Saturday, October 15, 2011

Justification is Not by Faith Alone (Romans 4 + James 2) and is Ongoing, as Seen in Abraham's Multiple Justifications


[the following is a large portion of the longer paper, Dialogue with Lutheran Nathan Rinne, Regarding My Critiques of Lutheran Theologian Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), Part Three: Soteriology and Miscellany; just a little bit of additional material has been added. All Bible passages are from RSV]


Catholics believe in Jesus Christ and His all-sufficient saving work on the cross (ours to receive by Grace Alone), just as Protestants do. We only deny an extreme Faith Alone position (which does not deny Grace Alone, since they are distinct).

St. Paul opposes grace and/or faith to works in Scripture, only in a particular sense: the "works" of Jewish ritualism by which the Jews gained their unique identity (e.g., circumcision). This is the crux of the new perspective on Paul, by Protestant scholars like James D. G. Dunn, E. P. Sanders, and N. T. Wright.  The Wikipedia article on the movement gives a description of the central motif:


Paul's letters contain a substantial amount of criticism of "works of the law". The radical difference in these two interpretations of what Paul meant by "works of the law" is the most consistent distinguishing feature between the two perspectives. The old perspective interprets this phrase as referring to human effort to do good works in order to meet God's standards (Works Righteousness). In this view, Paul is arguing against the idea that humans can merit salvation from God by their good works (note the New Perspective agrees that we cannot merit salvation- the issue is what exactly Paul is addressing).

By contrast, new perspective scholars see Paul as talking about "badges of covenant membership" or criticizing Gentile believers who had begun to rely on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship.

The Apostle Paul doesn't oppose grace, faith, and works, and in fact, constantly puts them together, in harmony, as I have shown, with 50 of his passages and color-coding, to make it easy to spot each conceptual category. A few examples:

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

Grace and works are for Paul, quite hand-in-hand, just as faith and works are. The new perspective on Paul "gets" this. I'm glad to see it. We Catholics have maintained something like this for 2000 years, and have refused to dichotomize grace, works, and faith. We only pit grace against works insofar as we deny (with Protestants) Pelagianism: man cannot save himself. Trent is very clear on that. We don't teach works-salvation (we vigorously deny it), despite what the Lutheran confessions, Calvin, etc. wrongly (and frequently) assert about us.

Scripture doesn't teach faith alone at all; thus the fathers do not, either. In fact, the only time the phrase appears in the Bible, it is expressly denied:


James 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Paul states:

Romans 3:28 For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. (cf. 3:20; 3:24: "justified by his grace as a gift")

But saying "justified by faith" is different from saying  "justified by faith alone". The "works of the law" he refers to here are not all works, but things like circumcision. In other words, we are saved apart from Jewish rituals required under Mosaic Law. Paul makes clear that this is what he has in mind, in referencing circumcision in 3:1, asking rhetorically, "Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all" (3:9), multiple references to "the law" (3:19-21, 28, 31), and the following statement:

Romans 3:29-30 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, [30] since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.

Paul is not against all "works" per se; he tied them directly to salvation, after all, in the previous chapter:

Romans 2:6-8 For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.(cf. 2:13: "the doers of the law who will be justified")

* * *

Romans 4:5 And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

The Catholic interpretation is similar in many ways to the Lutheran; different in some other ways. Here is what the Navarre Commentary states about this passage:

The act of faith is the first step towards obtaining justification (= salvation). The Magisterium of the Church teaches that, usually, those who are making their way towards faith predispose themselves in this sense: moved and helped by divine grace they freely direct themselves towards God because they believe in the truth of Revelation and, above all, believe that God, in his grace, justifies the sinner “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). This first act of faith moves the person to recognize and repent of his sins; to put his trust in God’s mercy and to love him above all things; and to desire the sacraments and resolve to live a holy life (cf. Council of Trent, De iustificatione, chap. 6). God reckons this faith “as righteousness,” that is to say, as something which deserves to be rewarded. It is not, therefore, good works that lead to justification; rather, justification renders works good and meritorious of eternal life. Faith opens up for us new perspectives. [bolding my own]

Paul uses the example of Abraham in Romans 4, in emphasizing faith, over against the Jewish works of circumcision as a supposed means of faith and justification (hence, he mentions circumcision in 4:9-12, and salvation to the Gentiles as well as Jews in 4:13-18).

Regular contributor to my blog, "Adomnan" offered some very helpful commentary on Romans 4:5:

. . . "the one who does not work but believes -- I would translate "believes" rather than "trusts" here -- him who justifies the ungodly" is not a generalization about all who believe, but refers specifically to Abraham. Paul sees Abraham at this point as typical of all Gentiles who believe, or perhaps as their exemplar or "father." However, Abraham is the sole person being spoken of.
[Dave's note: "trusts" in RSV for Romans 4:5 is pisteuo (Strong's word #4100),  which is translated in the KJV "believe" or "believer" (1) or "believing" (1) 238 times out of  246 total appearances, or 97% of the time ("trust" also a few times) ]
When Paul says that Abraham "does not work," he isn't saying that Abraham has not done good works. In fact, Abraham had been justified since he responded to God's self-revelation in Ur and had done many good works worthy of being reckoned as righteous. Romans 4:5 is describing but one instance of a good work (an act of faith) that was reckoned as righteous.

In context, "does not work" means "is not doing the works of the Law:" that is, Abraham has not yet been circumcised and is still a Gentile. He does not do works of Jewish Law, works of Torah.

In Greek the phrase "the one who does not work" could be translated -- clumsily -- as "the non-working one," non-working not in the sense of not doing good works but in the sense of not doing works of Torah. Paul's use of the definite pronoun suggests he has a definite person in mind (Abraham).

In the second part, "believes on him who justifies the ungodly," the word "ungodly," in context, does not mean wicked. Abraham was not wicked at this stage in his life. He was already justified. It means "Gentile." "Ungodly" in Greek is asebes, a word that refers to the sphere of religious observance, and not to evil in a wider moral sense. Essentially, it means "non-observant" of the Jewish Law, or "impious" from the point of view of the Jewish Law (which would be the point of view of the Judaizers). We have no adequate word to render this concept in modern English, but "Gentile" comes closest.

Paul is saying that someone -- Abraham in this case -- could be "impious" from the point of view of the Jewish Law (i.e., a Gentile), but righteous from the point of view of God. "Justifies the ungodly" thus amounts to "regards the Gentile Abraham as righteous."

In sum, Paul is saying that God reckoned righteousness to Abraham (not for the first time!) while he was still a Gentile. And this is the same point that Paul makes throughout Romans 3 and 4; i.e., Gentiles don't have to become Jews to be judged righteous by God. They only have to respond to God's revelation with faith, as Abraham did while still as Gentile.

Or, to paraphrase all of Romans 4:5: "And to Abraham before he had done any works of Torah but still believed in Him who regards the Gentile as righteous, his belief was credited as an act of righteousness."

