Reframing “Justification” by Expansion

Reframing “Justification” by Expansion December 11, 2019

Surely one of the most peace-making contributors to the discussions about Paul’s theology is Michael Gorman who grabs what is good from the big bag of the past, ignores what is not so good (without polemical dismissals), and adds his own wisdom. He contributes by putting this all into a new package about the meaning of justification, which too often is narrowly seen as forensic and what some called a “legal fiction.” What about sanctification?

Gorman brings justification into participation with sanctification (there’s a pun there for those with eyes to see) in his new collection of essays,  Participating in Christ: Explorations in Paul’s Theology and Spirituality (#ad).

His 7th study is about “New Creation!” and it seeks to show… well, here’s how he states it:

1. Galatians 2:15-21 is a self-contained rhetorical unit, the subject of this unit is “justification,” and Paul is offering his own interpretation of justification.

2. There are two mutually exclusive approaches to the means of justificationnamely, the (works of the) law and the Messiah’s death—but because Messiah Jesus’ faithful and loving death is the manifestation (or apocalypse) of God’s grace, it alone is the actual means, or objective basis, of justification.

3. Justification is a participatory reality described explicitly as entailing co-crucifixion with the Messiah, and this is what Paul means here by ith”; it is this type of faith—a death with the Messiah, and both to the law and to the self—that brings a person into the realm of the Messiah. This is the mode, or subjective basis, of justification.

4. Justification is participation not only in the Messiah’s death but also in his resurrection, which means that justification entails resurrection to new life—that is, the emergence of a new self indwelt by the (Spirit of the) Messiah and living in proper relation to God.

5. Justification as participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection means transformation into righteousness, which will be exhibited fundamentally as cruciform faithfulness and love.

6. A participatory and transformative understanding of justification based on 2:15-21 does not rule out either (1) a covenantal, primarily “horizontal” understanding of justification as membership in the covenant community grounded in the context of gentile acceptance or (2) a declarative understanding of justification—if a divine declaration is rightly understood as effective.

7. The participatory and transformative understanding of justification presented in chapter 6 should contribute to theological rapprochement between old and new perspectives and between West and East.

His concern in this chp to bring Galatians 2:15-21 into conversation with 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. He concludes, and once again ties justification to both crucifixion and resurrection (something often ignored in some discussions):

Second Corinthians, then, confirms the claims made about Galatians in the previous chapter: that justification is thoroughly participatory (“in him” [en auto]), transformative (“become” [genometha]), and ethical (“the justice/ righteousness [dikaiosyne] of God”).

1. There are many echoes of Galatians 2:15-21 in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, such that the latter should he seen as a restatement of the former for a different audience. (Or, in the unlikely event that Galatians was written later, vice versa.)

2. Both texts understand justification as an event of participation and transformation, such that the wall between justification and sanctification is in many ways collapsed. Each text, Galatians 2 and 2 Corinthians 5, proclaims that justification is an experience of death and resurrection, indeed an event of new creation.

3. Since Paul builds on these two letters when writing Romans, we can assume that he carries forward this participatory, transformative, death-and-resurrection, new-creational understanding of justification when he composes that letter.



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  • danaames

    Yes, this could be the beginning of some fruitful discussion with Eastern Christianity, particularly with regard to both the cross and resurrection as integral to that understanding.

    There are two things that come up for me when reading this that are problematic. First, Gorman continues to link justification to ethical behavior. Although ethical behavior is a desired outcome of being just/righteous, I haven’t found anything in EO theology that looks like an “effective” divine declaration regarding a person’s standing before God. When you dig down into the context of the use of the dik-words in EO, it is entirely participatory and relational – no hint whatsoever of anything juridical or moralistic, as we typically understand the word “righteous”. The understanding to which I came regarding the dik-words after listening to when and how they appear in EO services (and this was confirmed by a very scholarly parish priest of my acquaintance) is that the Orthodox interpretation indicates that they have to do with the ability – given by God alone as part of his working within us (grace = the action of the Holy Spirit, not something created or otherwise “outside” of God himself) – to be in that participatory relationship with God. If the dik-words are read with that (whole long) definition in mind, the Scripture passages in which they appear become very clear and understandable, and definitely stress the participatory aspect.

    This is related to the second thing. After a person has been baptized and chrismated in EO (the two usually happen as one event), the priest says: “You are justified. You are illumined. You are sanctified. You are washed: in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God…You are baptized. You are illumined. You have been Chrismated. You are sanctified. You are washed: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Which is to say that justification – and illumination and sanctification too – comes by means of the ritual act which happens in the Church – the act of baptism into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The baptized person is not only now part of the Church, but is now “in Christ” – there is no deeper participation than that. So justification again is not something juridical or moral or referring to “standing in God’s eyes” – it’s entirely participatory. This also brings us into the ambit of ecclesiology, about which there are also significant differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy.

    But Gorman has done very good work.