Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Justification According to Gorman


 A main focus of Pauline studies has been whether the centre of Paul’s theology is justification (Käsemann, 1969), or participation in Christ (Schweitzer, 1930; Sanders, 1977).  Justification by faith had long been a non-negotiable crux of Reformed orthodoxy when the Sanders Revolution questioned Luther’s theological starting point.  Reformation views, still widely held today, are supported by the late Stott and, less staunchly, by Moo.  A markedly different understanding of justification is held by Sanders, Wright and others who, despite great differences between them, are known as representing the New Perspective on Paul (NPP).  In Reading Paul, Gorman says:

[ ... ] even if justification is only a very important part of Paul’s theology, rather than the centre, we need to get it right.  Yet many interpretations of justification in Paul are foreign to the full scope of the apostle’s thinking, reflecting a later urge on the part of Protestants to distinguish themselves from Catholics by stressing “faith” over “works.”  (Gorman, 2008, 112f)

Although he endorses Sanders as an early attempt at connecting justification and participation, Gorman attempts his own ecumenical understanding of justification.  My first task is to outline how Gorman differs in his interpretation of Paul on justification to two other traditions, the traditional Reformation perspective and the NPP.  Then I will summarize how these traditions and Gorman understand the antitheses works and faith as means of appropriating justification.  Throughout, I will surmise how Gorman challenges other understandings.

            I will focus principally on Galatians and Romans in comparing Gorman’s understanding of justification with the Reformation and NPP views.  Justification is fully deal with by Paul only in these two epistles.  Furthermore, they are widely regarded as authentically Pauline (Gorman, 2008, 7).  Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to coverts from paganism, known personally to Paul from his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16, 6; 18,23; Stott, 1984).  This personal connection explains the passionate tone of Paul’s appeal to Gentile Christians to resist all enticement to be circumcised and add to their faith observance of Jewish law (Gal. 5,2).  Paul himself did not found the church at Rome, and Romans has a less polemic, more systematic style.  Yet it too was written in a real-world context (Moo, 2002, 29; Horrell, 2006, 49), to a multi-ethnic fellowship of house churches struggling to deal with the pastoral and practical concerns in light of an increasing Gentile majority.  We note therefore before we proceed that Paul’s emphasis on justification by faith is tied inextricably to the early church context of Jewish-Gentile tensions (Wenham, 2002, 49; Moo, 2002, 27).

            The English term ‘justification’ needs mention before we can proceed to Paul’s understanding.  English-language scholarship is hampered by the fact that there are two roots corresponding to the Greek dik-, namely right- and just- (Wright, 1997, 100-103; Horrell, 2006, 75; Sanders, 1991, 54).  Texts such as Gal. 3, 6-7 translated to English may fail to convey Paul’s consistency, or resort to unnatural vocabulary like ‘to righteous’.  While neither right- nor just- words exactly fit Paul’s use of dik- words, I shall follow Gorman’s flexible usage and employ both.



In Romans and Galatians, it seems that Paul uses dik- words in various, perhaps contradictory, ways.  In Gal. 3, juridical and participationist ideas are intertwined.  Elsewhere in Galatians, justification is the insistence that all who believe in Christ belong at table together (Gal. 6, 14-16).  In Rom. 1, 16-17, Paul speaks of God’s righteousness, and Rom. 2, 13, seemingly contrary to Paul’s message of faith not law, must speak of our future justification. Gorman provides a broad definition of justification which he claims covers all Paul’s wide-ranging thinking, and also the traditional Reformation and NPP (and indeed Catholic) views.  Thus, he implicitly challenges adherents of both views to consider a fuller perspective, one more reflective of Paul’s wider thinking:

Justification is the establishment of right covenantal relations – fidelity to God and love for neighbour – by means of God’s grace in Christ’s death and our co-crucifixion with him.  Justification therefore means co-resurrection with Christ to new life within the people of God now and the certain hope of acquittal, and thus resurrection to eternal life, on the day of judgement.  (Gorman, 2008, 116)

In order to compare Gorman with other views, justification has to be analysed into constituent units.  Here, his interpretation is compared to others in smaller units: forensic, covenantal, eschatological and ethical aspects.