Abraham's justification is also discussed in James 2, and there it is explicitly tied in with works, thus providing a perfect complementary (very "Catholic") balance with Romans 4:

James 2:20-26 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, [23] and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. [24] You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. [25] And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? [26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

This is a wonderful cross-reference to Romans 4 in another respect: both cite the same Old Testament passage (Gen 15:6: seen in Rom 4:3 and James 2:23; also Gal 3:6). James, however, gives an explicit interpretation of the Old Testament passage, by stating, "and the scripture was fulfilled which says, . . ." (2:23). The previous three verses were all about justification, faith, and works, all tied in together, and this is what James says "fulfilled" Genesis 15:6. The next verse then condemns distinctive Protestant and Lutheran soteriology by disagreeing the notion of "faith alone" in the clearest way imaginable.

Scripture has to be interpreted as a harmonious whole. We Catholics can easily do that with these two passages: Roman 4 shows that the specific works of the Law that Jews lived by were not absolutely necessary for salvation, and that Abraham's faith was the key, while James 2 is discussing the organic connection between faith and works (in a general sense, using the willingness to sacrifice Issac as an example), thus showing how "faith alone" is a meaningless and unscriptural concept: faith can never be totally separated from works, except in initial justification, since (in Catholic teaching as well as Protestant) no work we do can bring us initially to justification: that is all God's grace.

James 2 is usually applied by Protestants to sanctification, but that is not what the passage says. It mentions "justified" (dikaioo: Strong's word #1344) three times (2:21, 24-25): the same Greek word used in Romans 4:2, as well as 2:13; 3:20, 24, 28; 5:1, 9; 8:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 2:16-17; 3:11, 24; 5:4; and Titus 3:7. If James actually meant sanctification, on the other hand, he could have used one of two Greek words ( hagiazo / hagiasmos: Strong's #37-38) that appear (together) 38 times in the New Testament (the majority of times by Paul himself).

Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin offers some great commentary about Abraham, and the multiple instances of his justification, as seen in these passages and others in Genesis:

But however attractive the single, once-for-all view of justification may be to some, there are serious exegetical considerations weighing against it. This may be seen by looking at how the New Testament handles the story of Abraham.
One of the classic Old Testament texts on justification is Genesis 15:6. This verse, which figures prominently in Paul's discussion of justification in Romans and Galatians, states that when God gave the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky (Gen. 15:5, cf. Rom. 4:18-22) Abraham "believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom. 4:3). This passage clearly teaches us that Abraham was justified at the time he believed the promise concerning the number of his descendants.

Now, if justification is a once-for-all event, rather than a process, then that means that Abraham could not receive justification either before or after Genesis 15:6. However, Scripture indicates that he did both. First, the book of Hebrews tells us that "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, not knowing where he was going." (Hebrews 11:8) Every Protestant will passionately agree that the subject of Hebrews 11 is saving faith—the kind that pleases God and wins his approval (Heb. 11:2, 6)—so we know that Abraham had saving faith according to Hebrews 11.

But when did he have this faith? The passage tells us: Abraham had it "when he was called to go out to the place he would afterward receive." The problem for the once-for-all view of justification is that the call of Abraham to leave Haran is recorded in Genesis 12:1-4—three chapters before he is justified in 15:6. We therefore know that Abraham was justified well before (in fact, years before) he was justified in Gen. 15:6.

But if Abraham had saving faith back in Genesis 12, then he was justified back in Genesis 12. Yet Paul clearly tells us that he was also justified in Genesis 15. So justification must be more than just a once-for-all event.
But just as Abraham received justification before Genesis 15:6, he also received it afterwards, for the book of James tells us, "Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God." (James 2:21-23)

James thus tells us "[w]as not our ancestor Abraham justified ... when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?" In this instance, the faith which he had displayed in the initial promise of descendants was fulfilled in his actions (see also Heb. 11:17-19), thus bringing to fruition the statement of Genesis 15:6 that he believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Abraham therefore received justification—that is, a fuller fruition of justification—when he offered Isaac. The problem for the once-for-all view is that the offering of Isaac is recorded in Gen. 22:1-18—seven chapters after Gen. 15:6. Therefore, just as Abraham was justified before 15:6 when he left Haran for the promised land, so he was also justified again when he offered Isaac after 15:6.

Therefore, we see that Abraham was justified on at least three different occasions: he was justified in Genesis 12, when he first left Haran and went to the promised land; he was justified in Genesis 15, when he believed the promise concerning his descendants; and he was justified in Genesis 22, when he offered his first promised descendant on the altar.

As a result, justification must be seen, not as a once-for-all event, but as a process which continues throughout the believer's life.

[Footnote: Protestants often object to this understanding of James 2, claiming that in that passage Abraham was said to be justified before men rather than before God. There are abundant exegetical reasons why this is not the case. Abraham was justified before God by offering Isaac, as will be shown in our chapter on progressive justification. But once the Protestant recognizes that the Bible teaches in Hebrews 11:8 that Abraham was already justified before he was justified in Genesis 15:6, there is not nearly so much motive to try to twist James 2:21-23 into meaning something else. Hebrews 11:8 already showed that justification is a process, and James 2:21-23 merely confirms that fact.]

(Salvation Past, Present, and Future; a somewhat expanded printed version of this argument occurs in his book, The Salvation Controversy [San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2001], 19-21)

As for Romans 7 (another common Protestant prooftext for their view of justification): the human difficulties with sin described there find their solution in the redemption through Jesus that Paul describes in Romans 8: one of the most fabulous chapters in the Bible. And at the climax of that chapter Paul makes reference to necessary works:

Romans 8:16-17 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

We have to be willing to undergo voluntary suffering in order to receive this justification and salvation, which is a work. It's not doing nothing whatsoever besides accepting the free gift; otherwise all the words after "provided" wouldn't be there, because they make no sense: talking about doing something when it is a completely free gift. Other passages in the chapter imply works as well: "walk not according to the flesh" (8:4), "those who live according to the Spirit" (8:5), and "if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live" (8:13). Being an heir of Christ and glorification is conditional upon the suffering ("provided we suffer . . ."); therefore it is not faith alone; it is tied directly to a work (of sorts) and sanctification.

This is all in accord with judgment passages. I found 50. All of them without exception discuss works as the criterion for eternal life and salvation, while faith alone is never mentioned. Faith occurs a few times, but always in conjunction with works.


Justification is described in the Bible as having a past (Rom 5:1-2, 1 Cor 6:11), present (Rom 5:9; Phil 2:12), and future orientation (Rom 2:13; 3:20; Gal 5:5). Protestants generally contend that it is "a one-time event". We say it is not a one-time event because it is multiple and perpetual. If Scripture refers to it in three tenses, then multiple occurrence is the most plausible interpretation.


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230 comments:

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Adomnan said...

Nathan, citing me: 4) You say: “I know that the Jewish [law] also contained positive moral commands, such as helping widows and orphans and loving your neighbor. However, Paul would certainly not be telling the Galatians that they should be wary of the Law because it would require to them to continue to love their neighbors to avoid a curse!”

Nathan: Why not?

Adomnan: Why not? Because we're talking about Paul's teaching here, not Luther's. That's why not.

It was Luther who neurotically feared God's hostility and sought to find a way to make Him merciful. Paul knew that God was merciful and a friend to humanity.

