Sunday, 28 November 2010

Alister McGrath on the meaning of Justification

As this blog seems to have followed a line of discussion into 'New Perspective' issues and associated subject matter, I thought I'd post a paragraph from a book I read (or half-read!) almost eighteen years ago: Alister McGrath's Iustitia Dei. Be warned, though - the edition I have contains vast tracts of entirely untranslated Latin! At least with Google Translate, I now have the chance to go back over all the bits I previously had to skip.

I found his analysis of the origins of the terms used in biblical translation and Christian theology immensely helpful, especially the transition from ancient Hebrew to koine Greek to Vulgate Latin. I couldn't quite get all the transliteration he uses to work in HTML, but I've copied out a couple of paragraphs below in the hope they might be thought-provoking and useful.

Note especially his insistence that 'righteousness' must be understood within the framework of personal covenantal relationship. The bit that has consistently stuck with me, I have put in bold.
The oldest meaning of sedāqâ, as judged by its use in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5.1-31), appears to be ‘victory’. [...] In this early passage ... God is understood to have demonstrated his ‘righteousness’ by defending Israel when her existence was threatened by an outside agency. Underlying this understanding of iustitia Dei is the conceptual framework of the covenant: when God and Israel mutually fulfil their covenant obligations to one another, a state of righteousness can be said to exist – i.e., things are saddîq, ‘as they should be’. Thus Israel’s triumphant victories over her enemies were seen as proofs of the sidqôt ’adonay, the iustitiae Dei of the Vulgate. [...]
It is to the genius of [H] Cremer [Die paulinische Rechtfertigungslehre im Zusammenhang ihrer geschichtlichen Voraussetzungen (Guttersloh, 1899)] that we owe the fundamental insight that sedāqâ, in its basic sense, refers to an actual relationship between two persons, and implies behaviour which corresponds to, or is consistent with, whatever claims may arise from or concerning either party to the relationship. The relationship in question is that presupposed by the covenant between God and Israel, which must be considered as the ultimate norm to which sedāqâ must be referred. The Hebrew concept of sedāqâ stands in a class of its own – a class which Cremer brilliantly characterised as iustitia salutifera [‘salvation righteousness’, as distinct from iustitia distributiva, ‘distributive righteousness/justice’, according to ‘dues’ or ‘merits’].
Alister E McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A history of the Christian doctrine of Justification, Vol 1, (Cambridge: University Press, 1986) 7-8
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  1. As this discussion seems to be moving on I'm not sure where to post this - so I've popped it into the various threads!

    Maybe if passports had been around, Paul would have found it easier to explain things? Or maybe people wouldn't have misunderstood him? Or maybe not? E.G.:

    As they become an 'alien in a foreign land' a Christian is, metaphorically speaking, given a passport to their homeland by God when they are brought to faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit working within them. That doesn't mean that they will live by the laws of that land, although they will naturally want to do so. It doesn't even mean that if they don't then the passport will be taken away. It simply means they have the permanent right of entry to that new homeland (which has been freely given them).

    However, as citizens of that new homeland they will do their utmost to respect and love the Lord and ruler of that land, and to follow the laws of that land - on many occasions they will fail, but without penalty. The passport remains theirs despite such failings. But, again, because the ruler of that new land means so much to them, they will show their respect and love for the land and its ruler and so they will naturally express sorrow for their failure to live by its laws.

    In all this they remain citizens of this new land, under the leadership of its Lord and ruler. At no point does anything they do or do not do make any difference to their citizenship.

    1. RevDominic your comment aroused my interest greatly. The terms you used that caught my immediate attention were "alien in a foreign land," "passport, "new homeland", "citizenship,".

      I have been studying the Hebrew SDQ word-group and its spiritual descendants: koine Greek - DIK word-Group; the Latin -IUSword-group; down to the Anglo-Teutonic-French (via Latin)- not satisified with one term like its spiritual ancestors, having two word-groups to add to the confusion: the JUST-word group and the Right-word Group. Has anyone noticed that the Latin-English roots are based on the Latin and Teutonic words for LAW - thus forcing the focus on the forensic aspect of law, thus obscuring its Hebrew ancestor's emphasis on covenant faithfulness and salvation.

      It occurred to me, "Why don't I ask a Jewish person about the SDQ word-group. So I picked up a book "On Becoming a Jew". I came across this term I had never seen before in all my reading and it has haunted me ever since. It was the phrase "GER haTsdeq". Check it out. It could have consequences for the future of "just/right word-group translation of SDQ. I am thinking of a term which falls right into the semantic range of the words I noticed RevDominic use. Would anyone like to hazard a guess at the word-group I am thinking of?

  2. We are now justified by Jesus blood, as he purchased us all.

    Acts 20:28 (New King James Version)
    28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God[a] which He purchased with His own blood.

    Romans 4:3 (New King James Version)
    3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

    "Therefore, we are justified by faith. That is, we are made righteous in the eyes of God by faith as is amply demonstrated by Romans. However, that faith, if it is true, will result in deeds appropriate to salvation. After all, didn't God say in Eph. 2:8-10, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.""

  3. Rev Dominic gives a most intriguing metaphor. It is a metaphor used in Philippians aswell. There the framework of citizenship worked rather differently from that assumed by Rev Dominic. Many of the citizens of Philippi were citizens of Rome. There home was Philippi and to go home meant to go to Philippi. Home was not in Rome but Rome was the guarantor of their status. Paul compares that to us who are citizens of heaven. But this need not mean that we go to heaven but that heaven is where the guarantee of our citizenship is kept, to be revelaed when Christ returns to earth.

    On the other posting, I think anonymous is in danger of conflating all descriptors of salvation. Justification and purchase and salvation are clearly connected but need not be synonomous.

    Timothy of Streatham

  4. 'It is to the genius of [H] Cremer [Die paulinische Rechtfertigungslehre im Zusammenhang ihrer geschichtlichen Voraussetzungen (Guttersloh, 1899)] that we owe the fundamental insight thatsedāqâ, in its basic sense, refers to an actual relationship between two persons, and implies behaviour which corresponds to, or is consistent with, whatever claims may arise from or concerning either party to the relationship. '

    J N Darby and W Kelly (early Brethren writers) defined righteousness in precisely this way in the 1850s - long before Cremer.

    Darby also adds that since God is God and is not always functioning in terms of relationships external to himself and is indeed the one who has created and defined relationships for God to be righteous is for him to act in ways that are consistent with all he is in himself.

    Roms 3 defines salvation-righteousness. God's righteousness is God being seen as righteous in passing over former sins, forgiving present sins because of the cross.

    God's righteousness in the gospel (in Romans)is just that, his righteousness. It is not the righteousness of Christ but God's.

    Paul is emphatic: but now righteousness of God is declare I say, HIS righteousness that HE may be just...

    It is Gospel righteousness 'of God' in contrast to the Law which gives occasion for 'man's righteousness'. Doomed to failure not simply because of human sin but because God will allow no basis for human boasting (Roms 4).

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