Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Response to Nick on the Doctrine of Justification

This is a response to the comments from Nick of "Nick's Catholic Blog" on my post on Roman Catholicism.

I'm not denying Paul could have used other words to espouse the concept of "Christ's Righteousness" - but the burden is on the Protestant to demonstrate that when Paul uses a term like "righteousness" it must be "Christ's Righteousness" as opposed to any other possible meanings of 'righteousness'.
Looking at the 5 passages you cite, only one of them even mentions the term "impute" - Rom 4:3 - and that text is under dispute by us - so to say they 'clearly' make case for imputation is quite a leap. Just taking one of those texts, Phil 3, and reading in it context (3:8-11) I say it's espousing the exact opposite of imputation.

The Apostle Paul first of all makes it clear that there is a righteousness that is given based on faith:

"Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works" (Romans 4:4-6)

This righteousness is likened to a gift which is not earned.
How do I know that this righteousness is the righteousness of Christ? Paul makes this clear in several places:

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Note that the righteousness of God is described as the righteousness in him.
He makes the same point in Philippians, "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." (Philippians 3:8-9) This righteousness comes from outside of himself, from God and only through being in Christ. I don't understand how you can say imputation is not meant here. This is a righteousness that he claims is not "a righteousness of my own."

This is why Paul can say in passing to the Corinthians, "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." (1 Corinthians 1:30) Notice again that this righteousness is in Christ and from God.

If Paul is at all consistent in what he means by the righteousness that saves, he need not say "impute" and "the righteousness of Christ" right next to one another for us to understand his meaning. Putting all the texts together, we can see that:
1. There is an imputed righteousness (Romans 4:6)
2. This righteousness is apart from our own works (Romans 4:5, Philippians 3:9)
3. This righteousness is only found in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:9)
If we are to discover doctrine, as we do the Trinity and several other Christian teachings, on the basis of the text as a whole rather than on simple proof texts, it is clear that the imputed righteousness of Christ is a Biblical and Pauline concept.

You then mention the locus classicus for your claim: Romans 4:5
The main problem here is that too much weight is put on this passage with too many assumptions supporting it. It's simply dangerous to build one's theology upon a single verse.

So much weight is put upon this passage simply because it is so clear. It is not just a single verse, it is a key passage for understanding the entirety of Paul's argument in this section.

(A) You said "The man who is ungodly is counted as righteous," but the actual phraseology is "justifies the ungodly, faith credited as righteousness". These two phrases are not necessarily identical in meaning.

The "crediting of righteousness" is an explanation of what justification is. This is further shown by the fact that Paul uses justification in Romans 8 as being the opposite of condemnation. Clearly this cannot mean "making one righteous."

(B) You're assuming the term "ungodly" means "unrighteous," but that's not necessarily true. Paul could have simply used the term "unrighteous," negating 'righteous' in this case, but he didn't. The term he used was a negated form of "worshiper", and thus more akin to "non-worshiper" (especially in regards to not worshiping according to Jewish Law standards). The "non-worshiper" (from the Jewish point of view) is none other than the Gentile, and thus Paul would be saying "God justifies the Gentile." This fits with Paul's theme/context (that God is also the God of the Gentiles, and justifies the uncircumcised, 3:27ff). To Judaizer ears, Paul would be uttering blasphemy, God justifying the (second class) Gentiles?...and worst of all Paul calling Abraham a 'non-worshiper' (justified *before* being circumcised 4:9ff)!

This just shows the great lengths one has to go to defend a Roman view of justification in the book of Romans. The ungodly are gentiles? This is an absurd mishandling of the text. The examples Paul uses within this same chapter of justifying the ungodly are Abraham and David, the very representatives of Judaism. What is so offensive here to the Jews is that Paul includes Abraham among the ungodly. What would the whole language of debt and payment in 4:5 have anything to do with being a gentile as opposed to a Jew?

(C) Even if "ungodly" means 'sinner', you'd have to assume "justify" here were a bare declaration. But we both know it's not, and that it includes forgiveness, thus it can be rendered "God forgives the sinner [who genuinely repents]." This would fit perfectly with Romans 4:7-8 and a similar situation of Luke 18:9-14.

Justification is not a "bare declaration." It is a declaration based on the fact that we are in Christ, and thus are given a righteousness from God based on faith. Read the whole argument Paul is making.

(D) The term "justify" ("declare righteous") is not a synonym for "impute righteousness" - 'declare' and 'impute' are not the same. If the passage is rendered "God declares righteous the unrighteous," you have a problem, namely God's honor is at stake, for that is a flat out injustice/contradiction. If you argue the man is truly forgiven and a real righteousness is set to his account, then God isn't really "declaring righteous the unrighteous" anymore, but rather "declaring righteous the righteous".

Paul defines justification as including the imputing of righteousness (Rom 4:6) and the non-imputation of sin (Rom 4:8). Paul is using all three of these concepts synonymously.
God's honor is not at stake because the status of "righteous" is based upon the righteousness of Christ, in whom we are included. The idea that a whole group can bear the guilt or blessings of one individual is common in scripture. For example, we are all sinners because of one man: Adam. Also, the blessings of Israel were often based upon the obedience of the king. In the same way, having a perfectly righteous king, we, as his subjects, receive the blessings he earned.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Overview of the New Perspectives on Paul Part 4: James Dunn

