Justification: Declared Righteous vs Declared to be a Member of God's Covenant People

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by Steve Paynter, Jun 21, 2013.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    This is a slightly extended version of a brief treatment of this issue that I wrote for an email correspondent, but it occurred to me that perhaps more people might be interested.

    The traditional Reformed understanding of "to be justified" is the forensic "to be declared righteous". N.T. Wright has suggested that "to be justified" is the forensic "to be declared a member of God's covenant community". Theologians in the Reformed tradition have regularly through history argued for their understanding of "to be justified" against the Roman Catholic understanding that "to be justified" means "to be made righteous". Not surprisingly, most of these arguments work against N.T. Wright's position as well.

    Here is a brief overview of these traditional Reformed arguments, with pointed application against the New Perspective position. There are four basic arguments concerning the meaning of dikaioo, based around:

    1) what the biblical writers contrast being justified with; ​
    2) who the biblical writers say are justified; ​
    3) who the biblical writers say are doing the justifying; and ​
    4) what the biblical writers treat as being synonymous with being justified.​

    In the first category are verses such as Rom 5:16 and Romans 8:33-34:

    "Again the gift of God is not like the result of one man's sin. The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification." (Rom 5:16)​

    "Who will bring any charge against those who God has chosen? It is God who justifies, who is he that condemns?" (Rom 8:33-34)​

    If the opposite of being justified is being condemned, then being justified must mean something like "being declared righteous" or "exonerated" or "vindicated", for these are the opposite of being condemned. Being made righteous (Roman Catholics) or being declared to be one of God's people (NPP) is not exact opposites of being condemned. The same is also true of the Arminian position that "to be justified" means "to be forgiven one's past sins".

    Of special interest in the second category are those verses that speak of God or Jesus being justified. (Here the Greek is needed, as English translations often obscure the fact that "justified" is being used.) There are numerous examples, but here are two:

    "All the people, even the tax collectors, when they head Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right (justified), because they had been baptised by John" (Luke 7:29) ​

    "Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated (justified) by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, ...." (1 Tim 3:16)​

    If God and Jesus are being justified again it must mean something like "declared righteous" or "exonerated" or "vindicated" and not being made righteous, or being declared to be one of God's covenant people (and certainly not the Arminian "to be forgiven"). (Clearly, the ground that God and Jesus are declared righteous is because they actually are righteous, not because of imputed righteousness, but that doesn't change the basic meaning of what being justified actually means).

    In the third category of special interest is when ordinary people are justifying each other, God, or themselves. Clearly, ordinary people cannot "make anyone righteous" (contra the Roman Catholic understanding of the meaning of justification), nor can they declare someone to be one of God's covenant people (contra the NPP and Wright position of justification) ... come to that, they can only forgive sins committed against them, not all of someone's past sins.

    "But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:29)​

    (Jesus' interlocutor here certainly wasn't trying to forgive himself!)

    In the fourth category one finds various things associated with salvation paralleled with being justification, again showing that being justified is to do with soteriology and not merely ecclesiology (contra Wright).

    "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but it is the does of the law who will be justified." (Rom 2:13)​

    To be justified means to be declared to be righteous, and when it is God doing this declaring, that has salvific implications.

    Numerous other verses in each of these categories could be found, and can be found quoted in various older Reformed books on justification, such as Buchanan's "The Doctrine of Justification".

    Wright might have been right about the linguistic meaning, but fortunately the Bible provides enough context to show us exactly how "justified" worked for Paul and Luke and others, and it was as the Reformers told us, to be justified is to be declared righteous. It is a forensic declaration, not merely that one is one of God's people (although being declared righteous entails that), but that one is exonerated/vindicated/declared innocent by God ... and Paul tells us that it is the wicked who are so justified ... by faith alone in Christ alone through grace alone.
  2. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    One of the really amazing things about the scholarship that the NPP is based upon is that ... as far as I have been able to determine ... NPP scholars have never even bothered to interact with and refute such arguments. Probably because many of them have just been so ignorant of Reformed theology and literature, in spite of the fact that it is the Reformed position that they are so interested in over-turning. It really is a sad statement on the balkanisation that goes on in academic disciplines nowadays, where biblical scholars know very little theology.

