|Final Version: November 12, 1999||
Toronto, March 25th 1999
First, I want to discuss briefly why I have taken an interest in this particular aspect of Paul's theology, and New Testament theology in general, having to do with faith and obedience and perseverance and such matters. When I went to England to work on my thesis, I felt that I would actually be doing something on Romans as a whole. Then when I got there I found out that what I had in mind had already been done a few dozen times, so I had to find something else to do.
Finally I came upon a statement by the German commentator, Otto Michel, who says that when Paul coins the phrase, "the obedience of faith," he does so antithetically to the Judaism of that period. In other words, Judaism had one conception of the obedience of faith and Paul had a different conception.
I think that was wrong in one way, but right in another. I think that when Paul comes to define what faith and obedience are about, he falls in line with precedence in the Old Testament and second-temple Jewish literature. Really he doesn't re-define those terms at all, he just assumes something that has been there for a long, long time. But Michel was certainly right that Paul formulates the phrase "the obedience of faith" within the mileu of second-temple Judaism. So I started doing some exploration of some sources, starting off with First Esdras of the Apocrypha, which led onto other things like Ben Sira and the Books of Maccabees, etc. Having done that, I wanted to pursue matters into Romans because that was the original purpose in the first place. I began to write a series of articles for the Westminster Theological Journal, one that appeared in New Testament Studies and one in a Trinity Journal, which were not part of the obedience of faith work as such, but did fit in their own way. These were published in my second book.
What we are encountering here is really nothing new, because there is something of a problem, at least a superficial problem, that readers of Paul have been aware of ever since Paul wrote his letters. For the last two millennia, people have seen, not only in Paul, but elsewhere in the New Testament, there are two things that really go side by side. The one is salvation by gracenot by works, not by anything we doit is totally by God's mercy. It precludes all human striving and merit.
But on the other hand, every judgment passage in the New Testament and in the Old says that judgment is according to works. For example, 2 Corinthians 5:10: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to be repaid for the things done in the body, whether it be a good thing or a worthless thing." In Matthew 25 nothing is said of grace, nothing said of repentance, nothing said of justification, but rather those who are admitted into the eschatological kingdom are those who have done certain things. Those who are not admitted, are those who have not done certain things. Judgment is always according to works.
So people have been pursuing this for some time. There is nothing new about it whatsoever. It is what would compel certain radical critics of the ilk of Ed Sanders and Heikki and Räisänen to say that Paul effectively contradicts himself. Sanders says that it is really un-Pauline to require good works, so that when Paul writes Romans 2, he is really just not being himself. That he lapsed or somethinghaving a bad day. But in point of fact it is Pauline, because the same Paul who says we are not justified by works of the law, says that we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 he says that we all stand before Christ's judgment throne to pay for the things that we have done. So that is right on the surface of the text, and students of Scripture have been wrestling with that for a long time.
What I wanted to do then was to pursue that problem, and try to arrive at what, to me anyway, would be a satisfactory resolution of what seems to be a tension. When you get right down to it I don't think it is a tension once it has been explained, but it appears to be a tension and certainly a tension that would grow out of a certain theological tradition.
That is why some theological traditions effectively, if not in practice, had a certain antinomian element about them. Now Luther was not such to be sure, but there is a kind of antinomian principle in Luther's theology. Do you remember it was Luther who said "sin boldly" because it is all going to be covered anyway. It is Luther who said "if the wife will not come to the bed, then let the maid do so!" It shocks you to find things like that. Luther was not a modern evangelical, by the way. You shouldn't think that he was. Now he can say things like that by virtue of what is, at least in principle, a kind of incipient antinomianism. Not that he was an antinomian as such, but even so we appear to have a problem with Paul when we start to view him through Lutheran spectacles.
How can it be that what I do doesn't contribute to my salvation, but on the other hand, I am judged according to what I do. From a Lutheran view indeed it is an irresolvable kind of problem. But what I want to submit is that from a Pauline point of view it is not irresolvable at all, because there is a link between justification by faith and judgment according to works, and that is what Paul calls the obedience of faith.
Now let me say what all of this is not about, if I may and I am giving it to you from my perspective.
The present controversy, at least from my vantage point, is not whether justification is a forensic declaration, because it is. It is not forensic versus ethical. It is not whether or not we are justified by virtue of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, because we are and that is not a matter of dispute as far as I am concerned. This has been affirmed in class and in certain papers that I have written. Rather what it is about is that there is a future dimension of justification. I will have to go over things that are very basic, and forgive me if you know this already. I hope you do anyway, because so much time is spent on them in seminary.
The basic structure of Biblical eschatologythe architecture of Biblical eschatologyis that of an already and a not yet. God has already done something in Christ, but He is going to do something in Christ at the end of the age. He is going to bring to consummation that which He has begun. So we can speak in terms of eschatology or salvation if you will, as inaugurated and then consummated. He Who began in you a good work, Paul says, will complete it on the day of Christ.
