Archive for the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ Category

Heinrich Bullinger on Justification by Works

Continuing in my series on Reformed theologians who affirm a sort of final justification by works, it seems to me Bullinger falls into this category in the following text:

So then, as often as the godly doth read, that our own works do justify us, that our own works are called righteousness, that unto our own works is given a reward and life everlasting; he doth not by and by swell with pride, nor yet forget the merit of Christ: but, setting a godly and apt interpretation upon such-like places, he doth consider that all things are of the grace of God, and that so great things are attributed to the works of men, because they are received into grace, and are now become the sons of God for Christ his sake; so that at the last, all things may be turned upon Christ himself, for whose sake the godly know that they and all theirs are in favour and accepted of God the Father.

This comes in the context of a sermon that is crystal clear on justification sola fide. Bullinger does not think it impossible to affirm, in a suitably qualified sense, that “our own works do justify us” or that they receive “life everlasting”, once the more foundational and controlling truth of justification by grace through faith is properly understood.

Peter Martyr Vermigli on Final Justification

In the past I have discussed the Reformed tradition’s variety regarding the doctrine of final justification by works. There are at least two, or maybe three, different ways that members of that tradition have formulated the relation between initial justification by faith alone, and the final judgment which in some sense will take works into account. Peter Martyr Vermigli is another example of the stream that was comfortable speaking of two justifications:

A different kind of justification follows this upright life of holiness by which we are clearly praised, approved and declared just. For although good works do not bring that first righteousness which is given freely, yet they point to it and show it is present. Hence Abraham is told in the book of Genesis: “Now I know that you fear God, because you have done this thing and have not spared your own son for my sake.” Surely God was not previously unaware of Abraham’s piety; only then does he testify that it will be apparent to all what Abraham’s faith and religion were like. So too David, because of his upright life, is pronounced as a man after God’s own heart, and Job is called holy and just, as are Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Joseph, the man betrothed to the blessed Virgin. And surely we ourselves are also assured and we realize that we are enriched with good works. Peter urges us to make our righteousness sure by this means. And on this same basis we will be justified by Christ in the last judgment by the remembrance of good works, that is, we will be declared just, on the testimony of mercy shown to our neighbors. Since it has been exhibited by us, it will be an indication that the chief and solid righteousness which we dealt with in the first place was not lacking. [p. 147 from The Peter Martyr Reader; excerpted from In Selectissimam D. Pauli Priorem ad Corinthios Epistolam Commentarij (from Vermigli’s commentary on 1 Corinthians)]

Another Precedent For NT Wright On Justification

A while ago I wrote a post building on the work of my friend Steven Wedgeworth, showing how N.T. Wright’s doctrine of justification is within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy. Interestingly, while reading a source on justification in the early church 1, I was alerted to another precedent for Wright’s view in the Reformed tradition, from perhaps an unlikely source:

5. Suppose a person freely justified by the grace of God, through faith in the blood of Christ, without respect unto any works, obedience, or righteousness of his own, we do freely grant, — (1.) That God does indispensably require personal obedience of him; which may be called his evangelical righteousness. (2.) That God does approve of and accept, in Christ, this righteousness so performed. (3.) That hereby that faith whereby we are justified is evidenced, proved, manifested, in the sight of God and men. (4.) That this righteousness is pleadable unto an acquitment against any charge from Satan, the world, or our own consciences. (5.) That upon it we shall be declared righteous at the last day, and without it none shall so be. And if any shall think meet from hence to conclude unto an evangelical justification, or call God’s acceptance of our righteousness by that name, I shall by no means contend with them. And wherever this inquiry is made, — not how a sinner, guilty of death, and obnoxious unto the curse, shall be pardoned, acquitted, and justified, which is by the righteousness of Christ alone imputed unto him — but how a man that professes evangelical faith, or faith in Christ, shall be tried, judged, and whereon, as such, he shall be justified, we grant that it is and must be, by his own personal, sincere obedience.


  1. From Nick Needham’s chapter in Justification in Perspective, 44.

Final Justification, Protestantism, And Wright

I want to continue my series of posts on NT Wright and Reformational issues by focussing in on the matter of final justification. This seems to be one of the teachings many regard as a particularly dangerous part of Wright’s teaching. I already addressed this point in brief in my first post, but I can add a few more comments to strengthen my position.

I think the concerns of many Protestants regarding Wright’s view of final justification according to “the whole life lived” fall into three main categories: (1) his view is not Protestant, (2) his view is not Augustinian, and (3) his view is not Biblical. I will address these in turn.

Is Wright’s view Protestant?

