Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Justification and New Perspective 14

NTWright.jpgTom Wright devotes no less than 70 pages to Romans in Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, and… well … it is hard to sum up the denseness of this stuff without doing disservice to you, our readers, and to Tom, our author.

Tell me, what is the hang-up over Tom Wright’s understanding of the “righteousness of God” as God’s covenant faithfulness? How does that understanding undermine Reformed views?

So, let’s have some short posts that sum all the sections of Romans in this study… Today we look at Romans 1:16-17:

am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the
salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the
Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

And immediately an issue comes up that distinguishes Wright’s view: what does “the righteousness of God” mean? It means something about God: “God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel to redeem the world through Israel.”

This Wright says makes sense best of a number of issues in Romans, including:

1. In my view, the entire theodicy-like sweep of Romans 9-11 that, if seen as central to Romans instead of a some kind of “why does Paul bring this up?” approach, reorients our entire reading of the book into something that “justifies God’s way with Israel and the world.” Anyway, that’s my take.

2. Wright sees Rom 9-11 through this lens and thinks it makes best sense of Rom 9-11; also Rom 2:1-16 and 2:17-29 and esp 3:27-31 and 4:16-17 and 10:6-13 and the climactic verses of chp 11.

3. Also, the “gospel” is declared in 1:3-5 — it’s about Jesus being the risen Lord of the world — but 1:16-17 is about the impact of the gospel — salvation. The gospel in this text focuses on its inclusion of Jews and Gentiles and the reason Paul refers to Hab 2:4 is to evoke the national crisis Israel was in and the need to remain faithful during that crisis.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 8:33 am

Thanks for the summary. Couple of thots. In 1:15 right before the famous verses, Paul is eager to preach the Gospel to the church! If Gospel is fully understood only by personal initial justification, why in the world does he need to preach it again to the already justified? An early hint that “gospel” encompasses so much more. That it is about an interdependent, interpenetrating relationship in community, not just a positional/imputed righteousness.
Second, chaps 12-16 are not an afterthought. The preaching of the gospel in 1-11 continues as he unpacks the “sound doctrine” of gospel living in community and in the world.
Is a letter to a church of the “one new man” both Jew and Gentile, it is meant to strengthen and bless that church, teaching them how to live out this new community now that the dividing wall has been abolished, by rooting their reality/worldview/thinking/relationships in the gospel. Really appreciate your point#1.

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Derek Leman

posted June 3, 2009 at 8:36 am

I hope many people will take that statement seriously, “God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel to redeem the world through Israel.”
This is exactly what Messianic Jewish scholars, such as Mark Kinzer in POST-MISSIONARY MESSIANIC JUDAISM and Christian scholars such as R. Kendall Soulen and Barry Horner have been saying.
The gospel is not, as you know, an ethereal offer of a purely spiritual afterlife, but is bound to actual people in real history — spreading from Israel to the nations. And Israel’s role is continuing.
Note, for example, that in Revelation 12:6, the woman (Israel) is in a wilderness being protected and nourished by God. Note that in Romans 11:26-29, it is the “enemies of the gospel” who are yet beloved by God.
We in Messianic Judaism often note the hand of God revealing Messiah in the Jewish customs. Every time we say the blessing after the Torah, “…who has implanted eternal life among us,” we think of this phenomenon as we interpret that eternal life to be Yeshua was came amongst his own Jewish people.
Derek Leman

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posted June 3, 2009 at 8:39 am

Thank you for taking the time to bring us through the NPP, I have read Wright a little and hear Piper a little, so this is quite helpful. Some other pastors aren’t even aware of NPP if I bring it up, so this is helping me with both hermeneutics and exegesis.
As to an earlier post, and slightly off topic, how do you understand double imputation as rendered in “A Community Called Atonement”.
In Christ,

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Scot McKnight

posted June 3, 2009 at 8:49 am

Derek … thanks for that comment.
Phil, well, I do explain my view of double imputation in A Community called Atonement, and I’m on the side of those who think it can be constructed out of NT materials. So, yes, our sins go to Christ; we get his righteousness. But, Piper and clan make this the centrality of the gospel while some — example Robert Gundry — don’t even think double imputation can be supported by NT evidence. Which means this: we shouldn’t make central what is not central. Double imputation, yes, seems reasonable on the basis of what the NT says, but let’s not make it central when the evidence in the NT focuses on other issues.