So my thesis is that in terms and in keeping with everything, you find about soteriology in the New Testament that there is in justification a past dimension as well as a future dimension.
In attempting to resolve the problem, I drew the conclusion from the Jewish sources that the terms "obedience" and "disobedience" respectively stand for perseverance and apostasy. Now we tend to define those terms very narrowly: obedience is doing this, that or the other, which God requires, and disobedience is breaking the law at this point or another point. And certainly the terms can be used that way, but only rarely. Dominantly, in Jewish literature, obedience means to persevere, and disobedience means to apostatize or to fall away. Now that is foundational.
When Paul coins the phrase "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5 and 16:25), he is bouncing off a very broad stream of Jewish tradition. In fact, it is a tradition that permeates all the sources. I only dealt with the so-called Apocrypha, the body of Jewish literature, which all says more or less the same thing throughout: if you are to be obedient to God, that is to say, if you are to keep the covenant and be one of His faithful people, you have to observe the whole law. You can't pick and choose.
There is a program called "Crossfire" on CNN. You have a Conservative and a Liberal; Pat Buchanan who is a Catholic; and Bill Press who is also a Catholic. Bill Press on one occasion accused Pat Buchanan of being a cafeteria Catholic. That he just picks and chooses among Catholic dogma what he will believe. Well, you can be a cafeteria Catholic or maybe a buffet Baptist. But that principle did not apply to Judaism because you had to keep the whole law. The decalogue was obviously important, but so were the food laws. So was everything that regulated life. So there is such a thing as the obedience of faith, (that is, loyalty to God growing out of faith), but it is always bound up with the detailed particularities of the law of Moses.
Paul comes along with Romans 1:5 and 16:26, and really everything in Romans in between can be thought of within those brackets. Paul says that we can be the obedient people of Godthat is to say, faithful covenant keepersbut we don't have to keep the law of Moses because so much of it has gone. The boundary markers of it have all disappeared, and various other things in the Torah are gone.
Then I decided to see if this basic notion of obedience and disobedience as fidelity versus apostasy held true, throughout Romansand I think it does. Then the centre of controversy for everything I suppose is in Romans 2.
When I went to Romans 2, I drew the conclusion that the link between justification by faith alone and judgment according to works, is the obedience of faith. It is not as though you have polar opposites, free justification and then works at the day of judgment. Rather there is a third concept which has been the missing link, if you will, and I think that Paul formulates that link precisely in terms of the obedience of faith. In other words, an obedience, a loyalty to God and specifically to Christ, which grows out of a prior faith.
This is where I want to go into a fair amount of detail and argue that it means two things at the same time. It means the obedience which consists in faith, but it also means the obedience that grows out of faith, so there is a kind of ambiguity to it. Maybe the best English translation would be "faith's obedience." That preserves something of the ambiguity of the original. The Germans put words together the way we can't and say Glaubensgehorsam. If we can put it all together as one word as the Germans do, that would clarify it even further.
The basic thesis then of Romans 2 about justification is that the obedience of faith is the link between the two. What that means is that those who are justified or vindicated in the final judgment are those who have maintained or have persevered in Christ. The issue, then, is perseverance versus apostasy.
And of course you can't read the epistle to the Hebrews without seeing that that is the heart issue of everythingthat we must not be as the wilderness generation which fell away. It is at the end of Hebrews 3 that the writer places unbelief and disobedience in parallel. The Israelites were unable to enter the land because of their unbelief and because of their disobediencethe two are tantamount to each other. You have a kind of parallelism. So there is such a thing as disobedience of unbelief, and its opposite, the obedience of faith.
I want to look briefly at Romans 2. Paul begins chapter 2 by speaking in very general terms. He says "You have no excuse, O man, whoever you are." In Romans 1 he has been speaking largely about Greco-Roman paganism, but he also has indicated Israel in the idolatry of the Gentiles. He begins chapter 2, speaking again, in very broad terms, referring essentially to Jew and Gentile. It is not until he comes to verse 17 that he turns directly to the Jew and proposes to him that he himself is as much of an idolater as the pagan world of that day. "You have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge another, for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself because you do the very same things." We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. The operative word here is "do". "You suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God. Or do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. But by your impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed, for He will render to every man according to his works."
That is simply an Old Testament principle that comes straight over to Paul, and you find the same thing in vast portions of second-temple literature. It is commonplace. Paul could assume that the Jew of his day would assent to that basic axiom. He then elaborates and says, "To those who by patience in well doing seek for glory, honour, and immortality, He will give eternal life."