James Dunn
James Dunn differs from Sanders in that he claims to be a devout Christian. He is important to the movement because he is the first writer to produce commentaries of Paul’s epistles through this framework. He also formulated the term “the new perspective on Paul.” He essentially agrees with Sanders’ view of second temple Judaism by seeing it as a religion of grace rather than a Pelagian type of legalism. He accepts Stendhal’s criticism which sees the Protestant doctrine of justification as having forced Luther’s own controversy back into the text of Paul. However, agreeing with earlier writers on certain points, he still sees Sanders’ Paul as inadequate. “I am not convinced that we have yet given the proper reading of Paul from the new perspective of first-century Palestinian Judaism opened up so helpfully by Sanders himself.” (The New Perspective on Paul pg.95)

From here, Dunn formulates his own opinions about what Paul is saying in Romans and Galatians. Dunn centers his argument around Galatians 2:16 which is the earliest explicit reference to the doctrine of justification. In this passage, Paul is primarily dealing with the issue of Jew and Gentile fellowship. Justification was apparently seen as something that belonged to Jews but not gentiles since Paul calls them, rhetorically, “sinners.” Paul argues against this notion, showing justification to be valid for both Jews and Gentiles since it is by faith. Dunn does not accept the historical understanding of justification as a term which describes the beginning of a man’s relation toward God. “Justification is rather God’s acknowledgement that one is in the covenant-whether that is an initial acknowledgment, or a repeated action of God (God’s saving acts), or his final vindication of his people.”(pg.97) Dunn sees Paul as working within a Jewish framework. Those whom Paul is countering in Galatia see their Christianity as an extension of Judaism. As such, justification by faith is a Jewish teaching which his readers already understood. Both Judaism and Christianity saw their salvation as based upon God’s gracious initiative.

Dunn, accepting Sanders critique that Paul was not arguing against Jewish legalism writes that “works of the law” in Paul refer to “works related to the covenant [and] works done in obedience to the covenant.”(pg. 98) Thus, when Paul speaks of works of the law he does not refer to good works in general, or even good works as conforming to the Decalogue. These works are primarily those which separate Jews from gentiles which would include the Sabbath, food laws, and other boundary markers that differentiated Jew from gentile. The phrase “works of the law” itself is nationalistic in focus, “the law and the Jewish people are coterminous; the law identifies the Jew as Jew and constitutes the boundary which separates him from the gentiles.”(pg. 118)

Paul does not invalidate the Covenantal Nomistic soteriology of the Judaism of his day. However, he redefines this in light of the resurrected messiah. The question Paul needed to deal with was, “How do we Jewish believers relate our Covenantal Nomism, our works of the law, our obligations under the covenant to our new faith in Jesus as the Christ?”(pg.103) The elect were, in the national covenant, those who had the marks of circumcision, food laws, Sabbath, etc. After Christ has come, Paul sees the elect redefined as those who have faith. The mark or “badge” of those in the covenant was now faith in Christ only.

Like the other writers embracing this new understanding of Paul, Dunn argues that the law/gospel or faith/works contrast as traditionally understood within Protestantism is wrong. “Paul is not arguing here for a concept of faith which is totally passive because it fears to become a ‘work.’” (pg.105) Dunn also argues that there is not a necessary dichotomy between ritual and faith. He is not arguing against ritual as such, but that which excludes gentiles from the covenant. “What he is concerned to exclude here is the racial, not the ritual expression of faith; it is nationalism he denies not activism.”(pg.105) What Paul sees as new about the covenant is not that now an alternative to legalistic works has appeared making salvation a matter of passive faith, but that gentiles are now included within God’s people.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Three Reasons Why I am Not a Roman Catholic

One poster asked me to give three reasons why I am not a Roman Catholic. Since I try to answer all questions I am asked by my readers, I will briefly explain why I will not join the Roman Church.

1. The denial of Sola Fide
This is the most important reason why I have not and will not ever join the Roman church. As a Lutheran I see it as the center of the Biblical gospel. Trent erred in defining justification as a process and anathematizing its Biblical formulation. Justification is clearly judicial. Paul contrasts "justification" with "condemnation." Justification, being the opposite of condemnation, is clearly a legal term. It means "not guilty" and as Paul in Romans 4, quoting David defines it, the non-imputation of sin, as well as the counting of righteousness. Paul also uses it in the past tense in Romans 5:1 and other places, denying the understanding of justification as a process.

2. Unwritten tradition as a source of authority
I do not see scripture teaching that there is another source of authority which is unwritten and carried on by an infallible magisterium. This is problematic because several of these "traditions" are contradicted by scripture itself. Also, just as clearly, several traditions now claimed by the Roman Church are the opposite of teachings in the fathers. For example, the immaculate conception, now a "dogma of the church" was condemned by Pope Galacius. The Roman Church has not stayed consistent in defining its own infallible tradition. This is why Trent could anathematize Protestants while Vatican II refers to them as separated brethren. This is also why the entire medieval tradition of purgatory as involving an actual period of time can be contradicted by the current Pope. There is simply no consistency.

3. The sacrifice of the mass
Simply put, I believe the doctrine of the re-sacrifice of Christ or "representation of the once for all sacrifice" or however one wants to put it, is a denial of the nature of Christ's atonement. The book of Hebrews makes the point that what is greater about the New Covenant as opposed to the Old is that the propitiatory sacrifice is once for all, and cannot be repeated. The text is clear, and to explain that it is the same sacrifice now as the one on Golgotha is just to skate around the issue and ruin the author's argument.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Overview of the New Perspectives on Paul Part 3: E.P. Sanders and Paul

Sanders gave a much fuller treatment of Paul in his 1983 book Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People. In this book, like in the previous, Sanders contends that contrary to Protestant ideas Paul did not see the law as impossible to fulfill. The usual proof text for this idea has been Galatians 3:10, “Cursed is the man who does not continue to do all things written in the book of the law.” According to Sanders, Paul, after connecting blessing with faith, looks for a verse in the Old Testament that he can use to connect “curse” with “law.” This happens to be the verse he finds. The focus is not on “all” rather, it is on the fact that the law brings a curse. This reinforces Paul’s main idea that salvation comes by faith in Christ and not the Jewish law. Paul at times upholds the possibility of perfection under the law, but at other times makes it clear that all men in one way or another do sin. Paul never understood that these ideas might be mutually exclusive.

