one thought when it came to the phrase “righteousness of God:” namely, God’s own faithfulness to his promises, i.e. His covenant. Mark Seifrid, by the way, has completely vitiated this argument in his book Christ, Our Righteousness, as well as his articles in Justification and Variegated Nomism. The righteousness of God primarily refers to the Creator kind of righteousness, not covenantal righteousness. This is of paramount importance, since NTW is going to base his doctrine of justification, and his rejection of imputation on his reading of this phrase. It skews his entire reading of Paul, I believe. For instance, he says that the righteousness of God (interpreted as God’s covenant faithfulness) cannot be passed on to the believer in imputation as if it was some sort of gas, or at the very least, a legal fiction (pg. 102). This formulation ignores two very important aspects of Reformed theology as it interprets Scripture: 1. It is the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to the believer. It is the righteousness which Christ earned during his lifetime, not some kind of “up there” righteousness of the Father, as NTW implies. 2. This imputation is based on union with Christ, as in a marriage relationship. Therefore it is no legal fiction, since what belongs to the groom belongs to the bride. Countless times in this debate, I have seen the NPP advocates misrepresent the Reformed position. They call imputation a dry, legal, accounting business that is cold; the reality is that salvation is a marriage relationship in which the Groom’s righteousness is given as a gift to the bride, both corporately and individually.

NTW argues from his chart (pg. 101) of options for the meaning of the phrase “righteousness of God,” a very helpful chart, by the way, that A1b is the proper definition, “God’s own righteousness,” (a possessive genitive) a moral quality described as “covenant faithfulness.” A2b was proposed by Ernst Käsemann (world-defeating actions of God’s salvation-creating power, non-transferable). B1a is the traditional Reformed understanding (an imputed righteousness given to believers as a new standing before God), while B1b is the traditional Roman Catholic understanding (an imparted righteousness given to believers as a new standing before God).

He then goes on to examine Paul’s letters. First he draws a distinction between the phrase dikaiosune ek theou (righteousness from God) and the phrase dikaiosune theou (righteousness of God). One might wish to comment that NTW has hardly proved that there is such a distinction to be made, unless one accepts a priori his claim about the phrase “righteousness of God.” If one does not accept his definition, then Philippians 3:9 is back into the picture as a verse proving imputation.

NTW clarifies in simpler language his argument concerning 2 Cor 5:21. He says that he has argued that Paul is not talking about justification at all in 2 Cor 5:21, but about his ministry, which is an incarnation of the covenant faithfulness of God (pp. 104-105). He argues that the traditional Reformed understanding of 2 Cor 5:21 detaches the verse from its context. However, Paul is not just talking about his ministry, but also about what the ministry is about, namely the Gospel, which has at its root the Atonement. Therefore, since the Atonement has as its corollary the justification of sinners when the Atonement is applied to us, 2 Cor 5:21 as understood in its traditional Reformed way, far from wrenching it out of its context, actually roots it more firmly in the context than NTW’s understanding of the verse does.

He then goes on to Romans 3. He argues that the righteousness of God in verse 5 is the same as the covenant faithfulness of God in verse 3. But NTW here misses something very important: he misses the shift from Jews, described with the pronoun “their” in verses 2-3, to the “our” in verse 5, which must include Gentiles. In other words, when Paul is talking about God’s righteousness in verse 5, the shift of pronouns indicates that it is God’s righteousness with regard to the entire world, not just to the Jews. Therefore, it cannot be God’s covenant faithfulness that is meant. This is proved by what Paul goes on to say, “For then how could God judge the world?” The basis on which God judges the world of Gentiles is not the covenant given to the Jews, but the natural law given to all men (Romans 1). The difference between Jew and Gentile here is the reason that Paul goes on to say that all are alike under sin.
My understanding of verses 1-5 then controls whether or not it is feasible for NTW to claim that the pistis Jesou Christou (“faith of Jesus Christ”) in verse 22 refers to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, or to the faith of the believer in Jesus Christ. NTW argues for the former in his Romans, pg. 470. But the only evidence he gives is twofold: that “the entire argument of the section strongly suggests that it is,” and that if it did mean “faith in Jesus Christ,” then the next phrase “for all who believe” would become redundant. I would counter the former argument by saying that the context strongly favors a creational understanding of God’s righteousness in verse 5, while the phrase “for all who believe” is not redundant, but rather emphasizes the fact that both Jew and Gentile (all who believe) have salvation only by faith in Christ. Furthermore, the rest of the chapter, when it mentions faith, refers clearly to the faith of the believer, not to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (see verses 25, 26, 27, and 28).

NTW goes on to speak of Romans 9-10. where he argues that 10:2-4 (the crucial passage) is the culmination of 9:6-39, which has been talking about God’s covenant faithfulness all along. I would actually argue that the point of Romans 9 is not just that God is righteous, but also that He is merciful, even when electing some and not others. This is surely clear from verses 22-29. Conveniently for NTW, he leaves out a discussion of verse 30, which completely discombobulates his entire argument: “the Gentiles have attained a righteousness that is by faith.” So whatever the righteousness is in 10:2-4, it must be the righteousness that the Gentiles have acquired by faith. Therefore, this is the righteousness of Christ that is by imputation. In his Romans commentary, he argues that the righteousness being talked about in Romans 9:31 is that of covenant membership (see pp. 648-9). But how can this be if covenant membership was never defined by anyone as being based on works (which is the basis for righteousness that Paul rejects)? This is rather a right standing before God in relation to the universal sin condemnation that Paul talks about in chapter 3. Therefore, the traditional understanding of 10:2-4 as referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ makes the most sense of the passage. Furthermore, in talking about 10:2-4, we must note that here is a strong indication that Christ’s righteousness is God’s righteousness (the “for” at the beginning of verse 4 proves this).

NTW then discusses the passage that transported Luther into the gates of paradise: Romans 1:17. He is completely correct to say that our understanding of the verse must be based on our reading of the rest of the letter. From what has been said above, then, NTW is wrong in his understanding of this verse, since he has misunderstood the rest of Romans with regard to justification.

 

Chapter Seven: “Justification and the Church”

He starts out the chapter with this statement, of which we shall have to judge the truth: “if you start with the popular view of justification, you may actually lose sight of the heart of the Pauline Gospel; whereas if you start with the Pauline gospel itself you will get justification in all its glory thrown in as well” (pg. 113). Plainly then, justification is not at the heart of Paul’s gospel, according to NTW.

He says that the traditional Lutheran view “though not entirely misleading, does not do justice to the richness and precision of Paul’s doctrine, and indeed distorts it at various points” (pg. 113). He argues that he has the “via media” (middle way) between Enlightenment skeptics and the “knee-jerk rejection of Sanders by those desperately concerned to maintain the orthodoxy they knew and loved, and defend it against critical attack” (pg. 114). This is grossly unfair to NTW’s critics, many of whom are some of the most respected scholars in NT studies. Surely, their voluminous writings cannot be said to be a knee-jerk reaction. Does he mean to imply that critics of NTW are NOT “searching the texts carefully to see if, and if so to what extent, these things may be so”? I think this is a clear case of rhetoric that has no basis in fact.

He says that justification cannot be at the center of Paul’s gospel, since Christ is at the center (pg 114). That is a bit like saying that the book of Esther is not about God’s providence because it is a book about God. The declaration of Jesus’ sovereign kingship is not exclusive of justification at the center of Paul’s theology. This is similar to the old debate about participation in Christ versus justification (Schweitzer versus Bultmann). The resolution is that it is when we are united to Christ that we are justified. See Larger Catechism, questions 66-69.

Then NTW clearly distances himself from the Reformation, when he says that “The discussions of justification in much of the history of the church, certainly since Augustine, got off on the wrong foot- at least in terms of understanding Paul- and they have stayed there ever since” (pg. 115). Then he quotes McGrath, whose point seems to be that the Reformation understanding of justification has nothing to do with Paul. NTW agrees with this. Contrary to those claiming continuity between NTW and the Reformation, this passage clearly proves that NTW distances himself from the Reformation understanding of justification by faith.