Moreover, Paul never thought in terms of escaping the consequences of sin. He only thought in terms of escaping sin, of ceasing to be sinful, of overcoming the separation from God that is, unfortunately, all too common among human beings. (This problem of a human nature that is forgetful of, or separate from, God is what is called "original sin.") The problem for Paul is not how a sinner who remains a sinner obtains mercy from God ("simul justus et peccator"), but how a human being, separated from God, reestablishes a bond with Him. And sin is nothing other than this separation itself. This is what Paul means by "a new creation."

Nathan: If the main purpose of the Law is, as Paul says in Romans 3:20, to reveal sin

Adomnan: This is inaccurate. Paul says that the Law provides full knowledge of sin, but he does not say that this is the Law's "main purpose." If I say that the moon controls tides, for example, you cannot assert that I regard controlling tides as the moon's "main purpose."

For Paul, the Law -- i.e., the Jewish religion -- had a number of purposes.

Nathan: why should it be so amazing that one of the main things the Law shows us is that we could never even dream of meriting what we are supposed to be inheriting (Gal. 3:18 again)?

Adomnan: Because the Law doesn't show this. Certainly Paul never teaches that it shows this.

You use a number of "why can't it be this way?" arguments. But that's besides the point. It isn't "this way" in Paul. It's like asking "why can't the sky be yellow instead of blue?" The answer is, I suppose: Well, maybe the sky could be yellow under other circumstances, but it is in fact blue.

Nathan: (i.e., those who would not inherit all God’s blessings by sheer grace and mercy – by embracing the reconciling Reality behind the Shadows – put themselves under a curse).

Adomnan: Well, that's an interesting speculation, but it has nothing to do with Paul. Paul merely says that wannabe Jews in Galatia who don't keep the whole Law -- i.e., who don't keep all its rites and taboos -- would be under a curse according to the Law (i.e., the Jewish religion) itself. So, he is saying, don't try to become Jewish.

Nathan: Even as God clearly expects us to grow in love and good works and to not do so can play into losing our faith in Him?

Adomnan: God expects us to grow in love and good works so clearly that he is going to justify us on the basis of our works in the end. At least, that's what Paul teaches in Romans 2 and elsewhere. And certainly James teaches this as well.

Adomnan said...

Nathan: I wonder if you think that any Christian needs to follow the law of God as Paul talks about it in Romans 7:25

Adomnan: I don't know why you wonder what my view is about this. I have stated clearly that Christians "need" to follow what Paul calls, in Romans 2, "the righteous requirements of the Law," or in the NIV, "the Law's requirements" ("ta dikaiomata tou nomou" in Greek). However, they do not need to follow the Law understood as the Jewish religion.

Here's the relevant passage from Romans 2:

"25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the[c] written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

"28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God."

To repeat for the nth time: Paul teaches that Christians "need" to follow the righteous requirements of the Law (see the above passage), but they don't have to do "the works of the Law," which are only Jewish rites.

Nathan: though (evidently the same one that “promised life” but was “death” to him [in v. 10]!)

Adomnan: Paul is not speaking of himself here. He is using the word "I" rhetorically. It apparently refers to Gentiles, such as those at Galatia, who are confronted with the demands of the Law, but lack the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill them.

Here's the passage from Romans 7:

9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.

This shows Paul is not talking about himself or about Jews, but about Gentiles. There was never a time when Paul or Jews were "alive apart from the Law."

10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

This is the dilemma of the Gentile who becomes aware of the Law's demands but has not the power to fulfill them (i.e., lacks the grace of baptism). Paul's expresssion here is somewhat strange because, "if I was (already) alive apart from the Law," then why would I need "a commandment that was intended to bring life?" I suppose Paul either means that "I" mistakenly thought I was alive apart from the Law or else that the commandment was intended to keep me alive (bring more life).

11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

This is Paul's theme that a revealed Law can actually make sinfulness graver by turning what was more or less unconsciously sinful into a conscious transgression of a commandment of God. It is part of Paul's effort to "devalue" the Law in his debate with the Judaizers. The Law reveals sin, but as a mere written code, it has no power to eliminate sin. Only a "law" written on the hearts by grace (the Holy Spirit) can do that. Of course, this grace was available to people under the Law, too, and to everyone. It is not a matter of a written code, but of faith and divine power.

None of this, of course, implies that the Law is anything other than the Jewish religion or that "works of the Law" are anything other than Jewish rites.

Adomnan said...

Nathan: – not necessarily “to live” in a strict sense, but because it still is holy, righteous and good – in line with the “right paths” our Shepherd would have us traverse.

Adomnan: The Church can use and has used the righteous requirements of the Jewish Law, reinterpreted in the light of Christ's teachings ("the law of Christ"), as a guide to Christian behavior. That does not mean, however, that Christians are under the Law, are judged by the Law -- that is, by adherence to the Jewish religion -- or are Jews.

Nathan: And if so, just how is this law different from the law mentioned in Gal 3:10-14?

Adomnan: It isn't.

When Paul speaks of the Law, he ordinarily means the Jewish religion. The OT scriptures are called "the Law" sometimes because they were the scriptures of the Jewish religion. Very occasionally, Paul uses the word "law" in another sense, as when he writes of the "law of Christ." It is always evident from the context when he does this, however.

In Romans 7, Paul is talking about the Law as the Jewish religion, as in the following passage: 7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

In Gal 3, Paul also means the Jewish religion when he speaks of the Law.

Nathan: (where Paul, it seems me, is clearly putting “Book of the Law”, “works of the law” and “law” in the same concept group)

Adomnan: I don't know what point you are trying to make here. Of course all these things are "in the same concept group," but they are also all different things. The book of the Law is the scripture of the Jewish religion. The works of the Law are the rites of the Jewish religion. And the Law is the Jewish religion.

Nathan: and Gal. 5:3 (“the whole law” the pro-circumcision group is obligated to keep)?

Adomnan: Keeping the whole Law means carrying out not only its moral precepts, which Paul expects his followers to carry out, but adhering to its rites and taboos, which Paul regards as pointless (for Gentiles, at least).

Nathan: How could this possibly be only rites?

Adomnan: Because rites (and taboos) are the aspects of the "whole Law" that Paul believes the Galatians cannot and should not keep. He expects them to observe the moral precepts.

Nathan: Why could this not be the law Paul is eager to uphold in Rom. 7:25

Adomnan: Because Paul would not warn people in Gal 5 that a curse is incurred by endeavoring to keep what he is eager to uphold in Rom 7 (namely the moral precepts or righteous requirements of the Law).

Nathan: (which seems to connect with Rom. 7:10), or “the Law of Christ”?

Adomnan: "seems to connect with?" Do I have to counter such vague statements? The "law of the Christ" is the not the Law of the phrase "works of the Law." In this latter sense, the Law is the Jewish religion. Plainly the "law of Christ" is not the Jewish religion with its rites and taboos. The "law of Christ" is, in fact, the Christian religion.

Nathan said...

Adomnan,

Just checked in and saw you had posted again. It seems your patience with me (and respect towards me?) has ended.

Do you want to continue the conversation?

+Nathan

Nathan said...