In Galatians 5:3, Paul does make some use of the word “all” in Deuteronomy 27:26. The point that Paul is making is that if one is circumcised, as the Judaizers demanded, he must obey the entirety of the ceremonial law. What Paul sees as wrong with the law as a way to righteousness is not that it is impossible to fulfill, but that it is not the correct kind of righteousness, which is faith in Christ.

Sanders agrees with Stendhal’s reading of Romans in seeing it’s theme as the relation between Jew and Gentile rather than individual salvation. He agrees with most Protestant exegetes in viewing Romans 1:16 as the theme of the rest of the book, however Sanders “would put more emphasis on the second part of the verse (to all who have faith, the Jew first and also the Greek)”(pg 30) While righteousness is an essential aspect, it is essential because it expresses the unity between Jew and Gentile. Sanders evaluates Romans 3-5, which is usually used to defend the “Lutheran” idea that the law leads to boasting because, in a Pelagian sort of fashion, one thinks he can save himself by his own obedience. Sanders believes that this boasting is not connected to any sort of legalism, but to status as a Jew. The law leads to boasting in one’s ethnicity and status as among the covenant people of God. Romans 10:3 had often been used to support the legalistic understanding of Judaism where Paul contrasts a righteousness of “their own” with that “of God.” Sanders sees “their own” righteousness not as something they did to merit salvation, but the righteousness of Israel which excluded gentiles. Sanders sees Paul’s righteousness of “my own” in Philippians 3 in the same way. It was Paul’s righteousness as a zealous Jew who believed himself to be of the covenant people of Israel, separated from Gentiles.

With all this being said, it might seem as though Paul did not have a view of universal sinfulness. To the contrary, Paul does believe in universal sinfulness and does use it in his argument. However, it is only used as a backdrop to explain why righteousness comes through faith to both Jew and Gentile. “Yet it is apparent that the argument is based on the conclusion, rather than the conclusion on the argument.” (pg 35) Paul contradicts himself in Romans 2 and 5. In chapter two he assumes that it is the same law that judges everyone, yet in Romans 5 he sees the law that condemns only the Mosaic Law, as sin was not imputed until the Mosaic Law came. This inconsistency can be explained because Paul’s purpose was not primarily to explain the plight of man, but the solution.

All of this shows that Paul was in a dilemma about the role of the law in salvation history. He attempted to somehow connect the law with sin and the curse, rather than salvation. Though he recognized that in the sense of the Old Testament, Jews would not have been considered sinners, “observant Jews are not in fact sinners by the Biblical standard” (pg 68) He sought to explain the law as serving a pedagogical purpose for the Jewish people. Paul, after explaining that gentiles are imprisoned by stoicheia, beings they worshipped which are not gods, shows that the law did essentially the same thing. This is why in Galatians, he can discuss the “we” and “us” that have been imprisoned, including both Jew and Gentile. All of this shows that Paul rejected his covenantal nomistic past as he did not see righteous, law abiding Jews as among the people of God, but saw them in the same predicament as gentiles.

With all this negativity toward the law in Paul, how do his positive statements about the law fit into his own theology? He sees the law as something that both Jew and Gentile must die to. He does not carefully distinguish the categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial law, as did the medieval scholastics. Christ is the end of the whole law. Paul therefore, sees the law as given purposefully by God, never as a means of salvation, but with a view toward the faith to come. In the end Sanders states, “All Paul’s statements cannot be organized into a logical whole.” (pg 86)
Paul does see Christians as having a duty to fulfill the law. Though he did not “work out a full halakic system,” (pg 95) Paul does give ethical commands in his epistles, which are often connected with Old Testament principles. However, it is not so simple as to say that Paul was urging his gentile converts to adopt a Jewish lifestyle apart from certain rituals of course. Not all the ethical principles Paul adopts are necessarily Jewish, although he does use Old Testament references to defend himself. So which of the Old Testament laws does Paul expect Christians to follow? The distinction between moral and ceremonial law does have some merit in Paul, as he seems to reject those aspects of the law that, “created a social distinction between Jews and other races in the Greco-Roman world.” (pg 102) This again goes back to his central conviction that salvation comes only by faith in Christ through Jew and Gentile alike, thus any barriers between these two people groups must be removed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An Overview of the New Perspectives on Paul Part 2: E.P. Sanders and Second Temple Judaism

E.P. Sanders
In 1977, E.P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism, which agreed with the central thesis of Stendhal and developed it through looking at sources from second temple Judaism. In this volume, Sanders briefly overviews the different evaluations of second temple Judaism which scholars have promoted in the recent past. In the 19th century, due to the work of F. Weber, it was generally understood that Judaism of the second temple period was a religion of "works righteousness." Jews supposedly believed that God would weigh one's good deeds against his bad to determine the fate of that man. One could gain extra merit through a "treasury of merits" of sorts. Sanders concludes that Weber's evaluation was deeply flawed, though remained somewhat unchallenged in his day. This same view of Judaism was promoted by Bousset, Schurer, and Bultmann. Many Jewish scholars refuted Weber's claims, and Sanders believes successfully, yet their work was not of much effect. Weber's view still was the majority opinion.