Now in chapter 3 of my book, I have proposed that Paul is really using the language of Adam and creation at this point, because Adam was given life as a free giftthere was no covenant of works in the Garden of Eden. There was no covenant of works under Moses. The old style of dispensationalism would have said that under Moses you really have a covenant of works, earning salvation, but that misses the mark very widely. Adam was to seek for glory and honourand those are image terms. Psalm 8 says that Adam was crowned with glory and honour, but yet he was to seek for glory and honour as he lived under God, bearing God's image. Ultimately there would have been immortality, because there is an eschatology built into creation itself when we accept the idea of what Paul calls the soma psychikonthe natural body, the Adamic body. After that there would have been a transformation to a spiritual body, so that eternal life would have been confirmed.
Now many of the old writers actually make that point when they talk about the confirmation of Adam in eternal life. I think that they are right that Adam goes through a period of probation or testing. The quest laid before Adam is that he is to do this, and of course the gift character is underscored by the fact that God says he will give eternal life. We are to seek to strive for glory, honour and immortality, and we will receive eternal life at the end of that quest. But on the other hand, for those who are factious and do not obey the truthnotice the term, "obey the truth," you don't simply believe it, but obey itbut obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good.
"Peace," by the way, is a creation term itself"shalom". It is surprising how even good writers will define peace as being merely the absence of warfare, but that is really not the point because "shalom" goes back to the Garden of Eden. It is the harmony and the order, the peace of the creation, and so very much in line with Adam's original glory, honour and peace.
The operative word in chapter 2 is "do". The Jew first and also the Greek, for God shows no partiality. There are those who say that Paul is really just speaking in hypothetical terms when he talks about seeking glory and honour and immortality, so they insert at that point a kind of hidden or suppressed premise. The premise is that no-one actually can do the truth, no-one actually does seek for glory, honour, and immortality. Therefore Paul is simply saying hypothetically that if someone did this, then they would receive eternal life.
The problem with this is that the text just doesn't read that way. There is not an "if" to be found in the whole passage. It is not stated in hypothetical terms, it is stated in factual terms. When he speaks of those who obey wickedness, there is nothing hypothetical about it, so seeking immortality must be just as factual as obeying wickedness: we either obey the truth or we obey wickedness. Paul goes on to say that those who obey the truth are the ones who will be justified. In verse 12 he says, "All who sin without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law: for it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified."
Now the very first place that Paul uses the word dikaioo or "justify" in Romans is here in 2:13 where he speaks of a future justification to take place. It is not just because it is in the future tense (even though it is), but if you look at verse 16, you see that the context is that of the final judgmentthat day, when according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. It is an eschatological point that he is making. Pointing forward to the future judgment, there are those who are the doers of the law and they, and they alone, will be justified.
It is not good enough simply to hear. Just as James says, we have to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. In Biblical thinking, if you rightly hear something, you are doing it. Remember the shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear O Israel:" hearing is with the view to doing, with obeying the shema, recognizing that there is only one God. Some would drive a wedge between hearing and doing, and Paul is addressing that.
Now this phrase, "the doers of the law"very frankly, does it bother you to read something like that"the doers of the law will be justified?" That sends a shiver down the spine of some, and it is not understandable, unless you define it. And the whole point comes down to the definition. If you are viewing Romans 2, and that phrase in particular, from a Lutheran point of view, then indeed doing the law means an attempt to earn salvation. In the medieval context it means to partake of the sacraments, or to buy your way out of purgatory with indulgencesany number of things. But the phrase that we have here is not a Lutheran phrase, or a Catholic phrase, but a Hebrew phrase, a Jewish phrase, a covenantal phrase.
In order to understand what it is all about you have to go back to the Old Testament. There are many references, but I will just quote one or two. Leviticus 18:5 is a verse that Paul quotes in Romans and Galatians. "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them." This comes in a context of sexual sins. Israel is not to perform any of the abominations of the Gentiles as can be seen in 18:1-3: "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Say to the people of Israel, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.'"
Now, pagans have statutes, as it were; they have laws; they have practices; they have customs. Israel was not to walk in those. But He says, "You shall do my ordinances and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God." The context is all-important because Israel is being forbidden to follow the idolatrous practices of the Egyptians and Canaanites. In fact, in every context where you have an exhortation for Israel to keep the law, it is always an oblique reference, not an explicit reference. To keep the statutes of the Canaanites, then, is to be involved in their abominable practicessacred prostitution, and so forth.
So if you keep the ordinances it means that you will abstain from idolatry and follow the will of God as revealed in the Torah. That is your rule of life; that is your walk. Israel has been redeemed, because they were given life at the time of the Exodus. They didn't have to earn a thing, but they were expected to persevere in the life that had been given them. That is why it is said that the one who does the law will live. That is, go on living within the covenant relationship; enjoying God's blessing in the land, because you remain His people.
