September 16, 2019

Reformation Week (2018): Another Look: God’s Righteousness

Note from CM: This coming Sunday our church, along with others around the world, will commemorate Reformation Sunday. I thought it would be fitting to look at some thoughts about this momentous movement in church history for a few days this week in preparation.

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Another Look: God’s Righteousness

I’m not ashamed of the good news; it’s God’s power, bringing salvation to everyone who believes — to the Jew first, and also, equally, to the Greek. This is because God’s covenant justice is unveiled in it, from faithfulness to faithfulness. As it says in the Bible, “the just shall live by faith.”

• Romans 1:16-17, The Kingdom New Testament

Though the beginning of the Protestant Reformation is traditionally dated October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses upon the door of Wittenberg University, there is another, even more foundational event. Sometime between 1514-1518, Luther had his famous “tower experience.” The monk was studying Romans and trying to understand the phrase in verse 17, “the righteousness of God,” when he came to an understanding of this text that changed his life and ultimately, the world.

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression “the righteousness of God,” because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust.

My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him. Therefore I did not love a just angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven…”

It is necessary to understand that Martin Luther, like all of us, was a product of his times. His initial understanding of “the righteousness of God” was based on the interpretations of the scholastic theologians of the high and late Middle Ages (1100-1500 A.D.), who taught that the righteousness of God was God’s active, personal righteousness or justice by which he punishes the unrighteous sinner. This concept was understood in the context of the burning question of the day: By what merit are sinners made righteous before God?

That is why this text offered no comfort to Luther, who was well aware of his own lack of personal righteousness. If the Gospel “reveals the righteousness of God,” then he saw no hope. He knew that he was an unrighteous sinner who fell far short of God’s righteous (perfect) demands, and therefore the thought of God’s righteous judgment terrified him. He knew God’s Law condemned him. If the Gospel was yet another revelation of God’s righteous character and judgment, there was no way of salvation for him.

However, as he continued meditating, he began to link this phrase with the words at the end of the verse — “the just (righteous) shall live by faith.” And then it broke through to him. Luther realized that the verse was not talking about the active righteousness that God demands, but the passive righteousness that He freely gives to those who believe the Gospel. We are saved by an alien righteousness of Christ that comes to us as a gift from God, not by a righteousness of our own doing.

For Luther, then, and for Protestants centuries afterwards, “the righteousness of God” meant the righteousness that God gives sinners when they put their faith in Christ. God justifies sinners (declares them righteous before him), not because they have righteousness to offer God on their behalf, but because of Christ, who died and rose again for them.

The point is that Luther and the other Reformers, in light of their context (Middle Ages Roman Catholic theology) interpreted Romans 1:16-17 solely in terms of personal salvation.

  • The Gospel is good news of salvation for the one who believes.
  • It shows us how a person becomes righteous in God’s sight — by faith.
  • The Gospel, therefore, equals “justification by faith.”

In my view, Luther was both right and also incomplete in his reading of Romans 1:16-17. Here it is again, this time in the ESV:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

First of all, Luther was right that the text teaches justification by faith.

It is those who “believe” who are “saved.”

The way the Gospel comes to the world is “from faith for faith” — I interpret this to mean that God’s word of salvation is sourced in God’s faithfulness and finds its home in those who respond in faith.

“The just (those whom God calls ‘righteous’) live by faith.”

In light of the corrupt church practices in his day, this understanding was crucial, and Martin Luther was right to emphasize it. In a day when people were compelled to purchase indulgences in order to accumulate merit before God so that they might gain forgiveness and right standing before God, and when Luther himself found he could not find peace with God through the most rigorous ascetic exercises of the monastery, the call to simple faith in Christ was a refreshing corrective that started a revolution.

But, secondly, I think Luther (and those who followed or built on him) missed some important aspects of this text.

Most fundamentally, Protestants in Luther’s train have neglected the clear historical grounding of this passage (Rom. 1:1-7), which is reflected in the text itself in the words, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Rom. 1:1-7 summarizes the content of the Gospel message Paul preached, and it is not simply a message about personal salvation. Rather, it is an announcement about how God is establishing the Kingdom he promised to Israel through the person and work of his crucified and risen Son, the Messiah-King.

Luther, the Reformers, and Bible interpreters ever since continued and exacerbated the trend of those who went before them in de-historicizing the Gospel. They removed it from its Jewish context, its story of Israel’s God and his chosen people, its promise of a Messianic Kingdom and New Creation that would begin in Jerusalem and reach to the ends of the earth.