Sanders attempts to prove that Weber's view is flawed by evaluating the writings of the second temple period extensively. According to Sanders, there was an overall coherence of a "pattern of religion" in Judaism. “A pattern of religion does not include every theological proposition or every religious concept within a religion. The term ‘pattern’ points toward the question of how one moves from the logical starting point to the logical conclusion of the religion.” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism pg. 17) This can be loosely placed under the rubric of soteriology. Though there were certainly diverging views of Judaism in the second temple period, there was an overall basic soteriology which permeated the majority of second temple literature. Sanders labels this soteriology "covenantal nomism." Covenantal nomism is the idea that the Jews believed themselves to be in the covenant by grace, but maintained their status in the covenant by obedience. In other words, the emphasis was on God's electing grace rather than on strict law-keeping. God chose the nation of Israel to be His own, thus one was in the covenant by God's choice, not by works. The role of law-keeping was one of maintaining status, rather than gaining status. One could lose "salvation" by breaking the commandments, yet one could not gain "salvation" by keeping commandments.

The question naturally comes as to why God elected the nation of Israel. Sanders posits that there were three different answers to this question in second temple literature. One answer was that the covenant was offered to all nations, yet Israel was the only one to accept it. The second opinion was that the nation was chosen because of the merits of the patriarchs. The third was that God elected the nation simply because he chose to; it was a matter of pure grace. The first two answers still put the covenant in the hands of human merit, yet Sanders does not see this as harmful to his thesis. It does not matter how or why the covenant was initiated in the first place. What matters is that those in the covenant in the second temple period were personally initiated apart from what they had done.

In the second part of this book, Sanders evaluates the theology of Paul in light of the pattern he has uncovered in Second Temple literature. Sanders works from the epistles of Paul which he sees as undisputed. These include: Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians. In Sander's view, Paul argued from solution to plight. Paul saw Christ as the solution, thus realizing that there must be a problem that man needs to be saved from. First came his conviction of redemption in Christ and then came his view of the law. “Paul’s logic seems to run like this: in Christ God has acted to save the world; therefore the world is in need of salvation; but God also gave the law; if Christ is given for salvation, it must follow that the law must not have been.” (pg 475) Agreeing with Stendhal, Sanders observes that in his description of himself in Philippians 3, Paul calls himself "blameless." Under the law he did not have a deep inward struggle with sin. When Paul preached, he most likely did this the same way. The content of his preaching was not the conviction of sins and then redemption in Christ, but instead began with the message of salvation through Christ.

Salvation in Paul is predominantly seen as a future event which he mistakenly thought to be soon. “It is further to be observed that the verb “save” in Paul is generally future or present but only once past (aorist) tense.” (pg 449) Sanders sees Paul's motifs of salvation as more participationist than juristic. The reformation overemphasized the judicial categories of forgiveness and escape from condemnation, while ignoring the real heart of salvation, which is a mystical participation in Christ. Paul shows this in his argument in his first epistle to the Corinthians when arguing against sexual immorality. It is wrong because it affects one's union with Christ by uniting himself to a prostitute. Sin is not merely the violation of an abstract law. This participationist language is also used in Corinthians in the discussion of the Lord's Supper wherein one participates in the body and blood of Christ.

Unlike many later proponents of the New Perspective, Sanders sees justification as transfer language. It describes one’s entrance into the people of God. However, this is not so much about one's legal status. Paul indeed adopted the earlier Christian view that Christ's death was expiatory and that man was forgiven of his sins. However, when Paul uses this language he is only expressing accepted Christian tradition, not his own point of view. Paul's own thought emphasizes the death of Christ as delivering us from the old aeon and bringing us into the new. His death involves a changing of Lordship and causes us to die not to the penalty of sin, but to the power of sin. “Christ came to provide a new Lordship for those who participate in his death and resurrection.” (pg 499)

For Sanders, Paul did not see the law as something which was impossible to fulfill. As previously mentioned, he said himself that he was blameless under the law. The problem with the law was not that it did not offer righteousness, but that it offered the wrong kind of righteousness. Paul came to the realization that man must be righteous by faith in Christ, thus all other righteousness is excluded, meaning it cannot come by the law. He saw the problem that both Jews and Gentiles were to be “righteoused” by faith, purporting that law could not make one righteous, since it excluded gentiles.

Paul believed, as is evident in Romans 6, that men are under the Lordship of sin. He did not come to this conclusion by any inner struggle, rather by the fact of the lordship of Christ. Since to be saved one must come under the lordship of Christ, he must have previously been under the lordship of something else; that something else is sin. This takes him so far as to overemphasize man's sinfulness in Romans 7 which almost equates the law itself with sin.

Does Paul accept the covenantal nomism pattern which he had received as a Pharisee? Sanders says in some sense yes, and in some ways no. In many ways, his categories were much different. For example, he discusses the new exodus, not in covenantal categories, but instead as the escape from one aeon to another. Paul does accept the basic idea that in the new covenant there is salvation, and those outside of the covenant will not receive salvation. One enters into the new covenant by baptism, through grace, and must keep with repentance to stay within the covenant. This is seen as he often talks about justification by grace in the past tense, but in Romans 2 is able to speak of a future justification by works. However, he differs in his description of personal transgression. Transgression for Paul is not seen as something which will exclude one from the covenant, but as something which affects one's mystical union with Christ. While Paul does sometimes speak in covenantal language, the covenantal nomism category does not fit his emphasis on the new creation. Essentially, while Paul accepts some aspects of Jewish soteriology, it is inconsistent with his participationist categories, “the primary reason for which it is inadequate to depict Paul’s religion as a new covenantal nomism is that the term does not take account of his participationist transfer terms, which are most significant terms for understanding his soteriology.” (pg. 514)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Overview of the New Perspectives on Paul Part 1: Krister Stendahl

I want to thank everyone who has been giving me suggestions and encouraging me in my search for a Lutheran church body. I am going to discuss the issue with my pastor this week. I would appreciate your continued prayers. I am going to do a series of posts giving the historical background and brief refutation of the "New Perspective on Paul."

