Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Justification and New Perspective 18

NTWright.jpgOne of the fiercest debates about the new perspective, from the old perspective angle, is the issue of double imputation and whether there are “two principles” at work in the human soul: the principle of works (self-merit) and the principle faith (no self-merit).

Tom Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision  next section (pp.210-216) takes both on through the lens of Romans 3:27-28. I’ll quote that text, quote Wright, and then ask a question:

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle [Greek: nomos or Torah] ? On that of observing the law? No, but on that [nomos/Torah] of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

The translation of “nomos”/law with “principle” is a much-disputed translation, and one Wright does not agree with. Wright believes the people of God keep the Torah through faith vs. those who aren’t who keep the Torah through works.

Here is Wright on double imputation, which is worked into this text by the Reformers:

“Imputed righteousness is a Reformation answer to a medieval question,
in the medieval terms which were themselves part of the problem.” More:
“The idea that what sinners need is for someone else’s ‘righteousness’
to be credited to their account simply muddles up the categories,
importing with huge irony into the equation the idea that the same
tradition worked so hard to eliminate, namely the suggestion that,
after all, ‘righteousness’ here means ‘moral virtue,’ ‘the merit
acquired from lawkeeping’ or something like that. We don’t have any of
that, said the Reformers, so we have to have someone else’s credited to
us, and ‘justification’ can’t mean ‘being made righteous,’ as though
God first pumps a little bit of moral virtue into us and then
generously regards the part as standing for the whole.”

For Wright, righteousness/justification means the status of those who have been found in favor by the judge.

Now the questions: Do you think there is any NT text that teaches double imputation? Do you think there are texts combined that teach double imputation? Is double imputation something the Reformers developed or something that can be found prior to the them? Is it a development of the NT or part of the NT?

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Mike M

posted June 15, 2009 at 1:10 am

I first thought Romans 4:6 “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works,” until I realized Paul was talking about a pre-crucifixion (and pre-active obedience) imputation. Thanks for confusing me even more, Scot!

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posted June 15, 2009 at 1:53 am

One problem is that the word imputation is not used much anymore. Accountants used it with respect to imputation of tax credits. Statisticians used it for dealing with response in surveys. Apart from these technical uses, the word is not widely used.

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Jay Wermuth

posted June 15, 2009 at 4:59 am

I think the closest we come in Scripture to double imputation is found in 2 Cor 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

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Rick Cruse

posted June 15, 2009 at 5:09 am

A couple of things:
Mike M — “…pre-active obedience”? Obedience in the people of God prior to the cross rested on God’s grace (as much as does ours) and looked forward in faith to what God WOULD do. Isn’t “active obedience in faith” what Hebrews 11 is about? Or, am I misunderstanding your point?
Scot — my mind immediately goes to 2Co 5:21 (not that I’ve thought it all the way through yet in light of Wright’s conclusion): “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God.” Or is this (in Wright’s view?) “He made Him who wasn’t unfaithful to the covenant to be the one who bore the penalty for covenant breaking that we might be considered faithful to the covenant”? Even so, doesn’t this suggest imputation even though it’s not an imputation of moral virtue?

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posted June 15, 2009 at 5:32 am

Jay & Rick — 2co 5:21 doesn’t really talk about imputation. It says that we “become” (which sounds like infusion or transformation) righteousness, not that we are credited anything. I’m not sure what is being said here.

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Rick Cruse

posted June 15, 2009 at 5:52 am

bob, I see what you’re saying, but the term “imputation” is a theological (rather than biblical). the issue/concept of double-something seems to be present here: Jesus became something he wasn’t (or took on something he didn’t need to carry) so that others could become something they weren’t (or take on something they had no “legal/moral” right to). Since the act by Jesus of “becoming” sin was at a moment in time (instantaneous?), would it not seem logical that the second half of the equation (whether by imputation/declaration, infusion or transformation) was equally at a moment in time?

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david yates

posted June 15, 2009 at 6:10 am

Romans 3.27 doesn’t seem to me to be clearly exegeted by ‘law’ always meaning ‘Torah’. The reason for boasting according to Wright is possession of Torah. For Paul to then ask ‘is boasting excluded by Torah?’ would be strange. It would seem to make more sense if, rather, we took Romans 3.27 as saying (in paraphrase): ‘Where then is boasting? It is excluded. What other means excludes it? Some other means involving works? No, but by the means of faith.’
This would go very well for Romans 4.2-5. Abraham wasn’t under Torah, so ‘works’ he could not be justified by were not Torah, but some other works.

