Sunday, June 10, 2007

Justification and Variegated Nomism--Vol 1

I have three observations to make regarding Carson’s, et al’s, Justification and Variegated Nomism, Volume 1—The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism.

The first is that I don’t enjoy reading, or reading about, Second Temple literature. If being a Pauline NT scholar means delving into the labyrinth that is Second Temple literature, then I’m out. I’ll stick with historical theology, thank you very much.

Second, Mark Seifrid’s article on righteousness language in the Hebrew Scriptures and early Jewish literature was particularly helpful in supporting my claim that justification, while forensic, is more than the mere declaration of a verdict. It includes both the proclamation of the verdict and the enactment of the verdict. Seifrid writes,
Furthermore, administration of justice in the biblical context, as in the ancient world generally, is simultaneously judicial, legislative, and executive. The joining of the judicial and executive functions, with the salvific associations that we have noted, goes a long way toward explaining much of the biblical usuage, as may be seen, for example in . . . [1 Kings 8:32] (426-27).
In other words, the role of the judge in justifying means that the judge both announces a verdict in regard to the defendant, and then executes the sentence that he has announced. For Paul, the justification of the sinners means that God both pronounces us righteous (by faith) and then grants us the provision of a righteous individual--a participation in the New Covenant (circumcision of the heart, indwelling of the Spirit, etc.). Therefore, ontological renewal is a central aspect of justification. The fact that justification is forensic does not exclude this ontological component. Indeed, it supports it.

And finally, I wonder if some of the discussions regarding the NP are framed unhelpfully by Sanders' pithy statement of “getting in by grace and staying in by obedience.” For Second Temple Judaism, “getting in” is by birth--one is born into the covenant. It's the default position for the Jewish people. In this sense, of course "getting in" is by grace. But this notion of "getting in" (if it really should be called such) is not the same for Paul. Unlike Second Temple Judaism, Paul has a strong doctrine of conversion. His default position is that everyone--both Jew and Gentile--starts off "outside" the covenant. Clearly for Paul, Gentiles were in need of getting in. But even devout Jews like himself were in need of conversion. In arguing that Paul and his opponents both agreed that "getting in is by grace" perhaps Sanders’ fails to recognize Paul’s strong insistence on the necessity of conversion—for both Jew and Gentile.

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