Thankfully, I don’t need to do much work here. My friend Steven Wedgeworth has done it all for me. His survey clearly demonstrates the variety of expression amongst Protestant theologians about this matter, and that clear precedents for Wright’s position lie within that variety. More specifically, from the doctors that Wedgeworth surveys, the following say basically the same thing as Wright (I will append some brief quotes to make this point clear):

  • Martin Bucer
    • In the case of Bucer, Michael Bird provides the clearest testimony, though the post about Witsius below also contains a citation from Bucer.
  • John Diodati
    • “Whereas St. James takes the same word for the approving of man, in a benigne and fatherly judgment, as he is considered in the quality of God’s child, and living in the covenant of grace, as having the two essentiall parts of that covenant joyned together, faith to receive God’s grace and Christ’s benefit, and works to yield him the duties of service and acknowledgement;”
  • Benedict Pictet
    • “for in the first [justification] a sinner is acquitted from guilt, in the second a godly man is distinguished from the ungodly. In the first God imputes the righteousness of Christ ; in the second he pronounces judgment from the gift of holiness bestowed upon us; both these justifications the believer obtains, and therefore it is true that “by works he is justified, and not by faith only.”
  • Herman Witsius
    • “This justification is indeed very different from that other, of which we shall presently treat, wherein the person is absolved from sins, whereof he is really guilty, and which are forgiven him on Christ’s account. In this we are speaking of he is acquitted of sins, which he is not chargeable with, and is declared not to have committed.XXIV. The foundation of this justification can be nothing but inherent holiness and righteousness. For, as it is a declaration concerning a man, as he is in himself: by the regenerating and sanctifying grace of God, so it ought to have for its foundation, that which is found in man himself:He that doth righteousness is righteous, says John, 1 John iii. 7. and Peter says, Acts x.34, 35. “of a truth, I perceive, that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with God.””
  • Edward Polhill
    • “These things evince, that obedience is a condition necessary as to our continuance in a state of justification: nevertheless it is not necessary, that obedience should be perfect as to the evangelical precept; but that it should be such, that the truth of grace which the evangelical condition calls for, may not fail for want of it: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city,” (Rev. xxii.14.) The first fundamental right to heaven they have by the faith of Christ only: but sincere obedience is necessary that that right may be continued to them: in this sense we may fairly construe that conclusion of St James, “Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” (Jam. ii.24.)”
  • Thomas Goodwin
    • “So then, Paul’s judging according to works, and James his justification by works, are all one, and are alike consistent with Paul’s justification by faith only. For in the same epistle where he argues so strongly for justification by faith without works, as Rom. iii.iv., he in chap. ii. also declares, that ‘he will judge every man according to his works.’ He doth so to the good: ver. 7, ‘To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life.’”

In addition to Wedgeworth’s sources, one other deserves note:

  • Westminster Shorter Catechism 38
    • Rich Lusk rightly noted that WSC 38 teaches believers receive an acquittal at the final resurrection; the choice of proof-texts for this point may startle some, too, in that the Westminster divines selected a text about rewards for good works to prove believers would receive this acquittal (Matthew 25:23).

On the other hand, Wedgeworth rightly explains that John Calvin, Francis TurretinJohn PrestonJames Ussher, and Thomas Gataker, William Gouge, and John Downame shy away from speaking of two justifications with the second by works, though Calvin’s position in the Institutes is quite sophisticated and I think comes very close to the one evidenced in the list above. But to the list of reticent theologians we should add Martin Luther, and I would imagine the Lutheran tradition (though I know nothing about the particulars here).

Given Wedgeworth’s work here, I can’t see any reason to say Wright’s view fails the Protestantism test. At most one can say some Protestants disagreed with his view. But they did not excommunicate his predecessors.  As long as the fundamental Protestant concerns were upheld, there was manifestly room for difference on this matter.  And as I showed, Wright certainly sustains those fundamental Protestant positions.

Is Wright’s view Augustinian?

Anecdotally, on several occasions I have seen critics of Wright contend that his position on final justification is semi-Pelagian. Of the three issues I mentioned at the beginning, this one is the easiest to dispatch, I believe. For the charge that Wright’s view of the final judgment implies salvation by merit runs up against the problem of Augustine himself. If anyone was an Augustinian, and not a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, when it came to merit, it was the bishop of Hippo. Yet everyone recognizes that he did not teach a Protestant view of justification, i.e., he believed iustificatio referred to the transformative process by which God made us more just, not the verdict in God’s court which declares us so. For Augustine, justification and sanctification basically referred to the same process. But for all that, Augustine’s view of grace rendered it impossible for human beings to stand before God on the basis of merit. My reference to the saint’s saying that “God crowns the works he does in us” hinted at this point. The fact that God is the ultimate source of our good works, as many Protestants have noted, eliminates merit from the good works that those same Protestants affirm that we do. But if the divine origin of our good works eliminates merit in sanctification, then it must also eliminate merit even in final justification.

