Justification: Five Views, IVP, 2011

The rejection of the biblical view of God’s justification of the ungodly is one result of the rejection of the imputation of the guilt of Adam to sinners. Michael Bird, in his “progressive Reformed view”, writes: “For some commentators, Adam’s disobedience is imputed to sinners and then believers have Jesus’ obedience imputed to them for justification…No matter how much people may try, kathistemi does not mean logizomai. The word kathistemi refers to an actual state of affairs and not to transactions. To say that believers will be made righteous is to posit a rectification in both their legal status and in their moral status.” p113

My point is not simply for you to see that justification has been defined to include transformation. My point is that this argument is based on the rejection of the legal transfer of guilt from Adam to sinners. This debate is not only about the “new perspective” (NT Wright) saying that only the status and not the legal record of Christ’s obedience is transferred to the justified elect. The debate is also about penal substitution. The debate is about a denial that the guilt of the elect was transferred to Christ. Representative “union” will be allowed, but legal substitution is rejected.

The “new perspective” wants to say that it’s not denying anything but trying to include more metaphors. Thus it defines justification as both forensic and transformative. But the new perspective does indeed have its own antithesis. The forensic can be included but it CANNOT be “hegemonic”. This is the new antithesis: legal categories cannot be controlling. It cannot be grace vs works, but grace and works. It cannot be faith in Christ vs works, but Christ’s faith which we share in also. It cannot be justification now vs justification by works then, or we will end up being “couch potatoes” (p155).

But look at the two central denials. Status can be transferred, but “righteousness” is not a property which can be imputed. Thus the antithesis—we are not allowed to say anymore that the legal record of Christ’s obedience to death is a property which can be transferred. That would make Christ to be the “first Pelagian” racking up frequent flyer miles (merits, p145).

And why are we not allowed to say that the righteousness is Christ’s righteousness? We are not allowed to say that Adam’s guilt is a legal property that can be transferred to sinners. Bird argues that the “made sin” is not corruption or guilt, and that this proves that the “become the righteousness” is not allowed to mean that the justified status is a result of Christ’s obedience to the death because of the imputed guilt of the elect.

The Roman Catholic view in this book agrees with Michael Bird. “Original sin does not refer personal guilt but to the sinful condition in which and into which human beings are born.” (p128) This first denial goes along with an even worse second denial, that there is no penal substitution in Isaiah 53. “But what about ‘the Lord has handed him over to our sins…Through the discipline of such punishment, they can be turned from their evil ways and healed…In the sixth century bc, no distinction had yet been drawn between the absolute will of God and the permissive will of God. Such a distinction allows us to understand how God may allow even his totally innocent Son to be handed over to sufferings and to be punished by human beings…The meaning of this vivid poem should not be pushed beyond what it actually says or misread as if it were a precise theological treatise about the transfer of personal guilt.”

Notice that for all the claims of wanting to include everything and not be precise, these folks are always finally very precise in EXCLUDING PENAL SUBSTITUTION. We want more, they say, but they also always want less. They are motivated not only by a desire to say that Jews are saved apart from the obedience of Jesus Christ but also motivated by a hatred for the just God who cannot and will not justify the ungodly apart from the legal record of God having punished God for sins that God legally transferred to God. Don’t be so mechanical and precise, they say, but they routinely and specifically deny any legal solidarity with guilt or with Christ’s death as a legal satisfaction. Some will allow “punishment”, but none will talk about individual guilt being borne by Christ and then taken away.

In the process, the penal substitution view is caricatured. On p 175, the Roman Catholic view explains II Cor 5:21: “supporters of the penal substitution view understand Paul to state that Christ really became a sinner. Our transgressions were counted against him …How could God transform an innocent person into a sinner? What about the possibility of saying, without doing that, God associated Jesus with all sinful men and women and charged him with their sins? …Paul does not use a judicial vocabulary here. God is not said to accuse, charge, judge, or punish.”

Why am I not talking about the difference between Mike Horton and Richard Gaffin on union and justification? I have in other places, but the most important debate about justification is the idea of including transformation into the definition of justification. We cannot say that justification is both forensic and transforming, or we will end up saying that the final forensic verdict is based on works (or “according to works”, and there is no real difference between based on and according to, since condemnation is both based on and according to sins.)

