Faith Alone: Paul’s Doctrine of Justification in Romans

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 Faith Alone: Paul’s Doctrine of Justification in Romans


The confession of the doctrine of justification touches at the heart of the Church’s relationship to God; it situates its doctrine historically, defines its preaching, secures its members before God, and offers hope and perspective for the future. For this reason, Protestant theologians have evaluated justification as set forth by Paul and reapprehended by Reformation figures such as Luther and Calvin to be the articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae—the point on which depends the standing or falling of the Church.[i]

The history of theology narrates strong opposition to the Protestant doctrine of justification, especially during the lives of the Reformation figures and shortly after their passing.[ii] The Puritans voiced strong concern during their time that the doctrine was very vulnerable, and without due defense and God’s preserving grace, the doctrine might be lost once again. Individuals such as John Owen and Francis Turretin in Europe, and figures such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge in America, recognized the state of perplexity and unsettlement for the doctrine of justification, primarily from Roman Catholic opponents, and put their pens to work and produced monographs in defense of the classic doctrine of justification.[iii]

Evangelicalism today is in a state of disarray over the barrage of objections raised against the classic doctrine of justification. In matters related to confessional identity, the practice of preaching, pastoral care, and evangelism, there is evidence of this dissatisfaction with the article and widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead for the classic doctrine of justification. Particularly, advocates of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) such as E. P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N. T. Wright claim the Reformers wrongly situated the Pauline corpus against the backdrop of their interactions with Roman Catholicism rather than Second Temple Judaism.[iv] Consequently, the Reformation figures developed a false doctrine of justification not in accordance with the proper “pattern of religion” in Paul’s day. In other words, the debate between Rome and the Reformers was a false dilemma, in which both sides erred in their understanding of the biblical view of justification.

No doubt, this debate over justification is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, underlying all of the hermeneutical, sociological, and linguistic debates, some present-day Protestant theologians believe it is creating another eclipse of the biblical gospel.[v] Without realizing it, over the past century, classic theologians claim there has been a bartering of the classic doctrine of justification for a substitute product which, though it looks similar in points of details, is actually at odds with the Pauline doctrine of justification. Hence, our troubles; for the substitute product has not only produced a change in character, but in content.[vi] Consequently, as one surveys the present-day literature, it is apparent there has been a shift in both perspective and emphasis over what it means to inherit eternal life and to be saved.[vii]

In order to narrow the scope of the literature and topics under consideration, this paper will address this unsettlement and shift in content and emphasis by defending the classic Protestant doctrine of justification from Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is not to downplay the other Pauline epistles, but it is to focus more intently on what many consider to be Paul’s longest and most extensive defense of the doctrine of justification. Specifically, this paper argues that Paul’s doctrine of justification in Romans is the act whereby God declares a sinner righteous through faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any works of the law. In order to accomplish this task, the following paper will: First, discuss briefly hermeneutical presuppositions and axioms of the NPP before diving into Paul’s letter to the Romans. Second, exegete select portions of Romans in order to substantiate the key points of the projected thesis.[viii]

Hermeneutical Presuppositions

Although many New Testament scholars today appear to accept the major tenets of the NPP, especially the relationship between Second Temple literature and the Bible as revelation and the functional role it plays interpreting the Pauline corpus, the majority of those same scholars do not question the Pauline authorship of the letter to the Romans because of the compelling internal evidence, language, style, and theology of the book.[ix] For that reason, Pauline authorship will be taken as an axiom of interpretation. Recent scholarship, on the other hand, does not agree over the literary plan and theology of Paul’s letter to the Romans, particularly as it relates to the doctrine of justification and works of the law.[x] This implicit intended structure will be made explicit in the exposition of Romans below in the section titled, “Paul’s Letter to the Romans.”

A third hermeneutical feature of Pauline interpreters, especially as it relates to the doctrine of justification, is the concept of a particular pattern of religion and a sociology of knowledge.[xi] E. P. Sanders, taking up the mantle of Ad Fontes, went beyond the writings of the Church Fathers all the way to the authors and literature from the Second Temple period, in his research for his magnum opus Paul and Palestinian Judaism. D. A. Carson notes the title and subtitle of Sanders’s book are important, namely, “Sanders was looking for ‘patterns of religion,’ essentially an approach that borrows from the sociology of religion rather more than from theology.”[xii] For Sanders, “A pattern of religion, defined positively, is the description of how a religion is perceived by its adherents to function—how getting in and staying in are understood.”[xiii] While Sanders claimed to focus on Paul, he spent the majority of his time concentrating on Second Temple literature. The pattern of religion that Sanders, and consequently nearly every advocate of the NPP affirms, is covenantal nomism. Sanders defines and summarizes covenantal nomism thusly:

(1) God has chosen Israel and (2) given the law. The law implies both (3) God’s promise to maintain the election and (4) the requirement to obey. (5) God rewards obedience and punishes transgression. (6) The law provides for means of atonement, and atonement results in (7) maintenance or re-establishment of the covenantal relationship. (8) All those who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, atonement and God’s mercy belong to the group which will be saved. An important interpretation of the first and last points is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement.[xiv]

This pattern of religion, which according to Sanders, recognizes that “getting in” is according to God’s mercy, while “staying in” is a function of obedience.[xv] Sanders’s work understood election, at least in part, according to God’s grace, and partially according to merits of the patriarchs and Israel’s foreseen obedience.[xvi] Sanders also insisted the rabbis’ concern with obedience did not exclude the motive or intent underlying all obedience. True obedience, according to the rabbis, consisted of one’s intentional pattern of covenantal faithfulness, or the desire to accept the bounds and obligations of the covenant and to live within it faithfully.[xvii] When applied to Paul, Sanders argues on this basis of Second Temple Judaism, that Paul could not have disagreed with Judaism on soteriological grounds. Paul did not fault Israel with its inability to provide salvation to its participants. Works of the law do not refer to a merit-based soteriology, but boundary markers of Judaism. Paul in many respects is still a Jew and his main fault with Judaism is that it is not Christianity. Consequently, Paul is not faulting Judaism for being a legalistic, merit-based pattern of religion.[xviii]

The application of this pattern of religion by advocates of the NPP has not been a one colored cloak. In fact, one would be justified in claiming, “There are various new perspectives on Paul.” While it is not the purpose of this project to delineate these differences, one can substantiate this claim by pointing to two works. First, Guy Prentiss Waters’s book, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, substantiates the assertion there is one cloak of Second Temple Judaism, however, the cloak is multi-colored when applied to Paul by E. P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N. T. Wright.[xix] Each theologian nuanced concepts such as works of the law, the role of good works, justification, righteousness, the inclusion of Gentiles, and eschatological applications.[xx] Second, the book, Justification: Five Views, illustrates the multi-colored application of Second Temple Judaism, and the evolution of the movement. Representing the “New Perspective,” by James Dunn, and representing a “Progressive Reformed View,” by Michael Bird, both adherents affirm the pattern of religion represented by “covenantal nomism.”[xxi] However, they differ in the application of that pattern of religion to the Pauline corpus (e.g., works of the law, justification, etc.) and to the letter to the Romans in particular.

According to advocates of the NPP, there is one clear motif: Paul and his interlocutors operated according to covenantal nomism as its dominant pattern of religion. However, this pattern of religion and its hermeneutical consequences will not suffice, for it rests upon a reductionist understanding of the literature, a faulty epistemology, a defective view of the relationship between Scripture and secondary resources, and a sub-standard understanding of the Bible as revelation. Several brief arguments from these four categories can be put forth against the hermeneutical presuppositions of the NPP.

First, after a survey of the literature from the Second Temple period, D. A. Carson in Variegated Nomism, proposed nine concluding reflections pertaining to Sanders’s theses. For the purposes of this project, however, Carson’s second reflection carries the most significance. He writes, “Several of the scholars found that at least parts of their respective corpora could be usefully described as reflecting covenantal nomism. One conclusion, then, is not that Sanders is wrong everywhere, but he is wrong when he tries to establish that his category is right everywhere.”[xxii] Effectively Carson notes the reductionist nature to Sanders’s proposed theses pertaining to Second Temple literature.[xxiii] But the controversies are not without warrant; namely, there are instances and counter-examples of covenantal nomism in the literature to substantiate the claim there is not a monolithic pattern of religion during the Second Temple time period.[xxiv]

An example of the diversity from this time period is found in a chapter titled, Prayers and Psalms, by Daniel Falk in Carson’s edited work Variegated Nomism.[xxv] Falk notes how some prayers reflect Sanders’s covenantal nomism, but there are also other texts that go beyond the typical covenantal nomism. Falk first appeals to the Prayer of Manasseh, which raises the idea of being sinless. He believes this text points to a case in which repentant sinners are able to enjoy the benefits of the covenant, and it illustrates the variety of ways God’s righteousness can function. The text also discusses human guilt and the need for forgiveness.[xxvi] In the Words of the Luminaries, Falk believes he finds instances of God declaring persons righteous based on repentance.[xxvii] In the Amidah, Falk finds two patterns of prayer. The first pattern approaches God on the basis of his mercy and covenant, even though they are nation focused and faithfulness is required to stay in covenant. The second approach focuses upon individuals, and discusses personal evils individuals need to be delivered from; hence, it exhibits a personal human fallenness and obedience, not a nationalistic or military obedience.[xxviii] In the Hodayot, Falk argues that covenantal nomism is found wanting for individuals, while it still can be retained for the nation.[xxix] In short, there are instances in the literature from the time period, which either through a difference between individual verses nationalistic, or explicit differences, does not meet the criterion of Sanders’s thesis; hence, his strong theses pertaining to the ubiquitous nature of covenantal nomism are found to be deficient when compared to the corpus of literature from that time period.[xxx]

Second, if the first argument causes one to question the ubiquitous nature of covenantal nomism, this comment focuses on explicit counter-examples to covenantal nomism. Specifically, acts of righteousness are seen as the basis for judgement in Second Temple literature. Charles L. Quarles argues that Rabbi Akiba “. . . taught that the ‘world is judged according to righteousness but all is according to the majority of works that be good or evil’”[xxxi] Quarles goes on to note:

Although Sanders dismissed the text from consideration in his composition of a pattern of religion by claiming that the text is ‘enigmatic,’ a parable that immediately follows the statement makes its meaning quite clear. The parable describes God as a great shopkeeper who carefully records moral debits in his ledger. The shopkeeper will eventually send out his collectors to exact payment from his debtors, whether they like it or not, based on the record of their debts. The parable concludes: ‘the judgment is a judgment of truth and all is ready for the banquet.’ The conclusion demonstrates that eschatological judgment is the focus of the parable and confirms that the parable illustrates the judgment according to the majority of works described by Akiba.[xxxii]

Quarles also points to the Book of Tobit, Wisdom of Ben Sira, and Qumran documents to confirm the thesis that Second Temple Judaism did not monolithically embrace covenantal nomism, and in fact, there are cases of merit-based or works-based means of salvation.[xxxiii] Therefore, the universal affirmative nature (e.g., All S is P) of Sanders and other NPP proponent’s claims to the ubiquitous and monolithic makeup of covenantal nomism is false. They would strengthen their argument if they softened their claim to a particular affirmative (Some S is P) in order to avoid a reductionist claim and account for counter-examples from Rabbi Akiba, the Book of Tobit, Wisdom of Ben Sira, and various Qumran documents.[xxxiv]

Third, theological reasons exist for not allowing Second Temple literature to function as the authoritative paradigm required to understand Scripture, Paul’s letters in particular. One of the hermeneutical motifs made explicit and determinative during the Reformation was the battle cry Sola Scriptura. Rightly understood, Sola Scriptura entails that Scripture is the sole, infallible, rule of faith.[xxxv] Scripture was viewed as the norma normans et sine normativa (e.g., the norm of norms and without norm) or norma normans non normata (e.g., the norm of norms that cannot be normed). During the Reformation the questions were “which Bible?” and “which tradition?”.[xxxvi] Without going into extensive detail pertaining to each qualification and explicit doctrine, the Reformers objected to the partim partim view of Scripture and tradition, affirmed by the Roman Catholic Church, because functionally, tradition became the authority over Scripture and turned Holy Writ into a “wax nose.”[xxxvii] The Reformers viewed Scripture as the supreme written norm. The Reformers recognized the ministerial value of tradition, the creeds, and historical theology; however, they opposed the magisterial function of these human documents, in favor of Scripture, which is the only divinely inspired document composed in propositional language, to be its supreme written norm. The point being, each creed and theological work plays a valuable epistemological role by codifying doctrines explicitly taught in Scripture. This literature also carries a level of authority, particularly those pieces of literature penned by noted orthodox theologians. However, they never have the ability to ultimately bind the conscience, since they lack ultimate divine authority.[xxxviii]

The truth is, ironically, given so much opposition by advocates of the NPP to the Reformation debates, with due qualification, they allow for Second Temple literature to function in the same fashion as tradition does in the Roman Catholic Church. Namely, Second Temple literature and its particular pattern of religion, purposes as the means by which Scripture is determined, content fixed, doctrines developed, and articles of faith codified. Advocates of the NPP who criticize Luther and the Reformers for not understanding the complexities of Second Temple Judaism, do not seem to realize how close their doctrine of Scripture and hermeneutic resemble that of medieval Roman Catholicism.[xxxix] Namely, norms outside of Scripture function as the epistemological and doctrinal authority over Scripture. Waters claims, “We have argued that such approaches [NPP and Second Temple literature] bind Protestants, who have thrown off the yoke of a Roman magisterium in order to read Scripture aright, to an academic magisterium in order to read Scripture aright.”[xl] In brief, no evangelical scholar ought to dismiss the ministerial value and function of Second Temple literature to illuminate and inform their understanding of the New Testament world.[xli] However, that same evangelical scholar ought not allow those documents to rise above Scripture’s teachings pertaining to the nature of sin, works of the law, and the doctrine of justification.[xlii] For in Scripture, Christians have an omniscient, infallible divine account of these matters, not a partial, fallible human description.