The latter half of the twentieth century saw a major shift in Pauline studies, particularly in Paul’s relation to Judaism and the law. From the 16th century throughout much of the 20th, Martin Luther’s interpretation of Paul was widely accepted by most within Protestantism. While not always agreeing with Luther completely, exegetes had accepted his basic premise that Paul in his epistles to the Galatians and Romans was fighting against Jewish legalism of sorts. Paul’s argument was primarily soteriological. Going back even farther, the entire western church had accepted Paul’s polemics against the Judaizers to be soteriological since Augustine’s controversy with the Pelagians in the 5th century.

The so-called “Lutheran Paul” of the west stressed justification by faith alone as the center of his gospel. This doctrine was ultimately aimed at the comforting of the conscience of the man, who, being struck by the perfection required in God’s Holy law, needed a means of forgiveness. This idea of Paulinism was certainly not universal, as men like Herman Ridderbos found the center of Paul’s thought, not in justification, but in the broader theme of union with Christ. Geerhardus Vos sought to emphasize the narrative aspects of Paul’s thought rather than the mere systematic categories that had often been applied. The “Lutheran Paul” found its ultimate expression in the writings of Rudolph Bultmann. Bultmann, using existentialist philosophy as a backdrop saw Paul as answering the plight of everyman which emphasizes the complete dependence of man upon God. This complete dependence was not rooted in the historical figure of Jesus, but in a universal principle which answers man’s existential plight. Paul spoke unilateral truth, not necessarily grounded within history. Paul distanced himself from the Judaism of his past, seeing it as nothing more than pure legalism. In Judaism, God weighed one’s merits against his demerits in order to determine final salvation. Bultmann emphasized the distinction between the law and the gospel farther than Martin Luther himself would have imagined. Luther saw the law and the gospel as both given by God, present in the old and new testaments, and as good things which both aimed at the salvation of God’s people. The law showed the need for salvation, and the gospel provided it. Other writers saw Paul as much more consistent with historical events and his Jewish past, as even Bultmann’s student Gunther Bornkamm showed the necessity of the historical person of Jesus in Paul’s theology while agreeing with Bultmann on the centrality of the doctrine of justification in Paul’s thought. W.D. Davies showed convincingly that Paul’s theology was largely influenced by Judaism and the break between Paul and Judaism was not as great as many had assumed it to be.

Krister Stendhal
In 1963, Krister Stendhal published an influential article which challenged previous views of Paul and his relation to the law. Stendhal argued that since the reformation we have read Luther’s experience back into the writings of Paul, rather than seeing Paul on his own terms. Our conception of Paul is a product of medieval thought in the western world that would have been completely foreign to those in the period of second temple Judaism. Paul himself did not have a troubled conscience as did Augustine, Luther, or Wesley. He in fact had a “robust conscience.” In Philippians Paul described his former life in Judaism as one of “blamelessness,” not of a failing struggle to obey the law. When Paul talks of the perfect obedience required in the law, it has a more corporate than individual meaning. The nation of Israel of a whole failed to keep the law that was required of them as Paul describes in Romans 2. Paul’s discussions about the failure of the law are not to provoke the conscience of his readers, but are aimed at defining the relationship between Jew and Gentile.
It has been assumed that Paul’s experience on the Damascus road was a conversion to a new way of life. He was a Jew who struggled to obey the whole law, realized he could not, and then converted to faith in Christ. This idea comes from the autobiographical reading of Romans 7. On the contrary, Stendhal believes, “There is not-as we usually think- first a conversion, then a call to apostleship; there is only the call to work among the gentiles.” (“The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” In Paul Among the Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays, 78-96. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976.Pg.84-85)

Paul’s break from Judaism was not much of a break at all, but instead it was a new understanding. Paul’s purpose from this point forward was to work out the relation between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. For Luther, Calvin and other exegetes, chapters 3 and 4 were the central discussion of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. The theme was seen as the righteousness of God expressed in justification. This incidentally led to the discussion of the relationship between Jew and gentile in chapters 9-11. On the contrary, according to Stendhal, the center of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is chapters 9 through 11. The discussion of justification served only as a backdrop for this part of Paul’s argument. The protestant idea of justification has been a non-historical one which sees Paul’s doctrine as solving a universal problem for men of all times, rather then understanding the context of Paul preaching to a Jewish audience of the Messiah. The law Paul speaks of is the Mosaic Law given to Israel, not a set of universal rules to be obeyed by everyone. The so-called “second use of the law” as applied to converting all men, Jew and Gentile alike, to faith in Christ, is a complete misuse of Paul.