Both Reformation and NPP scholars see a forensic dimension to justification.  Stott (1994, 110) states that justification is a legal term, a judge’s pronouncement about the verdict of a defendant, of which the opposite is condemnation.  Gorman calls this a legal fiction (2008, 115).  Wright details fully the legal aspects of justification (1997, 97; 2009, 69).  Firstly, he accounts for the ways in which Second Temple Jews like Paul understood dikaiosyne as relating to the Hebrew sedaqah elohim, e.g. in Deuteronomy, Deutero-Isaiah and Daniel 9.  To these references I would add the ‘rib’ (disputation) theme of the Hebrew prophets, e.g. Jer. 2,4ff.  Wright first describes righteousness as belonging to the judge, the ability and right to judge a case.  He also understands the declaration of righteousness as a status granted the plaintiff or the defendant, amounting to vindication.  For Wright, these two uses of the term are clearly different.  God’s righteous standing as judge is not the same as our legal status as vindicated.  For Stott, too, righteousness is a status, but for him it is God’s same righteousness that is imputed in humans, we having no righteousness of our own (1994, 21; also Chester, 2005; Sprinkle, 2005).

            Gorman seems to agree here with Wright that God is righteous and, as a corollary, his people will be righteous, without resorting to the ‘legal fiction’ of an objective genitive translation of dikaiosyne tou theou to denote imputed righteousness (Gorman, 2008, 114;  Wright, 2005, 53).  Gorman and Wright concur that the traditional Reformed understanding is simply too individualistic, and that Luther like many Westerners today read into Paul’s ecclesiastical correspondence their own existential crises and psychological needs.  Wright expresses it thus: “We are in orbit around God and his purposes, not the other way around.” (2009, 8).  But while Wright takes great pains to detail the forensic basis of justification (1997, 97), Gorman challenges him too, stating that a forensic definition is simply inadequate and that a much fuller picture must be painted in order to understand Paul’s writings (2008, 118).

The NPP understanding of justification is essentially covenant membership.  Sanders challenged old caricatures of Judaism as a legalistic religion aimed at meriting one’s own salvation, and used new knowledge of Second Temple Judaism to show a faith based on covenantal nomism (1977; 1991, 99).  In essence, he claims that Jews did not consider the law as a means of ‘getting in’ but of ‘staying in’ the covenant community.  This is Wright’s understanding too (Thompson, 2010, 12; Horrell, 2006, 77).  He sees dikaiosyne tou theou as God’s covenant faithfulness (Wright, 2009, 46) and ably counters claims from the traditional Reformation viewpoint that covenant does not feature in Paul’s thinking on justification (ibid., 73), using references to Abrahamic promise (Gal. 4, 21-31; Rom. 4). 

Again, Gorman sides with Wright and specifically challenges the Lutheran view, calling for greater inclusion in the Christian community (2008, 130).  In both Galatians and Romans, the pressing concern is how to live together as Gentile and Jewish believers (Gal. 3, 28; Rom. 3, 22), and specifically whether Gentile Christians should be circumcised (Gal. 5, 2) and whether Jewish Christians could keep table with non-kosher Gentile Christians (Gal. 2-4).  Paul argues fiercely against the perceived need to Judaize, as the only badge of covenant belonging should now be faith in Christ (Gal. 5, 6). 

In Rom. 8, 18-25, Paul outlines the future direction of history, one of hope and renewal.   Gorman does not use the word ‘eschatological’ but does nonetheless refer to future judgement and the vindication of God’s covenant people.  For Wright, the pastoral issue is how we might know now who belongs to God’s people, who will be vindicated at the end (2009, 79).  Gorman agrees with Wright that justification, whether covenant membership or a broader concept, is appropriated outwardly by faith.  This is far from the idea that we are saved and merely waiting to die and go to heaven, a notion deplored by Wright (ibid., 9).  It is too easy to reduce any tradition to a caricature, and I certainly do not advocate that Stott or Moo advance the idea, but there are Christians within the Reformed tradition who would be shocked to be confronted with the notion of ‘salvation not as an ahistorical rescue from the world but the transhistorical redemption of the world’ (Wright, 1997, 118).  Gorman argues for a view of justification that is theo-political in scope and reaps change now on earth, rather than a rapture-centred ‘escapist mentality’ (2008, 44; 170).  Paul views all of history as God’s plan to redeem creation, indeed to ‘right’ (justify) it.