Fourth, an evangelical bibliology recognizes God as the source criterion, authority, and determiner of Scripture’s content and doctrines. The Bible as revelation and its message directly oppose accommodations to pagan literature and its patterns of religion. There are two explicit claims contained in this statement. Carl F. H. Henry in his magnum opus God, Revelation and Authority, captures this first type of claim masterfully in his 15 theses, particularly, “1. Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality. . . . 5. Not only the occurrence of divine revelation, but also its very nature, content, and variety are exclusively God’s determination.”[xliii] For classic evangelicals, there are two sources of knowledge (1) human postulation or (2) divine revelation. God is the ontological grounds of Scriptural revelation, since he is the metaphysical axiom determining the characteristics and limits of Holy Writ.[xliv] In other words, Scripture is first and foremost divine revelation, according to ontological priority and truth value.

Second, since God is the source criterion of revelation and the Lord of Hosts, he does not accommodate to pagan doctrines or truth claims, but confronts them, waging holy war. This is seen best in the life of Jesus Christ, who being very man of man, did not accommodate unto humanity or the pattern of religion taught by the religious communities of his day. Just as God is the source criterion for the Word made flesh, so too, God is the source criterion of the Word made propositional. Clearly, just as Jesus Christ’s life did not accommodate to the pattern of religion of his day (e.g., Jesus rebuked: those who accepted Jewish teaching that contradicted the Bible, the famous Jewish teacher Nicodemus—John 3:10, 12; the Sadducees for being in error—Matt 22:29; and rebuked the Pharisees for accommodating tradition over Scripture—Matt 23:16–33; and did not accommodate to the false beliefs and practices in the temple—John 2:15–16), so too, the Word of God made propositional does not accommodate to the pattern of religion from Genesis to Revelation. In addition, the Old Testament as God’s propositional revelation, takes priority and authority for the context of theological doctrines over and above Second Temple literature, because it is the primary back drop and theological unity for the New Testament’s teachings and doctrines.[xlv] In brief, God is the source of Scriptural revelation and the Old Testament its primary context; not Second Temple literature or pagan patterns of religion.[xlvi]

Finally, since Scripture is God’s divine revelation in propositional form, and since Scripture provides the divine interpretation of religion, one must accept the Scriptural portrayal over any other pattern of religion. Moreover, Scripture portrays a pattern of religion contrary to the discoveries of the dominant religious expressions found by NPP scholars and the literature of the Second Temple period.[xlvii] Consequently, one must allow Scripture and its teachings about the nature of humanity and schools of religion, to be the norming theological norm, not pagan accounts of religion. As already noted, Jesus rebuked the pattern of religion prevalent during his day. Jesus rebuked both the Pharisees and Sadducees, he reprimanded the religious practices of the temple, and opposed Jewish expectations for the Messiah. John the Baptist rebuke in Matthew 3:9, “Do not say that you have Abraham as your faither” also stands opposed to the Mishinaic claim that “All Israel will be saved.”[xlviii] In addition, Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit portrays a pattern of religion plagued by sin, rebelling against its Creator, manufacturing idolatrous forms of religion, and seeking vain paths of mediation.[xlix] Paul states these people suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, did not honor God or give thanks to him, became futile in their thinking, their foolish hearts were darkned, became fools and idolators, exchanged the truth of God for a lie, were given over to dishonorable passions and a debased mind, and filled with all kinds of ungodliness (Rom 1:18–32). In short, neutral criterion by which humanity can rightly diagnose the human heart does not exist, for their rebellion does not welcome such a diagnosis.[l] Scripture is required to interpret the human condition and stands markedly different from all other patterns of religion, which according to Scripture itself, tends toward works-based righteousness.[li]

With these hermeneutical presuppositions in place, we now turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans affirming: (1) Paul is the author; (2) Second Temple literature does not paint a ubiquitous picture of covenantal nomism; (3) There are counter-examples to covenantal nomism and examples of works-based righteousness; (4) Scripture alone must be our norming norm, and the Old Testament the New Testament’s primary literary context; (5) God is the source, criterion, and determiner of Scriptural revelation and biblical doctrines, not pagan patterns of religion; and (6) Scripture portrays a pattern of religion much different and opposed to the one depicted by advocates of the NPP and Second Temple Judaism. In the context of interpreting Romans, these affirmations will be operant to understand Paul’s theology of justification.

Paul’s Letter to the Romans

In the book, Reformation Readings of Paul, Robert Kolb observes that, “Martin Luther praised Paul’s epistle to the Romans as ‘the most important part of the New Testament,’ ‘indeed the purest gospel,’ and counseled readers of his translation to memorize it word-for-word and study it every day ‘as the daily bread of the soul.’”[lii] For many, especially those of the Reformation tradition, Romans presents the gospel in its clearest terms. Romans is a roadmap charting the means by which someone can be saved.

N. T. Wright representing the NPP, pushes back against this idea that Romans is about how to get saved, claiming, “As the letter [to the Romans] progresses, we run into a problem. In many traditions, Romans has been regarded as a book about ‘how someone becomes a Christian’. But it isn’t at all clear how chapter 2 fits into this scheme. Many commentators declare themselves baffled.”[liii] Wright finds himself to be one of those baffled commentators. In the preceding section, it was noted how Wright and other NPP commentators view justification as God’s declaration that one is already in the people of God. It is a doctrine touching on ecclesiology, not soteriology.[liv] In his Romans commentary, Wright claims, “Justification, in Paul, is not the process or event whereby someone becomes, or grows, as a Christian; it is the declaration that someone is, in the present, a member of the people of God.”[lv] This debate over the meaning, extent, and definition of justification has caused commentators and theologians, much like Alice in Wonderland, who are approaching the Cheshire cat in the tree of theological debates to ask the question, “Which road do I take?” One might look down the road of historical theology or to that of systematic theology; however, Wright is correct when he states, “Never mind the old and the new: how do we keep Romans in any kind of perspective?”[lvi] Later he states, “Nevertheless, all roads led to Rome in the ancient world, and all roads in biblical exegesis lead to Romans sooner or later—especially when it comes to justification.”[lvii] In other words, this debate on justification must be settled on textual grounds, and there is no better place for this conversation to take place than by going chapter by chapter through the book of Romans.

Given the diversity of interpretations over Paul’s letter to the Romans, the primary purpose of this section is to provide a biblical theology of Paul’s letter, in order to analyze the Reformation and NPP readings of Romans and defend the thesis that: Paul’s doctrine of justification in Romans is the act whereby God declares a sinner righteous through faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any works of the law. In order to accomplish this task and prove the following thesis, this section will make the ensuing argument:

  1. Paul teaches in Romans that everyone must be justified.
  2. Justification is a forensic and salvific concept.
  3. Either someone is justified by works of the law or by faith in Christ alone.
  4. Someone is not justified by works of the law.
  5. Therefore, someone is justified by faith in Christ alone.

Since premise one is affirmed by the majority of Pauline scholars it will be taken as a given, namely, nearly all evangelical and non-evangelical Pauline scholars virtually recognize that Paul teaches everyone must be justified. The three premises debated most are two, three, and four; therefore, the argument will be demonstrated according to the following three headings and concepts: (1) Forensic Justification (and Righteousness) and Salvation; (2) Apart from Works of the Law; and (3) Faith in Jesus Christ Alone. Methodologically, the first point will be demonstrated by showing that justification is forensic and this concept is best understood soteriologically. This section contains two steps. First, it will establish lexically the forensic nature of justification. Second, it will argue that justification is understood best as a soteriological term, not an ecclesiological term. The second point will argue for the validity of premises three and four, namely, to show the “either-or” nature of “works of the law” or “faith in Christ alone,” and it will demonstrate that “works of the law” in Paul refer to the entirety of the law, not merely its ceremonial aspects, nor does it function merely as a boundary marker. The third point or fifth premise, while it logically follows from premises one through four, will also be validated by offering exegetical evidence to substantiate that justification in Paul’s letter to the Romans is by faith in Christ alone.[lviii]

Forensic Justification (and Righteousness) and Salvation

One of the chief criticisms raised by Reformed theologians against the NPP is that its definition of justification does not withstand lexical analysis. John Frame aptly voices this type of objection, stating, “(1) The Greek lexicons do not define dikaiosune, righteousness, as ‘membership in a group,’ even as ‘membership in a covenant community.’ On the contrary, righteousness has to do with one’s standing before God as Judge.”[lix] Frame specifically applies this lexical reading to Romans, raising his second objection to the NPP, claiming “(2) Romans 1–5, the main context of Paul’s chief discussion of justification, is precisely an account of how human beings (both Gentiles and Jews) have sinned against God and the means of their forgiveness. Only through Christ does God declare sinners to be righteous, and that declaration is their justification.”[lx] Frame offers support for this second claim and praises the NPP for emphasizing Paul’s concern with the unity between Jews and Gentiles in the Church. But he critiques it further by claiming that “not everything in Paul’s writing can be assimilated to that theme.”[lxi] Frame suggests the NPP fails to deal adequately with numerous Pauline passages (Rom 4:4–5; 11:6; Eph 2:8–10; Phil 3:9), in which Paul rejects both barriers, and all attempts by people to save themselves according to their works. Frame claims, “For Paul, justification is not a person’s covenant membership. It is God’s declaration that the person is righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is God’s imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness.”[lxii] For Reformed theologian, John Frame, the NPP cannot withstand lexical analysis, the context of Paul’s discussion in Romans, or the corpus of Pauline theology on justification.[lxiii] For the purposes of this project, however, only the lexical analysis and context of Romans will be discussed.

The first objection raised against the NPP, and conversely, the Roman Catholic view of justification, pertains to Paul’s use of the word “justified” (e.g., δικαιοσύνη; δικαιωθήσεται; δίκαιοι; δικαιωθήσονται; δικαιωθῇς; δικαιούμενοι; ἐδικαιώθη; δικαίωσιν; δικαιωθέντες). Paul uses the term “justification” throughout Romans (cf. 2:13; 3:4, 8, 20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:2, 5, 6, 25; 5:1, 16, 18; 8:30, 33; 10:10) and his other literature (Gal 2:17; 3:8, 11, 24; 5:4). There is one problem with these references though, at least to the average English-speaking individual who is attempting to interpret his Bible. Namely, it is the problem of the English language and the fact that the way it uses the word “justify” or “justification” does not match the Bible’s use of the term. James White notes that for most English speaking individuals, they naturally believe, “. . . that ‘righteousness’ has a moral character about it. For us, to be righteous is often defined as a state in which one lives.”[lxiv] In addition, White states, “. . . in common opinion ‘justification’ speaks of something legal in character. Justification, it is often said, is something done for us, while righteousness is something done in us. Righteousness is moral, justification is legal. Or so the English usage commonly goes.”[lxv] However, White rightly notes these ideas do not correspond to the correct biblical meaning of the terms. Therefore, he writes:

The fact of the matter is, there are not two different terms used in the Bible (the New Testament, primarily) that are translated as ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification.’ There is only one term or, perhaps better, one family of terms, dikaios (the adjective), dikaiosune (the noun), and dikaioō (the verb). It is the translator’s decision whether to render dikaiosune as ‘righteousness’ or as ‘justification.’ Normally, the choice is made upon the basis of context—it would be rather awkward to use one or the other terms in certain situations. For example, it is easier to say, ‘Therefore, having been justified . . .’ than it is to say, ‘Therefore, having been made righteous . . .’ Similarly, it flows better to speak of receiving righteousness than it does receiving justification.[lxvi]

White does not want to downplay the fact that at times the terms do speak of moral or ethical qualities. But Protestants do not want to insist upon the idea that “righteousness” and “justification” always, in every lexical and textual instance, refer to the divine act whereby God legally declares the sinner to be righteous.[lxvii] However, there are instances in the Old Testament in which the Hebrew equivalent of the term “justify” (צָדַק), is used in a legal or forensic sense. Moo notes, “Paul’s use of this verb [sdq] reflects the use of the Hebrew verb in the OT, which, in its Hiphil form, refers to a forensic, or judicial, declaration that a person is ‘just.’ There is very good reason to think that Paul consistently uses the verb in this sense.”[lxviii] Schreiner agrees with Moo and White, and he goes on to list the following examples of Judges declaring the righteousness innocent and condemning the wicked (Deut 25:1; cf. 2 Sam 15:4; 1 Kings 8:31–32; 2 Chr 6:23; Prov 17:15; Isa 5:23).[lxix] Schreiner concludes by noting that “Judges do not ‘make’ anyone righteous. They pronounce on what is in fact the case—if they are righteous judges. In other words, the verbal form belongs in the forensic realm, and Paul does not use the verbal form to denote a righteousness that transforms us or ‘makes us’ righteous.”[lxx] Therefore, up to this point in the argument, it can be assumed that Paul is arguing that justification is declarative and forensic.[lxxi]

Charles Hodge in his book Justification By Faith Alone, agrees with the Old Testament background on the two senses in which the term justify/righteous can be used (e.g., moral character and just with regard to whom justice is satisfied). Hodge elaborates upon this observation, noting, “We are bound to take the words of Scripture in their true established sense. And, therefore, when the Bible says, ‘God justifies the believer,’ then scholars are not at liberty to say that it means that he pardons, or that he sanctifies him. It means, and can mean only, that he pronounces him just.”[lxxii] The known backdrop of this statement made by Hodge is against the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification. However, this statement also applies to the NPP. Namely, if someone can establish that Scripture teaches a forensic doctrine of justification, then one is not at liberty to say it means God declares someone to be a member of the covenant people of God. This analysis is in keeping with the hermeneutical axioms already established. Principally, that Scripture and Scripture alone is the norming norm for all doctrines, faith, and practice. Moreover, since the lexicons allow for a forensic definition of justification, and because the Old Testament provides examples of forensic justification, it follows that the concept of forensic justification is in keeping with the canonical and redemptive-historical flow of Scripture. Therefore, one cannot de jure rule out the concept of forensic justification. Nonetheless, in order to establish Paul’s doctrine of justification in Romans, one must test this concept against the de facto evidential support of select passages in the epistle.

