Paul and Leithart, part 3

In this post, I will address the third and final  part of Leithart’s exposition of Paul’s doctrine of justification. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. I am dealing with page 227-230 of The Federal Vision. Closely related to what I am saying here is this post.

This post will only be by way of adding to the previous post. On page 228, Leithart makes a false dichotomy, when he says (in relation to Romans 6) that “Paul is not dealing with the guilt of sin; the ‘picture’ here is not the courtroom; Paul presents a scene of battle, or, better, he pictures the sinner an oppressed slave under the thumb of a harsh master.” Are we to assume that the image of a courtroom, which has so dominated Paul’s thinking for the entire first 5 chapters is now somehow supposed to disappear like some conjuror’s trick? By Leithart’s own argument, if Christ’s resurrection is in a sense His justification, then why isn’t Paul’s mention of it (verse 4) meant to include all that imagery in our minds? Furthermore, the courtroom scene (though it doesn’t have to be the main image in Romans 6, which is talking about sanctification more than about justification; nevertheless, the close connection between the two should alert us to the fact that justification has not been erased from the picture) is still in Paul’s mind in verse 11, where λογίζεσθε is used. Therefore, Leithart’s rejection of Piper’s position is premature.

Even if we grant that “justify” in verse 7 does not mean the normal declarative sense that it has in most of Paul’s usage, that does not mean that we have to rearrange our doctrine of justification to accomodate this usage. Almost all writers on justification have noted that the λογ- root has a semantic range that goes beyond what the doctrine of justification “needs.” As I have mentioned before, just because a word has a wider semantic range does not mean that we should change our theology on that basis. Just because “faith” can sometimes mean “the Christian faith” in the Bible (as opposed to an individual’s belief and trust in God) does not mean we should change our doctrine of “faith alone” based on this broader semantic range of the word “faith.” I don’t need to grant this point to Leithart (I think that Murray and Hodge, quoted in the previous post on Romans 6:7, are quite adequate to a full understanding of the passage), but even if I did, it would not help his case. This same criticism applies to his exegesis of Acts 13 (pp. 228-229).


  1. October 22, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    […] 9 (Psalms and Prophets, part 4), part 10 (Paul, part 1), part 11 (Paul, part 2, on Romans 4:25), part 12 (Paul, part 3), Romans 6:7 (from the DRC […]

  2. October 23, 2007 at 12:18 pm


    How would you answer an FV proponent who said, “Fine, I will not force us to alter our theology based upon the broad semantic range of the dikaio- word group, as long as you don’t tell me that I can’t use words like ‘justification’ more broadly than our Standards use them.”

    In other words, do our narrow(er) confessional definitions limit how certain words can be used? Must confessionalists speak more narrowly than the Bible?

  3. October 23, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Hey there, Jason (and pardon for interrupting if my two cents don’t advance things).

    Here is how I would answer an FV proponent who asked such a question:

    “You are certainly free to use words like ‘justification’ more broadly than our Standards use them. I myself do that all the time, and don’t feel the need to justify such a practice (and there’s one actual example for you, at no extra cost!).

    However, if you use words like ‘justification’ in ways that _contradict_ our Standards, you are free to do that in another ecclesiastical setting, but not as an officer in mine.”

    I think this is something of a red herring from the FV proponents (I have heard it raised literally dozens of times over the past few years), diverting attention from the real issue, which is the question of trust. The real issue that any elder faces when considering whether to ordain or transfer a man as an officer of the church into one’s own jurisidiction is not “Does this man use confessional language and confessional language ONLY in his ministry?” but “Do I trust this man? Do I trust that he understands and lives out the gospel, and do I trust his ability to articulate the gospel?”

    The FV men within the PCA have been trying to gain the trust of their fellow elders for several years now. They are free to keep trying, but it is a losing cause. Speaking for myself (and perhaps for as many as 96% of the commissioners to this past summer’s GA), I don’t trust them. I say that without animosity, but with love and conviction and sorrow.

  4. its.reed said,

    October 23, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Well said Jeff.

  5. October 23, 2007 at 5:22 pm


    You said you’d tell the FV’ist: “… If you use words like ‘justification’ in ways that _contradict_ our Standards, you are free to do that in another ecclesiastical setting, but not as an officer in mine.”

    I’m guessing the FV reply would be that Jesus’ own brother would be disqualified by that criterion.

    My own inclination is that we all agree, in the light of the various biblical authors’ use of terms in differing ways, to limit our language to our confessional definitions. So when you’re talking about forensic justification, call it “justification.” But when you’re talking about our open acknowledgement and acquittal on the last day, call it “vindication” (or some other term).

    Likewise with union: Let’s have a term for “covenantal union” (the Standards seem to prefer “ingrafting”) and another for vital, saving union, but when we use one term (union) to describe two different phenomena, our people will be confused (especially when little or no qualification is given when we do it).

    Are you (all) comfortable with this, or should we allow more elasticity in our language?

  6. October 23, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Hey there, Jason. That may be true; an FV proponent may well reply that way. Which would just confirm my impression that I can’t trust him to handle either the Scriptures, or normal human interactions, and so would not trust him as an officer in my communion.

    As to your larger point, I agree. The point, after all, is to communicate the gospel in helpful, clear, and simple ways (not with clever worldly methods of communication, a la the “Super Apostles” that sought to destroy the Corinthian church), THAT DO NOT CONFUSE. And so–even if a person’s personal theology were sound, if he insisted on being “clever,” using “plausible words of wisdom” as his method of communicating the gospel, he may yet be a believer, but he is certainly disqualified from being a minister of the gospel according to 1 Cor. 2.

    One of my professors, Richard Pratt, anticipating this very sophistry employed by the FV men (your scenario is not just theoretical, I have read FV men using it), used to tell us that if any of us dared to say on the floor of Presbytery “we are justified by our works; I’m JUST QUOTING JAMES,” he himself would vote against us.

    The Lord bless you and your gospel ministry among us, dear brother. I hope to meet you some day.

  7. October 23, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks, Jeff, you’ve been gracious and helpful.

  8. October 24, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    […] continues to challenge Leithart, Wilson, and Wilkins. He even put together an index of his Leithat […]

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