The next important sentence needs to be quoted in full: “In all the church’s discussions of what has come to be called ‘justification’ (which as McGrath says may not be what Paul meant by the term), Paul himself is of course constantly invoked. His letters are ransacked for statements, dare we say even for proof-texts, on a subject which he may not himself have conceived in those terms. If it is true that Paul meant by ‘justification’ something which is significantly different from what subsequent debate has meant, then this appeal to him is consistently flawed, maybe even invalidated altogether. If we are to understand Paul himself, and perhaps to provide a Pauline critique of current would-be biblical theology and agendas, it is therefore vital and, I believe, urgent, that we ask whether such texts have in fact been misused. The answer to that question, I suggest, is an emphatic Yes” (pp. 115-116). I’m not sure that this statement of his needs comment, except that NTW here clearly distances himself from anything Reformed on the doctrine of justification. If Paul doesn’t teach it, then neither should we. Therefore, NTW is here calling the WCF wrong.

His rhetoric at the bottom of the pg. is directed toward those who say that justification is how we come into relationship with God. I’m not sure who he’s attacking, because no one in the Reformed tradition that I know has said that justification is how we enter into a relationship with God. The Reformed tradition says that we enter into a relationship with God by effectual calling. All the way from Calvin, the doctrine has been that we are made to be in Christ, and that justification is a simultaneous benefit along with union with Christ. It is not how we come into a relationship with God. It is rather how we are made right before God in the eyes of the law. Therefore, his critique of the straw man described above has no weight in the first full paragraph of pg. 117.

He describes justification as covenant language (not how Reformers have understood covenant, but how the Jews understood covenant), law-court language, and eschatological language. The second of these is that upon which the first is founded: the covenant was there to put the world to rights (pg. 117). Then, NTW states the purpose of the covenant. It was not “simply that the creator wanted to have Israel as a special people, irrespective of the fate of the rest of the world. The covenant was there to deal with the sin, and bring about the salvation, of the world” (pg 118). The covenant always has a forward direction arrow to it, and thus, ‘justification’ is eschatological (pg 118). Though it is eschatological, yet the verdict reached could be anticipated (118-119). By this he means that in Judaism, justification would be that “those who adhered in the proper way to the ancestral covenant charter, the Torah, were assured in the present that they were the people who would be vindicated in the future” (119). This is how the future verdict gets drawn into the present.

To illustrate this point, NTW quotes the Qumran scroll 4QMMT. He posits that this scroll has as its theology not some kind of proto-Pelagian boot-strap pulling (a favorite image of NTW’s), but rather “the definition of the true Israel in advance of the final eschatological showdown” (pg 119).

Then we come to part of NTW’s definition of justification: “Justification in this setting, then, is not a matter of how someone enters the community of the true people of God, but of how you tell who belongs to that community, not least in the period of time before the eschatological event itself, when the matter will become public knowledge” (119, emphasis his).

I wish to stop here for just a moment, because he will attack the Reformation shortly. But I want to counter his use of 4QMMT. In his Romans (pg 460), he offers a translation of the key phrase miqzat ma’aseh hatorah. He translates it: “this selection of works of the Torah.” In the Geza Vermes translation (pg 228), it runs thus: “We have also written to you (singular) concerning some of the observances of the Law, which we think are beneficial to you and your people.” These two translations are quite different. NTW also forgets to mention what comes a little later in the very same text: “and it will be reckoned for you as righteousness when you perform what is right and good before Him, for your own good and for that of Israel.” NTW uses this text to say that the phrase “works of the law” has in view “biblical rules that defined Jews (and proselytes) over against pagans” (Romans, pg. 460). These works would be circumcision, dietary laws, etc. He uses this to define what the phrase “works of the law” means (see previous paragraph in Romans). However, the phrase is not “works of the law,” but “some of the works of the law.” There is a world of difference between those two things! Plus, the section later on does indicate that the Jews were going to be justified by works of the law. By the way, there is no hint in 4QMMT itself of what even the “some of the works of the law” are. Therefore, it is quite a stretch to say that “works of the law” means what NTW’s reconstructed version of 2TJ says it means. This point is equally clear even in NTW’s translation of miqzat as “selection.” It is a selection, not the whole. There is no indication anywhere in Paul that he intends to limit the scope of the works of the law by which no one will be justified.

Going on, NTW distances himself from the “post-Augustine debate.” He says that “certain aspects (I wonder which aspects he’s talking about) of the post-Augustine debate of what has come to be called ‘justification’ have nothing much to do with the context in which Paul was writing. ‘Justification’ in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God. It was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people. In Sanders’ terms, it was not so much about ‘getting in,’ or indeed about ‘staying in,’ as about ‘how you could tell who was in’. In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church” (119). Now, apart from the atrocious historical straw-man that he has erected, we must ask this question: if justification is more about ecclesiology than soteriology, then how is it that we can now have no condemnation (because of this justification; see Romans 8:1 with the “therefore” at the beginning of the verse referring to all the previous chapters)? If those who are in Christ Jesus have been justified, and clearly some of the visible church will apostatize, then simply defining God’s people now has nothing to do with who will be acquitted on final judgment day. What about the golden chain in Romas 8, which says that all those who are justified will be glorified? According to NTW’s definition of justification, merely to be identified with the body of Christ is justification. But such people have no assurance unless they persevere. Therefore, justification on the final judgment day is according to works. We will see later on that NTW puts a heavy emphasis on the future aspect of justification.

One more error of NTW’s needs to be pointed out, and it is one which he makes quite frequently. On pg. 119, he says that “this legal status, the ‘righteousness’ of the person who has won the case, is not to be confused with the judge’s ‘righteousness.’” He then goes on to patronize “the very theologians who have tried to insist on the forensic (law court) nature of the doctrine.” In other words, NTW does not hold that God the Father’s righteousness is imputed to the believer. Well and good. Neither did the Reformation. It’s not the Judge’s (the Father’s) righteousness, but the Advocate’s (the Son’s) righteousness. The Reformation held that it was Christ’s righteousness in which the believer stood. Only as it is Christ’s righteousness can it be said to be God’s righteousness. This connection is missed entirely in all of NTW’s theological polemicization of the Reformation. In the law-court imagery, it is the righteousness of the advocate that is given to us, namely, Jesus Christ.

In this section, entitled “Justification in Paul’s Christian Theology,” NTW intends to “highlight certain features, raise some key questions, and make a few suggestions.” He is self-consciously not trying to exhaust the discussion on justification in Paul. We must keep this in mind: NTW’s definitive statement on justification in Paul has not arrived yet. We still await his magnum opus on Paul.

He starts out with Galatians. He notes that the problem Paul addresses in Galatians is this: “Should his ex-pagan converts be circumcised or not?” (pg 120). NTW argues that this question is a question of “how you define the people of God” (120). This refers to whether or not they are to be defined by the traditional badges of the Jewish race (circumcision being an obvious one) or in some other way. NTW will say that faith is the new badge separating the people of God from the world. It is the new identity badge. On the top of pg. 121, NTW makes his typical historical error in ascribing Pelagianism as the main opponent that the Reformation imagines is Paul’s enemy. In the context, this refers to the “questions faced by Augustine and Pelagius, or by Luther and Erasmus” (120). The truth of the matter is that Pelagianism is a good way of describing what Sanders and others have “discovered” in 2TJ.
NTW argues that the context of Galatians is “irrevocably covenantal” (121). The question is then, “Who belongs to Abraham’s family?” The punchline is that all who belong to faith in Christ Jesus belong to Abraham’s family. He notes that this way of thinking “cuts right across the traditional twentieth-century scholarly battle-lines” (121). He is thinking of the old juridical-partipationist controversy. NTW says that the categories are “happily jumbled up together” in Galatians (121).

I believe he makes a non-sequitur on the bottom of pg. 121 to the top of pg. 122. He says that the passage will not work if Paul’s target is self-help moralism or legalism. The passage only works if the law is seen as the Torah “seen as the national charter of the Jewish race.” He then notes that Paul does not regard this Torah as a bad thing (pg 122). Presumably this would indicate that NTW thinks of Paul’s target as exclusivity, not legalism. The reason I think this is a non-sequitur is that even if the Jews were regarding their Torah as the national charter of the Jewish race such that Gentiles would have to submit to Torah to become “in” in Sanders’ terms, that does not eliminate legalism from the picture. I would agree perfectly that the Torah is in view. But is not legalism or self-help moralism a particular view of Torah? And just because Paul might be arguing against legalism doesn’t mean that Paul’s view of the law would thereby have to be negative. Paul could still view the law as just, right, and good, and still condemn a legalistic view of the law.

