Friday, March 27, 2009

Tom Wright: Justification 7.5-7.6

This is the fifth part of my review of the seventh chapter of N. T. Wright's, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, Wright's response to John Piper's book, The Future of Justification.

Chapters reviewed thus far:

Chapter 1: What's it all about and why does it matter
Chapter 2: Rules of engagement
Chapter 3: First Century Judaism
Chapter 4: Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Chapter 5: Exegesis of Galatians
Chapter 6: Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians
Chapter 7.1 Romans 1:16-17
Chapter 7.2 Romans 1:18-2:16
Chapter 7.3 Romans 2:17-3:20
Chapter 7.4 Romans 3:21-26

7.5 Romans 3:27-31 (pp.185-90)
The boast that there is no room for, for Wright, is the boast of Israel of superiority because of having the Law. I think I agree, although not exactly in all of Wright's particulars. I think Wright would agree that it is a boasting of a Jew having an advantage in relation to justification because of being a Jew, when they do not have such an advantage.

One place where I disagree with Wright is his penchant always to translate nomos as Torah. To me Paul slips in and out of the various nuances of the word, an article I've never gotten around to writing, woah is me.

Wright correctly scraps the medieval concept of imputed righteousness, where the "imputer" transfers "his" own righteousness to the other. Nothing like that in this law court scenario.

7.6 Romans 4 (190-97)
Here we find again Wright's strong assertion that Abraham is not simply an example of someone who is justified by faith but "the foundation of the single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world" (190). I reread the chapter because the promise is through Abraham in Galatians and I assume Paul has not changed his mind. But after rereading Romans 4, I still think Paul here is using Abraham more as a prototype of faith than as "the single plan for the world," and I don't see the "through Israel" part here at all.

Wright agrees with Hays that the opening verse has been mistranslated. Most versions say something like, "What therefore will we say Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, to have found [regarding justification]?" Hays has argued in an article (now reprinted in The Conversion of the Imagination) that in keeping with Paul's other "What then" statements it should be translated something like, "What then will we say? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to flesh?" You'll remember that there was no punctuation in the original Greek, so we have to make these sorts of decisions as interpreters.

I feel the argument. My main objections are 1) the "to have found" is an infinitive and so flows most naturally in connection with a main verb like "will we say" and 2) I don't think the Greek fathers took the verse this way--and they were much better at Greek grammar than us.

Wright summarizes Romans 4: "The whole chapter, then, is not about 'how Abraham got justified by faith' so much as 'God's faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, giving him a worldwide family whose badge is the same faith that Abraham himself had' (195). OK, I reread the chapter again and I still disagree with Wright's emphasis. Yes, Abraham is the father of both Jew and Gentile who are justified by faith, but the emphasis of the chapter is on how to be justified, not on God keeping his promises to Abraham. The location of promise language in the chapter is not in the past with the story of Abraham but in the accomplishment of justification in the present.

I still don't get the whole "faith as badge of covenant membership" thing.

To end today on a good note, Wright was helpful to me in the connection between resurrection and justification that Paul makes at the end of the chapter. "[I]f the cross had dealt with sin it would also have dealt with death" (196), Wright says, referring to 1 Corinthians 15's argument. Jesus' resurrection thus proves that sins have been dealt with on the cross and thus, that justification can take place.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Is the Jew in the language of the text, ethnic Israel (the real world), spiritual Israel (the faith world), or symbolic Israel (the religious world)? That means everything to how one understands these principles between faith, plan, and meaning.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

All of the dialogue across Biblical studies supposes the text to still be a pertinent aspect of "Christian faith", while these very Sources themselves are suspect as to their intent.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If Israel was a useful "tool" in the hands of an imaginative scribe, then, it was mythological teaching in the Greek tradition that underwrote certain "needs" of humanity, or "universals" of identification.

This would fit within a progressive view of history in the coming of our democracy, as they all would "fit", and would affirm not only the various traditions within Christendom, but also affirm an individual's faith development...