Adomnan,

As I re-read that was terse and could be interpreted as rude. Did not mean it that way - I really want to know if you want to continue discussing.

I'd like to post again, but unless someone wants to hear what I have to say, it might be better to stop...

Thank you for writing all that you did again. I still have not read it, but I look forward to learning from our discussion. I am sure God has much to teach me.

+Nathan

Nathan Rinne said...

Adomnan,

Again, through our discussion, I think I continue to see how my position needs to be clarified… You say that my writing much implies that I do not teach the simple truth, but let us recall that the writings of the Church Fathers who countered heresies were of some length as well! Countering error can be a complicated business! So I don’t think we can say that this proves things one way or the other. Further, there are many aspects of the faith that we only know tacitly before they are forced to become explicit.

I agree that the true reading of the Apostle Paul is single and simple, but I must also understand this primarily to mean that true reading of the Scriptures as a whole, written by God, is single and simple. Paul can’t be made too autonomous. So, Paul may have had his reasons for what he wrote, but his exact reasons did not always need to be exactly the Spirit’s reasons. Would you agree that this is the way that everyone in the Church, prior to the last 150 years or so, saw it happening (i.e. this is the only understanding that accompanies the true rule of faith)? So, for example then, the Gospel writers were not trying to explicate the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, but the Spirit certainly was concerned that there would be sufficient information within those Gospels in order to counter the heresies that came about in the 4th – 6th centuries. In like fashion, when Paul wrote, I concede (we’ve been here before I think) one of his purposes was not to refute the idea that human beings justify themselves by their own efforts. Paul – and the Gospel writers – in general are saying that the problems of the Pharisees (and later the Judaizers) is not that are trying to justify themselves by their own efforts (even as we don’t forget Luke 18), but simply that their righteousness is not the true kind of righteousness, which recognizes and clings to Christ and lives from Christ (inextricably connected to this is the idea that Christianity is the normal fulfillment of the Old Testament faith, which is not according to the covenant of Sinai but is according to the covenant of Abraham, and hence, Christians do not need to adhere to a Jewish Law, or Jewish religion, which is anything but the true one – i.e. one that does not see Christ as the fulfillment of the Law).

...

Nathan Rinne said...

One of the simple points that Paul, in particular, wants to make about this clinging to Christ and living by Christ is that salvation is a *gift* (that is delivered to us via an external Word that transforms us – see I Thes. 2:13 ; regarding hearing and obedience, why must all obedience be considered to be active, i.e. the result of a conscious decision of our will? ; also – it was the Judaizers, not Paul, who saw circumcision as something that was active and not passive…), contrasted directly with the *wages* of sin, which are death (we are all condemned as sinners by the Scriptures – another key theme in Paul). Speaking in broad fashion, we inherit eternal life by grace through faith (and there is no need to add anything else to this formulation….) while we merit eternal death (this is not to say that Paul was unaware of the general problem of human self-righteousness [again, see Luke 18] but that this is not foremost in His mind). However, embedded within Paul, by the power of the Spirit, are the truths needed to counter the heresies *explicitly* based on self-righteousness (before this, such ideas of righteousness would have tended to be more implicit) that would later counter the Church, most fully in Pelagius and later, in medieval scholastic theology. Here the Spirit does not contradict Paul at all, but rather draws forth from the logical implications from his writings and the Scriptures as a whole (especially original sin, the Greek word “erga” used throughout the Gospels do describe general deeds or actions, the undeniable reality of infant faith, etc.) specifically for the purpose of countering error. So, while you would see Augustine and Thomas’s handling of the concepts “works of the law” as being faulty (thereby putting you against the mainstream interpretation of your Church, by the way), for example, I would see their handling of these terms here as being right and proper – the truth heretofore only known tacitly being made explicit by necessity. Further all of this happens through the use of the other Scriptures (Scripture interprets Scripture).

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Nathan Rinne said...

Also, I must say that many of your claims (attacks) in your last response to me I find very disappointing (most at the beginning). I’m sure if you were talking with either Augustine, or Aquinas, who share my views of “works of the law” (as does the Qumran community, as Das points out – the only non-NT occurrence of the phrase), you would be more generous! You state that I see myself as the good guy and you as the bad guy. In general, it is actually most certainly true that my general tack has been to see you as a fellow Christian brother (under great spiritual attack to be sure!) who is quite educated (like some of the “Jews for Jesus”, who do Jewish rites for cultural reasons but to my knowledge are not Jewish “theologically”, insisting that all other Christians must do the same or cease to be Christian!) and from whom I could learn much about where we agree and disagree and why (after all, you believe in Christ alone and grace alone and I assume that you do not think there is any legitimate way to say “I thank God I’m not like other men”, and that you also recognize that in spite of your works, there is also a sense in which you do not give God the honor He is due – i.e. you are only an “unworthy servant”). I mean – given some of the points that you make it is abundantly clear to me that you don’t understand either myself or Luther (for example, when you say, “But this is in fact Luther's interpretation of Paul: The gospel is good news because it tells us that God will not punish us for our sin in contrast to Judaism, which is bad because God puts ‘under a curse’ anyone who sins”), and I’m guessing you would say the same (in spite of my earnest attempts, I assure you, to do so)!

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Nathan Rinne said...

I have quickly read through your last response now, and am very thankful for it. I do think I understand where you are coming from even better now, and given your assumptions about the meaning of the language Paul uses, your system would seem to be rather tight. I do continue to see some problems and have questions though (some of my questions were not answered –not that I expect you to answer all my questions, but they do remain my questions).

I won’t inundate you again at this time though. Let me stick to one issue. One of the problems that I see is with Romans 7….

You say: “He is using the word "I" rhetorically. It apparently refers to Gentiles, such as those at Galatia, who are confronted with the demands of the Law, but lack the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill them.”

Apparently? Not sure? What evidence do you have for this? What follows I hope will make it clear that your view of Romans 7 here is untenable. I hope Augustine would be proud. : )

In the beginning of Romans 7, Paul is speaking to “those who know the law” (could be either Jews or Gentiles) and yet who also “were living in the flesh” – insofar as his address would have been directed towards Jews, it does not sound like he was talking about believing Jews (like Anna, Simeon, Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, etc. – as you say regarding Romans 7: “Of course, this grace was available to people under the Law, too, and to everyone. It is not a matter of a written code, but of faith and divine power”), but rather unbelieving Jews (this would be most of those who, like Paul, did not embrace Jesus, but rather found themselves at odds with, and opposing him, when confronted by Him and His message). Paul tells us that the Law, the written code (the 10 commandments), held us captive in that it aroused our sinful passions, but now, we have died to the Law and been released to “serve in the new way of the Spirit” (Romans 7:1-6). This filling with the Holy Spirit comes with the power of the Gospel so that, certain of our identity in Christ (beginnings of Romans 6), we might not sin (the Law can command but not empower, whereas the Gospel is this power – see Romans 8:8-16). Likewise, when he describes his own experience beginning in Romans 7:7, he talks as if he to had been an unbeliever (which he was!), who when confronted by God’s revelation (coveting), recognized it as holy and righteous and good but, absent the power of God’s Spirit, was not able to live according to it (or even to really want to fight against it?), at least insofar as it demanded not only external but internal conformity (i.e. from a heart of true faith and love). When Paul talks about being “alive apart from the law”, here (Romans 7:9), Romans 6:20 goes hand in hand with it: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were ***free*** in regard to righteousness” (so when you say you think Paul may have meant that he “mistakenly thought I was alive apart from the Law” in Romans 7:9, this is correct – people also falsely think they are free…). And yet, as Paul proceeds, he begins to use the present tense when he talks about his desire to do the Law – even as he is not able to carry it out. Why would he do this if he meant this only to describe his pre-Christian life? At the end of Romans 7, the answer for his failure is not that he has been quenching the Spirit, but that Jesus Christ will deliver this wretched man from this body of death. The fight against sin will not end until our old man is finally eliminated utterly in our own death.