Notice that the quotation above assumes that “really become a sinner” cannot mean “legally charged as a sinner because of imputed sins”. That idea is unthinkable. In the end, according to the new perspective, the verdict is NOT based on a “both-and”, because the verdict is NOT based on the “judicial” but on us not being couch-potatoes. As Michael Bird explains (and Tom Schreiner agrees), Romans 2 is not an empty set (Horton, to his credit, defends empty set, 158).

The idea is that we can share the verdict Christ got when Christ was justified, but not the righteousness Christ got. The idea is that the Holy Spirit will enable us to live so that we will get the same verdict Christ got. Never in view is the problem that we are born as guilty sinners. To quote from one of the five views I have not yet cited, hear Jimmy Dunn: (p119)

“Horton wrote—‘The sin of Adam was imputed to the human race as a covenantal entity in solidarity because it was imputed to each member.’ Not only do we seem to be back into the most offensive (and unfounded) ‘original sin” interpretations of Romans 5:12, but an important element in Paul’s argument is being ignored. Paul makes a point of restricting guilt to the conscious act of breaking the law: sin is not imputed where there is no active disobedience.”

I think it’s Dunn who is ignoring the context. Paul is explaining why those without the law between Adam and Moses died. Why did they die when there was no law they were disobeying? Paul’s answer is that Adam disobeyed the law to Adam. But Dunn simply assumes that Adam’s guilt cannot be justly transferred by God to those after Adam.

Dunn also rejects any idea that Christ’s death can be credited to the elect (Romans 6, placed in the death, before that free from righteousness). At best, Dunn thinks of Christ’s death as a gift to be kept or lost, and so he warns us to take the warnings against apostasy in the way he takes them or not “be serious”.

To Dunn, one of the added advantages of the “new perspective” is that it “undermines the law-gospel antithesis”. (p198) Though nobody in this volume points to Daniel Fuller’s work, they all (except for Horton) seem to think that we are the ones who fulfill the requirement of the law in us. What matters to them is not so much the demand of the commandments of Christ, but the idea that we begin to claim that are keeping those commands. And since what Christ did is not going to help us get that done, we need to get off our couch…and start talking about justice and…keeping the commands or else…

Explore posts in the same categories: imputation

Tags: , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

10 Comments on “Justification: Five Views, IVP, 2011”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Justification always involves faith in the gospel, because it’s the immediate result of IMPUTATION. I say “result of imputation” so as to not leave the impression that there is such a thing as a justification before faith or with faith. And of course, imputation involves both the legal sharing of Christ’s satisfaction of the law (transfer) and the status (declared).

  2. markmcculley Says:


    it is claimed that what just might have been hypothetical language in 2. 6-11 or 2.25-6 simply cannot be in 2.27-9. (Gathercole 129) The hyothetical interpretation is not an essential part of the traditional view. Nevertheless, let us turn to 2.25-9.

    Does what Paul goes on to say in 2.25-29 overthrow this older view, showing us that when the chapter is taken as a whole he has a class of Gentile Christians in view throughout? In my view, to go in this direction is to misunderstand the force of 2.27-9, which (as with the earlier passage about the Gentiles having the law) is not observational but definitional, answering the question, who is a true Jew? How is true Jewishness to be defined? Answer: in terms of the circumcision of the heart. (Deut 30.6) Such circumcision is sufficient for true Jewishness. If it is present, then physical circumcision can only be part of the bene esse of true Jewishness, but not essential to it, for he is a Jew who is one inwardly, whether physically circumcised or not.
    From this definition some conditional sentences are implied. Paul mentions two.

    (1) If a person who is uncircumcised and keeps the law he is in effect circumcised


    (2) If a person is physically circumcised but breaks the law that physical circumcision is cancelled, made null and void.

    And from the passage we are surely warranted in adding a third:

    (3) If a person is uncircumcised but keeps the law (and so is circumcised in the heart) then such a person condemns anyone who is physically circumcised but a lawbreaker.