Wright suggests that the fullness of justification involves the three aspects discussed so far: forensic, covenantal and eschatological (1997, 96).  At this point, Gorman goes one stage further.  He points to Paul’s transfer language to evidence his claim that what Protestants often refer to as sanctification, and the Orthodox as theosis, belong to the same package as justification (2008, 128-130).  Examples of transfer language include believing into Christ (Gal. 2, 16); being clothed in Christ (Gal. 3, 27); and being shaped in his image (Rom. 8, 29).  It should be borne in mind that Gorman’s context is an ecumenical one, and his stated aim is to bring together Catholic and Protestant ideas, as well as the previously binary options of justification or participation in Christ as the centre of Paul’s theology (2008, 116).  In so doing, Gorman brings to the equation the element of transformation.  This is strong in Catholic teaching, but the Reformed tradition tends to reject justification as imparted righteousness, God’s actual transfer of righteous character into Christians. 



We now come to the means of appropriating God’s righteousness.  For Paul, there is clearly one right answer, faith, and one wrong answer, works (Gal. 2, 16; Rom. 3, 21-22).  The NPP understands works of the law, not as good deeds in general, and certainly not as efforts within a legalistic Judaism hoping to merit one’s own salvation, but as specific markers of Jewish identity, especially circumcision, Sabbath observation and keeping kosher (Sanders, 1991, 108; Wright, 2005, 113).  This is in stark contrast to the traditional Lutheran view which understands works as human efforts at earning salvation, which are destined to fail (Stott, 1994, 117).  While Gorman himself says little about ‘works of the law’, there are two challenges here to adherents of the Reformation perspective.  Firstly, good deeds are themselves no enemy of the gospel and are to be a hallmark of genuine Christianity.  Gorman rails against ‘cheap justification’ (2008, 112), a legal fiction with no justice or transformation.  Secondly, Christians are challenged to reassess their views on Judaism, and repent of harsh and inaccurate anti-Semitic beliefs. 

The antithesis of works is faith.  For Paul, the badge of covenant membership is not circumcision or any other ethnic boundary marker; it is faith in Christ (Rom. 3, 21f; Gal. 3, 21f).  Here again we face translation problems, for pistis means both faith and belief.  A more pressing challenge is Gorman’s suggestion that we translate pistis not as faith at all, but fidelity (123), or as Wright suggests ‘faithfulness’ (2005, 112).  A criticism of Reformed theology is that it can seem that one is only saved by mental assent to the doctrine of justification by faith!  Gorman’s challenge here is that faith must be more than ‘intellectual affirmation’ or trust; indeed, Pauline faith linked to justification is co-crucifixion with Christ (Gal. 2, 19; Rom. 6, 6) as well as co-resurrection: “Christ was raised for our justification” (Rom. 4, 25), and Christians too are raised to a new life of community and ethical responsibility. 



Scholars will continue to debate whether Gorman or anyone else understands justification as Paul did.  For Gorman, faithful participation, not older ethnic markers, shows who God’s people are and therefore who will be justified.  Gorman challenges other views of justification in a number of ways.  He calls for a wider perspective, encompassing salvific elements of Reformed thinking, the transformation involved in Catholic understanding, and the social and covenantal emphasis of the New Perspective.  This is a strong call to battle against the confirmation bias that is prevalent in Pauline studies.  He also warns against individualistic, escapist interpretations of justification.  Gorman’s stated aim of holding together two views on Paul’s theological centre, one justification and the other participation in Christ, leads to a many-faceted, perhaps slippery, presentation, unlike Stott and Wright’s more crystallized models.  In his ecumenical context, he may well see this as a strength rather than a criticism, for inclusion is a priority of his in justification, and Paul knew all too well how messy inclusion can be. 



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