In view of this non-sequitur, his conclusion about justification simply does not follow: “What Paul means by justification, in this context, should therefore be clear. It is not ‘how you become a Christian,’ so much as ‘how you can tell who is a member of the covenant family’” (122). Who is he arguing against when he says that justification is not “how you become a Christian?” Is his target the Reformation? Because I don’t know of anyone who says that justification is how you become a Christian. Instead, they say that justification is one of the two great benefits of being united to Christ by faith, the other being sanctification. This is Calvin’s duplex gratia.

NTW addresses the Corinthian letters only briefly, telling us in effect that he dealt with 2 Cor 5:21 in a previous chapter, and to address 1 Cor 1:30 by saying that “It is the only passage I know where something called ‘the imputed righteousness of Christ,’ a phrase more often found in post-Reformation theology and piety than in the New Testament, finds any basis in the text. But if we are to claim it as such, we must also be prepared to talk of the imputed wisdom of Christ; the imputed sanctification of Christ; and the imputed redemption of Christ; and that, though no doubt they are all true in some overall general sense, will certainly make nonsense of the very specialized and technical history of theology” (123). I raise this point here, because NTW denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. How can he say it any clearer than he has said it right here? In effect he says that the only remotely convincing text about the imputed righteousness of Christ is here in 1 Cor 1:30, and he then proceeds to use a reductio ad absurdam (invalidly, by the way) to clear away that understanding of the text. This is my question for those who think that NTW is compatible with the Westminster Standards: if NTW’s theology is not a wholesale repudiation of the Reformation, then with what does he replace imputation? Union with Christ is not a true substitution, since, though imputation is based on union with Christ in the better systematics, union with Christ includes primarily identification with Christ’s death and resurrection. It does not automatically state what our status is with regard to the law, and that is the key point. We cannot stand before the infinitely holy God, and be unrighteous. We must have a complete, utter righteousness. That righteousness is not attainable by us. We must have Christ’s. And He is not the judge (as NTW erroneously declares on pg. 98), but the Advocate. The righteousness from God, then, is not the judge’s righteousness, but the Advocate’s, which the judge imputes to the believer, by virtue of being united to the believer. Union with Christ is not a substitute for imputation, since the Roman Catholic Church believed in union with Christ, but they did not believe in imputation.

NTW goes on to talk about Philippians, in particular Philippians 3:2-11. He translates pisteos Christou as “the faithfulness of the Messiah,” taking the genitive there as a subjective genitive. I disagree with this reading of the genitive. I have read the arguments of Hays, et al., favoring the subjective genitive, and I acknowledge that grammatically, it is possible. However, as Silva notes (2nd ed of his commentary on Philippians, pg 161-162), Paul never speaks of Jesus exercising faith (unless one considers Hebrews to be written by Paul: see Heb 2:13). And surely, one could not limit the discussion of pistis to “faithfulness.” It should also be noted that of all the major translations, none of them translate the phrase as a subjective genitive, except the NET Bible, which has a very incomplete translator’s note about it.

He then describes the thrust of the passage this way: “He is saying, in effect: I, though possessing covenant membership according to the flesh, did not regard that covenant membership as something to exploit; I emptied myself, sharing the death of the Messiah; wherefore God has given me the membership that really counts, in which I too will share the glory of Christ” (124).

Ironically, he then goes on to say that “the central point in the latter exposition is undoubtedly Christ, not justification” (124). The reason this is ironic, is that he then proceeds to make his own view of justification central to Philippians 3! He hardly mentions Christ in the remainder of the section!

He claims that “the place of faith in this picture has long been problematic within Post-Reformation dogmatics.” I beg to differ from this statement. Faith is the instrument by which we lay hold of Christ and all His benefits. It is not a work, and it itself is not imputed to us for justification. The Post-Reformation dogmaticians never had any problem defining faith adequately, or in telling us where it fit into the picture of justification, or the rest of the Christian life.

He then goes on to Romans. He states his position on justification by works on the final day on pg. 126, quoting Romans 2:13. We have already discussed in what sense we can talk about “final” justification.
He states what he believes to be Paul’s starting point as a Christian. I would hope that we can all agree on this: “what he had expected God to do for Israel at the end of all things, God had done for Jesus in the middle of all things.” There is a succinct way of stating the Biblical Theological understanding of Paul’s theology.

His claim is that the boasting that is excluded (3:27) is that of racial boasting of Jews (pg 129), “not the boasting of the successful moralist.” Otherwise, 3:29 would make no sense (“Or is God the God of the Jews only?”). So, according to NTW, Paul is “declaring that there is no road into covenant membership on the grounds of Jewish racial privilege. In his Romans commentary (pg 481), he says this: “What he has done is to deny that performing ‘the works of Torah,’ the things that define Israel ethnically, is the appropriate mode of use for Torah.” And in his Auburn Avenue lectures, he claims that more traditional understandings of Romans 3:27ff are not able to explain verse 29, especially the “eta” at the beginning of the verse. It is this claim which I wish to contest by means of exegesis, specifically examining the logic of NTW’s thesis here.

NTW’s argument depends on an assumption, which is this: the only way for boasting in “works of the law” to exclude Gentiles, is if the works of the law are primarily (NTW never completely excludes other works of the law: but he does focus the phrase on Jewish boundary markers: see the Romans commentary, pg 481, top left) the boundary markers that marked the Jews out as ethnically distinct.
The reason this assumption is wrong is that the Gentiles did not have the Torah at all. It wasn’t as if the Gentiles had access to Moses and followed him, but got stuck at circumcision and dietary laws, thus making these things the only differences remaining between Jews and Gentiles. The fact is that the Gentiles didn’t have the Torah at all. By this reading, one can make perfect sense of Romans 3:27ff in this way: Paul is saying that boasting in any works of the law is excluded, because the only ones to have access to the Torah at all were the Jews. If the Jews were the only ones to have the Torah, then there is no possibility of God being the God of the Gentiles, if works of the law equal justification.
Another main problem of NTW’s view is that he has to take nomos as referring to Torah as a whole, but the phrase “works of the Torah” as not primarily referring to works of the entire Torah. He bases this exegesis, as we have seen, on his reading of 4QMMT, which I have contested earlier. Hence, his view of Romans 3:27ff is unjustified.

 

Conclusions

It should be fairly obvious at this point that NTW has made no bones about the fact that he disagrees with the Reformation understanding of justification by faith alone. He wants to replace imputation entirely, a doctrine for which our forefathers bled and died, and, more importantly, is plainly Scriptural teaching, as our Confession explicitly states in chapter 11. He consistently targets the Reformation understanding of various phrases, including “works of the law,” “righteousness of God,” and “justify.” I believe also that I have proved that his arguments are unscriptural as well as non-confessional. Therefore, it is our duty to reject such teachings as being out of accord with our doctrinal standards.

In Defense of the Report

The Siouxlands Presbytery Report is the result of 2 years of hard labor by Wes and myself, and several years of further research (of a more informal nature) before that on both our parts. We did not feel it incumbent on ourselves to repeat what other people have said, nor to engage in the footnoting sort of scholarship that some people seem to expect. But to claim from the appearance of the report that no or little scholarship was involved is a logical fallacy. Having lots of detailed, careful, meticulous quotations in a work of scholarship is evidence of scholarship. But it does not then follow that lack of detailed footnotes indicates lack of scholarship. So, we can discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of the report itself. Let us not impugn the scholarship of those who drew it up.

Redeemed By the Blood of the Lamb

Ephesians 1:7-8a

A gathering of friends at an English estate nearly turned to tragedy when one of the children strayed into deep water. The gardener heard the cries for help, plunged in, and rescued the drowning child. That youngster’s name was Winston Churchill. His grateful parents asked the gardener what they could do to reward him. He hesitated, then said, “I wish my son could go to college someday and become a doctor.” “We’ll see to it,” Churchill’s parents promised. Years later, while Sir Winston was prime minister of England, he was stricken with pneumonia. The country’s best physician was summoned. His name was Dr. Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered and developed penicillin. He was also the son of that gardener who had saved young Winston from drowning. Later Churchill remarked, “Rarely has one man owed his life twice to the same person.”

There are many occasions when we come to a passage of Scripture, and as soon as we see it, we know that we are dealing with something that is central to the Gospel itself. This is one of those occasions. What can be more central to our faith than redemption and the forgiveness of our sins? This is the solution to all of mankind’s problems. Jesus Christ is the solution to our sin problem.