    We might also add: Such circumcision of the heart is a fruit of the Spirit in who ever it occurs, and it is inward, known to God alone, who alone knows the secrets of the hearts of men, whose praise it receives.

    N.T. Wright says that Paul may be teasing his readers at this point, ‘wooing a reader on from the challenge in 2.1 to a different way of approaching the whole moral task’. (166) There is a course a different method of justification about to be set forth than the method of works-righteousness. But Paul is not yet ready to make that move. One step at a time. At this point he sets out the scheme of salvation by works. He follows this by setting out what true circumcision is. These are definitions, reminders, stage settings: divine justice and equity, divine judgment, circumcision, true Jewishness. The implication of these definitions is that the Jews, because of their hypocrisy (2.17-24) are condemned, as were the Gentiles earlier. (1.18-2.11, 2.1-5)

    Is this section all definitions, no observations? By no means, for Paul claims that the Gentiles by their hypocrisy (like the Jews later (2.17f.) are storing up ‘wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed’. (2.5)

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 2:6-13 is part of a larger argument spanning several chapters, an argument that, at a minimum, involves Romans 1-4 as a whole. Romans 2:6-13 is not in the same category of the other NT passages cited above. This paragraph is not straightforward teaching addressed to believers as part of the exhortation to evangelical obedience. Rather, it is part of an argument leading to the conclusion that “there is none righteous,” but that now there is a way for sinners to be reckoned as “righteous” in God’s sight apart from law-keeping, by faith in Christ.

    Romans 2:6-13 is part of a so-called “diatribe” against the Jewish interlocutor who presumes that he will fare better than the Gentiles at the day of judgment because of his superior knowledge of God’s will. Thus Paul’s point is not to set forth what actually will happen at the day of judgment but to set forth the impartial principles of divine judgment, and then to show that no one, Jew or Gentile, will match up and that therefore everyone, Jew and Gentile, is equally in need of Christ’s imputed righteousness. The rhetorical situation of Romans 2:6-13 is very different from the other passages rightly cited by Waldron.

    Paul’s rhetorical aim in Romans 2:6-13 is to demonstrate the universal impartiality of God, that is, the notion that God judges all humanity, both those under the Law (Jews) and those outside of the Law (Gentiles), on the basis of the same standard, and that, on the basis of that impartial standard, all humanity stands without excuse and subject to God’s judgment. Romans 2:6-13 is not straightforward exhortation to Christians, like 2 Cor 5:10, but is part of an argument the conclusion of which is:

    “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20 ESV).
    One of the big weaknesses of any attempt, such as Dr. Waldron’s, to take Rom 2:6-13 as Christian parenesis rather than as a rhetorical diatribe with unbelieving Jews about the universal impartiality of judgment is that it requires one to soften the terms that Paul uses. For example, Cranfield in his commentary writes that final acquittal is on the basis of “those works of obedience which, though but imperfect and far from deserving God’s favour, are the expression of their heart’s faith” (1.156). But as I wrote in my paper:

    “It is understandable that those who wish to interpret Rom 2:13 in a real sense would want to avoid the implication that perfect obedience is required for final justification. No one claims that perfection is possible. But where in the context does this idea of imperfect obedience come from? It has to be smuggled in to avoid a theologically unacceptable idea of salvation by perfect obedience. But this is to do eisegesis rather than exegesis.” (pp. 54-55)


  4. markmcculley Says:

    Click to access Rom213.pdf

    Schreiner “The focus must be on the moral norms of the Mosaic law, for it is hardly likely that food laws, the observance of days, or the practice of circumcision would be written on the heart.”\

    Lee Irons— In the context Paul seems to make a clear demarcation between Jews, who have the Mosaic Law, and Gentiles, who do not (vv 12, 14). Thus it seems unlikely that Paul would say that the Gentiles have “the conduct that the Mosaic Law demands” written on their hearts.

    Rom 2:13 “the doers of the Law will be justified.” Irons, p 31—Nor should we deny that Paul intended it to be taken seriously. It sets forth the standard that God requires of those who would be
    justified by the Law. in Galatians, Paul states that Lawkeeping
    would bring about righteousness in a counterfactual world where sinners were made alive by the Law and thus enabled to keep it: “If a Law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteous would indeed have been based on Law” (Gal 3:21).

