Justification


I (Ben) have been busily finishing out my SBL paper over the past few weeks: “Luther and Galatians: Justification as Participation in the Life of God.” I’m working from the Luther’s Works (LW) translation, but I, of course, needed to engage the critical edition of Luther’s Lectures on Galatians. However, being partially ignorant of Luther scholarship, I couldn’t remember how accessible the Weimarer Ausgabe (WA) of Luther’s Works, the critical edition of the original Latin and German, would be. My initial search kept coming up with older english translations, until I hit on Jim West’s very helpful series of posts with links to Reformation era primary resources (check down the right hand side to find a full list of “Reformation Texts“). I won’t repeat the Luther material here, but basically all the WA critical editions are old enough to be open source, so check out West’s Luther’s Works – Weimar (sic) Ausgabe. It lists all the volumes twice: first, with the open source web links; and second, a list of each volume’s main contents.

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When ruling out transformation as part of justification, he gives his best short summary:

‘Justification’ is the declaration of the one God, on the basis of the death of Jesus: this really is my adopted child, a member of Abraham’s covenant family, whose sins are forgiven. And that declaration, in the present, anticipates exactly the final verdict which can also be described as ‘adoption’…. Whichever way you look at justification, whichever Pauline context you line up beside it, it always retains this character: the ultimate future brought forward into the present, and the two have joined hands by the spirit. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 958-59)

My only beef with that, in light of my larger project, is that Paul so directly connects justification with new life, that the new life is not just at the resurrection but starts now. So, while justification is a new status it is also eschatological life–both now and the future. It is not based on works, but the life given now is the ability to love and serve God through the Spirit as God’s new creation act in us, that is through his justification of us. And, with Wright, this justification will ultimately entail resurrection from the dead.

You may be interested in a nice summary here as well: What N.T. Wright Really Said

While Wright is pegged as the “ecclesiological” version of justification, it strikes me that this is a red-herring. While justification as covenant status addresses the division of Jews and Gentiles, the problem is more basic. Wright sees justification has addressing the human problems of sin, condemnation, and death, and Paul’s discussion of a creational, anthropological, covenantal, and forensic eschatology is described in terms of justification (see the progressive discussion of these framing terms in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 925-37). Ultimately this is all captured in his discussion of final eschatology:

Paul’s vision in Romans 1-8, then, has as its framework the all-important narrative about a future judgment according to the fullness of the life that has been led, emphasizing the fact that those ‘in Christ’ will face ‘no condemnation’ on that final day (2.1-16; 8.1-11, 31-39). The reason Paul gives for this is, as so often, the cross and the spirit (8.3-4): in the Messiah, and by the spirit, the life in question will have been the life of spirit-led obedience, adoption, suffering, prayer, and ultimately glory (8.5-8, 12-17, 18-27, 28-30). This is not something other than ‘Paul’s doctrine of justification‘. It is its outer, eschatological framework.   …   And, to repeat a vital point about the character of Paul’s theology, that integration [of present and final justification] makes nonsense of all schemes that depend on regarding Romans 1-4 and 5-8 as representing two types of thought or systems of soteriology. That division results from failing to notice Paul’s larger controlling category, namely, the covenant promises made by God to Abraham to deal with the problem of the world’s sin and its consequences. Those, Paul insists, are the promises to which the covenant God has been true in the Messiah. The faithfulness of this God is the underlying theme of Romans 1-8… [sic] as it is also the problem, and then the solution, throughout Romans 9-11. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 941-42)

He later uses the terminology of ‘inaugurated forensic and covenantal eschatology’. “The future verdict … is thus brought forward into the present, because of the utter grace of the one God seen in the ‘faithful’ death of the Messiah … and then at work, as we shall now see, through the spirit in the gospel” (944-45).

Restoring the community, setting it to rights, is important, but in Christ and the Spirit God is setting the whole world to rights, and so to limit justification, for Wright at least, to ecclesiology is to miss his larger picture. That said, he frames it this way:

Once we have worked through the first five preliminary points, we ought to realize that this sixth one is where it has all been going. Those who are declared or accounted ‘righteous’ on the basis of Messiah-faith constitute the single covenant family which the one God has faithfully given to Abraham. (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 961)

 

After reading my post about Luther and SBL, I had a couple of friends ask about my larger book project: Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology. I should note that this new project is built on the foundation of my doctoral work, which is being republished by Eerdmans in about a couple of months: Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpeters (slightly updated from the WUNT edition, but much cheaper!).

As far as my Participating the Righteousness of God, here’s an abstract that clarifies where I’m headed:

In light of contemporary reassessments of justification which have arisen through ecumenical discussion as well as fresh approaches to biblical texts, this monograph creatively examines Paul’s theology of justification in relationship to the topic of participation in God. Explicitly engaging with post-Reformation and patristic concerns, I provide an exegetical analysis of Paul’s letters and argue that Paul’s view of justification ultimately entails participation in the life of God through Christ and the Spirit. I then integrate this reading with other Pauline theological loci and demonstrate its wider relevance through patristic exegesis and the doctrine of theosis.

Rationale for the Book (based on the wider context of scholarship and theology):

The doctrine of justification has come under a level of scrutiny and reconsideration among systematic theologians and biblical scholars not seen since the 16th century. Arising from wide-ranging ecumenical discussions, Protestant theologians are reassessing the role and meaning of justification due to engagement with alternative soteriological frameworks—both contemporary and historical. At the same time, biblical scholars are reassessing Paul’s teaching of justification within his first century context. The New Perspective has gained much ground, shifting the focus from justification as a status before God to one’s status among the Christian community. In addition, the topic of participation in God—sometimes styled as “being in Christ” or “union with Christ”—has been a repetitive theme in Pauline scholarship since the early 20th century due to the work of Albert Schweitzer and others. While the importance of the relationship of participation to Paul’s doctrine of justification is frequently affirmed, the nature of the relationship remains debated and only lightly explored.

While reassessment in the theological sphere has been more robust, the academic community is therefore waiting for a sustained and compelling reading of Paul’s letters that explains this connection between participation and justification. The time, then, is ripe to bring together discussions from historical theology and biblical studies to show that participatory concerns cohere with Paul’s letters themselves, and particularly with his doctrine of justification. Therefore, this monograph will provide an exegetically focused reading of Paul’s theology of justification in relation to participation themes, which at the same time fosters a conversation between post-Reformation perspectives and the Greek patristic tradition. E.g., Besides my work Christosis, few have picked up this task, though Richard Hays called for this very approach over a decade ago in his The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1–4:11, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), xxxii.