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.).

  • Nate

    In a wider Biblical sense, don’t you think baptism, i.e., water, reflects both judgment and salvation? So baptism, while joining us to his curse covenant undertaking, through substitution, is paradoxically – also – salvific? 1 Peter 3 seems to bring both aspects together – waters of judgment are the waters of salvation, no?

  • Nate

    In your mind, then, does justification precede union? Is it the necessary judicial ground for union, or does incorporation into, set the stage for declaration?

  • David

    Ben wrote: “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’.”

    My question however is whether a case could be made that the coming out of the water during baptism is a analogous to, and hence a celebration of, the resurrection? Doesn’t Rom 6: 4 and Col 2: 12 point to these two-fold elements of baptism: 1. Being submerged (burial/death) 2. Being returned above the water (resurrection/new life).
    Col 2: 12 : Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
    Roman 6: 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life .

  • BenW3

    Hi David. The short answer is no. Think of the baptism of Jesus. The falling of the Spirit on him and then the hearing from God was not part of John’s ritual. It followed it. So also resurrection is not on a continuum with death, it follows it. Can you imagine Paul saying ‘I thank God I didn’t save more of you’ but he does say in 1 Cor. 1 ‘ I thank God I didn’t baptize more of you’. BW3

  • Kenton Slaughter

    “Justification is the divine declaration, creating the new status of ‘righteous’ ‘adopted child’”

    John 1:12-13 talks about those who believe being given the right or authority to become children of God, and then describes them as being born of God (by the Spirit according to John 3). Does this passage reflect what Wright says above, in the sense that the “new birth” is actually adoption, and has both a forensic and a transformative dimension? Also, Galatians 3-5 in which Paul variously says that Christians aren’t under the Law because 1) we are justified by faith (3:24), 2) we are sons of God through faith (3:26), and 3) we are led by the Spirit (5:18).

    I absolutely agree regarding the work of the Spirit in drawing people to faith and the filling of the Spirit upon conversion. Acts 2:38 alone demonstrates that the latter comes as a result of repentance.

  • Kenton Slaughter

    About the works of the Law, could these be Paul’s focus:

    Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16, 17 ESV)

    You observe days and months and seasons and years! (Galatians 4:10 ESV)

    The issue clearly isn’t ethnocentrism, but the above is what Paul identifies as the Galatians’ error. So not that they are trying too hard to honor their fathers and mothers, but that they have taken up these sorts of commands as though they will justify and bring about eternal life.

    To clarify, Paul characterizes the Law of Moses according to these sorts of commands, but he treats the Law as an indivisible whole (a body of law that regulates the old covenant). So when he casts it as obsolete, it isn’t that honoring one’s parents is obsolete, but that the body of law characterized by commands pertaining to this age only is obsolete, to be replaced by the canon of the new creation (Gal 6:15-16). Is this a fair reading?

  • BenW3

    The issue in Galatians is if a Gentile gets circumcised he has to keep all 613 mosaic commandments not just the Jewish distinctive s.
    BW3


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