Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Justification and Galatians - random thoughts

Justification and Galatians - random thoughts...
There is so much discussion about "justification" and "righteousness" going around that I am weary of wading into these waters for fear of getting lost in other matters besides the gospels. But I do like to read around and there is a wonderful blog about Leon Morris and the NPP that has left me thinking...

I pledge allegiance to no particular historical theological framework [well, maybe the Apostles Creed but that's about it], which is both helpful and lonely at times, but when it comes to justification I don't see the Reformers point in criticizing Wright. There have always been two important paragraphs from Wright that have helped me understand a biblical theology of Justification. I quote them at length to avoid misunderstanding:

The resurrection provides the basis for the true definition of God’s people. God has vindicated Jesus as Messiah, and has thereby declared that those who belong to him, who in the Heb. idiom are ‘in Christ’ (cf. 2 Sa. 19:43–20:2), are the true Israel. The marks of new covenant membership are the signs of the Spirit’s work, i.e. faith in Jesus as Lord, belief in his resurrection, and baptism as the mark of entry into the historical people of God (Rom. 10:9–10; Col. 2:11–12). ‘Justification’ is thus God’s declaration in the present that someone is within the covenant, a declaration made not on the basis of the attempt to keep the Jewish law but on the basis of faith: because faith in Jesus is the evidence that God has, by his Spirit, begun a new work in a human life which he will surely bring to completion (Rom. 5:1–5; 8:31–39; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thes. 1:4–10). The present divine verdict therefore correctly anticipates that which will be issued on the last day on the basis of the entire life of the Christian (Rom. 2:5–11; 14:10–12; 2 Cor. 5:10). This double verdict is thus based on two things—the death and resurrection of Jesus and the work of the Spirit: Christ and the Spirit together achieve ‘that which the law could not do’ (Rom. 8:1–4). ‘Justification’ thus redefines the people of God, and opens that people to all who believe, whatever their racial or moral background.

In this lecture on Coming Home to St. Paul, Wright notes that:

The Paul of Romans is thus a deeply Jewish thinker, rethinking his Jewish categories around his belief that the crucified and risen Jesus is Israel’s representative Messiah. Within this scheme of thought, the key focal points stand out. Jesus’ obedient death is the central covenant action, revealing God’s love and grace in decisive and climactic action, dealing with sin by condemning it in his flesh (8.3). Justification by faith is the juridical declaration in the present time which anticipates the verdict of the last day: faith that Jesus is Lord, and that God raised him from the dead, is the result of the Spirit’s work through the gospel – and what God has thus begun, he will certainly complete. Justification is not merely lawcourt language, however; if it were, it would be isolated from the life of the church and from Christian morality. Justification is also covenant language, as in Romans 4 (a sustained exposition of Genesis 15, where God establishes his covenant with Abraham), and has to do precisely with God’s setting up of the single family, consisting of Jews and Gentiles together, characterised by faith rather than by possession or keeping of Torah.

In these two striking paragraphs we see the tenses of justification, which many have neglected and/or ignored. But despite that, I am perplexed by many statements that want to make justification either vertical or horizontal, because for Paul it was clearly both.

There is just no way to get around Dunn's argument that Galatians 2 is dealing with justification horizontal, not vertical. Now I realise that in Galatians 3 the vertical justification is brought into the argument, but Gal 2, especially vss. 15-21 are bound up with Gal 2:11-14 which are about horizontal justification.