A second and important issue is how the “righteousness of God” ought to be understood. Some scholars, such as Adolf Schlatter and Ernst Käsemann, understand the “righteousness of God” to refer to God’s transforming righteousness.[lxxiii] Other scholars, such as C. E. B. Cranfield, Douglas Moo, and Stephen Westerholm, believe the term “righteousness of God” ought to be understood as forensic only.[lxxiv] Still, there are other scholars, such as Thomas Schreiner, who have argued for a mixture between the two views, even though in later works, he sides with those who affirm righteousness to be forensic only.[lxxv] The most succinct and accurate summary of the two or three views can be found in Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law.[lxxvi] Schreiner offers the following arguments in favor of righteousness being forensic: First, it has been noted in the previous question that the verbal form in Paul should be understood in terms of God’s declaration. Second, Paul often says that human beings are righteous by faith (e.g., Rom 1:17; 3:22, 26; 4:3, 5, 9, 13; 9:30; 10:4; Gal 2:16; 3:6, 11; 5:5; Phil 3:9). Third, that righteousness is a forensic declaration is also supported by the link between righteousness and forgiveness. Fourth, the idea that righteousness is counted (logizomai) to believers indicates that righteousness is not native to believers, but rather that it is granted to them by God (Rom 4:3–6, 8–11, 22–24; 9:8; Gal 3:6).[lxxvii] Consequently, Schreiner and others believe these arguments are strong enough to substantiate the claim that both justification and righteousness are forensic, not transformative or referring to God’s covenant faithfulness.

The second objection raised against the NPP, and conversely Roman Catholicism, is Paul’s letter to the Romans teaches a forensic view of justification as it relates to salvation. Forensic justification pertaining to soteriology, not ecclesiology, can be seen throughout the letter. This is especially the case in the following passages: Rom 2:13; 3:4, 8, 20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:2, 5, 6, 25; 5:1, 16, 18; 8:30, 33; 10:10. For the sake of brevity; however, only a select number of passages will be discussed, specifically as the term justification forensically relates to salvation (4:1–8; 5:9; 8:33).[lxxviii]

Romans 4:1–8

Continuing the theme that Paul teaches a forensic doctrine of justification, specifically as it relates to salvation or soteriology, one must deal with Romans 4, since it is considered one of the pivotal texts on the topic. Moo rightly notes how this paragraph unfolds in four stages.[lxxix] In verses 1–2, Paul denies that Abraham is an exception to justification by faith. Verse 3 cites scriptural evidence to prove justification by faith. This reckoning of Abraham’s faith as righteousness is found in verse 4–5, whereby “God justifies the ungodly,” thereby eliminating any place for works. Finally, verses 6–8 confirm the character of this reckoning.[lxxx] However, Moo makes this observation, “Verses 4–5, which appeal to the gracious nature of God’s dealing with his people as support for justification by faith apart from works, are the heart of this paragraph. In this sense, we may characterize 4:1–8 as a kind of ‘commentary’ on 3:27–28.”[lxxxi] In brief, this paragraph and its explanation of justification, can function as the explanation of justification for 3:21–31.

Verse 2 states, “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” The Greek term “justified” used in this section is ἐδικαιώθη. Properly parsed this is an aorist passive indicative third singular from δικαιόω. Lexically, there is no reason to interpret this word or its other use in 3:28, to mean that one is declared to be in the covenant people of God. Classic Reformed theology suggest “justification” entails that one is declared righteous apart from works. Proponents of the NPP discuss chapters 3 and 4 to substantiate their view. Wright suggests, “Within this context, ‘justification’, as seen in 3:24–26, means that those who believe in Jesus are declared to be members of the true covenant family; which of course means that their sins are forgiven, since that was the purpose of the covenant.”[lxxxii] The two options are presented: either one cannot boast because they are declared righteous apart from works, or they cannot boast because they are declared to be in the covenant.

There are a few observations required in order to adjudicate these opposing interpretations, and ultimately, to demonstrate the coherence of the Reformed understanding of the passage. First, this passage is primarily discussing salvation, not membership into the community. It considers how one is saved, not how you can tell someone is a member of the covenant family. No Reformed theologian quarrels with the ecclesiological implications of justification, or whether “save” and “justify” mean the same thing.[lxxxiii] Schreiner makes this keen observation:

The word sōzō has to do with being delivered or rescued, whereas dikaioō and dikaiosynē with whether one is declared to be in the right. The issue here should not be narrowed to the issue of word studies. The debate isn’t over whether sōzō and dikaioō have the same definition. I am addressing the question of soteriology more broadly by asking whether justification belongs primarily in a soteriological or ecclessioloigcal orbit, and I would argue that justification is fundamentally soteriological. Justification has to do with whether one is right before God, whether one is pardoned or found guilty, and that is a soteriological matter.[lxxxiv]

Put another way, exegetes will prove very little by simply reflecting upon the verb “justified” in this passage. They must look to the surrounding context and determine that “justified” is related to salvation before God, not the covenant people of God.

The soteriological nature of this passage is apparent for a variety of reasons. Initially, there seems to be a close association with forgiveness and sin in this passage. Romans discusses how sin brings individuals under the wrath of God (1:18–3 ) and how God judges individuals for their sin (2:1–29 ), according to works leading to either eternal life or wrath and fury (2:6–8). For that reason, to interpret Romans 4 in soteriological terms, especially as it relates to the forgiveness of sins, the wrath of God, eternal life and final judgment, seems to accord best with Paul’s already established thoughts on justification. In addition, Paul routinely addresses the fact that sin has made individuals not right with God; therefore, he strives to show how individuals can stand in the right with God. Paul attempts to demonstrate that individuals do not stand in the right before God by means of the law, or by means of works of the law. In brief, to say individuals are not righteous by means of the law is fundamentally soteriological in nature, not ecclesiological.

Paul continues to addresses the soteriological nature of justification in Romans by discussing the issues of sin and redemption. In Romans 3:24, justification is closely related to redemption because we are, “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Schreiner notes, “Believers are right with God by means of the redeeming and liberating work of Christ. Romans 4:6–8 is particularly important, for justification is linked closely with the forgiveness of sins.”[lxxxv] He goes on to state, “Forgiveness of sins and justification are not identical here, but they are closely related and both fundamentally soteriological. So too, in 4:25 justification is explicated in terms of the forgiveness of our trespasses.”[lxxxvi] Schreiner’s observations are correct, because Romans 3 discusses individuals lost through sin and how they ultimately gain salvation by being justified through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul illustrates this motif in Romans 4 and directly correlates the themes of sin and forgiveness, which throughout redemptive-history in Scripture are linked closely with salvation and soteriology, not ecclesiology.

Soteriological interpretations of Romans seem to cohere with other known aspects of this passage. First, the concept that God “justifies the ungodly” (4:5). Moo notes the Old Testament significance of this claim as it relates to human judges, who justify the guilty and God’s declaration in Exodus 23:7, that he will not justify the wicked.[lxxxvii] Moo writes, “What is involved, of course, is a new application of the word ‘justify.’ The OT texts refer to the declaration or recognition of an existing situation. But Paul has in mind a creative act, whereby the believer is freely given a new ‘status.’”[lxxxviii] The immediate context of this passage has everything to do with soteriological matters, and nothing to do with ecclesiological matters. The status of going from ungodly to godly, from child of wrath to child of God, is not primarily concerned with ecclesiology, but soteriology. Second, this new status is available to Abraham, and subsequently to all who walk in the footsteps of Abraham, prior to and apart from any nationalistic boundary markers like circumcision. Covenantal nomism seems to miss the mark, because the focus on Abraham in this context is soteriological, not ecclesiological.[lxxxix] Third, throughout Romans, while salvation and righteousness do not mean the same thing, they are closely related and both have to do with soteriology in the broad sense. Justification speaks to how individuals obtain salvation. Faith and works speak to the means by which individuals receive salvation; however, each concept refers to soteriology, not ecclesiology.[xc]

Finally, soteriological interpretations cohere best with other known passages in Romans that address justification in relationship to life and final judgment. In Romans 5:18, Paul claims, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” There are various ways someone could understand the Greek construction of this passage, particularly the phrase: εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς. Schreiner introduces a variety of interpretative options that exegetes might choose to understand this passage.[xci] Should one understand this verse to read as an apposition; hence, the justification which is life? Should it be read as a genitive of source; hence justification which comes from life? Should it be understood as a genitive of result; hence, justification leads to or results in life?  After this survey, Schreiner suggests, “But however one takes it, justification has to do with eschatological life.”[xcii] This motif is confirmed in other passages that address justification parallel with life and final judgment (Rom 8:33). Moreover, salvation and righteousness, while distinct, are closely related and have to do with soteriology (Rom 10:10), not ecclesiology. Schreiner is correct in his assessment here too. He writes, “Again, salvation and righteousness should not be quilted here [Rom 10:10], but the parallelism of the phrases show they are in the same soteriological orbit.”[xciii] Note, both concepts result in salvation, not the mere inclusion into the covenant people of God. For that reason, it is best to understand them in soteriological, not ecclesiological, terms. With these observations in place, we can now proceed to discuss the Reformed understanding of justification and soteriology in Romans 5:9.

Romans 5:9

The forensic and soteriological nature of justification can be seen in Romans 5:9, which reads, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath to come.” Paul seems to link this verse with the previous verses and thought by using “Since, therefore.”[xciv] He also links verse 9 with verse 1, because he presents our justification as an accomplished fact.[xcv] Paul also re-angles the argument by linking our justification into the future, namely, he declares we shall be “saved by him from the wrath of God” based upon the previous justification we have in Christ. Evidently, Paul is linking justification and end-time salvation together. Morris agrees with this interpretation, noting, “‘We shall be saved’ looks to the future, and, indeed, this verb is in the future tense in seven of its eight occurrences in Romans; in this letter Paul is very interested in the future aspects of salvation.”[xcvi] Paul seems to correlate these two concepts (e.g., justification and God’s wrath), showing how the unifying theme between the two is the fact we have been declared righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Other evangelical scholars agree with this observation and note there are particular structural cues in Romans 5:9–10 which indicate Paul is trying to link together a forensic concept of justification along with end-time soteriology. Schreiner and Moo believe Paul is using rabbinical arguments from the greater to the lesser to prove this point.[xcvii] Moo suggests Paul’s argument follows the logical sequence of the rabbis known as qal wayyōmer (“light and heavy”) and in the western tradition a minori ad maius (“from the minor to the major).”[xcviii] Moo believes in this case, however, Paul is arguing from the “major” to the “minor.”[xcix] He writes, “If God has already done the most difficult thing–reconcile and justify unworthy sinners–how much more can he be depended on to accomplish the “easier” thing–save from eschatological wrath those who have been brought into such relationship with him.”[c] Moo believes Paul structurally relates justification and soteriology in verses 9–10, because a parallel exists between the way justification and reconciliation relate to end-time salvation. Moo provides the following lay out to illustrate his point:[ci]

          v. 9                                                                                     v. 10

                                                                                   if, while we were enemies

having now been justified                                we were reconciled to God

through his blood                                                through the death of his Son

how much more                                                    how much more

                                                                                     being reconciled

will we be saved                                                     will we be saved

from wrath

through him                                                            through his life


In this parallelism, both justified and reconciled, the blood of Jesus and the death of his Son, the literary device “how much more,” the concept of saved or salvation, and the agency of Jesus Christ are all linked. Moo believes the word “justified” continues the same thought from Romans 5:1, where it states we are “being justified,” and it alludes to the past acquittal of the sinner who has faith in Jesus Christ. In 5:9, it specifically says we were justified by “his blood.” This present use of “blood” finds its initial source in 3:25, where blood signified a sacrifice for our sin, and in 5:10 finds its parallel equation in the phrase “his death.”[cii] The significance of this link for Moo is that it demonstrates the connection between the justified status (based upon the sacrificial death of Christ) and salvation from the wrath to come, which brings salvation from the wrath to come.[ciii] Schreiner makes this same point, claiming, “Since God has already removed the greatest obstacle to future glory, the guilt and enmity of believers, then he will surely see to it that believers will be spared from his eschatological wrath.”[civ] The point being, the parallel between, “we are justified—by his blood—and saved,” and “because we are reconciled—through his Son—and saved;” demonstrates: (1) God has accomplished the more difficult task of justification and soteriology; (2) sinners are no longer guilty (which is a judicial concept); and (3) sinners can have confidence they are reconciled to God and saved from the wrath to come (which is a soteriological concept).[cv]

Moo goes beyond Schreiner however, noting, how the parallel in verses 9 and 10 indicate the significance of this connection between justification and salvation. Moo writes:

Perhaps the most interesting is the substitution of ‘reconciled’ for ‘justified’ Justification language is legal, law-court language, picturing the believer being declared innocent by the judge. Reconciliation language, on the other hand, comes from the world of personal relationships. ‘To reconcile’ means to bring together, or to make peace between, two estranged or hostile parties (cf. 1 Cor 7:11). . . . Reconciliation in Paul has two aspects, or ‘moments’: the accomplishment of reconciliation through Christ on the cross (cf. 2 Cor 5:19: ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself’) and the acceptance of that completed work by the believer (cf. 2 Cor 5:20b: ‘We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God’). . . . As in v. 9 justification is accomplished “through” Christ’s blood, so here reconciliation takes place “through the death of [God’s] Son.” Similarly, “we will be saved,” though not further defined, must have the same referent as the same verb in v. 9: salvation from the wrath of God on the day of judgment.[cvi]

Moo makes these comments to highlight the fact that while these moments can be cognitively distinguished, in reality, they are one act; namely, God overcame our hostility towards him through the death of Christ by reconciling ourselves to him so we might receive end-time salvation. Moreover, claims Moo, “. . . in v. 9 justification is accomplished ‘through’ Christ’s blood, so here reconciliation takes place ‘through the death of [God’s] Son.’ Similarly, ‘we will be saved,’ though not further defined, must have the same referent as the same verb in v. 9: salvation from the wrath of God on the day of judgment.”[cvii] In short, this passage seems to favor the Reformed view because it links together forensic justification and soteriology, not ecclesiology.[cviii]

With these observations in place, we can now proceed to discuss the Reformed understanding of justification Romans 8:33, which is a key text illustrating the forensic and soteriological nature of justification.