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posted June 15, 2009 at 6:13 am

Tom Wright has written an article on 2 Cor 5:21 “Becoming the Righteousness of God” that is helpful, although I do not think he takes it far enough.
There are some cogent reasons for not taking the verse as an example of imputation. The first problem is that the righteousness that is normally held to be imputed is that of Christ but the verse speaks only of the righteousness of God. The second problem is that the verse speaks of “becoming” the righteousness of God, not ‘receiving’ or ‘being credited’ or some other verb that might imply imputed. A third problem is that it makes the verse a bit of a non sequitur in the context. Paul is speaking about his ministry and has been since 2:14, not about the gospel.
Tom’s solution is to see the ‘righteousness of God’ as God’s saving action made in Christ. Then the verse implies that Paul has become the embodiment of the saving action of God, the embodiment of Christ, a theme clearly visible in chapter 4.
Where I would wish to take it further is that I see Paul as defending the style of his ministry (in 2:14-7:4), as argued by NTW, as a defense intended to draw the Corinthians into imitation. Within the immediate context of 5:21, this makes sense of the universal aspects of the motivation spoken of in 5:10, 14,15, 17. This makes 5:21 a truth about not just Paul and apostles but of everyone who is in Christ. We, as Paul had done, become the living (and as NTW says, the dying) embodiment of Jesus to bring about the salvation of the world.
One striking possible confirmation of this comes in 6:2 where Paul cites Is 49. This passage is a Servant Song, a song which we naturally associate with Christ but which is actually applied by Paul and Barnabas to themselves in Acts 13:47.
This does not prove that imputation is wrong but it does provide what to me is a satisfying interpretation of 2 Cor 5:21 with which an ‘imputation’ understanding of that verse would muddy.

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Rick Cruse

posted June 15, 2009 at 6:35 am

Timothy. I appreciate your input and look forward to giving it further thought. And, since 2Co 2:14ff is my “life passage,” I want to re-visit it with your comments in mind. Another layer of the 2Cor passage is the reality and role of the New Covenant, something all Christians need to live in light of, as you said. Paul’s ministry is to be, in great measure, the paradigm we embody.
Back to imputation: are we not in danger of reading the Reformation term (imputation) and understanding into 2cor 5:21 expecting (or rejecting) “imputation” which is a theological overlay rather than a clearly expressed biblical term? As with all biblical interpretation, how might we view this verse if we had never heard of double imputation?

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Scott Morizot

posted June 15, 2009 at 9:10 am

Rick (#9), I can give a partial answer to your question. While I’m sure I heard people talk about concepts behind some sort of “double imputation” following my conversion and likely absorbed some of it, I had been a Christian for many years before I heard or read those terms. Given the way I had explored and embraced past spiritualities, it was natural for me to read the Scriptures in conjunction with older Christian writings.
By the time I read 2 Cor 5:21, what immediately sprang to my mind was St. Athanasius: “God became man so that man might become God.” To a lesser extent, I thought of St. Irenaeus who while developing the idea of recapitulation wrote, “Then indeed the sin of the first-formed man was amended by the chastisement of the First-begotten, the wisdom of the serpent was conquered by the simplicity of the dove, and the chains were broken by which we were in bondage to death.”
When I later encountered more modern writings using that as a text to support this odd quasi-legal idea that God is this judge who “imputes” my moral failings to Jesus and then “imputes” Jesus’ moral uprightness to me, it struck me as a little … odd.

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Rick Cruse

posted June 15, 2009 at 9:33 am

Scott, thanks; great insights and quotes. They strike me as…helpful! :-)

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posted June 15, 2009 at 9:51 am

I think the “might become the righteousness of God” is more properly thought of as the process of becoming (and fruitfully living) what God already is (and lives out), which is frequently discussed in a variety of ways in the NT, and comports more with our oft neglected NT identity as “disciples.” This reading just seems to be more in line with the larger plot line of the scriptures, evidenced from multiple points. For example, when Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness” it seems that the ‘righteousness’ of God’s kingdom that we are to seek is to be transformed into the kind of person who acts as he teaches in the rest of the sermon. And Paul is in the pains of childbirth until “Christ is fully formed within” the churches he began. Discipleship itself has this goal by definition. Jesus’ target, and Paul’s, is a mature, fully functioning and acting union with Christ, one that lives out the righteousness and good works of God, so that God’s will is actually done on earth, the heart of our prayer. This seems more like the target of what we “might” become.

