The Main Issue

Doug has responded here. I want to remind us of what the main issue that started this long series of back and forth (surely the longest in our blog debate). The issue is this: is there a distinction to be made between works of the law, on the one hand, and obedience on the other in justification? I see that as the context for the whole debate. Everything in this part of the debate should be read in light of that question. I have been seeking to show all along that with regard to justification, there is no distinction between evangelical obedience and the works of the law: all of it is excluded from justification, except, of course, what Christ has done. I can easily grant that saving faith is an evangelical obedience (as WCF 11.1 says), if I can qualify that by saying that its quality as an evangelical obedience has no relevance to justification itself, other than as an always accompanying aspect (like faith’s aliveness). Indeed, in WCF 11.1, the whole point of mentioning faith as an evangelical obedience is to deny its place in justification as any kind of ground for justification. Furthermore, faith is not imputed as the righteousness that we have before God. It is not as if faith itself is the substitute for all the obedience to the law that we owe. This is the heart of what I have been trying to say.

In my opinion, this whole issue is very parallel to the debate about faith’s aliveness. It is not the aliveness of faith that makes faith the instrument of justification. Rather, it is the fact that faith lays hold of faith’s object (Christ in all His righteousness) that makes faith justifying. Justifying faith is always alive. We are not justified by a dead faith. But neither is faith’s aliveness that aspect of faith that is instrumental. I believe that the debate about faith’s aliveness and the debate about faith as evangelical obedience are very similar in structure.

I still think that there are far better terms to describe faith than obedience, precisely because so many qualifications have to be laid on top of it that it becomes practically useless. And, the possibilities for misunderstanding all this in a deadly way abound. It is far better to harp on the gracious character of God’s faith-gift to us. 

The upshot of all this is that our obedience of all stripes plays no part in justification. Not “rebellious obedience,” which is a contradiction in terms, not evangelical, Spirit-filled works of righteousness, nothing. 

All this reminds me of my challenge, which I do not believe Doug has met: find one single passage where evangelical obedience and so-called rebellious works are contrasted with regard to justification. By what exegetical method does Doug exclude Spirit-filled works from the phrase “works of the law” in Romans 3:21-31, say?   

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49 Comments

  1. Roger Mann said,

    June 17, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I can easily grant that saving faith is an evangelical obedience (as WCF 11.1 says), if I can qualify that by saying that its quality as an evangelical obedience has no relevance to justification itself, other than as an always accompanying aspect (like faith’s aliveness). Indeed, in WCF 11.1, the whole point of mentioning faith as an evangelical obedience is to deny its place in justification as any kind of ground for justification. Furthermore, faith is not imputed as the righteousness that we have before God. It is not as if faith itself is the substitute for all the obedience to the law that we owe. This is the heart of what I have been trying to say.

    Very well put. This is the heart of what I have been trying to say also. I just thought you were going a little too far in denying the “obedience” aspect of faith in justification all together. We are justified the moment we “obey” God’s command to believe in His Son (1 John 3:23); but that in no way implies that the “obedience” aspect of our faith (or faith itself) constitutes “any sort of ground” for our justification. It most certainly does not, as WCF 11.1 quite clearly states.

  2. Roger Mann said,

    June 17, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Justifying faith is always alive. We are not justified by a dead faith. But neither is faith’s aliveness that aspect of faith that is instrumental.

    So I take it that you would also say that faith’s “obedience” is not that aspect of faith that is “instrumental” in justification. In other words, saving faith is “instrumental” solely because it lays hold of Christ and His righteousness, not because it is “obedient.” Is that right?

  3. tim prussic said,

    June 17, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Pastor, ISTM that Pr. Wilson’s been saying precisely this all along: “I can easily grant that saving faith is an evangelical obedience (as WCF 11.1 says), if I can qualify that by saying that its quality as an evangelical obedience has no relevance to justification itself, other than as an always accompanying aspect (like faith’s aliveness).” The aliveness and obedience of faith are necessary to the nature of faith, but don’t factor in at all into justification which is by the alone instrument of faith which passively lays hold of Christ and all his benefits. Faith, as regards justification, works according to its nature, but justification is NOT granted on the basis of that faith or its nature.

    This exchange reminds me of Pr. Wilson’s blog discussion with R. Scott Clark on the nature of faith. Almost point for point, the same ideas were propounded on both sides. The difference in these two discussions (as I recall) is that Dr. Clark never came around (as you did in this post) to admitting that faith necessarily has a living aspect to its very nature (and an obedient one, too), but rather charged Pr. Wilson with unwitting Popishness.

    Now, Pr. Lane, if that’s what you’ve been trying to say the whole time, I think you’ve had a funny way of going about it. It’s been a long discussion to find out, in the end, that you’ve been the same thing! Either that or I’ve misread one or the both of you (a distinct probability).

    For my part, this discussion’s been very beneficial. Thanks to you, Pr. Lane, for continuing in this dialog.

  4. Alastair said,

    June 17, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    While ‘works’ and ‘faith’ are directly contrasted in some places in the NT (Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 3:5-7), the more general Pauline contrast is between ‘faith’ or ‘pistis Iesou Christou’ and ‘works of the Law‘. It is by no means clear to me that the faith/works contrast that one finds in the pastorals and Ephesians functions in quite the same way as the contrast that one finds in Romans and Galatians (though the theological content of Paul’s message is not essentially altered). For all sorts of good reasons, it seems clear to me that ‘works of the Law’ in Romans and Galatians must be taken in a very particular sense, as references to Jewish Torah-observance and not as references to good works in a more general sense. Often the contrast being drawn is primarily one between Christ and the Torah, not one between faith and works per se.

    Within Romans and Galatians in particular, the contrast between faith and works of the Law regards both faith and works of the Law in terms of the Jewish Torah. Faith is thus a surprising new form of Torah observance by means of the new covenant Spirit, a sort of Torah observance open to Gentiles in the same way as it is to Jews.

    In the later Pauline writings, both faith and works cease to be defined against the background of the Jewish Torah to the same degree, taking on a broader reference. Faith is no longer presented as the new covenant form of Torah observance (though Paul is certainly not going back on himself here), works are no longer the specific acts of Torah-observance, but come to be seen as any acts performed to secure or found our relationship with God. Alongside this broadened definition of works, Paul starts to speak of ‘good works’ in a manner that one simply does not find in the earlier epistles.

    Through its relationship with the distinction between those under and those without the Torah, the faith/works of the Law contrast is also bound up with the issue of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles throughout Romans and Galatians. In Ephesians we see the issue of the bringing of Jews and Gentiles being dealt with apart from the language of justification, in a manner that is subtly different from the way that Paul treats it in his earlier letters. Alongside this there is the broadening out of the theme of justification not being by works of Jewish Torah observance, to the claim that salvation (the shift of terms from ‘justification’ to ‘salvation’ is also important to notice here) is not by works, in the more general sense of acts done to secure God’s favour. The issues dealt with are slightly different and we need to be careful not to collapse the later distinction into the earlier one, while maintaining the close relationship between the two (in a similar manner to the way in which we need to distinguish between the sense in which James used the terms ‘faith’ and ‘works’ and the sense in which Paul does).

    In terms of the discussion in hand, while it is clear that we are not saved because we have done works (Paul generally seems to reserve the terminology ‘good works’ to refer to Christian obedience), good works and faith, understood as the true observance of the Torah by the new covenant Spirit, seem to be essential to justification. We could not be saved and justified were it not the case that we will do good works by the power of the Spirit of God. This is because justification is not merely founded on the faithful death of Christ for us, but also on the ‘law of the Spirit of life’ by which and according to which we now live (Romans 8:1-4).

    Christian obedience is always incomplete. Our obedience is always a proleptic anticipation of the obedience that does form part of the basis for his justifying verdict, the obedience of the life of the new covenant Holy Spirit, an obedience that God is working in us, but which will not be completed until the final resurrection. This obedience is genuinely our own obedience, but God’s justifying verdict is NOT based on our working of this obedience, but upon his working of this obedience in us.

    Of course, the obedience of the new covenant Holy Spirit is simply Christ’s own obedience/faithfulness. Christ is the mould into which we are being worked by the Spirit. Thus we are justified on account of the death and obedience of Christ, an obedience that has its source outside of us. The fact that this obedience has its source outside of us is crucial for understanding justification, as is the fact that we could not be justified unless this obedience were one day to be perfected in us.

    God’s reckoning of us as righteous would be an unjust verdict were it not for life of the Holy Spirit in us, which guarantees that our disjointed existence will one day correspond with what God has declared us to be in reality. Thus, while we are not saved on account of anything that we have done, or even in anticipation of some favour that we will win with God in the future, we are saved in part because God will produce true obedience in us. Consequently our good works and faith-as-obedience are not without their place in justification provided that they are regarded, not as something that we are providing to God, but as realities that he is working in us.

  5. markhorne said,

    June 17, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    “Indeed, in WCF 11.1, the whole point of mentioning faith as an evangelical obedience is to deny its place in justification as any kind of ground for justification. Furthermore, faith is not imputed as the righteousness that we have before God. It is not as if faith itself is the substitute for all the obedience to the law that we owe. This is the heart of what I have been trying to say.”

    No, it is not at the heart of what you have been trying to say because your chosen opponents totally believe the Confession on the issue. You have been trying to add the shibboleth that you must not mention that faith is obedient, and that somehow this does not condemn the Westminster Standards own statements.

    You are right. The Standards are perfectly clear on the issue. Go thou and do likewise and stop manufacturing novelties for the purpose us declaring the innocent to be heretical.

  6. David Gadbois said,

    June 17, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    Lane, to add to what you have said, I’d say that FV does not guard against some errors in their formulation:

    1. that while faith in Christ may be considered a form of Spirit-wrought obedience, it does not thereby make other works of Spirit-wrought obedience instrumental in justification.

    2. the Law-lite error that Romanists and Arminians fall prey to in varying forms. The idea that, given God’s grace, we can perform a truncated, easier form of the Law that does not demand perfect obedience. Many think that as long as we say it is Spirit-wrought and performed in faith, that is OK.

    Anyone remember this gem from The Federal Vision book?

    the Law is ‘obeyable,’ that truly responding to the Law (the Word) in faith does justify.

    The Arminian version of this sees faith in Christ as being the one work you do in order to be justified. Insisting on faith in Christ being obedience without qualifying that faith does not justify *because* it is obedient does not guard against this sort of error.

    3. It is not enough to say that works/obedience or Law-keeping are not the ground of justification. They are not instrumental either. That is to say, we don’t perform works *of any kind* in order to receive or appropriate the ground of our justification (Christ’s righteousness).

  7. py3ak said,

    June 17, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics has this to contribute:

    pp,553,554, para 19

    —The condition to which the attribution of Christ’s righteousness is attached is not the performance of a work (for by works fallen man can merit nothing nor satisfy God in any way), but only faith in Christ and his work of redemption. But this faith effects justification not as a meritorious work or as the root of good works, but purely as a causa instrumentalis, not for one moment as a condition fulfillable by man,—for a condition of justification can only be laid down by the law, but not by free grace, and the single real condition of justification is perfect obedience to the law.—Mastricht (VI, vi, 14): “It is worth while inquiring how faith inflows into justification.—(1) It does not do so as the meritorious cause of it.—Nor (2) because of faith;—but we are justified through faith”.—Witsius (III, viii, 52): “Nor does it seem to me an accurate statement, that faith is the condition which the gospel demands of us, that we may be held righteous and innocent with God. Strictly speaking the condition of justification is nothing but perfect obedience. — This the law enacted. Nor did the gospel substitute another; it teaches that the law has been satisfied by our sponsor Christ. It is at once the duty of faith to accept and by accepting to make its own satisfaction offered for it.”—Crocius 1223: “So not only are those works excluded from the act of justification, which are emitted by a man before faith and conversion, but also those which proceed from faith.”—Burmann (VI, v, 25): “Indeed faith is so opposed to works in this matter that it even excludes itself, if it is considered as a work. Although regarded by itself it is a work, in justification it is not regarded after this manner but purely as an instrumental work”—Bucan (XXXI, 34): “In what sense are we said to be justified by faith? It is not regarded in its own intrinsic dignity or merit, nor as a work or a new quality in us, nor in its force and efficacy minus love; nor because it has love added to it or works through love; nor because faith imparts the Spirit of Christ, by whom the believer is rendered just because we are bidden seek righteousness not in ourselves but in Christ; but because it seeks and embraces the righteousness offered in the Gospel Rom. 1:16,17. As regards justification faith is a purely passive thing, bringing nothing of ours to conciliate God, but receiving from Christ what we lack.”

    p.561, para 24

    Walaeus, p. 776: “When we say that we are justified per solam fidem, by that we do not mean empty faith:—but we are dealing with living faith effectual through love, although it does not borrow from love the power to justify.”—Riissen (XIV, xi, 1): “The question is, not whether solitary faith justifies, i.e., faith separated from the other virtues; which we agree cannot easily be the case, since it is not even true of living faith; but whether it alone concurs in the act of justification—our own claim!—as the eye alone sees but not plucked away from the body. The particle alone determines, then, not the subject but the predicate. Thus faith alone does not justify, but faith alone does justify. The co-existence of love with faith in him who is justified is not denied, but its co-effectuality or co-operation in justification. Nor is the question whether faith which justifies is active in love, because at other times it is not alive but dead; but whether as justifying or in the very act of justification it must be viewed under such a scevsi”. To which we say No.”