The Law Paul says he was released from earlier he now says he serves with his mind in 7:25 – even as in his flesh he serves the law of sin. Here we think of what he writes at the end of Galatians and Romans 8 about how the believer fights against his flesh, or sinful nature. Like Ovid, the believer recognizes what is right and good, even at the level of internal motivations – but unlike him, they fight against the tendency to ignore this. This all seems pretty clear to me in this chapter.

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Nathan Rinne said...

These then, are some of the reasons why Luther may seem to be fighting against the Law, God’s anger, virtue, moral precepts, obedience, repentance, consequences and punishment for sin, etc., (just like Pelagius viewed Augustine) even though even a cursory reading of his writings and sermons will show that he was interested in persons growing as Christians, or “making people good”. Even very early on in the Reformation, Luther made it clear that the true Christian avoided the idea of escaping punishment – particularly by indulgences – but rather embraced with joy all of the punishment and discipline that God had for them: of course, he also said that the true Christian could have confidence that they were in a state of grace, which of course, is what gave them the strength to embrace all of the punishment/discipline that God had for them. Also, have you seen what he writes at the end of his section on the 10 commandments?: “God threatens to punish all that transgress these commandments. Therefore we should dread His wrath and not act contrary to these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all that keep these commandments. Therefore we should also love and trust in Him, and gladly do [zealously and diligently order our whole life] according to His commandments” (when I talk about justification before men in the presence of God it is so that we can justify ourselves before others who would accuse us of being false by our deeds, even as God justifies us by faith).

Luther would likely go to Romans 5 and 7, among other places, to explain his method: “Now ***the law came in to increase the trespass***, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” and “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment ***might become sinful beyond measure***” (13) Again, when Paul goes on to explain that when “we were in the realm of the flesh”, sin “sprang to life” when “the commandment came”, killing him – i.e. the law actually exacerbated the sin (not just increasing trespass, or awareness of sin) that was within him (Rom 7:4-13, see 5, 8, and 13 in particular) It is the Lutheran contention that this kind of bondage Paul speaks of goes hand in hand with the attempts to justify one’s self that Paul speaks of in Galatians 3: “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse”, for the one who is disturbed by sin in their conscience will try to compensate for it by doing good, ***even if they do not feel compelled to actually fight against internal desires like covetousness*** (obviously, they do not want to appear greedy towards their neighbors on the outside). This is all very serious, because Paul seems to connect observance of the Law with salvation, particularly in Gal. 3:10-14 and Romans 10: quoting “do this and you will live”, which in its original Old Testament context meant the precepts of the Law as well as the “rites and taboos”.

So it is not right that you have Luther and myself pegged as being enemies of God’s law: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/on-childrens-delight-in-rules/ ; http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/dangerous-children-to-the-world-or-to-the-word/ Even if you are right in what you say about Paul’s view, I encourage you to try and better understand us, even as I struggle to understand your views.

Thank you again for the most enlightening exchange Adomnan – let me know if you would like to proceed in this discussion.

Regards and love in Christ,

Nathan Rinne

Adomnan said...

Nathan: Adomnan, just checked in and saw you had posted again. It seems your patience with me (and respect towards me?) has ended.

Adomnan: I have been very busy the past several weeks and have only replied to your posts in the odd free hour I had at my disposal. My replies tended to be caustic (at least at first), because it seemed to me that you were no longer raising interesting questions or really engaging with the material but were merely falling back on a defense and reiteration of standard Lutheran positions, which I consider to be beside the point.

As I said, if you don't fundamentally understand Paul's perspective (which is not that hard to grasp), then it is possible to miscontrue his writings in an infinite variety of ways. It's not clear that it is worthwhile to refute all of these misinterpretations. Once the correct interpretation is understood, the misreadings should evaporate.

It's not so much that my patience with you is wearing out as it is that I am questioning the value of a conversation that is not making progress toward the truth.

Furthermore, I got annoyed when you affected, in my view, too pious a tone, suggesting that the Holy Spirit was on your side. The point of this conversation is not to establish who can sound the most pious, but rather to ascertain who has the best arguments for his position. That is why I avoid claims that God sides with me and why I was caustic in my replies.

Nathan: Do you want to continue the conversation?

Adomnan: In fact, I hadn't finished commenting on your earlier postings. As I said, I've only been posting sporadically, as time and inclination permit.

Nathan: As I re-read that was terse and could be interpreted as rude. Did not mean it that way - I really want to know if you want to continue discussing.

Adomnan: No problem. I was caustic, and so your apparent "rudeness," which wasn't rude at all, was justified.

I may want to continue discussing these issues, but I don't have a lot of time to devote to them. Therefore, I can't promise exhaustive replies.

Nathan: I'd like to post again, but unless someone wants to hear what I have to say, it might be better to stop...

Adomnan: I haven't finished commenting on your previous posts.

Nathan: Thank you for writing all that you did again. I still have not read it, but I look forward to learning from our discussion. I am sure God has much to teach me.

Adomnan: Sure. But it's not really necessary to discuss every detail. We need only establish the broad outlines, and the details fall into place.

Adomnan said...

Nathan: Countering error can be a complicated business! So I don’t think we can say that (the wordiness of my posts) proves things one way or the other....

I agree that the true reading of the Apostle Paul is single and simple...

Adomnan: This is contradictory. If you agree that Paul is simple, then why do you also say that countering error can be a complicated business? You need only explain simply the simple truth and error dissipates like a morning mist before the rising sun.

You often assert, it seems to me, two contradictory positions simultaneously. (I will illustrate this tendency of yours more clearly in my following remarks.) Let your yea be yea and your nay nay.

Nathan: So, Paul may have had his reasons for what he wrote, but his exact reasons did not always need to be exactly the Spirit’s reasons.

Adomnan: I disagree. Paul was inspired because he was an apostle, filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, everything he taught was infallible and inspired. His writings and his every utterance were inspired because he was inspired.

Your statement amounts to asserting that Paul did not understand his own inspired writings, their content and their motivation. This might hold true in the case of a prophet in a trance-like state who is merely speaking words that he "hears." However, Paul's letters are not examples of "automatic writing" and were entirely expressions of his own views and his own mode of expression, inspired only because he, as a person, was inspired. Paul was an author, not a transcriber.