Our passage starts with that all-important phrase “in Him.” Of course, this means “in Jesus Christ.” The important thing here is that it is not in ourselves. We are so prone to think that we save ourselves. But we are not self-redeemed. Jesus Christ redeems us from sin and death. But what is redemption? Redemption means that a price is paid by someone for someone else’s freedom. In a nutshell, that is redemption. In the Roman world, if a master wanted to set free a slave of someone else, he could pay that other master the full market value price of the slave, and the slave would be free. The idea also enters in here, though, that the slave is more than just belonging to the “wrong” master. He is also being held prisoner, and being held for ransom. It is a kidnapping, as it were. There is a ransom that needs to be paid.

Now, many Christians think that the ransom needs to be paid to Satan. But that would be false. He would love it if we were to think that way. However, the Scriptures never explicitly tell us to whom the ransom is paid. The Scriptures focus much more closely on the cost of the ransom, how costly it was. Richard Phillips, however, has said that we should think of the ransom being paid to the law. The law holds us captive, because we are sinners, and break the law’s commands. The law then holds us captive until Someone can come along to ransom us out from under the power of the law. That Someone is Jesus Christ.

The price that Jesus paid is His own blood, His life. Why does Paul say “blood” and not merely “death?” The answer lies in the OT sacrificial system. The blood of the animal was extremely important. It had to be sprinkled on the altar. The life of the animal was required for atonement, and the writer of Hebrews says that the blood of bulls and goats does not really take away the guilt of sins. Hebrews then points us to a far greater sacrifice for sins: that of Jesus Christ. The blood of Jesus Christ redeems us from our sins. It redeems us from the condemning power of the law. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way, “The mere killing of the animal was not enough; the blood of the animal had to be taken and sprinkled upon the mercy seat before God was propitiated.” Now, Lloyd-Jones used a long word there that needs some explanation. The word “propitiation” means that God’s wrath against sinners is appeased when, by faith, they come to Christ. God’s wrath is what is propitiated. This is an important biblical word of which we need to know the meaning. It is different than the word “expiation.” The word “expiation” refers to our sins. Our sins are done away with by Christ’s sacrifice for sins. So God’s wrath is propitiated, whereas our sin is expiated. But notice the importance of the blood. It has to be sprinkled on the altar after the animal is killed. There are those people today who are offended by all this talk about blood in the Bible. Isn’t that barbaric, they say? But without the blood of Christ, there is no redemption. That very blood, which is despised by many, that blood is our ransom price. It is very costly.

A good way to illustrate the cost of redemption is by this story: Tom carried his new boat to the edge of the river. He carefully placed it in the water and slowly let out the string. How smoothly the boat sailed! Tom sat in the warm sunshine, admiring the little boat that he had built. Suddenly a strong current caught the boat. Tom tried to pull it back to shore, but the string broke. The little boat raced downstream. Tom ran along the sandy shore as fast as he could. But his little boat soon slipped out of sight. All afternoon he searched for the boat. Finally, when it was too dark to look any longer, Tom sadly went home. A few days later, on the way home from school, Tom spotted a boat just like his in a store window. When he got closer, he could see — sure enough — it was his! Tom hurried to the store manager: “Sir, that’s my boat in your window! I made it!” “Sorry, son, but someone else brought it in this morning. If you want it, you’ll have to buy it.” Tom had no money at all. But he wanted his boat back. And so he started to work and work and work. Gradually, he acquired the money needed to buy his boat back. As he left the store with his boat, Tom hugged his boat and said, “Now you’re twice mine. First, I made you and now I bought you.” When God redeems us, He says, “Now you are twice Mine; first I made you; then, after you sinned, I bought you with the precious blood of my own son.”

If you are here today and do not know the saving grace of God, then hear this: you will never find more love than you can find right here. You will never find more grace than right here. You will never find more costly, self-sacrificing love than you will find in the ransom that Jesus paid for your sins.

The redemption that we have in Christ Jesus means that our sins are forgiven. Our debt to the law is in the form of guilt that arises from our sins. So, to redeem us from the condemning power of the law, Jesus needed to pay the full price of ransom, in order that God could forgive our sins. As one author has it, “Redemption is the cause, and forgiveness is the effect.” Forgiveness comes from redemption. Another author says it this way: “Redemption would not be complete without procuring pardon. Even Israel in the old dispensation understood this. On the day of atonement the blood of one goat was sprinkled on the mercy-seat. The other goat, over whose head the people’s sins had been confessed, was sent away, never to return.” What this author is getting at is that both of these actions are things that Christ has done finally and completely.

It is evidence of the riches of God’s grace which God lavished on us. That is the last part of our passage. Notice that Paul says “according to the riches of God’s grace,” not “out of the riches of God’s grace.” The difference can be seen in this illustration, taken from R. Kent Hughes: Rockefeller was often pictured giving a dime to a boy on the street. That kind of generosity is by no means wrong. However, Rockefeller is hardly giving those gifts “according to” his riches. He is instead giving “out of” his riches. If he had been giving “according to” his riches, he would have given the boy a car, an estate, stock in his company, etc. What we have here is the riches of God’s grace. God the King does not give paltry, small, miserly gifts. God gives according to the riches of His grace. Have you experienced that lavish outpouring of God’s grace? Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this, “I press the question as to whether we really know these ‘riches’ of grace and glory. I am increasingly convinced that it is our failure at this point that accounts for many of our troubles and problems and failures.” One of our biggest problems is that we think God is cheap, because He allows us to go through trials and tribulations. But even that is evidence of God’s grace. God does not put us through hell, but through lesser trials, because we need the kind of discipline and reliance on God that can only come from tribulation. No, God’s grace is rich, God’s ransom of us through Jesus Christ is complete. It is there that we can have the forgiveness of our sins. If Winston Churchill was saved twice, once by the father, and once by the son, then we too are loved twice: once by the Father in creating us, and once by the Son in saving us. God’s Son became the best Doctor who ever lived, because He can doctor our souls. Let Him lavish his spiritual medicine on you today.

Temporary Lull

I am extremely busy this week. I have Presbytery coming up tomorrow through Saturday, and it’s over six hours away. Since I’m not getting back until Saturday night, I have to get my sermon and bulletins done today. So, I will not be blogging again until Sunday. See you then.

God’s Plan

Ephesians 1:3-6 

The story is told of a group of theologians who were discussing the tension between predestination and free will. Things became so heated that the group broke up into two opposing factions. But one man, not knowing which to join, stood for a moment trying to decide. At last he joined the predestination group. “Who sent you here?” they asked. “No one sent me,” he replied. “I came of my own free will.” “Free will!” they exclaimed. “You can’t join us! You belong with the other group!” So he followed their orders and went to the other clique. There someone asked, “When did you decide to join us?” The young man replied, “Well, I didn’t really decide–I was sent here.” “Sent here!” they shouted. “You can’t join us unless you have decided by your own free will!”

Who says doctrine doesn’t have social effects? Try this from a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal: “Iran must have the wildest drivers in the Middle East. It is a country of fatalists who believe that all accidents are preordained by Allah. Thus highway safety is really in higher hands and not of concern to mere motorists. Judged by the accident rate in Iran, it would seem to be a vengeful deity indeed.” It reminds me of the Calvinist who fell down the stairs, and then remarked, “Well, I’m glad that’s over with.” These three illustrations bring to light that the doctrine of election has profound ramifications for our lives. How we see ourselves in relation to God, especially considering God’s sovereignty and our human responsibility, has profound implications for how we see ourselves, and for how we act. I don’t often preach on the doctrine of election, not because I don’t like it, and not because the Bible never speaks of it, but because of two reasons: 1. the Bible does not speak of it nearly as often as some might think; and 2. there are many, many ways to go astray when discussing this doctrine. That is not to say that election is unhelpful in our Christian walk. It is extremely helpful, as I hope to show. But we must tread carefully. John Calvin speaks of this doctrine as a maze: it is easy to get lost

The doctrine of election, first of all, is not a doctrine invented by some theologian in the sixteenth century. Indeed, what person would have even thought of inventing an idea that takes all the glory of salvation away from man, and places it securely in the hands of God? No, God revealed this doctrine of election to us. He revealed it in several places in Scripture. However, today we are looking at what is perhaps the clearest expression of it in the whole Bible. But if the doctrine of election is Biblical, then two implications follow: 1. We must accept it as God’s Word, and 2. It is useful for us.