Growing out of this, Luther and others have missed the bigger meaning of “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17. The main concern in Romans is “to show [God’s] righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). In other words, God is not merely revealing the way by which people are counted righteous, he is establishing his own righteous character. He is vindicating himself. He is showing the rightness of what he has done in bringing his Kingdom and salvation to the world in the way that he has.

Paul wrote Romans for a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Paul himself was a Jew who had received a calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul proclaimed that Israel’s God had been faithful to his people and had fulfilled his promises to them in Christ. God was establishing his Messianic Kingdom in the world through Jesus, starting with Israel.

But there was a big problem. The Jews were, by and large, rejecting this message! The congregation of people of God was being populated more and more by Gentiles (this was happening in Rome, as well).

As J. R. Daniel Kirk notes:

If the God of Israel has acted to save his people, but Israel is not participating in that salvation, then in what respect can this God be said to be righteous?

Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God

Paul’s purpose in Romans is not just to speak to individuals about “the way of salvation.”

Paul is looking at a much bigger picture.

Paul is showing how God himself has proven himself “righteous” (faithful, true, a person of integrity) in the way he has acted toward Israel and the world.

Paul is showing how God has been true to his word, how his promises to Israel are now being fulfilled toward them, and how those promises apply to the non-Jewish world beyond Israel.

Romans is Paul’s theodicy — showing how God vindicates himself with regard to the way he is bringing his Kingdom and salvation to the world.

“Justification by faith” will play an important part of the argument — showing that God accepts all people everywhere on the same basis: through faith.

This will also mean that Paul will discuss the Law, the covenant under which Israel was designated “God’s people” under Moses and by which they were separated from the rest of the world, experienced God’s presence, and received his promises. If, in the past, it was the Law that marked out Israel as God’s people, what place does the Law have now that God has acted in Christ? What bearing does it have on the Gentiles who have come to Christ?

N. T. Wright’s translation of Romans 3:25-30 is a good summary of Paul’s purpose in writing Romans (emphases mine):

God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through faithfulness, by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his covenant justice [righteousness], because of the passing over (in divine forbearance) of sins committed beforehand. This was to demonstrate his covenant justice in the present time: that is, that he himself is in the right, and that he declares to be in the right everyone who trusts in the faithfulness of Jesus.

So what happens to boasting? It is ruled out! Through what sort of law? The law of works? No: through the law of faith! We calculate, you see, that a person is declared to be in the right on the basis of faith, apart from the works of the law. Or does God belong only to the Jews? Doesn’t he belong to the nations as well? Yes, of course, to the nations as well, since God is one. He will make the declaration “in the right” over the circumcised on the basis of faith, and over the uncircumcised through faith.

Paul’s teaching about “justification by faith,” you see, serves a bigger purpose: to show that God himself is just, and that his Kingdom is for everyone, from faith for faith.

Comments

  1. Very good CM. I came to pretty much the same conclusion around 2003. The passage that made it ‘click’ for me is Rom 3:3:

    ‘What if some were unfaithful? Will their UNfaithfullness nullify the faithfulness of God?’

    By translating the first part as ‘what if some did not believe’ the emphasis is shifted to personal salvation, but that is not Paul’s argument at all.

    As NT Wright has it ‘The Jews were entrusted with God’s oracles. What follows from that? If some of them were unfaithful to their commission, does their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Certainly not!’

    As theodicy, I believe Paul is addressing the charge that if what he says is true, then God has abandoned his promises to his covenant people, Israel, by allowing Genitles (without having to follow OT Law) to be part of the ‘new people of God’ while Israel herself seems to have been excluded. How can God be righteous and faithful if he has broken his word to his chosen people? All those years Israel has been his covenant people and now God has abandoned them, and in favor of ‘those’ people?

    Paul’s response (while comprising the whole book) begins by making the case that is it not God who abandoned the covenant he made with Israel – it is Israel! Chapter 3 (in particular) focuses on Israel’s failure (as a nation, throughout their history) to live as God’s people according to the covenant he made with them (not to show that all sinned and need Jesus). It ends with Paul emphasizing God’s faithfulness to his promises (his righteousness) by what Christ has done. Rom 3:21-22 says

    ‘But now God’s righteousness (faithfulness to his promises) has been manifested [demonstrated] apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God [demonstrated] through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ [that is clear] to all who believe’

    Or, again, as Wright puts it:

    ‘But now, quite apart from the law (though the law and the prophets bore witness to it), God’s covenant justice [dikaiosyne] has been displayed. God’s covenant justice [dikaiosyne] comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith.’

