Joshua Davis gives a deft summary of J. Louis Martyn’s understanding of Pauline theology in the introduction to Apocalyptic and the Future of Theology: With and Beyond J. Louis Martyn, which Davis co-edited with Douglas Harinck.
Building on but going beyond Kasemann, Martyn attempts to reconstruct Paul’s doctrine of justification by insisting that it is “an objective change in the world’s affairs and not only a subjective change of self-relation.” Creation undergoes a “thoroughgoing transformation of the conditions of existence under creation’s true kyrios” (38). He thinks that the traditional translation of dikaioo as “justify” obscures the scope of Paul’s teaching, since it “reinforces the traditional Reformation emphasis on subjective change. Martyn prefers to speak of “rectification,” which he describes as follows (in Davis’s summary):
“On the one hand, it maintains and highlights the Reformation teaching that it is God alone who redeems and strongly emphasizes the priority of God’s action in that doctrine. On the other hand, it stresses that the object of God’s action is the afflicted cosmos. In the apocalyptic frame, Sin is a power that has invaded the cosmos and taken it captive, and God’s act of rectification is an invasion of these hostile forces to liberate their prisoners and end their insurrection” (38).Against the “Teachers,” Paul insists that one cannot escape Flesh and Sin by circumcision, since “life according to the Flesh is a bondage that is cosmic in scope and does not allow for this choice of taking the path of blessing or cursing” (39). God must act to rectify, and that rectification doesn’t just change the person’s status but puts him in a new relation “to what lies outside the self” in a “transformation of the very conditions of human agency” (39).
The old order, including the Law, enslaved humanity and so in rectifying the creation God undoes the slavery of the old order: Rectification means “the obsolescence of ‘religion’ as the ritualized and cultic differentiation of sacred and profane that purportedly constitute happy relations with God. In the light of God’s apocalyptic act in the faith of Jesus, the Teachers’ adherence to the religious distinctions of the Law is ironically revealed to be the same idolatry they fear in uncircumcised Gentile Christians because it is based on the same constitutive domination and antagonistic separation that are the work of the very ‘flesh’ they demand to be excised” (40).
Galatians 3:28 encapsulates Paul’s apocalyptic theology. It declares the end of the stoicheia tou kosmou, which Martyn takes as a world constructed on the basis of pairs of opposites. These “antinomies,” which are evident in Torah, as well as in Greek science and philosophy, are abolished, and the only opposition that exists after Christ is that between the Spirit and the Flesh that continues to oppose it (41-2). Martyn takes this quite literally: “Paul’s doctrine of rectification eradicates from the cosmos any ontological principle of constitutive opposition. What is more, he has asserted that the advent of Christ is the advent of the new creation of unity in the Spirit under the rule of Jesus Christ.” These are “ontological, metaphysical claims about the truth of reality” (43), not merely symbolic or, apparently, “sociological” claims.
Martyn’s theology has its problems. He has a hard time making sense of Paul’s positive statements about the law; he treats the law itself as a problem rather than placing the emphasis, as Paul does, on Sin’s power to hijack the law to kill rather than give life (Romans 7). Still, Martyn is on track in placing justification in the context of God’s work of cosmic restoration.