  5. markmcculley Says:

    In N. T. Wright’s judgment, the fact that Paul has Gentile Christians in view in vv 25-29 is “the easiest point to prove of all the contentious things I wish to argue about Romans 2.” Wright’s argument for taking vv 25-29 as referring to Christians is that the “letter/Spirit” contrast of v 29 is paralleled by Rom 7:6 and 2 Cor 3:6, where it roughly corresponds to a contrast between
    being “in the flesh” and being “in the Spirit.” In addition, the spiritual interpretation of circumcision in v 29 is paralleled by Phil 3:3: “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

    Irons, p 37—nowhere else does Paul say that Gentile Christians “keep the Law” using the verbs φυλάσσω or τελέω. When these verbs have the Mosaic Law as their direct object they have a strong Jewish flavor, i.e., a connotation of scrupulous Torah observance. It is true that on several occasions he says that Christians “fulfill” the Law by following the law of love and by walking in the Spirit (Rom 8:4; 13:8-10; Gal 5:14), but that is a very different thing.

    p 39— It is reasonable to take verses 13-15 as a parenthesis. If the
    parenthesis is removed, then v 12 and v 16 may be taken together as forming a single sentence: “For all who have sinned apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be condemned by the Law … on the day
    when God judges the secrets of humans through Christ Jesus – as my gospel declares.”

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Irons, 43—“I will write my laws on their hearts,” Paul says that the function or work of the Law is written on their hearts. Gathercole thinks this is splitting hairs. But this distinction completely changes the metaphor. The thing that is written on the hearts of these Gentiles is “the function or functional equivalent” of the Law, namely, “their conscience bearing witness”) Gathercole thinks that the writing metaphor means that these Gentiles “have had the knowledge of God’s will inscribed in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.” But the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the immediate context! The writing metaphor of v 15a is explicated grammatically by the conjoined genitive absolute clause of v 15b, and that clause speaks solely in terms of conscience, not the Spirit.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Irons, 45—-The Gentile Christian interpretation must take
    ἔθνη (v 14) in a more restrictive sense than is usual in Paul. Typically, ἔθνη means “Gentiles” in general, that is, non-Jews, without demarcating the very small subset of Gentiles who also happen to be Christians

    Paul’s argument concerning the universality of God’s impartiality would have a gaping hole if he were only arguing for God’s impartiality in judging the Jews and those Gentiles who happen to be Christians. Taken together these two groups constitute only a small fraction of humankind. What about God’s impartiality in judging the rest of the Gentile world?

    it seems inappropriate to say that Christians are “a law to themselves” (ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος). In Paul’s thought, Christians are never a law to themselves, but, as he explains later in chapter six, are “enslaved to God” (Rom 6:22). Later on in Romans, he says that “none of us lives for himself” (Rom 14:7)

    “As their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend themselves.” This description of the operation of human conscience appears to be generic, that is, it seems to apply to both the saved and the unsaved alike. It does not appear to be a description unique to Christians.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Kirk, citing Vos and Gaffin, argues that Jesus’ resurrection was his justification (222), God’s declaration that Jesus was just or righteous (78). This verdict of “righteous” had in view Jesus’ act of obedience in going to the cross. It did not have in view “a whole life of obedience to the law” .

    http://www.reformation21.org/shelf-life/unlocking-romans.php, Guy waters vs Daniel Kirk

    the bad

    The believer, now justified, is “now able to do deeds of righteousness which are congruous with such a judicial verdict”

    These works can be the basis of this future verdict, Kirk claims, “because [Jesus’ death and resurrection] is the person and place in which the grace of God has been manifested, because transfer into this realm is based solely on the grace of God…” (226)

    On Rom 4:25, Kirk mistakes the connection, however, when he attributes the “righteousness” in a believer’s justification to the life of obedience made possible by the believer’s union with the risen Jesus.