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posted June 15, 2009 at 10:09 am

I still have not been able to get this book. However, in response to the question in bold, I really like N.T. Wright’s work with 2 Corinthians 5:21.
However, I’d like to throw something in which comes from your book, Scot (Community Called Atonement). I’m not sure I can pinpoint a single verse right now, or that there is one in general. But I do believe that SOMETHING goes one where who we once were is taken by Christ on the cross, put to death, and we become something new in Christ, empowered by His Spirit.
I wouldn’t call it imputation, maybe infusion? We in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition call it imparted. However, I’m not sure that’s good language to speak about what the NT is giving us.
I like to stick with Transformation though. I think we attempt to get so technical with some of our terms/ideas and end up speaking for Scripture. I think that i we take Paul and his “in Christ” language seriously…
There comes a very serious idea that through our union with Christ, what we once were has been put to death on the cross and we have been made new, by Christ.
However, i would say it is definitely not a “legal” term or idea.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 15, 2009 at 10:22 am

In A Community called Atonement I defend a ramped up version of “double imputation” which I call multiple imputations: what Christ is, we get; what we are, Christ takes/assumes. So, the entire recapitulation theory is rooted in incarnation — assuming what we are — in order to take us to be what Christ is.
In that sense, I think imputation is a good term. But, there has been at times a very narrow understanding of double imputation wherein it becomes merely legal (critiqued at times as legal fiction), divorced from the larger dimensions of the fullness of salvation, and where union with Christ has been absent from the discussion. This is where DA Carson’s argument that union with Christ precedes justification is so important; this is where Bruce McCormack, if I understand him aright, gets too much into the narrow understanding of imputation.
Now another point: one thing that is very clear to me is that there is no text in the NT that clearly teaches double imputation, though one can combine 2 Cor 5:21 with 1 Cor 1:30 and get close. This means that those committed to sola scriptura must admit their “doctrine” of double imputation, which they guard so tightly and centralize so much, is an imputation to the texts themselves and not a clear, plain reading of the text. Making double imputation central is a sola scriptura category mistake. The gospel is not double imputation and making this the mechanics of how it happens, though reasonable, cannot be given the primacy it is being given by some.

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Travis Greene

posted June 15, 2009 at 11:51 am

I think Dallas Willard critiques the overly-narrow mechanistic double imputation theology by comparing it to a grocery store scanner. We are oranges, but God puts Jesus’ bar code on us so that, at the Great Final Checkout, we are scanned as bananas instead. This is then defined as the gospel.
While I agree with Scot and BenB that there is some kind of mystical exchange going on, to centralize and exclusively focus on that one expression of the gospel story (a story that is ultimately beyond our comprehension) is to miss the full breadth of Scripture and Christian tradition on the matter. We need, if anything, more atonement theories, not less.

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posted June 15, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Smith’s covenant formulary rings true for me again in the midst of this confusion: In Christ + Like Christ = With Christ.
One first joins the New Covenant, thereby receiving new life “in” Christ. This is the gift of grace freely given that we are to freely receive. But the second piece is to submit to the on-going transformation, under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, into one who is “like” Christ. This is done in us by the Spirit even while it is “worked out” through our obedience. The third piece finds us with the already / not yet “reality” of experiencing the perichoretic life of one indwelt by the Spirit, possessing the mind of Christ, loving God and loving others, engaged in faithful covenant-keeping Kingdom work with our brothers and sisters.
The “works” of obedience being considered “self-merit” distorts the whole concept of covenant-keeping, it seems to me. Yet another time and place where the distinctions between Old and New Covenant need to be seen and not blended.

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Mike M

posted June 15, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Rick (4): sorry, I used a Lutheran concept. “Active obedience” refers to Christ’s righteousness because he led a blameless, sinless life. My question had to do with imputation prior to the cross.