The problem that Paul addresses in his letter to the Churches of Galatia is multifaceted and complex but can be located within reach of one key word: “faithfulness”. As we shall soon see, there was a major problem with who and what to be faithful to. Should the Galatian Christians be faithful to Paul and the gospel that he preached to them? Or should they be faithful to the Mosaic Law, as Jews had done for centuries past? Is faithfulness to Jesus enough, or does one also need to be faithful to “the works of Torah”? Has the “faithfulness of Jesus” transformed faithfulness to the “works of Torah”? If Jesus’ faithfulness has transformed the situation, how has it done so and what are the consequences? Essentially, the issue is tied up with “covenantal nomism”. But before we get to this new concept, we must discuss just “who” is causing the problems as this will help us decide “what” the problem is. We must also set the scene first by noting a few important details about Paul and Galatians.
To set the scene, and our reconstruction of the problem, we must know a few details about Paul and his congregations. The first thing to note is that the polemic of Galatians is all we have in our reconstruction. While Acts and Paul’s other letters will shed light on aspects of Paul’s thinking and life, we have no other such documents that will do this for the church and situation of the Galatians.[1]
Following a southern Galatian hypothesis, it appears that this is one of the very first times that the issue of covenantal nomism is addressed. The letter is probably to be dated around 49CE, before the Jerusalem Council. It could possibly even be a major reason for calling the Jerusalem council together. Perhaps there hadn’t been a major verdict such as this in early Christianity before this eruption between Cephas and Paul, and between Paul and the “faction from James”. We know that Paul founded the churches of Galatia during one of his missionary journeys, after the meeting mentioned in Gal. 2:1-10. We know that Paul had preached to them and left them “running well” (5:7). Somehow, after a while, Paul got word that his churches in Galatia were not doing to well. They had been infected with “another gospel” from an unidentified group, who were “from James” (2:12).[2] But who was this faction?
The identity of these so-called “missionaries”[3] is unknown to us, and possibly even unknown to Paul. The reason we posit that they are unknown to even Paul, is because Paul questions “Who has bewitched you?” (3:1) and “who prevented you from obeying the truth?” (5:7). Paul also gives a warning, “whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.” (5:10). Thus, it seems Paul had either a) not met them or b) did not know much about them. We know that they saw themselves as followers of Jesus, the Messiah (4:12). However, they were also very concerned with matters of the law and Jewish identity (2:3-6 & 4:9-10). Thus, it seems probable that they were Messianic Jews.
Scholars have suggested very different views as to what the mission and message of these Missionaries was. Despite the speculative nature of this exercise, there seems to be a few elements about which we may have some confidence: A) These missionaries were very concerned with being faithful to the law, and thus the covenant set up between Abraham and God, and nuanced by Moses in the Torah. B) External obedience to the “works of the law” was a pivotal part of their message and praxis in maintaining the distinctly ‘Jewish’ identity. With this in mind, Dunn concludes:
The letter makes clearest and fullest sense if we see it as a response to a challenge from Christian-Jewish missionaries who had come to Galatia to improve or correct Paul’s understanding of the gospel and to ‘complete’ his converts by integrating them fully into the heirs of Abraham through circumcision and by thus bringing them ‘under the law’.[4]
The problem thus comes directly into focus as Paul states his Propositio (Gal 2:15-21):
We are Jews ourselves, by birth, and not Gentile sinners; nevertheless we know that a person is not justified by the works of Torah but through the faithfulness of Jesus, the Messiah. And we have become faithful to the Messiah Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faithfulness of the Messiah, and not by doing the works of Torah, because ‘no one will be justified by the works of Torah’. - But if, in our effort to be justified in the Messiah, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is the Messiah then a servant of sin? Absolutely not! But if I build up again the very things that I once destroyed, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. - Because through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with the Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but it is the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if covenant membership comes through the Torah, then the Messiah died in vain.[5]
Despite the history of interpretation and tradition surrounding this pericope, there is still much confusion and debate.[6] The pivotal question that must remain in our minds as we grapple with this passage is, “what makes most historical sense within the argument that Paul presents to the Galatians?”[7]
In verse 15 Paul starts his section with “we”. The importance of this word cannot be overemphasized. It forms a direct connection[8] with the preceding section that outlines the incident in Antioch between Paul and Peter.[9] In the section 2:1-10, Paul has noted that both Peter and himself were entrusted with the ‘gospel’. Paul for the Gentiles and Peter for the Jews. We also have the incident of Titus, ‘not being compelled to be circumcised’.[10] The implication is that Titus was not asked to be circumcised by the Jerusalem leadership.[11] But what does this have to do with the issue at Galatia? It is our contention that Paul once again faces the same issue that he faced with Cephas.
Peter, while not sanctioning circumcision for the Gentiles, nevertheless felt compelled to obey other “works of Torah” such as food laws[12] and possibly festival observances (cf. 4:10).[13] For Paul, this was unacceptable. No “works of Torah” were required in being part of the true people of God.[14] For this reason, Witherington writes:
The issue raised in the propositio is – What should the role of the Mosaic Law be in the life of a Christian believer, whether Gentile or Jew, and as a subset of that question, should the Galatians submit to circumcision and the various other boundary-marking rituals of Judaism? Lying beneath all of this is the question – Who are the people of GOD, and what constitutes them as such?[15]
You see, the Jewish faction had persuaded Peter, and ‘even Barnabas’, that they should revert back to their Jewish praxis based on their observances of Torah. The Gentiles were not doing the “works of the Torah” which was required for full/complete membership in the people of YHWH and thus were excluded from table-fellowship. According to Paul, this was both a misunderstanding of the Gospel and inconsistent too. They seemed to have held that to be faithful to YHWH meant being faithful both to Jesus and the “works of Torah”. These two were the ‘identity markers’ of the people of YHWH. Being faithful to these two elements showed that one was a member of the people of God, it showed that one was ‘justified’. However, Paul’s contention is that justification came through faithfulness to Jesus, because Jesus had been faithful to them (2:16).
Wright defines justification as:
Justification is the recognition and declaration by God that those who are thus called and believing are in fact his people, the single family promised to Abraham, that as the new covenant people their sins are forgiven, and that since they have already died and been raised with the Messiah, they are assured of final bodily resurrection at the last.[16]
The only requirement for full membership in the people of God, according to Paul, was loyalty[17] towards Jesus. This is the crux of the issue. Verse 16 is directly concerned with the issue of “covenantal nomism”.[18] The corollary of this is that loyalty towards Jesus does away with any need for being faithful to the ‘works of Torah. It renders their purpose invalid. As Dunn rightly comments:
If we have been accepted by God on the basis of faith, then it is on the basis faith that we are acceptable, and not on the basis of works. Perhaps for the first time, in this verse faith in Jesus Messiah begins to emerge not simply as a narrower definition of the elect of God. From being one identity marker for the Jewish Christian alongside the other identity markers (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath), faith in Jesus as Christ becomes the primary identity maker which renders the others superfluous.[19]
This in turn leads to Paul’s anticipative comments on the problem with such ‘freedom’ from covenantal obligations. Without the boundaries of the ‘works of Torah, will the Galatians merely become Gentile sinners?[20] “Absolutely Not!”, says Paul. Our freedom in Messiah is freedom from that slavery to the “law of Messiah” (6:2). Just because one has given up those boundary-markers as signs of being part of the people of YHWH, does not therefore necessitate that they will not live distinct lives as the marked and chosen people of God. On the contrary says Paul, their lives will be evident by “faith working through love” (5:6) and their praxis stained by the boundary-markers of the ‘life’ and ‘fruit’ of the Spirit (5:16, 22). This is the whole point of Paul’s comment in 2:17, which he later unpacks and defends in chapter 5 and 6 of this letter. We are free says Paul, free to love and follow Jesus in the power and presence of the Spirit, who will lead and guide us as the people of God. This is where the distinctive pivsti"` Cristou` debate comes to the fore. The faithfulness of Jesus to God becomes the new paradigm by which those who are faithful to Jesus, shall live. 2:16 shows that Jesus has been faithful and 2:20 is our response: “I no longer live, but the Messiah lives in me.” This phrase must refer to the intimate relationship one has with Jesus and also the life of faithfulness one lives by following the clear example that Jesus is. This is what it means to be found and to “live” in the Messiah (2:19-20). If the Galatians are not faithful to God, then there are huge implications.[21] Finally, Paul wishes to charge, both Peter and the missionaries, actions with obstructing the very grace of God that they are trying to maintain. This is how the grace of God has been revealed, through the faithfulness of Jesus. To still hold to covenantal nomism is to invalidate what Jesus has done. “We are a new creation, behold the old is gone, the new is come.”
[1] What Longenecker and others have called “mirror reading”. Cf. R. Longenecker, Galatians [Grand Rapids: Nelson, 1990], pg. Lxxxix. Our hypotheses will always be, therefore, somewhat incomplete due to lack of evidence.
[2] I am troubled by this phrase. Does this mean that they had a) broken away from James; b) were sent out by James; c) had misunderstood James’ commission or that d) we are talking about someone different? D. A. Carson has proposed that the faction, and group from James are different groups but this merely begs questions.
[3] The term “Missionaries” is from J. D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians [London: Hendrickson, 1993], pg. 11 and R. B. Hays, The Letter to the Galatians [NIB 11; Nashville: Abingdon, 2000] pg. 185
[4] Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, pg. 11
[5] This is my translation of Galatians 2:15-21. The word “justified” is peculiar and rather difficult to translate. Assuming a ‘new perspective’ position, I wonder whether it would be fair to translate the term as: ‘faithful to the covenant’ or even ‘obedient to the covenant’. This is of course interpretive, but which translation isn’t? Therefore, our statement would read: “a person is not faithful to the covenant by the works of Torah but through the faithfulness of Jesus.” The Dikaiow word group seems to be a concept word group, one which defies straight lexical translation in either form.
[6] It shall be evident that we quickly parts ways with the interpretations given by F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians [Exeter: Paternoster, 1982] pg. 136-147 and R. Y. K. Fung The Epistle to the Galatians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988] pg. 112-127. The major reason for this being, we see Galatians as an intra-communal debate about praxis and not with Jewish outsiders about legalism.
[7] Wright, The Letter to the Galatians, pg. 207 notes that “the basic task of exegesis is to address, as a whole and in parts, the historical questions: What was the author saying to the readers; and why? The questions ultimately demand an answer at the broadest level in the form of a hypothesis to be tested against the verse by verse details. One may, perhaps, allow the author some imprecision, particularly in such a heated composition, but if even a small number of details do not fit the hypothesis, it will be called into question.”
[8] The NRSV footnotes that some interpreters see this as a continuing quotation from the previous pericope.
[9] I shall not entertain the possibility, noted by B. Ehrman, The New Testament [Oxford: Oxford University, 1997], pg. 288; that Cephas and Peter are possibly two different people that Paul is talking about. Scholarship has not found this tradition or interpretation persuasive.
[10] cf. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, pg. 96 with references.
[11] Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, pg. 96
[12] J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law [Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990], pg. 193 writes: “Without question the devout Jew of Paul’s day would regard observance of the laws on clean and unclean foods as a basic expression of covenant faithfulness… The maintenance of ritual purity, particularly the ritual purity of the mean table, was a primary concern and major occupation.”
[13] Does 4:10 highlight a similar issue faced at Antioch or is it peculiar to the situation in Galatia?
[14] cf. N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992], pg. 154 who states: “Christian Jews enter the renewed Abrahamic covenant not by works of Torah, but by faith, just as Christian Gentiles do.” This seems to be the point of 3:28.
[15] B. Witherington, Grace in Galatia [Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1998] pg. 172
[16] N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Galatians: Exegesis and Theology” in Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology Eds. J. B. Green & M. Turner [Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999], pg. 235
[17] The synonyms for pistis", are: faithfulness, trust, reliability, faith and belief. Loyalty and allegiance are synonyms for faithfulness, but seem to capture the essence of the Greek words better than the usual translations. cf. “pistis” in Bauer, Walter, Gingrich, F. Wilbur, and Danker, Frederick W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979], [Online] Available: Logos Library System; and Louw, J. P. and Nida, E. A. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains. [New York: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989], [Online] Available: Logos Library System.
[18] E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, pg. 75, 420: “Covenantal nomism is the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression… Obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such.” Quoted in Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law, pg. 186
[19] Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law, pg. 196
[20] We must understand that the boundary-markers of covenantal nomism gave the Jewish people their identity. Without them, would they merely assimilate into pagan culture? This seems to be the inference that the missionaries might have drawn. Paul is adamant that our identity is grounded and founded in the Messiah (cf. Gal. 2:19-20).
[21] As far as the Jewish-Christians were concerned, this could be detrimental. As Betz notes: “outside of the Torah covenant, there is no salvation.” Betz, Galatians [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1979], pg. 115
[22] Betz posits the interesting notion of whether obeying the law is such a bad thing, as long as one wasn’t trying to “justify” oneself by it. See Betz, Galatians, pg. 117
[23] Wright, The Letter to the Galatians, pg. 224
[24] Wright, The Letter to the Galatians, pg. 224-26 makes some strong comments about distinctions which have been rendered artificial by the cross of the Messiah.


La Bona said...

Here is a related entry ...

Did God actually created man from scratch?

According to Intelligent Design Guru: If we are indeed created by God from scratch, then we are actually a very lousy design … a FLAWED creation, so to speak!

If you have any comment, please email it me at divinetalk@gmail.com or just leave it at http://divinetalk.blogspot.com/

Sean du Toit said...

Well, your site really has nothing to do with what I've written. And besides the fact that it's badly researched, your site that is, I don't wish to engage in such propaganda. If you'd like to debate such things, my former teacher Dr. Dembski has loads to say at: www.designinference.com


Gareth Naude said...

Without actually wading into the debate can I ask some questions? (Oh I just did).

You footnoted D.A Carson's comment on the possibility that the circumcision group and the group from James were two seperate groups. His related point was that it does not seem logical that Peter, the one who had the vision of Acts 10, and defended Gentile inclusion before the other apostles in Jerusalem, would suddenly be looking for adherence to Jewish boundary markers. Carson maintains the possibility that Peter's actions were to do with protecting the Jewish believers (his turf if you like) in Jerusalem from the persecution coming from Jews who heard that the leader of said Jewish Christians was having table fellowship with Gentiles. Your thoughts?

Sean du Toit said...

Are you serious? Are we talking about the same Peter who denied Jesus after seeing all that he saw? Are we talking about the same Peter who didn't get much of what Paul was on about? Are we talking about the same Peter who would have grown up with Kosher food lives his entire life, and then face the cognitive dissonance of what Jesus actually means to his entire worldview. Carson's logic is insufficient to make his suggestion even probable, which is what he admits and which is why no commentator has followed him.

thanks, ciao