    I can't help thinking I would give much NPP scholarship a "3 out of 10", and a "must do better".
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2013
  3. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Thaks for that, Steve.

    Also, throughout the OT, particularly the Psalms, the righteous (justified) are repeatedly distinguished from the wicked within the OT administration of the covenant.

    And this also continues in the Parables and teaching of our Lord, e.g. the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee.

    It. has never been enough to be "in the covenant" for justification and salvation; you must be "of the covenant". All the justified are of the covenant and all those of the covenant are justified.

    Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2013
  4. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    I do not think many biblical scholars ... including N.T. Wright .... make this "in the covenant" / "of the covenant" distinction. The NPP seems to work with a particular kind of mono-covenantalism that is quite profound. All the biblical covenants are understood as renewals of the one covenant. Furthermore, some NPP scholars argue that this one covenant - the covenant of the people of God - have the same "shape" or "pattern" - namely, covenantal nomism. This is a more complete flattening than goes on with the Presbyterian/WCF "covenant of grace" covenant, I think. Or if it is not, it makes the Mosaic dispensation the guide by which the New dispensation is understood, rather than the other way around, as in the WCF, where monergistic grace is made the guide by which the Mosaic covenant is understood.

    Both these positions contrast with the position which sees the Mosaic covenant as non-salvific, and distinct from the covenant of grace, and based on different principles, namely law instead of promise. Those who adopt this view - Horton, Petto, Owen?, and the 1689 Particular Baptists, obviously have an even more profound disagreement with the NPP scholars over their covenant theology. The Particular Baptists - in particular - would argue that the distinction you make between being "in" or "of" the covenant, is really the distinction between being merely "in the Mosaic covenant" or having faith in the promised covenant of grace (before Jesus) or faith in the Jesus, placing one in the established covenant of grace (i.e. the new covenant) - after Jesus' death and resurrection.
  5. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    The distinction is explained further by Berkhof in a chapter in his "Systematic Theology" on the "Duality of the Covenant". It's a duality that can be seen illustratively in the covenant of marriage as well, but in that case, the Baptists don't collapse the external and objective aspects of marriage into the internal and subjective aspects, nor do the FV/NPP people collapse the internal and subjective aspects into the external and objective aspects.

    As regards the Mosaic covenant and/or administration being non-salvific or not an administration of the CoG, this does not comport with it being chock-a-block full of the Gospel of grace, albeit in a shadowy form, which we still learn from, nor with the fact that many were led to Christ through the salvific teaching of the Mosaic covenant/administration. Are we to say that e.g. the Abrahamic covenant was non-salvific because he had circumcision as a sacrament and he was taught about Christ through animal sacrifices?

    Shadowy and childish, relative to us? Yes. Non-salvific, not gracious, not chock-a-block full of the Gospel tailored to their pre-Christian needs, not an administration of the CoG? No!

    Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2013
  6. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Great analysis in the first post Steve. I don't know if you're aware but N.T. Wright and James White discussed Wright's theology on the Unbelievable radio broadcast. It can be listened to here: NT Wright & James White debate on St. Paul & Justification - Unbelievable?

    One of the interesting aspects of Wright's responses to James here was his repeated note that he sees the Reformed as essentially being in the correct place as far as understanding Justification even as they generally get Justification as declaration incorrect. He sees Lutherans as getting it wrong because of their Law/Gospel divide. James is right to point out that grouping all NPP authors together may be unhelpful and specifically interacts with Wright's views.

    For my own part, I think Wright represents someone who is trying to understand what the Scriptures teach about union with Christ while retaining a synergistic view as I believe you point out in a later post. In other words, I think he "likes" Reformed theology because it has a robust understanding that, once a person is united to Christ, the life of Christ through the Spirit "impels" righteousness (if I may speak in shorthand). To Wright, it seems, the key consideration is the Kingdom of God and living therein and so the basic question for Wright is this: is the visible Christian living in righteousness? I think he would even acknowledge that it is the life of Christ that is impelling this but not in the very particular manner that the Reformed would see this as being God's intention for an elect from before the foundation of the world.

