Philip Eveson


N. T. Wright is a very stimulating speaker and writer and there is much that can be profitably gleaned from his studies. His interpretation of the Pauline texts is arguably the strongest challenge to the traditional Protestant approach that has yet appeared. Coming from someone who treats Scripture seriously and who claims an evangelical, Reformed attachment, his views need to be considered most carefully. Is he right in his understanding of the situation Paul is addressing? Is he right in his interpretation of Paul’s teaching on justification? We will respond to his position under six headings and then point to seven dangers connected with it.

1. First century Judaism and Paul’s criticism of it

In his understanding of Palestinian Judaism in the time of Paul, Wright has accepted the main conclusions of E. P. Sanders, whose book Paul and Palestinian Judaism, written in 1977, has revolutionized New Testament scholarship.1 Briefly, Sanders’ thesis is that Judaism of the first century was not a religion of ‘works’. It is ‘completely wrong’ to think of Rabbinic religion as a religion of legalistic works-righteousness. He criticises those scholars, like Strack-Billerbeck, who have relied too heavily on fifth century Jewish sources for their view of first century Palestinian Judaism. The material Sanders uses is limited to the early Rabbinic (Tannaitic) literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphical writings. From this background he shows that the Judaism of Paul’s day can be described as ‘covenantal nomism’, which involved obedience to the law within the context of God’s gracious covenant. Salvation depended on God’s covenant with them, his electing love, his provision of atonement for their sins and his promise of salvation or vindication for all faithful Israelites. Obedience to the law was not a means of winning God’s favour but a demonstration of their response to God’s grace and served to maintain their covenant relationship. Their keeping of the law showed their distinctiveness as the people of God. Obedience to the law was not thought of as the way of ‘getting in’ to the covenant relationship but the way of ‘staying in’ it. Similarly, when Sanders comes to discuss Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith he again emphasises that Paul was not attacking Judaism because it was legalistic. This false view of Judaism has arisen, so Sanders argues, as a result of ‘the retrojection of the Protestant-Catholic debate into ancient history, with Judaism taking the role of Catholicism and Christianity the role of Lutheranism’.2

Wright’s assessment of this thesis is very positive: ‘Despite some criticisms that have been launched, it seems to me thus far completely correct as a description of first-century Judaism’.3 James Dunn would utter similar sentiments. Not everyone will share their confidence in accepting Sanders’ view of Palestinian Judaism in the time of Paul, although there is enough in what Sanders says to make it plausible. In so far as the Judaism of the Second Temple was in line with the religion of Moses, it certainly was not a religion of merit to earn acceptance before God. The grace of God is evident in the case of Noah, in the call of Abram, and in God’s free, unconditional love for Israel (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). There is also evidence from the first century A.D. to support the view that some Jews of the time had an understanding of the grace of God who had chosen Israel to be a special people, and that good works were done out of gratitude and merely demonstrated that they were in the covenant.4

This is not, however, the whole story. There are hints outside the New Testament that legalism was more widespread than Sanders would have us believe. Although there is no mention of a ‘treasury of merits’ or of ‘balancing merits against demerits’, analogous to the Roman Catholic doctrine of merits, in Palestinian Jewish literature of the period,5 Professor Don Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School argues that ‘it does not appear to be improper to speak of “merit theology” . . . even if such theology is extended considerably only in later generations’. Sanders ‘consistently downplays the strength of the merit theology which the rabbis do accept’.6 It is also clear, even from what Sanders says, that although entry into the covenant was by grace, ‘staying in’ and attaining the life of the world to come was strongly based on merit. It is quite clearly a faith plus works theology.7 It is against such Jewish ideas that Paul maintains that ‘a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law’ (Romans 3:28). He also insists that not only ‘getting in’ but ‘staying in’ is all of grace and none of merit, ‘Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?’ (Galatians 3:3). In Romans 5:2 Paul shows that those who are ‘in’ continue to stand in grace. As R. H. Gundry concludes, ‘For Paul, then, getting in and staying in are covered by the seamless robe of faith as opposed to works, with the result that works come in as evidential rather than instrumental’.8

Carson also criticises Sanders for failing ‘to come to grips with the diluted value’ of such words as ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’ in inter-testamental literature. Grace is often in response to merit rather than being free and unconditional. He proves his point with many examples from the same Jewish sources that Sanders uses. These often say that God chooses Abraham and other saints of the period because they are more worthy than others. In the literature of the rabbis ‘there is an increasing dependence on personal merit as an approach to God’ and again Abraham is singled out as one whose merits are especially powerful.9 When Israel sinned in the desert by worshipping the golden calf, it was the merits of the Patriarchs which saved them, according to the rabbis. It was only when Moses prayed ‘Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ (Exodus 32:13) that God listened and they were not exterminated.10

It is true that the Qumran community held a strong belief in divine predestination and the grace of God. This did not prevent them, however, from believing that good works possessed atoning efficacy and helped toward their religious standing. Mark Seifrid, Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, following the initial work done by his teacher Don Carson, has examined carefully the evidence of the Qumran Scrolls in Cave One11 and comments that ‘One could only be clean from sin by belonging to the community and observing their strict regulations’.12 The yearly examination and ranking of community members according to their ‘understanding and deeds’ also indicates that ‘the community consciously linked religious standing to the deeds of the individual’.13

Seifrid has also investigated The Psalms of Solomon, a pseudepigraphal work of eighteen psalms originally dating from between 74 to 40 BC. He concludes that these psalms do not ‘include mercy in the face of impiety, but mercy because of piety’.14 Saving value is attached to the behaviour of the ‘pious’. Like the Qumran community ‘They too know of an atonement through deeds of repentance.. .and a saving righteousness gained by works’.15 Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, though he often refers to God’s grace, regards it as something to be earned by obedience to God. Speaking of Ezra’s plans, Josephus comments that the fact ‘they turned out well for him was, I think, due to God, who judged him worthy of obtaining his desires because of his goodness and righteousness’.16 Carson comments: ‘Merit theology is sufficiently developed in Josephus to produce statements attributing assorted blessings to the merits of the patriarchs or of Moses.17

Sanders himself is forced to admit that the apocryphal book of 4 Ezra is an exception to his thesis. In it, one is faced, as he puts it, with ‘a religion of individual self-righteousness.. .in short, we see an instance in which covenantal nomism has collapsed. All that is left is legalistic perfectionism.”18 John Stott remarks, ‘If one literary example has survived, may there not have been others which did not survive?’19 Indeed, the evidence that has been presented suggests that there was a much wider acceptance of legalism among Jews of Paul’s day than Sanders or Wright admit. In their effort to correct a false view of Judaism, they have moved too far in the opposite direction.

Again, it should be remembered that despite official traditional teaching, the natural thinking and practice of the average worshipper is more works than grace orientated. The Council of Trent and the modern Roman Catechism, as we saw in chapter seven, can speak in terms of grace and faith but in reality and practice the Roman religion is one of salvation by works. Even Protestant churches, with their confessional statements emphasising that a person is saved not by his own good works but by grace, have been unable to prevent many of their members from trusting in the value of their own works to put them right with God on the last day.