  8. py3ak said,

    June 17, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics has this to contribute:

    pp,553,554, para 19

    —The condition to which the attribution of Christ’s righteousness is attached is not the performance of a work (for by works fallen man can merit nothing nor satisfy God in any way), but only faith in Christ and his work of redemption. But this faith effects justification not as a meritorious work or as the root of good works, but purely as a causa instrumentalis, not for one moment as a condition fulfillable by man,—for a condition of justification can only be laid down by the law, but not by free grace, and the single real condition of justification is perfect obedience to the law.—Mastricht (VI, vi, 14): “It is worth while inquiring how faith inflows into justification.—(1) It does not do so as the meritorious cause of it.—Nor (2) because of faith;—but we are justified through faith”.—Witsius (III, viii, 52): “Nor does it seem to me an accurate statement, that faith is the condition which the gospel demands of us, that we may be held righteous and innocent with God. Strictly speaking the condition of justification is nothing but perfect obedience. — This the law enacted. Nor did the gospel substitute another; it teaches that the law has been satisfied by our sponsor Christ. It is at once the duty of faith to accept and by accepting to make its own satisfaction offered for it.”—Crocius 1223: “So not only are those works excluded from the act of justification, which are emitted by a man before faith and conversion, but also those which proceed from faith.”—Burmann (VI, v, 25): “Indeed faith is so opposed to works in this matter that it even excludes itself, if it is considered as a work. Although regarded by itself it is a work, in justification it is not regarded after this manner but purely as an instrumental work”—Bucan (XXXI, 34): “In what sense are we said to be justified by faith? It is not regarded in its own intrinsic dignity or merit, nor as a work or a new quality in us, nor in its force and efficacy minus love; nor because it has love added to it or works through love; nor because faith imparts the Spirit of Christ, by whom the believer is rendered just because we are bidden seek righteousness not in ourselves but in Christ; but because it seeks and embraces the righteousness offered in the Gospel Rom. 1:16,17. As regards justification faith is a purely passive thing, bringing nothing of ours to conciliate God, but receiving from Christ what we lack.”

    p.561, para 24

    Walaeus, p. 776: “When we say that we are justified per solam fidem, by that we do not mean empty faith:—but we are dealing with living faith effectual through love, although it does not borrow from love the power to justify.”—Riissen (XIV, xi, 1): “The question is, not whether solitary faith justifies, i.e., faith separated from the other virtues; which we agree cannot easily be the case, since it is not even true of living faith; but whether it alone concurs in the act of justification—our own claim!—as the eye alone sees but not plucked away from the body. The particle alone determines, then, not the subject but the predicate. Thus faith alone does not justify, but faith alone does justify. The co-existence of love with faith in him who is justified is not denied, but its co-effectuality or co-operation in justification. Nor is the question whether faith which justifies is active in love, because at other times it is not alive but dead; but whether as justifying or in the very act of justification it must be viewed under such a skesis“. To which we say No.”

  9. Vern Crisler said,

    June 17, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Re: #7
    We are not justified by obedience. Rather, we are justified for obedience. That’s why the Confession speaks of faith as accepting, receiving, and resting rather than working.

    Obedience is not contained in the faith that justifies (as implied by the FV term “obedient faith”). Rather, it is justifying faith that is contained in obedience or good works.

    R. L. Dabney said: “[W]e define faith as a holy exercise of the soul; but we do not attribute its instrumentality to justify, to its holiness, but to the fact that it embraces Christ’s justifying righteousness….True faith is obediential: it involves the will: it has moral quality: but its receptive nature is what fits it to be the organ of our justification.” (Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 607.)

    Dabney used the metaphor of a diamond which has more than one trait. Two of them are transparency and hardness. But it’s only the latter that allows it to cut glass. Similarly, faith can be complex rather than simple, but complexity does not enter into the question of instrumentality. As per the Confession, it is only faith’s resting and receiving quality that is instrumental in justification. That is why love may be part of faith, but still not be instrumental in justification, contra Roman Catholic views. See further Dabney, Ibid., p. 610 on “fides formata.” See also his critique of the Arminian view that evangelical obedience is included in justifying faith, Ibid, p. 637

    See also L. Berkhof for the Arminian view of faith, Systematic Theology, p. 513. They affirmed the passive obedience of Christ (for forgiveness) but denied the active obedience of Christ (so that the sinner had to be obedient in order to stay saved). For Arminians, the justified man is freed from Adam’s fall or guilt, but is under the law of evangelical obedience, Ibid., pp. 515, 524-525.

    Ever wonder why I keep saying this is all Reformed theology 101? Have the FVists ever read a good Reformed systematic theology?

    Vern

  10. Vern Crisler said,

    June 17, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Re: #4
    Alastair,

    Can you demonstrate how all of your New Perspective stuff is consistent with Reformed theology? Your restriction of works of the law to mere Jewish law reminds me of at least one wise thing Barth intimated, that such a view does not really do justice to the “passion of the antithesis.”

    How anyone could read Paul’s antithetical hostility to the idea of works in justification, then try to restrict it to a mere displeasure with ethnic particularity, is proof that Reformed systematic theologies are all too often gathering dust on our modern bookshelves.

    Vern

  11. Andrew said,

    June 17, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    ‘The upshot of all this is that our obedience of all stripes plays no part in justification.’

    I haven’t been keeping up with all of the debate here; so please forgive if I am missing something. But it seems to me that the obedience of faith certainly plays a part in justification. God commands that we believe. … And those who obey are justified by faith.

    – Andrew Voelkel

  12. Vern Crisler said,

    June 17, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Re: #4
    An Alastair, while I’m at it, your conclusion is a perfect example of the view of justification as analytic: “Consequently our good works and faith-as-obedience are not without their place in justification provided that they are regarded, not as something that we are providing to God, but as realities that he is working in us.”

    I don’t see that either Osiander of Newman would disagree with this. But it’s certainly not Reformed theology.

    Vern

  13. John Ferguson said,

    June 17, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    A major theme in Romans is that God’s new covenant people NOW “do”, “keep”, “establish”, “submit”, and “fulfill” the Law of God. The only way I see to interpret all these verbs seriously (non-hypothetically) is to accept that in this epistle Paul is understanding “Law” either as Moses’ Old Covenant or Jesus’ New Covenant.

    While no believer can obey perfectly the “moral law” of God, and Paul uses this type of logic to convict all of sin, Paul’s point is that the Old Law of Moses failed to produce life, bringing only death. Whereas, the New Law of Christ produced/produces the long awaited life – Jesus’ resurrected life, the life we now have, and the life that shall be.

    For Paul, God’s Law NOW produces life. The New Covenant Law of the Spirit of Life delivers us from the Old Covenant Law of sin and death. The gospel is true because this life has been accomplished and is being applied.

    Systematically and rhetorically it helps to use the word “Law” to expose sin and to explain the impossible ethical standard for us. Yet, exegetically we can also say that Christ transformed the Old Law into the New Law. The New Covenant in Christ is the “law of faith”, “righteousness of faith”, the “law of the Spirit of Life”.

    Thus the New Covenant Law is “obeyable” because we simply come to Christ and have the indwelling of His Spirit.
    Yet, the moral law of absolute perfection is certainly not “obeyable” in the sense that any of us can attain to its high standard.
    The full obeyablility of the “Law” depends on what one means by “Law”.

  14. Alastair said,

    June 18, 2008 at 4:02 am

    Vern,

    Frankly, I don’t care in the slightest whether my position constitutes ‘Reformed theology’ or not. Nor do I care whether Osiander or Newman agree. The important thing is doing justice to Paul, not avoiding the supposed monsters that lurk behind each theological door that doesn’t lead to the rather narrow form of the Reformed faith that is argued for on this blog. The degree to which such debates among Reformed people are driven by fear, rather than by attention to what the Bible actually says, never ceases to amaze me.

    I am not a member of a Reformed church, but am presently within the context of Scottish Episcopalianism. For this reason, you will have to convince me within something more substantial than appeals to the Reformed tradition. Like, perhaps, some actual engagement with the text.

    You claim that my ‘restriction of works of the law to mere Jewish law … does not really do justice to the “passion of the antithesis.”’ I really fail to see how that might be the case. Why shouldn’t justification by means of Torah-observance by in radical and passionate antithesis with justification through the faithfulness of Christ? The important thing to recognize is that ‘of the Torah’ is not intended to restrict some general works/faith antithesis to a more specific case, while supposedly leaving other sorts of attempts to earn one’s salvation unaddressed (in which case you objection might be somewhat justified). Rather the true antithesis the Paul is operating in terms of in Romans and Galatians is Jewish Torah/Christ. Is Jewish Torah-observance one of the marks of the true people of God and heirs of Abraham? This antithesis is a deeply passionate one and makes all sorts of sense in terms of what Paul actually says.

    You say that my position is ‘a perfect example of the view of justification as analytic’. The important thing to recognize in my position is that God’s declaration of us as ‘righteous’ is not based on the fact that we already ‘righteous’, nor is it based on our rendering of ourselves as righteous at some point in the future, or even upon some synergistic cooperation with divine grace through which we will render ourselves righteous. It isn’t based upon our moral exertion at all. The verdict of righteous, however, does depend upon the fact that we will be righteous some day to the extent that it is based on God’s own commitment to accomplish this reality.

    Justification is God’s declaration that we are in the right and involves as part of it a commitment to conform us to the reality that he has declared of us. This commitment to conform us to the reality of being right with God is not merely something added to justification as some secondary sanctification, but serves as part of the basis of the declaration of justification.

    At issue here is the role of the Spirit in justification. We are justified by the Spirit, as the declaration of the Father’s verdict that is founded upon the work of his Son. The act of raising us from death to life is a divine declaration of justification, just as raising Christ from death to life was his ‘justification by the Spirit’ (1 Timothy 3:16). The gift of the Spirit is promissory and this is important for understanding justification. ‘Initial’ justification is organically and inseparably connected to ‘final’ justification by the Spirit who is the downpayment and guarantee, through whom we can confidently await the righteousness for which we hope (Galatians 5:5).

  15. Ron Henzel said,

    June 18, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Alistair,

    You wrote in comment 4:

    For all sorts of good reasons, it seems clear to me that ‘works of the Law’ in Romans and Galatians must be taken in a very particular sense, as references to Jewish Torah-observance and not as references to good works in a more general sense. Often the contrast being drawn is primarily one between Christ and the Torah, not one between faith and works per se.

    And I contend precisely the opposite: it seems abundantly clear to me that it is absolutely impossible to limit the meaning of the word “works” to Jewish Torah observance (i.e., “ceremonial boundary markers”) in Romans and Galatians in order to redefine justification as centered on covenant membership without doing utter violence to Paul’s entire argument in both those epistles. I would apply this assertion to his use of the phrase “works of the law” with equal vigor.

    Nowhere is this conclusion more obvious than in Romans 2:17-3:31—the only place in Romans were Paul actually uses the phrase “works of the law.” There Paul first uses two phrases that are clearly synonymous with “works of the law”: the “practice [of] the law” (2:25; “if you practice the law,” ἐὰν νόμον πράσσῃς), and “the requirement of the law” (2:26; τὰ δικαιώματα τοῦ νόμου).

    It is in this earlier passage (2:21-25) that Paul defines what he means by his later phrase, “works of the law” (3:20, 28). The practice of the law includes not stealing, not committing adultery, and not committing idolatry (2:21-22). These are the requirements of the law (v. 26)—the works that the law prescribes; i.e., the “works of the law.”

    Paul even writes in such a way as to separate a specific Jewish boundary-marker, circumcision, from the category of “the practice of the law” and “the requirement of the law” (and thus “the works of the law”) when he writes:

    For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?

    [Romans 3:25-27, NASB]

    Note especially the hypothetical possibility that Paul mentions here: that of an uncircumcised man keeping the requirements of the Law! Was not circumcision a requirement of the Law? Not in this rhetorical context! In this passage circumcision is clearly presented not as a Jewish boundary-marker, but rather as a Jewish fall-back position for establishing personal righteousness. “But wait a minute!” unbelieving Jew were responding to Paul’s convicting message, “Surely God will count our obedience to his command to circumcise in our favor!” To which Paul was answering, “Only if you’re doing the works of the law [practicing the law; keeping its requirements], which you’re not!”

    Contra N.T. Wright and the NPP, Paul’s references to the “practice [of] the law,” “the requirement of the law,” and thus “the works of the law” was not limited to ceremonial laws, but actually, for the purposes of Paul’s argument at this point, excluded them.

    Although later Paul would speak of the value of circumcision from a completely different angle (3:1ff.), he clearly asserts in Romans 2 that the value of circumcision with respect to establishing one’s personal righteousness is contingent upon keeping the moral standards that the law prescribes, which in chapter 3 he refers to with the shorthand “works of the law,” and after Romans 3 simply with the word “works.”

    Nowhere in this entire passage (2:17-3:31)—the only one in Romans in which Paul uses the phrase “works of the law” (unless you count 9:32 in the KJV/NKJV)—does the question arise of whether believing Gentiles may be included alongside believing Jews in the covenant community. Paul is not even addressing believing Jews; he’s addressing unbelievers!

    The Wright/NPP gloss of “Jewish boundary-markers” or “Torah-observance” for the phrase “works of the law” dissolves rapidly when exposed to the texts in which Paul actually uses them. I’ve barely scratched the surface here.

