Friday, September 07, 2007

Simon Gathercole on Paul and Justification

Simon Gathercole (formerly of Aberdeen University and now at Cambridge University [sigh]) is one of the rising luminaries of biblical studies in the UK. His work on Pauline soteriology, Synoptic Christology, and now also the Gospels of Thomas and Judas demonstrate a breadth and depth of learning that few scholars of his age are able to master. Simon is probably best known for his contribution to debates about Paul's view of justification and the New Perspective on Paul. In his book, Where Is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5 he sets forth a case that boasting in Judaism was not limited to boasting in election against Gentiles, but also pertained to boasting in deeds of obedience towards God (see p. 263). His recent CT article "What Did Paul Really Mean?" sets up the limitations and oversights of the New Perspective (while I like the article for the most part there are a few points I'd tinker with or qualify). However, I think it is worth pointing out that Simon (who is a jolly good fellow by the way) remains in some proximity to Tom Wright on several points, far more than what many onlookers in the debate realize. Let me give two examples:

1. Works and the Final Judgment.

One area of contention in recent debates is the role of works in relation to justification, particularly eschatological justification. Gathercole and Wright both (correctly I think) opt for the Gentile reading of Romans 2.6-29. Gathercole writes:

"Finally, if the law-abiding Gentiles in 2.14-15 are Christians, then the statement in 2.13 can by no means be dismissed as merely hypothetical or ad hominem. Rather, in the company of statements about the reward of eternal life for obedience in 2.7, 10, 26-27 and 29, Rom. 2.13-16 must point to a stronger theology of final vindication on the basis of an obedient life than is evident in most analyses of Pauline theology." (Simon J. Gathercole, “Law unto Themselves: The Gentiles in Romans 2.14-15 Revisited,” JSNT 85 [2002]: 48).

See also an excerpt from Gathercole's book Where is the Boasting? on James 2 where he states:

"The issue, then, that has caused most problems is not what James denies but what he affirms: that is, that a person is justified by works (2:22a). There is only space here for a very simple taxonomy of treatments of this issue. Solutions to this problem divide roughly into three approaches. In this first, works are described as evidential rather than as the instrumental cause of justification as traditionally understood. This falls down however, since in 2:24 (”you see that a man is justified by works”), James does describe works as the means to eschatological justification. The second approach attempts to reconfigure justification as something different from Pauline justification. This is in part correct: James does not (at least here in James 2) have a “realized” conception of a justification “already,” as Paul does. Nevertheless, it is difficult, as D. J. Moo (to cite the most recent exponent) reckons, to say that James’s “is justified” does not belong in the category of justification but is more “final judgment.” This seems to be a somewhat casuistical approach to solving the Paul-James problem. A third approach sees James as in some continuity with his Jewish background on the issue. Thus, works have a genuine instrumental role in eschatological justification for the believers James is addressing" (Where is the Boasting? 117-18).

Thus, Gathercole sees in NT sotierology (and even in Paul) strong grounds for regarding works as part and parcel of final justification. In his conclusion he states:

"The NT also shows evidence of belief in final vindication on the basis of obedience among Christians. However, Paul has an understanding of obedience that is radically different from that of his Jewish contemporaries. We saw above that, for Paul, divine action is both the source and continuous cause of obedience for the Christian" (Where is the Boasting? 264).

While the reason why the law cannot justify is the "weakness of the flesh", nonetheless: "This does not permit a return tout simple to Lutheran theology (while God does initially 'justify the ungodly,' the indwelling of Christ and the Spirit enables obedience that culminates in final justification), but neither is the New Perspective's interpretation adequate." (Where is the Boasting? 264-65).

"In the context of the discussion of Romans 4:1-5, in particular, we noted a tension in Paul's discussion between the initial justification of the ungodly (in this case, Abraham) and the final vindication on the basis of works discussed earlier. This tension no doubt merits further reflection and exploration, but it seems here that, on initial examination, Paul is operating with two somewhat distinct perspectives on justification: the first occupying initial justification and the justification of the ungodly ('to the one who does not work') and the second referring to God's final vindication of the one has done good and ... fulfilled Torah" (Where is the Boasting? 265).