Neither is the whole business of trying to earn salvation and acceptance a characteristic of the Western world. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is ample testimony, from all over the world to this natural human tendency to look to one’s good works to gain divine approval or to supplement God’s work. Sanders, Wright and others are ignoring what the Reformers saw only too clearly. Why should Paul be so insistent that we are not saved by works but by the grace of God if there was no problem in this area of grace versus works? This emphasis by the apostle, it should be noted, is not confined to Romans and Galatians. In Ephesians 2:8-9 he writes, ‘it is by grace you have been saved, through faith... not by works’. The Pastoral Epistles reveal the same concern. Timothy is told that God ‘has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace’ (2 Timothy 1:9). Again, Paul reminds Titus that God ‘saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy . . . justified by his grace’ (3:4-7). Such passages are a reminder to Christians not to allow their faith to degenerate to a works orientated religion. Stott makes this perceptive comment concerning Sanders: ‘As I have read and pondered his books, I have kept asking myself whether perhaps he knows more about Palestinian Judaism than he does about the human heart.’20

If the views of Sanders concerning Palestinian Judaism of the first century are suspect in certain important respects, then it is well to ask of Wright, ‘Is it only Jewish national pride that Paul is criticising?’ ‘Is “my own righteousness” in Philippians 3 only a statement about Paul’s former life as a Jew boasting of his national privileges?’ ‘Is “their own righteousness” in Romans 10:3 speaking exclusively of the Jews priding themselves in their Jewishness which guarantees them covenant membership?’ To answer these questions it is necessary to take into account what is said about ‘works of the law’.

2. Law and Works of the Law

Wright presents much that is helpful on the subject of the law. A vast amount of scholarly literature has been written about it in recent years and he makes good use of it. We agree that Paul in Galatians and Romans is thinking particularly of the Jewish Torah, the law of Moses, not law in general. There are exceptions and Romans 2:14 and Galatians 5:23 are among them, but these only go to highlight the fact that Paul uses law ‘more often and most basically of the Mosaic law’.21

Douglas Moo, Associate Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has also argued that ‘law’ is not used by Paul to mean ‘legalism’.22 What is more, the law is for Paul ‘a single indivisible whole’.23 Paul does not neatly segregate the law into moral, ceremonial and civil. If he had such distinctions in mind, he could have argued in Galatians that circumcision (regularly regarded as being ‘ceremonial’ by those who use these categories) is now no longer required, for it is not part of the moral law. On the contrary, Paul emphasises the unity of the law (cf. Galatians 5:3 ‘I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is required to obey the whole law’.) The threefold distinction between moral, ceremonial and civil law was unknown to the Jews of the first century A.D. It was introduced in the Middle Ages, accepted by Calvin and has been popular in Reformed circles ever since. Useful though it is in systematic theology, it cannot be sustained from the New Testament. This is not to deny that the Bible reveals that some laws are more basic and important and express principles which govern the other laws.24 But there is no disagreement with Wright that ‘law’ refers to the Mosaic law, that it is not used to mean ‘legalism’ and that the common threefold distinction that is made cannot be supported.

It must be admitted that a good deal of Protestant exegesis has taken Galatians 3:15-4:7 to mean that Paul was talking only on a personal level of how an individual comes to faith through first experiencing the effects of the law. The law is a ‘schoolmaster’ to bring individuals to Christ (3:24). Wright is correct in pointing out that Paul’s great concern in this passage is to demonstrate the purpose of the law in salvation history. The apostle speaks of a time before the coming of faith when believers under the old Sinai covenant were held prisoner by the law, but ‘now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law’ (3:23, 25). ‘Faith’ is here used of the coming of Christ. The age of the law gives way to the age of the gospel which fulfils the promise to Abraham and is associated with that moment in God’s plan when he sent his Son (4:4).

Having said this, we need not get into an either/or position. In Galatians, Paul seems to oscillate between the communal and the individual. At one moment he is thinking of the people of God in the context of the history of God’s saving purposes (salvation history), at another he has the believer’s personal experience in mind. In some passages there may even be two levels of interpretation. F. E Bruce, for instance, considers that “the coming of faith” . . . may be understood both on the plane of salvation-history and in the personal experience of believers.’25

It is also true to say that the keeping of the law certainly marked off the Jew from the Gentile and kept them separate. The law divided humanity. In a brilliant exegesis of Galatians 3:15-20 Wright explains that though the law points to the one family of God it was not possible for the Mosaic law to bring about the one family of God. G. J. Wenham in his commentary on Leviticus has drawn attention to the way the law taught and constantly reminded Israel in major and minor matters of life that she was different, that she was a holy nation set apart for God.26 The law was meant to keep Israel apart. God ordained that it should separate Israel off from the rest of the nations. But it did not shut out the Gentiles completely in the way that Wright seems to imply. Not only do we find Gentiles becoming members of God’s covenant people in the Old Testament period, such as Rahab of Jericho and Ruth the Moabitess, but also Gentiles were converting to Judaism in the Inter-testamental period to become God-fearers and Jewish proselytes (cf. Matthew 23:15; Acts 2:11). Josephus gives an account of the conversion to Judaism of King Izates in which the king was pressed into being circumcised by a certain Jew named Eleazar.27 Mark Seifrid also notes how Josephus in Contra Apionem gives a warm welcome to Gentiles wishing to come into the household of Moses and fails to see how Wright can describe such a welcome as ‘going so far and no further’.28

It is over the meaning of the Pauline phrase ‘the works of the law’ (NIV ‘observing the law’) that disagreement enters. It is quite inadmissible for Wright and Dunn to limit the phrase to certain kinds of works such as the food laws, circumcision and the Sabbath. There is no justification for narrowing the meaning to include only those aspects of the law that clearly separated Jews from Gentiles. This restricted meaning is not a new idea but one advanced by Pelagius and others in the Early Church period and was later soundly condemned by Calvin. ‘Let them now babble if they dare, that these statements apply to ceremonies, not to morals. Even schoolboys would hoot at such impudence. Therefore, let us hold as certain that when the ability to justify is denied to the law, these words refer to the whole law.’29

It has been convincingly shown by Douglas Moo that ‘works of the law’ must not be restricted to laws which particularly marked off Israel from others.30 Neither is it right to confine Paul’s phrase to ‘works done in the flesh’ or to what is termed legalism, although this is nearer the truth.31 Outside Paul’s letters the exact phrase has, to date, only been found in one other source, in a Dead Sea Scroll fragment ‘Florilegium’ from Qumran cave four, where it signifies obedience to the Mosaic law in general.32 Other similar expressions have been found in Jewish literature ‘all of which’ says Moo, ‘clearly denote actions done in obedience to the law’. The term ‘works’ also has essentially the same meaning as ‘works of the law’ in those polemical passages of Romans (cf. 3:20,28; 4:2-6; 9:12) and Galatians (cf. 3:10-13). ‘Works’ are good actions and ‘works of the law’ are ‘simply what we might call “good works” defined in Jewish terms’.33 Paul’s point is that no good works, not even the observing of the Mosaic law, can put the person doing them in a right position before God. He is insisting that no one can be justified by any kind of law-work or human activity, for the simple reason that no one can perform perfect obedience.34 If the Jews with the best law in the world cannot obtain justification through it no one can.