  16. Alastair said,

    June 18, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Ron,

    Firstly, I did not say that ‘works of the Law’ were limited to ceremonial boundary markers. For that matter, most NPP advocates make clear that they do not hold that ‘works of the Law’ only refer to ceremonial boundary markers either. ‘Works of the Law’ refers to Torah-observance (or ‘covenant nomism’, to use Sanders’ terminology) in general. It refers to those actions in which the identity that God had graciously granted to the Jewish people is both conferred (circumcision is the central ‘work of the Law’ for this reason) and maintained. Circumcision is important in this picture because circumcision is the first act of Torah-observance, which commits you to the system as a whole. It is the primary defining mark of those who are committed to Torah-observance and, as such, is where the distinction between those committed to Torah-observance and those without the Law comes to clearest expression. ‘Works of the Law’ focuses on dietary requirements and circumcision because, in the post-Maccabean era, they were the key ‘shibboleths’ of Jewish identity (much as tongues-speaking, ‘believers’ baptism’ or the authority of the pope can function as shibboleths of certain Christian traditions).

    Consequently, your objection rests on a misunderstanding of the position that both I and the leading advocates of the New Perspective are advancing. Of course the practice of the Torah includes not stealing and not committing adultery. Such things are not to be excluded from view when we talk about ‘works of the Law’. However, the expression ‘works of the Law’ naturally focuses on those matters in which Jewish identity (as something that is regarded as having being graciously granted by God) is distinguished from the identity of those outside of the Law. The ‘works of the Law’ are those things that mark people out as Torah-observers, committed to the nomist system. As ‘works of the Law’ have to do with identity, and difference and distinction are crucial aspects of identity, it is on those aspects of Jewish identity that especially mark them out from the nations that these ‘works’ will focus on.

    Paul establishes a clear distinction between those within and outside the Torah. The Gentiles are not under the Torah; only Jews are under the Torah (Romans 2:12, 14). The case that you refer to — of Paul speaking of the Law-fulfillment of the uncircumcised — is part of his dramatic new understanding of the place of the Torah within the new covenant people of God. Paul’s point is that the Torah is truly fulfilled, not in the ‘works of the Law’, by which Jews distinguish themselves from Gentiles as the true people of God, but in the new covenant life of the Spirit. The passage that you refer to (in Romans 2:25-29) is steeped in the language of the new covenant (‘circumcision is that of the heart’ and the contrasts ‘inward’/‘outward’, Spirit/flesh and letter). Paul’s point is that Gentile Christians fulfill the Torah in a surprising way that is beyond the sort of privileged identity that Israel sought to mark out for itself by observance of the ‘works of the Torah’. This is related to the point being made in 2:13-15, which show that Gentile Christians, even though they do not naturally possess the Law, actually perform the Law on account of the fact that the new covenant Spirit has written the Law on their hearts.

    What we ought not to do is to confuse Paul’s language of Law-fulfillment and true performance with the language of the ‘works of the Law’, which is a term with negative overtones used to refer to the observance of the Torah as something that is exclusively Jewish. Paul’s point is that the exclusivity of the Torah is transcended in Christ and by the new covenant Spirit. We might indeed say that, for Paul, the people of God do not cease to be marked out by commitment to the Torah, but this commitment to the Torah is redefined. Faith, given by the new covenant Spirit, is the true Halakah; the Word made flesh succeeds and fulfills the Word made stone.

    You claim that nowhere in the entirety of Romans 2:17–3:31 ‘does the question arise of whether believing Gentiles may be included alongside believing Jews in the covenant community’. I suggest that you seriously need to reread this passage. The covenant community of Israel is defined primarily by circumcision and by an understanding of Law-keeping that sees it as Jewish specific. Paul has just relativized circumcision by the new covenant circumcision of the heart and proposed a form of Law-keeping that is open to Gentiles who are uncircumcised in their flesh. Paul has demonstrated that Jews according to the flesh fall into the very condemnation that they level againt the Gentiles and that all flesh stands on the same ground of condemnation. He has then proceeded to argue that the righteousness of God comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe, in a manner that creates ‘no difference’ between Jew and Gentile. The boasting of the Jew in his privileged status (the boasting that is in view in 2:17ff.) is excluded by justification apart from the works of the Law (3:27-28). This is the case because God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, who will justify circumcised and uncircumcised alike by faith. He concludes by explicitly affirming the point that he had hinted at in the previous chapter: faith, far from making the Law void, actually establishes it. He will go on to demonstrate that the Torah finds its (surprising but) true fulfillment in the life of the new covenant community of those who live out of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ by the Spirit (8:1-4; 13:8-10).

    Anyone who thinks that the issue of the definition of the covenant community, and the inclusion of Gentiles within it on the same footing as Jews, is not front and centre in this passage, is missing Paul’s point in a rather spectacular fashion!

  17. markhorne said,

    June 18, 2008 at 8:36 am

    #9

    Just read Arminian Grant Osbourne try to claim that faith was not actually a work in order to prove that Arminians are not Pelagians. If we’re playing the “guilt-by-Arminian-exegesis” game…. let’s just stop playing that game.

    No one denies that it is his person and work, who justify–not faith. But if faith is complex then it is necessary to know that in order to know if one is believing v. imagining.

    The call of the Gospel is to believe, not partially believe.

    Anti-FV critics are wounding their intellects by trying to develop a case in this area. It would be a sign of good things if they would back off and take another tact. This is a dead end for anyone who claims the Westminster Standards.

  18. markhorne said,

    June 18, 2008 at 8:36 am

    “his person and work” in #17 = Christ’s person and work

  19. Ron Henzel said,

    June 18, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Alistair,

    What you give with one hand you take away with the other. First you claim “works of the law” is not a gloss for “Jewish boundary markers,” but then you turn right around and stupendously write, “‘Works of the Law’ focuses on dietary requirements and circumcision because, in the post-Maccabean era, they were the key ‘shibboleths’ of Jewish identity.” You apparently do not see how you just contradicted yourself.

    And then, after rambling on for a few paragraphs of remarks which one must first agree with NPP presuppositions in order to agree with, you proceed to make claims without making any effort to demonstrate them (which you’ve actually done all along). You take issue with my claim that the key passage of Romans 2:17-3:31 has nothing to do with the cherished preeminence that the Wright/NPP school gives to the issue of Gentile inclusion in the covenant community. It seems to me that you could help your case here with a very simple procedure: just show us one place in this passage where the topic of Gentile inclusion is mentioned! You can’t, because it isn’t there. You have to read that concept into the passage. Simply declaring a topic to to be present in a passage doesn’t make it so. The burden of proof is on you. Go ahead! “Seriously re-read this passage” and prove me wrong! Then I suppose we will see just who “is missing Paul’s point in a rather spectacular fashion!”

  20. Ron Henzel said,

    June 18, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Mark,

    You wrote:

    No one denies that it is his person and work, who justify–not faith.

    No one? Not even Rich Lusk? In an article on your Theologia web site titled “Future Justification to the Doers of the Law,” he wrote:

    Obedience is intrinsic to saving faith in this passage [Revelation 3].

    It’s pretty clear what he means by that, since only three sentences earlier he wrote, “initial reception of the white garment is by faith alone; ongoing possession of the garment is maintained by faithful obedience.”

    It sure seems to me that Rich Lusk denies that Christ’s person and work ultimately justifies. To make matters worse, for Lusk it is not simply some quality inherent in the believer’s faith (such as its obedient aspect), but rather it is the believer’s faith and works together that ultimately justify him. This seems amply confirmed by his exegesis of James 2 in the same article, concerning which he wrote:

    James is not telling his readers how to “justify their justification” or how to “give evidence of a true and lively faith”. Instead he says their persons will not be justified by faith alone, but also by good works of obedience they have done.

    I guess Lusk must not claim the Westminster Standards. I wonder why you promote his teachings…

  21. David Gadbois said,

    June 18, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Alistair’s interpretation of Romans doesn’t even really pass the “smell test”, because it sounds like he is talking about the issues present in Galatians. There is no table fellowship/Gentile inclusion situation here in the early chapters of Romans. The “grafting in” of Gentiles shows up later on in 9-12 in Paul’s discussion of the history of redemption.

    Romans 1-3 is about God’s righteous judgement against both Jew and Gentile because of their violations of the moral law in the latter case, and against the Mosaic and moral law in the former case. Christ didn’t die so that Gentiles could be included in the covenant, he died to propitiate the wrath of God for elect Jews and Gentiles (3:25). That’s why NPP’s take on this rings hollow – it does not see that it is Christ’s atoning and propitiating work on the cross that is front and center. It does not see that the grace of justification in chapter 4 is in response to the universal guilt in chaps. 1-3 (“all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory”) and Christ’s work in 3:21-26. That is why Paul says that the one who “does not work but believes in the one who justifies the ungodly” is justified in chapter 4. This, therefore, excludes *all* works from being a cause of justification.

  22. David Gadbois said,

    June 18, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Ron – the Lusk quote you provided doesn’t really address what Mark was talking about – the Arminian error of considering faith as the ground of justification.

    Rather, I think the quote you provided would land Lusk in a Romanist error, considering faith and works to be co-instrumental in justification.

  23. Alastair said,

    June 18, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Ron,

    Read my comments again. My point is that ‘works of the Law’ denote something broader than merely ‘ceremonial boundary markers. They refer to Jewish Torah-observance or covenant-nomism as a whole system (which includes upholding the commandment not to commit adultery, etc.). However, commitment to the Jewish Torah is particularly demonstrated in, or focused upon, those acts that mark out Torah-observant Jews from Gentiles who are not under the Torah. Circumcision is the most important of these acts. It is the act whereby one is bound to the Torah and become committed to the system of ‘covenant nomism’. Consequently, when writing in Galatians, for instance, Paul’s argument focuses on table fellowship, circumcision and Jewish feast-days, i.e. on those things in which the distinct Torah-demarcated status of the Jews is most particularly revealed. Hence, while ‘works of the Law’ has a more general reference, it is an expression that comes to be focused on particular acts.

    Perhaps an analogy here would help. If someone were to speak of ‘Baptist identity’, it would not be surprising if they were to focus on believers’ baptism and Baptist ecclesiology. ‘Baptist identity’ is, of course, much broader than those things that particularly distinguish Baptists from other Christian traditions, but such doctrinal shibboleths are a crucial dimension of identity. We see the exact same thing in discussions on blogs such as this one. Conservative Presbyterians are concerned that there are those in their ranks who are compromising on Reformed shibboleths. Though they are well aware that there are many dimensions of Reformed identity that are held in common with various other Christian traditions (even with Roman Catholics), it is natural that, in the quest to define Reformed identity, particular stress should be placed on those practices and beliefs that particularly distinguish Reformed Christians from those in non-Reformed traditions. When Paul argues that justification is not by virtue of some Torah-defined identity that privileges Jews and rules out Gentiles, it is thus perfectly natural that the more general expression ‘works of the Law’ should come to focus on those acts that particularly mark Jews out from others.

    You say that ‘Romans 2:17-3:31 has nothing to do with the cherished preeminence that the Wright/NPP school gives to the issue of Gentile inclusion in the covenant community.’ Of course, most contemporary Pauline scholars would beg to differ. Here are a few dimensions of Paul’s argument that you might need to pay more attention to:

    1. Prior to this section of Paul’s argument, Paul has already made clear that the Law is the peculiar possession of the Jews. 2:12 distinguishes between those who have sinned ‘without Law’ and those who have sinned ‘in the Law’. The same point is made in verse 14, where Gentiles are spoken of as those who ‘by nature do not have the Law’ (cf. v27). The fact that the Law is exclusive to the Jews is a point that is not left behind in the argument that follows (3:2,19; 5:13,14,20; 9:4). To universalize the Law (as one does when one equates the ‘works of the Torah’ with works-righteousness in general) is to short-circuit Paul’s case, to set Paul at odds with himself and badly to misconstrue the role the Law plays within his argument.

    2. In 2:17-24 Paul kicks off his argument by focusing on the Jew. Central to Paul’s description of the Jew is the theme of boasting: ‘boasting in God’ (v17) and ‘boasting in the Law’ (v23). The ‘boast’ here is, from the immediate context, very clearly a boast in Jewish privilege, founded upon God’s gracious election and identification of them as his people. The idea that this ‘boast’ is the boast of the one who is self-confident in his own moral exertion misses the thrust of the passage. This boast is focused on things that have been given to the Jews apart from any action on their own part. The basis of the Jew’s boast is the privilege of belonging to the only people to whom God had truly made himself known and commisioned to be a light to the nations.

    When, at the climax of this movement in Paul’s argument, Paul returns to the theme of ‘boasting’ (3:27-31), it is a neglect of the context to refer this boasting to general self-confidence, when the only previous reference to boasting in Paul’s tightly knit argument is to the boasting of Jewish privilege. This reading of the boast as a reference to Jewish confidence (and presumption) in their God-given privilege is immediately confirmed as Paul goes on to assert that God is the God of Jews and Gentiles alike and justifies them both in the same way, precluding the idea that Jews have some sort of privilege when it comes justification on account of the God-given status that they live out through Torah-observance. The presence of such statements in the context can be seen to be a natural development of Paul’s argument, rather than as a perplexing leap in logic, which is what it becomes when the ‘boast’ is read as the ‘boast’ of self-confidence in the merit of one’s own good works.

    It would appear that the issue of Gentile inclusion in the covenant community on the basis of faith is the manner in which Paul undercuts the Jewish ‘boast’.