Paul certainly does talk of sin in his epistles. When he writes of his own sin, he is not discussing his burdened conscience. Rather, he speaks of the sin of persecuting the church of God which he had now made up for. All of this does not mean that Paul held the view that after baptism man becomes sinless. He accepts that Christians do struggle. However, the focus of his discussion of struggle is not one of despair but of victory over that sin. After his so-called conversion, Paul was not troubled in his conscience as he testifies in Acts 23:1 among other places. He does speak of “weakness” as the thorn in the flesh, but these weaknesses are unconnected to indwelling sin. “But there is no indication that Paul ever thought of this and his other “weaknesses” as sins for which he was responsible.” (ibid pg 91)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Looking for a new direction in the future

This entry is not primarily theological, but a personal note. I just received word from the LCMS that I will be ineligible for ministry due to the fact that I do not hold to a literal 24 hour view of six day creation. This leaves me unsure of where to go from this point. Most of the other Lutheran bodies are either in agreement with the LCMS on the necessity of this issue, or ordain women and/or deny Biblical inerrancy. I do not believe that ordination of women is a Biblical concept. I also do not want to align myself with a denomination which denies the inerrancy of the Biblical text. Thus, it seems I am left with nothing.
The only other conservative denomination I have found which would allow me to preach so far is the AFLC. However, they have pietistic roots and only hold to the Augsburg Confession and Luther's Small Catechism as confessional documents.
Any help here would be appreciated. I ask for your prayers in this matter as I seek God's guidance which so often works contrary to our expectations.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Response to James White on 2 Peter 2:1

"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves." (2 Peter 2:1)

This verse, as claimed by Michael Brown, is saying that these false teachers, according to Peter, deny Jesus Christ who bought them through the cross. This seems to be the obvious meaning of the text. Dr. White initially had two responses to this interpretation of the text.

1. The word despotes is not used in reference to Jesus Christ. It is a term referring to the Father. While I admit that this is a common term in reference to the Father in the Septuagint, it is false to assert that this is never a reference to Jesus. There is another reference in the book of Jude, "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." (Jude 4) The word translated as "Sovereign" is despoten.
It is worth pointing out that Peter and Jude have almost identical language in many places. They are likely writing against the same group of false teachers. All New Testament scholars agree that either Jude relied heavily on the text of 2 Peter, or 2 Peter relied on Jude.
Not only is this word used in an epistle addressing the same or a similar matter; it is in fact in a parallel statement. They are both writing an introduction to these false teachers who have secretly introduced heresy into the fellowship. Peter refers to those who "deny the Lord who bought them", while Jude refers to those who, "deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord." If Jude wrote after Peter, which is most likely, he had Peter's epistle in front of him as he used the same term. If Peter was referring to the Father, Jude most likely misread Peter.

2. It is claimed that the term "bought" is a referencing to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. Deuteronomy 32:6 refers to God as the one who "bought" them. However, the term used in the Septuagint in this verse is not agorazo, the term used by Peter. There is no direct parallel here. Observe the other instances of this word through out the New Testament:

1 Cor. 6:20 - you have been bought with a price
1 Cor. 7:23 - you were bought with a price
Rev. 5:9 - Thou . . . didst purchase. . . men from every tribe, tongue and people
Rev. 14:3 - who had been purchased from the earth
Rev. 14:4 - These have been purchased from among men

These verses refer to the atonement, not to deliverance from the Exodus. The argument that James makes regarding this, is that all the other times the word is used in reference to the atonement, there is a price included. This argument does not hold water. It would not be necessary for Peter to include "for a price" for his readers to understand his meaning. They would have automatically thought of the redemption bought by Christ. Here are three reasons why:
1. Peter's audience was not exclusively Jewish. Thus, the Jews redemption from Egypt would not have been on their mind.
2. Exodus language was now used in early Christian tradition to refer to the death of Christ and the age of the church. Peter for examples refers to Christians as exiles, priests, etc. Paul uses the crossing of the Red Sea as a symbol of redemption bought by Christ.
3. The heresy that these men brought does not seem to be "denying the Father" but denying Jesus. This is why Peter has to remind his readers that what he told them about Christ was not a "cleverly devised myth." (1:16) They apparently denied the majesty of Christ. (1:17) He also needs to defend the fact that Christ is actually coming back in chapter 3, thus they also denied his return.

There is simply no reason to assume that Peter was making a reference to the Exodus here. It can only be read into the text because of a preexisting theological system. We all come to the text with presuppositions Dr. White, even you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lutherans and immutable election

I made the comment that Lutherans in some sense agree that there is such a thing as "irresistible grace." What I mean by this is that election will result in one's actual salvation. Thus in some sense, God will "irresistibly" save his elect. This is a poor term to use because of its Calvinistic connotations, meaning that saving grace is given only for the elect. Someone challenged me on this stating that my words, "God will infallibly convert and preserve His elect in the faith" were Calvinistic. I put together some quotes from the Confessions and American theologians to show that election is particular, immutable, and cannot be lost.

SD Article XI. 8. "God's eternal election does not just foresee and foreknow the salvation of the elect. From God's gracious will and pleasure in Christ Jesus, election is a cause that gains, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what belongs to it. Our salvation is so founded on it that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18), as is written in John 10:28, "no one will snatch [My sheep] out of my hand." And again, "and as many as were appointed unto eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48)

SD Article XI. 22. "Finally, He will eternally save and glorify in life those whom He has elected, called, and justified."

Early Missouri and Wisconsin synod theologians were very clear on this as well:

Pieper, Christian Dogmatics Vol. III pg. 479, "The elect are only those actually saved, for Scripture teaches that without fail all elect enter eternal life."

Hoenecke, Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics Vol. III pg. 52, "The immutability of election has clear proof in Matthew 25:34, 24:24; John 10:28, Daniel 12:2; and Romans 8:29,30. Our Confession expresses the Scripture doctrine very clearly and plainly. And when our confession says that God 'ordained it [salvation] in his eternal purpose, which cannot fall or be overthrown,' then it is asserted very definitely and clearly that no elect person finally remains in impenitence and unbelief and thus is lost."