Now, what does hekim berith mean? This is a Biblical phrase meaning "to maintain the covenant," as translated in the Septuagint by histemi in Greek. This verb literally means "to stand," but when it is translated hekim it means to maintain the covenant. Israel was given a covenant, given life, given blessing, which they were to maintain by staying within the parameters of the Torah and not going over to pagan religion. Throughout the Book of Deuteronomy you have the recurring refrain, "this do and live." Not to keep these statutes in order to earn your salvation, but so that you may continue to enjoy God's life and blessing as you are within the covenant. So the key word becomes perseverance and that is the issue in these Jewish texts.
I read Sanders for the first time and was totally recalcitrant, totally resistant, until I started working on sources for myself. Now that is the important thing if you are going to make pronouncements about the character of second-temple Judaism. Remember one of the battle cries of the reformation was Ad Fontesback to the sources. So when I began to work on the sources, I drew the conclusion that the real issue in the second-temple period between the two testaments was fidelity to the God of the covenant, versus apostasy from him, especially in times of persecution. All that literature grows out of those times of persecution, especially the apocalyptic writings. I see it as the issue in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and with all that as background, I think it is the issue in Romans too. The doers of the law are not those who earn anything; they are not those who seek to establish a claim upon God; they don't seek to work out a merited salvation or righteousness of their own. They are those who persevere within the will of God.
Now all of this of course, is transposed into a new-covenant context. Paul will go on to explain that it is precisely in Christ that we become "the doers of the law"those who are loyal to him, those who persevere, those who are being conformed to His image. It is they who will be vindicated in the last day as God's faithful people: those who have persevered and remain steadfast to Christ. In many, many passages: "He who endures to the end will be saved."
The writer of Hebrews, at the end of chapter 3, says that we participate in Christ only if we maintain our first confidence firm to the end. Now did the writer of Hebrews not believe in imputed righteousness and forensic justification? I think he did, but here he talks about the other side of the coin.
It is interesting that this exact Greek phrase, "the doers of the law," occurs in 1 Maccabees 2 where it refers to those who are loyal to the Jewish religion, as opposed to those who fall away from it. These are the doers of the law: not earning salvation, but maintaining covenant faithfulness. And in the Qumran manual of discipline the Hebrew equivalent is found, which could fairly be translated into Greek, "the doers of the law;" or into the English, the same way. There again the reference is to the sect's covenantal dutydoers of the law, who performed the law because they were in covenant relationship.
It is really a paradigm shift, which is a shift in model. The problem is that we have allowed the four hundred years prior to this century to dictate the context and the terms of the discussion, rather than the four hundred years just prior to the New Testament. The New Testament wasn't written to us; it wasn't written to Luther and Calvin, for all of their great insight and the fact that we owe them so much. We are midgets standing on the shoulders of giants. But for all of their good they didn't really grasp the precise, historical milieu of second-temple Judaism. And it is within that context that phrases like doing the law and so forth refer to perseverance: abiding within the covenant, not earning anything.
The bottom line to everything is that single word "perseverance". We have been justified by faith and by faith alone and if Paul argues anything over against second-temple Judaism, it is our lucky day. No Torah keeping is involved. That is true, but at the same time there is to be an ultimate vindication. I keep using the word "vindication", because really that is what justification boils down to. It is a courtroom term, a forensic term, but it means to vindicate those who have maintained faith in Christ.
Now everything comes together. Look at Luke chapter 8, especially verse 15. This is the parable of the sower, or some would call it the soils. Jesus, of course, is talking about the seed which falls upon the good soil. Luke 8:15 is sort of a summary statement: "As for that in the good soil, they are those, who hearing the Word hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bring forth fruit with perseverance. That says everything: there is fruit; there is the evidence of a changed life, accompanied by perseverance.
I know that we can wrangle about particulars here and there, but all I am saying is what Paul says in Philippians 2:13, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Why? "Because God is at work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." It is all of grace from beginning to end. I can do nothing without Him. Even in my regenerate state I can do nothing without Him. And so again, the already and the not yetGod has begun something.
Once more, Philippians 1:6. "He who began in you a good work will bring it to completion"will perfect it on the day of Christ. You have it in Romans 5:9-10, where Paul follows that argument that the Rabbis call qal wa homerfrom the lesser to the greater. The very terms that we are dealing with are here. Verse 8 speaks of the way that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. In verse 9, "Since therefore now we are justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God?" You see the argument from the lesser to the greater; you see from the perspective of this passage that the great thing is yet to be done.
Now justification by His blood is a great thing. And yet there is something which from a certain point of view is greater, and that is the completion of the work. When he refers to the life of Christ he means of course, the resurrected Christ. In terms of the letter to the Hebrews, this is Christ Who is the interceding high priest, Who prays for His people. And He saves us eschatologically, by virtue of His resurrection life. In verse 10: "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more"again lesser to the greater, "now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by His life."