    3. In 2:25-29 Paul focuses on circumcision. Underlying his argument is the assumption is that circumcision is the key distinguishing marker of the Jew, that which manifests them to be the true people of God and the Torah. A contrast between faith and attempts to earn one’s own salvation by good works does not seem to be present here at all. Rather, it is the identity of the ‘Jew’ which is at issue here. The term ‘Jew’ is, of course, a term that has significant covenantal significance. Debates about the identity of the true ‘Jews’ were debates about the identity of the true covenant community and its members.

    Paul’s argument is the true ‘Jew’ is the one who has the circumcision of the heart, whose identity is defined by the Spirit, rather than by the ‘flesh’ (as genealogical descent, among things) or the ‘letter’. This true ‘Jew’ is the ‘uncircumcised man’ (i.e. Gentile) of v26, who keeps the righteous requirements of the Law. Paul’s argument is that an uncircumcised Gentile can be a ‘Jew’, a member of the true people of God, by virtue of the work of the new covenant Spirit. Paul has redefined the act of circumcision, which Jews generally regarded as the key act that marked out those within the covenant community from those without, in a manner that undercuts the claim of many Jews to true membership of the people of God and admits many Gentiles.

    It is hard to see how this could be read as something other than an argument for Gentile inclusion in the covenant community.

    4. In 3:1-20 the Jew-Gentile distinction is still central to Paul’s argument. Paul progressively challenges Jewish understandings of this distinction, demonstrating that Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin. Though the Jewish people according to the flesh did enjoy the privilege of having the oracles of God committed to them, far from marking them out as somehow different, if anything, the Law served to underline just how similar they were to the nations. Far from mitigating the seriousness of their sin, the Law is designed to heighten the knowledge of sin, and to show that the Jews are just like the Gentiles in this respect.

    Paul places Jews and Gentiles alike in the ‘flesh’/‘under sin’ categories. While this argument could be read simply as an argument for universal sinfulness (it certainly is an argument for universal sinfulness, but there are more subtle things going on here), we would do well to pay closer attention to exactly what Paul has done. Paul has shown that the Law, rather than establishing a clear Jew/Gentile distinction, actually serves to place the two parties firmly in the same camp. What Paul has done is remove the ground on which Jews could boast in a God-given superiority over Gentiles. Paul’s argument for universal sin is an argument that, far from distinguishing themselves from Gentiles by Torah observance (‘works of the Law’), Jews are in fact binding themselves to the very thing that demonstrates that they are the exact same footing as those from whom they seek to distinguish themselves.

    Closer observation of Paul’s actual argument will, I believe, serve to confirm that Paul’s argument for universal sinfulness is one movement in the argument that dominates the whole section: that the true people of God are not distinguished by an exclusively Jewish form of Torah-observance, but that covenant identity is open to Jews and Gentiles alike on some other basis. The traditional Reformed readings of this passage are generally weakened by their failure to take sufficient account of the degree to which undermining Jewish claims to privileged status is Paul’s primary goal here, rather than being something subordinated to a more general attack upon works-righteousness.

    Careful observation of Paul’s argument in this section will demonstrate that it plays a very important role in making the case that the Law cannot sustain the sort of Jew/Gentile distinction that grants Jews a privileged status before God’s judgment. This section makes far more sense when read in the context of an argument for Gentile inclusion than it does when read in terms of a general argument against works-righteousness.

    5. Having placed Jews and Gentiles on the same footing in the previous section, in 3:21-26 Paul can move towards a fleshing out of the sort of covenant identity that believes to be open to Jews and Gentiles alike, something that he had hinted at in chapter 2. Paul has attacked the supposed basis for Gentile exclusion and Jewish exclusivity; now he moves to demonstrating the basis and possibility for their inclusion.

    Observe the manner in which Paul continues to underline the fact that he has already demonstrated — that Jews and Gentiles stand on the same footing — in these verses: ‘apart from the Law’, ‘to all and on all who believe’, ‘there is no difference’, ‘all have sinned’. Paul is stressing that, just as Jews have no privileged status before God’s judgment, they have no special or exclusive claim on God’s salvation. Paul’s emphasis on the righteousness of God being ‘apart from the Law’ and there being ‘no difference’ further demonstrates that his primary concern is not with universal sinfulness per se, but with universal sinfulness as that which undermines claims of Jewish privilege.

    Paul here shows that inclusion in the covenant community is through faith. It is faith alone that can sustain the truth that there is ‘no difference’ between Jew and Gentile. Rather than being a perplexing subplot within Paul’s argument, the Jew/Gentile is very much in the foreground. Though the section of Paul’s argument could be read in a manner that regards Gentile inclusion in the covenant community as relatively unimportant, it makes most sense when read in terms of this issue.

    6. 3:27-31 is crucial here. As previously remarked, the fact that the issue of boasting — in light of 2:17-24, and of the verses following 3:27, clearly the boast of Jewish privilege — arises again directly after, and as the immediate response to, the profound statements of 3:21-26 is proof, if any further proof were needed, that we are on the right track in this reading. Faith is the basis on which boasting in Jewish privilege can be excluded.

    Paul’s declaration in verse 28 demonstrates that ‘works of the Law’ and boasting in Jewish privilege belong together and that both alike are undercut by justification by faith. Justification by faith is the answer to Jewish exclusivism with regard to divine favour. Verse 29 reinforces our case yet further. Here it is implied that, if justification were in fact by ‘works of the Law’, God would be the God of the Jews only, supporting our claim that the ‘works of the Law’ refer to Torah-observance, which is exclusive to Jews. The fact that justification is by faith means that God is God of both Jews and Gentiles. The oneness of the people of God on the basis of faith corresponds to God’s own oneness (the central affirmation of Jewish monotheism being turned against the claim for Jewish exclusivism on the grounds of their election). Faith is presented, throughout the concluding section of chapter 3, not as that which contrasts with ‘works’ as attempts to earn God’s favour, but as that which contrasts with ‘works of the Law’ as those things which serve to confer and maintain Jewish privilege and exclusivism. This is great evidence for the claim that ‘works of the Law’ cannot be understood as general works of righteousness. If Paul’s argument is about a general faith/works contrast, verse 29 cannot but appear as a bizarre leap in Paul’s argument.

    The fact that Paul’s focus throughout this section (in which his argument reaches its climax) is on faith as that which puts Jews and Gentiles on the same footing makes perfect sense in terms of my reading. In terms of traditional Reformed readings it is a peculiar shift in his argument, diverting attention away from where it should be at the crucial moment. I submit that this section is further demonstration that Gentile inclusion is that which is at issue here.

    7. Finally, the discussion of faith and works in terms of Abraham’s paternity (‘What shall we say then? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?’) in chapter 4 fleshes out the argument that we have argued that Paul is making in chapters 2 and 3. The later half of chapter 4 makes plain that, for Paul, Abraham is not merely an important example of an individual justified by faith, but is the one by whom the covenant community is defined, as he is the ‘father of us all’. The Jews’ definition of themselves as the true heirs of Abraham was central to their claim to covenant privilege and so, given our reading of the preceding chapters, it makes perfect sense that Paul should move to deal with that issue at this point.

    The faith/works distinction functions within the broader context of the question of the true heirs of Abraham (cf. 4:11-12,14-18). The significance of the works/faith contrast becomes clearer when we see that the issue for Paul is whether the true heirs of Abraham are of the Law, or of faith. The argument that the true heirs of Abraham are reckoned by faith, not by the Law, is a straightforward argument for Gentile inclusion.

    I have demonstrated that Paul’s argument makes most most sense when read as an argument for Gentile inclusion. I have pointed out the presence of indicators that this is in fact what he is arguing for at various points in the argument. I have sketched a reading of the entire section that this approach enables a consistent interpretation.

    You have not yet accounted for the presence of such points in Paul’s argument. If Paul is, in fact, making the sort of argument against works in general, how is it that the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is so prominent throughout his argument?

  24. Alastair said,

    June 18, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    David,

    When I spoke about the ‘works of the Law’ in my previous comments I was not limiting my comments to Romans. ‘Works of the Law’ are arguably more prominent in Galatians and so my treatment of them was broader than it would have been had it focused on the occurrences of this phrase in Romans.

    In the early chapters of Romans the issue of Gentile inclusion is indeed prominent. The issue of cirmcucision/uncircumcision comes to the surface again and again throughout chapters 2-4. Circumcision is dealt with precisely as that which might serve to define the people of God and heirs of Abraham in a manner that might exclude Gentiles. By challenging circumcision in the flesh as the basis for reckoning the true seed of Abraham and arguing for a new reckoning based upon new covenant faith and circumcision of the heart Paul is presenting a very clear case for Gentile inclusion.

    Of course, the issues here are broader than that of mere Gentile inclusion. Divine justice and lack of favoritism, and the gracious basis of our standing before God are central issues. You are also at risk of confusing that which has a rhetorical centrality and a centrality for the purposes of the argument in a particular context, with that which has a greater theological centrality. However, your claim that Christ ‘didn’t die so that Gentiles could be included in the covenant’ is simply false. The Bible repeatedly declares that he did just that (e.g. Ephesians 2:11-17; Colossians 2:11ff; John 12:32).

    I refer you to my explanation of Romans 2-4 in my previous comment.

  25. Vern Crisler said,

    June 18, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    rey,

    “do this and live”

    What do you think the phrase means?

  26. Alastair said,

    June 18, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Rey,

    One of the problems in this debate is the fact that terms are not being used in the same way. When I use the term ‘Law’, I am using it in the sense that I believe that Paul used it, as a reference to the Torah, given to Israel through Moses, as the covenant charter of the people of God. The idea that Torah-observance was a way to earn standing with God is ruled out from the outset in this understanding, not least because the Torah was founded on a graciously given standing that resulted from God’s election and calling of his people. The Torah was a way of living out the identity that had already been granted.

    If we are speaking of ‘Law’ as a theological term with a stipulated meaning such as it has within Reformed theology, then I might be able to grant what you are saying. However, in terms of Paul’s use of the term ‘Law’ your statement doesn’t seem to be the most helpful way of putting things.

  27. Vern Crisler said,

    June 18, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Re: #16
    Alastair said, “Frankly, I don’t care in the slightest whether my position constitutes ‘Reformed theology’ or not. Nor do I care whether Osiander or Newman agree. The important thing is doing justice to Paul, not avoiding the supposed monsters that lurk behind each theological door that doesn’t lead to the rather narrow form of the Reformed faith that is argued for on this blog. The degree to which such debates among Reformed people are driven by fear, rather than by attention to the Bible actually says, never ceases to amaze me.”

    Quite frankly Alastair, I don’t really care what Roman Catholics and Episcopalians or New Perspectivists think about St. Paul’s teaching. It’s not that I’m narrow, or I’m afraid of monsters that lurk, or am driven by fear. No, it’s just that I regard Tom Wright and his epigones among NPist and FVists as incompetent theologians. (Sorry in advance for the snippiness.)

    Alastair said: “The important thing to recognize is that ‘of the Torah’ is not intended to restrict some general works/faith antithesis to a more specific case, while supposedly leaving other sorts of attempts to earn one’s salvation unaddressed (in which case you objection might be somewhat justified). Rather the true antithesis the Paul is operating in terms of in Romans and Galatians is Jewish Torah/Christ. Is Jewish Torah-observance one of the marks of the true people of God and heirs of Abraham?”

    Huh? First you say that Paul’s hostility is not intended to restrict the works/faith antithesis to a more specific case, then you say the true antithesis is Jewish law/Christ. How is that NOT a restriction of the works/faith antithesis to a more specific case? For anyone who actually reads the New Testament instead of (say) Tom Wright, it’s obvious that Paul’s antithesis is far larger than a mere faith vs. Jewish distinctives issue.

    For a defense of the Old Perspective on Paul, see:

    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/new_p.html

    Alastair said: “You say that my position is ‘a perfect example of the view of justification as analytic’. … [snip] The verdict of righteous, however, does depend upon the fact that we will be righteous some day to the extent that it is based on God’s own commitment to accomplish this reality.”

    That is precisely the problem. Justification is still based on something in us, that “we will be righteous some day.” It is still a form of works-righteousness placed into the future.

    Alastair said, “Justification is God’s declaration that we are in the right and involves as part of it a commitment to conform us to the reality that he has declared of us. This commitment to conform us to the reality of being right with God is not merely something added to justification as some secondary sanctification, but serves as part of the basis of the declaration of justification.”

    This is just Newman’s “effective justification” all over again. Justification has an effect in us, and it’s this effect that is the basis of justification. So why Alastair, are you still Episcopalian? Why not give up your rebellious Protestant ways and go all the way into Mother Church? You’ve already given up the basic principle of the Reformation, as the apostate Newman did. What’s holding you back? (Again, sorry in advance for being snippy; it’s just that we’ve heard all these NPP and FV arguments before, repeatedly, on this list.)

    Vern

  28. June 18, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Vern,

    Well, if the Phil Johnson article that you link to is anything to go by, you obviously do not have a very clear understanding about the teaching of Sanders, Wright, Dunn and other NPP theologians at all. I happen to have read practically everything that Wright has ever written (including his unpublished doctoral thesis), the vast majority of Dunn’s works on the NPP, much of Sanders, and several writings by other leading NPP proponents. Johnson’s article seriously misrepresents their positions in several areas.

