N.T Wright’s Galatians– Part Twelve

N.T Wright’s Galatians– Part Twelve July 17, 2021

Q. In some ways your take on dikaiosune as applied to the believer seems very much traditional— it means to be declared righteous on the basis of Christ’s faithfulness even unto death on the cross. In other words, it is about what is traditionally called justification, or ‘right standing with God’. One then wonders why John Piper and others have gone ballistic over your take on this crucial term. Did they just not understand your point? For me personally, I would go a bit further and say it refers to being put back into right relationship with God, which is not just about legal position but also the start or restart of a positive relationship. Would you agree? Of course, I am assuming that the new birth and what we call justification, while they can be distinguished, in fact go together at the beginning of a person being in Christ.

A. Yes, but I don’t think that’s what Paul is discussing. And I think in Galatians ‘justification’ is God’s declaration (on the basis of Messiah-faithfulness i.e. BOTH Jesus’ faithful death AND human faith in what-God-has-done-in-Jesus) that this person is ‘in the right’, dikaios in the sense we discussed earlier from Pss Sol – i.e. a real, true member of God’s covenant family. Since this is very much a new-covenant, new-exodus term for Paul this also includes the forgiveness of sins, but that’s not the primary thing Paul is talking about in Gal (words for ‘sin’ etc are v rare in Gal, contrast Rom). ‘Right standing with God’ is of course there, but NOT (and this is what Piper and co don’t like of course) in terms of the mediaeval ‘accumulation of moral credit’. That way of putting it is simply radically anachronistic for the first century. Since Piper etc have set up the whole thing in terms of that mediaeval question they naturally object when I take it back to the first century since it undermines the neat structure. The point, anyway, in Galatians, is not ‘do I have right standing before God’ but ‘who should I sit down and eat with’. There is NO CHANGE OF SUBJECT at 2.15!

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