It seems clear that these ‘works’ and ‘works of the law’, which are actions done in obedience to the law, were in some way regarded as meritorious or had some saving value. In Romans Paul stresses, against the Jewish theology of the day, that we are justified not by faith plus works but by faith alone. If Abraham, who lived long before the law separating Israel from the Gentiles was introduced, had been justified by works, then it would have meant that his work deserved payment, God would have been obliged to reward him. It is merit theology that Paul is attacking in Romans 4:4-5. Works have no part in justification. God is under no obligation to justify. It is a free, gracious act of God toward those who have no work, who are in fact ‘wicked’. There can therefore be no boasting in one’s own efforts. To the Galatians who were being tempted to believe that they needed to top up faith with works (i.e. become Jews) in order to be fully justified, Paul tells them in no uncertain terms not to be so foolish. ‘All who rely on observing the law are under a curse’ (3:10), because no one is able to do all the law to such perfection that merit is gained before God.35

Even supposing that ‘works of law’ do refer especially to those ‘boundary markers’ or ‘badges’ such as circumcision, they were not mere national identity markers. A good case has been made out by Seifrid for believing that circumcision was understood in ethical terms.36 Gentiles who converted to Judaism were seen by Jews to be turning from idols to serve the one true God and their circumcision was the sign of this. The case of King Izates demonstrates this clearly. His circumcision was an indication that he had truly conformed to the Law. Circumcision served not merely as a mark of national identity but of faith and piety.37

In addition, some of these so-called ‘badges’ or evidences of national identity were used to segregate Jew from Jew, depending on the group within Judaism to which they belonged. Rival groups existed in Judaism as Wright himself shows.38 Each group had its distinctive ‘works’ which demonstrated their membership of the group. The Qumran writings, for instance, show that only those following the practices characteristic of the community were in the covenant. They are the people of God. It seems clear that the idea of ethnic identity markers has given way to ethical and religious markers that divide the Qumran community from other Jews. ‘Salvation and forgiveness come only to those who have taken on the practices of the community.’39 Such ‘works of the Torah’ marked them out as morally superior to other Jews, never mind Gentiles. This is well on the way to being a religion of works as well as of pride in one’s own group.

This brings us back to our main contention that, notwithstanding the necessary correctives that have been made by Sanders, Wright and others, Palestinian Judaism was more legalistic than these modern scholars think. What is more, to restrict the definition of ‘works of the law’ in any way, as Moo comments, ‘can have the effect of opening the door to the possibility of justification by works’. Not even good works done from the right motive or by God’s enabling grace can justify a person.40 At Romans 3:20 Paul concludes that no one will be declared righteous before God on the basis of observing the law, ‘rather, through the law we become conscious of sin’. This is, as John Stott puts it, ‘the climax of Paul’s argument not just against Jewish self-confidence, but against every attempt at self-salvation . . . what the law brings is the knowledge of sin, not the forgiveness of sin. In spite of the contemporary fashion of saying that Luther got it wrong, I think he got it right’.41

3. Sin

Wright and Dunn reject the idea that Paul lived with an anguished conscience under the law prior to faith in Christ. In this they are following the conclusions of the Lutheran scholar Krister Stendahl who, in an article first published in 1963, criticised the traditional view of the apostle. It had read back into Paul, he argued, the western church’s own preoccupation with a guilty conscience. He claims that, unlike Augustine and Luther, Paul had a ‘robust conscience’ before his conversion, in contrast to the West’s ‘introspective conscience’.42

It may well have been the case, however, that Paul’s conscience was dulled by his religious self-satisfaction. He was able to say concerning the righteousness which is in the law that he was blameless. (Philippians 3:6) Like the rich young ruler questioned by Jesus, Paul could have replied that he had kept all ten commandments from his youth upwards. Not until his self-righteousness was specifically challenged did he begin to realise he had a conscience. Many, like Paul before his conversion, thought themselves righteous because they had never had the implications of God’s law spelled out to them. When John the Baptist, and later Jesus, came preaching repentance, even people like the Pharisees were stirred in their consciences, some confessing their sins, others remaining stubbornly obstinate.

Again, when people are confronted with the stunning presence of the righteous and holy God they are brought to confess their sinfulness. This was the case with Peter as he suddenly began to appreciate the awesome divine glory of Christ: ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ (Luke 5:8). Likewise, when Isaiah saw the glory of the Son of God he said, ‘Woe to me. ..I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips’ (6:1-5). Surely this is what must have happened to the apostle Paul when he came face to face with the risen glorified Lord Jesus Christ on the Damascus road. James Dunn, following the view of Stendahl, sees the Damascus Road experience ‘not as a conversion as such, but as a calling — a commissioning . . . to take the Gospel to the Gentiles’.43 But surely it was both: a conversion as well as a commissioning. As he looks back upon that conversion in Philippians 3:3-9 he speaks of it in terms of justification by faith alone in Christ alone putting ‘no confidence in the flesh’. In 1 Timothy 1: 12-15 Paul refers not only to his call to be a minister of the gospel but to his conversion and he makes this significant confession in verse fifteen: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst’.

It is not only national sin that Paul is speaking of in Galatians and Romans but individual human sin. ‘We have already made the charge’ says Paul in Romans 3:9, ‘that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin’. That this statement is not to be taken merely in a national sense but as a truth which applies to every individual within each nation is clear from Paul’s quotation from the Psalms which immediately follows: ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one’ (Rom. 3:10).

What is more, the trend by Wright and others to regard Paul’s first person references as a stylistic device to mean Israel in passages like Galatians 2:19-20 and Romans 7:7-25 flies in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.44 When Paul uses ‘I’ he is generally referring to himself. He might, occasionally, in a short hypothetical construction use the first person where no personal reference is intended, as in Romans 3:5 (first person plural), but never in such a long passage as Romans 7.45 Dunn, who takes a radically different line to Wright on Romans 7, has to admit that in Romans 7:14-25 some reference to Paul himself cannot be excluded. He comments that the character of the verses as ‘personal testimony is too firmly impressed upon the language to be ignored’.46 We would submit that while the whole passage from verses 7-25 may in a secondary sense be taken to mean the experience of ‘everyman’ or of Israel, it is first and foremost a reference to Paul himself.

It may be, however, that the tenth commandment concerning covetousness, which Paul draws attention to in Romans 7:7-11, is quoted to emphasise the internal nature of the law and the sinful desires that lurk within the human heart. Paul’s pre-conversion conscience was probably not as ‘robust’ as is suggested. External conformity to the law is one thing but the law on covetousness was a reminder to him of the filthiness of the human heart. Paul later reminds the Colossians of the inward sins of ‘lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming’ (3:5-6). Neither the rich young ruler nor Saul of Tarsus would have regarded themselves as idolators. Yet it was this sin of covetousness which was brought to the attention of both the young man and Saul (cf. Mark 10:21-22; Romans 7:7).

In Galatians 2:18 Paul changes from ‘we’ (meaning Jewish believers like Paul and Peter, cf. 2:15-17) to a hypothetical use of ‘I’, in which he applies to himself a charge that is really directed against anyone who tries to build up again what they have formerly destroyed. On the other hand, the emphatic ‘I’ in verse 19 is used representatively of all believers including the apostle. E F Bruce comments that the emphatic ‘I’ suggests that Paul ‘knew in a special way what it meant to die to law’ and certainly by the end of verse 20 ‘it is difficult not to recognize the intense personal feeling in his words’.47 To think of Galatians 2:19-20, therefore, as a reference to Israelis imposing a quite unnatural interpretation on to the text.

The sin of the Jew consists not only in boasting of his Jewish national privileges but in self-righteous boasting of his moral superiority. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector it is not a boasting in Jewish ethnic privilege that we see but self-righteous assurance in a moral superiority gained by works of the law as understood according to the tradition of the elders. It is the repentant tax collector, having nothing to plead but God’s mercy, who is justified. The Pharisee, with all his religious and social advantages, is not justified. In the Old Testament the righteous are often described as poor and needy sinners. This is quite the opposite to the kind of language used by the Pharisee in the parable and by Saul the Pharisee before his conversion. Paul did not become truly aware of the nature of sin until he met up with the Lord.

