Saturday, April 21, 2007

Gathercole and Justification

As noted in the previous post, Gathercole seems uncertain about how to handle Paul’s notion of final vindication. At the close of his book, he suggests a tentative resolution,
In the context of the discussion of Romans 4:1-5, in particular, we noted a tension in Paul’s discussion between the initial justification of the ungodly . . . and the final vindication on the basis of works discussed earlier. The tension no doubt merits further reflection and exploration, but it seems there that, on initial examination, Paul is operating with two somewhat distinct perspectives on justification: the first occupying initial justification and the justification of the ungodly [by faith apart from works] . . . and the second referring to God’s final vindication of the one who has done good (265).
I generally agree with Gathercole here (this is Augustine’s basic position), and I wish he would have pressed it further. But unlike Gathercole above, I would not typically use the word “justification” to refer to one’s final vindication. More importantly, neither does Paul--with the notable exception of Romans 2:13. Outside of Romans 2:13, I can't think of an instance when Paul uses the term “justification” to refer to vindication at the judgment. To my knowledge Augustine never does either--the only exception is when he is exegeting Romans 2:13.

Almost all of the literature I’ve read on Paul and justification inappropriately conflates his distinct, yet mutually complimentary, understandings of justification and vindication at the judgment. Paul does not have “two somewhat distinct perspectives on justification,” one initial and the other eschatological. He has one perspective on justification (which relates to initial conversion and emphasizes union with Christ, forgiveness and regeneration) and one perspective on the final judgment (which is eschatological). The first is by grace through faith apart from works; the latter is by works (infallibly God-wrought and Spirit-led, of course). It was theologians post-Augustine who began to use the term "justification" as primarily referring to final vindication at the judgment. But such use of the term breaks with Paul's use, and confuses the discussion. This is as much semantics as anything, but failure to make this semantic distinction results in either a soteriology that forgets about justification by faith alone (a Catholic tendency) or a soteriology that forgets about a judgment according to works (a “Lutheran” tendency).

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