    Unfortunately, what Luther did not know in his day is that grammatically, the phrase ‘righteousness of God’ (dikaiosyne theou) almost certainly cannot mean an alien righteousness that comes from God (though one might make that argument from other passages). Given that ‘righteouness’ (in Greek) is a ‘verbal noun’, ‘theou’ is almost certainly a subjective genitive (which could point God’s justifying action – as Moo in the NICNT) or an objective genitive – it is God’s own faithful, righteous character that Paul has in mind. ‘Righteousness FROM God’ would be a genitive of source (or ablative genitive), which as Daniel Wallace points out, are rare in the NT and refer almost always to location (‘Jesus of Nazareth’), or sometimes lineage (‘son of David’).

    Luther’s reading of Romans not only reflects the issues of his day (and his personal struggles) but he also did not have the benefit of 500 years of additional research into koine Greek. I find it intriguing that the course of Christianity for the last 500 years may owe more to the personal struggles of one neurotic monk than to the New Testament itself. I also find it intriguing that those who claim their theology is built solidly on Paul’s writings often refuse to re-evaluate their theology in light of that 500 years of scholarship but instead hold fast to the Reformers’ positions as almost inspired themselves (thinking of a particular pastor from Minnesota, for example, who virtually makes that argument in a book attempting to refute Wright – he brought a knife to a gunfight!).

    • Very well said. I will say I have never heard Luther described as “one neurotic monk” but I suppose it puts us in good company.

    • –> “How can God be righteous and faithful if he has broken his word to his chosen people? All those years Israel has been his covenant people and now God has abandoned them, and in favor of ‘those’ people?”

      It’s also good to remember that there are places even in the OT that hint at salvation being for EVERYONE, not just His chosen people. (I’m thinking of Isaiah in particular.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I find it intriguing that the course of Christianity for the last 500 years may owe more to the personal struggles of one neurotic monk than to the New Testament itself.

      i.e. Luther brought his personal baggage into his Protestant theology, just as Augustine brought his into proto-Catholic theology a thousand years before and Calvin brought his into Truly Reformed thelology shortly after Luther.

      And the followers and movements of all three failed to discern the personal baggage and treated everything they wrote as Inerrant SCRIPTURE.

      • That “personal baggage” is real. Does God care about our personal sin, or does He not? Will He judge our evil deeds, or will he not?

        I don’t want to “de-historicize” the Gospel. But neither do I want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        • I agree with you, Eeyore. I’m a person so I have personal baggage. Does God care about the whole person, along with her baggage, or not? I don’t see that believing the Gospel is more holistic than Luther did means that the personal baggage dimension disappears.

        • But the point is that the baggage Luther brought (and we all bring baggage) – cultural, religious, simply being hundreds of years removed from the events, and his own personal issues with sin and forgiveness – distorted his understanding of what Paul was saying. We all have that baggage. The challenge in understanding the Bible is, at the very least, to recognize that we HAVE baggage and try to look past it. Luther (not meaning to pile on a dead guy), as a product of his environment, wasn’t able to do that very well. One only has to read his commentary on Galatians to see how personally ‘involved’ he was in his interpretations. For example, he makes a one-to-one correlation between (how he sees) Paul’s opponents and the ‘papists’ of his day and proceeds to blast them with Paul’s words (generally mis-applied of course).

          • Yes. And the question we have to ask ourselves is what baggage we bring unbeknownst to ourselves. It’s a pretty sure thing that we are as unable to see the all the baggage we’re carrying as Luther was, or Augustine, or you name it. Humility is called for, especially when we are reading the Bible, particularly the New Testament, as a narrative guide into new theological and interpretative understandings, not limited by fundamentalist perspectives and assumptions. What is just our “personal baggage”, as opposed to a legitimate attempt to bring our modern social and personal perspectives into extending the narrative theological arc of Scripture so that it applies to our lives as we live them today? We don’t want to just replace the mistaken interpretations of Luther, or anyone else, with others of our own making that are themselves overly determined by the “personal baggage” that we blindly inform them with. Yet this is just what we are likely to do.