Your approach opens the door to reading into Paul meanings that he never intended. This would obviously make any reading of his letters possible, no matter how remote from his intentions. Paul's text would thus become a blank screen, or a message written in a code without a key, on which anything could be projected.

Nathan: Would you agree that this is the way that everyone in the Church, prior to the last 150 years or so, saw it happening (i.e. this is the only understanding that accompanies the true rule of faith)?

Adomnan: No.

The Church Fathers recognized four levels of meaning in scripture, of which the literal meaning was the first. However, not every sacred writing has all four meanings. It is not appropriate to apply the same method of interpretation to a highly symbolic text like Ezechiel and to a straightforward discussion of specific issues such as we find in Paul's letters.

Adomnan said...

Nathan: So, for example then, the Gospel writers were not trying to explicate the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, but the Spirit certainly was concerned that there would be sufficient information within those Gospels in order to counter the heresies that came about in the 4th – 6th centuries.

Adomnan: The New Testament writers described Jesus Christ as they experienced Him. Given that He was a divine person with two natures (divine and human), they experienced Him as such, and their description of Him was consistent with their experience of Him.

Nathan: In like fashion, when Paul wrote, I concede (we’ve been here before I think) one of his purposes was not to refute the idea that human beings justify themselves by their own efforts.

Adomnan: If you concede this (as you do), then you have just refuted the entire polemic of the Reformers, including Luther, who DID believe that Paul was refuting the idea that human beings justify themselves by their own efforts.

Given that you've conceded the main point, then it is not clear where our fundamental disagreement is. (However, I realize that you go on to contradict yourself and to find a way of asserting after all that Paul was indeed refuting self-justification. You do this with your un-Pauline distinction between passive and active faith and justification and your rejection of "doing" for passive receiving.)

Nathan: Paul – and the Gospel writers – in general are saying that the problems of the Pharisees (and later the Judaizers) is not that are trying to justify themselves by their own efforts (even as we don’t forget Luke 18), but simply that their righteousness is not the true kind of righteousness,

Adomnan: I would concur -- to some extent. Paul is in fact claiming that the death and resurrection of Christ bring a new sort of righteousness that is much superior to the righteousness of the Law. However, I do not agree that he regarded the Law's righteousness as false compared to a "true" righteousness. Rather, he regarded it as limited, ancillary, provisional and finally entirely superseded by the righteousness based on faith.

Nathan: which recognizes and clings to Christ and lives from Christ

Adomnan: Rather than "clinging to Christ," which is a characteristically Lutheran and unbiblical way of putting it, I would say "identifying with Christ" through dying and rising with Him in baptism and feeding on Him in communion. Christ is someone Christians participate in -- "Not I live, but Christ lives in me," Paul said -- not merely cling to as something outside themselves.

Nathan: (inextricably connected to this is the idea that Christianity is the normal fulfillment of the Old Testament faith, which is not according to the covenant of Sinai but is according to the covenant of Abraham, and hence, Christians do not need to adhere to a Jewish Law, or Jewish religion,

Adomnan: I agree.

Nathan: which is anything but the true one – i.e. one that does not see Christ as the fulfillment of the Law).

Adomnan: But the Judaizers did see Christ as the fulfillment of the Law, but not in a way that set aside the Law (for Gentiles), as Paul did. They thought the Sinai covenant remained valid for everyone despite the advent of Christ. Paul did not deny that it might still be valid for Jews in some way, but he relativized it and regarded it as unessential.

Don't forget that, in Romans, Paul admitted that Jewish Christians in Rome continued to practice the Jewish religion, and he had no problem with that. In Acts, he even makes sacrifices in the Temple, as a Jew, after the definitive sacrifice of Christ, which, the Epistles to the Hebrews tells us, makes such sacrifices superfluous.

Adomnan said...

Nathan: regarding hearing and obedience, why must all obedience be considered to be active, i.e. the result of a conscious decision of our will?

Adomnan: Oh, brother. Now, obedience is not "active." Well, if obedience isn't active, then what is?

Perhaps you are suggesting that Christians are obedient automatons? But this isn't biblical. In the Bible, people always freely cooperate with God. In fact, far from being automatons, Christians are even freer as a result of their redemption, which is why Paul describes justification as a liberation from slavery to sin. No, the notion of automatic sanctification is not at all Pauline. (Nor is it Lutheran, I think. It's Calvinistic.)

But his is a red herring. Obedience is always "doing," which is what you claim that the "hearing of faith" (i.e., the obedience of faith) is not. Remember, it is you who originally made the equation between doing and activity and hearing and passivity, a distinction you are now inconsistently abandoning as you seek to posit a passive doing, also called "obedience."

Nathan: (we are all condemned as sinners by the Scriptures – another key theme in Paul).

Adomnan: Actually, no. Paul cites the scriptures ("the Law") to prove that those "under the Law" -- that is, Jews -- are sinners. The fact that Gentiles are generally sinners was conceded by both Paul and the Judaizers and did not have to be established by appeal to the authority of the scriptures.

Nathan: However, embedded within Paul, by the power of the Spirit, are the truths needed to counter the heresies *explicitly* based on self-righteousness (before this, such ideas of righteousness would have tended to be more implicit)

Adomnan: You are admitting here that Paul does not "explicitly" address the issue of self-righteousness, which is to say that he doesn't address it at all. There is certainly no "implicit" discussion of self-justification in Paul. In doing this, you are departing from Luther and the other Reformers who did indeed teach that Paul attacked human efforts at self-justication through their own efforts and merits and that he did so quite explicitly.

More generally, however, there is no way to go from Paul's point that Christians did not have to practice Judaism to be righteous to the quite different belief that good works play no role in justifiation and that Paul somehow implicitly refuted self-justification without intending to or without ever addressing the issue in any way.

Nathan: that would later counter the Church, most fully in Pelagius and later, in medieval scholastic theology.

Adomnan: The Pharisees and Judaizers were not Pelagians, nor did they have anything in common with them. Moreover, medieval scholastic theology was Augustinian to a fault, and St. Augustine was the great opponent of Pelagianism. Thus, the Lutheran insinutation that medieval scholastic theology was Pelagian is balderdash. The fact is that Luther rejected Augustine once he decided that Augustine was Pelagian! ("Once I understood Paul, it was all over with Augustine.")

However, all this Pelagian stuff is beside the point, and it would profitless to discuss it further. For all that, the Law, in Paul, is still the Jewish religion and works of the Law are still Jewish rites and nothing more.

Adomnan said...

I should of course have written "insinuation" in my last post, not "insinutation."

Adomnan said...

Nathan, speaking of me: "who is quite educated (like some of the “Jews for Jesus”, who do Jewish rites for cultural reasons but to my knowledge are not Jewish “theologically”, insisting that all other Christians must do the same or cease to be Christian!)"

Adomnan: Nathan, please don't compare me to fundamentalist dopes like the "Jews for Jesus." I am no sort of fundamentalist and am not comparable to fundamentalists in any way, regardless of how "educated" you think them to be. If you can't see that, I fear that you misunderstand me completely.

To me, an educated fundamentalist is an oxymoron.

Adomnan said...

Nathan, quoting me: You say: “He is using the word "I" rhetorically. It apparently refers to Gentiles, such as those at Galatia, who are confronted with the demands of the Law, but lack the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill them.”