Augustine, Luther and every evangelical preacher worthy of the name, have all had a healthy and necessary preoccupation with sin for precisely the same reason as Paul. It is biblical. The Old Testament is full of it and Paul presents a list of verses in Romans 3:10-18 to support what he himself has been proving in Romans 1:18-3:9. John the Baptist and Jesus were constantly drawing Jewish attention to sin, not merely to national sin but to individual human sins which were symptomatic of the sinful nature of the human heart. To those aware of their sin and need Jesus was gentle and called them to him. His harshest comments were kept for those who thought themselves righteous, clean and needing nothing. Unless people are made aware of their sin they will not appreciate their need to be justified by God’s grace.

There are passages in the Old Testament ignored by Wright and Dunn which should at least be considered when seeking to interpret those statements by Paul concerning ‘one’s own righteousness’. The ‘righteousnesses’ of which Isaiah 64:6 speaks (‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’) are not Jewish ethnic badges: they are all the good deeds they thought they had done. If they were relying on them to demonstrate their covenant membership Isaiah says, ‘Forget it!’ They are like dirty rags. This is in line with Deuteronomy 9:4-6. God gave Israel the land of Canaan not because of their righteousness or integrity but ‘on account of the wickedness of these nations’ — the nations that were presently occupying it. Righteousness is here contrasted with wickedness. ‘My righteousness’ and ‘your righteousness’ suggest an attitude of moral and religious superiority which merits some benefit. Such an understanding of these phrases from the Jewish Scriptures provides a much better background to Paul’s ‘my own righteousness’ and ‘their own righteousness’ than the views expressed by Wright, Dunn and Garlington. ‘National righteousness’ is not the whole picture or even the most important part of the picture.

4. Curse

As we saw in the last chapter Wright argues that Paul accepted a belief among Jewish writers of the time that the Jewish people were still experiencing the curse of exile as set out in the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 27. If they were still under the curse, this raised the difficulty of how God’s promise to Abraham concerning Gentile blessing could ever be fulfilled. In Galatians 3:6-14, where the promise to Abraham and the curses of the covenant are quoted (3:8; 3:10), Paul shows how Christ has resolved the problem. According to Wright, ‘the covenant has reached its climax in the death of Messiah’. On this understanding Galatians 3:13 means that Christ has redeemed ‘us’ Jews who were under the curse. The curse of exile being ended, blessing can now flow to the Gentiles (3:14).

This is certainly a very radical treatment of the passage. Division of opinion does exist over whether the first person plural means all Christians or Jewish Christians,48 but to suggest that it is a reference to the Jewish nation who are still suffering the curse of exile is quite breath-taking. There are a number of factors which tell against this understanding of the passage.

For one thing, it is a debatable point whether the Jews generally saw themselves as still under the curse of the exile. It seems only to have been a minority view. But even if that were the case, preaching a gospel concerning the crucified Christ now risen who had brought to an end Israel’s exile, would hardly have made the cross an offence and an occasion of stumbling for the Jew. The curse which Christ took is first and foremost the wrath of God on account of human sin.

It is not the most natural way of reading the passage. While differences remain as to whether the ‘us’ in Galatians 3:13 means all Christians or Jewish Christians, there has been general agreement that it refers to Christians. We would go further and point out that the ‘we’ of verse 14b (‘so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit’) surely includes the Gentiles of verse 14a (‘that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus’). This would suggest that the ‘us’ in verse 13 has Gentile as well as Jewish believers in mind.

The wider context suggests that the reference in verse 13 is neither to Jews nor to Jewish believers only but to believers generally. In verse 1 Paul commences with a reference to his preaching of the cross and its powerful effects on the Galatians and follows this up in verses 2 to 5 with a reference to their experience of the Spirit. These are the very matters which are brought together again in verses 13 and 14. To bring in a reference to Israel and the curse of exile seems quite out of place.

Besides the quotations from Genesis 12:3 and Deuteronomy 27:26, Paul uses two other verses from the Old Testament, namely, Habakkuk 2:4 and Leviticus 18:5. It is significant that both of them refer to individuals within the nation: ‘the righteous’ person, the remnant within Israel, and ‘the man who does these things’. As Wright correctly observes, a common feature of both quotations is the word ‘life’, which is ‘the chief blessing of the covenant, as death is its chief curse (Deuteronomy 30:15).’ The life/death theme at the close of the Pentateuch leads us back to the beginning, to Genesis 2, to the tree of life and the warning that disobedience leads to death. In using these two quotations Paul emphasises that justification is by faith and not by works. It is the one who is righteous by faith who will live. Justification is associated with faith alone. The curse of death is the result of trying to observe the law in order to be justified. No sinful human being can keep the law perfectly. When Paul, in the very next verse declares that ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (verse 13) it is the curse of death that springs to mind not the curse of exile.

Then again, the quotation in verse 13 from Deuteronomy 21:23 (‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’) provides the most natural understanding of the curse in this context. It does not refer to the curse of exile for the nation Israel but to individuals within Israel who are guilty of a capital offence. In the final analysis it then points to Christ who bears the just punishment which all sin deserves. In the words of Ardel Caneday, ‘Deuteronomy 21:22-23 prepares for and anticipates Christ’s curse bearing upon the cross. The corpse of the covenant-breaker is hung “upon the tree” as a gruesome sign that he is an object of curse. He is suspended between heaven and earth, exposed to the vengeance of God to propitiate his wrath’.49 The leaders in the sin of Baal Peor were killed and, in accordance with the requirement of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, their bodies exposed ‘in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel’ (Numbers 25:5; cf. also 2 Samuel 21:6-14). Such incidents from the Old Testament anticipate and point forward to the curse that Christ endured on the cross. Other New Testament writers also allude to Deuteronomy 21:23 when they describe the cross as a ‘tree’ in Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; 1 Peter 2:24. Such passages suggest wide debate between the followers of Jesus and non-Christian Jews over whether one who was ‘hung on a tree’ in crucifixion, cursed by God, could be the Messiah.

Isaiah is describing this same curse situation in chapter 53 of his prophecy when he writes, ‘he was despised, and we esteemed him not . . . we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted’ (vv. 3-4). Though Isaiah speaks of the exile and the return in chapter forty and elsewhere, that is not how he describes the sufferings of the Servant of the Lord. The people, on account of whose sins he suffered, are those not only from Israel but from ‘many nations’ (52:15). The Suffering Servant bears the sins of many. ‘The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (53:6). He bears the awful punishment which sin deserves: ‘the punishment that brought us peace was upon him’ (53:5). This is the context for understanding the death of Christ and his propitiatory sacrifice in Romans 3:24-25 and Galatians 3:10-13.