Romans 8:33

 The forensic nature of justification and its soteriological implications are clearly seen in Romans 8:33. Moo notes there are at least six ways to punctuate this verse and the next.[cix] He believes the NASB provides the most accurate translation: “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect. God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is he who died, yes, rather, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” Moo highlights two things, claiming:

The advantages of this punctuation are: (1) by taking only those sentences that begin with interrogative particles as questions, it maintains the vivid question-answer style used throughout the paragraph; and (2) by using a semicolon after ‘justifies’ (a highlight after δικαιῶν in the Greek text), it joins together two clauses that, by virtue of the natural contrast between ‘justify’ and ‘condemn,’ appear to belong together.[cx]

Moo also suggests that, “‘Bring a charge’ is the first of the explicitly judicial terms in this context. The future tense of the verb focuses attention on the last judgment.”[cxi] There is also a contrast with verse 34 and the verb “condemn.” These two verbs, “charge” and “condemn,” are forensic in nature, carrying over judicial acts in a legal setting.[cxii] The verb ἐγκαλέω, occurs six times in acts with reference to various facts of Paul’s trials (19:38, 40; 23:29, 38; 26:2, 7).[cxiii] It is natural, then, to conclude that the participle δικαιῶν in this context is forensic in its nature too, since all of the other surrounding verbs are forensic. The future tense of the verb ἐγκαλέσει focuses upon what seems to be final judgment and, in verse 34, the term is in a judicial context.[cxiv]

Schreiner agrees with this interpretation. He believes the anonym between justifies and condemn (to bring a charge), is forensic in nature.[cxv] Schreiner disagrees with Dunn’s interpretation that the present tense of δικαιῶν means God is continually justifying, rather he sides with Moo who views this present participle as gnomic. The verbal ideas, participles, and context suggest believers are able to withstand judgment day with confidence and assurance. Consistent with this reading, therefore, entails the conjunction of “charge” and “justify” renders it incomprehensible that this passages suggests a subjective, intrinsic, transformative, inward change in the individual.[cxvi] Consequently, it rules out the transformative views of justification and places it logically and consistently within the realm of a forensic understanding of justification. In addition, it also undermines the NPP idea of justification, since it is used in a legal, declarative, and soteriological sense; not an ecclesiastical sense.

In summary, then, while there are varying interpretations concerning the definition and nature of justification and righteousness, this section seems to indicate these terms are best understood as forensic in their nature and soteriological in their effect. These characteristics were emphasized by the Reformers and critiqued by Roman Catholics and advocates of the NPP. Thus far, it seems one is warranted enough to affirm premises one and two, namely, (1) Paul teaches in the book of Romans that everyone must be justified; and (2) Justification is a forensic and salvific concept. Conversely, the concept “Paul’s doctrine of justification is the act whereby God declares a sinner righteous,” has been substantiated. Therefore, the following section will attempt to demonstrate premise three (e.g., either someone is justified by works of the law or by faith in Christ alone) and premise four (e.g., Someone is not justified by works of the law). Equally, this section will substantiate another aspect of the thesis, namely, it will show that justification is “apart from any works of the law.”

Apart From Works of the Law

Before establishing premise three, a brief comment about deductive reasoning and disjunctive syllogisms is required. Inductive reasoning is from the particular to the general, while deductive reasoning is from the general to the particular. Disjunctive syllogisms are a type of either/or reasoning. They take the following form:

  • It is either A or B (both not both).
  • It is not A
  • Therefore, it is B.

To illustrate, below is premises three through five in their disjunctive form:

  • Either someone is justified by works of the law or by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
  • Someone is not justified by works of the law.
  • Therefore, someone is justified by faith in Christ alone.

There are two ways to draw a valid conclusion from a disjunctive syllogism: Either by denying one alternate (e.g., the statement on one side of the either/or) or by denying the other alternate. Scripture uses this type of reasoning, and it is utilized in daily life.[cxvii] In daily life individuals make the following types of statements: Either the cashier or the manager will be fired; Either John is in Dallas or Chicago. Sometimes the alternates can be both true (e.g., inclusive disjunctive A or B or Both; A and/or B), and sometimes logicians try to exclude the case where both alternates are true (A or B but not both).[cxviii] Finally, the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises; hence, it is considered proven and does not require any further evidential support or proof.

Paul uses logical reasoning in his letter to the Romans (e.g., Rom 4:2). Paul seems to present an argument in verse 2, which goes as follows: (1) If Abraham was justified by works, then he has something to boast about; (2) Abraham was justified by works; (3) Therefore, Abraham has something to boast about. The argument Paul considers in this passage is clear, if humanity can be justified by works, then we have something to boast about. If Abraham, our forefather, the individual whom we are to follow, was justified by works, then we too, following in his pattern, would have something to boast about. However, Paul is quick to dismiss this type of thinking by denying that Abrham is able to boast before God by denying the consequent of premise one in verse 2. At the great tribunal of God, our personal acts of glorying and boasting in our righteousness fall short. If Abraham, who is our example, acts of righteousness fall short, then our acts of righteousness fall short too; hence, no one is able to be justified by works. Remember, Paul has already made a similar point in Romans 3:23 when he said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Paul also seems to use disjunctive reasoning in Romans: either someone is justified by works of the law or by faith in Christ alone. Theologians could debate whether it is an inclusive or exclusive disjustive; however, both views would agree Paul is pitting these two alternates against one another. In Romans 2 Paul discusses Gentiles who have sinned apart from the law and Gentiles who have sinned under the law will both be judged by the law (2:12). Romans 2:13 states, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are just before God, but the doers of the law will be justified.” Doers of the law can be just or righteous before God.[cxix] Paul also speaks about the flesh being justified before God’s sight (3:20), even though he denies that someone can be justified by works of the law because of humanity’s inability to keep the law (3:1–20). One can deny it was ever the purpose of the law to save or justify. Nevertheless, in the book of Romans, evidently a group exists who believe someone is able to be justified by works of the law. Paul attempts to demonstrate the other alternate, namely, that individuals are justified by faith in Christ alone and not by works of the law (3:21–26). In these passages, there seems to be a faction who believe one is justified by works of the law (or works), and Paul who argues that one is justified by faith in Christ alone. Paul denies that someone is saved by works of the law when he claims, “because by works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:20). Paul also says, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (3:21). Therefore, given the contrast of these two alternates (e.g., either someone is justified by works of the law or faith in Jesus Christ alone), one is warranted enough to affirm premise three and grant that disjunctive reasoning is a valid mode of thought in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

A serious and pointed debate has arisen between New Testament scholars pertaining to the proper definition of “works of the law.” Scholars claim there are three broad understandings of the phrase. The first refers to a legalistic understanding, where the term “works of the law” suggests deeds done to merit God’s favor.[cxx] The second view claims that “works of the law” refers to boundary markers, a view affirmed by Sanders and Wright.[cxxi] This view represents the notion of covenantal nomism in which God’s people are members of the covenant by God’s grace, yet they maintain that status by obedience.[cxxii] Dunn elaborates, stating:

There was a function of the law/Torah that had been largely ignored in the discussion of Paul’s attitude towards the law—another missing dimension, if you like. This was the role of the law as marking out Israel from the other nations, as a people of the law—which is why, as we saw above, Gentiles were by definition outside the law, out-laws, that is, ‘sinners.’. . . . There were various boundary markers, particular ritual practices that expressed Israel’s set-apartness with particular clarity.[cxxiii]

A third view suggests that “works of the law” refers to the works prescribed by the whole Mosaic law.[cxxiv] This is the traditional view and classic interpretations of the phrase argue that Paul is referring to the whole or totality of the Mosaic law, not just segments or notions of it. This view is maintained by individuals such as the Protestant Reformers, classic evangelicalism, and commentators such as Douglas Moo, Thomas Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, and John Piper.[cxxv] There is a final view not mentioned, affirmed by Roman Catholics, which according to John Calvin, who claims, “The Papists, misled by Origen and Jerome, are of the opinion, and lay it down as certain, that the dispute relates to shadows; and accordingly assert, that by ‘works of the law’ are meant ceremonies.”[cxxvi]

While each position deserves meaningful interaction, space will only permit a brief positive defense of the view that claims “works of the Law” refers to the Mosaic law. This view seems best for the following reasons. First, there are logical and contextual reasons to claim “works of the law” in Paul’s epistles refers to the deeds done according to the law; not legalism, nor boundary markers. Instead, the notion of law in the Scripture is best understood as a unit, with distinctions inside that unit (e.g., judicial, moral, and ceremonial). The strongest evidence for interpreting “works of the law” as unit is because Paul consistently refers to the law as a whole. Schreiner provides the following chart to demonstrate this point.[cxxvii]

Dying to the law Rom 7:4; Gal 2:19
Righteousness or inheritance are not via the law Rom 3:20–22; 4:13; Gal 2:21; 3:11, 18
Law contrasted with faith Gal 3:12
Period of law distinguished from promise to Abraham Rom 5:13, 20; Gal 3:17, 19, 21, 23, 24
Curse of the law Gal 3:13
Instruction of law Rom 2:18, 20
Being “under the law” Rom 3:19; 6:14–15; Gal 4:5, 21; 5:18
Keeping, doing, and obeying the law Rom 2:13, 25, 26, 27; 10:5; Gal 5:3; 6:13; cf. Rom 8:7
Sinning or transgressing against the law Rom 2:12; 4:15; 5:13; 7:7, 8
Relying on the law Rom 2:17; cf. 3:27
Holiness, spirituality, and goodness of law Rom 7:12, 14, 16
Delight in law Rom 7:22

In these instances, Paul refers to the law as a whole. He does not fault the people for merely not keeping the “ceremonial” or “sociological” aspects of the law. Schreiner also believes there is good reason to suggest the sociological aspects of the law are a subset to the larger picture, namely, must Gentiles keep the entire law to be saved?[cxxviii] Evidently, Paul is denying this concept in both Romans and Galatians.

Second, in Romans 3:20, Paul’s utilizes a continuity of reasoning, not a shift in reasoning, while supporting his argument that individuals are not justified by works of the entire law. The key thesis throughout Paul is the individual’s inability to keep the law (cf. 2:1–3, 8–9, 12, 21–24, 25, 27). Paul does not fault the people for not being circumcised or requiring Gentiles to keep sociological boundaries. In this sense, therefore, 3:19–20 functions as a summary statement of Paul’s line of reasoning and offers warrant to claim “works of the law” in this section refer to the entire law, because the references to “law” up to this point, have referred to the entire law, not merely the ceremonial or sociological aspects. Moo goes even further by suggesting the issue of “works” in this section refer to the “precepts” of the law (v. 26: cf. vv. 22–23, 25, 27), not merely identity markers like circumcision.[cxxix] They were unable to justify, since belonging to the Jewish people alone does not justify the Jew or anyone. This notion in 3:20 refers to the anthropological issue; namely, human inability, with the application being that all references to works are unable to save (including ceremonial or sociological boundaries).[cxxx] Mark Seifrid would agree, but he re-angle’s the critique by noting “works of the law” cannot be used as a status marker, since the Qumran literature uses the phrase in an ethical sense. Seifrid writes:

I must confess considerable puzzlement that both Dunn and Wright, who recognize that some Jews could regard other Jews as outside the community of the elect on the basis of halakhah, regard distinctive practices as simply ‘exclusivistic,’ borders without interior meaning. Insiders saw them as emblems of community values, especially to Torah and covenant.[cxxxi]

In brief, while there at times this phrase might refer to a status or identity, it is probably best to understand this phrase to primarily encompass the notion of human activity, including any precepts necessary to keep the entire law.

