Paul and His Interpreters

It is not man’s faith that gives the gospel its power; quite the contrary, it is the power of the gospel that makes it possible for one to believe. Faith is only another word for the fact that one belongs to Christ and through him participates in the new age. (Nygren, Romans, 71)

2016-08-18 12.48.14

2016-08-18 10.45.56Check out the Eerdmans Fall 2016 catalog on page 25. They are reprinting a Mohr Siebeck volume this fall that is one of best books written on Paul that I’ve read. You may be thinking that it is the long awaited Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters, which is, I think, the best book on Paul and theosis out there. In case you haven’t read it or didn’t want to mortgage the house to buy the other version, I argue that Paul’s soteriology overlaps directly with later patristic ideas about theosis; however, with his distinctive emphasis on dying and rising with Christ (through the Spirit), christosis might be a better term to describe his theotic soteriology.

You’d, however, be wrong that it is the hottest reprint of 2016. That prize goes to a phenomenal collection of essays by John Barclay, Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews. I helped do some minor editing to pull the various essays together, and it was one of the best parts of my PhD days in Durham. While the essays have a general social-historical bent, they address a wide range of issues that will pay long term dividends. When John was picking out the essays, he made a salient point: he thought all the essays he wrote were worthy of being published once, but these are the ones he thought were worthy of being published twice. You will no doubt agree when you read it.

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)


Francis Watson frames the basic difference between Paul and Judaism as one of distinct views of divine and human agency. He is clear that it is not simply divine grace vs poor form of Pelagianism. His reading has a payoff value when interpreting the notoriously difficult Romans 2.7-13, regarding those that pursue the good receiving life and those that do the law are justified. He argues:

Belief in judgment by works is indeed an integral part of Paul’s theology…[citing Rom 8.13, Gal 6.8, 5.21; Rom 2.9-10, etc.]…[The “good” that humans do] is grounded in God’s prior saving action, which establishes and enables an appropriately directed human agency. This is not “salvation by works” as commonly understood, that is as a salvation attained by unaided human effort. But nor is is “salvation by grace” as commonly understood, that is as a salvation in which the one who is saved stands in a purely passive relationship to the one who saves. Divine and human human agency do not conexist on the same plane, in such a way that more of one means less of the other. Rather, God’s prior grace works in and through the human agent, whose reoriented and free agency is itself the work of grace. (Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles, rev. ed., 214)

I noticed that John Barclay makes a similar claims non-contrastive agency in his Paul and the Gift about Romans 2:

Eternal life is, for Paul, both an incongruous gift (6:23) and the fitting completion of a life of good work (2:6–7). (466, cf. 464–74)

Great summary statement by Sanders about his view of Paul’s soteriology in Paul and Palestinian Judaism:

Pressed by opponents on on various sides, he [Paul] expounded the significance of the present state of the Christian life in such a way that the simple theology of future expectation and present possession of spiritual gifts was greatly deepened. We could do no better than guess by what chain of reasoning or under what history of religions influence Paul deepened the idea of the possession of the Spirit as a guarantee so that it became participation in on Spirit, or the idea of Christ’s death as cleansing former trespasses so that it became the means by which one participated in Christ’s death to the power of sin, but it is clear that he did so, and that herein lies the heart of his soteriology and Christology. (452-53)

Now that I’ve described the rationale for my in-progress book, Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology, I’m laying out below the goals and scope of my study:

Part 1: Historical Framework
To set the stage for a reevaluation of Paul’s theology of justification, I demonstrate how historical frameworks influence contemporary biblical interpretive models. In particular, I establish how Protestant readings of justification are reactionary against Catholic theology and therefore explicitly frame justification in light of Christology and faith to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit and love. Rather than being overly influenced by post-Enlightenment anthropological conceptions, I also show the need to incorporate more a more robust pre-modern understanding of the porous self, making explicit use of Charles Taylor’s work on the buffered and the porous self.

Part II: Reading Paul
In distinction to post-Reformation readings of justification which place Christ over the Spirit and faith over love, my exegetical analyses demonstrate that Paul intertwines the Spirit and Christ in his employment of justification language in key texts—namely, Galatians 2–4; 2 Corinthians 3–5; Romans 1–8. Thus, my reading of Paul shows the coherence of this doctrine with the transformative participation of believers in the triune God. After establishing the relationship of participation and justification through close readings of specific passages, I then treat a variety of participatory topics that relate to justification—namely, suffering/cruciformity, the community (adoption, covenant), and sanctification/ethics.

Part III: Theological Framework
To conclude the monograph, I explore a participatory reading of justification through the lens of the fifth century patristic theologian Cyril of Alexandria, showing that readers not limited by the later Protestant-Catholic categories offer a similar reading as my own. With this model in mind, I then provide an essay that explores justification in light of theosis, an important and growing topic of study arising from wider ecumenical discussions.

This monograph does not attempt to answer all the opposing positions regarding the topic of justification. Rather, it provides a focused and sustained reading of Paul that demonstrates how justification serves as one primary way that he develops his doctrine of a transformative participation in the triune God.

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