            • Robert, you are correct. The ‘process’ that biblical scholars follow (recognizing that none of us can be free of the baggage) is to try to understand the Bible in light of its ancient context (as best we can, but that is often a moving target, especially today with all the research going on). The goal is to understand what Paul (for example) was saying to the Romans, Galatians, etc. – how they would have understood him.

              After that (though that is difficult enough) the next step is (as they say in the NIV Application Commentary series) to ‘bridge the gap’ , or as you said ‘extend the theological arc of Scripture so that it applies to our lives’ – that is ‘application’. Unfortunately most of us abridge the process and go straight to ‘what is it saying to me’ or ‘how does this apply to my life’ – thus getting submissive wives, gay bashing, bomb the hell out of the heathens, etc. Interpretation (what the biblical authors meant and how the original hearers would have understood them) and application (how does that apply today) are two distinct processes (or should be). If we can separate those we have a better chance of not imposing our baggage on the Bible.

              But it is difficult to limit (or even recognize) the baggage we bring. One criticism made early on of the New Perspective was that it is driven in part by post-Holocaust Western guilt. I think that would be a hard argument to make today but it shows the danger we all face when dealing with a 2000-year-old book.

        • I don’t think I was actually hard on Luther in the post. I said his understanding and application was correct but incomplete. The gospel is personal, of course, and it applies to real people like you and me, not to mere abstractions like “the world,” or “Jews” and “Gentiles.”

  2. Quite true. And Paul uses some of those passages to make his argument in Romans – e.g. ch. 4, esp. v. 17, ch 9-11, esp. 9:22-25, 10:17-21, and 15:8-11. Paul alludes to those ideas extensively in Gal 3-4 as well. He summarizes the reason Jesus ‘became a curse for us’ in Gal. 3:14 as 1) so the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles (one of the promises to Abraham in Gen. 12:1-3) and 2) so the promised Spirit might come to ‘us’ (Jews – Ezek 36:25-27, Is. 31:31-34). (As Wright points out, Paul does not say that Jesus became a ‘curse’ for us so we could go to heaven when we die!) His point in both books is that all along God intended to bless all nations and that blessing would come through Abraham and his descendants (though Paul focuses on one ‘descendant’ in Gal. 3), and that God has been faithful to that plan/purpose/promise, and that faithfulness has been demonstrated by Jesus..

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Luther, the Reformers, and Bible interpreters ever since continued and exacerbated the trend of those who went before them in de-historicizing the Gospel. They removed it from its Jewish context, its story of Israel’s God and his chosen people, its promise of a Messianic Kingdom and New Creation that would begin in Jerusalem and reach to the ends of the earth.

    And in doing so destroyed their own historical trace, changing their all-important SCRIPTURE into just another set of mythological tales, set “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away” with no connection to present-day reality.

    Just as the Wahabi now destroy Islam’s historical trace in their “Wrecknovation of Mecca”, bulldozing anything that dates back to the Time of the Prophet (except for the Kaaba), even doing to their mosques what Calvin did to the churches of Geneva.

    And in both, the only thing they’ll have left is their Book of tales with no remaining connection to reality.

  4. Off topic: just read a notice at “Christianity Today” that Eugene Peterson died today. May he rest in God’s peace.

  5. Greg, good notes. Oh, how I wish I knew – really knew – Koine!

    Between reading Wright deeply, and becoming Orthodox and listening to the prayers, liturgical verses and Scripture readings (and, often, how those are all combined in particular contexts), there were two things that became clearer for me. One was more of an understanding of faithfulness. On God’s part, that means doing everything to effect our deliverance and healing – we don’t have to add our own “faith” to that, it’s a done deal. What we understand as “salvation” is ALL God’s doing, and our “acceptance” of it doesn’t change God’s love and goodwill toward us one bit (actually nothing does, not even our sin…). So the faith by which we live is primarily the faithfulness of God/Jesus Christ, and I think most of the uses of pistis in the NT should be thought of as “faithfulness”, not “faith”. We trust the faithfulness of the Father and of Christ, and the Holy Spirit working within us enables our own faithfulness in following Christ.

    The second thing is that I’ve finally reached a linguistic reconciliation… Translating all those dik- words from Greek into English has itself been confusing; at times translators use Germanic-root “right-” words and at other times Latin-root “just-” words, and I find both types to be excessively legal. God’s stance toward us is not one of legality, but rather of desire for love and communion. So what I now read in my head when I come upon those words is “the [ability] that comes from God that enables the proper relationship between humans and God, and humans and each other.” That’s not compact enough for what translators of Scripture try to do, but I think it’s the best sense of those “dik-“-root words. (And when I ran that by a very learned and holy priest, he told me I was right.) There’s a sense of commonality in the “dik-” words that isn’t reflected in English translation.

