Saturday, July 14, 2007

Gathercole and Justification Part 1

In Simon Gathercole’s essay “The Doctrine of Justification in Paul and Beyond” [1], he describes a view of the righteous that is “found in Christ”and how it relates to justification that is different to what I am accustomed to. Normally, I am use to hearing Christ’s fulfilling all of the law in order to earn salvation (Christ’s active obedience) [2].

In Gathercole’s “Forgiveness and Justification” selection, his view of how righteous relates to justification becomes clearer through his equating the term “righteous” with “forgiveness”. He writes while commenting on Romans 4:1-5:

“Despite numerous attempts by a wide variety of very different interpreters to avoid the face, Paul seems here to be defining the reckoning of righteousness as forgiveness of wrongs, covering sins, and not reckoning sin.” [pg 224].

From there, Gathercole explains why defining “righteousness” as “forgiveness” is tough for some people to do.

“The reason for the difficulty that interpreters have with this idea stems, it seems, from understanding forgiveness in too minimalistic terms. It is sometimes regarded merely as wiping the slate clean, which leaves us at zero-where we have no record of sin against us but no positive righteousness either. Paul, however, combines forgiveness with blessed and justification (Rom. 4:6-8) and also with reconciliation and justification (2 Cor. 5:18-21). Forgiveness appears, then not merely as a clearing of the account; it has (and there is a thoroughly Pauline mixing of metaphors) relational contours as well. Justification is not forgiveness in the sense of forgiveness of a debt in abstraction from a relationship (e.g. a waiver of a debt to a bank). Rather, it is forgiveness of a personal wrong (disobedience and offense against God’s glory), such that forgiveness of the personal wrong means restoration of the relationship. And restoration of the relationship is tantamount to talking of divine acceptance, since the initiative needs to come from the divine side. There has perhaps been too much separation of images such as justification, forgiveness, and reconciliation when such a separation does not really seem to work with Paul: for him, one image often suggests another (Rom.3:24-26;5:8-9; 2 Cor.5:17-21)” [pg 225]

[1] This essay is found in the book "Justification in Perspectives: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges" edited by Bruce McCormack

[2] Gathercole in discussing the current debates surrounding imputation states plainly that he holds to traditional view of imputation of Christ’s righteousness. See pg 223

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