    The Torah/Christ antithesis is not a ‘restriction’ of the works/faith antithesis to a more specific case. My point, if you will reread what I wrote, is that, in Romans and Galatians, Paul is not working in terms of a general works/faith antithesis – whether in a universal or restricted form – at all. ‘Torah’ is not added to works as a restriction, rather Torah is spoken of in terms of ‘works’ as it is in the ‘works of the Torah’ that the principle of Torah becomes operative in the life of the Jews. The real contrast is not works (of the Law) vs. faith (in Christ), but (works of) the Law vs. (faithfulness of) Christ. The contrast is not primarily between two anthropological stances towards the reception of salvation, but between two different covenant orders.

    I have never denied that there are places in Paul where he does speak in terms of a clear antithesis between faith and works. My point is that something different is going on in Romans and that we shouldn’t let familiar theological constructs drown out the text here. Exegetical engagement is what is needed here, not mere dismissals of Wright and Dunn’s theological credentials.

    The fact that you accuse my position of merely projecting works-righteousness into the future suggests that you have misunderstood it. Strictly speaking, justification doesn’t depend on something in us at all. If it were based on something in us, we would indeed have a problem. What it depends upon is the certainty of God’s commitment to work something in us. It rests on the certainty of his word (not on some internal grace as such). My point is that, if we were never to be conformed to that which God has declared us to be, God’s verdict would not be just. Part of the justice of God’s justifying verdict rests on the fact that it is both declarative and promissory. It is a declaration that we are in the right now and a promise that this verdict will be repeated at the final judgment (which present justification accurately anticipates) and that God will conform us perfectly to what he has declared us to be. Read what I wrote more carefully. The crucial qualification is ‘to the extent that it is based on God’s own commitment to accomplish this reality’. ‘God’s commitment’ is not something ‘in us’ at all.

    Far from being un-Protestant, this view is closely related to some of the earliest Protestant forms of the doctrine of justification. Luther’s famous illustration of the doctor’s declaration of his sick patient to be ‘well’ comes to mind here. The declaration would be unjust were it not the cause that the patient would in fact one day be well. However, the verdict is not based on anything that the patient himself will achieve, but upon the doctor’s own ability and commitment to the health of his patient. The patient must simply trust the doctor and in such a manner submit himself to the doctor’s treatment. As a number of scholars have observed, a number of Luther’s classic formulations of the doctrine of justification are analytic, rather than synthetic. However, though they are analytic they never cease to clearly affirm sola fide and sola gratia. There is no reason why an analytic doctrine of justification need be regarded as un-Protestant.

  29. Ron Henzel said,

    June 18, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Alastair,

    After reading your labyrinthine comment 25, one might get the impression that you have never heard of Ockham’s razor. I would like to avoid being as circumlocutory in my reply as you were in yours, but I’m not sure that will be possible. Fortunately, you have structured your reply so that each of your numbered points ends with a summary statement. I will deal with those here.

    You wrote at the end of point 1:

    To universalize the Law (as one does when one equates the ‘works of the Torah’ with works-righteousness in general) is to short-circuit Paul’s case, to set Paul at odds with himself and badly to misconstrue the role the Law plays within his argument.

    This is a total non sequitir; your conclusion does not follow logically from your premises. You appear to be arguing as follows:

    MAJOR PREMISE: The law was given exclusively to the Jews.
    MINOR PREMISE: Even so, the Gentiles instinctively performed the requirements of the law (cf. ESV rendering of τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν).
    CONCLUSION: Therefore, the phrase “works of the law” cannot refer to the performance of the law’s moral requirements (or as you put it, “good works in a more general sense”).

    This is not an argument, but merely a series of assertions.

    I have already argued that the phrase “requirements of the law” in 2:26 is synonymous with “works of the law” in 3:20 and 28. While Paul does not use that exact phrase of the Gentiles in 2:14 (NASB: “do the things of the law”), it is extremely interesting that in the very next verse Paul says that this shows that the “work of the law [τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου] is written on their hearts.” It is the exact same phrase as in 3:20 and 28, only in the singular, and I don’t think Paul’s readers would have missed it. The “work of the law” in 2:15 is clearly a reference to the general good works that the law prescribes, which the Gentiles performed even thought they didn’t have the law.

    Paul moves from the “work of the law” being written on Gentiles’ hearts (2:15) to the fact that while circumcised Jews fail to “practice the law” (2:25), to the hypothetical examples of uncircumcised heathen who keep “the requirements of the law” (2:26), as a way of making a larger point, which in context is not that circumcision is without value in privileging the Jews, but rather that it would have value if Jews did not transgress but actually practiced the law (2:25).

    Paul makes it clear in 2:25-29 that outward circumcision was intended to signify the inward reality of a heart devoted to doing God’s will. There may have been Jews in Paul’s audience who believed that circumcision and the practice of rituals somehow mitigated the guilt of breaking the law’s moral commands, or that they had a privileged position because of ritualistic Torah observance, but this is far from clear by reading 2:17-20, where the ceremonial aspects of the law aren’t even mentioned.

    Paul’s logic drives relentlessly and incessantly in the direction that universal guilt makes salvation through law-keeping impossible. To assert that he is instead driving in the direction of denying Jewish privilege, and that this is in fact his central point, is to ignore virtually every point he himself makes.

    You wrote in conclusion to your point 2:

    It would appear that the issue of Gentile inclusion in the covenant community on the basis of faith is the manner in which Paul undercuts the Jewish ‘boast’.

    You drew this conclusion too hastily, basing it on your presupposition that the “boasting in God” that Paul mentions in 2:17-24 “is, from the immediate context, very clearly a boast in Jewish privilege, founded upon God’s gracious election and identification of them as his people.” Unfortunately, nothing in the immediate context supports your contention here. The Jews were not boasting because they had the law, but because they were “instructed from the law” (2:18) and therefore presumed they knew God’s will. They then presumed to turn around and instruct others (2:19-20) even though they weren’t practicing what they themselves were teaching (2:21-23), which led to the same situation that Isaiah lamented of God’s name being slandered (Isa. 52:5; cf. Rom. 2:24).

    Paul does not mention the election of Israel here. He does not mention God’s identification of the Jews as His people. You have read this idea into the text. Paul’s subject is not Jewish presumption, but Jewish guilt.

    In conclusion to point 3 you wrote:

    It is hard to see how this [Rom. 2:25-29] could be read as something other than an argument for Gentile inclusion in the covenant community.

    Unfortunately, you provide zero exegesis to back up this conclusion. You simply fall back on the modus operandi of making a series of assertions, the most astounding of which comes when you write, “A contrast between faith and attempts to earn one’s own salvation by good works does not seem to be present here at all.”

    Well, it can’t seem to be present to someone for whom the mere mention of circumcision is interpreted as an automatic indication that the underlying assumption of the text must be “that circumcision is the key distinguishing marker of the Jew, that which manifests them to be the true people of God and the Torah.” And this is exactly what you consistently do. As soon as you see the word “circumcision” in the text you assume that Paul cannot be arguing against a general works-righteousness that would also apply to Gentiles.

    What intrigues me here, however, is the fact in your zeal to grasp at the straws of the circumcision references in 2:25ff, you skipped right over 2:21-24, which is key to understanding what Paul later means by the phrase “works of the law.”

    Back in my comment 17 I wrote:

    It is in this earlier passage (2:21-25) that Paul defines what he means by his later phrase, “works of the law” (3:20, 28). The practice of the law includes not stealing, not committing adultery, and not committing idolatry (2:21-22). These are the requirements of the law (v. 26)—the works that the law prescribes; i.e., the “works of the law.”

    You don’t deal with this at all.

    In light of David Gadbois’s very pertinent observations in comment 23, your declaration, “A contrast between faith and attempts to earn one’s own salvation by good works does not seem to be present here [in Romans 2-3] at all” sounds more like a cry of desperation than a straightforward attempt to deal with the text.

    In conclusion to your point 4 you wrote:

    This section [Rom. 3:1-20] makes far more sense when read in the context of an argument for Gentile inclusion than it does when read in terms of a general argument against works-righteousness.

    This conclusion vastly overreaches the argument you present under point 4. First of all, 3:1-20 does not occur in the kind of context you indicate. Secondly, you provide no reason why 3:1-20 would not make sense as a general argument against works-righteousness.

    You have persistently argued as follows:

    …Paul’s argument for universal sinfulness is one movement in the argument that dominates the whole section: that the true people of God are not distinguished by an exclusively Jewish form of Torah-observance, but that covenant identity is open to Jews and Gentiles alike on some other basis.

    But you consistently fail to show how the theme of Jewish Torah-observance “dominates the whole section.” The “whole section” actually begins in Romans 1:18, where Paul writes:

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

    Paul sends a clear signal here that he is pursuing universal sin and guilt as his primary, not secondary, subject matter.

    In conclusion to point 5 you wrote:

    Though the section [3:21-26] of Paul’s argument could be read in a manner that regards Gentile inclusion in the covenant community as relatively unimportant, it makes most sense when read in terms of this issue.

    “Relatively unimportant?” How about “not even in the text?”

    This is the weakest section of your entire comment, and I don’t see the need to comment on it.

    In conclusion to point 6 you wrote (and I’ll quote the whole concluding paragraph here):

    The fact that Paul’s focus throughout this section [3:27-31] (in which his argument reaches its climax) is on faith as that which puts Jews and Gentiles on the same footing makes perfect sense in terms of my reading. In terms of traditional Reformed readings it is a peculiar shift in his argument, diverting attention away from where it should be at the crucial moment. I submit that this section is further demonstration that Gentile inclusion is that which is at issue here.

    You seem to assume here that only the Wright/NPP understanding of the meaning of “works of the law” can explain why Paul turns back to the topic of boasting in 3:27-31, where it can only be seen as a “peculiar shift in his argument” within “traditional Reformed readings.” I find this view quite ridiculous. The issue of boasting is totally appropriate in the context of debunking works-righteousness, which, contrary to your view, is what Paul is actually doing, as becomes obvious when he brings up boasting again in 4:2.

    Nor is it possible to concede that verse 29 reinforces your case, when it is actually an embarrassment to it. Verse 29 links the universality of justification by faith in 3:28 to that same universality in 3:30. But in the Wright/NPP scheme, 3:29 can only actually be addressing Jews, and thus the otherwise obvious symmetry of Paul’s thought in 3:28-30 is destroyed.

    In conclusion to point 7 (which I assume comes under that point’s second paragraph) you write:

    The argument [in Romans 4] that the true heirs of Abraham are reckoned by faith, not by the Law, is a straightforward argument for Gentile inclusion.

    I have, of course, never argued against Gentile inclusion in God’s covenant people in the New Covenant. I have, on the other hand, been arguing that Paul uses the phrase “works of the law” to denote obedience to God’s moral law, and that Paul’s primary argument in Romans 1-3 is humanity’s universal failure to accomplish this. You have argued that the phrase “works of the law” denotes specifically Jewish Torah-keeping and that Paul’s primary argument in Romans 1-3 is that Gentiles do not have to keep your definition of “works of the law” to be included in the covenant.

    A major flaw in the Wright/NPP revision project is the fact that under the Mosaic covenant Gentiles were, in fact, excluded from the covenant community. Paul is quite clear about this in Ephesians 2:11-12. Under the Old Covenant, Israelite Torah-keeping was a requirement for covenant membership. Thus, if by saying that “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified,” Paul was indicating that Gentiles could not be excluded from the covenant by a lack of Torah-keeping, he was making a statement that only became true under the New Covenant. This notion is especially problematic in Romans 3:20, which was obviously not intended to be limited to any one biblical epoch, and where Paul says that no one will be justified by the works of the law because the law’s purpose is to expose sin. If the phrase “works of the law” means what the Wright/NPP people contend, the second half of 3:20 is a non sequitir.

    You conclude your comments by asking:

    If Paul is, in fact, making the sort of argument against works in general, how is it that the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is so prominent throughout his argument?

    Paul begins by declaring universal human guilt, which was essential to his presentation of the Gospel. But it’s one thing to declare it, and quite another to actually demonstrate it, which would have also been important to many of his readers. To do so adequately, it would not have been sufficient to simply aim at the easy targets, which he does in Romans 1:19-32. The pagan moralizers of Paul’s day were actually harder on the vices of their contemporaries than Paul was in Romans 1! Thus it was necessary for Paul to shine the spotlight on those moralizers as well, which he does in 2:1-16. But even this would not be enough to convince Jews that they were just as bad as the Gentiles, since they saw themselves uniquely enlightened by God’s law. Therefore it was necessary for Paul to begin shining the same searching light on his fellow Jews in 2:17-3:8, and to demonstrate from the Scriptures themselves that Jews are just as sinful as Gentiles, which he does in 3:9-20.

    The relationship between Jews and Gentiles figures so prominently into Paul’s argument in Romans because of where he stood in salvation history, which determined what his Jewish and Gentiles audiences needed to hear. This is the traditional Reformed understanding, and it makes far more sense than the Wright/NPP demolition job.

  30. John Ferguson said,

    June 18, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you Alastair for you brief commentary on Romans. You are obviously submissive to the mindset of the Apostle Paul.

    Vern, because you do not care what others say, you sadly close your ears to what other gifted men in the body of Christ may contribute to the discussion. After reading Wright’s commentary on Romans; it was like a breath of fresh air. I felt like he was able to tie all the loss ends together. (“Do this and live” now makes sense with sola fide, and not as some hypothetical paradigm,etc.)

    When I first became a Calvinist it felt like the scales fell from my Arminian eyes – likewise, when I read Wright on Romans it felt like I understood the Apostle Paul for the first time. So, read him. If you are still adverse to Wright’s viewpoint, then maybe one benefit will be that you won’t regard him as incompetent, but merely complex.