2. The Imputation of Christ's Righteousness.

Many criticisms have been made against N.T. Wright on the grounds that he denies or rejects the imputation of the active obedience of Jesus Christ to believers. Though Wright himself believes that everything you get from imputation you can also get from being-in-the-Messiah, his critics have found this insufficient. This is what Gathercole says about recent debates over imputation:

"The Reformed tradition's most common way of explicating the christological character of justification (not least by way of Phil. 3), however, has recently aroused considerable controversy. This is the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness ... A statement by Robert Gundry on the (non)imputation of Christ's righteousness in particular has sparked a response by John Piper, and Gundry and Don Carson have also entered the same debate from different stances. It is not my purpose here to enter this debate. But it should be said that there is clearly a great deal of diversity of opinion on the matter. This is, of course, not sufficient in itself to let discretion take the better part of valor. But in this case, the diversity seems to arise out of the complexity of the New Testament evidence, not because one side is particularly hidebound to tradition and the other wallowing in the desire for novelty or for a doctrine that is more amenable to culture. I would not myself deny this traditional understanding of imputation. Still, because of the complexity of the issue, I would propose that the requirement that it is specifically Christ's righteousness that is imputed to believers should not feature on evangelical statements of faith. To make such a finely balanced point an article of faith seems a dangerous strategy. " (Simon Gathercole, "The Doctrine of Justification in Paul and Beyond: Some Proposals," in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006], 222-23).


Thus, while Gathercole correctly takes Sanders, Wright, and Dunn to task on many issues, he is not squarely in a pro- or anti-NPP camp, and he is still "his own man" as it were - which is probably a good place to be. I also wonder if many of the criticisms made against Wright concerning works and imputation could also apply to Gathercole (on the qualification that one notes how Gathercole differs from Wright in these areas). That is something for critics of the NPP to consider.


Geoff Hudson said...

Gathercole wrote:

"Finally, if the law-abiding Gentiles in 2.14-15 are Christians, then the statement in 2.13 can by no means be dismissed as merely hypothetical or ad hominem. Rather, in the company of statements about the reward of eternal life for obedience in 2.7, 10, 26-27 and 29, Rom. 2.13-16 must point to a stronger theology of final vindication on the basis of an obedient life than is evident in most analyses of Pauline theology."

Well, yes, a much stronger theology.

One might say about the editor of Romans 2.9-15, "That's another fine mess you've got us in, you have well and truly tied the academics in knots, poor things." I suggest that these verses originally had nothing to do with Gentiles, the law or 'doing the law', or righteousness. 2.13 and 2.14 had everything to do with the Spirit, obedience of the Spirit, and purity of one's spirit in God's sight (2.13) by virtue of the Spirit's presence in the heart.(2.15) (not the law written on the heart).

How could they HEAR the law? (2.13) They could not. But they (that is Jews) could HEAR the Spirit of God. I suggest 2.13 should be rendered: 'For it is not those who HEAR the SPIRIT who are PURE in God's sight, but it is those who obey the SPIRIT who ARE DECLARED PURE.

On this basis, in 2.14, the reference to Gentiles can be seen as a Pauline substitution. The editors have substituted 'Indeed, when Gentiles' for 'those', that is the SAME 'those' of 2.13, i.e. the Roman Jews addressed by the writer of Romans. Thus 2.14 and 15 can be rendered: THOSE who OBEY THEIR SPIRIT OF TRUTH (hence the Pauline 'by nature') show that the SPIRIT IS IN their hearts.

Very obviously, 'first for the Jew, then for the Gentile' in 2.9 AND in 2.10 are Pauline interpolations. I would render these verses thus: 2.9.There will be CONDEMNATION for everyONE who DISOBEYS THE SPIRIT, 2.10.but glory for everyone who OBEYS THE SPIRIT.

Agin, 2.11 and 2.12 are Pauline interpolations. Originally, the question of favouritism (2.11) did not arise because ALL those addressed throughout original Romans were Jews. Thus in 2.12, Pauline references to those who 'sin apart from the law' (Gentiles) and those who 'sin under the law' (Jews) were not in the original either.

sujomo said...

Hi Mike,

Another thought provoking blog as usual.

Linking this blog to the one above ('Systematic Theology vs Biblical Theology') which do you think is closer to Paul?

simul iustus et peccator or
simul iustus et peccans?


Kevin James Bywater said...

The problem is that every time I try to discuss judgment acc. to deeds with Gathercole, he says he agrees with Westerholm. By and large, I've found Westerholm to take the judgment of deeds as much less serious that Wright or the published works of Gathercole. And I notice that Gathercole tends not to play up this part of his previous work in his more recent publications. Go figure.