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Brian McLaughlin

posted June 3, 2009 at 8:59 am

This continues to be a great series. The post the other day where Wright refers to Ephesians with both personal (OPP) and communal/corporate (NPP) implications is fantastic…clearly a “both/and” position. Today you ask about hangups to Wright’s view of righteousness. I’ll go back to Moo, whom Wright acknowledges is an excellent Pauline scholar and willing to be led by the text. Here are a couple summaries of Moo, which indicates that righteousness as cov faithfulness may be too narrow:
The terms righteousness (300x in the LXX) and righteous (400x in the LXX) in the Old Testament refer to both God and humans. When these refer to God, they often speak of God?s character and God?s actions associated with his covenant. In this manner he seems to agree with N. T. Wright. However, while Wright stresses God?s character (covenant faithfulness), Moo stresses God?s actions (for example, see the parallel between ?righteousness? and ?salvation? in Isaiah 46:13, Isaiah 51:5-8). Moo believes that it is God?s saving activity that primarily informs Paul?s use of the term.
When the terms righteousness and righteous refer to humans, they often speak of actions ?well pleasing to God? and a ?response to covenant.? In this manner he agrees with John Piper, because it is not merely the status of an individual (p. 84 NICNT)
When these are applied to a passage such as Romans 1:17, Moo allows for a wide variety of meanings. He believes that ?the righteousness of God? includes God?s attributes (his faithfulness), God?s actions (in accordance with his covenant), and a status given to people. In other words, Romans 1:17 speaks of how God acts and what humans receive. Notice that Moo allows for both Wright and Piper to be correct. But, this being, said, he certainly favors the traditional Reformed view because this righteousness is based upon human faith: ?Here Paul introduces a key modification of the Old Testament idea of God?s righteousness. God?s righteousness is the ?righteousness of faith??It speaks not just about God?s work in Christ on the cross, but more directly of his work in individual human lives, as he puts those who respond to the gospel in faith in right relationship with him? (p. 55, NIVAPComm).
Sorry so long, but it is important to interact with Moo’s exegesis, not just Piper’s lack thereof.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 9:16 am

Thanks all, enjoying this post.
Scott, thank you for clarifying this a bit. Likewise I can see what the Scripture says, I just wasn’t realizing that much of this argument/criticism is over what is central to the gospel.

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John W Frye

posted June 3, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I don’t think that Moo with his comment on “righteousness of/by faith” proves his point. To argue from this phrase to some sort of transfer of God’s righteousness to the one believing introduces an extraneous thought. Wright points out that “faith” stands in contrast to “works of Torah” in that int the gospel that saves God “puts to right” both Jews and Gentiles on the basis of faith alone…to the Jew first and to the Gentile…from faith to faith. The term faith does not transform righteousness into something it is not in this context, i.e., the faithfulness of God to his covenant with Israel.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 1:03 pm

If “a righteousness from God” = “God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel to redeem the world through Israel,” I don’t see how that fits into Rom 1:16-17:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel [God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel to redeem the world through Israel] is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”
“God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel to redeem the world through Israel” is by faith? Whose faith?
The righteous will live by faith; [God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel to redeem the world through Israel] will live by faith?
It just doesn’t seem to fit. Where am I not connecting?

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Brian McLaughlin

posted June 3, 2009 at 1:35 pm

John (7). A couple of thoughts. 1) My summary of Moo is not even a scratch in the surface compared to all that Moo has written on Romans. He is not making this point simply on one phrase, but upon the same context and texts Wright is working from. 2) The point of referring to Moo is not to argue for double imputation, it is to respond to Wright’s view (and Scot’s question) that “righteousness of God” simply means covenant faithfulness. According to Moo it is more than that. It involves “saving activity” and, when discussed in the context of faith, it involves more that just God’s actions but a response of faith.
So to respond to Scot’s question: one of my concerns of Wright’s view that God’s righteousness simply means God’s covenant faithfulness is that it doesn’t appear to be broad enough in the context of Scripture. I refer to Doug Moo as a respected Pauline scholar (whom Wright appreciates), as evidence that not all agree with Wright (in fact, Gordon Fee will make the same point on Philippians 3:9 when Scot gets there).

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posted June 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Brian (9),
I agree that maybe Wright’s view is too narrow, but I don’t think Moo’s point makes any difference. Much less any sense in terms of “more than just God’s actions but a response to faith.”
I think wright was better off in his earlier writing when he simply translated it as “God’s covenant faithfulness.”
That, I think, is the best representation/interpretation out there.
Because it doesn’t just limit God’s righteousness to completion of the GOAL of the covenant (though Paul definitely sees it as such – Rom 9-11). It is his faithfulness to respond to and be faithful to that covenant at all points.
That is to say, that “saving action” (Moo’s term) is clearly an action described as covenant faithfulness. When Israel, or individuals (i.e. the Psalmist) petition God for saving action towards Israel or themselves… it was an act of calling upon God’s faithfulness to His covenant. God’s saving actions are wrapped up in his covenant faithfulness. God saves because he is faithful to keep covenant. He is “abounding in hesed.” Therefore, God is righteous because (in Biblical, OT terms), God upholds his end of the bargain… even when we’ve failed to do so.
That is why I think it becomes clear that Paul is using it to refer to God’s covenant faithfulness.
I think Wright’s main weakness is in limiting his understanding of covenant in terms of it’s completed goal.