Now if I ask you the question, "Are you saved?" how would you answer? There is the famous story of B. F. Westcott, the great Greek scholar, who was attending an evangelistic rally one night when someone, unaware of who he was, asked if he was saved, and he answered: I have been saved, I am being saved and I will be saved. So He Who began in you a good work will complete it on the day of Christ.
It is at this vantage point that James 2 makes sense. Especially James, when he says "Can this faith save him," is referring to eschatological salvation. But even so, the faith which justifies is the faith which works well. James 1:12 says virtually the same thing. "Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him." Now that is saying that there is a precondition to receiving the crown of life (we are talking about eternal life, eschatological life), and that is enduring trial. Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter chapter 1.
Paul says the same thing in Romans 8:17that we will be glorified with Christ provided we suffer with him first. Romans 10 says "If you profess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord you will be saved"eschatologically. And so there are certain preconditions to being saved on the last day. That is not works in the pejorative sense, that is simply the requirement of God of those who live in a covenant relationship, and whose covenant faithfulness will be vindicated in the last day. No wonder Paul says again in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that we are going to stand before Christ's judgment seat, and everyone is going to be repaid for the things that are done. Some lives are good as a whole, other lives are worthless as a whole, and judgment is pronounced on that basis.
This has been a real bone of contention for some and I understand why because it is very non-traditional in terms of our assessment of second-temple Judaism. It is the so-called new perspective on Paul. That is a phrase that was coined by Professor Dunn in an article about fifteen years ago. It is a new perspective in the sense that what Dunn has done is to build upon Sander's understanding of Judaism.
Ed Sanders drew the conclusion that Judaism was not the religion that works righteousness, whereby people were trying to merit salvation and establish a claim on God. Rather he said what characterized the Judaism of the period was what he calls covenantal nomismcovenantal meaning the covenant, nomism meaning keeping the law. Now I would distinguish nomism from legalism, because legalism has the connotation of earning salvation. So Sanders said that Jews of that period kept the law not to save themselves, but rather in response to the grace of God in the covenant. Now Jewish scholars have believed that for a long time, and have voiced objections to Christian scholars who have misinterpreted their literature.
So Dunn really agrees with Sanders that first of all, you get in the covenant, and then you stay in it. In the case of the Jew, he is born into the covenant and he stays in it by perseverance. That is true on the one side, but on the other side you have to take into account the fierce nationalism that grew up during the Maccabean period. In a sense Sanders may let Judaism off a little bit too lightly. In propounding this view I am certainly not trying to give him a free ride but saying let us criticize them where they ought to be criticized and be historically fair.
So this mentality of zeal for the law grew up, because the nation was being subjugated by pagans, the Syrians in particular, trying to impose the Greek way of life. Antiochus Epiphanes tried to obliterate every vestige of Jewish particularism, and then the Maccabees revolted against that and fought the war of independence and cleansed the Temple.
The priest who began this war was a man named Mattathias, the father of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers. On one occasion there was a Jew who came forward in a little town of Modein to offer an illicit sacrifice. When Mattathias saw that he got his sword and he killed the man, according to Deuteronomy 13: the idolaters were to be put to death. He said, "Let everyone who is zealous for the law and for the covenant come after me." And they did. Those who were zealous for the law rallied around him and they fought the war and won.
From that time onward, zeal for the law characterized the Judaism of that period. Indeed, covenantal nomism is keeping the law in response to the covenant. But they took it a step further, in dealing ruthlessly with anyone who violated any of the particulars of that covenant.
Now all of that goes to inform us as to what the phrase, "the works of the law" means. Again in traditional Lutheran terms it is taken to mean earning salvation. That is a broad principle. What really counts is not so much the law as the works. Any work you might perform is a work of the law because you are trying to save yourself. But again in that context it rather means adherence to the Torah as a good, faithful, covenant-keeping Jew.
So when Paul says that we are not justified by works of the law he is saying that being Jewish, being zealous for the law has nothing to do with it. Maintaining Israel's distinctiveness has nothing to do with justification, because it is sola fide. It is by faith and faith alone in the Christ who has removed the law. That is why Paul can say on the one hand that we are not justified by works of the law, but then on the other hand can say that we must produce the fruit that accompanies perseverance ("works").
Paul writes in the context of apocalyptic Judaism, which said that if the people of God will remain faithful in this life, God will vindicate them in the final judgment. He will destroy their enemies; he will make all things new, if they will just be faithful and loyal.
