Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Part Fifty One

We are in the midst of discussing the seven linked elements, with justification being the seventh that in Wright’s schema belong together. This post will deal with pp. 930-44 of that discussion. Here Tom is providing examples to support the theory that there were some precursors to Paul’s discussion of justification. He points especially to 4QMMT, which has figured so largely in the New Perspective talks trying to prove that ‘works of the Law’ refers to the boundary markers, or as Tom likes to call them the badges of membership. Tom is right that that text says that those that keep some of the works of the law will have righteousness reckoned to them. Two issues need to be mentioned: 1) despite arguments to the contrary, 4QMMT does not equate the phrase ‘works of the law’ simpliciter with boundary signs like circumcision, sabbath keeping or food laws. Those are just ‘some of the works of the law’ in this text. That is all. So this text provides absolutely not basis at all for suggesting that when Paul mentions ‘works of the law’ (without the qualifier ‘some’) he must mean these boundary markers. badges. On the contrary, when he says works of the Mosaic Law, that’s what he means, and the focus is not merely on the ritual law, or the boundary markers. Paul believes the Mosaic covenant and its law are obsolete or at least obsolescent and in any case not binding on Christians. On the serious problems with this whole approach see Jeff Dryden’s summary of things at http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Tyndale/staff/Head/4QMMT.html. Here is the crucial bit at the end of the passage—-

“And also we have written to you
{113} some of the precepts of the torah which we think are good for you and for your people, for in you […]
{114} intellect and knowledge of the torah. Reflect on all these matters and seek from him so that he may
{115} your counsel and keep far from you the evil scheming and the counsel of Belial,
{116} so that at the end of time, you may rejoice in finding that some of our words are true.
{117} And it shall be reckoned to you as in justice when you do what is upright and good before him, for
your good
{118} and that of Israel. [blank];” Notice that earlier in these fragments things as diverse as fornication, idolatry, violence, as well as purity laws concerning corpse impurity, sabbath keeping are mentioned as part of ‘some of these things’. See the translation of the whole thing at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rak//courses/225/texts/4QMMT.html.

It should be noticed that it is when one does what is good and upright before God that one is reckoned ‘in justice’ or ‘in the right’ or ‘in good standing’. In other words, the reckoning is based on acts of actual righteousness in 4QMMT. It is, in short not some kind of legal fiction, or forensic declaration not based in actual righteous conduct. It is thus correct for Tom to stress that a text like this is only a partial antecedent of what Paul says on the matter of righteousness. Let’s be clear as well, that being in the covenant family is not equated with righteousness here. Righteousness has to do with deeds or behavior here, not covenant membership or status. This text then provides no basis for equating covenant membership with righteousness in Paul either.

Tom is right that ‘justification’ was not a hot topic in early Judaism (p. 932). This in turn brings us to the ongoing discussion in this book about God’s impartiality as referenced in Romans 2. The point of Romans 1-2 is that all have sinned, and in addition that God is an impartial judge of both Gentiles and Jews. He does not judge Gentiles as part of his ‘covenant faithfulness’, since he has no covenant with them in any case, he judges them because he is a righteous God and as Rom. 1.18-32 says they have exchanged the truth about God that they do know for a lie– involving idolatry and immorality. And this brings up another point. Rom. 1.18-32 is not what happens when Paul announces the Gospel and people come to faith. To the contrary, that passage refers to the opposite result. (see p. 943 n. 472). Notice the connection between Rom. 1.17-18 (noting the gar at the outset of 1.18), both of which verses refer to the righteousness of God and both of which say that this is being revealed in the present. There is one sort of revelation of the righteousness to those who respond to the gospel in faith (vs. 17), and quite another to those who reject the revelation of God even in nature. And in neither case are we dealing with a future forensic declaration. We are dealing with a present revelation. The question is whether covenant faithfulness is involved at all in this first reference to the righteousness of God in the thesis statement. After all, if all have sinned, including all Jews, and God is in fact impartial, and if the Mosaic covenant, having been either fulfilled or completed or ended, no longer applies, what sort of covenantal faithfulness could God owe even to Jews? Aren’t they joining the ekklesia tou theou on the same basis as Gentiles– by grace through faith in Jesus? Here again, we see that the root of the problem with Tom’s analysis comes from a misreading of how ancient covenants worked, especially in regard to what happened when they were either irrevocably broken, or fulfilled and completed. Either way, the covenant maker no long had an obligation to that covenant.

Tom is right that there is a final declaration in regard to righteousness at the return of Christ as well. And this entails a judgment of works (see 1 Cor. 3 on ministers, and 2 Cor. 5.10 on the works of Christians in general). In other words, it does not involve a declaration of ‘not guilty’ as a legal fiction which has no connection to their actual behavior as Christians. Paul does say that those who have built with useless materials will escape as through fire, though their works will be burnt up. Here he affirms the scheme of rewards and punishments for one’s behavior at the end, though salvation is not one of the rewards.

Much more on target and to the point is the discussion about the role of the Spirit as specified in Rom. 8 and discussed on p. 940 where Tom rightly says “It is the spirit, after all,whose work indicates that Christian living is not a zero-sum game, so that either ‘God does it all’ or ‘we do it all’. That false notion is always raised whenever anyone draws attention to Paul’s strong words about a final justification on the basis of the whole life, with the constant implication that unless one simply says ‘God does it all’ we are forfeiting assurance, or even salvation itself.” EXACTLY. Paul doesn’t accept such either ors, and he affirms a future judgment based on the fullness of the life that has been led (p. 941), though at the same time reassuring in Rom. 8.1 that there will be no condemnation for believers.

On p. 942 Tom gets to his sixth point on the way to ‘justification’ where he says that ‘the events concerning Jesus the Messiah are the revelation, in unique and decisive action of the divine righteousness’ which Tom takes to mean both covenant faithfulness and forensic justice. This partially correct analysis (the Gospel is a revelation of God’s righteousness) but this does not adequately explain Rom. 1.18ff. which refers to Gentiles and judgment on them. On p. 943 Tom suggests that Rom. 1.3-4 indicates that by Christ’s resurrection, God was declaring Jesus to be ‘in the right’. What the text actually says is that he was appointed to be, or indicated to be or vindicated to be Son of God in power by means of the resurrection. His being in the right may be implied, but the point is that he was declared or appointed to be Son of God in power at that juncture and by that means. In the next post we finally get to the climactic point no. 7– about justification.