Paul starts in verse 3 with a burst of praise and adoration. Indeed, verse 3 is something of a summary of what he is going to say for the next 12 verses. It is a summary of everything all the way up through verse 14. Paul praises God. This is important for us. Our doctrine should always result in praise. Paul starts and ends this entire section with praise to God Almighty. Paul says that the Father is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. That might sound as if Jesus is less than the Father. However, as one Puritan puts it, God is Father to Jesus as Jesus is God, and the Father is God to Jesus as Jesus is human.

Paul goes on here to tell us that every spiritual blessing that we have comes to us in Christ Jesus. “Every spiritual blessing” means not only that the blessings are non-physical. It also refers to the fact that they have their origin in the Holy Spirit. They are “Holy Spiritual” blessings. Notice carefully also here that God has blessed us in the past with all spiritual blessings. In a sense, we will never be more saved than we are right now if we do indeed have faith in Christ. If we are in Christ, as Paul says, then we have all spiritual blessings. What does “in Christ” mean? It means that Christ is our representative. It also means that we have the closest possible fellowship with Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit. So verse 3 is a summary of everything: we have all Spiritual blessings in Christ.

Verse 4 then starts describing what God the Father does. God planned our salvation. Salvation is not some afterthought in the mind of God. God did not say “oops,” when Adam fell into sin, nor is the salvation of mankind some sort of “plan b.” God always planned our salvation. He had it planned even before the foundation of the world was laid down. Now, notice some things about this election. God chose us. We did not choose Him in eternity. We could not have chosen to believe in God at all, unless God first chose us. The word “choose” here means that, out of all humanity, God chose some to be saved. Specifically, Paul says that it was “us” He chose. We ought then to ask ourselves the very natural question that comes next, “Why did God choose us?” Some might answer that God chose us because He foresaw that we would believe in Him. This is completely incorrect. Yes, God did see ahead of time that we would believe. However, that is not the basis by which God chose us. In fact, there is absolutely nothing in us that is the criteria for why God chose us. To say that there was something in us that is the basis by which God chose us is to say that the glory of salvation belongs to us, because we were somehow more worthy than other people. The doctrine of election is not in the Bible to make us proud. We are not to be the “frozen chosen.”

God also did not choose us because we were more holy and blameless than other people. Paul explicitly rules out that possibility. He says that we were chosen in order to be holy and blameless, not because we were holy and blameless. In other words, our holiness is a goal of God’s election, not the ground of it. If someone believes that God elected him because God foresaw his holiness, then in effect the man elected himself. The basis was in him, not in God.

Election is not separated from other doctrines. We are elected to holiness and blamelessness. That means that our sanctification, which is our becoming more holy, is one of the purposes of election. It is not God’s only purpose in election. But it certainly is one of His purposes. Election is also for the purposes of adoption. That is what Paul says in verse 5. God predestined us for adoption. Adoption was a Roman legal custom by which someone who did not have any right to inherit an estate was given that right. The person doing the adopting has the full right to choose whom he wants to be his heir. Picture a child in China. She is not loved by anyone in her own mind. But a long process of adoption has begun here in the US. The girl doesn’t know anything about it until the adopting couple actually goes over there to pick her up. Does anyone reproach the couple for picking that girl and not some other girl? No. God has a reason, too, for picking some and not others. If we have a problem with that, it reveals much more about ourselves than it reveals about God. It reveals that we are failing to see the sinfulness of mankind. None of us deserve any grace from God. We are sinners, and justly deserve God’s wrath. So, for God to allow some to go ahead and suffer that wrath is hardly unjust in God. It reminds me of the older lady who went in for a haircut to a new salon. Her hair was not in good shape, as it turns out. She said to the hair-stylist, “I hope you will do my hair justice.” The hair-stylist looked at her hair, and said, “Ma’am, what your hair needs is mercy, not justice.” How like us! We think we can stand the justice of God, and tell God that He needs to save everyone from Hell. That is not true. It is but saying the truth to say that we all deserve Hell, and it is only because of God’s great mercy that any are saved. The question we should be asking ourselves is not, “Why should God send anyone to Hell?” The proper question is this, “Why should God save anyone from Hell?” The answer is given to us in verse 6 “to the praise of His glorious grace.” That is God’s reason for saving people: that they might praise God for his marvelous grace. That is what election is all about: grace.

Now, what are the practical ramifications of this doctrine? The first and primary use for us is that election gives us comfort. That’s right, comfort. Some people, of course, constantly question whether or not they are elect. This is not a helpful question to ask. Rather than asking that, we should ask ourselves, “Am I in Christ? Do I trust in Him?” If you do, but are suffering from doubt, then this doctrine of election is for you. Your salvation does not depend on you, but on God. He planned it, accomplished it, and sealed it. That is the message of verses 3-14 of this chapter of Ephesians. To know that you are a child of God, and that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ is of inestimable comfort. Do not think that you can lose your salvation, once you have it.

We should have assurance, but not presumption. The distinction between assurance and presumption is vital to understand here. We can have assurance that we are saved. Election helps us in that regard by telling us that we are in God’s hands, and His hands don’t slip. God’s hands are not “butter fingers.” We can be safe and secure in the arms of Jesus. But, that does not mean that we can then do whatever we please. As Paul himself says here, we are elected in order to be holy. It is folly to think that we can be elect and live like the world does. If we are living like the world, then we have no reason to suppose that we are elect. Election means holiness. To quote Paul again, “How can we who have died to sin live in it any longer?”

Secondly, we should never think that the doctrine of election should make us “give up on someone.” People can be mightily hard to the Gospel their whole lives only to be converted on their deathbed. We do not know who the elect are. We cannot look into anyone else’s heart to discern whether they are elect or not. There are those who say that if the number of the elect is all set, then we don’t have to evangelize anyone. We can just kick up our heels and do nothing. This is an extremely faulty view of election. It is called “hyper-Calvinism,” and has nothing to do with the truth. It is like the fatalists of Iran in the illustration at the beginning of the sermon. God’s sovereignty does not rule out our responsibility. God commanded us to evangelize. That ought to be enough right there. But for the more curious, we can also say that God not only predestines some to salvation; but He also ordains the means by which His elect will come to salvation. And that means us. It is entirely incorrect to say that Arminians make better evangelists. Arminians, by the way, are people who say that God does not elect certain people to salvation, contrary to what Paul says right here. The fact of the matter is that Calvinists have always been the best evangelists. My own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, has sent out more missionaries per capita, than any other denomination. And the PCA is Reformed to the core. As a matter of fact, election requires evangelism. Election does mean that God will somehow “zap” people independent of missionaries. God uses missionaries to bring His elect to faith. Election also frees up evangelism: if I think that no one is necessarily elect to salvation, then my message better be a real zinger, since it all depends on how eloquent I am. The Reformed person, on the other hand, can say this: “I am simply going to present the Gospel clearly, and I know that despite my imperfection in presenting the Gospel, God will still bring His elect to faith.”

I will close by giving you an illustration for helping us to understand this mystery. For there still is mystery at the end of the day. The Bible does not fully explain to us how it is that God is Sovereign, and yet we are responsible. Delving too deep into those mysteries can get us into trouble. Paul, in Romans 9, even says, in effect, “Shut up.” We can and must say what the Bible itself says. But where the Bible is silent, there we must stop. So I will close by giving you this illustration: the connection of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility looks like this: there is a door. The door is called “salvation.” On the front of the door, we this inscription, “Repent, believe, be baptized, and you will be saved.” If you walk through that door, turn back and look at the backside of that door, there is a corresponding inscription on the backside: “Elect from all eternity.” Are you in Christ? Then know that you were predestined to be in Christ. Let God’s eternal comfort strengthen you that you were predestined to this, not because you are so lovable, so holy, so perfect, but because of God’s grace alone. Praise be to God.

2 Peter 1:5-11

This passage has quite a few interpretive difficulties in it. I will therefore tread cautiously.