Paul comes along and says first of all, that one doesn't have to wait until the end of the age to be justified because that has already happened at the cross of Christ and in His resurrection. Secondly, he says that being Jewish has nothing to do with it. This all applies to the religious person who attempts to perform his religion believing that it provides a kind of safety zone. As long as he is loyal to the religion, God will accept him in the last day. Now in that regard, the Judaism of this period and Roman Catholicism are very much alike. Professor Dunn says in one of his sermons that when Paul came to Christ he left religion, and that is precisely right. It is not religion, it is not tradition, it is not zeal, but rather it is only Christ and what we call that personal relationship with Christ as Saviour.
Now it has been intimated that really both of these things go together and you can't have the one without the other. That if you don't have the "new view" that you cannot arrive at conclusions about justification that I and others have arrived at. However, when I was writing the original articles for the Westminster Journal, Moses Silva, then the editor of the journal, advised me not to raise the point about covenantal nomism because he didn't think that the thesis on justification rested on that at all. And I think he is right. I think that it is complimented by it, it is helped by it, but it doesn't rest on it by any stretch of the imagination. The two things are not necessarily married to each other.
|Dr. Fountain||What would you say to somebody on their death bed who has five minutes to live?|
|Dr. Garlington||Just say to them what Paul said to the Philippian jailer. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."|
|Dr. Fountain||What is the relationship between what happens at conversion and what happens to a person in their perseverance?|
|Dr. Garlington||Well, the faith wherein we persevere is implanted at conversion. Faith is the gift of God and therefore the whole Christian walk, which is a walk of faith, is the gift of God. So I think it is just the impartation of that faith.|
|Dr. Fountain||So could you say the perseverance is a gift?|
|Dr. Garlington||Oh, yes, absolutely. Reformed theology has always made the distinction between the perseverance of the saints, which is what we do, and the preservation of the saints, which is what God does. The two sides are of the same coin: you see it from the divine point of view and the human point of view. It is not perseverance versus preservation but both/and.|
|Question about the Westminster Catechism|
|Dr. Garlington||Certainly when it comes to a phrase like
"works of the law", I for one would take the
newer rather than the older understanding, but not when
it comes to the basic heart of things. In the paper I did
for FRPS I began by quoting the confession and the
seminary statement of faith about the imputation of
Christ's righteousness. As I view things I am not trying
to contradict what is in a document like that but rather
taking it at that point and then building on it and doing
further exploration. And if you were to ask under what
rubric should all of this go, I could say, not so much
justification as perseverance, because we are talking
about the nature of saving faith. Saving faith
is persevering faith.
Protestant theology has not traditionally seen justification in terms of the two states, the already and the not yet, but I think there is something of a growing consensus, maybe a small one at this point. W. J. Dumbrell in the Reformed Theological Review wrote an article that he calls "Justification in Paul: a Covenantal Perspective," and he has come to the same conclusions about this. Scott Hafemann is very much of the same view. John Armstrong has done an article distilling much of what I have said. I understand that John Piper is saying things to the same effect. And Tom Wright certainly.
|Rev. Wiebe||So you are saying that someone apostatizes because their faith was not genuine.|
|Dr. Garlington||Yes, because their faith was not a persevering faith. That is right.|
|Rev. Wiebe||Is this what is being referred to in Hebrews 6?|
|Dr. Garlington||Yes. I would say that you have to allow for something like Hebrews 6 because the apostate has tasted the powers of the age to come and the heavenly gift. That is more than simply professed faith, because he actually experienced somethingthat is the language of experience. Tasting the powers of the age to come, but even though he tasted he stopped believing anyway. John Owen on apostasy makes the point that the problem with the apostate is that the apostate has never really seen the glory of Christ. Well, I would say that in point of fact he has but he has fallen away anyway. That is what increases his responsibility.|
|Dr. MacLeod||Is it fair to say that then although we are comfortable with a public declaration of reprobation at the end eschatologically, what you are saying is basically that there is going to be a public declaration in terms of the elect and of their simply following through.|
|Dr. Garlington||That is right. Dr. Adams said something very helpful several months ago: he said that the final judgment is not exploratory, but rather declaratory. In other words, all the facts are in. It is simply a declaration of the facts as they have been throughout the whole of history. I think he is quite right on that point, and Brian Allison puts it helpfully too. He says that the final justification is the confirmation of the one that has already taken place. When you view that in terms of an already and not yet, you can say that the already guarantees the not yet, and the not yet compliments the already. And that is all it comes down to.|
|Tom Murphy||In pastoral work sometimes we look out and see people warming our pews week after week. I think that in our churches, if we see someone who has come to our church for thirty years and only comes for an hour or so Sunday mornings, it somehow confirms the fact that it takes a long time for proof to grow. What I believe your position is pointing out quite clearly is this idea that if they are not showing proof, if there is no maintenance or desire to pursue anything of Christ, then they are not really walking in faith.|