Third, the extra-biblical literature from that time period is best understood to refer to the entire law, not merely the sociological or ceremonial aspects of the law. Schreiner notes the LXX does not contain the expression “works of the law,” nor does it occur in the Old Testament.[cxxxii] When parallels are found in Hebrews texts from the Second Temple literature, they too, support the claim that “works of law,” refer to the entire law, since there are no restrictions placed upon it to limit it merely to ceremonial aspects (see 4QFlor 1:7; 1QS 4:21; 6:18).[cxxxiii] Schreiner claims:

A careful reading of 1QS V–VII shows that general obedience to the law is described in this passage. Members pledge to ‘return to the law of Moses according to all which he commanded’ (1QS 5:8, italics mine [Schreiner’s]). They are ‘to observer all his statutes which he commanded them to do’ (1QS 5:22). The specific sins enumerated focus on humility, gentleness, and avoiding anger (1QS 5:25–26). The laws that are demanded of members of the community focus on moral norms: lying, evil speech, blasphemy, anger, insulting others, revenge, evil words, falling asleep, walking naked, spitting, inappropriate jesting, grumbling (1QS 6:24–7:21). Nothing is said about boundary markers like circumcision, food laws, or Sabbath.[cxxxiv]

Schreiner notes that content from texts such as 4QMMT, which speak of works of the Torah, speak of specific ceremonial regulations, but they do not speak to the exclusion of Gentiles from the covenant. They focus on purity regulations, and the segregation language is related more towards moral matters.[cxxxv]

Fourth, one must also ask the question: Against whom is this polemic in 3:20 directed?[cxxxvi] Moo grants for the sake of argument that the phrase “works of the law” may refer to a status or sociological marker. But, he believes, Paul insists that only what is actually done counts. Therefore, the argument in 3:20 is an outright attack on the “covenantal nomism” portrayed by Sanders and others.[cxxxvii] Moo notes, “The denial of a special status to the Jews is an implicit rejection of the election that was the foundation for ‘covenantal nomism,’ and coherences closely with the polemic of John the Baptist (cf. Matt. 3:7-10) and Jesus.”[cxxxviii] Moo also believes this criticism correlates with the Old Testament prophets who criticized individuals for relying on the covenant as an automatic protection from God’s judgement.[cxxxix] He believes Paul did not attach the promise of salvation to the “Mosaic covenant, as did Judaism, but to the Abrahamic.”[cxl] For that reason, Moo concludes:

One could, at the least, make a very good case for finding Paul’s interpretation of the OT to be more accurate than that of ‘covenantal nomism.’ ‘Works of the law’—those things done by Jews in obedience to the law by which they sought to maintain their covenant status—cannot justify because the covenant within which they performed those works was inadequate to bring justification. Jewish works, then, are no different from Gentile works, once the larger framework of the covenant – as usually understood in first-century Judaism—is eliminated.[cxli]

Moo also claims there is good reason to believe the Jews during this age were more legalistic than Dunn and Wright allow.[cxlii] Nonetheless, even if one grants there is a chance “works of the law” in Romans 3:20 could refer to a status marker, that interpretation would reduce unto absurdity, since it would place Paul’s soteriology in discontinuity with the message of the OT prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus. On the other hand, if someone understands “works of the law” as referring to refer the entire law, that would maintain continuity with the doctrine of justification offered throughout salvation-history.

Therefore, since these arguments seem to favor defining “works of the law” as the entirety of the law, the fourth premise (e.g., Someone is not justified by works of the law) will be substantiated exegetically by focusing specifically upon three texts in Romans (3:20; 9:30–32a; 10:5–8).

Romans 3:20

In this section, where Paul speaks of works of the law, advocates of the NPP claim the emphasis ought to be on the law of Moses, not necessarily works. They claim a person is not required to become a Jew in order to be righteous. Dunn argues that “works” in this Romans 3:20 references back to “circumcision” in Romans 2.[cxliii] They are different from “doing the law” (Rom 2:13–14) or “fulfilling the law” (2:27); neither are they the “work of the law written on the heart” (2:15). Rather, they are viewed as “something more superficial, at the level of ‘the letter’ (2:27, 29), an outward mark indicative of ethic solidarity (2:28). . . .”[cxliv] Dunn labors to demonstrate “works of the law” in this passage is a means of identifying individuals within the people of God and maintaining their status within that group. Dunn is intentional to note Paul’s argument in 2:1–3:8, indicates that “works of the law” signifies what it means to be in the covenant, not a means of achieving righteousness or divine forgiveness. Wright agrees with this interpretation. He believes this passage signifies the Jews are different from their pagan neighbors.[cxlv] Wright suggests this passage is a critique of Jewish exclusivism, and this faith/works dichotomy serves to rebuke those who believe they can merely appeal to the possession of the Torah to demonstrate their special status in the covenant.[cxlvi]

Is this interpretation offered by the NPP correct? Is Paul using “works of the law” to refer to a status only? If one reads the broad context of this passage, there does not seem to be a restriction to merely ceremonial or status markers. As has already been discussed, when Paul refers to “law” in these passages, he is referring to the entirety of the law. Therefore, the phrase “works of the law” in this passage should be taken to refer to all of the works or performances required by the law. In addition, the use of the word “justified” in this passage, as has already been demonstrated, is a legal term, indicating that a person will not be declared righteous by God in lieu of their own works of righteousness, those of the law included, since no one is able to fulfill or keep God’s law. Waters suggests Paul does not have Jewish exclusivism in mind here because he concludes his earlier discussion by addressing both Jews and Gentiles. Waters notes:

While the argument of Romans 2 substantially treats Jews, the argument of Romans 1:18–32 has included Gentiles. Paul will turn his attention at Romans 3:1 briefly to consider Jews before he concludes in Romans 3:9 that ‘we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin’ (follows by the supporting catena of Romans 3:10–18). We turn to his conclusion at Romans 3:19–20, where he reminds us that the law condemns (he has already affirmed this both of Jews and of Gentiles in Romans 2:14–15), and then concludes his argument with this verse (‘because by works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight’). It is gratuitous, therefore, to restrict Paul’s concern to simply Jews. The fact that he includes Jews and Greeks means that ‘works of the Law’ at Romans 3:20a must then be comprehended more than simply being Jewish.[cxlvii]

Waters and others believe advocates of the NPP, or anyone who restricts this merely to the ceremonial aspects of the law, are neglecting the broader context of Romans. These comments and observations seem to be correct, and conversely, Paul transitions in Romans 3:21–4:25 to indicate that since no one can be righteous by keeping the law (understood in its entirety), God therefore provides another means to be justified, namely, “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:22).

Specifically, though, how does this passage prove Paul denies someone can be saved by works of the law? Despite the amount of speculation raised by modern scholarship about this passage, the intention of the apostle seems to be quite clear. This passage could be summarized as saying, “The purpose of the law was never to justify, but to bring a knowledge of sin.” The function of the law is given in this passage when Paul states, “through the law comes a knowledge of sin.” Moo comments:

‘Knowledge of sin,’ on the other hand, does not simply mean that the law defines sin; rather, what is meant is that the law gives to people and understanding of ‘sin’ (singular) as a power that holds everyone in bondage and brings guilt and condemnation. The law presents people with the demand of God. In our constant failure to attain the goal of that demand, we recognize ourselves to be sinners and justly condemned for our failures.[cxlviii]

This interpretation also seems to cohere with the rest of chapter 3. The reason “every mouth will be stopped” and “the entire world held accountable to God” is because the law brings the knowledge of sin. To those who only have the law, there is forever silence and condemnation. The function and purpose of the law is to keep humanity in a state of accountability before God. The function of the law since its inception was to bring a knowledge of sin, not to justify sinners. Calvin notes that the purpose of the law is it “cuts off the hope of salvation.”[cl] Having shown everyone is accountable before God in 3:20, Paul then proceeds in 3:21 to offer hope to lost sinners because there is now a righteousness from God, manifested apart from the law.[cli] This righteousness is consistent with the canonical Scriptures and salvation-history (3:21). The righteousness God provides is through “faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (3:22). There is no distinction in persons, for all are plagued by sin and unable to keep the precepts of the law (3:23). Each person is justified by God’s grace with Jesus’ death serving as the grounds of our justification, and faith the instrument for receiving justification (3:24–25). In this manner, and this manner alone, God is able to be both just and the sole justifier (not requiring any other human effort other than that afforded by the gospel) of sinners (3:26). In summary, the law is not nullified through the gospel, but established. For the purpose of the law is to bring the knowledge of sin, whereas the purpose of the gospel is to justify “apart from works of the law” or any other human efforts (3:21, 31; 4:1–12).

Romans 9:30–32a     

 Since we have already discussed Paul’s notion of works in Romans 4:4–5, concluding that Paul’s metaphor of labor or works undermines the NPP because he is contrasting both grace and works, namely, to indicate that works (regardless of their kind, whether a status or activity) do not credit favor before God, but a price or due owed. Paul also credits this righteousness to those who are ungodly, like Abraham, who did not have the Mosaic law. Therefore, it was impossible for him to use the law as a status symbol, and it is best to understand “works” in this passage to indicate any human striving.[clii]

Conversely, this type of argumentation is continued by Paul throughout the book of Romans. In Romans 9:30–32a, Paul contrasts once again faith and works. Paul writes, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reach that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.”[cliii] In the broad context of this passage, Paul is trying to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, particularly with regard to Israel’s rejection of God’s saving promises.[cliv] Paul is assessing the situation of Gentiles, who were not the people of God and did not seek God, who are now God’s people and have a right standing with God. Israel, however, is refusing to believe in the gospel. Nonetheless, God’s saving promises are still fulfilled. In verse 32, Paul quickly notes that Israel did not obtain a right standing before God by keeping the law. This use of the law, namely, as a means of achieving righteousness, is what ultimately caused them to stumble and not believe in Jesus Christ.[clv]

Advocates of the NPP, suggest these verses ought to be read not in the context of works-righteousness-faith in Christ for salvation. Instead, they should be understood in the categories of falsely attempting to establish an identity of status as the people of God from the Torah.[clvi] Advocates of the Old Perspective, such as Waters, respond to this line of reasoning, offering the following criticism:

In conclusion, then, we see three important things in these verses: (a) Paul discusses the law as holding out an ethical standard, which is righteousness. (b) Paul holds that the way this standard is attained is not by pursuit but by faith (e.g., 9:30). (c) Paul argues not only that Israel failed to attain this standard, but also that she pursued this standard, and that he failure was rooted in the manner of pursuit, viz, works, an activity of striving and of effort.[clvii]

Waters’ assessment seems to present strong support for the Reformed understanding on justification. The key point to note, following the train of thought laid by Waters, is Paul speaks of the law in ethical and moral terms. This seems directly contrary to the thesis advocated by adherent to the NPP. If Paul is trying to discuss matters related to status, then why does he point to works of the law in this passage to refer to one’s obtaining of righteousness in an ethical sense? However, to understand this passage as referring to a works based righteousness by keeping the law, in moral and ethical categories, seems to maintain continuity with Paul’s line of argumentation. For that reason, it seems to cohere best with the structure of Romans and the context of this particular passage.

The Reformed understanding seems more coherent in Waters paradigm since it highlights Paul’s metaphor of a race in these verses.[clviii] He rightly notes that Israel failed to arrive at the law’s particular goal, which seems to be ethical, and one would be righteous if they held to that standard, and unrighteous if they failed to keep it. Waters notes how advocates of the NPP try to get around understanding law in a moral or ethical sense by claiming “righteousness” can be understood in multiple senses.[clix] Waters believes this approach is incoherent, because, “Paul pines the difference between Jews and Gentiles, rather, on the manner in which the goal was sought: by faith/by works (Rom 9:32a). If the faith/works distinction means what Dunn would have it mean, then we expect equivocation in Paul’s uses of ‘righteousness’ in Romans 9:30–31).”[clx] Waters and other Reformed theologians deny this type of reasoning or inconsistency in the human authors of Scripture, because it is impossible for God to act illogically or communicate falsehood.[clxi]

Romans 10:5–8

The final passage to be investigated in order to show individuals are not justified by works of the law is Romans 10:5. The passage reads, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Returning to the broad context, this passage is referring to Israel’s failure to believe in the gospel and trust in Jesus Christ. In 10:5, however, Paul seems to indicate that if a person could keep the law, they would attain life. But, as he has already demonstrated, no one is able to keep the law and all fail to obtain life through this means (Rom 1:18–3:20).

In the immediate context of this passage, there seems to be a contrast between righteousness which comes from the law and the righteousness which comes from faith. NPP advocates, on the other hand, do not recognize this contrast and interpret it to mean something different. Dunn believes the righteousness discussed in this passage marks out a relationship with God peculiarly to the people of the law through their faithfulness.[clxii] Dunn believes 10:6 sets forth righteousness in this new era, which is based on faith, that is not incompatible with the old epoch. In other words, both eras recognize this means of salvation. Wright argues there is not a contrast between the righteousness in 10:5 and 10:6–8. The grounds for this claim is the context where Paul addresses the restoration of Israel from exile. For that reason, 10:6–8 continues 10:5. Wright claims Paul is offering a new and fresh explanation of the exile and return motif, not a contrast between two types of righteousness.[clxiii] Dunn sees a contrast and Wright sees continuity between 10:5 and 10:6–8; however, both agree the traditional reading of this passage by Protestants is incorrect.[clxiv]

The first thing to note, in response to Wright, is the context of the passage suggests there is a contrast. Moo recognizes the word δέ in this context must be understood as adversative, meaning, “Moses writes about the righteousness based on the law (v. 5) . . . but the righteousness based on faith speaks in this manner . . . .”[clxv] Schreiner agrees this passage must be understood in an adversative sense. Schreiner writes, “First, an adversative relationship between verses 5 and 6–8 is supported by the antithesis between doing and believing that permeates Rom 9:30–10:13. Israel did not attain righteousness through the law, because they pursued it ‘as from works’ (9:32).”[clxvi] Waters agrees with Moo and Schreiner both textually and contextually. He claims the context contrasts faith and a cluster of related concepts (works, law, their own righteousness).[clxvii] Waters also notes, “It is special pleading to argue that Paul has suspended this running contrast in verses that are universally recognized to be of a piece with the argument of Romans 9:30ff.”[clxviii]

There also seem to be broader reasons to understand the contrast between faith and any related merit striving (works, law, their own righteousness). Reformed commentators agree this type of contrast is found in Philippians 3:9, where Paul discusses “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law.”[clxix] Evidently, a contrast exists between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Schreiner rightly notes that, given Philippians 3:9 speaks negatively of “righteousness from law,” it would be extremely unlikely that the same phrase used in Romans 10:5 is being used positively.[clxx] He notes the similar contexts and language in both books warrants regarding works from the law and righteousness of faith, in a similar sense; namely, they are being contrasted.[clxxi] In addition, nowhere does Paul ever positively claim righteousness comes from the law. Schreiner notes that righteousness comes from God (Rom 5:20; 7:5; 7–13).[clxxii] To those who see 10:5 as a positive description of keeping the law, Schreiner believes this concept of “righteousness” that comes from the law “is contrary to the heart of Pauline theology.”[clxxiii] Waters also highlights the way Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 in a context where he is speaking “negatively of righteousness of the law.” It is unlikely Paul would switch gears and radically change his interpretation of this crucial Old Testament text right in the middle of his charges against righteousness coming from the law.[clxxiv] For these reasons, there seems to be enough warrant to justify claiming Paul understands 10:5 and 10:6–8 in an adversative or contrastive sense.