If, as Wright expresses it, Messiah comes under the curse of the law in order to be Israel’s ‘redeeming representative’, this leaves us with the impression that in Paul’s theology the Messiah does not directly die for the sins of Gentiles. It becomes a secondary issue arising out of Messiah’s concern to exhaust the curse on Israel. Ronald Fung, in his criticism of similar views proposed earlier by Duncan and Donaldson, argues that ‘the Gentiles must themselves be redeemed from the curse before they can receive the blessing of Abraham.’ Though the Gentiles do not possess the Mosaic law, they do have ‘the equivalent of the law within their hearts and consciences and are in principle subject to its curse’ (cf. Romans 2:12-15).50

5. Justification/Righteousness

Recent scholarship generally understands these terms against the background of God’s covenantal relationship with his creatures and particularly his chosen people.51 Wright accepts these findings and has a very simple solution to the problem surrounding the meaning of the terms. He maintains that God’s righteousness is his faithfulness to his covenant. His people’s righteousness is covenant member status given by God and justification is God’s declaration that believers are covenant members. This, as Wright acknowledges, is a controversial point and, in the light of our discussion of the ‘right’ word group and Paul’s use of the terms, it is surely wrong to force every reference into this mould. For instance, the expression ‘the righteousness of God’ could refer to God’s righteous character. This meaning is very suitable in Romans 3:26 and is supported by Douglas Moo, Cranfield and Lloyd-Jones.52 In Romans 1:17, on the other hand, it can be thought of as God’s gift of a right legal status, or God’s righteous activity in being faithful to the covenant. Indeed, it may be Paul’s short-hand way of including more than one idea. John Stott even suggests that the phrase means at one and the same time God’s attribute, activity and gift!53

Is it an acceptable insight to consider justification in terms of God’s declaration of covenant membership? In Galatians and Romans it is certainly true that one of Paul’s concerns is to show who belongs to the covenant community. We applaud Dr. Wright for pressing home this point. It is quite another matter to make this the only concern and to define justification in these terms. To do so is to ignore or fail to do justice to other references. Paul speaks not only in a general way of Jew and Gentile together as the children of Abraham and members of the covenant, but in very personal terms of Christ’s love for him and of being right with God. Can Wright be allowed to give justification an entirely new meaning simply because this is what he claims it means in the context of the covenant?

It is true, as we have shown in the previous chapter, that Wright mentions the legal background to the term ‘justification’ and that it is the Hebrew lawcourt scene in particular that is in mind. However, it is a particular aspect of this background, namely the covenant concept, which is used by Wright to understand the Pauline texts. This is not wrong in itself but what happens is that a subtle shift takes place in the meaning of justification whereby the word is no longer associated with that which is right in God’s estimation, with God’s broken law, with God’s justice and the punishment of sinners. All the emphasis falls on covenant community status, on God’s pronouncement of a person’s legal status within the righteous community. This is not the emphasis in the biblical understanding of God’s justification of sinners.

In the final analysis the justification of the ungodly is not about who belongs to the covenant community but about a person’s right standing before God. Wright might argue that this is involved when he describes justification as a matter of covenant membership because it is based on the ‘representative death and resurrection of Jesus’. He can say in connection with Romans 4:24-25 that the resurrection ‘is God’s declaration that Jesus, and hence his people, are in the right before God.’54 But that is not what comes across in his neat definitions. We cannot take the important subject of our standing before God for granted. It must be clearly present in any definition of justification. As we have explained in chapter five, justification is the declaration of a verdict of not guilty and of being in a right legal position before God. It is significant that no mention is made by Wright of the fact that justification is the opposite of condemnation. Yet in Romans 5 and 8 this is how we find it described. ‘Justify’ is used in opposition to ‘condemn’. Moreover, righteousness is paralleled with obedience to God’s will and standards and unrighteousness with disobedience to God’s will. The overwhelming body of scholarly opinion directs us to this conclusion that it refers to a right legal position before God. We concur with Leon Morris in holding that ‘justification is in essence a matter of right status or standing in the sight of God, the status which shows that we are accepted with him.’55

Membership of God’s covenant people then, is not what justification really means. Covenant family membership is, as we shall argue in the final chapter, one of the results of justification along with sonship or adoption which is closely associated with it. Those not condemned and who are in a right position before God through faith in Christ receive the Spirit of sonship, belong to Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise and members of the righteous community (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 3:24, 26-29; 4:4-7).

If then the essence of justification is God’s legal pronouncement that those who belong to Christ are righteous in his sight, Wright’s dismissal of the doctrine of imputation must be challenged. Justification involves the non-imputation of sin on the one hand, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on the other. In Romans 4:7-8 Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 in which David speaks of the happiness of the person whose sins are forgiven, ‘whose sin the Lord will never count against him’. Paul uses this along with the quotation from Genesis 15:6 to argue for a righteousness credited to the believer by God. This righteousness is associated in Romans 5 with the obedience of Christ, an obedience that characterised his whole life and culminated in his death on the cross (5:18-19; Philippians 2:8).

Paul’s argument concerns the gift of righteousness by which the believer is justified. The gift is not only the status of being in a right legal position before God but having Christ’s moral righteousness credited to the believer. As once we stood in the guilt and sin of Adam so now we stand in the righteousness of Christ. Union with Christ in his life, death, resurrection and ascension is essential for understanding our righteous position before God. It is in Christ that we are forgiven and stand righteous in God’s presence.

According to Wright, 2 Corinthians 5:21 has nothing to do with imputed righteousness. Paul’s statement that ‘in him we might become the righteousness of God’ is taken to mean that he has become a new covenant ambassador, a living embodiment of the covenant faithfulness of God. ‘He has become, by the Spirit, the incarnation of the covenant faithfulness of God’.56 As with his interpretation of Galatians 3:13 this is not the most natural and obvious way of understanding the text. Can the verb ‘become’ bear such a startling meaning as ‘becomes the living embodiment of’ or ‘incarnation of’? There is no justification for it in the text. In addition, the balance between the two halves of the verse is lost and the full paradoxical nature of the language which Paul is so fond of using, is reduced.

We believe that the Reformers got it right. Here is the great exchange that Luther found so precious. The Lord Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us. Sin was imputed to him. All our transgressions and iniquities were put to his account and he himself received the divine punishment. This was in order that in union with Christ we might not only have a righteous status before God but have placed to our account the moral righteousness of Christ who fulfilled all God’s righteous requirements. In 1 Corinthians 1:30 the same thought is presented: Christ Jesus ‘has become for us... our righteousness’. Paul again expresses the truth in Philippians 3:9 when he speaks of being found in Christ, ‘not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith’.57

6. Faith

Wright objects to the Reformed position which presents faith as the means or instrument of our justification because, in his view, it merges justification with the atonement and makes faith a luxury.58 There have been those who have thought in terms of the justification of the elect from eternity, which would have the effect of downplaying the importance of faith, but this is a minority view.59 One argument often used in support of this notion of eternal justification is to couple it with the justification of Christ in his resurrection (cf. Romans 4:25). But it is misleading to think of the elect being justified in the resurrection of Christ prior to faith and the New Testament does not speak in this way. The elect are not justified until they embrace Christ by faith. This has been the evangelical Protestant position, and thus Wright is criticising not the Reformed position but a distortion of it.

Wright’s position moves in the direction of merging justification with regeneration when he speaks of justification on the basis of faith, because God would be justifying on the ground of a change within the sinner. Of course, justification takes place in the context of regeneration: justification is never divorced from regeneration, just as justification is not divorced from sanctification. Nevertheless, as justification must not be confused with sanctification, so justification must not be confused with regeneration. God does not justify sinners on account of the Spirit’s work in granting faith.

