Paula Fredriksen on Paul and Justification by Faith

In the latest issue of JBL is an article by Paula Fredriksen on “Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Ten Commandments, and Pagan ‘Justification by faith,’” JBL 133.4 (2014): 801-7.

Fredriksen attempts to understand “justification by faith” beyond its usual theological discourse and identify the meaning of the phrase in its original social context. Her starting point is Josephus, Ant. 18.116-19 with John the Baptist’s preaching of “piety” and “righteousness” which correspond to the two tables of the Ten Commandments: commands 1-5 (piety toward God) and commands 6-10 (justice towards others).

Fredriksen points out that while Paul insisted that Gentiles did not convert to Judaism and obey the Jewish law, even so, he still urged them to adopt Jewish practices like monotheism, avoiding fornication, and idolatry. So Paul does “judaize” them in some sense.  Fredriksen contends that dikaiosyne for Gentiles involves conforming them implicitly to table 1 of the decalogue (with faith in one god) and explicitly to table 2 of the decalogue (in righteous conduct towards others).

She concludes:

When Paul’s pagans, then, adhered steadfastly to the good news brought by his message (“believed in the gospel”), they ceased worshiping their own gods and committed themselves to teh god of Israel through his Son (the cluster of ideas around pisteuo). Made right by God toward God, they were likewise pneutmatically enabled to make right toward each other by acting rightly toward each other, “not like the ethne who do not know God” (1 Thess 4:5; cf. Rom 1:18-32). Their pistis in Christ (confidence that he had died, had been raised, and was soon coming back) righteoused them (through the giving of pneuma, which also effected adoption) so that they could “fulfill the law,” specifically, the Law’s Second Table, diakiosyne. Thus, in the same place where Paul reviews the sins of the flesh that Christ-following pagans have left behind (Rom 13:13-14), and where he speaks urgently of the impending end (Rom 13:13-14), and where he speaks urgently of the impending end (1311-12), he also lists the commandments of the Second Table (13:9-10). “Righteoused” pagans, spirit-filled, enabled by their commitment to Christ and, through him, to God, act “righteously” toward others in community. This is what Paul meant by “justification by faith.” (p.808).

Some interesting things here:

  • Fredriksen seems to think of justification as both declaration and transformation, which makes sense in some places (see Rom 6:7 and Acts 13:39), but is not a new idea, Kasemann, Stuhlmacher, and Garlington have advocated this, albeit in Protestant theological terms.
  • I think Fredriksen is right that when Gentiles as justified/righteous, they are also lead by the Spirit to do righteousness, which means fulfilling the Torah, as per Rom 8:4, 13:9-10, and maybe Gal 6:2.
  • The thing lacking in Fredriksen’s article I think is an account of what other Jews – whether Christ-believers or non-Christ believers – would have found objectionable to this and why.



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