    Thus, while we might "agree" with Wright that union with Christ produces a righteous people within the Kingdom of God, I think it's fair to Wright to understand that people can move in and out of that union based on their "decision" to participate. Because Wright rejects the Reformed view of election and monergism, this is the closest he can get to the Reformed view but, like many other people today, what's important is the results and not the reasons. That is to say, I think Wright is happy to see traditional Reformed theology insisting that union with Christ must produce a people of God living for the Kingdom of God. Since that's the main thing for Wright, the fact that we see that as the fruit of God's intention to save a particular people is viewed as a somewhat non-consequential inconsistency.
  7. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Incidentally, to quote from the BDAG what the semantic domain of the word δικαιόω is. None of the meanings can be understood to mean "made righteous" or "declared to be a member of the Covenant":

    δικαιόω fut. δικαιώσω; 1 aor. ἐδικαίωσα. Pass.: 1 fut. δικαιωθήσομαι; 1 aor. ἐδικαιώθην, subj. δικαιωθῶ, ptc. δικαιωθείς; pf. δεδικαίωμαι Ro 6:7; 1 Cor 4:4; ptc. δεδικαιωμένος Lk 18:14 (Soph., Hdt.; Aristot., EN 1136a; et al.; pap, LXX; En 102:10; TestAbr A 13 p. 93, 14 [Stone p. 34]; Test12Patr; ApcSed, 14:8 p. 136, 15 Ja.; Jos., Ant. 17, 206; Just.; Ath., R. 53, 1; 65, 14) to practice δικαιοσύνη.

    to take up a legal cause, show justice, do justice, take up a cause τινά (Polyb. 3, 31, 9 ὑμᾶς δὲ αὐτοὺς … δικαιώσεσθε ‘you will (find it necessary to) take up your own cause’ = you will sit in judgment on yourselves; Cass. Dio 48, 46 ‘Antony was not taking Caesar’s side’ in the matter; 2 Km 15:4; Ps 81:3) δικαιῶσαι δίκαιον take up the cause of an upright pers. 1 Cl 16:12 (Is 53:11); τινί χήρᾳ (χήραν v.l.) 8:4 (Is 1:17 ‘take up the cause of the widow’).

    to render a favorable verdict, vindicate.

    ⓐ as activity of humans justify, vindicate, treat as just (Appian, Liby. 17 §70; Gen 44:16; Sir 10:29; 13:22; 23:11 al.) θέλων δ. ἑαυτόν wishing to justify himself Lk 10:29; δ. ἑαυτὸν ἐνώπιόν τινος j. oneself before someone=‘you try to make out a good case for yourselves before the public’ 16:15 (δ. ἐαυτόν as En 102:10; but s. JJeremias, ZNW 38, ’39, 117f [against him SAalen, NTS 13, ’67, 1ff]). ὁ δικαιούμενός μοι the one who vindicates himself before (or against) me B 6:1 (cp. Is 50:8). τελῶναι ἐδικαίωσαν τὸν θεόν βαπτισθέντες tax-collectors affirmed God’s uprightness and got baptized i.e. by ruling in God’s favor they admitted that they were in the wrong and took a new direction (opp. τὴν βουλὴν τ. θεοῦ ἀθετεῖν) Lk 7:29 (cp. PsSol 2:15; 3:5; 8:7, 23; 9:2).