To put this all a different way: this charge confuses two issues which must remain distinct. The question of the instruments of justification, initial and final, stands beside the question of grace’s relation to merit. These matters remain separable, as Augustine’s own position makes clear.

Is Wright’s view Biblical?

For Protestants, at least in theory, all theologoumena must pass the bar of scripture, or else be discarded. At this point, I don’t wish to defend Wright’s view as biblical (though I believe it is). But I do contend (a) that his position is at least prima facie defensible (it has been defended by otherwise respected evangelical scholars of late e.g., beyond Wright himself, also Simon Gathercole, Mark Seifrid, and Tom Schreiner), and (b) that in light of my responses to the previous two questions, the answer should not be threatening to Protestants if Wright turns out to be correct. It undermines neither their ultimate concerns nor the (non-existent) uniformity of their tradition.

This will probably be my final post, at least for some time, concentrated on NT Wright’s place in Protestantism. I welcome feedback and criticism. I hope, at least, that I’ve provided reason for some critics of Wright to reconsider their problems with his teaching, even if I have failed to convince them of my entire position.

Luther and Wright, Justification and Ecclesiology

Continuing the theme of my TCI post on NT Wright, I would like to address another question many raise regarding the bishop’s new perspective. That is: what does it imply about the application Luther made of Paul’s thought to his own day?

I want to make the case, briefly, that Wright’s view of Paul doesn’t change much vis-à-vis the Reformation issues.

Wright’s critics have charged him with relocating the doctrine of justification from soteriology to ecclesiology. There is one line in What Saint Paul Really Said that certainly gives this impression, but in later works he has clarified his point, and affirmed that what he really means to affirm is a both/and. Justification is about salvation, but also about church.

Many have not noticed, though, that Wright’s affirmation consists with the Reformers. They too affirmed that justification was both about soteriology and ecclesiology (not to mention politics!). As Brad Littlejohn puts it in his summary of Luther’s view of the two kingdoms:

It flows, in short, from the doctrine of justification, with Luther’s famous concept of simul justus et peccator, his conviction that the realm of appearances is very different from the realm of spiritual realities.  Christ reigns mysteriously and invisibly over the kingdom of conscience, and no human authority may dare to interpose itself as the mediator of this rule; it is by faith alone that we participate in this kingdom, so we must not be deceived into identifying it with external works or rituals.  Perhaps better than the terminology of the “two kingdoms” then, the zwei Reiche, is that of the “two governments,” zwei Regimente.  The spiritual government is that by which Christ rules inwardly in the conscience by his Word and Spirit, the realm of grace; the temporal government (weltliche Regimente) is that by which Christ governs all external human affairs by law, in which he works not directly and immediately, but through the larvae, “masks,” of earthly governors and institutions.  Only the elect experience the former; the latter they share in common with the unregenerate.

Luther’s doctrine of justification severed the absolute link between any human institution and divine rule.  This meant, of course, that no ecclesial authority could claim the power to ultimately determine who was saved or lost.  No bishop or Pope could set a divinely authoritative boundary around the community, and include or exclude at his whim. Rather, God alone determined the ultimate shape of his church, and he did this through his Word, received by faith.

As I noted in my previous post, Wright would agree with all of this. But, further, his explanation of Paul’s logic in, e.g., Galatians, requires Luther’s practical conclusion for the Roman Catholic Church of his own day.

Wright explains in What Saint Paul Really Said (p. 122):

When two people share Christian faith, says Paul, they can share table-fellowship, no matter what their ancestry. And all this is based four-square, of course, on the theology of the cross. ‘I am crucified with Christ,’ he writes, ‘nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me’ (2:19-20). The cross has obliterated the privileged distinction that Saul of Tarsus supposed himself to enjoy; the new life he has as Paul the apostle is a life defined, not by his old existence, but solely by the crucified and risen Messiah.

The bishop emphasizes that in Paul’s day a major point of the doctrine was to build a united Jew-Gentile church; but it is just as clear that the logic of Paul’s teaching opposes other possible divisions, beyond those of race. That is, if the unity of the church is based on the new life Christians receive through their initial faith, a life defined solely by the crucified and risen Messiah, then clearly it is impossible for a new human institution to come along and create new rules that will again divide that family.  God has created one badge of membership: faith.  To add to that badge, whether with the Jewish law or a new manmade one, is to offend against the same divine work.