According to Wright’s definition, God would be declaring a person to be in the covenant on the basis of a fait accompli. God sees faith which is already an indication of covenant membership and so he pronounces a person justified, i.e. a member of the covenant. This is saying, in effect, that God justifies those who have been justified! There is something nonsensical about such a description of justification. He objects to the idea that justification is about how a person becomes a Christian because as he understands it justification is a declaration that one is already a Christian. In Wright’s interpretation, the person has already heard that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord, has responded by being baptised and has begun to live as a member of Christ’s family. Justification becomes a confirmation that one is a Christian. But the apostle goes out of his way to show that God pronounces justified the ungodly and wicked when they look to Christ alone to save them. It is at the point of entry into the Christian life that the pronouncement is made. What is more, justification is never on the basis of faith but always through or by faith. It is important to stress again in the light of what Wright says that God does not justify because he sees evidence of a change in the person. It is through faith, through self-despairing trust in Christ alone that God pronounces us not guilty.

Wright’s proposal to use the expression ‘justification by belief’, which he himself admits will be frowned on by many, is unacceptable and contrary to the biblical evidence. Faith as the badge of new covenant membership is now being defined in terms of assent to a Trinitarian belief. The ‘boundary-marker’ of the early Christian communities, he argues, is ‘the confession which we find in 1 Corinthians 8:6: One God, one Lord’. It is, he suggests, ‘a rewriting’ of the Jewish confession of faith, the Shema, of Deuteronomy 6:4 ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’60 The biblical understanding of faith involves not merely an acceptance of a Trinitarian belief but a personal reliance on the person and work of Christ alone. When Paul discusses justification by faith in Romans and Galatians he is at pains to show that it is through faith in the sense of trust that we are justified. God is the one ‘who justifies those who have faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:26). ‘So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ’ (Galatians 2:16).


There are a number of serious dangers in the approach of Wright, Dunn and other revisionists like them. No doubt they would want to argue that every position has its dangers and to add that they have sought to guard against going down blind alleys. Nevertheless, for the sake of others, especially those who, unlike the scholars we are criticising, have not had the privilege of growing up in an atmosphere where the gospel rediscovered by the Reformers was preached and loved, it is necessary to warn and to pinpoint areas of deep concern.

1. An inadequate view of sin.

There is the danger of not treating sin with the seriousness it deserves. Can Luther’s quest for a guilt-free conscience before the good and pure God be dismissed merely as a western preoccupation? Are we not rather in danger of being influenced by an age which dismisses absolute standards of right and wrong and has a very superficial attitude to sin? The emphasis on viewing the law of Moses in the context of the history of salvation, right though that is in itself, is adding to this inadequate view of sin. The law of Moses is also part of the holy Scriptures which are able to make us ‘wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15). The Old Testament law as preached by Moses, the prophets and the New Testament, and as lived out by our Lord himself, is the means of leading us to Christ by awakening those so-called ‘robust’ consciences and bringing us to the end of ourselves.

2. Underestimating the human tendency to trust in one’s own efforts to gain favour and acceptance with God.

Wright is correct to draw our attention to the issue of ‘racialism’ and ‘nomism’. Paul does attack Jewish dependence on belonging to the race of the Old Testament covenant community (cf. Galatians 4:24-25; Philippians 3:5). The apostle also confronts those who depend on keeping some kind of works for staying in after depending on grace for getting in (‘nomism’) as we have seen in Galatians 3:3. Where Wright and others go wrong is in dismissing legalism as an important factor in Judaism of the New Testament period and, as a consequence, failing to show that it was the main issue in Paul’s confrontation with the Jews. It must never be forgotten that self-satisfaction and pride in human achievement, using religious devotion to establish a claim on God, is typical of fallen human nature in every generation and in every part of the world despite protestations to the contrary. Reinterpreting the New Testament material to remove the evidence that the Jews thought in this way is, as we have sought to argue, quite inadmissible.

3. Presenting justification more in the context of the church than of salvation.

Instead of the emphasis being placed on the sinner’s status before God this newer understanding is making the sinner’s acceptance in the church (covenant community) primary. Wright maintains that ‘the idea of justification properly belongs not in an individualistic soteriology but in the context of God’s affirmation that this or that person is a member of his covenant family.’61 Indeed, not only justification, but sin and the cross are thought of in terms of the community rather than of the individual. There may be some truth in the allegation that certain branches of evangelicalism have encouraged an individualistic, anti-church mentality. But the pendulum has shifted in the other direction with the stress on the church, and this is again something which Rome finds very acceptable. The individual’s standing before God must never be allowed to take second place. Paul was able to write to the Galatians of the Son of God ‘who loved me and gave himself for me’.

There is the danger of thinking that the particular group with its badge is the all-important thing. True, Wright would say that his teaching on Christ as our representative guards against such a false view. Nevertheless, it is necessary to give a warning when justification is described in terms of covenant membership and the badge of faith is spoken of as the boundary marker. The whole biblical revelation directs us to understand that the fundamental nature of the human predicament is not a matter of alienation from the group but alienation from God. What is more, sin is rebellion against God and he is right to be angry and to punish sinners. Justification speaks of the divine grace through Christ pronouncing such sinners to be in a right legal position before him. ‘The Pauline Gospel has a heavenly horizon in view’.62

There needs to be a reassertion of the biblical doctrine of the remnant. The covenant community of the first century represented by the Pharisees and Sadducees despised and rejected Jesus as it had done the true prophets of old. Outcasts like ‘the tax collectors and sinners’ who repented of their sin and turned to Christ belonged to the true people of God and went home justified. In the sixteenth century ‘the covenant community’ represented by pope and prelates excommunicated and burned many Protestants, who were, nevertheless, assured that they were right with God. The individual’s standing before God is primary and any interpretation which weakens that emphasis must be challenged. This understanding of justification is not individualistic in the way so often associated with modern western secular society. In Mark Seifrid’s words, ‘Rather than standing in opposition to the corporate dimension of Christianity, the article on justification provides its necessary precondition’.63

4. Presenting justification more in relational than judicial terms.

This is probably the most subtle of all the dangers. It arises out of the modern appreciation of justification’s covenantal setting. Great stress is placed on viewing the lawcourt language within the context of the Hebrew covenant. This is a helpful insight but it does have its drawbacks in that it can actually underplay the very judicial element it is meant to support. When we think of God’s covenant with his people the relational element is uppermost in mind and in that context justification and righteousness are seen primarily as relational words. The legal implications in the word ‘justification’ are then coloured by the covenantal where the people are collectively described as God’s son and he is their Father, or as God’s wife and he is their husband. It is easy therefore to blur the distinction between the Father/son, Husband/wife relationship which God has with his people within the covenant community and the Judge/sinner situation that exists between God and his rebellious creatures. This is something we shall come back to in the final chapter when we consider God our Judge.

At a time when the forensic or judicial dimension is increasingly being dismissed as medieval we need to be on our guard. There is not only a broken relationship, but a broken law and a new legal position where God is now the Judge and all humanity face him as guilty, condemned sinners. The questions put to Adam and Eve in Eden demanding an account of their disobedience, point to the divine Judge, as do the verdict and sentence that follow. Again, in relation to the impending judgment on Sodom, Abraham pleads, ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 3:9-24; 18:25). God passes judgment on their rebellion and this is followed by punishment.

The biblical truths concerning God’s punishment of sinners and the reality of hell emphasise the judicial in a very glaring and awesome way. Justification, therefore, must be viewed against that dark scene. More than a restored relationship is involved. Justification has to do with the removal of God’s wrath which hangs over us and our being constituted righteous in his sight. All of which takes place in Christ our representative and substitute who kept the law on our behalf and was punished in our place and thus we are pronounced by the divine Judge to be in a right legal position before him.