Apparently? Not sure?

Adomnan: Well, okay: sure.

Nathan: What evidence do you have for this?

Adomnan: This is the interpretation of Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., in his commentary on Romans. Fr. Fitzmyer is probably the premier Catholic Pauline scholar. Incidentally, he is not a proponent of the New Perspective, or at least wasn't when he wrote his commentary on Romans.

In any event, Fr. Fitzmyer concludes that the "I" of Romans 7 is a way of saying "a human being" or "someone" and refers in the context to a Gentile who is confronted with the moral demands of the Jewish Law, realizing that the precepts are good but lacking the power to carry them out. Paul goes on to say that, through Christian baptism, such a Gentile receives the Holy Spirit and so can full the moral precepts of the Law.

Fr. Fitzmyer comes to this conclusion by considering the seven or eight -- I don't have his book at my disposal right now -- other historical interpretation made of the "I" of Romans and, by process of elimination, arriving at his interpretation. He also cites other scholars who agree with him, and points out that "I" was sometimes used to mean "human being" in contemporary Greek writings and in the Dead Sea scrolls.

Adomnan said...

The resolution of this hypothetical Gentile's dilemma is described lucidly in Romans 8, and there is nothing that I need to add to it:

8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Adomnan: Naturally, Paul had in mind his own Gentile converts, such as those in Galatia, who were troubled by Judaizers and confronted with the choice of embracing the Jewish Law. As elsewhere, he shows in Romans 7 and 8 that adherence to the Jewish religion is not necessary for righteousness: "For what the Law (i.e., the Jewish religion) was powerless to do,...God did by sending His Son, etc."

I should add that the command not to covet, which Paul uses as an example in Romans 7 is not a "work of the Law," but a "righteous requirement (dikaioma)" of the Law. "Not coveting" cannot be a work because it is a command not to do something, while a work involves doing something.

Nathan: What follows I hope will make it clear that your view of Romans 7 here is untenable. I hope Augustine would be proud. : )

Adomnan: You will not be able to overturn the meaning of the passage as outlined above (pace Augustine).

Adomnan said...

Nathan: Likewise, when he describes his own experience beginning in Romans 7:7, he talks as if he to had been an unbeliever (which he was!), who when confronted by God’s revelation (coveting), recognized it as holy and righteous and good but, absent the power of God’s Spirit, was not able to live according to it (or even to really want to fight against it?), at least insofar as it demanded not only external but internal conformity (i.e. from a heart of true faith and love).

Adomnan: Here's where you go wrong. Paul, as a Jew, was never "apart from the Law." Only Gentiles were apart from the Law. Therefore, although he writes "I," Paul cannot be referring to himself. In fact, as Fr. Fitzmyer points out, "I" could be used in comtemporary usage to refer to a "human being" or "someone," and this is how Paul uses it here. It becomes clear in the course of this passage that the human beings alluded to are Gentiles, such as his converts in Galatia, who are confronted by the moral demands of the Law (probably through the Judaizers).

And no, I am not going to look up examples of "I" being used to mean "human being." As I said, I don't have Fr. Fitzmyer's commentary with me now. You can look it up yourself if you're curious. I'm doing quite enough work on this thread as it is.

Adomnan said...

Nathan: And yet, as Paul proceeds, he begins to use the present tense when he talks about his desire to do the Law – even as he is not able to carry it out. Why would he do this if he meant this only to describe his pre-Christian life?

Adomnan: Once again, Paul is not talking about his own experience. He was speaking of those "apart from the Law," i.e., Gentiles.

In any event, Gentiles can to said to "do the Law," as in Romans 2 (where "doers of the Law" are Gentiles who will be justified by doing the Law) when they do the righteous requirements of the Law. They do not do the "works (rites) of the Law," however. So "doing the Law" means carrying out the moral precepts enshrined in the Jewish religion, even while not being Jewish.

Paul goes on in Romans 8 (which I quoted above) to say that Christians do in fact "carry out" the moral requirements of the Law, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Romans 7, Paul is speaking of a Gentile confronted with the moral commands of the Law before baptism. In Romans 8, he shoes how the baptized Gentile can carry out those commands.

Nathan: The Law Paul says he was released from earlier he now says he serves with his mind in 7:25 – even as in his flesh he serves the law of sin.

Adomnan: To repeat: Paul is not speaking of his own experience here. To me, the interesting thing about Paul's assertion that a Gentile -- once he becomes aware of the Jewish Law and not innately! -- serves it "with his mind" is that this undermines the Calvinistic notion of "total depravity." Paul apparently believes that "the mind" was not depraved by what we call original sin. (But this is a side issue.)

Adomnan said...

Nathan: These then, are some of the reasons why Luther may seem to be fighting against the Law,

Adomnan: The Law is the Jewish religion in Paul. It is not what Luther thought it was. Luther thought that even Gentiles and Christians were "under the Law," at least until they were justified by faith alone. This is false. Gentiles and Christians were never under the Law, unless they happened to have converted from Judaism.

Nathan: God’s anger,

Adomnan: The theme of God's anger or wrath is only evoked by Paul in the context of the Old Testament "Day of Wrath" or Doomsday; that is, in an eschatological context. Paul sees God's eschatological wrath as directed not towards people so much as towards sin, which God will eventually eliminate.

If one ceases to be a sinner, then one does not need to fear this end-time "wrath" of God.

Nathan: virtue, moral precepts, obedience,

Adomnan: Luther believes that people mistakenly think they can justify themselves by their virtue, obedience and following moral precepts. This is not Paul's view. Paul believes that people are justified by obeying moral precepts, as he says, for example, in Romans 2 and frequently elsewhere.

Once again, despite our long conversation, you are conflating "works of the Law" with the "righteous requirements of the Law," two categories that Paul clearly distinguishes. You are merely repeating standard Lutheran teaching, without taking the true reading of Paul into account.

Nathan: repentance, consequences and punishment for sin, etc., (just like Pelagius viewed Augustine)

Adomnan: Wrong again. Pelagius hardly paid attention to Augustine. Some of his followers, like Celestius and Julian of Eclanum, did -- the latter very effectively. In any event, Luther's doctrine was nothing like Augustine's, and Augustine most definitely stated -- and often -- that men merit heaven and were justified by their works, which were merits.

Nathan: though even a cursory reading of his writings and sermons will show that he was interested in persons growing as Christians, or “making people good”.

Adomnan: Yes, but Luther didn't think this "goodness" amounted to anything with God, because it was always vitiated by sin. That's why he insisted that God only justified, or acquitted, men on the basis of their faith or Christ's imputed righteousness or whatever, and not on the basis of their "goodness," which was "filthy rags."

In any case, this is not supposed to be a discussion of Luther's views, but of Paul's. And Paul has nothing in common with Luther.

Once again, you are turning a discussion of Pauline exegesis into a discussion of what you feel more comfortable with: Luther's views.

Adomnan said...

Luther: “God threatens to punish all that transgress these commandments. Therefore we should dread His wrath and not act contrary to these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all that keep these commandments. Therefore we should also love and trust in Him, and gladly do according to His commandments”

Adomnan: This shows that Luther could be inconsistent.