This raises another issue. If these verses can be understood in an adversative sense, why should we not adopt Dunn’s perspective? What positive reasons do we have for the traditional Reformed understanding? First of all, one can employ a weaker, yet warranted, argument from silence. Waters writes, “Had Paul simply wished to affirm either that the problem was a problem of identity or status, or that the problem concerned a question of truncated law obedience, he had ample opportunity and vocabulary to do so.”[clxxv] Waters believes because Paul does not use this type of vocabulary and because he uses a vocabulary of activity towards keeping the law (not merely identity or status) throughout Romans 9:30–32 and 10:3–8, this “militates against” Dunn’s explanation.[clxxvi] Second, Moo offers a similar type of argument in positive terms. Moo claims, “His [Paul’s] purpose in quoting Lev. 18:15 is succinctly to summarize what for him is the essence of the law: blessing is contingent on obedience. It is the one who does the works required by the law who must find life through them.”[clxxvii] Moo’s point is that Paul is using verbs in Romans 10 to frame the discussion in ethical and moral categories, not in terms of status or identity. The Jews in this context have ignored the fact that the law finds its culmination in Jesus Christ and are seeking to establish their righteousness with God through the law; hence, “doing.”[clxxviii] Yet, in keeping with the entire context of Paul’s letter to the Romans, all of humanity is unable to keep the law and this “doing” is futile to obtain righteousness.

Moo continues to note how the entirety of salvation-history shows that faith and doing and “law” and“gospel” have run alongside each other. Each reveal an important aspect of humanity’s relationship with God. “But,” as Moo states, “as it is fatal to ignore one or the other, it is equally fatal to mix them or to use them for the wrong ends. The OT Israelite who sought to base his or her relationship with God on the law rather than on God’s gracious election in and through the Abrahamic promise arrangement made this mistake.”[clxxix] In addition, Moo writes, “Paul suggests, many Jews in his day are making the same mistake: concentrating on the law to the exclusion of God’s gracious provision in Christ, the ‘climax’ of the law, for their relationship with the Lord.”[clxxx] Paul is not pitting Scripture against Scripture. Paul is quoting Leviticus 18:5 at Romans 10:5 to establish the connection between obedience and blessing alongside disobedience and curse. Paul is reminding the people, if they seek the law for righteousness and blessing, they must keep all of the requirements of the law. If they fail to do so and fail to keep the law’s standards, then they will receive not blessing, but a curse. The only means to find justification and righteousness is through faith in Jesus Christ, not by means of works, works of the law, or a “righteousness of my own.”

In summary, while there are varying interpretations concerning the definition of works of the law, virtually all evangelical scholars recognize the Pauline doctrine of justification teaches that no flesh will be justified by works of the law. The debate truly centers around the definition and boundaries of works of the law. This section sought to eliminate ceremonial, status, or ethnic boundaries as valid options for “works of the law.” Thus far, it seems warranted to affirm premises 1–4 of the argument. Conversely, since the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, we are warranted to affirm: Therefore, someone is justified by faith in Christ alone.

On the other hand, there are two more issues that need to be dealt with in order to affirm the thesis. First, one must demonstrate that Paul is teaching a person is justified by faith in Jesus Christ, versus the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Second, one must demonstrate Paul teaches that a person is justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, the following section is going to discuss briefly the debate between the subjective and objective genitive, and offer reasons to affirm the modifier faith alone.

Faith in Jesus Christ

 Commentators do not agree over the proper translation and interpretation of the phrase, “πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.” There are two main interpretations, one advocated by traditional Reformed theologians arguing it should be translated, “faith in Jesus Christ.” The other advocated by adherents of the NPP, who argue the phrase should be translated, “faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”[clxxxi] The former translate the phrase as an objective genitive, whereas the later translate it as a subjective genitive. In order to understand this distinction better, David Alan Black defines the two uses of the genitive in the following manner, claiming: “Subjective Genitive. Linked with an ‘action noun,’ the genitive indicates the subject or producer of that action. The action noun is what distinguishes this genitive from the possessive genitive. Objective Genitive. Connected with an ‘action noun,’ the genitive indicates the object or recipient of that action.”[clxxxii] To illustrate the difference, Daniel Wallace provides his readers a syntactic and semantic diagram.[clxxxiii] Wallace claims the subjective genitive would argue that “God loves X.” But the objective genitive would argue that “X loves God.”[clxxxiv] Timothy George summarizes the whole debate claiming that according to the traditional view, Jesus Christ is the object of the action; whereas, according the NPP, Jesus Christ is the subject or producer of the action.[clxxxv]

While good reasons exist to translate various passages in the Pauline corpus by making use of the subjective genitive construction, and while a variety of scholars believe there are good reasons to use the subjective genitive in specific Pauline passages (Rom 3:3; 3:22; 3:26; Gal 2:16), there are scholars who still believe it is permissible to translate this construction in Paul as an objective genitive (e.g., faith in Jesus Christ). One must admit, this discussion diverts a bit from Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially because the more debatable construction is in Galatians 2:16; nonetheless, this is still relevant because it emphasizes the need for believing in Christ as the ground of our justification. Namely, Paul’s doctrine of justification is Christological in its focus and faith in Christ is stressed in order to emphasize this Pauline theme.

Scholars on both sides of the debate highlight the fact that settling this exegetical point does not put an end to the debate.[clxxxvi] Probably the clearest exposition of this debate, laying out both sides of the debate, is provided by Schreiner. His arguments are described throughout his numerous commentaries and books on the topic. Schreiner provides the following seven reasons why someone should translate these passages as faith in Christ.[clxxxvii]

  1. The genitive object with “faith” is clear in some instances (Mark 11:22; Jas 2:1).
  2. A genitive object with other verbal nouns shows that an objective genitive with the verbal noun “faith” is normal grammatically: e.g., “knowledge of Jesus Christ” τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, Phil 3:8). Therefore, those who claim that the genitive must be subjective fail to convince.
  3. The texts that use the verb “believe” in a verbal construction and the noun “faith” with the genitive are not superfluous but emphatic, stressing the importance of faith to be right with God. Readers hearing the letter would hear the emphasis on faith in Christ, and thus this interpretation is to be preferred as the simpler of the two options.
  4. Paul often contrasts works and human faith in his theology. Therefore, seeing a polarity between works of law and faith in Christ—both human activities—fits with what Paul does elsewhere.
  5. Nowhere does Paul in speaking of Jesus Christ use the word “faith” (πίστις) to describe his “obedience.”
  6. The salvation-historical argument fails to persuade well. Certainly, Gal 3:23, 25 refer to the coming of faith at a certain time in redemptive history. But such an observation hardly excludes faith in Christ, for faith in Christ becomes a reality when he arrives and fulfills God’s saving promises. We should not pit redemptive history against anthropology.
  7. Nor is the emphasis on faith in Christ somehow Pelagian, as if it somehow detracts from God’s work in salvation A human response of faith does not undercut the truth that God saves, particularly if God grants faith to his own (Eph 2:8–9).

One final argument in favor of translating this construction in Galatians 2:16 as an objective genitive, comes from Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, who claim, “However, this statement ‘we have believed in Christ Jesus’ (2:16); the references to “hearing with faith’ (3:2,5); the example of Abraham’s faith (3:6–9); and the reference to Christ as the object of faith (3:26) all support the traditional interpretation.”[clxxxviii] In brief, since other passages in Galatians recognize that Christ is the object of faith, the entire literary construction of the book and flow of Paul’s argument favors interpreting this passage as an objective genitive (e.g., faith in Christ).[clxxxix]

So the question one might naturally ask is, why is his debate over faith in Jesus Christ even important?[cxc] There are numerous other passages which emphasize the necessity of faith in Christ for a right standing with God. Schreiner believes the debate is important because it reveals emphasis in Paul’s thinking. “He [Paul],” Schreiner emphasizes, “reminds his readers again and again that they must put their faith in Jesus Christ to stand right before God, to be saved on the last day. Such a notion fits with the idea that we are saved by faith alone and not by our accomplishments.”[cxci] Schreiner’s point seems to be correct and leads into the final caveat of this discussion. Namely, is one saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone?

Faith in Jesus Christ Alone

The ensuing debate that arose during the Reformation did not have to do with the Scriptures, faith, Christ, grace, or the glory of God. But they did have everything to do with the Scriptures, faith, Christ, grace, and the glory of God alone. The little modifier “alone” sets the parameters of the debate between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Advocates of the NPP dismiss this debate claiming both Protestants and Catholics misunderstood Paul’s religious context and the discussion blurs the Pauline doctrine of justification, rather than clarifying or explaining the doctrine. While NPP theologians have the right to make this type argument, their claims; however, seem to downplay the nature of the debate and fail to grasp adequately the necessity of the present-day discussion over faith alone. Some Reformed theologians have tried to re-angle the nature of the discussion in an attempt to include the NPP into the conversation.[cxcii] Allen and Linebaugh in particular, attempt to demonstrate what they believe is a strong parallel between medieval Roman Catholicism and the NPP. Specifically addressing the issue of works and justification, they claim:

The church did not teach that people earned their admission to the covenant of grace by works. All baptized persons were in the covenant of grace and members of the new Israel already, so their spiritual status was exactly the same as the rest of the ancient Jews—and what is more, they also understood that they had been saved by grace. As in Second Temple Judaism, the works enjoined on those within the covenant were designed to prevent the loss of salvation that would inevitably occur if they sinned after baptism, and there was no atonement for it. Saul of Tarsus did not persecute the church because he was trying to earn favor with God, but because he was trying to protect the boundaries of the covenant, and the medieval church was doing exactly the same thing. Its members were already baptized and “born again” in Christ, but they had to be protected against the wiles of the devil, and the works enjoined on them served that purpose. Advocates of the ‘new perspective’ on Paul who criticize Luther for failing to understand the spiritual nature of Second Temple Judaism do not show that they realize this, and so they fail to grasp just how much Luther’s background resembled that of Saul the Pharisee.[cxciii]

Allen and Linbaugh note, regardless of how little the Reformers knew of Second Temple Judaism and its particular pattern of religion, it is “. . . remarkable how close the medieval church came to replicating it.”[cxciv] Allen and Limbaugh, along with other Reformed theologians, believe this strong parallel between the Second Temple Judaism and medieval Catholicism goes beyond the nature of the covenant to also include the fact that both groups require some type of additional “works” to remain in covenant and receive final justification. In brief, both Roman Catholics and the NPP require something more than faith in Christ alone as the grounds of their justification.[cxcv] Consequently, if this parallel be true (which Allen and Linebaugh’s research seems to be sound), then proverbially speaking, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” Namely, if there is a similarity of kind between the medieval and NPP concept of works and justification, then Reformation critiques against the medieval concept of works are also applicable to the NPP concept of works and justification.

This raises a few questions: Does Paul teach that justification is by faith alone? Is there a place for works to serve as the grounds of justification? The foregoing discussion will address this question by: (1) Assuming numerous points already proven about the nature of “law” and “works” in Paul, namely, (a) “works” and “works of the law” are synonymous concepts; (b) “works” is also a term that can be synonymous with any human effort, and logically speaking, it includes the sacerdotal approach to justification and the NPP efforts required to remain in covenant with God to receive final justification; (2) Utilizing comments by John Calvin to evade surface level objections to sola fide and show how Paul might address the doctrine; and (3) Incorporating Calvin’s exegesis of Romans to demonstrate Paul maintains that Jesus Christ alone is the grounds of our justification, not the sacraments or any other human efforts manufactured to remain in covenant with God.

John Calvin addresses the definition of sola fide against the backdrop of his interactions with Roman Catholics years before the Council of Trent’s declarations on justification. Calvin has a chapter in the Institutes, titled, “Of Justification By Faith: Both The Name And The Reality Defined.”[cxcvi] In chapter 19, Calvin has a section titled, “Papistical objection to the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone.” Calvin writes, “The reader now perceives with what fairness the Sophists of the present day cavil at our doctrine, when we say that a man is justified by faith alone (Rom iv. 2). They dare not deny that he is justified by faith, seeing Scripture so often declares it; but as the word alone is nowhere expressly used, they will not tolerate its being applied.”[cxcvii] According to Calvin, this type objection highlights a distinction without a real difference. Just because Paul does not utilize the term “faith alone” does not mean he fails to incorporate the concept into his writings. Namely, Paul only presents Christ alone as the grounds of justification, not Christ plus anything else (e.g., law, work, works of the law). Calvin proceeds to address this objection further, offering a three-fold response.

First, Calvin notes how Paul dismisses the claim that any type of work is able to save. For Calvin, to suggest anything other than Christ alone is able to save is to claim the righteousness presented in the gospel is a partial righteousness, not a full and perfect righteousness. Calvin claims that Paul’s doctrine of justification presents a gospel of perfect righteousness; hence, “The Law, therefore, has no part in it, and their objection to the exclusive word alone is not only unfounded, but is obviously absurd.”[cxcviii] In brief, since the righteousness of God is presented as sufficient in and of itself to save in Paul’s writings—the Law or any other human effort, work, or merit—undermines the full and perfect righteousness found in the gospel.