    [I’m not sure “ability” is the best word, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far.]

    Dana

    • Dana, you are correct about the confusion with translating the ‘dik’ words into English. You are also correct that we (at least Westerners, especially those of the Reformation tradition) associate those terms with legal ideas rather than relational ideas (‘transactional’ ideas of justification being very common)..

      There is an interesting entry in Kittel’s ‘Theological Dictionary of the New Testament’ (the somewhat dated ‘standard’, vol 2, 477-487) by Rudolph Bultmann that I ran across some years ago. He notes that the ‘eleos’-related words (‘mercy, merciful, alms, benevolent action’) are often used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew ‘tsedekah’ – righteousness! He notes that the LXX usually uses [‘eleemosyne’ – the word translated ‘alms’ in Matt. 6:2] for ‘tsedekah’, and it most often refers to God’s attitude toward his people. I thought it interesting that, rather than the traditional idea that first-century Jews were all about trying to live up to the demands of their ‘righteous’ unbending God who expected perfect law-keeping (which is supported by exactly zero Jewish documents from the ancient world), they more correctly understood his righteousness in terms of his merciful, benevolent action on their behalf. As a result, Judaism has had a big emphasis on ‘benevolence’ (almsgiving) – acting toward others as God does toward them.

      In another article in the same volume Gottlob Schrenk notes that in the LXX ‘dikaiosyne’ (and other ‘dik’ words) is also often used to translate Hebrew words related to God’s faithfulness to his people, his covenant, and his merciful attitude and actions toward his people.

      This is in sharp contrast to the ideas of God’s righteousness popular in Luther’s day. It is much more in line with the New Perspective idea than traditional Protestant theology. Paul lived in the ancient world and was a product of ancient Judaism, thus it is much more likely his understanding of God’s righteousness was similar to other Jews of his day rather than the Medieval scholastics who informed Luther’s understanding.

      • Well, I’m glad the LXX supports the faithfulness and mercy angle, because that is definitely the tenor of Orthodox understanding, and I’m sure you know that our preferred OT is the LXX. I particularly like the LXX rendering of Jer 17.9-10: “The heart is deep above all else, as is man; and who shall understand him? I, the Lord, am one who tests hearts and examines kidneys (**I’m** the one who really knows what’s going on inside a person, y’all), to give to each according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.” This is so utterly consistent with the NT passages about our ultimate rewards.

        Also along those lines, a good friend of mine (EO) had a Classical Catholic education – Greek and Latin included – and has a Master’s in OT Studies, so also knows the Hebrew. Part of a workshop he gave on the narrative of Scripture included an explanation of a sort of chiastic structure of Leviticus, as a kind of “mental tour” of the Temple. Chs 8,9 & 10 are the center of chs 1-17, which reflected the outer court of the Temple. The entrance to the Holy Place corresponded with chs 18,19 & 20, which set forth what it means to have right relations with one’s fellow humans. As one goes “deeper” into the Holy Place, chs 21-24 have to do with priestly functions, how the people should remember God, and aspects of consecration. Finally, at the Holy of Holies, what is described in chs 26 & 27 is what it looks like to enter the Land God promised – again, treating each other justly, fairly – humanely – as God wants, with many promises, some warnings, and more on consecration. The end of Lev, 27.1-2 loops around with the same structure as ch 1.1-2, so a nice tidy literary package. (My friend used the work of Sailhamer, M. Barker and M. Douglas, and a couple others, to build his presentation.)

        About the legalities in the Pentateuch, my friend wrote: “The Law was never the ultimate meaning or form of what God intended to do with his world. It is not the same as the blessing he intends to restore. It is not the world he intends. It is only a response to Israel’s sinfulness — for a time.” The point is not following all the ritual details for sacrifice, nor is it a matter of living up to “God’s standard” of morality. The point is properly relating to one another because of who God is and who humans are to be as made in God’s image (and as the priests of his creation), showing forth faithfulness and mercy just as God does, as we trust his providence and mercy.

        Dana

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Paul is showing how God himself has proven himself “righteous” (faithful, true, a person of integrity) in the way he has acted toward Israel and the world.