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The first difficulty is this: does verse 9 refer to believers or to unbelievers? I argue that he refers to believers here. First of all is the expression “cleansed from his former sins.” Secondly, the terms of the passage seem to indicate that the believer here is living like an unbeliever, rather than that the non-elect covenant member is on a teeter-totter. The following verse seems to me to indicate that the brothers are to receive this warning. Verse 10, by the way, does not indicate that the elect actually could fall from election. Thirdly, the lack of these qualities is not described as unbelief, but as “ineffectiveness, unfruitfulness, nearsighted, blind.” These qualities can more easily describe the believer who is not progressing as he ought, than that “cleansed from his former sins” could describe someone who is not elect.

Ephesians 1:1-2

I have already commented on Ephesians 1:1-2 here in reference to the Federal Vision, and here in reference to my full sermon on the text. I have decided, however, that I will, in addition, publish a full exegetical commentary on Ephesians here on my blog, doing it as I go along. This will be a conglomeration of insights I have gleaned from the commentaries, combined with a few thoughts of my own. I hope and pray that this might prove useful to others. All Greek will be immediately translated for the benefit of those who do not read Greek, although technical issues will be discussed. The translation of the text will be my own.

1. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the believers in Christ Jesus; 2. Grace be yours and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.” What is an apostle? “The idea not only included the sending of the messenger but more importantly the authorization of the messenger” (Hoehner, pg. 134). The word is related to the Greek verb apostello, which means “I send.” However, an apostle is not merely an errand boy. Rather, he has the full authority of the sender behind him. The Hebrew “Shaliach” is close in the background here (“The shaliach was a surrogate commissioned and sent either by a private individual…or as an agent representing the religious authorities;” Barnett in DPL, pg. 45). Christou here has the force, not of a proper name, but of a title. Jesus as Messiah is the idea. Just as Jesus was sent from the Father, having the full authority of the Father, so also was Paul sent from Jesus, having the full authority of Jesus.

διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ “by the will of God.” The form of this contruction is a genitive of agent (BDF 223). That is, God’s will is the agent that brought about Paul’s calling to the apostleship. This letter to the Ephesians containes more references to the will of God than any other of Paul’s epistles (Barth, pg. 65). Paul’s authority as an apostle did not rest on his own desires, nor on the desires of his friends, nor on his claim to be equal with Peter, John, and James; but on God’s appointment (Best, pg. 97). It is the same will of God that appointed Paul as an apostle that appointed us to be the chosen of God from before the foundation of the world. Paul is here anticipating one of his major themes in 1:3-14. Notice that Paul does not defend his apostleship here in this letter as he does in Galatians, for instance. The Ephesian church knew Paul well, he having ministered there for three years. His focus is more directed to how he became an apostle than to the mere fact of his apostleship (Boice, pg. 4). 

τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν [ἐν Ἐφέσῳ] “to the saints in Ephesus.” A textual problem arises here. Several of the earliest manuscripts do not have the words “in Ephesus.” Metzger includes the words, but puts them in brackets, indicating the extreme level of doubt regarding their authenticity. P46, Aleph, B, 424corr, and 1739 omit the words. However, a corrector to Aleph and B later (re)inserted the words. This textual problem is by no means insignificant, since the destination of the letter is thrown into doubt if these words are not genuine (there are no other indicators of the destination in the entire letter save these words; the title of the letter does also give some indication, but it is not as certain as words in the text itself). Metzger’s textual commentary is woefully inadequate here. Most of his evidence and argumentation is clearly on the side of omitting the words. However, the inclusion of the words has equally ancient and geographically diverse attestation. See Hoehner’s excellent defense of the originality of the words in pp. 144-148 of his commentary. I believe the evidence favors the inclusion of the words.

That being said, what does the text mean? Obviously, the Roman Catholic understanding of “saints” is of no help here, since Paul does not address just a few people. As Boice says, all Christians are saints (Boice, pp. 4-5). This means that “all the high doctrine which we have in this Epistle is something that you and I are meant to receive…Ordinary members of the Church, of all churches, are meant to take hold of these doctrines, and understand and rejoice in them. They are not merely for certain special learned people; they are meant for each and every one of us” (Lloyd-Jones, pg. 24). “Every Christian is a saint; you cannot be a Christian without being a saint; and you cannot be a saint and a Christian without being separated in some radical sense from the world. You do not belong to it any longer, you are in it but you are not of it; there is a separation which has taken place in your mind, in your outlook, in your heart, in your conversation, in your behaviour” (LJ, pg. 27).

καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: “to the believers in Christ Jesus:” This is an epexegetical kai. The sense is “the saints…that is, the believers.” Most commentators favor the subjective sense of pistois. That is, they favor the sense “people who trust,” as opposed to the objective sense “people who are trustworthy.” However, most translations follow the objective sense. I favor the subjective sense, since the following passage emphasizes not so much the believer’s faithfulness, but rather the content of what is to be believed. However, there is surely an overlap between the two. Even if one holds to one, the hint of the other cannot be far off. Those who believe will be faithful; and one cannot be faithful to Christ without having true faith. In any case, the saints are the believers, and the believers are the saints (Calvin, pg. 196). Lange, however, wants to make the two groups somewhat distinct (Lange, pg. 24). Barth rejects this hypothesis, insisting that the two groups are the same group of people (Barth, pg. 68).

If “believers” is the proper sense of pistois, then, as Boice and Phillips note, we must remember the three elements of faith: knowledge, assent, and trust. All three elements are essential to faith. One cannot abstract any of them from faith and still have faith.

Stott has a very useful observation on the last prepositional phrase “in Christ Jesus:” “they have two homes, for they reside equally ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Ephesus.’ Indeed all Christian people are saints and believers, and live both in Christ and inthe secular world, or ‘in the heavenlies’ and on earth” (Stott, pg. 23).

χάρις ὑμῖν “grace be yours.” The verb “to be” in some form has to be supplied here, since the text only has “Grace to you.” Usually it is interpreted as a wish “Grace be to you.” However, it could also be a statement of fact: “Grace is to you.” Either way, Paul is blessing the Ephesians. Paul here encapsulates the entire Gospel in one word: grace. He will expound on this theme much more in the first three chapters of the letter. Paul has transformed the usually more prosaic opening formula in most Greek letters into a benediction full of rich theological content (see my sermon for more on this). Grace is the cause of the next blessing “peace.”

καὶ εἰρήνη “and peace.” In some form, grace leading to peace is the theme of the letter (Ferguson, pg. 6). Grace in the first three chapters leads to the peace that should characterize the Christian in the last three chapters. That is a bit of an over-generalization. However, the basic idea is sound. That peace is the effect of grace is the opinion of Hoehner, pg. 150. Jerome has this to say: “The grace of the Father lies in hiw willingness to send the Son for our salvation, while the peace of the Son lies in the fact that we are reconciled to the Father through him” (ACCS, pg. 108). It is important to note that both grace and peace come from both the Father and the Son (so, Lange, pg. 23). This is an indirect testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ: like Father, like Son.

ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν “from God our Father.” Apo indicates source (Hoehner, pg. 150). “Grace and peace are not earth-born blessings; they descend from heaven, from God on His glorious throne, whose high prerogative it is to send down those special influences; and from Christ at His right hand, who has provided these blessed gifts by His sufferings and death-who died to secure, and is exalted to bestow them, and whose constant living sympathy with His people enables Him to appreciate their wants, and prompts Him out of His own fulness to supply them” (Eadie, pg. 8).

καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. “and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Lange (pg. 25) and Best (pg. 102) both say, as has already been noted, that since grace and peace come from Jesus as well as from God the Father, Christ must be very God.

Croak, Croak!

Exodus 8:1-15

I was not able to find a picture of the Egyptians goddess Hekhet to show you all, but she takes the losing stage in this plague. Hekhet was the goddess of fertility. She was usually depicted as a female with a frog’s head. “Hekhet also had the responsibility of controlling the multiplication of frogs in ancient Egypt by protecting the frog-eating crocodiles” (Currid, pg. 173). So, when the frogs over-run Egypt, Hekhet has obviously lost her power to protect the land. In fact, “images” of Hekhet, in the form of frogs, have completely over-run Egypt. It is rather ironic that the very goddess supposed to protect the land from frogs, has herself been multiplied to the point of being a curse. It is rather fitting that the Egyptians, who worshiped many different gods, would have images of this goddess multiply: if they wanted more gods, they could have them!

From another perspective, Egypt, being a form of humanity, is cursed with a reversal of creation. The text says that the frogs “swarmed,” the same word used in Genesis 1 to describe the swarms of creeping things on the earth. Instead of man having dominion over the creation, the creation had dominion over man. Of course, this did not render the frogs outside the control of God. That much is plain by the fact that the instant God gave the word, they all died out (or returned to the Nile).