|Dr. Garlington||Absolutely it does. It certainly has a very practical bearing on this whole lordship controversy. How the idea could have arisen that we could have Christ as Saviour and not Lord I will never know, because we bring forth fruit with perseverancethe good and the noble heart. Of course made that way by the grace of God, but still it is that. And that is the good soil.|
|Francis Williams||How does this relate to backsliding?|
|Dr. Garlington||Well, I think we make a distinction between backsliding and apostasy. The backslider is the one who comes back after a while.|
|Francis Williams||Would John 15 be an example of this?|
|Dr. Garlington||That is precisely right. John 15 really follows upon the apostasy of Judas and it is, of course, an excellent example of what we are talking about, because we must abide in Christ, the vine. If we don't abide in Him then the Father comes along and prunes us.|
|Doug Adams||The people who have a problem with your position are at the place you referred to earlier, where they are standing on the shore of the reformers. They are not understanding the covenant and how the law functions within the covenant. I think without addressing that, without coming to grips with that, they have missed a huge chunk of the discussion, and they are making some presumptions based on the old view.|
|Dr. Garlington||That is right.|
|Doug Adams||That is why the issue is so large?|
|Dr. Garlington||I think that some view it as a departure in the sense that I seem to be saying that you have to perform so many works before you can be saved in the last days; as though we are creating a system of earning something. It is not that at all, but rather it is only perseverance. If works figure into it, which they do, they are the works of the covenant, the works of covenant loyalty. It is loyalty which we stress and that is the matrix of everything.|
|Doug Adams||It seems to make more sense to me nowthe idea of Jesus preaching that if you do not forgive others as the way I have forgiven you, or if you do not confess me before others my Father will not confess you.|
|Dr. Garlington||There are certain preconditions from that point of view, and again it is not earning anything, but rather it is the matrix of faith which gives birth to attitudes like that. It is interesting that when Luther read the sermon on the Mount he drew the conclusion that the purpose of it was to drive us to despair, and therefore to drive us to Christ. We read the sermon on the Mount, about murder and adultery being in the heart, and, well, who can do that? So it must be that I see my own guilt and therefore I flee to Christ. It is right that we flee to Christ because we see our guilt, but at the end of the sermon on the Mount, Jesus says explicitly, "If you don't do these things you are foolish and if you do them you are wise." So there is the stress on doing. Luther, for all of his excellent insight at that point, was reading with a jaundiced eye. Someone suggested to me after that FRPS meeting in 1997 that the teaching of Jesus is very works-oriented. And it is from a certain point of view. It all presupposes the grace of the kingdom, but it is still oriented in the direction of obedience.|
|Doug Adams||What about a chapter like Hebrews 6. Where does it fit in your argument?|
|Dr. Garlington||The apostate of Hebrews 6 is the one who does not exercise the obedience of faith. He doesn't continue to believe and to persevere. So that would just be the opposite side of the obedience of faithit turns out to be the disobedience of unbelief. Then again the writer in chapter 3 parallels disbelief and disobedience in terms of the original declaration.|
|Francis Williams||People have criticized you for using extra-biblical sources, rather than the Reformation principle of Scripture alone.|
|Dr. Garlington||Yes. You know that they pressed the point of Sola Scriptura. And we are not by any stretch of the imagination trying to jettison that principle. Sola Scriptura, or the sufficiency of Scripture, means that it alone is the rule for faith in practice. But second-temple sources are a hermeneutical tool for getting to what that word is saying. In the case of the works of the law, whether you agree or disagree with the interpretation, you still have to weigh that phrase in the light of other phrases in Jewish documents, especially in the Dead Sea Scrolls. If it means a certain thing there then it may very well mean the same thing in Paul. Certainly I am not putting it on a par with Scripture, I am just using it as a hermeneutical tool.|
|Doug Adams||The works that are being judged at the end, are the works that we were being faithful to and working out by the grace of God. Correct? So in one sense that is how the judgment process works at the end.|
|Dr. Garlington||Well, you said the judgment is the consummation of that purpose of God to create us. We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Now "walk," by the way, is another perseverance term, and so when it says that Enoch walked with God, the stress is really on the fact that he persevered in his faith in the true God. Unlike everyone else he didn't capitulate to the idols. So we walk in them, we persevere in them, and conduct ourselves accordingly. The end judgment then is just the declaration. It is the pronouncement to the whole of created reality that we have been in Christ and that we were created beforehand with a view to good works.|
|Dr. Fountain||N. T. Wright made comments that suggested that Romans is not much about individual salvation but national salvation. Would you agree with that?|
|Dr. Garlington||National salvation for whom?|
|Dr. Fountain||For the Jewish nation.|