  31. Vern Crisler said,

    June 19, 2008 at 12:46 am

    John, I don’t expect Romanists or Arminians or Prelaticals to interpret St. Paul in the same way Reformed theology does. That’s why I don’t really care what they have to say on the subject. However, the main problem I have is that some who claim to be REFORMED are propagating NPP or FV nonsense.

    I assumed that Alastair might be Reformed, so I pointed out that his views are out of accord with Reformed theology. This basically flushed him out as non-Reformed: “Frankly, I don’t care in the slightest whether my position constitutes ‘Reformed theology’ or not. Nor do I care whether Osiander or Newman agree.”

    BTW, on the book of Romans, why not read it for yourself instead of through Tom Wright’s eyes. You don’t need anyone else’s leading strings to be able to understand the Apostle Paul for the first time. Clearly, by following Wright, you have NOT YET understood the Apostle Paul at all.

    Vern

  32. June 19, 2008 at 3:58 am

    Ron,

    It is obvious from the outset that you didn’t take much care in reading my comments. Your supposed reconstruction of my first point is totally wrong. I never made the statement of the minor premise at all and believe that it arises from a mistaken reading of the verse. The ESV’s rendering of the verse is only arrived at by taking φυσει with the later half of the clause (it is not merely a rendering of τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν as you suggest; the ‘instinctively’ comes from the φυσει). My reading takes φυσει with the earlier half of the clause (i.e. ‘Gentiles, who by nature do not have the Law’). I can give you several reasons why I follow this reading. For now I will just suggest that you reread that particular point as you clearly missed its argument entirely. You claim that my conclusion is that ‘works of the law’ ‘cannot refer to the performance of the law’s moral requirements.’ I never concluded this at all. In fact, I believe that ‘works of the law’ includes the observation of commandments not to commit adultery, etc. I have plainly stated this in earlier comments. By denying that it refers to ‘good works in a more general sense’, I am denying that it refers to good works in general in abstraction from the whole complex of Jewish Torah observance. The works in view are the works of Jewish Torah observance, ‘works’ that aren’t performed in the same way by those outside the Law.

    I think that while ‘requirements of the Law’ and ‘works of the Law’ are closely related terms, they are used with differing senses. ‘Works of the Law’ is a loaded term, involving a certain way of viewing the requirements of the Law. You argue that ‘“work of the law” in 2:15 is clearly a reference to the general good works that the law prescribes, which the Gentiles performed even thought they didn’t have the law.’ It seems more likely to me that Paul’s use of the singular is designed to contrast with the expression ‘works of the Law’ (see Cranfield on this).

    You miss the new covenant language that is found throughout Paul’s description of the Gentile law-keepers with the true circumcision. These aren’t Gentiles in general, but Christian Gentiles. Paul argues that they are true Jews and the true circumcision (2:26, 29). Miss this and you will end up setting this section at odds with Paul’s many statements that make clear that Gentiles are not under the Law and only Jews are.

    Paul’s primary point in 2:25-29 does not seem to be Jewish guilt (though that is certainly there) so much as the fact that Gentiles can be counted as true Jews and as circumcised.

    You haven’t made clear exactly what the Jew’s boast in God (2:17) and the Law (2:23) actually involved. They are not boasting about their works, but about God and the Law. This would seem to fit my case far better than it would yours.

    I did in fact deal with your claim that Paul includes the moral requirements of the Torah in the expression ‘works of the Law’. Read my previous comments again. I openly declared that Paul included such things in his definition. The problem is that you are using this section to downplay the clear import of surrounding sections: that ‘works of the Law’ refers to a mode of Torah-observance that isn’t open to Gentiles in the manner that it is open to Jews.

    Universal sinfulness is undoubtedly an important theme in the opening chapters of Romans. However, 1:18-32 should be closely related to that which follows, in which Paul deconstructs the Jewish argument for their supposed exemption from this verdict, through which he demonstrates that true covenant membership cannot be on the basis of the Jewish observance of the Torah.

    Once again, you haven’t paid careful enough attention to the way that the language of boasting is used in 2:17-24 as the context for Paul’s denial of it in 3:27. It is hard to argue that the boast of 2:17 and 2:23 is a boast in good works, rather than a boast in Jewish privilege. 4:2 makes perfect sense on this reading of the term too.

    You objection to my reading of Romans 3:28-30 makes no sense at all (i.e. I don’t even think that it is a coherent argument, so I don’t see how I could even attempt to answer it). You have yet to explain clearly how you account for Paul’s argument in these verses within your reading.

    Wright and other NPP do not generally deny that Gentiles were excluded from the covenant community. Their argument is redemptive historical. If you would reread my statements concerning 2:25-29, you would see that Paul’s argument for Gentile inclusion is based upon the new covenant.

    I don’t see how Romans 3:20 ‘was obviously not intended to be limited to any one biblical epoch’, when it uses the term ‘flesh’, which is a term that refers to the order prior to and outside of the new covenant.

    You have still not accounted for the reason why Paul gives his argument the climax that he gives it in Romans 3:27-31.

  33. Ron Henzel said,

    June 19, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Alistair,

    You wrote in comment 35:

    I never made the statement of the minor premise at all and believe that it arises from a mistaken reading of the verse.

    As I look back on what I construed as your minor premise, I see that I did, indeed, misread it. You wrote:

    The same point is made in verse 14, where Gentiles are spoken of as those who ‘by nature do not have the Law’ (cf. v27).

    I was reading a little too hastily.

    Even so, if this leads you to the conclusion that Paul is not using the phrase “works of the law” to refer to what we would call works-righteousness, you still end up with a total non sequitir. But now you appear to be trying to claim that this is not, in fact, your conclusion. You write:

    By denying that it refers to ‘good works in a more general sense’, I am denying that it refers to good works in general in abstraction from the whole complex of Jewish Torah observance. The works in view are the works of Jewish Torah observance, ‘works’ that aren’t performed in the same way by those outside the Law.

    How this avoids being works-righteousness is beyond me. At best it, if we go with your interpretation, it can only be a particular brand of works-righteousness that only Jews can be guilty of, which doesn’t go very far in explaining why Paul used the phrase “no flesh” in the context.

    Cranfield does not support you when you write, “It seems more likely to me that Paul’s use of the singular is designed to contrast with the expression ‘works of the Law’”. He writes:

    Elsewhere Paul uses the plural ἔργοα νόμου (3.20, 28; Gal 2.16; 3.2, 5, 10) in a concrete sense—meaning the works actually performed; but here ‘the work which the law requires’ [Cranfield’s rendering of τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου] means not the work required as accomplished, but the required work in the sense of the prescription contained in the law.

    [The Epistle to the Romans, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, Ltd.), 1:158.]

    This is pretty much exactly what I said in my comment 32, when I wrote:

    The “work of the law” in 2:15 is clearly a reference to the general good works that the law prescribes, which the Gentiles performed even thought they didn’t have the law.

    I disagree with your assertion that Paul is referring to Gentile Christians anywhere in Romans 2. I realize this puts me at odds with Cranfield, but since I have a veritable host of expositors on my side, it is clear that your contention that missing this supposedly crucial point will put me at odds with Paul on whether Gentiles were under the law of Moses is misbegotten.

    You write:

    You haven’t made clear exactly what the Jew’s boast in God (2:17) and the Law (2:23) actually involved. They are not boasting about their works, but about God and the Law. This would seem to fit my case far better than it would yours.

    Actually, I think I made this abundantly clear. Apparently you must have skipped over this paragraph in my previous comment:

    The Jews were not boasting because they had the law, but because they were “instructed from the law” (2:1- 8) and therefore presumed they knew God’s will. They then presumed to turn around and instruct others (2:19-20) even though they weren’t practicing what they themselves were teaching (2:21-23), which led to the same situation that Isaiah lamented of God’s name being slandered (Isa. 52:5; cf. Rom. 2:24).

    Paul condenses this theme elsewhere when he writes, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NASB). They boasted in their “knowledge” of God. But the only way you can see this as supporting your case is by totally ignoring the verses that immediately follow Paul’s remarks about Jewish boasting (i.e., 2:21-23), where Paul shines a bright light on Jewish transgressions of God’s moral laws.

    You wrote:

    Universal sinfulness is undoubtedly an important theme in the opening chapters of Romans. However, 1:18-32 should be closely related to that which follows, in which Paul deconstructs the Jewish argument for their supposed exemption from this verdict, through which he demonstrates that true covenant membership cannot be on the basis of the Jewish observance of the Torah.

    You keep on using this slippery code-phrase: “Jewish observance of the Torah.” You want to say that it is not limited to the Jewish national identity boundary markers, but for all practical purposes, since that is the only apparent reason why “Jewish Torah observance” is not required of Gentiles in your scheme, it amounts to the same thing. Perhaps you think you’ve improved on the Sanders/Dunn/Wright error, but you haven’t. You’ve only given it a poor disguise.

    Earlier, in comment 4, you wrote:

    Faith is thus a surprising new form of Torah observance by means of the new covenant Spirit, a sort of Torah observance open to Gentiles in the same way as it is to Jews.

    Apart from the fact that it is spurious to import arguments based on the New Covenant into Romans 1-3 in the matter that you do, this statement makes you a Neo-nomian at best, but more likely a Semi-pelagian. Your views are so utterly alien to Reformed (and thus biblical) theology that it is little wonder you consistently read into the text concepts that are not actually stated in it. It is even less of a wonder that each time you accuse me of not paying “careful enough attention” to something in the text, and I actually examine the text in question, it turns out that what you really mean is that I haven’t taken into account the Wright/NPP presuppositions and allowed them to shape my reading of the passage instead of simply allowing Paul to speak for himself.

    So I understand why you don’t see how Rom. 3:20 was obviously not intended to be limited to one biblical epoch. Your presuppositions rule out such a conclusion before you give the text a chance to speak. I also understand why you don’t think I’ve accounted for the reason why Paul ends Romans 3 the way he does. It all makes perfect sense, given the place from which you start.

  34. Ron Henzel said,

    June 19, 2008 at 11:19 am

    I just noticed something that I need to clarify from my last comment, where I wrote:

    This is pretty much exactly what I said in my comment 32, when I wrote:

    The “work of the law” in 2:15 is clearly a reference to the general good works that the law prescribes, which the Gentiles performed even thought they didn’t have the law.

    I think I made it clear in my comment 17 that any Gentile law-keeping Paul refers to in Romans 2 is hypothetical in nature, as are other things in that chapter, but I feel the need to reiterate it here so as to make it clear that I agree with Cranfield’s take on this verse 100 percent. Meanwhile, it also deserves mentioning that it’s the hypothetical features of Romans 2 that tend to confuse those in the NPP, not to mention the FV. They can’t seem to deal with them.

  35. markhorne said,

    June 19, 2008 at 11:56 am

    #22 I have already pointed out how Lusk is in continuity with the Westminster Standards. I’m not going to pretend I have anything to answer for when you bring it up again and again.

  36. June 19, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Ron,

    ‘Works of the Law’ are not the same thing as ‘works-righteousness’; they are not works done in order to earn or secure anything from God. They are works that manifest a God-given status, rather than secure it. God’s gracious election of Israel preceded the gift of the Law; observance of the Law was a living out of the covenant status established by this election.

    This is not too similar to the way that good works function in the lives of Christians. There is a sense in which we are justified by these works (Romans 2:13; James 2:24), but these works never serve to earn God’s salvation. God does not save us because we have done good works; rather, our good works manifest the faith that depends upon God’s free grace alone for salvation. The logic of those who held to ‘justification by works of the Law’ was not that if they did enough of these good works they would earn God’s favour, but that observing the Law (which included provision for atonement) was the expression of their holding fast to the covenant and to God, who chose Israel as his own special people.

    The problem here arises because the Law (as the Jewish Torah, which excluded the non-circumcised) was only a temporary steward. By continuing to use the Law to mark them out from Gentiles, believing that God’s acknowledgment of them as his righteous people and the true heirs of Abraham would be on the basis of a Torah-defined identity that distinguished and separated Jews from Gentiles, the Judaizers failed to appreciate what God had done in Christ.

    They failed to appreciate that God had always intended to form the family of the true heirs of Abraham on the basis of faith. They misunderstood the purpose of the Law in God’s plan. The Law’s separation of Jews from Gentiles was a temporary measure on account of the sin that was dealt with definitively and decisively in the cross of Christ. Only then would the true family of Abraham be formed, in Christ (the true heir) and on the basis of faith. The Law couldn’t mark out Israel as God’s righteous people, because all that it served to do was highlight the reality of their sin. By seeking to separate from Gentiles, maintaining that a Jewish Torah-defined identity was necessary (even if not sufficient apart from faith) for being declared to be God’s righteous people and the true heirs of Abraham, the Judaizers set themselves at direct odds with God’s purpose in Christ — that of establishing one worldwide people of God in right relationship with him on the basis of faith alone.

    For this reason, it is a caricature to refer to this position as merely a Jewish form of works-righteousness. It is more subtle than that.