I’m not the first person to notice that something like Wright’s perspective still causes problems for institutions such as the RCC in Luther’s day. Donald Garlington, in his book Studies in the New Perspective on Paul (pp. 14-15) speaks of the implications of his NPP, which is similar to Wright’s:

If I may build upon and extrapolate from Dunn’s remarks, the difference between my version of the NPP and Roman Catholicism revolves just around the relation of tradition to final judgment (justification) by works. If my perception is correct, then what is stake in the latter’s doctrine of judgment is not “good works” in the most generic terms, but a commitment to the Tridentine standards, including such articles of faith as papal infallibility, the mass, the sacraments, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and prayer to the saints. By contrast, the obedience of faith in Paul bypasses all forms of tradition, Jewish, Christian, or otherwise, and focuses fidelity solely and exclusively on Christ. The latter- day justification of the people of God hinges on union with Christ and the observance of all things that he has commanded the church (Matt 28:20), and nothing other than that. In short, what is required for a favorable verdict in the last day is allegiance to Jesus and his law (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). It is in this regard that the Reformers made a right application of Paul’s denial that justification is not by “works of the law.” That is to say, if justification is not by Jewish tradition, then it is not by church tradition either.

My way of putting the matter would be: insofar as the Roman Church conceived itself as having the power to determine who belonged in the community of God’s people, and who did not, based on its laws and canons in addition to the faith God requires, it was reproducing precisely the Judaizing heresy, though now without any possible claim to Mosaic sanction.

Some NT Wright Posts

Yesterday and today, the good folks at The Calvinist International have hosted two posts by yours truly touching on NT Wright. The first on a point picked up by Peter Leithart in his book Against Christianity, and the second a more sustained argument that Wright is within the stream of the classical (magisterial) Protestant vision. Steven Wedgeworth has this evening posted something of a reply to my second entry. For those interested in the the good bishop and related topics (soteriology, justification, ecclesiology, politics, the NPP, etc.), take a gander.

Free Doug Moo Course On Romans

I’m excited to announce that the always impressive Biblical Training site has added a course by Dr. Doug Moo of Wheaton College on the book of Romans. The course was recorded during a D.Min graduate seminar at Carolina Graduate School of Divinity, just recently, in May 2012. Click here for the course. Especially noteworthy for this blog will be the fact that Dr. Moo is anti-new perspective on Paul, is complementarian on gender issues, and is one of the best New Testament exegetes that the Reformed world has to offer. (So, his stuff on Romans 8 and 9 will be helpful for the Molinism debates that we’ve been having). Plus, even a formidable critic of Moo like N.T. Wright, has nothing but praise for the man:

Moo is in a different category again. Doug Moo, I would say, is a much greater Pauline scholar than either of the two I just mentioned [D. A. Carson and John Piper]. One of the things I really respect about Doug Moo is that he is constantly grappling with the text. Where he hears the text saying something which is not what his tradition would have said, he will go with the text. I won’t always agree with his exegesis, but there is a relentless scholarly honesty about him which I really tip my hat off to.

For readings for the course, Dr. Moo recommends:

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Piper, John. The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007.

Westerholm, Stephen. Understanding Paul: The Early Christian Worldview of the Letter to the Romans. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

Wright, N. T. Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009.

Diodati And Wright On Final Justification

On the theme of Keith’s last post, I think it’s worth considering at least one precedent to another of Wright’s controversial (to some American Reformed writers) belief about final justification. Here are some comments by John Diodati on the epistle of James:

We must of necessity distinguish the meaning of this word justifie, which is used by St. Paul, for absolving a man as he is in his natural state, bound to the law, and subject to damnation for his sin, which God doth by a rigid act of justice, that requireth full satisfaction, which seeing he could not get of man Rom. 8.2, he hath received at Christ’s hand (who was the Surety) imputed to man by God’s grace, and apprehended by a lively faith. Whereas St. James takes the same word for the approving of man, in a benigne and fatherly judgment, as he is considered in the quality of God’s child, and living in the covenant of grace, as having the two essentiall parts of that covenant joyned together, faith to receive God’s grace and Christ’s benefit, and works to yield him the duties of service and acknowledgement; and this justification is no longer opposite to the condemnation of a sinner in generall, but to the particular one of an hypocrite, who rending asunder these two inseparable parts, sheweth that he hat neither the one nor the other: see Luke 17.19.