|Dr. Garlington||If that is the way he actually states it, I wouldn't want to put it that way. I think that there is a reconstitution of Israel that takes place in terms of faith in Christ, so that the elect among Israel and the elect among the Gentiles constitute the new one man in place of the two old ones. He is certainly right that there is a corporate dimension of everything that we tend to miss in our tradition, but at the same time it is also individual. You don't want to go too far in one direction or the other.|
|Dr. Fountain||Quote: "It is a measure of how far the church has travelled from Paul's vision that Romans is often being read as a book about individual salvation rather than a treatise on the nature of the people of God."|
|Dr. Garlington||Okay, you said national salvation. If that is what he says, yes, I largely agree with it. Now, it is individual. It has to be, because he reminds them of their baptism and tells them to yield their members to righteousness. So obviously the individual is there, but I think indeed we have missed the corporate dimension of the salvation history that Paul propounds in Romans. He is trying to address the balance. Some would say he has gone too far in that direction and maybe he has, but he was certainly right in principle.|
|Doug Adams||In other words, when we come to the passage in Galatians 3:13, the comment was made that Christ redeeming us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us refers to the Jewish people only.|
|Dr. Garlington||No, I wouldn't want to affirm that. Now Paul in Galatians does sometimes make a distinction between "you" and "us", because he can speak of the "us" as being Jewish believers who know that justification is not by the law, but at the same time in principle I think that it would have to apply to everyone. But even if it is restricted to Israel I don't think that he would want to deny that it has some application to the Gentiles as well; it just perhaps means in the first instance that Israel bore the curse for apostasy from the law. But I would have to read that in context.|
|Doug Adams||Some have challenged your position on isolated quotes, and I think you have probably seen some of them. Particularly, a comment was made that you really don't believe in a traditional view of imputation because one of your quotes says something to the effect that a Christian does not appropriate the righteousness of Christ by faith, but he is taken up into it. Could you explain that?|
|Dr. Garlington||Well, traditionally the stress has been placed only on the imputationonly the forensic, the transactional factorand I am trying to say that what happens at the point of justification is that we enter into a covenant relationship. When we live the life of the covenant then we are righteous people. Now again, all of that is predicated on faith which is always prior. I grant you that there are places here and there that I would rephrase, especially in my conclusions.|
|Doug Adams||So what then is the grounds of our justification? Your view of the grounds of our justification is a real concern of some of the opponents. Is it the obedience of Christ solely, fully forensic, fully imputation or is there an ethical element that is ours? So we are justified by Christ's work, plus our own covenantal faithfulness.|
|Dr. Garlington||In the first coming to Christ, the initial faith, obviously if I am an unbeliever I don't have any works to bring to Christ. I am not saying that at all. I am saying that God is at work in you to will and to do of His own good pleasure. That He works everything in us. That if we persevere to the end and bear fruit with perseveranceLuke 8:15we do it solely by grace. It is not a matter of bringing something to the table and saying, "Lord, you have done ninety-five percent and here is my five percent, and we will combine our resources." Again, you have to distinguish between the already and the not yet. Truly, nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling, and that is true from beginning to end. But at the same time He is working something in us and through us, fruit with perseverance.|
|Doug Adams||I guess part of the concern is that historically justification has been cast into this past context. You know, what we receive when we come to Christ, and there have been various attempts to be very careful to say that it is not on the grounds of sanctification. Even if it is a righteousness Christ is performing in me, that isn't the basis for our salvation. Our basis of salvation is Christ's righteousness alone.|
|Doug Adams||The accusation has been made that Dr. Garlington is right back into Catholicism.|
|Dr. Garlington||Yes. I have heard that somewhere before.|
|Doug Adams||They say that you confuse justification and sanctification and that is where a lot of this concerns them.|
|Dr. Garlington||I don't think there are any materials readily at hand for drawing that conclusion. I think that is a quantum leap. Now the basis of it is union with ChristHis righteousness becoming ours. And as far as the Christian life is concerned, we live out of the righteousness that justified us in the first place. Now, when it comes to the precise relationship between justification and sanctification, there is grounds for debate at that point. When you consider that in the NT, the terms justified "dikaiao" and sanctify "hagiazo" both dominantly refer to conversion, that in itself is telling. What I did in that regard was build on John Murray's article on definitive sanctification.|
|Doug Adams||Where would I find that?|
|Dr. Garlington||Volume 2 of the collected writings. He is the one who made that point and I just took it up from him: that sanctification normally in the New Testament refers to conversiondefinitive sanctification. Now in terms of our theology, we can distinguish between the two, and if you have an ordo salutis then you must distinguish the two because they refer to two different entities and events. If you are using more of a historia salutis, then there is not necessarily the kind of hard and fast division between the two that the ordo salutis insist on. So it depends on your paradigm at that pointif you are going through a paradigm shift, you see you come out with a somewhat different conclusion. Part of the problem is that we are working on different paradigms.|