    I should have made my point in quoting Cranfield a bit clearer. I was not referring to his reading of the section in general, which I disagree with. Rather, I was referring to his recognition that the expression must be read in a slightly contrasting sense to that of ‘works of the Law’. When Paul talks about Christian fulfilment of the Law (which I strongly believe that he is referring to here) he generally speaks in terms of the Law being fulfilled by a unitary principle such as faith or love. Both Jesus and Paul tend to reduce the Law to a single principle (love, faith, etc.), which is the point that Cranfield makes. Paul’s talk of the ‘work of the Law’ here contrasts with the ‘works of the Law’ that are spoken of elsewhere. Those who were advocating the works of the Law were pressing a whole series of Jewish requirements upon Gentiles as the means of fulfilling the Law. Paul’s position is that the Law can be fulfilled and summed up in one thing, one work — faith or love. Hence, ‘work of the Law’ versus ‘works of the Law’ (as Cranfield observes, this is similar to John 6:28-29).

    The mere fact that you have many expositors on your side does not mean that you are not at odds with Paul on the issue of whether Gentiles were under the law of Moses. I have plenty of expositors on my side too, but this is irrelevant. The important question is whether we are doing justice to Paul. I am arguing that you are not paying sufficient attention to the significant number of allusions to the new covenant within Romans 2:14-15, 25-29. There are several of these and together they form a very strong case that Paul is speaking concerning new covenant believing Gentiles. One or two allusions could perhaps be argued away, or otherwise accounted for. Ignoring several allusions is far more problematic.

    In Romans 2:17-18 Paul is referring to the same sort of thing as that which is referred to in OT passages such as Psalm 147:19-20. Israel was the only nation that knew the Law. They were set aside as a light to the Gentiles (cf. 2:19). While Paul certainly undercuts Jewish boasting by observing Israel’s failure to uphold the Law, the boast here seems to be less about a boast in meritorious works than it is a boast in covenant privilege. Much the same thing can be seen in Paul’s recounting of his own prior confidence in Philippians 3: it makes more sense when read in terms of covenant privilege and status than when read in terms of the idea of earning favour with God through one’s works.

    I am not advocating some strange new position of my own here as a means of ‘improving’ upon Dunn and Wright. I think that they are more or less right on this point. The only reason why you might think that I am somehow trying to ‘improve’ upon their position is because you seem to have had little exposure to their own writings on the subject, or having been relying on the lying misrepresentations of their positions that are propagated by people like Ligon Duncan and Guy Waters. Both Duncan and Waters seriously misrepresent Wright and Dunn and Dunn and Wright have said as much. Dunn writes scathingly of Waters’ mischaracterizations of his and Wright’s positions in the greatly expanded introduction to the recent new edition of his collection of New Perspective essays.

    For Paul, the ‘Law’ is something that is given in history at a certain time, through the ministration of Moses (Romans 5:13-14, 20). The Law is not just some abstract moral standard that all mankind are called to adhere to, but is the covenant charter. The inseparable relationship between Law and covenant (like two foci of the same ellipse), is essentially the truth that the terminology ‘covenant nomism’ is designed to protect. There is a reciprocal relationship between the Torah and the covenant: the Torah serves to define and mark out — as the great ‘Boundary Marker’ — the covenant people of God; the covenant seeks to describe the realm of the rule of the Torah.

    It is this fact that makes Torah observance inescapably Jewish, not the mere fact of circumcision. The Law is the law of the covenant that God made with one nation alone, granting them an identity distinct from the nations with which he didn’t enter into covenant.

    Of course, there are things that God required of Israel that he required of the nations in general. There are some dimensions of the Torah that were regarded as ‘universalizable’, applying to all peoples, even those outside of covenant. I suggest that you read part two of my former professor, Markus Bockmuehl’s book, Jewish Law in Gentile Churches, for a discussion of how this was regarded within Jewish thought. However, even given the existence of a Jewish natural law tradition and the recognition of Noachide and Levitical laws that applied to the nations in general, the Torah-covenant nexus was not denied.

    I am afraid that you will have to give me some better reason for denying the presence of new covenant themes in Romans 1-3 than your mere say-so. I don’t see how on earth any of this makes me ‘neonomian’ or ‘semi-Pelagian’. Paul is merely drawing on the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah, that God would write his law in his covenant people’s hearts. In several places in his letters Paul speaks in terms of Christians fulfilling the Law in a manner that transcends Jewish exclusivism (1 Corinthians 7:19; Romans 8:1-4; 13:8-10). Once we appreciate the covenant-Law relationship, the manner in which this is completely different from neonomianism or semi-Pelagianism will become plain. The problem is that the category ‘works-righteousness’ does not properly operate in terms of the covenant-Law connection and so those who work with it as a dominating category tend to find it difficult to understand those of us for whom the covenant-Law connection is essential to reading Paul’s argument.

    I am not going to go any further in this discussion with you, Ron. I am sorry to say that it seems clear to me that you don’t have much of a grasp of my position, and are not overly concerned about coming to a better understanding of it. I suspect that there are far more edifying and helpful things that we could both be doing.

  37. June 20, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    […] discussed the meaning of Romans 1-4 at considerable length in the comments of this recent Green Baggins post, I decided that it might be worthwhile posting this brief exegetical essay I wrote on Romans […]

  38. Elder Hoss said,

    June 20, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Alastair – While you may be met with invective from some (as if the applying loaded terms to your person or work, suffices for any kind of argument in the most liberal sense of that term), I found your exegesis on this disputed text, very effective and insightful.

    The uncircumcised “doer of the law” is no more a hypothetical construct than is the “judgment day” to which Paul refers in the same argument, and, as you note, this comports entirely with 2:25-29 and the “Jew who is one inwardly” as over against the vaunted claims of the circumsized (outward) Jew.

  39. June 20, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks Elder Hoss. It is encouraging to know that someone here agrees with me! :)

    BTW, comment #40 links to my exegesis of Romans 2:!4-15, in which I try to support my Christian Gentile reading of these verses.

  40. Ron Henzel said,

    June 20, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Alistair,

    As it is the standard operating procedure for NPP and FV advocates to accuse their opponents of failure to understand their positions, your repeated aspersions against the level of my comprehension are not surprising. I don’t depend on secondary sources for my information; I’ve read Sanders, Stendahl, Dunn, Wright, et. al. in the original English, and not only are your allegations against Duncan and Waters scurrilous, but they fail to take into account the fact that Westerholm more-than-adequately answered the NPP’s absurd reading of Paul a long time ago (although since then he has out-and-out obliterated it in his more recent tome). As I see it, the NPP is simply semi-Pelagianism updated for the non-exegetically-inclined, while the FV is Arminianism for the non-theologically-inclined. As for Elder Hoss (whose comments read amazingly like comments from a guy named Brian Harrington), who would know more about substituting loaded terms for actual argumentation than he does?

  41. June 20, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Ron,

    I have read all the writers that you mention very extensively and I feel totally justified in saying that Duncan and Waters very seriously misrepresent Wright and Dunn and that they misunderstand their work at a very basic level. While I have disagreements with some of Westerholm’s representations, I can’t say the same about him.

    Dunn describes some of Waters’ representations of his and Wright’s positions as ‘too ridiculous for words’ (‘The New Perspective on Paul: Revised Edition’, 24n94). Having read through Waters’ book on the NPP twice, I really could not agree more. The guy does not know what he is talking about. I say this, not as a cheap insult, but in all seriousness. The fact that the targets of his critique point out that his representation of their work bears little resemblance to their actual positions is very telling.

    I am quite happy to acknowledge that there are critics of the NPP as a whole and of dimensions of NPP positions, and those who want to adopt more of a mediating line (my lecturer, Bruce Longenecker, among them), who actually know what they are talking about. Waters and Duncan are not among them.

  42. Ron Henzel said,

    June 21, 2008 at 6:37 am

    Alistair,

    “Dunn describes some of Waters’ representations of his and Wright’s positions as ‘too ridiculous for words’” [emphasis mine]? Exactly how many and which ones? I admit to not yet having gotten around to obtaining this volume by Dunn.

  43. June 21, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Ron,

    Dunn argues that Waters’ attempt to ‘push Wright and myself into saying that the ‘works of the law … are exclusively concerned with identityand not at all with activity‘ … is too ridiculous for words’ (24n94).

    In a footnote to a section where he responds to Trueman – arguing that ‘insofar as the criticism [that the Christian tradition was basically wrong over salvation and the Reformers were most guilty of perverting the gospel] is directed against me personally, I simply have to say that I recognise none of what he asserts’ (as Dunn notes, Trueman has since admitted that he misrepresented Dunn and regretted that his paper found its way, unauthorized, onto the Internet) – he speaks of ‘even more virulent attacks’ in the context of the PCA. He cites Waters’ claims that the NPP’s soteriological sympathies are generally with Catholicism over Protestantism. He describes chapter 7 of the book as ‘a vituperative review of Wright which beggars belief,’ particularly drawing attention to Waters’ assertions that Wright has ‘an inherent bias’ against doctrinal formulations, that he has a ‘predisposition against conceiving of the relationship of God and man in vertical terms’, an ‘aversion to conducting theology in the way that the church has classically conceived theology.’ (20n81)

    Elsewhere he writes: ‘To recognise that ‘ungodly’ can refer to those outside of the covenant hardly means denying that ‘ungodly’ denotes ‘a sinner before God’ (pace Waters, Justification 174); and how Waters can argue that I define ‘faith’ as ‘faithfulness’ (188) baffles me.’ (49n196)

    Dunn criticizes Waters at various other points, but these are some of the key instances where he accuses Waters of serious misrepresentation (his denial of Waters’ charge of Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism is another example).

    Dunn nowhere presents a detailed engagement with Waters’ book. It seems clear throughout, however, especially when contrasted with the way that Dunn responds to other NPP critics, that he holds a particularly low estimation of the value of Waters’ work as a serious work of critical engagement with NPP theology.

  44. Ken Christian said,

    June 21, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Ron writes i#43: “As I see it, the NPP is simply semi-Pelagianism updated for the non-exegetically-inclined, while the FV is Arminianism for the non-theologically-inclined.”

    Ok, why isn’t Reed swooping in here to warn Ron for this personal attack? The way FV critics can pretty much say what they want on this board and go unrebuked is ridiculous. Critquing a position is one thing. Calling FV-types (a group that includes ministers and elders in good standing) Arminians and theologically deficient is quite another. Call it both ways, fellas. This is really getting old.

  45. Ron Henzel said,

    June 21, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Alistair,

    I don’t have Trueman’s essay, and since he’s retracted the portions of it that were offensive to Dunn I don’t any point in discussing it.

    I do have Waters’ book, however, and I think Dunn is being extremely unfair. Take your first sentence, for example:

    Dunn argues that Waters’ attempt to ‘push Wright and myself into saying that the ‘works of the law … are exclusively concerned with identity and not at all with activity‘ … is too ridiculous for words’ (24n94).

    If Dunn had quoted Waters’ entire sentence, he would not have been able to make Waters appear quite so ridiculous. Waters actually wrote:

    Dunn and Waters have argued that the works of the law are preeminently [emphasis here mine] status markers or boundary markers of the people of God and as such [emphasis here mine] are exclusively concerned with identity and not at all with activity [emphasis here Waters’]

    The words “preeminently” and “as such” in his citation make all the difference here. Waters was not charging Wright and Dunn with evacuating any thought or notion of activity out of the phrase “works of the law.” Thus the half of Waters’ statement that Dunn omitted hit the nail dead-on.

    Dunn obviously gets his nose out of joint with Waters’ assertions that Wright has “an inherent bias against doctrinal formulation” (Waters, 121) that he has a “predisposition against conceiving of the relationship of God and man in vertical terms,” (ibid.) and an “aversion to conducting theology in the way that the church has classically conceived theology” (192; cf. your reference to Dunn, 20 n81). But since I read Wright before I read Waters, and when I read Waters I found he provided ample documentation for these claims, I find that he once again hit each nail squarely on the head in a most dispassionate fashion. The only vituperating here is Dunn’s, of whom you also write:

    Elsewhere he writes: ‘To recognise that ‘ungodly’ can refer to those outside of the covenant hardly means denying that ‘ungodly’ denotes ‘a sinner before God’ (pace Waters, Justification 174)…

    OK, let’s look at what Waters actually wrote:

    “Dunn defines ‘ungodly’ not in moral terms but as ‘one who is outside the covenant, that it, outside the sphere of God’s saving righteousness. [112]'”

    Did Waters accuse Dunn of “denying that ‘ungodly’ denotes ‘a sinner before God’”? No, he simply accused him of not defining “ungodly” in terms of “a sinner before God,” and when you look the passage in Dunn’s Romans commentary to which Waters was referring (1:205), that is precisely what you find. Dunn limits the meaning of “ungodly” in Paul’s phrase “believes on him who justifies the ungodly” in Romans 4 to “the one who is outside the covenant, that is, outside the sphere of God’s unsaving righteousness.” And then, when Dunn goes on to explain how Paul could have gotten away with referring to Abraham as “ungodly” by appealing to Jewish literature from that period which identifies Abraham as a proselyte from heathenism, so the primary emphasis remains that Abraham had been ungodly only because he had been outside the covenant.

    Later in the first paragraph on page 205 Dunn speaks of how ancient Judaism lauded Abraham for turning from his ungodliness and entered the sphere of God’s covenant through his obedience to God’s commands. On the one hand, it’s interesting how this one sentence totally demolishes Sanders & Co.’s thesis that Second Temple Judaism was a religion of grace. On the other hand, in the immediate context we can only assume that by “turning from his ungodliness” Dunn means “turning away from a life outside the covenant to one in covenant relationship with God,” rather than turning from any specific sins, since that is how Dunn has already defined “ungodly.”

