A Bit Puzzled

Doug has responded to my post on Thessalonians here. What is puzzling about it is that grammatical and dogmatic parsing, as Doug puts it, is not allowed, in Doug’s thinking. These texts cannot be properly understood with that sort of analysis. I beg to differ. Of course, it is not as if that is the only sort of work that must be done to understand properly such passages. However, it is necessary. Or would Doug say that the voice of “conformed” and “transformed” in Romans 12:2 is irrelevant to understanding that passage? Or what about the text critical problem in Romans 5:1 that pits the indicative against the subjunctive? Is that irrelevant to understanding the meaning of Romans 5:1? Similarly, grammatical and dogmatic parsing is a long-honored part of Reformation interpretation of Scripture. What is ironic about all this, of course, is that the Federal Vision is claiming to be more biblical than its critics, and yet when challenged on the exegetical level, hardly even deals with the original languages at all. So, let’s look at the passages in some detail here.

First up, another pass at 2 Thessalonians 1. First of all, the context is one of suffering from the persecution of those who are outside the faith. That much, at least, is quite evident. Secondly, Paul uses the phrase “This is evidence” (ἔνδειγμα) of the righteous judgment. Suffering, therefore, is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, since God and the world are at loggerheads. The contrast is not between a moment of time wherein the Christians come to faith but the unbelievers do not. The contrast is between the life lived under persecution as opposed to those who are doing the affliction. Paul’s point, then, is that there will be vengeance, and that we should patiently endure, because the vengeance is coming. This contextualizes the phrase “obey the Gospel” (ὑπακούουσιν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ) as something having to do with the entire life, not primarily the entrance into eternal life. The sanctification, therefore, of the believer is in the forefront, where obedience makes the most sense. “Obedience” is therefore synecdochic for the entire Christian life. No implication, therefore, is made of whether coming to faith itself is an act of obedience.

With regard to Romans 6:17, the context helps us to understand that if any act of inception is in view, it is the inception of holiness in sanctification. Verse 15 should prove that quite well: Τί οὖν; ἁμαρτήσωμεν ὅτι οὐκ ἐσμὲν ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ χάριν; μὴ γένοιτο. The very next verses prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt, since Paul is talking about the principle of obedience as compared to slavery. Are we slaves of sin or of righteousness? What principle rules in us? Obviously, then, Paul is talking about sanctification, not about justification. Sanctification is part of the Gospel, too, and therefore Paul is talking about definitive and progressive sanctification in this passage. He is not talking about justification. He is not saying here that coming to faith is an act of obedience.

In Romans 1:5, Paul is not talking about Christians in general, but about the apostles: ἐλάβομεν χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν. This phrase then leads to a purpose clause with the preposition εἰς. This leads inevitably to the conclusion that the grace and the apostleship is received first in order that the obedience of faith might follow. In other words, the obedience of faith here is not the act of closing with Christ, but rather obedience to the commands of God, which the apostles are to follow in faith, because it is God who works in them both to will and to do. Nothing here about faith being an act of obedience. Doug’s interpretation requires the genitive there to be a genitive of apposition: obedience, that is, faith. But even there, the construction does not require that faith be described as the inception of faith. The accent is most definitely on the continuing nature of faith as it springs from grace and apostleship received from the Lord.

The context of 1 Peter 4:17 is really the same kind of thing that we saw in Thessalonians. The contrast between those who suffer for doing right, and those inflicting the suffering makes the obedience of the Gospel to consist in the continual obedience to the Word of salvation. This is evident from the paraphrase of Proverbs 11:31 that immediately follows, wherein the righteous and the ungodly are contrasted.          

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