5. The new position on justification has no place for the imputed righteousness of Christ’s life.

‘The righteousness of Christ’ is not a Pauline expression according to Wright and so there is no need for a verb such as ‘to impute’ to describe how one lot of righteousness gets from A to B. This means that such expressions as being clothed in Christ’s righteousness about which we sing in our hymns do not, according to these scholars, accurately convey the biblical truth. But the apostle Paul does refer to Christ as ‘our righteousness’ in 1 Corinthians 1:30 and justification is described in Romans 4:1-13 and 5:17-19 as both the non-imputation of sin and the imputation of righteousness. Though Wright would say it was out of the question, a denial of this truth certainly leaves the door ajar for moralism and legalism to enter with all their accompanying evils.

6. It has the effect of marginalizing the evangelical significance of Christ’s death.

The cross and resurrection of Jesus are important in Wright’s understanding of justification and he does refer to Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. However, if justification is defined as covenant membership, the propitiatory nature of Christ’s death is no longer seen to be essential. What is more, key verses, such as Galatians 3:13 are being reinterpreted so that they no longer apply as once they did in our understanding of the atonement.

Stephen Travis, Vice-Principal and lecturer in New Testament at St. John’s College, Nottingham, has made use of Wright’s understanding of Galatians 3:13 in an essay which seeks to prove that Paul did not have a retributive understanding of Christ’s death. ‘I have argued’, says Travis, ‘that Paul’s understanding of the death of Christ does not include the idea that he bore the retributive punishment for our sins which otherwise would have to be inflicted on us.’64 This is no isolated case, it is becoming a far too common feature in evangelical scholarly circles to minimize and even to deny Christ’s death as a propitiatory sacrifice.65 All the emphasis lies on expiating sin, none on appeasing the wrath of God. They may believe in substitution but not in propitiation. The modern phraseology often used is ‘absorbing sin’ and ‘outlasting evil’. ‘Standing where we stand, he bore the consequences of our alienation from God. In so doing he absorbed and exhausted them, so that they should not fall on us.’ Enduring the God-ordained consequences of human sinfulness is ‘not the same as to say that he bore our punishment.’66

God’s justification of sinners is no longer inextricably linked to Christ’s death as a propitiatory sacrifice. Yet the only way a righteous God can justify the ungodly without compromising his own righteous character is by the loving act of propitiating his own wrath. He has done this through the sacrifice of His Son who not only represents sinners but stands in their place and takes the full force of God’s wrath. Christ as substitute, bearing the punishment that sinners deserve and so propitiating the divine wrath, of foundational importance to a previous generation of evangelical scholars in appreciating God’s justifying grace, does not seem to figure strongly, if at all, in this new understanding of the cross.67 The words of Packer are apposite at this point when he reminds us that ‘penal substitutionary atonement and the righteous justification of sinners are the two sides of a single coin, the two elements in the one saving transaction whereby God rescues us from hell.’68

7. Justification is no longer ‘the article on which the church stands or falls’.

Wright is correct to emphasise what many commentators have failed to notice or stress in the past, that there is a wider dimension to Paul’s treatment of the subject in Galatians 3-4 and parts of Romans. He is right to expound justification as part of the historical outworking of God’s overall plan of salvation in which Jew and Gentile are united in Christ. According to Wright, however, we must resist the temptation to regard the Pauline doctrine of justification as the article by which the church stands or falls. Other doctrines such as the Trinity would be better placed to merit that distinction, he suggests. He also points out that we are justified by believing in Christ and not by believing in the doctrine of justification. While it is true that our trust is in Christ and not a doctrine, we must not drive a wedge between the person and the truth connected with him. If the doctrine of justification by faith alone is not clearly presented, there will soon arise a distorted message and people will be led to trust a distorted Christ.

The importance of justification in the gospel message and the church’s life deserves a separate chapter and it is to this matter that we now turn.


  1. . E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, SCM, 1977. Cf. also Paul, the Law and the Jewish People, SCM, 1983.
  2. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, p. 57.
  3. The New Testament and the People of God, p. 335.
  4. Cf. D. A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1981, pp. 87-89. ‘Essentially, then, E. P. Sanders is correct in his basic contentions, and Bousset, Billerbeck, Bultmann et al, are basically incorrect when they deal with the same areas.’
  5. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, p. 183-198.
  6. Carson, Divine Sovereignty, p. 91; cf. G. B. Caird, reviewing Sanders’ book in Journal of Theological Studies 29, 1978, pp. 539-40, who also criticises him for ignoring the legalistic drift in Jewish theology.
  7. Cf. R. H. Gundry, ‘Grace, Works, and Staying Saved in Paul’, Biblica 60, 1985, pp. 35-36.
  8. Gundry, ‘Grace, Works, and Staying Saved in Paul’, p. 12.
  9. Carson, Divine Sovereignty, pp. 69, 106.
  10. Cf. S. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, Schocken Books, 1961, p. 174.
  11. 1QS 3:6-8, 8:6-10, 9:4-5. Cf. F. Garcia Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, Brill, 1994, pp. 3, 12-13.
  12. M. A. Seifrid, ‘Justification by Faith: The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme’, Supplements to Novum Testamentum, vol. LXVIII, Brill, 1992, pp. 89-99; cf. also Carson, Divine Sovereignty, pp. 75-83.
  13. 1QS 5:20-24. Cf. Martinez, p. 9.
  14. Seifrid, ‘Justification by Faith’, p. 133.
  15. M. A. Seifrid, ‘Blind Alleys in the Controversy over the Paul of History’, Tyndale Bulletin, 45.1, 1994, p. 82.
  16. Antiquities, viii. 295.
  17. Carson, Divine Sovereignty, p. 112.
  18. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, p. 409. Cf. C. L. Quarles, ‘The Soteriology of R. Akiba and E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism’, New Testament Studies 42, 1966, pp. 185-195. Quarles shows that older rabbis like Gamaliel II clearly held the view that the divine standard of justice required perfection, as expressed by Paul in Galatians 3:10, a point which Sanders seems to have forgotten. Rabbi Akiba revised this extreme view by arguing that ‘although judgment was based in divine goodness or righteousness, judgment based upon the majority of deeds rather than the totality of deeds was somehow possible’. His words ‘all is according to the amount of the work’ suggest a balancing of good deeds and evil deeds (cf. Mishnah Aboth 3.16).
  19. J. R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, IVP, 1994, p. 27.
  20. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 29.
  21. . D. J. Moo, “Law”, “Works of the Law” and Legalism in Paul’, Westminster Theological Journal 45, 1983, p. 80-82.
  22. Moo, “Law”, pp. 85-90.
  23. Moo, “Law”, pp. 84-85. For the moral teaching behind the so-called ‘ceremonial’ law, cf. G. J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, Eerdmans, 1979, p. 18-25; 274-5.
  24. Our Lord recognised primary laws: Matthew 23:23; Mark 12:29-31; cf. also 9:13.