Second, Calvin notes the error of Roman Catholics who make a distinction in the law between the ceremonial and moral law, and how they employ that type of distinction to claim someone is not saved by the ceremonial law, but aspects of the moral law can serve as a grounds for justification. Since this objection has already been addressed, (namely, Paul refers to the law as a unit and declares no aspect of the law is able to save), a brief comment by Calvin will suffice to summarize the incoherence of the claim. Calvin rightly notes, “If these passages are to be understood of the Moral Law, there cannot be a doubt that moral works also are excluded from the power of justifying.”[cxcix] Calvin’s comment would logically include any works required to remain in covenant for final justification by the NPP or those afforded by the sacraments from Roman Catholicism.

Third, Calvin suggests if Roman Catholics (or any other group, such as NPP theologians) are going to use various distinctions in the law to show that Paul teaches there is a dual-grounds for justification (e.g., sacraments, faith plus any other kind of work, even those to remain in covenant for final justification), then their gospel undermines the entirety of Paul’s teaching that Christ alone is the grounds for justification. Calvin writes:

To the same effect are the arguments which he employs. ‘By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Rom iii. 20). ‘The law worketh wrath’ (Rom iv. 15), and therefore not righteousness. ‘The law cannot pacify the conscience,’ and therefore cannot confer righteousness. ‘Faith is imputed for righteousness,’ and therefore righteousness is not the reward of works, but it is given without being due. Because ‘we are justified by faith, ‘boasting is excluded.’ ‘Had there been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe’ (Gal iii. 21, 22). Let them maintain, if they dare, that these things apply to ceremonies, and not to morals, and the very children laugh at their effrontery. The true conclusion therefore is, that the whole Law is spoken of when the power of justifying is denied to it.[cc]

Calvin’s point is straight forward: Paul maintains that no flesh will be justified by the law, works, or any other human effort. The grounds for any human justification is Christ alone. If this were not the case, then there would be reason to boast, but all boasting is excluded. If this were not the case, then the law could serve as a means to measure human achievement and grant reward; but Paul denies such a concept, and argues the purpose of the law is to reveal sin and human unrighteousness, not to justify. In short, the entirety of Paul’s letter runs contrary to anything other than Christ alone is able to serve as the grounds of our justification, whether that be the law, human effort, the sacraments, or any works required to achieve end-time justification. This is precisely what the Protestant doctrine of justification is claiming, namely, Paul teaches that Christ alone is the sole grounds for our justification.[cci]


 After more than five hundred years in the midst of debates between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and for the past century between advocates of sociological approaches to religion and the NPP, the purpose of this project affirms that Reformed theologians can still champion the thesis: Paul’s doctrine of justification in Romans is the act whereby God declares a sinner righteous through faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any works of the law. The Reformers preached the gospel of salvation by faith alone to combat the exegetical axioms and theological consequences of the Roman Catholic Church. The Puritans continued this effort, serving as faithful gatekeepers, recognizing that justification is the atlas by which the entirety of the Christian life finds its rests and is comprehended. Furthermore, present-day confessional evangelicalism, even given the advances in New Testament studies by advocates of the NPP and the paradigm of religion known as “variegated nomism,” can still maintain both hermeneutically and exegetically the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone.

The debate between Roman Catholics and Protestants, contrary to the NPP, is not a red-herring. The religious ideals advocated by medieval Catholicism mirror many faulty traits found in the religious views of Second Temple Judaism. Paul stringently opposes the concept that anything but faith in Christ alone is the grounds of our salvation, whether it be the sacerdotal system of the Roman Catholic Church in which one maintains status or the concept of keeping covenant in Jewish patterns of religion. Many, no doubt, will believe it is nothing more than a reopening of old wounds to discuss the divide between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Those same individuals might consider it a cheap shot or a false parallel to compare the NPP to Roman Catholicism. But, for any person who reads the historic documents of Rome found at both Trent and the Vatican councils, and the array of publications by NPP theologians, will recognize the perfunctory ways Roman Catholicism and the NPP continue to undermine the Pauline doctrine of justification by God’s free grace alone. Biblical preaching forces the question upon present-day evangelicals: What must I do in order to be saved? It is wished by those who preach this gospel that they might recover the classic Protestant doctrine of justification, with its concern to exalt Jesus Christ as the mighty Savior, who is forever able to cleanse God’s people from their sins, and declare one righteous because of the active obedience of Jesus Christ alone.

 End Notes

[i] Martin Luther, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (ed. Timothy F. Lull; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989);  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. Henry Beveridge; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964); A Reformation Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966); R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995); Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1988).

[ii] Alister McGrath, Institia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

[iii] Thomas R. Schreiner, Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught . . . and Why It Still Matters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015); Jonathan Edwards, Justification by Faith Alone (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000); Charles Hodge, Justification by Faith Alone (Hobbs: The Trinity Foundation, 1995); John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated (ed. William H. Goold; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1965); Francis Turretin, Justification (ed. James T. Dennison Jr; Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004).

[iv] E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977); Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983); James Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); The New Testament And The People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992); Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009).

[v] Schreiner, Faith Alone; John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007); Guy Prentiss Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2004).

[vi] Piper, The Future of Justification; John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 972–74.

[vii] Wright, Justification.

[viii] Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011); N. T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015).

[ix] Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, And The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 513.  This comment should not be interpreted to as saying, “No one has ever questioned the Pauline authorship of the letter to the Romans.” Historically, it would be naïve to make such a claim and overlook the literature from late nineteenth century scholars, such as: E. Evanson, B. Bauer, A. D. Loman, and R. Steck, who did seem to deny Pauline authorship. See: D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 239–58.

[x] KKQ acknowledge that a few scholars such as, “Sanders’s portrayal of ancient Judaism has been so widely accepted by NT scholars that it has virtually become the consensus view. In his 1982 Manson Memorial lecture J. D. G. Dunn coined the phrase “New Perspective” to describe the view of second Temple Judaism espoused by Sanders and his followers.” Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown, 380–81; 337–86; 530–56.

[xi] Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Expanded (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 500–19.

[xii] D. A. Carson, Peter T. Obrien, Mark A. Seifrid, eds, Justification and Variegated Nomism: Volume 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1:2; Justification and Variegated Nomism: Volume 2: The Paradoxes of Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

[xiii] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 16.


[xiv] Ibid., 422.

[xv] Carson, O’Brien, Seifrid, Justification and Variegated Nomism, 1:2. Carson states, “More simply put, the ‘pattern of religion’ in Second Temple Judaism, according to Sanders, is that ‘getting’ in is by God’s mercy, while ‘staying in’ is a function of obedience.” Ibid.

[xvi] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 88–89, citing Mekilta Bachodesh and Sifre Deuteronomy 311.

[xvii] Ibid., 91–143.

[xviii] Ibid., 441–42; 513–14; c.f. E. P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 21; 25–38; 45–48.

[xix] Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, 35–150.

[xx] Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, Cradle, Cross, and Crown, 381–82.

[xxi] James K. Beiby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, eds., Justification: Five Views (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011), 131–218.

[xxii] Carson, O’Brien, Seifrid, Justification and Variegated Nomism, 1:543.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid., 543–44.

[xxv] Ibid., 7–56.

[xxvi] Ibid., 13–15.

[xxvii] Ibid., 506.

[xxviii] Ibid., 17–25.

[xxix] Ibid., 25–34.

[xxx] For more interaction from the literature, it would be best to consult Variegated Nomism. Particularly, Craig Evans’s chapter on Scripture-Based Stories in the Pseudepigrpha, Robert Kugler on Testaments, Paul Spilsbury on Josephus, Philip Alexander on Torah and Salvation in Tannatic Literature, Martin McNamara on Some Targum Themes, David Hays on Philo of Alexandria, and Markus Brockmuehl on 1Qs and Salvation at Qumran.

[xxxi] Charles L. Quarles, “The New Perspective and Means of Atonement in Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period,” Criswell Theological Review, vol. 1, no. 2 (2005): 41; Charles L. Quarles, “The Soteriology of Rabbi Akiba and E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism,” NTS 42 (1996): 185–95.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 43–56.

[xxxiv] For a better understanding of logical propositions, specifically those related to universal and particular affirmatives and negatives, see: Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 29–36.

[xxxv] See John H. Gerstner, Douglas F. Kelly, and Philip Rollinson, The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Guide Commentary (Signal Mountain: Summertown Texts, 1992), 1–24.

[xxxvi] Timothy George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011), 102–36.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] John Frame argues for the same approach. See: John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 47–69.

[xxxix] Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh, eds., Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 271–72.

[xl] Waters, Justification and the New Perspective on Paul, 193.

[xli] The distinction between ministerial and magisterial finds its origin in Martin Luther. Luther distinguished between a magisterial and ministerial use of reason and how that affects someones understanding of the gospel. A magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel.  A ministerial use of reason occurs when someone submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Scriptural evidence, only a ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Reason is tool to help us understand the gospel. Philosophy is the handmaiden to theology. Similarly, this distinction can be applied to any outside literature bearing down upon Scripture.  Both the Church Fathers and Second Temple literature allow for New Testament scholars to see how specific terms and concepts were employed in the conversations of their day. However, these concepts are never to stand over and above the Scriptures magisterially; instead, they ought to function ministerially  as aide, not the authority.

[xlii] Even though NPP scholars may protest this claim it seems to be a warranted assertion. Guy Waters is the source of this observation and he provides a few examples to explain his point. Waters claims, “We have also observed that NPP readings generally require a secondary construction of ancient Judaism to determine questions of Pauline interpretation. Sanders, for instance, precludes certain questions we might ask of Paul (regarding, for example, original sin and soteriological disagreement) because of conclusions previously drawn at this level. Wright argues that the whole of Romans 5–8 is constructed around a retelling of the narrative of Adam and Israel. The traditional soteriological doctrines drawn from these chapters are consequently muted or refuted.” Waters, Justification and the New Perspective on Paul, 193. See also: Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 41, 57, 59, 124, 133.

[xliii] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (6 vols.; Waco: Word Books, 1976), 2:8–9.

[xliv] William C. Roach, Hermeneutics as Epistemology: A Critical Evaluation of Carl F. H. Henry’s Epistemological Approach to Hermeneutics (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2015), 91.

[xlv] Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives, 156–57.

[xlvi] Ibid.

[xlvii] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001), 127–50.

[xlviii] Charles L. Quarles, A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed As Deliverier, King, and Incarnate Creator (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013), 100, 115, 122.

[xlix] Schreiner, Paul Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 103–25. Schreiner writes, “Since the time of the Reformation, scholars have detected a polemic against legalism and boasting in works in the Pauline letters. Sanders’s work forces us to reexamine Paul’s letters to determine whether there is actually a critique of works-righteousness in them, or whether this has been imposed on the letters by scholars reading the text with presuppositions derived from the Reformation. Any challenge to the consensus is salutary in that it provokes us to interpret afresh the Pauline writings. Such a study, however, must not be conducted in a vacuum. The evidence compiled above demonstrates that pride was a problem often confronted by Paul in his writings to the churches. However one construes the relationship between law and boasting, it is clear that arrogance manifested itself in a number of ways in Pauline communities.” Ibid., 117.

[l] Michael J. Kruger, “The Sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 69–87.

[li] Mark A. Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), 47–76. Guy Waters also notes how Second Temple literature represents a Pelagian view of humanity and/or a semi-Pelagian view of the divine grace and the human will. He writes, “Humans were not regarded as being determined by nature to sin, although the impulse to sin was thought to be within each person. The rabbis did not believe that divine grace had to overcome and overpower the will in order that a good might be certainly rendered. God’s grace, rather, helped to make up the deficiencies of the obedience rendered (however those deficiencies were conceived, whether qualitatively or quantitatively).” Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, 51.

[lii] Allen and Linebaugh, Reformation Readings of Paul, 73.

[liii] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 126.

[liv] John Frame aptly summarizes Wright’s view, claiming, “The main contention of the New Perspective is that when he speaks of justification Paul is not primarily interested in how a sinner can get right with God, but rather in the conditions to God’s covenant community. On this view, Paul is primarily a champion of Gentile membership in the kingdom of God through Christ. Paul is not criticizing his fellow Jews because of their attempts to save themselves by their works, as Luther thought. Rather, he is criticizing them for being exclusive, for rejecting religious fellowship with Gentiles. These Jews expected the Gentiles to become Jews, through circumcision and the Jewish law, before they could be accepted as followers of Christ. On this basis, to covenant membership, justification is not by works of the law (i.e., circumcision and the Jewish boundary markers) but by faith. So justification is not primarily ‘soteriological,’ but ‘ecclesastical.’” Frame, Systematic Theology, 972–73, emphasis added.

[lv] N. T. Wright, The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections, NIB (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 10:468.

[lvi] Wright, Justification, 177.

[lvii] Ibid.

[lviii] In logic there is a difference between a valid and sound argument. Validity pertains to the structure of the argument and soundness to the truthfulness of the argument. This precise distinction is not being made in this claim. Instead, the term “validated” is being used in a non-technical sense.

[lix] Frame, Systematic Theology, 973.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid., 974.

[lxiii] Some theologians object to this approach, offering more of a sociological approach. However, their approaches seem to lack appropriate warrant when compared with the lexical and sociological facts. See: Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013); Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical Synthetic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).

[lxiv] James R. White, The God Who Justifies (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001), 74.

[lxv] Ibid.

[lxvi] Ibid., 74–75.

[lxvii] Ibid., 75.

[lxviii] Douglas J. Moo, Galatians, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 161.

[lxix] Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians, EGCNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 155.

