Rejoinder to Stellman

Stellman has replied here to my blog post concerning the interpretation of key passages. I will not focus on the areas where we agree, but concentrate on the areas where we are either disagreeing or miscommunicating.

He argues, concerning the Galatians passage:

Lane then says that what faith working through love avails for is the “hope of righteousness,” or, glorification. But I do not necessarily disagree with him here. The believer, as he lives a life of living faith which works through love, will thereby be granted on the last Day to enter fully into the eternal inheritance that Jesus won for him by his cross and resurrection. Perhaps Lane’s disagreement with me stems from his idea that justification is a once-for-all event rather than something that we receive initially, grow in, and then are fully granted on the last Day. But I would suggest that the more fully-orbed understanding of justification (one with initial, ongoing, and future elements) will better allow Paul to simply speak for himself in this text. After all, it is pretty obvious that the apostle’s formulation, “faith working through love avails for ________” should end with the word “justification,” since he just finished telling “those who would be justified by the law” that “circumcision avails nothing.”

I would dispute his translation of the Greek word “ischuo.” Jason is implying that the word needs to have some sort of direction arrow on it, as indicated by the large blank. However, this is not needed. Indeed, we can see this in several other translations of the verse. ESV has “counts for anything,” the HCSB has “accomplishes anything;” the NET has “carries any weight.” Looking up the word in BDAG reveals its opinion that the word in this context means “have meaning, be valid, be in force.” There is no reason to assume, therefore, that there is anything particular in Paul’s mind here for which this FWTL avails. It is merely that this is what counts. This is what matters. In this I am correcting what I wrote in the last blog post, wherein I wrote that FWTL avails for the hope of righteousness. I no longer think that such is the proper translation of “ischuo.”

Stellman thinks my paragraph about faith and love is confusing. Faith and love are distinct, yet inseparable, much like the two natures of Christ, or the persons of the Trinity. Justification and sanctification are distinct yet inseparable. I’m not sure where his confusion comes in. I am saying that faith and love are two distinct things, and yet you will never find the one without the other. This is the only way, I believe, to understand how James and Paul can both be correct. Paul emphasizes the distinctness of faith and love (while not ignoring the inseparability), while James emphasizes the inseparability (without ignoring the distinctness).

Stellman says:

So it would seem to me that it is Lane who imports works of love into his definition of saving faith, such that the latter necessarily includes the former, whereas I have been saying all along that faith alone is dead, unless it is “active along with works” of love (to borrow James’ phrase).

Now, this is confusing to me. I have worked for years to maintain the distinctness of love and saving faith. How exactly did he come to the conclusion that I was importing love into my definition of saving faith? I am at a total loss, I must confess. Maybe he can help with the actual steps of how I did this. I hasten to assure my readers that I do believe that saving faith is one thing, and love is something else, however much they always appear together. You never have the light of the sun without its heat, and yet they are two distinct conceptual things.

Stellman writes:

Lane here is altering Paul’s actual words in order to make them fit with his theology. Paul does not say, “Circumcision avails nothing for glorification, but faith does, since it alone justifies. But after we are once-for-all justified, we do works of love as a matter of course, which works play no role in our receiving eternal life.” That is at best a strained example of exegetical gymnastics.

This is an assertion, not an actual argument that I have so gymnasticified the text, if I may coin a rather inelegant word.

Stellman goes on to say:

What Paul in fact says, is this: “You who want to be justified by the law by receiving circumcision are severing yourselves from Christ. Circumcision avails nothing for attaining our inheritance, but faith working through love does. This love fulfills the law and is the fruit of the Spirit, and if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life.”

The words “for attaining our inheritance” are imported into the text in Stellman’s exegesis. I have already argued above that “ischuo” does not require the prepositional phrase “for x.” Nor does it require the translation “avail.” The meaning of the word (and there is no Greek prepositional phrase corresponding in any way to Stellman’s addition) seems more comfortably to be “have meaning, or validity.” In which case Paul is not in this verse telling us how a person may be justified. Jews believe circumcision is what matters. Paul believes that faith working through love is what matters. The contextual argument is still strong for contrasting FWTL with circumcision, and what the Judaizers expect and believe. The opposition goes something like this: circumcision is opposed to faith in justification. Love is opposed to Pharisaic works as the way of life that results from justification. Paul is, after all, transitioning to exhortations concerning sanctification in verses 13 and following. It seems logical to see verse 6 as a bridge verse between his discussion of justification and sanctification, showing us that union with Christ is where the two meet (see the “en Christo” formula at the beginning of the verse).