And here is Wright in the same paper (pdf) Keith quoted:

I repeat what I have always said: that the final justification, the final verdict, as opposed to the present justification, which is pronounced over faith alone, will be pronounced over the totality of the life lived. It will be, in other words, in accordance with “works,” with the life seen as a whole—not that any such life will be perfect (Phil 3:13–14) but that it will be going in the right direction, “seeking for glory and honor and immortality” (Rom 2:7). When I have spoken of “basis” in this connection, I have not at all meant by that to suggest that this is an independent basis from the finished work of Christ and the powerful work of the Spirit, but that within that solid and utterly-of-grace structure the particular evidence offered on the last day will be the tenor and direction of the life that has been lived.

Was RL Dabney Reading Some NT Wright?

Can someone please tell me the difference between RL Dabney and NT Wright on imputation here?


It may be said, without affecting excessive subtlety of definition, that by imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we only mean that Christ’s righteousness is so accounted to the sinner, as that he receives thereupon the legal consequences to which it entitles. . . . All are agreed that, when the Bible says, ‘the iniquity of us all was laid on Christ,’ or that ‘He bare our sins,’ or ‘was made sin for us,’ it is only our guilt and not our moral attribute of sinfulness which was imputed. So it seems to me far more reasonable and scriptural to suppose that, in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, it is not  the attribute of righteousness in Christ which is imputed, but that which is the exact counterpart of guilt – the title to acquittal (Lectures in Systematic Theology, Lecture LIV).

NT Wright:

I would be happy to think of Paul thinking something which, in my view, he never explicitly says anywhere: that the verdict “in the right,” “righteous,” which God issues over Jesus at his resurrection, becomes the verdict God issues over us when we believe – in other words, that we are incorporated into the “rightous-verdict,” perhaps even the “righteous-ness” of Jesus himself.” “Justification: Yesterday, Today, and Forever.” JETS (March 2011): 63.

Ummm … so is Dabney denying the gospel here? Hello? *Crickets*

God’s Righteousness in 3 Corinthians 4:12

This post was published originally at Acta Pauli. If my interpretation of 3 Cor is correct, and 3 Cor is dated fairly early, this provides strong evidence of how Paul’s view of God’s righteousness was understood within his own circles soon after he had passed.

3 Cor 4:12-18 states (my trans.):

12 But God, the almighty, because he is righteous and he did not want to annihilate his own creation, 13 caused the Spirit through fire to descend into Mary the Galilean, 15 so that, by this same pershing flesh, by which the Evil One exercised his reign, he was defeated and convinced that he was not God. 16 For Christ Jesus saved all flesh by his own body, 17 so as to consecrate a temple of righteousness in his own body, 18 by which we have been liberated.

Beginning in 4:12, 3 Cor starts to detail how God initiated his plan of salvation for humanity. At this point, the logic of the text begins to look like a significant passage in another Pauline letter: Romans 3:19-22. There, Paul says:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

In 3 Cor, the problem that needs to be solved is that the creation was in danger of annihiliation by God (which God did not wish to do). Similarly, in Romans 3 the major problem is that every person is found guilty before God. The solution, on the other hand, is “the righteousness of God”, which is through “the faithfulness of/faith in Jesus Christ” for all who believe. These two phrases, “the righteousness of God” and “faithfulness of/faith in Jesus Christ”, have themselves become centers of controversy in Pauline scholarship. Scholars dispute whether “the righteousness of God” refers to something God grants to believers or else an aspect of his character, over which scholars likewise debate. As for the phrase, “faithfulness of/faith in Jesus Christ”, the dispute circles around whether it is “faith in Christ” or “the faith/faithfulness of Christ”. One scholar who represents the New Perspective on Paul, N.T. Wright, argues for an interpretation of Romans (e.g., Romans, NIB 10, ad loc.) which seems to be confirmed by 3 Cor 4:12-18 here. His position is that the righteousness of God is God’s own faithfulness to his covenants, which included promises to save Israel and the world, and that the pistis is Christ’s own faithfulness, the ministry and death by which God has kept his promises. 3 Cor 4:12-14 closely parallels Wright’s interpretation of that epistle. That is, here, it is because God is righteous that he sends the Spirit to Mary in order to bring Jesus into the world in flesh, and it is in that flesh that Christ saves all flesh. God’s righteousness mentioned in 4:12 provides a motive for him to save the world, not destroy it. If one asks how God’s righteousness could provide a motive for him to save the world, the simplest answer seems to be along the lines that Wright suggests for Romans: to be righteous, God must keep his promises, or else he would be a liar, because God promised to save the world in his covenants. Thus to be righteous, he must become the world’s saviour.