    KIrk—“A unity based on theological articulation is a dead end for the unity of the church” (231). Kirk laments that the Reformation and its heirs have separated soteriology from ecclesiology, using justification as a “wedge for dividing the church” and rendering division all but inevitable

    “The doctrine of justification by faith becomes the doctrine of justification by believing the right doctrine of justification by faith (232). Kirk proceeds to query whether “those of us in Protestant churches should begin by asking the Roman Catholic Church for forgiveness?” or “those of us in denominational spin-offs should] begin by asking the mother churches for forgiveness?” (233)

    the good

    Kirk—Owen divides the work of Christ into two parts: a reconciliation that comes from Christ’s death and a true righteousness and justification that come from his life of law-keeping. In support of his argument he alludes to Rom. 5:9-10. These verses, however, cannot be used in this way. In conjunction with verse. 10, Romans 5:9 undermines the distinction between reconciliation and justification. Verses 9 and 10 are parallel. Owen changes Paul’s statement about Jesus’ resurrection into a statement about the earthly life of obedience to the law by Jesus.

    John Owen—There was no wrath due to Adam, yet he was to obey if he would enjoy eternal life. Something there is MORE to be done in respect to us, if after the slaying of the enmity and Reconciliation made we shall enjoy life.

    John Owen– “Being reconciled by his death: we are saved by that perfect Obedience which in his life he yielded to the Law of God. There is a distinct mention made of Reconciliation, through non-imputation of sin as Ps. 32:1. Rom. 3:25. 2 Cor. 5:19: and Justification through an imputation of Righteousness Jer. 23:6. Rom. 4:5. 1 Cor. 1:30 … and this last we have by Christ’s life of obedience.”

    Kirk—In the face of the failure of the law of Moses, Romans 3:24 spells out how justification comes to sinners: ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward a sacrifice of atonement .” Paul says that the purpose of God’s giving Jesus up in a sacrificial death was ‘to show forth his righteousness at the present time in order that He might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus’ (3:26). Two points merit attention here. (1) In response to the failure of the law, Paul does not say that God sent Jesus to obey the law;. Rather, Paul says that in response to the failure of the law to accomplish salvation the law witness to God’s accomplishment of justification in the death of Jesus (3:21).

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Tiessen is not merely for “incorporation, but against “imputation”


    Although Jesus “knew no sin,” in accordance with what Reformed theologians call the “covenant of redemption,” God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Here we see the core of the doctrine of incorporatedguilt and incorporated righteousness.

    [Protestants have tended to speak of imputed guilt and righteousness, and our intent has been good, but I think the choice of terminology is unfortunate. It implies an externality which prompts people to question why one person should be accounted guilty for the sin of another {Adam}, or accounted righteous for the righteousness of another {Jesus}, as though some sort of external transfer was the mechanism at work in such accounting. But I believe that the more biblical way of speaking is incorporation

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Sadly, many (including Joyce Meyer) who talk about “imputed righteousness” are not at all talking about the fact that a. only the sins of the elect were already imputed to Christ or b. that the death of Christ was only for the sins of the elect.

    Many use the language of “imputed righteousness” but do not DEFINE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS as Christ’s death for a definite elect people. Some only refer to Christ’s infinite general fund of law-keeping, and others don’t relate “imputed righteousness” to God’s law in any way.

    some “name and claim it” people define “imputation” as what we do—for example, if we think something enough in a positive way, then it will happen. Some think our faith makes imputation happen. Others think our faith is the imputation. Other think that what God imputes is faith, and then they define the righteousness as our faith

    Joyce Meyer—“I didn’t stop sinning until I finally got it through my thick head I wasn’t a sinner any more. .The Bible says that I’m righteous and I can’t be righteous and be a sinner at the same time … All I was ever taught to say was, ‘I’m a poor, miserable sinner.’ I am not poor, I am not miserable and I am not a sinner. That is what I was and if I still am then Jesus died in vain.”

    Joyce Meyer—”If you stay in your faith, you are going to get rewarded”

    Kenneth Copeland—”The biggest failure in the whole Bible is God. The only reason you don’t think of God as a failure is that God never says any negative thoughts about being a failure.”

    Kenneth Copeland — “Jesus did not pay for your sins on the cross. He paid for your sins in hell. His work on the cross did not pay for your sins. His going to hell paid for your sins.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: