Thursday, January 18, 2018

John the Baptist, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the Danger of Taking Scripture Out of Context

We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin. 

- St. Augustine, "On Nature and Grace"

Does the Immaculate Conception of Mary Contradict Scripture?

Protestants sometimes accuse Catholic Tradition of contradicting Scripture.  Here is one example from evangelical apologist Dr. Gregg Allison's book, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), p. 90:

Without question, Scripture affirms the sinfulness of all human beings and does not allow for any exceptions; every human person, as a descendant of Adam, is conceived in sin, has a sinful nature, and sins in word, deed, thought, intention, and so forth. According to Catholic Tradition, however, there is one individual who was conceived without sin, did not possess a sinful nature, and never sinned in word, deed, thought, intention, or in any other way. In this clear case, Scripture and Tradition are diametrically opposed to each other; equally clearly, the Church has sided with Tradition over against Scripture and affirmed the immaculate conception of Mary.

Scripture verses Allison has in mind include ones like Romans 3:23--"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."-- and Ecclesiastes 7:20--"For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not."--among several others.  Certainly, it looks like Allison is correct.  These passages do not acknowledge any exceptions.  They seem to be universal and general.  If we take them at face value, we will have to say that Mary, too, like the rest of the human race, committed sin.  We will also have to say that Jesus committed sin.  But Protestants will agree with Catholics that Jesus is an exception to these passages.  No, the passages themselves do not say that Jesus is an exception, but other places in Scripture affirm that Jesus was sinless.  Perhaps an argument from Scripture could have made against Jesus on this point during his earthly ministry--"You say that you do not sin, but the Bible (the Old Testament) says that there is no one who does not sin, so we know you're wrong."  They would seem to have a point, except that we know from our acceptance of the New Testament revelation that such passages in the Old Testament were not meant to exclude the idea of a future sinless Messiah (even though they themselves do not even hint at such an exception).  So we see the importance of interpreting Old Testament passages in their full context--including the context of the New Testament revelation--instead of trying to pit those passages against the wider context within which they are supposed to be interpreted.  Likewise, with passages like Romans 3:23, we recognize the importance of interpreting New Testament passages in the light of and not against other New Testament passages.  Though Paul says "all have sinned," and the New Testament elsewhere affirms that Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 4:15, etc.), we know not to interpret Romans 3:23 in such a way as to oppose Hebrews 4:15 but rather to allow Hebrews 4:15 to inform and alter what would otherwise most likely be our interpretation of Romans 3:23.

And, of course, Catholics would make a similar argument, but they would expand the appropriate context for the interpretation of Scripture to include not just Scripture but the Tradition of the Catholic Church, for the Catholic doctrine is that both Scripture and Tradition are the Word of God and authoritative as such, and that the Church is the divinely-guided and divinely-authorized interpreter and applier of Scripture and Tradition.  (See, for example, Dei Verbum, Chapter II.)  According to Catholic doctrine, it would be just as inappropriate to interpret Scripture in ways that are contrary to the Tradition of the Church as it would be to interpret Old Testament passages to be contrary to New Testament passages, or New Testament passages to be contrary to Old Testament passages or other New Testament passages, etc.  Rather, Scripture should be interpreted in light of Tradition (and other Scripture).  With regard to the Immaculate Conception of Mary, for example, though the Bible says that all have sinned and nowhere do we find any explicit exception made with regard to Mary (though we do with regard to Jesus), we know from Tradition that Mary was an exception.  Catholic teaching holds that, unlike the rest of us, who were born with original sin and commit actual sin and are rescued from both by the atonement of Christ and the grace of God, Mary was rescued from sin by Christ in an even greater way--by being prevented by grace from falling into sin in the first place.  It was not Mary's own native abilities that kept her out of sin, but the grace of God through the merits of Christ.  Mary could rejoice in God her Savior in an extra-special way.  So, in reading passages like Romans 3:23, Catholics will say that Paul is speaking generally, but not intending to address the special case of the Virgin Mary (or the special case of Christ).  We could also say that, in a sense, Mary is included in the "all have sinned," in the sense that she too needed to be rescued from sin by the grace of Christ.  All people besides Christ, including Mary, would be lost in sin forever without the atonement of Christ.  He is the Savior of all.  Nothing in this interpretation contradicts anything in Romans 3:23, though it goes beyond what Paul says there.  Now, if Paul had said, "All have sinned, including Mary--she committed sin as well," then it's hard to see how we could escape a contradiction.  But he didn't say that.  He didn't address the question of Mary's sin, and we can make such an inference from Paul's general statement only by assuming what cannot actually be proven from the text.

Protestants are thus guilty of begging the question when they use this kind of argument against Catholicism.  Romans 3:23 and similar passages only constitute proof against the Immaculate Conception of Mary if we assume that Scripture should not be interpreted in the light of Catholic Tradition (and should even be interpreted in opposition to it).  But Catholics do not agree to that assumption, so the assumption must be proved before it can be used in an anti-Catholic argument.  To simply assume without proof a Protestant principle of biblical interpretation in an argument with a Catholic is to commit the fallacy of begging the question.

Two More Examples

The principles and assumptions one brings to biblical interpretation often affect the outcome of such interpretation, as our examples above illustrate, and so what may seem to be proved may not be so proved once one's assumptions have been questioned and it is shown that one is leaving out important relevant contextual information.  Here are a couple more examples to further illustrate this.

In John 1:19-23, we read this exchange between John the Baptist and the Jewish leaders:

And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who art thou?" And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Art thou Elijah?" And he saith, "I am not." "Art thou that prophet?" And he answered, "No." Then said they unto him, "Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias."

John says here that he is not Elijah.  The reference is clearly to Malachi 4:5-6:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

From this, the Jews derived the idea that Elijah the prophet would come ahead of the Messiah.  The Jewish leaders, in John 1, are asking John if he is Elijah the prophet come before the Messiah.  His answer is that he is not.  So we know from this that John the Baptist was not the Elijah prophesied in Malachi 4.  He is not the fulfillment of that prophecy.  It seems like a pretty watertight case.

However, then we have Matthew 17:10-13:

And his disciples asked him, saying, "Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come?" And Jesus answered and said unto them, "Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them." Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

Wait a second!  I thought that John the Baptist wasn't Elijah!  We have a clear contradiction here between John 1 and Matthew 17, don't we?

Sure, it sounds like a contradiction.  It could be taken as a contradiction.  But it is not necessary that it be interpreted as a contradiction.  Since we know that Matthew and John are both parts of the inerrant Word of God, we will go with a non-contradictory sense and not jump to the conclusion of contradiction where we do not have to.  John the Baptist is not literally Elijah the prophet, for he is a different person.  However, he is the fulfillment of Malachi 4, as he has come "in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).  Why did John say he wasn't Elijah to the Jewish leaders?  Perhaps he didn't want to identify himself with false ideas about the coming of Elijah they would have imputed to him if he had said yes.  But at any rate, there is no necessary contradiction here.  However, if we only believed in the Gospel of John, and we assumed that the synoptic gospels were not the Word of God, we would probably tend to interpret their difference as a contradiction and argue against the synoptic view on the ground of what St. John says--just as Protestants argue against the Immaculate Conception on the ground of Romans 3:23 and similar verses.

Likewise, consider Matthew 27:38-44:

Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

How many thieves were crucified with Jesus?  Two.  How did they treat him?  They mocked and reviled him.  What if I said that only one of them did so, but the other one was humble and righteous towards him?  You might respond by saying that I was contradicting what St. Matthew says, for he seems clearly to indicate that both thieves reviled and mocked Jesus.  He says "the thieves," plural, "cast the same in his teeth."  Since there were only two thieves, the plural must imply that both of them were involved.

Ah, but then we have Luke 23:39-43:

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." But the other answering rebuked him, saying, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss." And he said unto Jesus, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." And Jesus said unto him, "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."

Is this a contradiction?  It could be seen as such.  But not necessarily, because the two are harmonizable.  We can say that Matthew was not intending to deny that one of the thieves was penitent, but he was also not interested in calling attention to that fact.  He gave a more shorthanded version of the event, emphasizing how everyone around Jesus, even those crucified with him, mocked him.  Luke expands on Matthew's shorthand account and fills in further details.  If we didn't accept Luke as the Word of God, however, we might try to use Matthew to argue against him.

In all of these cases, we have passages that, on the surface, have some appearance of contradiction.  They could be interpreted to be contradictory.  But they do not necessarily have to be interpreted in a contradictory manner, for they can also be reasonably and plausibly understood to harmonize with each other.  Whether we tend to want to interpret them as contradictory or as harmonized depends partly on our prior attitude towards the texts--whether we think they are the Word of God or simply human ideas, whether we are prone to be hostile and suspicious towards them or whether we are prone to think them reliable and accurate.

Conclusion

Do Romans 3:23 and similar texts contradict the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary?  Only if we take the most hostile interpretation rather than a more favorable one.  Both interpretations are possible and reasonably plausible in themselves, for the biblical texts are very general and do not directly address the question of Mary and whether she might be a special case in some ways.  So why do Protestants often interpret these passages as contradictory to rather than as harmonizable with the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?  Because Protestants do not accept Catholic Tradition as divine but as only human, and because they are prone to be suspicious of Catholic Tradition and to see it as unreliable.  Once these deeper assumptions and nuances are recognized, it will be seen that the Protestant objection to the Immaculate Conception from these verses is merely an exercise in question-begging, for the argument only works if we assume beforehand that the Protestant view of Scripture and Tradition is correct and the Catholic view is wrong (and that one should go with the Scriptural interpretation most hostile to Catholic Tradition).  One has to assume already that Catholicism is wrong in order to use this argument against Catholicism.

For more on the Immaculate Conception, see here and here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Letter of James and the Protestant Doctrine of Justification

The Book of James has always been a source of difficulty for Protestants with regard to the doctrine of justification.  From the way James deals with this subject, it almost looks as though he had in mind the Protestant doctrine and intended to explicitly attack it.

James's discussion of justification looks as though it is a response to or a commentary on St. Paul's discussion of justification in his letter to the Romans.  To some, St. James's ideas appear to directly contradict Paul's.  Martin Luther famously held that James contradicted Paul.  Others have seen the two views as compatible and even complementary.

I think that if we have a proper understanding of Paul's doctrine of justification, we will find James's position to be complementary rather than contradictory to it.  I think the appearance of contradiction stems to a great degree from a misinterpretation of Paul, and particularly the attempt to read Paul's teaching as supporting what I call the Anti-Augustinian interpretation of the Protestant doctrine of justification.  (I discuss the two different interpretations of the Protestant doctrine here.)  The Anti-Augustinian Protestant view holds that we are justified--made right with God--solely by the legal imputation of the righteousness of Christ in such a way as to remove internal sanctification by the Spirit from contributing anything to this.  In this view, our internal moral condition and outward moral behavior has nothing whatsoever to do with whether we are seen as righteous or unrighteous by God; all that matters is whether we have the legal imputation of Christ's righteousness.  (Anti-Augustinians will add that all who are justified are also always sanctified, but they insist that sanctification makes no contribution whatsoever to a person's moral standing before God.)  One need not spend a great deal of time in James before it becomes clear that James will have nothing to do with an idea like this.

Protestants have developed schemes by which they attempt to reconcile James with an Anti-Augustinian Protestant interpretation of Paul.  One of the most popular of these is to say that Paul and James, despite amazing similarities in their discussions, are actually talking about two different things.  Paul is talking about our justification before God--what actually makes us right with God, makes us acceptable to him--while James is talking about our justification before men--how we show men that we are right with God, that God has accepted us.

I do not believe these schemes to reconcile James with an Anti-Augustinian Protestant view are successful.  I think it is clear that James is talking about exactly the same subject as Paul is in his letter to the Romans, and that James is bringing out clearly--as does Paul himself if we read the whole of his letter--the incompatibility of the biblical doctrine of justification with any view that would divorce good works from our moral status before God.  What you will find below is an inline commentary on the Book of James, focusing specifically on elements of James relevant to the doctrine of justification.  My goal is to exhibit James's doctrine of justification from a systematic, careful look at what he actually says in its full context, and so to shed light on what the Bible has to say about the doctrine of justification.

My text is taken from the KJV text on the Bible Gateway website, tweaked and formatted to fit my purposes in this article.  I have printed out the entirety of James's letter, as it is relatively short, in order to ensure as full a context as possible for the examination of key sections.  As I mentioned, however, I will keep my comments, for the most part, focused only on those parts of the text that seem particularly relevant to the doctrine of justification.  I have removed chapter and verse numbers in order to preserve better the flow of the text.

Since I intend to compare St. James's comments with St. Paul's in his Letter to the Romans, and since this commentary on James is intended partly as a follow-up to my inline commentary on Romans 1-8, here is a link to that Romans commentary.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

James is concerned with the moral development of Christians.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

We receive "the crown of life" when we love God and continue to love him even through the enduring of temptations.  Eternal life is given as a reward for perseverance in the love of God.

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

Sin inherently bears fruit in death.  That is its natural end.

Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Blessedness is a reward for those who are not only hearers but also doers of the law.

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

A man is not truly pious unless he lives in the love of his neighbor.  Otherwise, his religion is "in vain."

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

We must live in obedience to the law, for we shall be judged by the law.  If we show no mercy, we shall not have mercy, for the law commands us to love our neighbors and to be merciful, to be compassionate to the poor and less privileged.  The law is a "law of liberty," for it is meant to bring us blessing if we will follow it.

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Faith without good works is just as useless as telling someone "Be warm and well fed!" without actually giving them what they need.  "Faith" here obviously means "belief," for James points out that the demons themselves believe, and it doesn't lead to blessedness for them.  It is not enough to simply believe in Christ intellectually.  We must live out Christ's commands and do good works.

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Here James takes up the language of justification, and his comments mirror very closely St. Paul's discourse on justification in his letter to the Romans.  He uses the same terminology.  He even uses the same primary example that Paul uses--that of Abraham--even quoting the same text about how righteousness was "imputed" to Abraham because of his faith.  James may have Paul's letter in his mind, or, if not that, he may have Paul's general way of speaking in his mind.  Or perhaps Paul's way of speaking contributed to or was derived from common ways of speaking in the Christian community at this time, and James is drawing on that.  We cannot say for sure, for St. James does not tell us.

But his basic teaching is clear.  James is using the language of justification to discuss the very same issue St. Paul discussed in Romans--how to be right with God.  He is talking about the very same doctrine of justification.  The idea that he is describing the different subject of how we show our right relationship with God to men has no evidence in the text.  Rather the contrary.  He does not say that no one would know that we are justified before God if we didn't have works.  He says that justification by faith without works is dead and has no use.  It is worthless.  Justification before God is not complete without works.  "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness."  Abraham's faith resulted in Abraham being declared righteous by God.  But this process was not complete apart from Abraham's works.  Without those works, it would have been dead and meaningless.  The fulfillment of God's declaration of Abraham's righteousness came only when he did good works.  James could hardly be more clear:  "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God."  Notice that the result of this justification was that Abraham was called "the Friend of God."  We are not talking about how other men viewed Abraham, but about Abraham's relationship with God.  God credited Abraham with a righteous status because of his faith, but this was not made complete until Abraham actually lived out that righteous status in his life.  The righteousness given to Abraham through faith was not merely a legal status, divorced from his internal moral condition and outward behavior.  Rather, Abraham's actual moral condition was a fundamental component of that righteous status, without which the declaration of Abraham's righteousness would have been nothing but a mockery, a legal fiction, declaring what is not true.  It was Abraham's works which provided the substance and the fulfillment of the declaration.

St. James's teaching here does not contradict that of St. Paul, for St. Paul made it just as clear in his writings that God's gift to us of righteousness through faith is not merely a legal status divorced from the moral state of our life but is fulfilled and actualized in our putting to death the deeds of the flesh and our living righteously.  "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6).  Faith works not by itself, but by love.  It is not enough to simply believe, or to rely on some kind of legal status separated from the state of one's life.  To reap the true fruit of that righteous status--eternal life--we must live out the righteousness God has given us in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, St. James's teaching here does hit directly at the Anti-Augustinian Protestant view, because that view wants to say that our right relationship--our friendship--with God is based solely and completely--in principle and in full actualization--on the legal imputation of the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ to believers, without any consideration whatsoever of the state of their inward moral life or their outward moral behavior.  Anti-Augustinians grant that internal sanctification and good works always accompany legal justification, but they insist that these play no part in the basis of God's moral acceptance of us, of our friendship with and acceptance by God.  St. James asserts the exact opposite.  The declaration of Abraham's state of righteousness and friendship with God was not fully fulfilled merely when he believed, merely by virtue of the legal declaration itself apart from any internal sanctification, but it was fulfilled when it became a reality in Abraham's life manifested in his good works.  The good works were not added afterwards as some by-product, adding nothing to Abraham's acceptance and friendship with God, but they were a fundamental part of that acceptance and friendship, the actualization and fulfillment of the righteous status God graciously credited to Abraham because of his faith.  Justification is not merely a legal matter; it involves the transformation of one's life and the fruit of sanctification to be fully actualized.

My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. Condemnation does not come merely as a result of not having the right legal status, apart from any consideration of one's inward moral state, but it comes as a result of how one actually lives. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

But according to the Anti-Augustinian view, God doesn't care a bit about whether we live in such a morally repellent way or not.  All he cares about in terms of his moral nature is whether we have the legal declaration of righteousness or not.  If we've got that, our internal righteous state and the moral condition of our lives has no effect whatsoever on God's view of our moral condition.  He's quite happy with us apart from any consideration of the latter.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.  But according to Anti-Augustinianism, being a friend of God has nothing to do with our inward moral condition.  We could love the world and hate God, but as long as we had the legal imputation, God would keep smiling on and not care a bit.  We would be perfectly pleasing to him, and his moral nature would not find a single problem with us. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.  He resisteth the proud?  It sounds like his moral nature cares if we are proud or humble--contrary to Anti-Augustinianism. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.  It sounds as if God is offended by our inward sins, and the way to avoid that offense is to turn from those sins and get rid of them.  It doesn't sound like a mere legal declaration will do the trick, but only the change of our actual lives.

Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

It sounds like God cares about our actual moral condition, and will even judge us on the basis of this!  We are not justified--made right with God and his moral law--merely by a legal imputation covering up our actual sinfulness.  God's judgment will be on the basis of our actual state, not merely abstract legal declarations separate from that state.

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. What?  Do good, lest ye be condemned?  The judge standeth at the door?  Shame on you, James, for preaching works-righteousness, as if God will actually decide our moral acceptability based not only on some legal imputation but on the actual state of our lives!  No wonder Luther hated this book!  (But wait--unfortunately, this kind of talk and doctrine is throughout Scripture, even in the beloved St. Paul!) Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. They are happy which endure, not just which have a legal imputation. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  I wonder why, if all God cares about is our legal status, and never finds acceptable our actual internal righteousness. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

For more biblical and philosophical argumentation against the Anti-Augustinian position, see here.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Original Version of the Default Argument

The argument I call the "Default Argument" is an important part of the reason I am a Catholic rather than a Protestant.  Coming to recognize its truth was the crucial turning point that led me to decide to become Catholic out of Presbyterianism.  I have described this argument already in a number of places, particularly here and here, and in the context of my personal narrative documenting my doctrinal progression leading up to my conversion.

Not too long ago, I ran across a document I had written back in the first few days after I started considering transitioning to Catholicism.  This document contains a whole bunch of rambling thoughts back and forth, and part of it contains the first written version of the default argument, written down just as I was coming to understand and embrace it.  I first began to consider converting to Catholicism at the end of the day on March 14, 2015 (really in the middle of the night between March 14 and March 15--so far as I recall, I went to bed that night greatly troubled about where Sola Scriptura had led myself and my family, and when I woke up in the morning the thought of considering Catholicism had formed in my mind).  March 14 was a Saturday.  This first version of the default argument was written probably around the following weekend, maybe Thursday the 19th, Friday the 20th, or the next couple of days.  I first came to see the truth of the argument in my mind on Thursday the 19th.  Before that, I had been coming to the conclusion that I should stick with Sola Scriptura and Presbyterianism, despite the great difficulties of following it and the troubles it seemed to be leading us into.  The default argument provided the evidence that pushed me over the line.

So you will find below that original version of the default argument.  I've left it exactly as it is in the document.  One clarification:  I talk about an idea regarding the interpretation of Scripture I call "the best reading is the right reading."  This was an idea I had developed over the years as necessary to make Sola Scriptura work.  Basically, it means that since I am supposed to use Sola Scriptura to interpret the Bible, Sola Scriptura must work, and so I must assume that whatever the best reading of a biblical passage or series of passages is regarding a particular topic we need an answer to, that reading must be right--for otherwise it would be impossible to determine what the correct conclusion is when Scripture is somewhat obscure.  Take infant baptism, for example.  In order to be able to follow Christ, we have to know whether or not we should baptize babies.  The answer may be that we should, it may be that we shouldn't, it may be that we can do it if we want to, etc., but we have to do something, and we have to be able to know what we should do (for otherwise God would have made it impossible to do the right thing, which is absurd).  But Scripture nowhere addresses infant baptism.  We have to infer it from various things Scripture does say.  Now, if we don't know for sure that "the best reading is the right reading"--that no matter how obscure the evidence is, if there is any conclusion that has even a 1% greater chance of being right than the others, we can be sure that conclusion is correct--then we can't possibly use Scripture to tell us what is right.  We might try to infer that, if asked, the apostles would have told us to baptize infants, based on what they said and what the Old Testament said and what Jesus said, etc., but we really could have no idea if our inference is right.  But if "the best reading is the right reading," then we can be sure our inference is correct so long as it seems to be even slightly the best inference.  So if Sola Scriptura is correct, it must be the case that "the best reading is the right reading," for Sola Scriptura cannot function without that assumption.

OK, with that defined, here is the original default argument.  Why am I posting this?  Why would anyone care about seeing the first version of my default argument?  I have no idea.  I'm putting it here because I want it to be here, and it's my blog.  So enjoy, or ignore, at your pleasure!  Oh yes, I should also note--what becomes evident upon reading it--that I what I did is write out two arguments, the first supporting Sola Scriptura and the second opposing it.  The first argument was the argument I used to make as a Protestant.  But then I realized my error, and that is what led to me embrace argument #2.  After both arguments, I wrote out an analysis of them and why the second rather than the first is right.

I should also mention that I am less sanguine now than I was then about the ability to make a good case for Sola Scriptura from Church history.

OK, here we go:

The Default Arguments:

1. Christianity is true.

2. By clear observation: Christianity is a divine revelation.

3. By logical inference: If God has given a revelation in Christianity, he wants us to know and follow it, so it must be possible to find out what it is, understand it, and follow it.

4. By observation from Christian historical literature (particularly the Bible, the church fathers, and the general observation of developing Christian tradition through the centuries): A plausible case can be made for sola Scriptura (A).  A plausible case also can be made for Scripture interpreted in light of traditions involved in the living practice of faith in the church and trust in God's guidance through his Spirit of the overall tradition of the catholic church (B).

5. By observation of Christian historical literature: The Scripture is pointed to so clearly as a locus of divine revelation (and even the ultimate foundational source of Christian doctrine) that it is abundantly clear that Scripture is such.  The historical record is such that we must say that if Scripture is not a revelation, we do not have one.

6. Since Scripture is able to function on its own, without any other infallible context of interpretation (if we add the assumption, logically necessary to make Scripture work on its own in this way, that “the best reading is the right reading”), Scripture alone (A) fulfills the requirement that we be able to find, understand, and follow, a divine revelation.  Nothing else is therefore needed to satisfy that requirement.

7. Logically following from #6: The requirement to find a locus of divine Christian revelation (established in #3) does not justify believing in in infallible catholic tradition, for such is not needed to fulfill that requirement.  Therefore, in order to warrant belief in such, additional independent evidence will have to be given.  The default will be to A, for A is established as workable by the fact of the reliability of Scripture while B is not.

8. From #4, we observe that there is no such sufficient additional evidence.

9. Therefore, from #7 and #8, we conclude that we are unjustified in holding to any infallible catholic tradition, which leaves us with A as our conclusion.  (In short, since A satisfies our requirement for a Christian divine revelation and we have no independent sufficient evidence for any other infallible authority, the situation described in #4 logically entails that we go with A.)  Therefore, we should follow A, even if that means defying the stated teachers of the church and breaking the organizational unity of the church.  We are commanded to defer to our teachers and to the unity of the church, but we have no reason from observation of the data to conclude that such deference must be absolute, and so we are warranted in defying it if obedience to God calls for it, and the lack of warrant for B constitutes such a call (for we cannot, in honesty, affirm what we have no basis to affirm)  In short, the Reformation was justified.


1. Christianity is true.

2. By clear observation: Christianity is a divine revelation.

3. By logical inference: If God has given a revelation in Christianity, he wants us to know and follow it, so it must be possible to find out what it is, understand it, and follow it.

4. By observation from Christian historical literature (particularly the Bible, the church fathers, and the general observation of developing Christian tradition through the centuries): A plausible case can be made for sola Scriptura (A).  A plausible case also can be made for Scripture interpreted in light of traditions involved in the living practice of faith in the church and trust in God's guidance through his Spirit of the overall tradition of the catholic church (B).

5. By observation of Christian historical literature: The Scripture is pointed to so clearly as a locus of divine revelation (and even the ultimate foundational source of Christian doctrine) that it is abundantly clear that Scripture is such.  The historical record is such that we must say that if Scripture is not a revelation, we do not have one.

6. Scripture is able to function on its own without a further infallible context only if we add the assumption that “the best reading is the right reading” (for otherwise Scripture, as a complex and often somewhat informal and occasional literary document, does not give us sufficient information to clearly and positively decide its meaning or conclusions in a number of areas).  By observation, it would appear that Scripture itself does not clearly tell us that this assumption is true.  Therefore, the fact of the reliability of Scripture (established in #5 and assumed by both A and B) does not by itself logically imply that the assumption that “the best reading is the right reading” is true and therefore that Scripture can function on its own without an infallible catholic tradition.

7. From logical inference from #6: Both A and B require additional assumptions beyond the simple fact of the reliability of Scripture.  Therefore, the fact of the reliability of Scripture does not by itself decide between A and B or lead us to default to one or the other.  The fact of the reliability of Scripture does not by itself infer that A or B works.  Therefore, we cannot infer A from that fact alone (or B).  Additional information or argumentation is therefore required to decide between A and B or to warrant us to choose either of them.

8. Logical inference from clear observations in Christian historical literature: Since God has given us teachers in the church (the bishops or elders who have succeeded the apostles) and has commanded us to obey them, and since he has commanded us to preserve the organizational unity of the church, it follows that we ought to defer and default to submission to our teachers and to the preservation of the unity of the church and not break away from these at least unless there is good, sufficient reason to warrant this.  In short, our practical default ought to be deference to the stated teachers and the unity of the church.

9. From #4-#7, it follows that we have no clear and sufficient reason from the data arising from Christian historical literature to affirm A over B (or vice versa).  Therefore, combining this conclusion with the claim of #8, it follows that we ought to defer and default to the stated teachers and the organizational unity of the church and not break away from these, for we have no good reason for doing so and so insufficient warrant to do so.

10. Since adhering to the conclusion reached in #9 requires us to accept B, it follows that we ought to accept B.  If it is objected that we have no reason from the data (following #4) to accept B and that therefore it is unwarranted for us to do so, it must be said in reply that we equally have no reason from the data to accept A and that therefore if B is unwarranted so equally is A.  But, following #3, we must be able to decide between A and B.  We are warranted to infer, therefore, that since, following #8, in such a situation we ought to defer to the stated teachers and the unity of the church, such deference will lead us to the right conclusion, and therefore we can conclude that B is true.  In short, the Reformation was unjustified.

Analysis:  The arguments are the same up to #5, and then at #6 they diverge.  The divergence point is that the first argument asserts that the fact of the reliability of Scripture (established in #5) logically implies the workability of A, while the second argument asserts that #5 does not logically imply the workability of A.  The first argument concludes that since A is workable (following logically from #5), we know that A satisfies the demand (established in #3) for a knowable and followable revelation of Christianity, and so that demand rests its case upon nothing more than the conclusion of #5 (the reliability of the conclusion that Scripture is a divine revelation).  Therefore, since nothing more is needed besides Scripture alone, #4 leads us directly to default to A, and B is left to have to provide for itself additional independent data outside of anything determined from #4 to establish its warrant.  But #4 indicates that it can't do so, and so B has no warrant, and so A is right.  The second argument, however, does not believe that the workability of A can be logically inferred from #5.  Therefore, #5 does not show that Scripture alone can satisfy the demand of #3, and so it does not show that nothing more is needed.  Therefore, unlike with the first argument, #4 does not produce a default to A and leave B to establish additional warrant.  Instead, #4 leaves A and B as equals.  Both the first and the second arguments agree that we ought to defer practically to the stated teachers and to the organizational unity of the church, but both also acknowledge that such deference may not be absolute but may be able to be overridden by other concerns.  The first argument, since it sees #4 (in light of the other points, particularly #7 and #8)) as implying that we ought to embrace A and not B, sees this as sufficient warrant to overturn our practical default of deferring to the established church in order to affirm A as correct, while the second argument, since it sees #4 as leaving A and B as equals, does not acknowledge a reason to override our practical deference to the established church, and so it concludes that, in the absence of other data leading to other conclusions, it must be right to continue that deference, and so concludes from this that B and not A is the right position.

My current observation of these arguments suggests to me that the second argument is correct while the first argument is flawed.  It appears to me that the first argument begs the question by jumping from the fact of the reliability of accepting Scripture as divine revelation (established in #5 and agreed upon by both A and B) to the conclusion that A is workable without providing proof for this leap.  #5 does not inherently imply that A is workable, because the additional assumption needed to make A work (“the best reading is the right reading”) is not clearly taught in Scripture.  We have to provide additional data (which doesn't exist) in order to establish that assumption and so the workability of A.  So then, it seems that #4 and #5 actually leave A and B as equals rather than giving us reason to default to A.  Once that is granted, we no longer have sufficient warrant to overturn our deference to the established church, etc.  So it would seem, granting all the premises of the second argument, that B and not A is our justified conclusion.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Look at Paul's Doctrine of Justification in Romans 1-8

Dialogue between Catholics and Protestants regarding the doctrine of justification often focuses on the doctrine as it is developed in the writings of the Apostle Paul, especially in the books of Romans and Galatians.  In these letters, St. Paul focuses his attention on this doctrine.  In Romans, chapters 1-8, St. Paul engages in a somewhat systematic exposition of the doctrine of justification, and so these chapters are particularly useful in gaining an understanding of Paul's theology.

I think that St. Paul's writing in Romans 1-8 is, on the whole, fairly clear and straightforward.  There are some points of obscurity, but he lays out his basic ideas on justification relatively clearly.  I would like to do an inline commentary on these chapters in an attempt to follow systematically Paul's exposition of his doctrine of justification in order to expound a basic understanding of this doctrine, and also to compare St. Paul's teaching with another particular view of justification--the classic, Reformed Protestant doctrine of justification, and even more particularly what I call the Anti-Augustinian interpretation of the Reformed Protestant doctrine of justification.  (I discuss the two different interpretations of the Protestant doctrine and the meaning of this label further here.)  The basic idea of the Anti-Augustinian doctrine of justification is this:  Having no righteousness of our own, being sinners, we are made right with God (justified) wholly on the basis of the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ imputed to us (credited to us).  Any inward righteousness we might come to possess as a result the gracious work of the Holy Spirit within us contributes nothing whatsoever to our being made right with God, the ground of which, in principle and in full actualization, is nothing other than the legally or judicially imputed satisfaction and righteousness of Christ.  (This view contrasts with the Catholic doctrine of justification and with what I call the Pro-Augustinian interpretation of the Protestant doctrine, which hold that we are made right with God by Christ's righteousness, but that in order for us to actually become fully morally acceptable to God that righteousness must be not only imputed to us but also infused within us, making us actually inwardly holy.  Again, I discuss these two interpretations of Protestantism in the article linked to just above.)

As I proceed with my inline commentary, I will especially focus on elements in Paul's text which have a substantial bearing on these questions relating to the doctrine of justification.  I may comment on other things as well, but I will feel free to pass by or to address only very briefly less centrally relevant points.

My text is taken from the KJV text on the Bible Gateway website, tweaked and formatted to fit my purposes in this article.  I will skip St. Paul's introductory material at the beginning of chapter 1, and begin with verse 18.  For smoother reading, I have removed chapter and verse numbers.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Paul comments on the state of the world of mankind in general.  It is in a state of evil and rebellion against God.

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?  If you think you're exempt from this blanket condemnation of mankind in general, you're not, Paul says, for you're in the same boat. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.

God will judge the world, and the criterion of judgment is simple.  Those who lived evil lives will be condemned, and those who lived good lives will be rewarded with eternal life.  Where man ends up is a matter of justice, as God gives to men's deeds what they deserve, what it is fitting for them to receive.  (Of course, a question is raised at this point.  If everyone is evil, as Paul seemed to be saying a moment ago, then how is this judgment thing going to work out well for anyone?)

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

Everyone has the moral law of God.  Some, like the Jews, have it in written form, delivered by a special revelation from God.  Others, the Gentiles, have it in their conscience.  Both Jews and Gentiles alike will be judged by the moral law.  Only those will be justified--that is, vindicated, or declared righteous--who keep the law in whatever form they have access to it.  As Paul said earlier, God will give to each man's deeds what those deeds deserve in his righteous judgment.

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Apparently Paul thinks the Jews might try to claim special privilege and exemption from God's moral judgment by virtue of the fact that they have been given the law in a special revelation and have been circumcised (a sign of their special covenant with God).  But Paul pulls the rug out from under any such idea.  Jews will not be treated with favoritism.  They will be treated the same as the Gentiles, each judged according to the law as they have access to it.  The Gentiles don't know about circumcision because they don't have the special revelation, but God won't count that against them if they obey the law in their conscience.  And if Jews disobey the law, their circumcision will count for nothing.  It won't save them from the righteous judgment of God against their sins.

What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, "That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged." But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

Paul clears up a misconception.  He's not saying that Jews have no advantages over Gentiles in any way.  Of course it is an advantage to have the "oracles of God" and to be God's special people.  The fact that the Jews turned out to be unrighteous and faithless to the law of God they were given doesn't make God's plan pointless, as he uses evil for his good purposes.  But none of this justifies Jewish unrighteousness.  In terms of moral judgment, Jews are in the same boat as the Gentiles--they will be judged by the law of God.

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, "There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Paul here reaches his first big conclusion.  He's shown that God will judge the world by his moral law.  He's shown that the world of man in general has really blown it in terms of being righteous, and are thus condemned by the law.  The Jews tried to escape by claiming to be the special people of God, but Paul showed that the Jews will also be judged by the law of God just like the Gentiles and their special position will not save them from unrighteousness, and it turns out that the Jews are evil just like the Gentiles.  So it looks like God will judge the whole world according to his moral law, and nobody is righteous according to that moral law.  So everyone's condemned.  Well, this is depressing.  Fortunately, Paul doesn't stop here.  He's going somewhere more positive with all of this ultimately.  But, for now, the main point is that everyone is condemned by God's moral law.

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Now Paul begins discussion of the good news.  Even though we're all condemned by the moral law of God, we can still be saved.  Even though we don't have a righteousness of our own that can satisfy God's law, we can still get right with God by means of the redemption of Christ and faith in him.  Christ made a propitiation, or an expiation, or an atonement, by his blood and his death.  That atonement has made it righteous for God to forgive us our sins we have committed in the past, and to accept us as righteous in the present.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

If we were justified--made right with God, declared righteous according to God's law--by our own works, we would have something to boast about.  But, as we've seen, that won't work because we are all evil.  But now we have a different way of gaining God's favor and acceptance--the way of faith and not of works.  Instead of working to produce a righteousness that will make us acceptable to God and his moral law, we can trust in Christ and his redemption and receive acceptance with God as a gift of grace.

And not only does this way of justification through faith reconcile us all to God, but it brings Jews and Gentiles together, for there is a way of salvation given that is apart from the requirements of the law given to the Jews, which included the requirement of being circumcised and thus joining the Jewish people of God.  Paul said earlier that Gentiles who didn't have the specially revealed law given to the Jews would be judged by the law they had been given--the law written in their conscience.  But even so, it is to the Jews that God gave his special revelation, and so the Gentiles have not been on equal ground with the Jews.  To gain the fullness of all that God has given, including access to the advantages of having the specially revealed law of God and being his special people, they had to embrace the Jewish law.  But now we have a way of salvation above and beyond the Jewish law, although that law bore witness to it.  It is the way of faith, open to Jews and Gentiles on the same basis--faith in Christ and his redemption.

Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.  The new way of faith establishes rather than makes void the law both in that it is testified to by the law and fulfills what the law pointed to and that it provides a righteousness which satisfies the law--though in a different way from the way of works. What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."

Paul shows how the writings given by God to the Jews testify to the way of justification by faith rather than by works.  Abraham himself, the very father of the Jewish people, was justified by faith and not by works.  He did not have something to boast of, as he would have had he earned his righteous status with God by means of his works.  If he had simply done works of righteousness, offered these to God, and then received the reward of acceptance with God on the basis of his works, he could have claimed that his right status with God was owed to him, that he had earned it and it belonged to him by a right of justice.  But that's not how it happened.  Rather, Abraham trusted in God by faith, and God counted his faith for righteousness.  That is, God gave Abraham a righteous status, acceptance with God and his moral law, not as a reward for his works but as a gift received through faith.  Instead of giving to God good works which God then rewarded with acceptance and a righteous status, Abraham trusted in God to give him the righteous status he needed as a gift of his grace.

And the same thing happened with David, another great example from the Jewish Scriptures.  David does not sing about those who have earned God's favor by means of their own works, but those who have had their sins forgiven and have been counted righteous as a gift of grace.

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

Abraham was the father of the Jews, as is illustrated by his being circumcised, but Abraham's justification did not come through keeping the ceremonies of the Jewish law given later, but his justification was through faith.  His circumcision was a symbol of his faith.  In his being justified by faith above and beyond the Jewish law, Abraham showed himself to be the father not only of the Jews who would receive that law but of all peoples who, along with the Jews, can be justified by faith.  So we see again how justification by faith both reconciles sinful men to God and also binds Jews and Gentiles together.

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.  Abraham was promised that he would be the father of many nations, even of the whole world.  But this was not through the Jewish law, but through faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.  If Abraham's destiny was established through the law, this would not only divide Jews from Gentiles, but it would also destroy any hope of salvation, for we are all sinners and so cannot be saved by the law.  We don't have the righteousness it requires. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written," I have made thee a father of many nations,") before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, "So shall thy seed be." And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

Rather than relying on his human power of good works and obedience to the law to gain him his destiny, he relied on God's supernatural power.  And therefore God gave him all that he needed not through his works, but through faith, as a gift of grace.

God "calleth those things which be not as though they were."  Sarah was barren, but God declared that through her Abraham would become the father of many nations.  The application to justification is obvious.  Abraham was not righteous.  But, through faith, God declared righteousness to be his.  And so it was that Abraham was righteous.  Only God could declare a sinner to be righteous and make the claim good.

Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

Abraham (and David, etc.) are models for us all.  We are not to seek justification before God and the moral law by our own works of obedience to the law, but as a gift of grace through faith in the redemption provided by Christ, who died to take away our sins and rose to make us right with God.

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

When we have faith, we are justified before God, and as a result of this we have peace with God.  We have access to all the blessings of the grace of God.  The Holy Spirit is given to us, and God's love is shed abroad in our hearts.  God's grace helps us to grow in the development of godly character.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Paul highlights the graciousness of our justification.  It is Christ who has saved us, and not we ourselves.  We were sinners and enemies of God.  Since Christ died for us when we were nothing but sinners and enemies, he will certainly give us all that we need to attain to full salvation.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.) But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul makes a comparison between Adam's sin and Christ's righteousness.  There is a parallel here.  The reason we are all sinners, and as sinners doomed to death, is because of Adam's sin.  His sin made us all sinners.  From him we have inherited sin and all that sin brings with it, including death.  Similarly, if we are to be made righteous, it must be through Christ.  Just as Adam's sin made all men sinners and so brought all men to condemnation and death, so Christ's righteous obedience and redemption make all who are in him righteous and so brings them to a state of justification and thus to eternal life.

But the parallel breaks down, because Christ's righteous obedience is much greater than Adam's sin.  One sin of Adam brought us all into the position of being sinners, but Adam's sin and all our sins became the basis for Christ being sent into the world to take away our sins and to bring us salvation.  Christ's righteous obedience not only parallels Adam's sin, but it responds to it and overcomes it, bringing deliverance from sin.

Now we can pause at this point and ask a question about how what we have seen so far matches up with the claims of the Anti-Augustinian doctrine of justification I defined at the beginning of this article--particularly with the claim that the righteousness by which we are made right with God is wholly a legal status imputed to us and not in any way a righteousness worked in us by God's grace.  From what St. Paul has said thus far, can we say if the righteousness granted us in Christ is purely legal and imputed or if it also includes an inward, transformative element?  I think that the answer is that, for the most part, it could go either way.  St. Paul's language and concepts thus far have been primarily in the legal/judicial category.  No doubt he has used the concept and term of "justification" to refer primarily to legal concepts related to our status before God.  He has spoken very little about any internal transformation.  He has said that we do not achieve a state of righteousness and a status of acceptance before God by means of our own works but by means of receiving them as a free gift by faith in the redemption of Christ.  He has not said much to address the question of whether this process of achieving a righteous status before God by faith involves any inward transformation.  Nothing he has said rules it out.  It is true that he has been focused on legal categories, but it does not necessarily follow from this that there is not also involved a transformative component.  In fact, there have been some hints that a transformative dimension to all of this does exist.  Early on (back in chapter 2), Paul talked about how everyone will be judged by their works on the day of judgment.  This implies a crucial place for good works in Paul's view of how we can be acceptable to God.  Also, later on (5:1-5), Paul talked about how faith has given us access to grace, which involves God's love being poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and growth in godly character.  This also suggests a transformative component.  Thirdly, in his discussion about Abraham's faith, Paul described God as the one who "calleth those things which be not as though they were."  God declared Abraham to be justly named the father of many nations, even though his wife was barren, and the result was that it miraculously came to pass.  What happens when God declares the ungodly righteous?  God's declaration alters reality.  And lastly, in his discussion of the parallel between Adam and Christ which we have just discussed, Paul suggests that Adam spread sin and death to all his descendants by means of making us all sinners, and this seems to be more than just a legal status of "sinner" but also to involve having been brought into a condition in which we actually commit sin ourselves (". . . and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned . . .", etc.).  This suggests that the process of Christ making us righteous may involve a transformative component as well.  But, in spite of these hints, it remains true that the main course of Paul's discussion has focused mostly on legal categories and concepts, and we have yet to see how he might fit any transformative components into his overall picture.  We will keep reading and see if he addresses this further in what is to come.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  If our sins bring about such an amazing positive result, maybe we should just keep sinning so as to bring about more and more great positive things! God forbid.  No way! How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is justified from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Should we keep living in sin in order to glorify the righteousness of Christ?  No, of course not.  This is impossible anyway, because Christ's redemption has freed us from sin!  If Christ's redemption has freed us from sin and made us righteous, how could we continue to live as sinners?  That would be a contradiction.  Christ took our sins upon him and died for them.  Once he died, he was free of our sins, and he rose to newness of life.  Well, if we are in Christ, if we were baptized into Christ, we died with him.  He has taken away our sins.  Therefore, our sins are gone!  Therefore, we cannot any longer live in them!  And after Christ was freed from our sins through his death,  he rose from the dead.  So we too, having died with him, are raised up with him to live a new life.

It would be a contradiction for God to declare us righteous and yet for us to remain unrighteous in our actual lives.  The declaration of God is a not an empty voice ringing out into the air, but a powerful voice that alters reality to match the declaration.  God "calleth those things which be not as though they were," and they become as he calls them.  "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

Remember what our problem was.  We were under God's moral law (one way or another), but we were sinners.  We had no righteousness to make us acceptable to God and his law.  The whole point of Christ's redemption is that he has freed us from that condition.  As we give up trying to produce our own righteousness and instead trust in Christ to receive righteousness as a free gift, through Christ we are made righteous (just as we were made sinners in Adam).  Christ freed us from being under the law, in the sense that he freed us from the obligation to produce our own righteousness by which we could be acceptable to God and his law.  Christ gave us forgiveness of sins and righteousness as a free gift.  Therefore, if this is our new condition in Christ, how could we keep living as sinners?  That would be absurd and contradictory.  We have been freed from and made righteous.  Therefore, we are righteous!  Therefore, we must live that way.  Sin no longer has dominion over us!  We can live righteously!  We cannot have a new status before God without having a changed state to match.  The one inherently implies the other.

What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So we are no longer under law but under grace.  We are justified by faith and not by works.  Does that mean that we can now live in sin without concern?  Certainly not!  Being under grace and not law, or being justified by faith and not by works, does not mean that we are freed from God's law, as if we no longer need to live according to it.  It is still as true now as it ever was that sin leads to death and righteous living leads to eternal life.  What justification by faith has done is not to release us from our obligation to obey God's law or to make it so that sin no longer leads to death, but it has released us from sin, so that we can live righteously.  We have received righteousness as a gift of God's grace, and so now instead of living in sin which leads inevitably to death, we can live righteously and so attain to eternal life.  It's not that we no longer need to be righteous, to live righteously.  It's that God, through our faith, as a free gift, has given us righteousness by which we can live righteously.

What we lacked was righteousness.  Without righteousness, we were in a state of condemnation under God's moral law.  What Christ's redemption and faith in that redemption has brought us is the righteousness we lacked.  Our sins have been forgiven and we have been made righteous.  We therefore now have a righteous status before God.  We are acceptable to him.

Let's return now to our fundamental question:  What is the nature of this righteousness that we have been given in Christ through faith?  Is it purely legal and declaratory, or does it also involve a change within us and an internal righteousness (and the fruit of that internal righteousness in outward good works)?  Have we been given a legal righteousness that makes us right with God apart from any consideration of our inward condition, so that now we can say that our actual, inward moral condition and our moral behavior is completely irrelevant to God's acceptance of us?  Or is it rather the case that the righteousness we have been given by God through faith in Christ involves legal acceptance but also involves a change in our inward life and our behavior, and that God's acceptance of us depends upon both of these components?  I think we can see clearly at this point that the latter is the case and not the former.  Paul has made clear that we are given a righteous status before God not through our own works but through faith in Christ and his redemption.  But he has also made clear that this change to a righteous status involves a change in our inward life as well and in our outward moral behavior.  It is not that God no longer requires of us personal righteousness or good works or that we turn away from sin in our inward lives and behavior.  Sin still leads to death and righteousness to eternal life.  It is rather that grace through Christ has brought to us a righteous condition we could not attain to by ourselves, and that this righteous condition brings eternal life because it involves a change in our inward life and in our works that allows us to receive eternal life.  The righteousness given to us in justification by faith involves both legal/judicial as well as actual and transformative components.  The Anti-Augustinian idea that our justification involves nothing but a purely legal component and that internal sanctification is a totally different thing that has nothing to do with being considered righteous and morally acceptable by God has no foundation in what we have seen in Paul's text thus far.  But let us continue and see if Paul adds any more to confirm or correct our conclusion as it is at this point.

Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

Paul uses an analogy of marriage to describe our life under the law compared to our life under grace.  Before, we were "married" to the law.  This brought death, because we were sinful.  No one obeyed the law, and so the law brought only condemnation.  Since we couldn't meet the law's demands, being sinful, we were in a hopeless state.  But now, through faith, we have become dead to the law and "married" to Christ.  Now, unlike our previous marriage, this is a fruitful union, because Christ's grace enables us to live lives of righteousness through the power of the Spirit.  We can thus bear proper fruit unto God.

Note that when Paul says we are "dead to the law," he doesn't mean that we are no longer under an obligation to live in obedience to God.  We are not dead to our obligation to obey the law but rather we are dead to our attempt to be saved by means of obedience to the law.  No longer are we in the way of justification by works, by which we must produce our own righteousness and thus earn favor with God.  We are now in the way of justification by faith in Christ, by which we receive righteousness as a free gift of grace and so gain favor with God.  It is not that we no longer need to live righteously.  It is that we are enabled to bear righteous fruit to God through Christ, something the law could not give us.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, "Thou shalt not covet." But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

The problem was not in the law.  It was in us.  The law is perfectly good and just, but we are sinners.  That's why the law couldn't save us.  On the contrary, the law made matters worse for us, because it showed up our sins, like suddenly shining a flashlight into a room full of rats or cockroaches (I owe this image to a former pastor of mine).

What Paul says here parallels his comments back in chapter 5 (we're in chapter 7 now, by the way) when he said that from Adam until Moses, sin was not imputed, because the law had not yet been given.  Paul doesn't mean that no one from Adam until Moses was a sinner, or that we aren't sinners until we hear the specially revealed moral law.  We saw earlier that the Gentiles are still responsible to God even though they haven't received the special revelation of the law given to the Jews because they have God's moral law written on their conscience.  What Paul is saying here is not that we weren't sinners at all until we heard the law, but that it was through the hearing of the law that our sin was shown clearly and explicitly and dramatically to be the evil that it naturally is.  The clarity of the law brings out our sin by its dramatic contrast.

By the way, some scholars have argued that the "works of the law" that cannot save us that Paul talks about in this letter to the Romans are only ceremonial works of the Jewish law, like circumcision, and do not include moral works of the law, like not coveting or not stealing.  This interpretation has become somewhat popular among modern Catholics as well.  I don't want to spend a lot of time examining this question in particular, but I want to briefly point out that our study thus far has shown the falsity of this viewpoint.  The works of the law that cannot save us include the entirety of the law of God, including both its ceremonial and its moral aspects.  We saw that Gentiles could not be saved by the law and were condemned by it.  This must refer to the moral aspects of the law, because they didn't even have the ceremonial aspects, only having the law written in their conscience.  We saw that our problem--all of us, Jews and Gentiles--is that we are sinners and do not have the righteousness to live up to the law of God.  This makes no sense if Paul is meaning to exclude the moral components of God's law from his discussion.  It is precisely the moral aspects of the law we cannot do which make us sinners!  The ceremonial components of the law are important in Paul's discussion as well, since Paul is not only concerned with our reconciliation with God but also with the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, but Paul does not separate out the ceremonial from the moral components.  And we see here once again, in the section we are now commenting on, that it is the moral aspect of God's law that causes us trouble as sinners, for "Thou shalt not covet" certainly belongs to the moral and not to the ceremonial aspect of God's law.  The "works of the law" that cannot save us include all the works of the law of God, both ceremonial and moral, for we are saved not by the moral law as opposed to the ceremonial law but by Christ and his redemption and faith as opposed to obedience to the law.  (And yet, let us not forget, though we do not earn our justification through obedience to God's law, yet the gift of justification includes not only being legally accounted righteous but also being made actually personally righteous so that we can do good works, so that we can "bear fruit unto God," leading to eternal life.  It is not our own good works, coming from ourselves, which make us right with God, but the gift of righteousness in Christ involves and includes the gift of good works that God finds pleasing and fit to reward with eternal life.)

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Paul once again here outlines our fundamental moral problem.  The law is good and just, but we are not.  We know very well how we ought to be, but we find ourselves driven to act other than our conscience says we ought to act.  Left to ourselves, therefore, we are doomed.  That's why we need Christ.

There has been a controversy among Paul's interpreters as to whether Paul is describing here in this section of Romans 7 the condition of a person without Christ or a person with Christ but who has not yet been made perfect.  I think the basic answer is that the former view is correct.  As we have seen already and as we will see again in the next section, Paul wants to contrast our hopeless state without Christ with our hopeful state in Christ.  It would be very incongruous, then, to read Paul's pitiful description here as intended to describe a man saved by Christ.  When Paul refers to the inward self that delights in God's law and wants to obey it and contrasts this with the "law of the members" which drives him to sin, I do not think he is referring to the battle of the soul renewed in Christ with remnants of the now conquered sinful nature.  Rather, the "inward man" here probably refers to our conscience, on which the law of God is written, and by which we know and agree that the law is good.  The "law of the members" refers to us in our sinful condition as we fail to live up to what our conscience declares we ought to do.  (However, having said all of this, I will grant that Paul may have partially and secondarily in his mind his own experience as a regenerated soul struggling against remaining sin, for it is true that we are not yet made perfect.  Paul will make that very point in the next chapter.  So it may be that while Paul's primary point here is to describe the wretched condition of sinful man under the law without Christ, he may be mixing in with this description some language reminiscent of the regenerate soul's struggle against remaining sin.)

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.  We see here clearly that man as saved by Christ is contrasted with the man described in the previous section--man as wretched without Christ. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

We see here very forcefully the error of the Anti-Augustinian doctrine of justification.  The righteousness by which we are made right with God is clearly not only legal and forensic but is also very much actual and transformative.  Paul makes it very clear here how Christ's redemption saves us from sin and from the condemnation of the law.  The law could not save us because of our "flesh"--a word Paul uses to describe our sinful inclinations.  In short, the law could not save us because we were sinners.  But Christ saved us.  His atonement condemned sin in the flesh, and the result is that the righteous requirements of the moral law are fulfilled in us as we walk according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh.  Through faith in Christ, we receive the redemption of Christ.  Through Christ's redemption, we are given the Holy Spirit, who enables us to "bear fruit unto God," to put aside our carnal ("fleshly") mind and to mind the things of the Spirit, thereby having the righteousness of the law fulfilled in us.

The "carnal mind" cannot please God, because it is not subject to the law of God.  Clearly, we cannot please God or become morally acceptable to him merely by a legal imputation of righteousness.  We must be freed from the flesh and made truly pleasing to God by being inwardly sanctified by the Spirit.  Inward sanctification and the good works that flow from it are not something utterly different from the justification that makes us right with God.  Sanctification is an essential part of what saves us from death and gains us eternal life; it makes us pleasing and so morally acceptable to God.  

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

We are still debtors.  Christ's redemption has not freed us from our obligation to live righteously.  Living according to the flesh--living unrighteously--still brings death, and living according to the Spirit--living righteously--still brings life.  The difference is that now we can do it!  We do not receive life (the result of a right relationship with God) and avoid death (the curse of a wrong relationship with God) merely by having righteousness imputed to us apart from any moral transformation within us.  Rather, Christ's redemption frees us from sin by giving us the ability to put to death our fleshly ways and to live righteously according to the Spirit.  By doing this, we will live and not die, and show ourselves to be true children of God.

It is not that Christ has suffered for us, that suffering is imputed to us, and so we will be glorified merely because Christ's suffering is imputed to us.  Rather, Christ suffered for us, and so, by his Spirit, we show ourselves the children of God by suffering with Christ that we might be glorified together with Christ.  Our inward transformation, our trials, our repentance, and the character that these build in us through grace, are the way in which Christ's suffering and righteousness bring us to the attainment of life and glory.  He died and rose for us so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

Our salvation, while fully accomplished in Christ, is not yet completed in us.  We still await the fullness of perfection.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The whole of our redemption is by the grace of God from start to finish.  It is all the outworking of God's eternal plan of predestination.  (But I'll leave that concept be for now, lest it take us into a whole new field of inquiry!)

Paul brings the whole discussion to a dramatic conclusion:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We can now sum up Paul's overall doctrine in these chapters:  We are all sinners since the Fall of Adam.  Therefore, everyone is condemned by God's moral law (whether they have that law in written form or in the form of internal conscience) and no one can produce the righteousness necessary to satisfy it and attain a righteous status before God.  But God himself has saved us from this condition through the redemption of Christ.  Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins, procuring for us forgiveness of sins and a new righteousness by which we can be made right with God.  We must therefore give up trying to produce our own righteousness and rely by faith on Christ's redemption to reconcile us to God.  Through that redemption, received by faith, we are put into a new relationship with God in which we gain a new state of righteousness.  We become God's children and are given the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit enables us to put to death our life of sin and to live a life of righteousness which is pleasing to God.  Because of this, we are no longer at odds with God's law and so doomed to die; rather, we are now in a position to live in a way that is pleasing to God and which thus brings eternal life (and will be rewarded with such when we come to the day of judgment, when God will reward all of us according to our deeds).

So God does indeed give us a new status of moral acceptance with himself through the redemption of Christ received by faith.  This involves a change of our legal/judicial status before God.  But it also involves a transformative component in which we are changed from living a sinful life and brought to live a righteous life.  The latter, transformative component is essential to making us right with God.  We are not given a new status of righteousness before God that is purely legal and external, but one that involves a transformation into a state in which we are no longer displeasing but pleasing to God.  Without this transformative component, we would not be able to have a new righteous status, for we would still be displeasing to God and doomed to death under his moral sentence.  Sanctification is thus an essential component in how we are brought into a completely actualized state of justification.  We can describe this using Augustinian terminology and say that sanctification is a crucial part of what makes us justified.  Or we can use Pro-Augustinian Protestant language and say that the imputed righteousness of Christ alone makes us right with God, but without that imputed righteousness being also infused into us we would not receive the full substance and actualization of that imputation.  It would become merely a legal fiction, a declaration of what never actually comes to be in our experience.  But what we cannot do is embrace the Anti-Augustinian Protestant position and affirm that we are made right with God solely by means of the imputation of righteousness and that this is completed and actualized fully without regard to any transformative component.

It would be worthwhile to do a similar inline commentary on Paul's letter to the Galatians, as he contributes substantially to these themes there as well.  I will probably do this sometime in the future, and when I do I will link to that article here.  It would also be useful to bring in other passages of Scripture and see if they further confirm our systematic analysis of Romans 1-8.  I have done this to a great degree already in this article.

Published on the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.