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John W Frye

posted June 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm

David (#7), the boasting was not by Jews who thought they *kept Torah* (as if they were meriting salvation) and therefore were righteous, but by Jews who were boasting that they *possessed Torah* and the Gentiles didn’t. Because the Jews had Torah, they felt superior to Gentiles. *That* boasting is what is decimated by Paul’s logic. They failed in the faith of Abraham who was blessed to create a nation that would be a blessing to all nations. The Jews failed miserably in that purpose. Jesus–the true Israelite–fulfills his nation’s purpose. Because it was a failure of purpose, then it was also a failure of merit…all sinned and fall short of God’s glory.
Whatever the *theological* basis for double imputation, we need more clarity on the legal fiction created by the Reformers. Pastorally, to inform people that Jesus was permeated with the sin of all human beings–past, present and future–and people who believe i Jesus are “credited” with Jesus’ righteousness by mere assent that these things are true, is dangerous. It translates to “the bar-code gospel” (ala Dallas Willard) or “fire insurance.” It is the equivalent of Jewish men showing their circumcision to God and who are thus ushered into paradise. As NT Wright stresses: the OPP does very little with the Holy Spirit in the justification of human beings.

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david yates

posted June 15, 2009 at 5:09 pm

John W Frye (#18) Thanks for trying to help, John. You seem to be saying that the Jews failed to be faithful and that meant they were sinning. That doesn’t look to me what Paul is saying. I read Paul as that it was their sinning that was their failure: if they hadn’t sinned, they wouldn’t be failing, and they would be being faithful. Paul quotes Moses as saying that you are justified by the law by keeping it, not by just having it. So, it seems to me you have things back to front.
Wright makes a lot of verse 29, claiming it means “if justification were by the works of Torah rather than by faith – then it would mean that God was the God of the Jews only” (p.186, GB). I read it differently, as saying since justification is not by Torah, then it is by faith for Jews, and for any man (anthropos), so for gentiles. My reading says it is Jews who are the second class citizens, if any, and they need to come out from under Torah to be able to join gentiles who are not hampered by it. One might go so far as to say it means that God is God of the gentiles and Jews can join in if they are prepared to join on the same basis as gentiles, faith. Wright has got things back to front.

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posted June 15, 2009 at 5:36 pm

that’s exactly what I was going for. I definitely was not defending imputation, just stating that there is definitely something there, as you mentioned. I’m not a believer in imputation as it is held to, and agree with Wright on the issue (you also).
“the gospel is not double imputation.” – So true, and what an empty Gospel that would be.
I just really like what you did in Community Called Atonement. I feel like too often some people (like NTW) seem to say lots of great things, and correctly argue against imputation, but too often they don’t talk about where it needs to go… you did that in that book, and it was incredibly refreshing.

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Phil M

posted June 16, 2009 at 6:13 pm

I remember when I first came across the autobiography of Charles Finney and ripping into a lot of his sermons. Finney seems to be much hated these days, but his writing had a huge impact on me.
Several of his sermons dealt with imputation of righteousness ( for example)
Finney’s approach was usually systematic rather than exegetical, but it made sense to me at the time. I mention this simply because it re-enforces that this is not a new debate.
While I’m not a Finney fanboy, I think he makes sense when he discusses righteousness being an issue of morality, as opposed to justification being a change in legal status. It doesn’t make logical sense to say that you can transfer one person’s moral status to another, but it does in terms of their legal status.
I seem to remember, in a discussion about this with a friend, that the issue was confused by the same greek word being able to refer to both “righteousness” and “justification”. But that was a long time ago and I don’t have my dictionary with me to look that up now.

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posted July 21, 2009 at 3:19 pm

#19 David Yates
I think you should re-read Paul. There is no hint in Paul that Jews are second class citizens, or that Gentiles have a more direct route to God. It sounds to me like you are coming from a very legalistic understanding of 2nd Temple Judaism (particularly 1st Century) which could be easily corrected by reading from the various 2nd Temple works available. Doing so would make it very clear that the average Jew was in no ways legalistic as is commonly understood in most Protestant (and particularly Reformed) thinking. However, they were very interested in the boundaries of the “true people of God”. This is clear from reading the Dead Sea Scrolls sectarian works, the works of Philo, and even the early Rabbinic writings. (This is, by the way, how the New Perspective got started.
Second, you really should pay attention to what Jesus has to say about Torah and Law (Matt. 5:18-19), what he has to say about salvation (John 4:22), what Paul has to say about the Law (Rom. 2:13 – “the doers of the Law who WILL BE justified”, I could add others, but you probably have a concordance or at least access to one), what Paul has to say about the Jews (Rom. 3:1-2, Rom. 11:2, 11:17-32), etc.
The question I would ask you is, why then, did God choose Israel (and by inclusion, the Jews)? Simply to reject them? Show me the passage which teaches this. As it is, this seems to be to be exactly in the vein of Traditional Christian anti-semitism that has marred the history of the church since at least the time of Justin Martyr, and has made outreach among the Jews very, very difficult.

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