We are looking at the new perspective debate and to do that we are working our way through Tom Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision.
Wright’s argument is that one can’t simply read 1:18 and then 3:19-20 and conclude that in between all Paul was saying was “So all are sinful and need saving” (202). Instead, Wright sees more of a theodicy at work: God is showing himself faithful to his covenant promises to redeem the world through Israel.
Romans 3:25-26 show that Paul is concerned with “God’s own righteousness”, and I quote from the ASV:
set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show
his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done
aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season:
that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith
Wright observes that the NIV’s “justice” misjudges the evidence … but there is no reason here to get into translations. The reason for Abraham is not illustrative but substantive: he emerges because of God’s promises to Abraham, not simply because he proves that it is all by the individual’s exercise of faith.
The problem here is Israel’s unfaithfulness and the solution is the faithfulness of Christ, the embodiment and representative of Israel (see p. 203). Here is one of the significant debating points: what does “faith of Christ” (pistis Christou) mean? So, “faith of Christ” in Romans 3:22 (contra NIV: ” through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”; see KJV: “by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”) means “Christ’s own faithfulness” instead of “our faith in Christ.” Without “faith of Christ” meaning “Christ’s own faith” one runs the risk of “to all who believe” being totally unnecessary. Christ’s faithfulness is faithfulness unto death.
Justification now anticipates justification in the Eschaton. It is a status in Christ. Wright insists that the judge has not clothed the one in the dock with his righteousness. We are then to put our faith in Jesus Christ, the representative Israelite, for salvation.
Why faith? Because Hab 2:4 and Gen 15:6 show it to be the badge of God’s redeemed people; because it is how one responds to the gospel/Jesus as seen in the Gospels; and last: “Faith of Abraham’s kind is the sign of a genuine humanity, responding out of total human weakness and helplessness to the grace and power of God, and thus giving God the glory” (209). If the Messiah is noted by faith, so too will his people be.
This faith is evoked by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.