Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Justification and New Perspective 17

NTWright.jpgWe 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:

“whom God
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
in Jesus.”


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.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted June 12, 2009 at 4:30 am

Naturally I would be interested in the translation question, and not to say I’m not interested in the one highlighted here, but the NIV/TNIV translation’s “justice”, I can see will carry the reader along the lines of the old persepctive, whereas “righteousness”, probably the more literal way of translating opens the way to see that part differently, in terms of God’s righteousness in acting in salvation. Which then fits the faithfulness of Christ.

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John Frye

posted June 12, 2009 at 8:10 am

It is ironic that Wright shows that the OPP for all its claims to be about the “glory of God” has reduced justification to an intensely anthropocentric concept (me and my faith) and the NPP spotlights justification as intensely theocentric (God and God’s faithfulness).
Scot, this is a stimulating series. Thanks!

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posted June 12, 2009 at 9:26 am

After you reviewed Michael Gorman’s latest book here, I ended up purchasing a different one from him, and he discusses this issue (maybe in all his books on Paul). He’s also convinced that the phrase ‘pistis Christou’ refers to the loyalty of Christ to God (where all others had failed in that loyalty). It reminds me of the Marines’ motto. Of course, it is easier/appropriate to trust someone who is always faithful.
I’m enjoying Gorman’s stuff a lot. Thanks for the recommendation.

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posted June 12, 2009 at 9:51 am

I’m totally off subject. John Frye’s OPP/NPP has me back
in organic chemistry. Long story short, the recently
discovered mevalonate-independent pathway via deoxyxylulose
phosphate yield monoterpenes with these isoprenoid units.
(the regular monoterpene to achieve OPP/NPP notoriety is
from Artemisia absinthium producing the drink absinthe, banned
in many countries.)

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posted June 12, 2009 at 10:09 am

T (#3) – I am in the midst of reading Inhabiting the Cruciform God by Michael Gorman. I agree that it’s a great help in understanding much of this justification issue (and more) as well as having an impressive God-glorifying devotional quality. I second your thanks for the “hot tip.”

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Brian McLaughlin

posted June 12, 2009 at 11:33 am

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but pistis cristou is NOT an OPP vs. NPP debate. It is an exegetical debate that has proponents from both perspectives. Case in point: James Dunn. While Dunn has said repeatedly that this subjective/objective genitive is ambiguous, listen to his words in his conversation with NT Wright (on the NT Wright page):
“The other is that it?s pretty clear to me in some key passages, particularly Galatians 3, that pistis language is being used of Christian faith, to use that shorthand. The problem with Richard Hays? presentation, as I recall, is that once you refer one of the pistis phrases, one of the ?faith? phrases, to Christ?s faith (?the faithfulness of Christ),? it?s difficult to avoid reading all of the pistis references in the same way ? the agreed presumption being that he?s using pistis consistently. But what strikes me again and again is that Paul starts his talk of pistis in Galatians 3 with Abraham: ?Even so Abraham ?believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.? Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith (ek pisteos) who are sons of Abraham? (Gal. 3:6, 7, NASB). It?s pretty obvious to me that this means ?you believed as Abraham believed?; and it is that pistis reference which sets the pattern for the pistis references throughout the chapter. That would be one of the lines of argument I would want to develop.”
To claim that this is a failure of the OPP or yet another example of OPP being anthropocentric and NPP christocentric is to miss the reality of the debate (in addition to the fact that Paul has both an anthropology and a christology, so to pit those against one another is wrong).
So this is a case in which Wright’s exegesis is framed by his larger understanding of the metanarrative (in a similar way that Piper’s is). I’m still with Dunn (and Piper) on this one…

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david yates

posted June 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm

One of the difficulties I have in trying to understand Wright is that he seems to characterize OT Israel in two contradictory ways. One way is as a saved nation graciously with God’s help keeping the law, and the other way is as a nation without faith needing to be saved. How does he reconcile these?

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