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david yates

posted June 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm

“God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel to redeem the world through Israel.” The following is my wrestling with such things of Wright’s, so nothing of the following is set in stone:
Isn’t the only way redemption can be said in any way to be through Israel is that it was through Christ. Jews were just like everybody else, sinners. Redemption doesn’t even look like it is through Christians (who are only metaphorically Jews, or metaphorically Israel) nowadays. Christians in practice are just as motley a crew as OT Jews. If Jews and Christians have anything to contribute, it looks like all they have is the confused way they manage to air the Gospel. Redemption only comes through Christ. Wright seems to me to set up an apparatus in which Israel is ontologically involved in redemption: Israel selected to be itself as a nation a redemptive presence in the world, Israel as a nation failing and making a ‘roadblock’, Jesus comes and is able to do himself, one person, because he is Israel’s representative (but also, see below), what Israel failed to do, this removes the ‘roadblock’ by redeeming Israel and now redemption can ‘flow out’ from the nation of Israel itself as redemptive presence in the world to Gentiles. Something about that apparatus just doesn’t seem right to me (and ‘roadblock’ and ‘flow out’ are quite opaque to me).
(From above: It’s not actually clear that Christ needed ontologically to be an Israelite to do what he did, he redeemed everybody, so of course Israel also got redeemed with everybody else. It looks like at best one can say Christ had to be an Israelite because God told Abraham he would be.)

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posted June 3, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I think ChrisB asks a good question. To what does the “righteousness” that is by faith (which is attributed to those that live by faith) refer?

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Scot McKnight

posted June 3, 2009 at 2:52 pm

David Yates, your articulation here is about the cleanest I’ve seen because it has insight in what is going on. My own view of the new vs. old is that it is an Augustinian debate at a significant level. Your choice to see the whole thing in “ontological” categories — that is, human qua human — is what drives the Reformed view that chafes against the new perspective.
The issue for me is that, in the nature of your logic, Israel isn’t important — never really was — it’s just elective and about humanity as sinners/ontology. The problem I have with your point of view in this matter is one I have wrestled with myself: the story of the Bible makes Israel so incredibly central and does not make humanity qua humanity as central. The story goes through Abraham from front to back.
By the way, Israel doesn’t elect itself. The election of Israel in the divine plan is thoroughly respected by Wright.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 2:59 pm

I have been dropping in on these posts from time to time, and I am afraid have not read Wright’s book, although I am looking forward to it. I did want to make a comment about the context of Wright’s claim that righteousness refers to covenant faithfulness, whether God’s or ours. Please correct me if I am wrong, but that particular claim is not unique to either Wright or the New Perspective on Paul. That definition certainly does not come from the reformers, but is not uncommon in the 20th century after Cremer. Perhaps I am off here, but the main point of the NPP is that our understanding of Judaism was off and so we did not quite understand what Paul was arguing against. It seems like to me that one could hold to a more traditional understanding of the definition of righteousness and still identify with the New Perspective. I simply say this because the comments make it sound as if this view is something new that Wright has just brought in.

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david yates

posted June 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Scot (#13) Thanks for things to think about. My use of ‘itself’ was intended to signify an Israel without Christ as a member. But, of course, such an Israel could not be redemptive. That’s one reason the lynch pin seems to be Christ, not Israel. But, must keep thinking!

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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm

David #11
“It’s not actually clear that Christ needed ontologically to be an Israelite to do what he did, he redeemed everybody, so of course Israel also got redeemed with everybody else. It looks like at best one can say Christ had to be an Israelite because God told Abraham he would be.”
If God promised redemption through Abraham and his seed, and then he didn’t do it that way, then what trust do we have that there is redemption in Christ when that is what God now promises us? If God broke the first covenant, where is our confidence that he will keep the second? As I read Wright, he is saying that Paul is making his case for why Christ was the fulfillment of that first covenant and that we can, therefore, have faith in God’s promises. For that reason, it is paramount that Jesus be an Israelite and accomplish what he did the way he did.

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Kenny Johnson

posted June 3, 2009 at 10:41 pm

So I can claim some major ignorance on this subject except for this series and BW3’s blog. However, I got the June Christianity Today today and they had an article on it. They presented both sides in a grid (Piper / Wright). I read both, and it didn’t surprise me that Wright’s presentation totally resonated with me. In fact, it sounds so much grander and glorious to me. But anyway… What really surprised me is the article actually consisted of Pastors and others responding to their thoughts on the debate and it seemed like everyone who was anti-new perspective didn’t get it. They really seemed like they missed Wright’s points.

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Kyle Strobel

posted June 7, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Scot, thanks for this post. I’ve just had the time to read it. Interestingly, I’ve been teaching a class on Jonathan Edwards’ theology, and thought he had some interesting insights into what God’s righteousness actually is:
“So the word righteousness is very often used in Scripture for his covenant faithfulness; so ’tis in Nehemiah 9:8, “Thou hast performed thy words for thou art righteous.” And so we are very often to understand righteousness and covenant mercy [to] be the same thing, as Psalms 24:5, “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of [his salvation],” Psalms 36:10, “O continue thy lovingkindness to them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright,” and Psalms 51:14, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness” and Daniel 9:16, “O Lord, according to thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away” and so in innumerable other places.” (Y9:114-115)
Edwards continues on to add, “God’s righteousness or covenant mercy is the root of which his salvation is the fruit.” In light of the debate, I thought it would be interesting to find Edwards agreeing with Wright here!

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