None of this is to say that God does not truly give grace and offer salvation universally. However, God has not elected all men unto salvation. As Walther even says, "He gives everybody enough grace to enable him to be saved, but he does not give everybody the same amount." God's grace alone the cause of man's election. In The Theology of American Lutheranism pg. 178

Some try to say that because grace is given to all men through the gospel, whoever resists God's grace less than the other would then be saved. Walther replies to this idea, "If my non-resistance were the real and ultimate ground, then I would be my only savior." ibid. 188

The Lutheran Confessions, and the Confessional theologians during the American predestinarian controversy agreed that election is infallible, thus irresistible. An elect man cannot simply choose to be non elect.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Historicity of Luke's Nativity Narrative

I have been having an interesting, thought provoking discussion in my comment box in an old post. I am posting it here because several of you may be interested in this discussion. Feel free to add any thoughts, disagreements, etc.

Dustin said...
I wonder if you're notified about comments on articles this old. Anyway, one of my biggest problems with the idea of Matthean priority is that Luke seems entirely unaware of Matthew's nativity story. Luke has no mention of Herod being alive during Jesus' birth, no slaughter of the innocents, no Magi, and no flight to Egypt. In addition, Luke places it during the governorship of Quirinius, which was in 6 AD, long after Herod's death (though his later comment that Jesus was "about 30" in Luke 3 may contradict this, indicating some confusion on his part). I find it really odd that if Luke had Matthew as a source, he seemed to completely ignore Matthew's nativity and give a new account that he specifically dates to a later period. I find it more likely that he was unaware of Matthew's Gospel, or at least this part of it.

April 7, 2010 4:22 PM

Jordan Cooper said...
I don't think Luke needed to use the nativity story which was present in Matthew for him to have been aware of it. Matthew used these elements of the story for the purpose of showing Jesus as the "new Moses." Thus, he included the slaughter, paralleling the slaughter of children during the infancy of Moses. He included the flight to Egypt to show Jesus as paralleling the Israelite's captivity and wandering before entering the land of Palestine.
The primary purpose of Luke, unlike Matthew, was not to point to Christ as the fulfillment of God's covenantal dealings with Israel. Thus, he did not need to include these details. Luke worked from several sources including Matthew, Mark, possibly the gospel according to the Hebrews and maybe other early documents. He could not have included everything.
Regarding Luke's dating, it is not clear that Luke is indeed talking about the time period when Quirinius was governor. He uses the term "hegemon" (a general term for a ruler) as opposed to "legatus" (governor)to refer to Quirinius. Thus, though he was in charge of the census, he was not necessarily governor at this time.

April 7, 2010 7:59 PM

Dustin said...
Well part of the problem with the census is that it simply doesn't really make any sense before 6 AD, and we have no record of one happening before then. Before 6, Judea was a client kingdom, not a province. To my knowledge, Rome never took a census of a client kingdom. It wouldn't really make much sense to do so, since a major point of having it be a client kingdom was so that it would handle its own affairs itself.

In addition, we have no record whatsoever that I am aware of of Quirinius governing Syria in any sense before 6 AD. Josephus also made no mention of such a census despite making a big deal out of the census of 6 AD. This either means that the Jews didn't care about the first census, which would be weird given their reaction to this later one, or Josephus for some reason decided that such a thing was irrelevant for some reason, which is also very odd considering the content of his works.

Finally, Luke clearly thought that his audience to be familiar with whatever census he was referring to. We don't have any record of any pre-6 AD census, which indicates to me that any such event was much more obscure. Why refer to an obscure event in such a way that would be easy to mistake for a slightly later and much more famous event? This would be an unusually poorly put passage for Luke if this were the case. Luke also gives indication in Acts 5:37 that he expected his audience to only think of one census when someone referred to "the census," and that's the one of 6 AD.

As far as I can tell, the main reason that people think there was an earlier census comes from the idea that Luke and Matthew had to have agreed about the date. If one doesn't assume that from the outset, what evidence is there of any earlier census?

April 8, 2010 3:19 PM

Jordan Cooper said...
Justin Martyr does mention Quirinius as having been procurator, an office different from governor. Where he got this information from is uncertain. Even without this reference however, just because no other source mentioned Quirinius as procurator does not mean that he never was. It is bad historiography to assume that because something cannot be verified in another source, it must be false. Much of what Josephus said is not in other sources from the time. Does that mean we cannot believe these parts of what Josephus says? No, of course not. The standards for applying historical scrutiny are always harsher upon the New Testament documents than other historical sources. Just because they are religious does not mean they are not reliable history. All history has an agenda behind it. Josephus clearly does.
Luke does mention that this is the first census under Quirinius. Thus, he assumes that there were two different census taken under Quirinius. Perhaps his role in the first led to his being elected governor. If Josephus mentioned a census calling it the "first census", it would probably be assumed that there was a second. Why not with Luke?
Luke mentioning the other census as "the census" in the book of Acts points to the fact that this was the most obvious of the two. This was most likely because it stirred the Jews up, hence its being recorded in Josephus unlike the first.
The fact that Luke refers to it as "the census" only helps point out that he is talking about something different in Luke. This is why he qualifies himself by calling it "the first."
It was not a poor choice of Luke to mention this census just because there was a more famous later census. His readers most likely knew of both. This is why, to avoid confusion, he mentions it being the first. You ask what evidence there is for being an earlier census. My answer is the book of Luke.
You are right that I assume Matthew and Luke agree on the date. I come to the text with the presupposition that it is free from error. I openly admit that. You also come to historical texts with certain presuppositions. For example, you presuppose that reading historical documents can show you actual past events, you presuppose that a text can err, you presuppose that what you perceive on the page you read corresponds to what is actually there. None of us are free from presuppositions. Mine include the inerrancy of the Biblical text.

April 8, 2010 4:15 PM

A Response to James White on 1 John 2:2

Last week James White had a radio debate with Arminian Pentecostal scholar Dr. Michael Brown over the subject of Calvinism. Through out most of the debate, I found myself cheering on Dr. White. However, when Dr. Brown presented a couple of texts, 1 John 2:2 "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." and 2 Peter 2:1 "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves."

Dr. Brown brought up the point that the term world never means "the elect" in the many times John uses the word through out this epistle. While I don't think Dr. White was saying that world means specifically "the elect" Dr. Brown made a good argument. Through out the epistle, the word "world" means either the sin of the present age, the present evil age itself, or the people belonging to this evil age. Thus, why, in this one place would John mean "all ethnicities" or "many people through out all time?"

When presented with this argument, Dr. White said that the definition of the word "world" was irrelevant for his argument. This is because the term propitiation means the turning away of wrath, thus it must refer only to specific people, or else God has no wrath toward anyone and ultimately everyone will be saved.

I was disappointed that Dr. White did not deal with the term "world." I do not believe it is irrelevant to the argument, and I would like to hear how he, in the context, would interpret this term as meaning only some people of all ethnicities. In the text, "world" is contrasted with "us." Thus, the "world" must be different from the "us." So who is John writing to? One argument says to Jews. Thus, John would be saying that Christ died not only for the sins of Jews, but for the sins of gentiles. However, there is no evidence in the text that John was writing to only Jews. This is why it is considered one of the "catholic epistles." David Wells argues that "world" means "Christians of all times." However, I see no evidence that kosmos could have this type of meaning. If this is really a catholic epistle, the "us" must refer to all believers, thus "world" must refer to unbelievers.

As for Dr. White's argument for the term propitiation; I do not believe that it would necessitate universalism. Can one have Christ as their propitiator and yet be under the wrath of God? I would argue yes, and that Dr. White believes this as well. I would like to ask Dr. White, before the Spirit created saving faith in his heart, was he under the wrath and curse of God? Unless he believed in eternal justification, which he does not, he must admit that he was at one time under God's wrath. Was God's wrath against him propitiated? If he is one of the elect, then he must answer in the affirmative. I would ask Dr. White, how can Christ propitiate the wrath of God for you if you were at some point still under the wrath of God? Is this just because you did not have faith? But isn't unbelief one of the sins that Christ died for?
My point is, even Dr. White must admit that the redemption accomplished by Christ must be applied through faith before it benefits the one for whom it was paid. Thus, in the same way, Christ propitiated the wrath of God for the sins of all men. However, the benefit of that must be received by faith. Thus, if one does not have Spirit created faith, he does not benefit from the work of Christ, though it may have been given for him.

Think about the sacrifices of the old covenant. The sacrifices were given for the nation as a whole. However, only those who drew near would benefit from its blessings. It was objectively given for the entire nation, however, it had to be received subjectively for one to receive the benefits. Now, with the death and resurrection of Christ, the objective work he performed on earth is given for all people of all nations objectively. However, as in the old covenant, one must draw near to God through faith to receive its benefits.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

For those of you who don't know

I was on Issues etc. today discussing Calvinism and Lutheranism. Check it out:

Friday, April 2, 2010

What exactly is the Lutheran view of baptism?

I have been asked to give a brief overview of the Lutheran doctrine of baptism. I have done many posts on the topic but none which includes a comprehensive explanation of the Lutheran view. I will attempt to do so succinctly if possible.

The best place to go for the Lutheran view of baptism is Martin Luther himself. His Small Catechism gives a brief yet profound explanation:

What is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God's command and combined with God's word.

Which is that word of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus chapter three:
"He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying." (Titus 3:5-8)

What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?
St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4)

What we believe about baptism:

Baptism is essentially a means by which He has chosen to bring us His Spirit and the forgiveness of sins. God often uses things which seem ordinary to do miraculous works. He speaks to us through a book. He came to us in human flesh. He even spoke through an ass! God often hides Himself in ordinary elements as He reveals Himself. This is the same with the water of baptism.
We believe in baptismal regeneration. This means that the Spirit has chosen to work through baptismal water in the same way that He works through His word. Reformed Christians often say that the preached word is a means of regeneration but baptism is not. We believe that both are means which God uses to bring His promise to us. Baptism is the gospel in visible form, thus it gives all of the benefits of the gospel.
We believe in infant baptism. Since infants cannot understand the word, God uses baptism as a means to regenerate them and bring them into the faith. Through it, God gives faith. If faith is truly a gift of God and not a human work, God can certainly do this for an infant. He can also do it through whatever means He has chosen.
We believe that baptism is a form of the gospel, not a form of the law. Baptism is an act performed by Christ, through the hands of the administer of the sacrament. It is His gift of life and salvation. It is not a work we do. It is not something we do to profess our faith, or to profess that we will raise our children in the faith. It is a gift of grace through the promise of the gospel.

What we do not believe:

We do not believe that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. Since God works through both word and sacrament, the word is sufficient to regenerate and save. However, if one refuses to get baptized, this is evidence that he was never saved since he is denying what Christ has commanded.
We do not believe the Roman Catholic view of baptism. The Roman Catholic church denies that faith is necessarily given at baptism. They also deny that sin remains after baptism.
We do not believe that everyone who was ever baptized will be saved. If one rejects God's offer through baptism, or does not continue in the faith given at baptism, his baptism becomes a means of judgement rather than salvation.
This does not mean that we deny justification by faith alone because we believe baptism saves. The issue is that baptism and faith are not separate things. Baptism gives and strengthens faith. Baptism also delivers the promise which faith clings to.

These are the main points of the Lutheran view of baptism and how it differs from both the Reformed and Roman Catholic teachings on the subject.

This is just really cool