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

On p. 957, Tom says this: “the declaration ‘dikaios’ ‘in the right’ is therefore bestowed on those who are both ‘in the Messiah’ and indwelt by the Messiah’s spirit, by the Messiah himself.” Here, this seems to suggest regeneration precedes the declaration. There are two problems with this analysis: 1) it contradicts what Paul specifically says in 1 Cor. 12— there he says ‘by one Spirit we have all been baptized into the one body, and given the one Spirit from which we all may drink’ (this is my paraphrase. There is a difference between the Spirit’s work on a person, and the indwelling of the Spirit, and note that this verse comes after he says no one says Jesus is Lord except by the prompting or inspiration of the Spirit. Until a person is part of the body of Christ, we cannot talk about the Spirit indwelling that person. This does not happen before justification or the new birth; 2) while Tom is right that the declaration is not the same as the transformation, they are coincident in time, which explains why some fuse or confuse the two. We might want to ask as well what the word ‘effects’ means on pp. 956-57, when he says “the Spirit effects both the Abba response of the adopted child to the one God and the ‘pistis’ whose content is the resurrection of the crucified Messiah…’ If ‘effects’ means no more than inspires or enables, that’s one thing. If ‘effects’ means ‘does’ then we have a problem. Prayer and the exhibiting or exercising of faith in God is the activity of human beings, and the Spirit does not do it for us. Furthermore, it is an activity unlike, say blinking. It is not an automatic unconscious activity, it is a chosen one, often a planned one.

As in Tom’s book on Justification, you can tell that he has felt the sting of the uber-Reformed criticism of his views when he says “My negative response to this is not driven by any knee-jerk desire to maintain my protestant credentials. Those have long sense been taken from me, whether rightly or wrongly, perhaps that too will be sorted out on the last day.” (p. 957).

On p. 958 we hear that keeping the Law, for Paul, now means, in the case of Christians– “confessing Jesus as lord, and believing that the one God raised him from the dead”. No, that is not what Paul means by keeping the Law. And while we are at it, the Law of Christ has to do with ethics, behavior, not specifically with confessions of faith, though of course that too is a right and righteous act. We will say more on this when Tom says more about the Law.

On p. 959 we have an interesting statement– while he is asserting that first, the Spirit works through the proclamation of the Gospel, he adds in note 521 “Paul, of course, reaches back behind this ‘first’ to the ancient Hebrew notion of the divine foreknowledge and plan (Rom. 8.28f.), but he never spells out how he understands these.” Would that more Reformed scholars were as reticent to spell it out for Paul, as Tom, thus far, in this huge tome, has been. I’m thankful Tom says things like this. If even Paul doesn’t spell this out, why should we feel free to add to his words, and thereby stand in danger of badly misinterpreting them. He goes on however to add that justification, that declared status is the basis for the assurance of final salvation and the assurance of membership in the covenant family.

It is helpful that Tom keeps summarizing and combining his main points, and on p. 960 we have another such helpful summary— “Justification is the divine declaration, creating the new status of ‘righteous’ ‘adopted child’ because of which the believer can move forward in the Christian pilgrimage. At every stage it utterly presupposes the one off decisive work of the Messiah; at every stage it utterly requires the work of the Spirit. This is the beating heart of redefined election.”

On p. 962 Tom says “Baptism does outwardly and visibly… what justification says. Justification is the declaration made by the one God himself; baptism makes that divine word tangible and visible. Baptism, like justification, points back firmly to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the ground and means of the single divine saving action.”

There is no reflection here however on what baptism symbolizes, and what Paul actually says is that in baptism we are buried with Christ— not mind you crucified with him, or raised with him, but buried with him. This is because baptism like circumcision is a sign of the oath curse, not the saving blessing. That is, it is a sign of the cutting off, or in this case burial, of the old self. It is not a symbol of death and resurrection (see my book Troubled Waters). So baptism is not the public celebration of justification as Tom asserts (p. 963). To the contrary it is like the old trial by water ordeal symbols, a drowning of the old self. Notice for instance the discussion of baptism in 1 Pet. 3 where an analogy is drawn with the flood of Noah! Clearly that is a judicial action of a different sort, and it doesn’t involve a declaration ‘no condemnation’ or ‘justified’.

On p. 965, based on his analysis that the only kind of justification talk that seems to exist in early Judaism before Paul is ‘redefinition of covenant membership’ Tom suggests that this is why we hear of this model being used by Paul in his earlier letter of Galatians, and “there is a possibility that Paul having used the language in that primary sense in Galatians, went on from there to explore and develop its potential forensic meanings as a second layer” (in Romans, Philippians etc.).

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