    …and how Waters can argue that I define ‘faith’ as ‘faithfulness’ (18 8) baffles me.’ (49n196)

    What is baffling is why Dunn should have chosen to zero-in on the place where Waters was not directly addressing how Dunn defines “faith.” Dunn is apparently referring to the following on Waters’ page 188:

    Dunn functionally defines “faith” in Paul with respect to justification as covenantal faithfulness.”

    Notice the word “functionally” here. Notice also the phrase “with respect to justification.” These words are conspicuously absent from your citation of Dunn’s objection, even though they are crucial to Waters’ point.

    Waters is not saying that Dunn formally defines “faith” as “faithfulness,” but that functionally, with respect to justification, this is how Dunn’s meaning of the word “faith” plays out. In fairness to Dunn, although this doesn’t mitigate his sloppy reference to Waters’ statement (which I assume is his and not yours), he states that Waters “argues” that he defines “faith” in this way, and that is true—back on pages 106-107. There he very fairly, in my opinion, summarizes Dunn’s understanding of justifying faith as follows:

    Faith in justification, for Dunn, is predominantly defined as “trust” in the sense of trusting God’s promises (cf. Rom. 4). Faith in justification, however, cannot be said to exclude the covenantal obedience that identifies someone as properly belonging to the people of God. [107]

    And if Dunn had taken the time to read the text preceding this concluding remark, he would have found ample justification for it on Waters’ part, even though he still may not have appreciated that fact that Waters formulates it as “covenantal faithfulness” on page 188. Once again, Waters’ reading of Dunn is dead-on.

    Dunn has a long history of complaining that people just do not understand his position, and continually misrepresent it. In his “Additional Note” in Jesus, Paul and the Law, (Louisville, KY, USA: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), 237-241, he goes on and on, claiming that Fung, Westerholm, Stuhlmacher, Moo, Barclay, and all the others who criticize his positions (including elsewhere his book, F.F. Bruce), simply don’t understand him, and even “disappoint” him with their “complete failure” in various areas he deems critical. In my opinion his latest complaints to the effect that people aren’t reading him carefully enough are much like his earlier ones: examples of the pot calling the kettle black.

  46. Ron Henzel said,

    June 21, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I see I goofed up my blockquotes in the above comment. I trust it’s still intelligible.

  47. Vern Crisler said,

    June 21, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Re: #31

    Alastair, this is getting a little too time consuming, so I’ll have to let this be my last comment on the thread. Other writing commitments are beckoning. In the following, I’ve given the names before each’s own words:

    Alastair: Well, if the Phil Johnson article that you link to is anything to go by, you obviously do not have a very clear understanding about the teaching of Sanders, Wright, Dunn and other NPP theologians at all. I happen to have read practically everything that Wright has ever written (including his unpublished doctoral thesis), the vast majority of Dunn’s works on the NPP, much of Sanders, and several writings by other leading NPP proponents. Johnson’s article seriously misrepresents their positions in several areas.

    Vern: What precisely is wrong with Johnson’s understanding? This is typical of NPP and FV advocates – to accuse their opponents of not understanding what they are saying. Moreover, one does not have to read everything written by Sanders, Dunn, or the others to discover their error. One only need compare their relevant teachings with the New Testament, and that’s precisely what Johnson and others have done with respect to NPP.

    Alastair: The Torah/Christ antithesis is not a ‘restriction’ of the works/faith antithesis to a more specific case.

    Vern: Then you are using the term “restriction” in a way that is not included in a standard dictionary. Here is what you originally said: “For all sorts of good reasons, it seems clear to me that ‘works of the Law’ in Romans and Galatians must be taken in a very particular sense, as references to Jewish Torah-observance and not as references to good works in a more general sense.” You further say, “Often the contrast being drawn is primarily one between Christ and the Torah, not one between faith and works per se.” Sounds like restriction to me.

    Alastair: My point, if you will reread what I wrote, is that, in Romans and Galatians, Paul is not working in terms of a general works/faith antithesis – whether in a universal or restricted form – at all. ‘Torah’ is not added to works as a restriction, rather Torah is spoken of in terms of ‘works’ as it is in the ‘works of the Torah’ that the principle of Torah becomes operative in the life of the Jews.

    Vern: The seems like sophistry. To say that Romans and Galatians are not working with a works/faith antithesis is to say that which is completely absurd. I have charged Wright and the NPP crowd with incompetence, and this is a good example of it. If it’s not incompetence, then the only thing left is madness.

    As against NPP or FV misrepresentations, Reformed theology has never denied that Jewish particularity, ethnic restrictions, etc. provided the occasion for Paul’s teachings on justification, but they have never been so incompetent or perverse as to fail to see the larger issues in Paul’s thought – the contrast between justification by faith alone vs. justification by works. There is no “growth” in Paul’s thought on this issue. His opposition to justification by works (per se) is the same from beginning to end, and is just as much part of Romans and Galatians as it is of Ephesians and his other writings, NPP’s silly ideas notwithstanding.

    Alastair: The real contrast is not works (of the Law) vs. faith (in Christ), but (works of) the Law vs. (faithfulness of) Christ. The contrast is not primarily between two anthropological stances towards the reception of salvation, but between two different covenant orders.

    Vern: This is wrong. Paul’s teaching isn’t just about two different orders of the covenant, nor about Mosaic law-works vs. Christ’s faithfulness. To reduce it to such things is to fail to understand how to generalize from particulars. It’s like saying the Reformation was all about the fact Luther was upset that Johann Tetzel did not give large enough discounts to purchasers of his indulgences. Surely, true scholarship consists in being able to see not only the trees that are in dispute, but also the forest as well. Similarly, Paul was not just talking about small matters, but was enunciating a general principle of salvation. A dispute over circumcision (or food restrictions, or observance of sabbaths, etc.) may have been the local issue, but it gave Paul the occasion to discuss global theological issues.

    Alastair: I have never denied that there are places in Paul where he does speak in terms of a clear antithesis between faith and works. My point is that something different is going on in Romans and that we shouldn’t let familiar theological constructs drown out the text here. Exegetical engagement is what is needed here, not mere dismissals of Wright and Dunn’s theological credentials.

    Vern: This seems like mere sophistry again. The Book of Romans is about justification by faith, among other things. Paul praises the “faith” of the Roman Christians, that it was “spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8). This is in contrast to the Jews who did not have faith but were “seeking to establish their own righteousness” (Rom. 10:3). It is true that in Romans, Paul is addressing local issues such as circumcision (Rom. 4: 9), sacred menus (Rom. 14:2) or sacred time (Rom. 14: 5). But the larger issue is always at the forefront.

    Abraham lived long before the Torah law or Jewish particulars, and was justified by faith long before he was circumcised (Rom. 4:2). Obviously, the “works” that Paul is contrasting to faith in Abraham’s life cannot be Torah-works, Old Covenant order, or ethnic boundaries since they were not even around at the time. In fact, Abraham provides a pattern for Gentile Christians who are to “walk in the steps of the faith” (Rom. 4:12), which Abraham had before circumcision. The contrast is faith vs. works, the general principle, not faith vs. circumcision, faith vs. Torah, faith vs. Old Covenant order. Paul uses local issues to make points about the general principle, but only a reductionist theological enterprise such as NPP would see the local issues as the only point of importance.

    Similarly, the Book of Galatians was written to remind the churches that Christian works are just as useless as Jewish works in the matter of justification. “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3) Paul was angry with the Galatians because they were observing “days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 1:2; 4:10). Thus, again, Paul dealt with local issues by appeal to the general principle of justification by faith alone. The general principle in Romans and Galatians is the same in (say) Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” ( Eph. 2:8 ) Compare this with what you said earlier: “In terms of the discussion in hand…good works and faith…seem to be essential to justification. We could not be saved and justified were it not the case that we will do good works by the power of the Spirit of God.”

    Obviously the isolation of faith must be interpreted correctly. Faith is not isolated in every way, for it is the foundation of good works. Faith is passive in justification but active in sanctification: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Rom. 3:31). If the NPP/FV view were to be regarded as true, Paul would be saying, “Do we then make void the Jewish particulars, Torah law, ethnic boundaries? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish Jewish particulars, Torah law, ethnic boundaries.” Paul’s general faith/works contrast cannot be restricted to something more particular without leading to absurdities in the interpretation of Paul’s meaning.

    Alastair: The fact that you accuse my position of merely projecting works-righteousness into the future suggests that you have misunderstood it.

    Vern: But you said, “Christian obedience is….the obedience that does form part of the basis for his justifying verdict, the obedience of the life of the new covenant Holy Spirit, an obedience that God is working in us, but which will not be completed until the final resurrection.” You say that “This obedience is genuinely our own obedience….” So, it sounds like you’re saying that our own obedience both now and future is part of the basis for our justification. As you say later, “we are saved in part because God will produce true obedience in us.” If that’s not works-righteousness (with a future trajectory) then I don’t know what you mean by the terms “works” and “righteousness.” It appears to be an utter confusion of justification with sanctification.

    Alastair: Strictly speaking, justification doesn’t depend on something in us at all. If it were based on something in us, we would indeed have a problem. What it depends upon is the certainty of God’s commitment to work something in us. It rests on the certainty of his word (not on some internal grace as such). My point is that, if we were never to be conformed to that which God has declared us to be, God’s verdict would not be just. Part of the justice of God’s justifying verdict rests on the fact that it is both declarative and promissory. It is a declaration that we are in the right now and a promise that this verdict will be repeated at the final judgment (which present justification accurately anticipates) and that God will conform us perfectly to what he has declared us to be. Read what I wrote more carefully. The crucial qualification is ‘to the extent that it is based on God’s own commitment to accomplish this reality’. ‘God’s commitment’ is not something ‘in us’ at all.

    Vern: Justification does not depend on the “certainty of God’s commitment to work something is us.” In the Protestant (and biblical) view, justification is a “legal fiction.” A “legal fiction” is not make-believe, as some would have it. It’s a representation of a state of affairs that doesn’t exist in reality but is treated as if it were a reality, and is backed by the force of law. Adoption is a perfect example of a legal fiction. Adoptive parents and children are not literally parents or children, but the “legal fiction” of adoption is treated as such by law. Similarly, in justification, we are not really righteous in ourselves — whether by our own efforts, or by divine transformation — since we are justified and sinner at the same time. Rather, we are TREATED as righteous, because Christ is our representative, and God looks upon Christ’s righteousness as the basis for the justifying verdict. Our transformation, both now and in the future, is the RESULT of the justifying verdict, not its basis.

    Alastair: Far from being un-Protestant, this view is closely related to some of the earliest Protestant forms of the doctrine of justification. Luther’s famous illustration of the doctor’s declaration of his sick patient to be ‘well’ comes to mind here. The declaration would be unjust were it not the cause that the patient would in fact one day be well. However, the verdict is not based on anything that the patient himself will achieve, but upon the doctor’s own ability and commitment to the health of his patient. The patient must simply trust the doctor and in such a manner submit himself to the doctor’s treatment. As a number of scholars have observed, a number of Luther’s classic formulations of the doctrine of justification are analytic, rather than synthetic. However, though they are analytic they never cease to clearly affirm sola fide and sola gratia. There is no reason why an analytic doctrine of justification need be regarded as un-Protestant.

    Vern: Karl Holl was the first one to claim that Luther’s view was analytic. However, even Barth could not stomach this claim. Berkouwer, speaking of Barth’s reaction to Holl, says, “If Barth had to choose between Roman Catholicism and Holl’s interpretation of Luther, he would choose Rome. Barth was not alone in his attack on Holl. In fact, the question of analytic or synthetic justification became the central issue in the entire controversy about the sovereignty of God’s grace.” (G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification, p. 16.) Luther in fact denied the concept of inherent righteousness as the basis of justification: “It is impossible for a papist to understand this article: ‘I believe the forgiveness of sins.” For the papists are drowned in their opinions, as I also was when among them, of the cleaving to our inherent righteousness.” (“On Justification.”)

    The problem with analytic views of justification is that they confuse justification with sanctification, thus undermining the force of the antithesis between faith and works in Paul’s teaching. Calvin said that Osiander’s (analytic) view obscured justification so as to darken pious minds, and that’s what any sort of analytical view does – introduces confusion into the minds of ordinary Christians. The teachings of NPP and FV have also had this result. It’s basically Tridentine theology lite, and it’s why those who are influenced by it are tempted to cross the Tiber, and, like infants, wish to suckle at the breast of Mother Church. But it is better to be a grown-up, and to stand up and remain faithful to the teachings of the Reformation. Why some Reformed ministers refuse to do this, and encourage NPP or FV thinking instead, is a great puzzle. I’m not very good at figuring out puzzles.

    Vern
    vcrisler3@cox.net
    http://vernerable.tripod.com/

  48. Ron Henzel said,

    June 24, 2008 at 5:02 am

    Vern,

    You have produced a truly excellent summary of your debate with Alistair here. Congratulations! He essentially identified himself as totally beyond the pale of historic Protestantism in general and Reformed orthodoxy in particular when he wrote, “There is no reason why an analytic doctrine of justification need be regarded as un-Protestant.” I believe they heard some rolling around in Luther’s tomb over in Wittenberg when he wrote that. We may also now know the location of Calvin’s unmarked grave, since he appears to have rolled over in it.

  49. Vern Crisler said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Thanks Ron. You didn’t do too bad yourself. BTW, here’s R. Scott Clark’s excellent analysis of Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification, which shows pretty convincingly that Luther did not have an analytic view of justification:
    http://www.ctsfw.edu/library/files/pb/2032

    Blessings,

    Vern


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