What is amazing about this plague is that the frogs come out of the Nile which had just been rendered unfit for any marine life by being turned into blood. And yet, here come all these frogs! This gives the lie to any naturalistic interpretation. 

Pharaoh is now starting to know this Yahweh, whom he said he didn’t know (5:2). He doesn’t know Yahweh well enough to repent of his sins, and turn to Him for salvation. However, God’s purposes in raising Pharaoh up are being fulfilled (see Romans 9:17).

The whole point of the plagues in general is given to us in verse 1: God wants the people to serve Him, not Pharaoh. Of course, at this point in the story they are still serving Pharaoh. Therefore, verse 1 is a direct challenge to Pharaoh (Currid, pg. 172).

Continuation of the Debate with Xon

This is a continuation of the discussion that Xon and I are having here. Since I believe that the comments will probably augment to quite a few more, I have decided to refresh the post by continuing in a new post. Also, since I believe that this has been quite the most fruitful discussion about the FV ever on my blog, I want it to have a bit more attention. So, for those who wish to understand what we’re talking about here, please read the comments in the post linked above.

But it’s all about being “in Christ”, and the question is whether it is possible to be “in Christ” for a time, or whether being “in Christ” is something that only happens to someone for keeps.

This is the nub of the issue, as I see it. It deeply affects how we interpret Romans 8:1. For the elect, we would have to say that they are united to Christ for keeps. This is the clear implication of LC 66: “The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.” Emphasis mine. Obviously, if nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, as Romans 8 says, then we are inseparably united to Christ. It is the clear implication of Scripture and of the LC. However, what of the NECM (again, that’s “non-elect covenant member”)? Question 68 deals with them directly (I think this is crystal clear): “others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.” Several points are of interest here. Firstly, we are dealing here with NECM’s. That is clear when one looks at the proof-texts used in support of the phrase “common operations of the Spirit.” The Westminster divines reference Matt 7:22, 13:20-21, and Heb 6:4-6. Secondly, the LC speaks of such NECM”s as unbelievers (“being justly left in their unbelief”). Thirdly, they are never truly united to Christ (“do never truly come to Jesus Christ”). Now, I can hear (or see) what Xon will do with this: plug in the “usage definitions” of “unbelief,” “truly come to Jesus Christ,” etc., and thereby limit the language of the WS to the description of the decretal understanding of NECM’s. Thereby he will probably say that such language does not say anything about non-decretal benefits that such NECM’s might receive. I am not saying this to slight Xon. I merely note that this has been his pattern of argumentation. I will respond in advance by saying that the WS are here treating of NECM’s. Period. Full stop. The subject of LC 68 is the NECM’s. They never truly believe, and they never truly come to Christ. That is (I think the WS would say), they never trust in Christ for salvation, and they are never truly united to Christ. Period. My point here is that the WS exclude any kind of temporary true faith, or temporary true union. I think the WS would view those categories as contradictions in terms. A temporary faith is not a true faith, by definition. A temporary union is not a true union, by definition. Wilkins wants to say that it is a true faith, a true union, only they are temporary. I simply don’t see the WS allowing for that category.

“No condemnation” doesn’t have to mean, as I see it, that I stand right now forgiven for all future sins.

However, I think the context does point in this direction. Here are some indicators: verse 2 says that are set free from the law of sin and death. We are no longer under its power. If we are no longer under its power, then sin has no more power to condemn us. That means that we are judicially forgiven of all our future sins. Secondly, we are heirs (verses 14-17). Being an heir means being a child. Being a child means that we are no longer under the judicial wrath of God. We call God “Father,” not “Judge.” This distinction in the various wraths of God is what you are missing here, Xon. There is God’s judicial wrath, and there is God’s fatherly displeasure. God’s judicial wrath is utterly appeased when we come to Christ in faith (by God’s grace). There is no judicial wrath left. God will never stop being our Father to again become our Judge of condemnation. That is a fundamental category mistake to say so. If God is our Father, then the only “wrath” left is God’s Fatherly displeasure. Our future sins need forgiveness in the sense of receiving God’s fatherly forgiveness. However, we are set free from the law of sin and death. That means that our future sin does not need the judicial wrath kind of forgiveness. We are never under God’s judicial wrath again, if we are God’s heirs. I think it is quite possible for Satan to deceive us into thinking that we have again come under God’s judicial wrath, when in fact we are only under God’s Fatherly displeasure. He loves nothing better than to try to convince us that we have sinned ourselves out of the kingdom. But it is a lie for the true child of God. The true child of God cannot sin himself out of he kingdom. That, of course, is not to be seen as any kind of an excuse for license to sin. Romans 6:1 “if we have died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?” If we are set free from the law’s judicial wrath, then we are also set free from sin’s ultimate rule over our lives. This is only saying that if we have been justified, then we are also being sanctified.

XW-justification is not the same thing as WS-justification!

Yes, I think you are forced to this conclusion if you are going to be consistent. However, I still think this runs foul of what I said here: : “WCF 15.1-3 says that no one may expect pardon of sins without true repentance and faith. The statement is explicitly unlimited by the “all sinners” right before the last phrase. In other words, for all sinners, no pardon may be expected without repentance unto life. The WCF had defined repentance unto life as an evangelical grace, namely, a saving grace of the Gospel. That is an absolutely essential condition for any pardon to come to a sinner. In other words, for your position to be correct, you must assume that the repentance of a NECM is a repentance unto life, the evangelical grace of WCF 15. Therefore, you must also assume that there is no difference except time between the NECM and the elect.”

Now, to deal with your claims about this section. You claim is that

There is actually a subtle slip in meaning when you go from (1) “WCF 15.1-3 says that no one may expect pardon of sins without true repentance and faith.” and then re-explain it as(2) “In other words, for all sinners, no pardon may be expected without repentance unto life. …That is an absolutely essential condition for any pardon to come to a sinner.”

You define this slip as the difference between “Saying that ‘no sinner may find pardon without x’ ((1), which is what WCF 15.3 actually says) is not the same as saying that a sinner may find no pardon without x’ ((2), which is not quite what it says).” Let me try to rephrase this: You are saying that the word “no” has a different connotation when placed before “sinner” as opposed to being placed before “pardon.” I readily grant this point. It is different to say that “no sinner receives pardon without x,” versus “a sinner receives no pardon without x.” I think I have your argument summarized here. You further conclusion would be that there is a kind of pardon that a NECM could receive that would not conflict with this section of the WS. Correct?

My answer is this: I believe that the WCF 15 includes both statements. I think we would both agree (and actually, you have already said this) that WCF 15 teaches the first statement “no sinner may find pardon without repentance.” But I would also argue that the WS teach the second statement: “a sinner may find no pardon without repentance.” To prove this, we need to go back to the definition of sin. The WS define sin as being two-fold: original sin and actual sin. This distinction is clear in chapter 6 of the WCF. Furthermore, 6.4 defines actual sins as having their source in the original sin, or original corruption. It is a categorical statement: “From this original corruption…do proceed all actual transgressions.” To put it negatively, there is no sin that does not proceed from original corruption. 6.6 further states that both original and actual sins are transgressions that bring guilt upon the sinner, making him subject to eternal death. Furthermore, 6.5 says that the original corruption is pardoned in those that are regenerated. Plainly, there can be no pardon of original corruption without regeneration. Regeneration, by definition, reverses original corruption (though not completely freeing us from it, as 6.5 indicates). To be more specific, regeneration means a new heart. Through Christ, those who are regenerated have their original corruption pardoned and mortified (6.5). That is what I mean by “reversal.” I am on safe ground, therefore, in saying that only the regenerate have their original corruption pardoned and mortified. The categories of regenerated and original-corruption-pardoned-and-mortified are the same in 6.5.

I would then argue that actual sin cannot be forgiven unless original corruption is also forgiven. If one needs to put it temporally, original sin is forgiven first, then actual sins. I actually believe that the forgiveness is simultaneous, but that’s another debate. The reason I argue this is Romans 5. The foundational issue for sin in Romans 5 is the sin of Adam imputed to us. That is original sin. In the architectonic importance of that passage, Christ’s work reverses original sin. Verse 19 “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” This interpretation is confirmed by the following context, where our being dead to sin means that we should not live in actual sins any longer. The logic goes from original to actual.