    This is in line with the Torah itself, cf. Deuteronomy 6:5. Leviticus 19:18 also ‘epitomizes and expresses the principles governing all the laws that surround it’ (cf. G. J. Wenham, Leviticus, p. 274). The Decalogue is also given unique status within the Torah itself: ‘the ten commandments’ (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:17), ‘the words of the covenant (Exodus 34:28), ‘the tablets of testimony’ written with ‘the finger of God’ (Exodus 3 1:18), and placed in the Ark (Exodus 40:20). Reference is made to all ten in the New Testament (cf. Mark 10:19; Romans 13:9; etc.).
  25. F F Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), Paternoster, 1982, p. 181.
  26. Wenham, Leviticus, p. 269-270.
  27. Cf. Josephus, Antiquities, 20.34-48.
  28. M. A. Seifrid, ‘The Pauline Gospel in a Postmodern Age’, note 16, p. 205 in D. S. Dockery (editor), The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement, A Bridgepoint book, 1995. Cf. N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p.232.
  29. J. Calvin, Institutes, Bk.3, ch. xi, para. 19, p. 749. (Calvin refers to Origen but according to Battles note 36 the reference is to Pelagius).
  30. Moo, “Law”, “Works of the Law” and Legalism in Paul’, p. 90-100. Cf. also D. J. Moo, Romans 1-8, The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary, Moody, 1991, pp. 210-211.
  31. K. R. Snodgrass, ‘Justification by Grace - to the Doers: an Analysis of the Place of Romans 2 in the Theology of Paul’, New Testament Studies 32, 1986, p. 84 and D. P. Fuller, ‘Paul and “The Works of the Law” Westminster Theological Journal 38, 1975, pp. 31-33.
  32. Qumran reference, 4QFlor 1:7 in F Garcia Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, p. 136. Cf. also the Halakhic Letter, 4QMMT, Martinez, pp. 76-85.
  33. Moo, Romans, pp. 209-210.
  34. Cf. C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, Vol.1, T. & T. Clark, 1975, pp. 197-198.
  35. Moo, “Law”, “Works of the Law” and Legalism in Paul’, p. 98.
  36. Seifrid, Tyndale Bulletin, 45.1, pp. 77-79.
  37. Seifrid, ‘Pauline Gospel in a Postmodern Age’, pp. 196-197.
  38. The New Testament and the People of God, pp. 167-214.
  39. Seifrid, ‘Justification by Faith’, pp. 88f.; Tyndale Bulletin, 45.1, pp. 79-8 1.
  40. Moo, Romans, p. 210.
  41. Stott, Romans, p. 104.
  42. . K. Stendahl’s original article The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West, is reprinted in Paul among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays, SCM, 1977, pp. 78-96.
  43. J. D. G. Dunn, Theology of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, Cambridge, 1993, p. 68. In a private communication Dr. Wright agrees with me on this point against Dunn.
  44. Cf. Moo, Romans, p. 452 note 7 for a full list of those who take this view.
  45. While Douglas Moo argues the case for taking the ‘I’ in Romans 7 to mean ‘Paul in solidarity with Israel’ he finds that more and more scholars are insisting that ‘some reference to Paul himself cannot be excluded’, cf. Romans, pp. 451-456, 466-467.
  46. Cf. Dunn, Romans 1-8, p. 405.
  47. F F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Paternoster, 1982, pp. 143,146.
  48. J. G. Machen argues for Jews only in Machen’s Notes on Galatians, ed. J. H. Skilton, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973, p. 179.
  49. A. Caneday, “Redeemed From the Curse of the Law” The Use of Deut. 21:22-23 in Gal. 3:13’, Trinity Journal, Vol. 10 No.2, 1989, p. 208.
  50. R. Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, Eerdmans, 1988, p. 149. Wright believes that he strengthens the position of T. L. Donaldson’s study, “The ‘curse of the Law’ and the Inclusion of the Gentiles: Galatians 3.13-14”, New Testament Studies 32, 1986. An earlier view to that of Donaldson was held by G. S. Duncan, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, Hodder and Stoughton, 1934, p. 99.
  51. Cf. D. B. Garlington, ‘Righteousness’ in The New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, IVP, 1995.
  52. Moo, Romans, p. 242; Cranfield, Romans, p. 211; D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans 3:20-4:25, Atonement and Justification, p. 98.
  53. Stott, Romans, p. 63.
  54. Wright, ‘Justification’, New Dictionary of Theology, p. 360.
  55. L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Tyndale Press, 1960, p. 266.
  56. Cf. N. T. Wright, ‘On becoming the righteousness of God: 2 Corinthians 5:21’, in Pauline Theology Volume II, ed. D. M. Hay, Fortress Press, 1993, pp. 200-208.
  57. In Justification by Faith: Can we get it right now? Tyndale Lecture, 1994, Wright admitted that 1 Corinthians 1:30 was a reference to Christ’s righteousness. Its relevance to the subject of imputed righteousness was dismissed by reasoning that no one believes in the imputation of Christ’s wisdom. But then the language of imputation is never used in the Bible of wisdom or, for that matter, of sanctification and redemption, but it is used of righteousness.
  58. Wright, ‘Justification: The Biblical Basis & its Relevance for Contemporary Evangelicalism’ in The Great Acquittal, ed. Gavin Reid, 1980, pp. 26, 30.
  59. Cf. L. Berkhof, Systematic theology, Banner of Truth, 1958, pp. 517-520; Wright, ‘Justification...’, p. 110 note 9: ‘it is even possible to speak of the atonement itself as the justification of those in Christ, in that in the resurrection God declares that the Messiah, and hence his people, are in the right’. He cites T. F Torrance and Karl Barth as holding this view. Cf. also G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification, ch. VI ‘Justification from Eternity’, Eerdmans, 1954, pp. 143-168 for a critique of this view.
  60. Wright, Climax of the Covenant, p. 2. Cf. also pp. 120-137.
  61. Wright, Climax of the Covenant, p.203.
  62. M. Seifrid, ‘Pauline Gospel in a Postmodern Age’, p. 194.
  63. M. Seifrid, ‘Blind Alleys’, p. 93.
  64. S. H. Travis, ‘Christ as Bearer of Divine Judgment in Paul’s Thought about the Atonement’, in Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ, eds. J. B. Green and M. Turner, Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1994, p. 344.
  65. Cf. J. D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, p. 171, where he criticises Ridderbos for being ‘surprisingly and unjustifiably dogmatic on the issue on the side of Morris’. Also, J. M. Gundry-Volf, ‘Expiation, Propitiation, Mercy Seat’ in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, eds. G. F Hawthorne, R. P. Martin, D. G. Reid, IVP, 1993, p. 282, ‘In summary, not “propitiatory” but “expiatory” is the more appropriate description of Christ’s atoning death’.
  66. Travis, p. 345.
  67. Cf. J. B. Green, ‘Death of Christ’ in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, pp. 207-208 and J. D. G. Dunn in ‘Paul’s Understanding of the Death of Jesus’ in Reconciliation and Hope, ed. R. Banks, Eerdmans, 1974, pp. 139-141 who prefers to describe Christ’s death as representative rather than substitutionary.
  68. J. I. Packer, ‘Evangelicals and the Way of Salvation: New Challenges to the Gospel - Universalism, and Justification by Faith’ in Evangelical Affirmations, Academie/Zondervan, 1990, p. 129.


A native of Wrexham, Philip Eveson obtained his initial degree in Biblical Studies at the University College of North Wales, Bangor. From there he was awarded a scholarship to read Theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He later gained his MTh in Hebrew and Aramaic Studies at King's College, London and is a member of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research. After a year at the Presbyterian Theological College, Aberystwyth, he served churches in South Wales before moving to London, where he has been Minister of Kensit Evangelical Church for the past twenty-three years. Since its inception in 1977, he has been Resident Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical Languages and Exegesis at the London Theological Seminary. Philip has also preached and lectured in the Far East and Ghana, is Chairman of the Red Sea Mission Team British Home Council and a Director of Go Teach. He is married to Jennifer and they have one daughter.

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