    ⓑ of experience or activity of transcendent figures, esp. in relation to humans
    α. of wisdom ἐδικαιώθη ἀπὸ τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς is vindicated by her children (on δικ. ἀπό cp. Is 45:25. S. also Appian, Basil. 8: δικαιόω=consider someth. just or correct) Lk 7:35; also ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῆς Mt 11:19 (v.l. τέκνων). On this saying s. DVölter, NThT 8, 1919, 22–42; JBover, Biblica 6, 1925, 323–25; 463–65; M-JLagrange, ibid. 461–63. Of an angel Hm 5, 1, 7.
    β. of God be found in the right, be free of charges (cp. TestAbr A 13 p. 93, 14 [Stone p. 34] ‘be vindicated’ in a trial by fire) Mt 12:37 (opp. καταδικάζειν). δεδικαιωμένος Lk 18:14; GJs 5:1; δεδικαιωμένη (Salome) 20:4 (not pap). Ac 13:39 (but s. 3 below); Rv 22:11 v.l; Dg 5:14.—Paul, who has influenced later wr. (cp. Iren. 3, 18, 7 [Harv. II 102, 2f]), uses the word almost exclusively of God’s judgment. As affirmative verdict Ro 2:13. Esp. of pers. δικαιοῦσθαι be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous and thereby become δίκαιος, receive the divine gift of δικαιοσύνη through faith in Christ Jesus and apart from νόμος as a basis for evaluation (MSeifrid, Justification by Faith—The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme ’92) 3:20 (Ps 142:2), 24, 28; 4:2; 5:1, 9; 1 Cor 4:4; Gal 2:16f (Ps 142:2); 3:11, 24; 5:4; Tit 3:7; Phil 3:12 v.l.; B 4:10; 15:7; IPhld 8:2; Dg 9:4; (w. ἁγιάζεσθαι) Hv 3, 9, 1. οὐ παρὰ τοῦτο δεδικαίωμαι I am not justified by this (after 1 Cor 4:4) IRo 5:1. ἵνα δικαιωθῇ σου ἡ σάρξ that your flesh (as the sinful part) may be acquitted Hs 5, 7, 1; δ. ἔργοις by (on the basis of) works, by what one does 1 Cl 30:3; cp. Js 2:21, 24f (ἔργον 1a and πίστις 2dδ); διʼ ἐαυτῶν δ. by oneself=as a result of one’s own accomplishments 1 Cl 32:4. (cp. κατὰ νόμον Hippol., Ref. 7, 34, 1).—Since Paul views God’s justifying action in close connection with the power of Christ’s resurrection, there is sometimes no clear distinction between the justifying action of acquittal and the gift of new life through the Holy Spirit as God’s activity in promoting uprightness in believers. Passages of this nature include Ro 3:26, 30; 4:5 (on δικαιοῦν τὸν ἀσεβῆ cp. the warning against accepting δῶρα to arrange acquittal Ex 23:7 and Is 5:23; δικαιούμενοι δωρεάν Ro 3:24 is therefore all the more pointed); 8:30, 33 (Is 50:8); Gal 3:8; Dg 9:5. For the view (held since Chrysostom) that δ. in these and other pass. means ‘make upright’ s. Goodsp., Probs. 143–46, JBL 73, ’54, 86–91.

    to cause someone to be released from personal or institutional claims that are no longer to be considered pertinent or valid, make free/pure (the act. Ps 72:13) in our lit. pass. δικαιοῦμαι be set free, made pure ἀπό from (Sir 26:29; TestSim 6:1, both δικ. ἀπὸ [τῆς] ἁμαρτίας) ἀπὸ πάντων ὧν οὐκ ἠδυνήθητε ἐν νόμω Μωϋσέως δικαιωθῆναι from everything fr. which you could not be freed by the law of Moses Ac 13:38; cp. vs. 39. ὁ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τ. ἁμαρτίας the one who died is freed fr. sin Ro 6:7 (s. KKuhn, ZNW 30, ’31, 305–10; EKlaar, ibid. 59, ’68, 131–34). In the context of 1 Cor 6:11 ἐδικαιώθητε means you have become pure.—In the language of the mystery religions (Rtzst., Mysterienrel.3 258ff) δικαιοῦσθαι refers to a radical inner change which the initiate experiences (Herm. Wr. 13, 9 χωρὶς γὰρ κρίσεως ἰδὲ πῶς τὴν ἀδικίαν ἐξήλασεν. ἐδικαιώθημεν, ὦ τέκνον, ἀδικίας ἀπούσης) and approaches the sense ‘become deified’. Some are inclined to find in 1 Ti 3:16 a similar use; but see under 4.

    to demonstrate to be morally right, prove to be right, pass. of God is proved to be right Ro 3:4; 1 Cl 18:4 (both Ps 50:6). Of Christ 1 Ti 3:16.—Lit. s. on δικαιοσύνη 3c.—HRosman, Iustificare (δικαιοῦν) est verbum causativum: Verbum Domini 21, ’41, 144–47; NWatson, Δικ. in the LXX, JBL 79, ’60, 255–66; CCosgrove, JBL 106, ’87, 653–70.—DELG s.v. δίκη. M-M. EDNT. TW. Spicq.

    Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (249). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  8. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    But since even after entering the Kingdom of God we still commit sin, how does Wright see us being made right with God without the forensic righteousness of Christ?

    By our living in a prevailing or predominately righteous lifestyle while still committing sin, and thus being identified as Covenant people?

    Of course that doesn't even mention the sins we committed before entering the Kingdom/being recognised as Covenant people.
  9. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    Interestingly, I have spent some time studying Acts 13:38-39, mentioned in this entry. Commentators and Bible translators are all over the place with regard to how "justified" should be understood in this verse, partly because the context doesn't help very much, and partly because of the rather unusual occurrence of ἀπὸ (from) in the sentence. Some have argued that the presence of the ἀπὸ means that "justified from" here means "freed from", as BDAG implies. However, if one looks up the verses that BDAG quotes (in Sir 26:29 and Testament of Simeon 6:1) or if one does an exhaustive search through the literature, one finds not only that the ἀπὸ does not determine the meaning of justified, but that the Testament of Simeon cannot support that meaning, only the "normal" Reformed one.

    The only other occurrence of these words together in the NT is in Romans 6:7. Some argue that this is the best example of "justified from" having to mean "freed from" ... however, having attempted to exegete the entire chapter 6 of Romans, I am far from convinced that even here, "justified from" means "freed from".

    Apart from this rather detailed point, the problem with quoting BDAG in NPP debates, is the age of much of the scholarship on which it is based ... which is pre-NPP. BDAG tends to carry little weight with scholars engaged in this debate. However, it does underline just how novel and unprecedented NPP readings of "justified" are.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2013
  10. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    This is a very interesting reading of Wright. I actually think ... although until his new book on Paul comes out we may not really know ... that Wright's view is monergistic. As an overall system, I think he has many similarities with Augustine - although Augustine thought justification was a process that made you righteous, and Wright distances justification from soteriology. Nevertheless, if I read Wright right, he sees "final acquittal" for Christians being on the basis of a life of works, where those works are worked by the Holy Spirit in all those who are in the covenant as shown by their faith. He does seem to see these works being inevitable due to the work of the Holy Spirit. However, it as sad state of affairs when we have to piece together an important writers views, as he has failed to make them plain.

    If you are right about Wright thinking that people "can move in and out of that union based on their decision to participate", then my reading of Wright needs to be over-hauled (again!) Can you point to any of his books/articles/interviews where he teaches that, for I have missed that in my reading?
  11. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    Sorry that I completely forgot about this thread.

    My reading of Wright may be in error. I was trying to listen to him carefully as he was engaging James White in the mini-debate and also based on some other things I've read.

    As you note, he sees Justification based on a final verdict and, as I listen to him, he seems to want to insist that union with Christ is accomplished by being of the Covenant people of God. I think Wright would want to say that a person is in Christ if he's in the Covenant. I may be stretching it a bit but, if Galatians is all about answering who is in the Covenant (and therefore in Christ) then a person who is cut off from the Covenant is cut off from Christ and they can "lose" their union with Christ. Perhaps Wright might object to this but that's how I'm hearing it. One is ultimately justified, then, by faithfulness to the Covenant and not, precisely, by faith. I'd be happy to be corrected if you're seeing somthing different.
  12. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    This is another one of the problematic things about Wright's teachings.
  13. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree that Wright misreads Paul here. In doing so he not only misunderstands Paul, but takes away important verses which do teach us about the gift of righteousness that is ours as we are justified. However, I think it is his misunderstanding of justification which is the most important mistake he makes, and not his misunderstanding of "the righteousness of God". What he ends up saying about God's covenant faithfulness is not actually wrong - just not supported by the verses he quotes. It is so often the case with Wright that it is what he denies rather than what he positively teaches (if one can make that distinction) which is the most problematic.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page