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.
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.