However, he might not have been inconsistent. As you yourself have suggested, Luther's intention here may not be to assert that God will inflict eternal punishment on those who act contrary to His commandments, but that He will punish them in some temporal way, such as visiting them with illness or poverty or other transitory afflictions.

This has nothing to do with Paul's teaching. Paul, as I said, did not focus on divine punirshment for sin, whether eternal or temporal, but sought rather to bring people into union with God so that they would cease to be sinners.

If Luther was not telling his followers that they could escape God's anger through faith, even while remaining essentially sinners (which he thought they could not avoid being), then what was he telling them and how did his teaching differ from that of the Catholic Church? And if he did not interpret Paul's "works of the Law" to be "efforts to justify oneself through works," then what did he think they were? You appear to want to affirm the standard Reformational understanding of these matters while at the same time "sort of" denying them.

Adomnan said...

Nathan: It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment ***might become sinful beyond measure***” (13)

Adomnan: Romans 7:13 says:
"Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful."

What we see from this passage is: Paul entertains no conception here of a natural law or innate awareness of sin in the conscience. He understands the law only as the written code of Judaism, explicitly revealed. Thus, he writes that it through the explicitly revealed Jewish religion (the Law) that "sin is recognized as sin."

Moreover, it is clear that Paul thinks that an explicitly revealed divine law makes sin worse, because it goes from being something that is unconscious and unrecognized to being a conscious transgression of a commandment of God.

None of this implies that the Law is anything other than the Jewish religion, of course. And none of this implies that "works of the Law" are anything other than Jewish rites.

So I don't understand what you are trying to achieve in terms of our discussion by this reliance on Romans 7. Nothing in Romans 7 is in any way inconsistent with my reading of Paul or with the New Perspective. In fact, Romans 7 underscores the fact that the Law, for Paul, is nothing other than the Jewish religion with its written code, which has been my contention all along.

Nathan: It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment ***might become sinful beyond measure***” (13) Again, when Paul goes on to explain that when “we were in the realm of the flesh”, sin “sprang to life” when “the commandment came”, killing him – i.e. the law actually exacerbated the sin (not just increasing trespass, or awareness of sin) that was within him (Rom 7:4-13, see 5, 8, and 13 in particular)

Adomnan: Nathan, the sin IS exacerbated by becoming a "transgression" of a revealed law. That is Paul's point here. So how can you write "the law exacerbated the sin, NOT just increasing trespass or awareness of sin." You are directly contradicting Paul's point!

Got to run.

Adomnan said...

Nathan, take a look at two statements you have posted and explain how they do not contradict each other:

1) Nathan: "when Paul wrote, I concede (we’ve been here before I think) one of his purposes was not to refute the idea that human beings justify themselves by their own efforts."

2) Nathan: "It is the Lutheran contention that this kind of bondage Paul speaks of goes hand in hand with the attempts to justify one’s self that Paul speaks of in Galatians 3: 'all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse', for the one who is disturbed by sin in their conscience will try to compensate for it by doing good"

On the one hand, you "concede" that Paul was NOT refuting the idea that "human beings justify themselves by their own efforts."

On the other hand, you claim that Paul "speaks of" "attempts to justify one's self" in Galatians 3.

Which is it? Was Paul speaking of attempts to justify oneself by one's own works or wasn't he? Your propensity both to affirm and to deny the same assertion is part of the reason this dialogue is foundering. Take one position or the other, not both at once.

I must also note that in remark 2, you once again assume that "works of the Law" refer to "doing good" and "attempts to justify oneself," a definition that you have also denied you hold in the course of our conversation. Of course, as I have shown, "works of the Law" refer only to "rites of the Law," and not to good works in general or human attempts at self-justification.

Adomnan said...

Nathan,

There is one additional issue from your earlier list of questions that I would like to address. You wrote: “Show me a passage where Paul says or implies that Gentiles, Christian or otherwise, are ‘under the Law’. Gal. 4:4-8 ... In any case, I think it is also implied all over the place. First, again notice Rom 2, where it says of Gentiles that “the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness”

Adomnan: This statement in Romans 2 does not refer to all Gentiles, but only to Christian Gentiles, who, because of their possession of the Holy Spirit, have the Law "written on their hearts."

In particular, Paul advances no idea of natural law or an innate law of the conscience in this passage, but only has the specific Jewish Law in mind, that is, the righteous requirements of that Law.

The usual translation of Romans 2:14 is along the lines of the NIV:

14 "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law."

In fact, however, a better translation would be as follows: "When Gentiles, who do not have the Law by birth, do the things required by the Law (i.e., the righteous requirements, not the 'works of the Law'), they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the Law."

Bishop N.T. Wright, a leading proponent of the New Perspective, explains how this is the better translation in an essay in the volume "Paul and the Mosaic Law" edited by James D. G. Dunn:

"The majority of exegetes have taken 'fusei' (my note: by nature or by birth) with what follows,'ta tou nomou poiosin' (my note: they do the things of the Law). These Gentiles 'do by nature the things of the Law.' But the next use of the word (my note: that is, of the word 'fusei'), a mere thirteen verses later, suggests strongly that this is the wrong way to take it. In 2:27 Gentiles are described as 'he ek fuseos akrobustia,' 'that which is by nature uncircumcision.' Here 'nature' refers to what Gentiles are/have, as we say, 'by birth.'"

Bishop Wright concludes from this and other considerations that the "nature" referred to in Romans 2:14 is actually "birth" and that Paul is simply saying that some Gentiles (i.e., those not having the Law by birth, unlike Jews) nevertheless do the things of the Law. Who are these Gentiles who have the Law written on their hearts? We know from Paul's statements elsewheree that they are Gentiles who have become Christians.

Thus, Romans 2:14 provides no foundation for positing a human nature that is aware of the Law in some sense. The Law is only the Jewish Law for Paul, not any natural law or law of right and wrong.

Gentiles are not "under the Law," do not transgress it, and are not judged by it. And Romans 2:14 is fully consistent with these facts.

Adomnan said...

I should note that, in the last post, “Show me a passage where Paul says or implies that Gentiles, Christian or otherwise, are ‘under the Law’" is Nathan quoting me.

Moreover, "fusei" could also be transcribed "phusei" or "physei." In Wright's original essay, the Greek alphabet is used.

Nathan said...

Adomnan,

I just checked back and saw you had posted again, a few weeks ago. I hope to continue the conversation, but that may take a while, as I will be having additional teaching responsibilities in coming weeks.

Best regards - and thank you again for the continual exchange,

Nathan

Nathan Rinne said...

Popping in to say "hi" again - hope to continue this conversation in the future, but have been very busy with things (got a new little boy in the family, which makes 5!)

+Nathan

Adomnan said...

That's great news, Nathan. Congratulations to you and your wife -- and to your other children, who now have a new little brother.

What a blessing it must be to come home to all those little ones.

It's no wonder you don't have a lot of time to spare, though.

infanttheology said...

Adomnan,

I've been reminded of this conversation again a couple times this week. Something I would like to get back into in the future... We'll see.

+Nathan

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