    Problem is, these days the word “righteous” carries a lot of Holier-Than-Thou one-upmanship baggage. Or Perfect Purity baggage.

    And with a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, the relationship between “righteous” and “justice” from the original language — or any application beyond the individual — has been lost. Because you only need One for “Righteousness” or “Purity” but two or more for “Justice”.

  7. Mrs. Bullard noted fifth grade Sunday School teacher always told us the parable of the prodigal son. The second wayward ,son who did not think his Father loved him because of his actions denied himself his Fathers love and blessing. and that he should receive the full blessing as he was first. The Father always loved all his sons and was glad the second Son returned home. Mrs. Bullard always told us Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew. There were not Christians until Jesus died and now salvation in there for all.

    Of course there is the old olive tree narrative that the very root of Christianity are the one God believing Jews.

    Unfortunately for me it is all Greek to me. I cannot even pronounce the names of many of the Greek yogurt unless Dannon is Greek which in the early Greek means sour or some scholars say cultured. I guess the 400 years between the OT and NT was there for a reason. I still like the Hebrew Franks hot dog commercial which sums up my understanding of Jewish history, they believe in a higher authority and follow his rules, no filler.

  8. Iain Lovejoy says

    Luther’s solution can become just another merit test, if we are not careful, with a pop quiz about the correctness of your theological beliefs replacing a totting up of your good or bad deeds. Paul’s theme throughout Romans is less (if at all) what you have to do or believe for God to graciously have mercy on you, and more what God is demonstrating his approval of. Paul is arguing the demonstrable living faith of non-Jews as proving their acceptance as faithful Christians before God, without the necessity of their being circumcised into Jewish law. Paul repeatedly seems to me to make the point that the only kind of righteousness laws can produce is the avoidance of sin (and having the Law has not even given the Jews that) and God’s idea of righteousness is rather the presence of a living faith in Jesus, by which we seek out and love and trust in God, and seek to follow him, and which both those within and without the Law could have. The dynamic seems to be that law informs us that we are in sin, and that the solution for sin is Jesus, and if we call to Jesus and put our trust in him we will receive the Spirit necessary for us to “walk in the Spirit” so that we fulfill in ourselves the righteousness the Law points towards but cannot produce.
    His explanation for how God has not broken covenant with the Jews (most clearly set out in Romans 11) seems to be twofold: firstly that the real purpose of the covenant with Abraham was that through Abraham everyone might be saved, not just the Jews, and that the Jews were entrusted with law for that purpose (so it doesn’t matter how many of them were or were not coming to Christ – so long as the faith was being preached and spreading the covenant was still being fulfilled) and, secondly, that the Jewish people will, eventually, themselves, all of them, in any event be saved when all the nations are gathered in.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Luther’s solution can become just another merit test, if we are not careful…

      Isn’t “Earning merit” primarily a BUDDHIST concept?

      His explanation for how God has not broken covenant with the Jews (most clearly set out in Romans 11) seems to be twofold…

      So much for the Dispy dogma that God rejected the Jews for rejecting Christ and Is concentrating entirely on the Church until The End. I’ve heard it taught that the Resurrection rendered all Covenants with the Jews null and void.

      During one of the two times I attended a Jewish service, the Rabbi there described Christianity as God’s Plan for the goyim, in parallel with His Plan for the Jews. An extension so that all the nations can be gathered in to God’s presence and future Messianic Kingdom.

  9. “Justification by faith” will play an important part of the argument — showing that God accepts all people everywhere on the same basis: through faith.

    What constitutes faith? And what are its contents? Do I have it, or not, and how can I be sure? It seems to me that this new interpretation still leaves plenty of room for the same issue involved in the concern for personal salvation under the old Augustine/Luther one: how do I know that I have the faith through which God accepts people? I’m not sure I see how this gets us out of being wrapped up with our subjective struggles with soteriological difficulties.

    • I don’t think I was actually too hard on Luther in the post. I said his understanding and application was correct but incomplete. The gospel is personal, of course, and it applies to real people like you and me, not to abstractions like “Jews” and “Gentiles.” As to the reality of one’s faith, I find Luther enormously helpful here. Since he struggled with attacks of doubt and despair his whole life, he encouraged us all to hang our hat on the material pegs of God’s grace in our lives — our baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the word of gospel forgiveness written and spoken through scripture. Every week I hear it in church when we confess our sins and receive absolution.

      God, who is rich in mercy, loves us even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved. In the name of +Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven. Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.
      Amen.