Response to Jason Stellman, Part 2

Jason’s comments are here. He says (first quoting passages from Galatians, then his own words):

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace…. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love…. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” … But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…. But the fruit of the Spirit is love…. the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (vv. 5:4, 6, 14, 16, 22; 6:8)

Here we see Paul echoing Christ by saying that love of God and neighbor fulfills the law, but also adding that this is only possible through the NC gift of the Spirit, which he calls “walking in the Spirit.” This fruit-bearing, far from being a veiled attempt at self-righteousness, is the very “sowing to the Spirit” that will enable us to “reap eternal life.”

By way of response, I would point to Galatians 3:1-6, which proves that the gift of the Spirit comes by faith through hearing. And what IS the gift of the Spirit? Well, it has several components to it. Union with Christ is the over-arching category (see Ephesians 1:3-14). Within that category is justification and sanctification. With that structure in mind, we ask this question: for what does “faith working through love” avail? While Jason does not specifically answer this question, he does seem to point in the direction that it avails for obtaining eternal life. I would answer that the text is saying that faith working through love avails for the hope of righteousness. The hope means that it is something we do not have yet. What is the hope of righteousness? It is the thing for which righteousness hopes. This implies that we have the righteousness now, but we do not have the thing for which righteousness hopes, which is glorification. The thing that counts is faith. It is gratuitous to assume here that “faith working through love” is actually just one idea. As Phil Ryken says in his commentary, “faith is faith and love is love.” The passage certainly says that you cannot separate faith and love. But that does not mean that we are justified by faith formed by love. The thing that avails is faith, and that faith, in addition to justifying by its instrumentality, also works through love. Why, then, did Paul add the phrase “working through love?” It is because he is opposing the idea of faith working through love to the idea of circumcision in verses 3, 6, and verse 7 (through the implied antagonists). In other words, Paul adds the thought of faith working through love in order to tell us that it must be a genuine faith, not one that relies on external things like circumcision, or baptism, hem, hem.

Next up is Jason’s treatment of 2 Peter 1. He says:

All the elements of Jesus’ and John’s and Paul’s paradigm are there: God’s divine power causes us to partake of the divine nature (Peter’s way of talking about what Paul speaks of in terms of the indwelling of the Spirit of the risen Christ). He then says that our faith, far from being alone, is supplemented with spiritual virtues, the final and greatest of which is “love.” Finally, he says that we must “practice these qualities,” for “in this way” we will gain our eternal inheritance.

A couple of things I could say in response to this. I agree with the equation of Peter’s language concerning “partaking of the divine nature” with Paul’s language of the indwelling of the Spirit (I might also include union with Christ, though I doubt Jason would have a problem with that). But then Jason says something with which I agree, but maybe not with the same slant. He says that faith must be supplemented. I agree. But doesn’t that mean that faith is one thing, and the things that accompany it are other things, at least distinct, even if not inseparable? Lastly, what is the way in which we obtain the eternal inheritance? The immediate context of the statement is not the virtues that Peter listed, but rather the idea of not falling. The passive voice of “will be supplied” in 2 Peter 1:11 is important here, as well. It is probably a divine passive, with God the implied subject. And who makes the calling and the election? We can add to our assurance, but not to our hope, for as 1 Peter says, we were born again to a living hope. We do not give ourselves the new birth any more than we gave ourselves physical birth. We enter into the eternal state not because of our works, but not without our works, since they are the inevitable result of God’s grace. 2 Peter is not saying that we gain an entrance into the eternal state because of what we do. Otherwise, why would he write 2 Peter 1:3, wherein ALL things necessary for life and godliness are given to us as a gift?

Lastly, Jason speaks of James 2: 8, 12-13:

James here speaks of a “royal law” which he also calls “the law of liberty.” If we love our neighbor by showing him mercy, we are placing ourselves under this law of liberty in order to be judged by it, the end result of which will be the triumph of mercy over judgment.

I would point out firstly that verse 10 completely negates the Romanist distinction between mortal and venial sins. Any sin against any one of the Ten Commandments, no matter how small, is a sin against the entire law, and is therefore mortal. There are ever and only mortal sins, no venial sins. Secondly, the question is not whether we are under the law, but in what way we are under it? Are we under it as a covenant of works? Or has Christ fulfilled the covenant of works, thus changing our relationship to the law so that it is now our guide and source of wisdom? Jason does not really address this question, but it is vital, because if we are still under it as an obligation to obey such that we will obtain eternal life by so doing, then Jason’s overall point is established. If, however, as Galatians clearly teaches us, we are not under the law in that way, but are under the law as a way of showing our gratitude for salvation obtained in another way, then Jason’s point is not proven at all. So far, I have not seen any convincing evidence that Jason’s new paradigm is more scriptural.

Canonical History Question

(Posted by Paige)

Investigating some “paratext” issues prior to teaching this weekend — perhaps some of my historically-minded brethren can save me some steps and answer this question:

How old is the order of New Testament books that we have in our (Protestant) Bibles?

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