Judgment According to Works, Or on the Basis of Work

John Fesko in a footnote:

“Richard Gaffin tries to argue, on the basis of the grammar involved in a similar Pauline statement, that works are not the ground of judgment: “It is not for nothing, I take it, and not to be dismissed as an overly fine exegesis to observe, that in Romans 2:6 Paul writes, ‘according (kata) to works,’ not ‘on account of (dia),’ expressing the ground, nor ‘by (ek) works,’ expressing the instrument” (By Faith, Not By Sight [Carlisle: Paternoster, 2006], 98-99; similarly, Venema, Gospel, 266). Though Gaffin’s comment concerns Paul’s statement in Romans 2:6, at the same time we find the same prepositional combination with the accusative in John’s statement in Revelation 20:12e, the only difference being in the use of the singular and plural pronouns (cf. Rom 2:6). Gaffin argues this point because he wants to preserve sola fide in the judgment of the works of the believer. Relying upon the analysis of Ridderbos and Murray, Gaffin’s finer point is that the judgment kata works is “in accordance with” the works, and such works are synecdochical for faith in Christ (see Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard de Witt [1975; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 178-81; Murray, Romans, 78-79).

Yet can such a fine distinction be supported by the grammar alone? The use of “dia” with the accusative means “because of, on account of,” and the use of “kata” with the accusative means “in accordance with, corresponding to” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 368-69, 376-77). One must ask, what difference exists between the two? In fact, when we delve more deeply into the significance of “kata” with the accusative, we find that “often the noun that follows kata specifies the criterion, standard, or norm in the light of which a statement is made or is true, an action is performed, or a judgment is passed. The prep. will mean ‘according to’, ‘in conformity with’, ‘corresponding to.’ This use is common in reference to the precise and impartial standard of judgment that will be applied at the great Assize (Matt. 16:27; Rom 2:6; 1 Cor 3:8; 2 Tim. 4:14; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev 2:23)” (Murray J. Harris, “Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament,” in NIDNTT, 3:1200). Pace Gaffin and Venema, their argument apparently fails to account for judgment kata works for the wicked. This point seems to be borne out by Paul’s own use of kata, as he says, “He will render each one according to [kata] his works” (Rom. 2:6), but this rendering kata works is for both the righteous (v. 7) and the wicked (v. 8). According to Gaffin’s interpretation, are the wicked judged according to their works, but are they not the ground of their condemnation (see 2 Cor. 11:15)? Again, note how Paul uses kata: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due [to de ergazomeno ho misthos ou logizetai kata charin alla kata opheilema]” (Rom 4:4; see also Brian Vickers, Jesus Blood and Righteousness [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006] 95; Yinger, Paul, 21-26, 89-90, 135-136, 175, 182, 186). Judgment therefore is indeed kata (in accordance with, or on the basis of) works – the evil works of the unbeliever and the good works, or righteousness, of Christ.

“Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine” p. 315

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5 Comments on “Judgment According to Works, Or on the Basis of Work”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    This makes my head spin. Was that his intent, to make my head spin? If so, he succeeded.

    Tomato or tumowto, it is still not an onion. I can hear a judge saying somewhere right now, “Well son, I reckon you did kill that feller, but that’s not why I’m gonna send you to prison. I’m gonna send you to prison instead for sumthin totally unrelated.”

  2. markmcculley Says:

    II Peter 2:1 –”Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    John Wright wrote: 2 Peter 2:1 is an interesting text. Firstly, it is Peter not Paul. Secondly, it speaks not of righteousness imputed but faith granted. Thirdly,its concern is ecclesiology more than soteriology. Fourthly, interestingly none less than John Owen the great champion of imputed active obedience did not interpret this text in terms of imputation. He wrote,

    In 2 Peter 1: 1, the saints are said to obtain ‘precious faith, through the righteousness of God.’ It is a righteous thing with God to give faith to them for whom Christ died because thereby they have a right unto it. Faith, being amongst the most precious fruits of the death of Christ, by virtue thereof becometh their due for whom he died” (Works of John. Owen, D.D. Goold’s ed., X. 468).

    mark: 1. Of course, there are other texts in Paul which speak of the righteousness that Christ obtained by His obedient death. Romans 5:18–”one act of righteousness leads to justification”. While that text does not speak of the righteousness being imputed, neither can “the righteousness” in that verse be reduced to the idea of God’s attribute of faithfulness or to God’s faithfulness to His promise to save His elect.

    Romans 5:18 is not only saying something general about God: it is contrasting the disobedience of Adam with the obedience of Christ. So your attempt to contrast God’s righteousness with Christ’s righteousness will not work.

    2. You should not discount the witness of II Peter 2:1. Shall we contrast the exegesis of John Owen with that of Robert Haldane? Owen writes not only about the faith but about the faith “being the fruit of the death” and about the faith being “their due for whom He died.”

    I am very serious when I challenge your contrasting things, since you assume a false antithesis. Since II Peter 1:1 is about God’s promised donation of faith to the elect, you seem to think that proves that it is NOT about Christ’s righteousness. But the verse is not only about both truths, but makes a connection between the two truths. Faith is promised and given through the righteousness. That is why Owen, Haldane and many others taught about the gift of faith being earned by Christ.

    3. Unless you are a Socinian who denies that a gift can be earned by Christ’s work, then there is no need to contrast the saving promised mercy of God with the satisfaction of God’s justice (when God reconciled sinners in Christ). God is the giver of faith to the elect, and also Christ by His obedience justly earned that faith for the elect.

    4. Of course there are more than three truths in the verse: a. God allots faith b Christ has a righteousness and c. the gift of faith is given by means of that righteousness. There is also the very important matter of Christ’s deity. There is simply no need to deny that God’s righteousness is Christ’s righteousness since Christ is both God and Savour.

    5. I tire quickly of soundbites contrasting soteriology with ecclesiology. I would deconstruct a difference you do not name. The new covenant does not include any individual who is not elect to be saved from God’s wrath by God’s giving Christ as a propitiation.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Richard Gaffin, p102, By Faith Not by Sight,–“This expression obedience of faith is best taken as intentionally multivalent…In other words, faith itself is an obedience, as well as other acts of obedience that stem from faith.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    The fruit of infralapsarianism? Richard Gaffin, by Faith not by Sight, p 103–“The law-gospel antithesis enters not by virtue of creation but as the consequence of sin…The gospel is to the purpose of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer…With the gospel and in Christ, united to him, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend.”


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