[lxx] Ibid., 155–156.  Schreiner also adds four more reasons why this must be understood forensically: “(1) the law-court background of ‘justify” is clear in Rom 8:33 (ESV): ‘Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.’ On the last day some may bring charges against God’s chose at the divine tribunal, but all charges will be dismissed because God has declared believers to be in the right before him. As the Judge he has declared that they are innocent of all the accusations leveled. (2) Paul often says that human beings are righteous by faith. In such contexts Paul contrasts righteousness by faith with righteousness by works. Righteousness by faith refers to the gift of righteousness given to human beings by God. Human beings are not righteous by virtue of doing but believing. The righteousness given to believers, then, is alien since it is not based on anything they have done but on God’s work in Christ. This suggests that righteousness as a gift is granted to those who believe. (3) That righteousness is a forensic declaration is also supported by the link between righteousness and forgiveness. Paul slides easily from justification to forgiveness in Rom 4:1–8. David’s forgiveness of sins is another way of speaking of his justification—his being in the right before God (4:6–8). The idea is not that David is transformed by God; the text calls attention to David’s sins and his forgiveness by God, for he blots out his sins and declares him to be in the right. (4) The idea that righteousness is counted (λογίζομαι) to believers indicates that righteousness is not native to human beings, that it is granted to them by God (Rom 3:28; 4:3–6, 8–11, 22–24; 9:8; Gal 3:6). This argument is strengthened when we add that righteousness is counted to those who believe—not to those who work. God does not ‘count’ sins against those who have put their faith in Christ (2 Cor 5:19). This is a strange reckoning or counting indeed when those who have done evil are considered to be righteous. This fits with the notion, however, that believers have received ‘the free gift of righteousness’ (Rom 5:17 ESV).” Ibid.

[lxxi] See also: Piper, The Future of Justification, 73–116.

[lxxii] Hodge, Justification By Faith Alone, 48.

[lxxiii] Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology  (trans. Andreas Köstenberger; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 234–36; Ernst Käsemann, “The Righteousness of God,” in New Testament Questions of Today (trans. W. J. Montague: Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982).

[lxxiv] C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: Introduction and Commentary on Romans IVIII, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975), 95–99; Douglas J. Moo, Romans 18, WEC (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 75–86; Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 261–96.

[lxxv] Thomas R. Schreiner, 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law (ed. Benjamin L. Merkle; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), 122.

[lxxvi] Ibid.

[lxxvii] Ibid., 122–23.

[lxxviii] These three have been chosen because of their prominence for interpreters of Paul’s letter on the topic of justification. Finally, other passages, such as Romans 3, have been delayed to the section titled, “Apart From Works of the Law,” in order to discuss better the relationship between justification and works of the law, and because the purpose of this section is to address Paul’s use of the term justification.

[lxxix] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 258.

[lxxx] Ibid.

[lxxxi] Ibid., 259.

[lxxxii] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 129.

[lxxxiii] Schreiner, Faith Alone, 244.

[lxxxiv] Ibid., 244–45.

[lxxxv] Ibid., 246.

[lxxxvi] Ibid.

[lxxxvii] Moo, Romans, 264.

[lxxxviii] Ibid.

[lxxxix] Carson, O’Brien, Seifrid, Justification and Varigated Nomism, 1:147–84.

[xc] This claim does not entail I believe someone can actual receive salvation by means of works. In the context of this paper, it is argued that a group in Romans believes they can receive salvation by works. NPP scholars and Roman Catholics also have a place for works in their soteriological system. For those reasons, this claim mentioned works and soteriology.

[xci] Schreiner, Faith Alone, 246.

[xcii] Ibid.

[xciii] Ibid., 247.

[xciv] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 224.

[xcv] Ibid.

[xcvi] Ibid., 225.

[xcvii] Schreiner, Romans, 262.

[xcviii] Moo, Romans, 309.

[xcix] Ibid., 310.

[c] Ibid.

[ci] Ibid., 309, emphasis added.

[cii] Ibid., 310.

[ciii] Ibid.

[civ] Schreiner, Romans, 262.

[cv] Ibid.

[cvi] Ibid., 311–12; Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness, 70, 131, 134, 142, 148.

[cvii] Ibid., 312; Terretin, Justification, 98.

[cviii] Piper, The Future of Justification, 211–14.

[cix] Moo, Romans, 541.  The five others are: “1) To make every clause in vv. 33–34 a distinct question (seven in all); 2) To find two questions in each of the two verses: ‘Who shall bring a charge . . . ?; Is not God justifying? Who condemns? Is not Christ Jesus . . . for us?’ (Barrett); 3) As in 2, with the second sentence made a statement (RSV); 4) ‘Could anyone accuse . . . ? When god acquits, could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! He not only died for us . . .’ (JB); 5) ‘Who will bring any charge . . . ? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus . . . for us.’ (NIV)” Ibid.

[cx] Ibid.

[cxi] Ibid.

[cxii] Carson, O’Brien, Seifrid, Justification and Varigated Nomism, 2:277.

[cxiii] Moo, Romans, 541.

[cxiv] Carson, O’Brien, Seifrid, Justification and Varigated Nomism, 2:289.

[cxv] Schreiner, Romans, 462.

[cxvi] White, The God Who Justifies, 250.  Schreiner and White both see Isa 50:8–9 as the alluding context for this passage (Schreiner, Romans, 462). White also believes Isa 54:17 is a common background used by Paul. White notes, “Not only does the passage speak of accusations against servants of the Lord, but Yahweh says that their vindication is from Him. The Hebrew uses zedekah, and the Septuagint has δίκαιοι. The parallel is even strong with these words from Isaiah 50:8–9 . . . . Again the same complex of terms appear in the Hebrew and Greek Septuagint. Likewise, when we move to the context of 8:34, where the one who condemns is introduced, similar terminology appears in the Septuagint of Isaiah 50:9. The servant of God can speak of God’s help, so that he can ask ‘Who is he who condemns me?’” White, The God Who Justifies, 249–50.

[cxvii] Geisler and Brooks, Come Let Us Reason, 66.

[cxviii] Howard Pospesel, Introduction to Logic: Propositional Logic (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2000), 92.

[cxix] Schreiner seems to understand this point too. When discussing this verse, Schreiner notes, “What I have been arguing is that the reasons works of the law do not justify is that no one can observe all that the law says. If anyone could obey the law, then he or she would be justified. But no one can obey the law to such an extent.” Schreiner, Romans, 173. Thus conservative evangelical scholars recognize this verse is one verse indicating this faction believed they could be justified by the keeping or works of the law.

[cxx] Schreiner, Galatians, 159. See also: Moo, Galatians, 160; Robert Keith Rapa, The Meaning of “Works of the Law” in Galatians and Romans (Studies in Biblical Literature 31; New York: Peter Lang, 2001); Scot McKnight, Galatians, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 153–55.

[cxxi] Ibid., 160.

[cxxii] Ibid.

[cxxiii] Beilby and Eddy, Justification, 190–91.  See also: Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 129.

[cxxiv] Schreiner, Galatians, 161; See also: Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, “Paul’s Jewish Backbround and Deeds of the Law,” in According to Paul: Studies in the Theology of the Apostle (New York: Paulist, 1993), 18–35; Craig A. Evans, “Paul and ‘Works of Law’ Language in Late Antiquity,” in Paul and His Opponents (ed. Stanley E. Porter; Pauline Studies 2; Leiden: Brill, 2005), 201–06.

[cxxv] Piper, The Future of Justification.

[cxxvi] John Calvin, Galatians (trans. William Pringle; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 67.  See also: John Calvin and Jacopo Sadoleto, A Reformation Debate (ed. John C. Olin; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966).

[cxxvii] Schreiner, 40 Questions, 43.

[cxxviii] Ibid., 44.

[cxxix] Moo, Romans, 214.

[cxxx] Ibid.

[cxxxi] Mark A. Seifrid, “Blind Alleys in the Controversy over the Paul of History,” TynBul 45 (1994); 91, 80–81; See also: Mark Seifrid, “Righteousness Language in the Hebrew Scriptures and early Judaism, “in Justification and Variegated Nomism, 1:415–42.

[cxxxii] Schreiner, 40 Questions, 44.

[cxxxiii] Ibid.

[cxxxiv] Ibid., emphasis added.

[cxxxv] Ibid.

[cxxxvi] Moo, Romans, 214.

[cxxxvii] Ibid., 214–15.

[cxxxviii] Ibid., 215.

[cxxxix] Ibid.

[cxl] Ibid.

[cxli] Ibid.

[cxlii] Ibid., 215–16.

[cxliii] J. D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, WBC, vol. 38 A (Waco: Word, 1988), 1:158.

[cxliv] Ibid.  See also: Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, 160. Waters notes these exact same points and much of this commentary is from both Dunn and Waters.

[cxlv] Wright, Romans, 649.

[cxlvi] Ibid., 461.

[cxlvii] Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, 160–61.

[cxlviii] Moo, Romans, 210.

[cxlix] Ibid.

[cl] Calvin, Romans, 133.

[cli] Ibid.; Schreiner, Romans, 162–75.

[clii] John Piper The Justification of God: An Exegetical & Theological Study of Romans 9:123 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993).

[cliii] Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998).

[cliv] Piper, The Justification of God, 17–46.

[clv] Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment, 73–92.

[clvi] Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 42; Dunn, Romans, 2:582.

[clvii] Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, 164.

[clviii] Ibid., 162–63.

[clix] Ibid., 163.

[clx] Ibid.

[clxi] Waters also notes this type of reasoning is prevalent in Romans 11:5–6. Waters believes Dunn and Wright wrongly understand this passage in an ethnic sense. Waters claims, “Both Dunn and Wright take ‘works’ in this passage to mean ‘works of the law’ in an ethnic sense.  This, however, cannot be Paul’s primary sense. This phrase must mean ‘anything that human beings do.’ (1) Notice that the contrast between grace and works (Rom 11:5–6) is carried over into the following verse (Rom 11:7). Here a parallel contrast is drawn between ‘those who were chosen’ and ‘Israel’/‘the rest.’ Consequently, we are to see the contrast of Romans 11:7 as illuminating the contrast of Romans 11:6. (2) In Romans 11:7 (‘What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained’), Paul, when he faults Israel, exclusively identifies human effort and not status. In other words, the contrast is framed squarely in terms of effort, not in terms of identity. The nature of this contrast in Romans 11:7, then, should inform the contrast drawn in the previous verse. ‘Works,’ therefore, should be understood as human striving or effort. (3) Why, then, is Israel mentioned if Paul is not specifically referencing questions of covenantal identity or works as boundary markers? Paul does so because Israel is a specimen of a human problem—the tendency to ground one’s (here) election in human works, evidences of which we observed in our earlier discussion of Sander’s evaluation of Judaism.” Ibid., 159.

[clxii] Dunn, Romans, 2:601.

[clxiii] Wright, “Romans,” 662.

[clxiv] Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, 165.

[clxv] Moo, Romans, 650.

[clxvi] Schreiner, Romans, 552.

[clxvii] Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, 165.

[clxviii] Ibid.

[clxix] Ibid; Schreiner, Romans, 553.

[clxx] Schreiner, Romans, 553.

[clxxi] Ibid.

[clxxii] Ibid.

[clxxiii] Ibid., 554.

[clxxiv] Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, 165.

[clxxv] Ibid.

[clxxvi] Ibid., 166.

[clxxvii] Moo, Romans, 648–49.

[clxxviii] Ibid.

[clxxix] Ibid., 649.

[clxxx] Ibid., 649–50.

[clxxxi] Schreiner, Galatians, 163.

[clxxxii] David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy-To-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 49, emphasis in original.

[clxxxiii] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 118.

[clxxxiv] Ibid.

 [clxxxv] Timothy George, Galatians (Nashville: B&H, 1994), 133; 195–96. If one were to compare the ESV with the NET Bible translations, it is clear they differ in their translation of the key passages, with the ESV taking the objective genitive and the NET taking the subjective genitive.

[clxxxvi] For a more detailed exposition of the recent debate, see The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies, ed. Michael F. Bird and Preston Sprinkler (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009). A few scholars take this as a genitive of source (e.g., faith that comes from Jesus Christ). See: Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness, 139–46; idem, “Faith of Christ,” in The Faith of Jesus Christ, ed. Bird and Sprinkle, 129–46.

[clxxxvii] Schreiner, Galatians, 165–66; See also: Schreiner, 40 Questions, 133–38; Schreiner, Faith Alone, 124–32.

[clxxxviii] Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown, 426.

[clxxxix] Moises Silva, Interpreting Galatians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 64–68.

[cxc] Schreiner, Faith Alone, 131.

[cxci] Ibid., 131–32.

[cxcii] Allen and Linebaugh, Reformation Readings of Paul, 271–72.

[cxciii] Ibid.

[cxciv] Ibid., 271.

[cxcv] See: Calvin and Sadoleto, A Reformation Debate, 132; Art. 2 Sect. 1992; Art. 2 Sect. 2020 of The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church; John Gerstner, A Primer on Roman Catholicism (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), 35: N. T. Wright, Paul and The Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013).

[cxcvi] Calvin, Institutes, 3:11.

[cxcvii] Ibid., 3:11.19.

[cxcviii] Ibid.

[cxcix] Ibid.

[cc] Ibid.

[cci] Calvin also addresses James’ use of “faith alone.” Unfortunately, time does not permit us to offer and extended excurses into the supposed conflict between Paul and James. Paul is talking about faith alone as the instrument by which one appropriates Christ as the grounds of justification. James on the other hand, is addressing the issue of antinomianism, namely, can a person claim to have faith in Christ and yet there be no works? The Protestant doctrine of justification teaches we are justified by faith alone; however, not by a faith that is alone. That faith will be marked by the fruits of regeneration. For more discussion on this matter, see R. C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2012), 45–48.

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