So, in propositional form, it would look like this: 1. There is no pardon of actual sins without pardon of original sin. 2. There is no pardon of original sin without regeneration. 3. Only the elect are regenerated. Therefore. 4. Only the elect have pardon. 5. No non-elect person can have any kind of pardon, since pardon involves pardon of original sin, which can only happen if regeneration is present.

Dear Ephesians

Ephesians 1:1-2

How many times have you heard of a letter that starts out like this: “Dear So-and-So, How are you? I am fine.” I think that when I was a child, and even during my teenage years, I was seriously tempted to start a letter in that manner. Why? Because it was easy. You were putting down words on the paper without the bother of actually having to say anything. We all know that such words probably don’t mean much of anything. They are just a way to get a letter started. However, in the case of this letter to the Ephesians, Paul does anything but what I have just described. Every word is important. I think that we oftentimes skip over this part of Paul’s letters, because it sounds so much like a formula. However, that is a serious mistake. We want to “get to the good stuff.” But a patient and careful reading of these two verses will teach us much about what it is to be a Christian. That is what these verses are about: what it is to be a Christian.

Paul describes himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. What is an apostle? An apostle is one who is commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself. There are two main ideas. The first is that an apostle is someone who is sent on a mission. The word itself is related to the Greek word “to send.” An apostle is therefore someone who is sent. An apostle is not just someone who is sent, like an errand boy, however. An apostle is someone who is authorized to act on behalf of the one who is sending him. So Paul is authorized to act on behalf of his master, Christ Jesus. Since Paul does not dwell on his apostleship in this letter, we will not, either.

However, there is one point in relationship to his apostleship that Paul does bring up, and that is how he acquired it. It was by the will of God. In fact, as James Boice puts it: Paul’s emphasis does not seem to be on the fact that he was an apostle so much as how he became an apostle. He became an apostle through the will of God. That is how it happened. It did not happen because he wanted it to happen. It did not happen because other people wanted it to happen. It happened because God’s will made it come about. At this point, we have to realize something about this letter: it has more references to the will of God than any other of Paul’s letters. It is a vitally important theme in this letter. God’s will set apart Paul for his apostleship just as surely as God’s will set us apart to be saints. It is the same will of God working in Paul’s life that works in our lives. If Paul became an apostle by the will of God, then we become saints and believers by that same will of God.

Paul writes, in fact, to the saints who are in Ephesus. We hear the word “saints,” and we are immediately puzzled. We normally use the word “saint” to refer to a super-holy person, a person who borders on perfection, if not actually perfect. What is a saint? The Bible never uses the word to refer to super-holy people in the sense in which we normally think of the word. The word “saints” is always applied to those people who are set apart from the world by God. In short, it refers to Christians. All Christians are saints, and all saints are Christians. So, the next time you talk to another believer in Christ, make sure you say “Saint Joe…” How awkward would you feel to turn toward your neighbor right now and say “hello, saint!” We might in fact protest, “I’m no saint.” Yes you are. Every Christian is a saint. If you trust in Jesus Christ, then you are SET APART, which is what the word “saint” actually means. You are holy. You are different. You are a saint. That is what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to be a saint. Paul did not write to just one perfect individual who might be called a saint in our definition. Rather, he used the word to refer to all the believers. That is proved by the next phrase “the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The word could just as well be translated “the believers in Christ Jesus.” If you look carefully at your Bible, you will see that translation in a footnote. I think it is the better translation. All saints are believers, and all believers are saints.

So, are you different from the world? Are you set apart? Are you holy in your living? Do you live up to your calling? It is quite easy to say that since we cannot be perfect, we shouldn’t even try to be perfect. That is a very dangerous thing to say. It leads to all sorts of sin in a person’s life. We have to recognize that becoming more and more holy is the work of God in our lives. We cannot take credit for it. Nevertheless, we are to strive in the Lord’s strength to be holy, to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.

The saints are those who believe in Jesus Christ. They trust in Christ because Christ is trustworthy, and because God’s will has decreed that it should be so. Let me illustrate this by referencing a teenage survey that was carried out recently. The question was asked, “What do you wish for most in your life?” The number one answer was not money, success, or pleasure. The number one answer was this: “What I wish for the most in my life is someone to trust.” That’s what teenagers are looking for these days. They don’t know who to trust. Well, here’s your answer, teens. Trust in Jesus Christ. He is trustworthy, and will never let you down. He is always faithful. He might put you through some tough times, but He will be with you nevertheless. Have faith in Jesus.

But what is faith? Paul writes to those who have faith, but what is faith? Faith is the open hand that clings to Christ. Faith is the empty vessel that simply holds what God pours into it. Faith is the tool by which we grab hold of Christ and never let go. But, to be more specific, faith has three parts to it. The first part is knowledge. You cannot trust in something about which you know nothing. You have to know whom it is you trust. Secondly, faith assents to what it knows. You don’t merely know who Jesus is. You agree that Jesus is who He says He is. You agree that Jesus is the Son of God. You agree that He died on the cross for your sins. You agree that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your life, setting you apart from the world. And thirdly, faith is trust. You not only know who Jesus is, and what you are to believe, you not only agree with that knowledge, but you also entrust yourself to Him. If you are at the top of a burning building, and cannot see the ground, and someone says to you, “Jump, and I will catch you. I have a large tarp which will cushion your fall,” what do you do? If you jump, then you are entrusting your life to that person, even though you cannot see him. Faith is always a trust in something that you cannot see. So Paul is writing to people who have these three aspects of faith. Do you have these three aspects of faith? It is not enough merely to know about Jesus. It not enough even to agree that Jesus is who He says He is. Such knowledge and assent come up only to the level of the demons. They believe and agree with right doctrine! But they cannot entrust themselves to God. All three elements must be together. You cannot entrust yourself to someone about whom you know nothing. That is simply dumb. You must rather know about, agree with, and then entrust yourself to Jesus. That is what a Christian is.

One further description of what a Christian is can be found in that little phrase “in Christ Jesus.” That phrase, or any equivalent of that phrase, will be found in this letter many, many times. We are “in” Christ Jesus. What does that mean? Well, it means that Jesus represents us. You might remember Romans 5, where all sinners are in Adam, and all believers are in Christ. That is talking about representation. But that is not all it means. Being in Christ also means dwelling in the same place as Christ, and having the Holy Spirit dwell in you. There is communion, fellowship with Christ. In a marriage, there is communion and fellowship between husband and wife. So also there is communion and fellowship between Christ and His church. Being “in Christ,” therefore, is an exceedingly important aspect of being a Christian. This will be spelled out in more detail in the next few weeks.

What are the characteristics of Christians? Well, they have grace from God the Father and God the Son, and peace from God the Father and from God the Son. Both grace and peace come from both God the Father and God the Son. The way Paul says it here clearly indicates, by the way, that Jesus is God. What is grace? Grace is unmerited favor from God. We don’t deserve eternal life, but God has given it to us. We don’t deserve faith, either, and yet it is a gift from God. Grace is a way of summing up the entire Gospel in one word. God’s grace gives us life. Grace is related to peace as cause to effect. That is, grace results in peace, peace between God and us, and peace between my neighbor and myself, specifically, my fellow believer and myself. Do you have this peace? If you have this grace from God, then you should have this peace, also. In fact, you should have both kinds of peace, peace with God, and peace with your fellow believer. That means anyone in the church. You may not think that person is a believer. However, it is the church that says who is and who is not. We are not to make those judgments about other people. Instead, we are to treat everyone as a Christian who is a member in good standing.

This letter, then, from Paul, is written to saints, to people who believe. They believe in Christ Jesus. They have grace and peace from God. Are you one of those? If you are, then you are to listen to what Paul says. After all, this letter was not written merely so that theologians could wrestle over its meaning. No, this letter was written for every Christian; every person who is called a saint, every person who believes. This doctrine is for you. You are to understand and apply its meaning. What if you are not one of those saints, believing in Christ Jesus? Then you are to realize just what you are missing. You are to realize that you do not have grace from God in any kind of saving way. You do not have the peace of God. You do not have peace with God, or peace with your fellow human being. You are fundamentally a person at war. Come to the Father, and He will show you grace and peace. Come to the Son, and He will show you grace and peace. Come to the Holy Spirit, and He will show you grace and peace. Amen.

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