Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Gathercole and Justification Part 3

Simon Gathercole has an interesting view on God's final judgment. First, Gathercole believes that Paul’s Jewish contemporaries anticipated in a final judgment based on works.

“[T]he function of works, then, is, for Paul’s Jewish contemporaries, not primarily to mark them out as distinct from Gentiles but to secure vindication at the eschatological judgment. This is what is most immediately in view in Romans 3:19-10: Paul is opposing the idea that his Jewish contemporaries will be vindicated by God at the final judgment on the basis of a wholehearted obedience to the law. [pg. 239]

Secondly, Gathercole thinks Paul's principal disagreement with his Jewish contemporaries is the idea that sinful man (the flesh) can’t receive “God’s transforming grace” not that the final judgment is based on works.

“Paul particular complaint is that this impossible for the flesh, for the sinful person who has not received God’s transforming grace in Christ. Paul is not opposed in principle to the idea of final vindication on the basis of obedience; in this respect he agrees with his Jewish interlocutor (Rom. 2:7-10) What he disputes is the ability of the flesh to obey sufficiently to attain this justification (Rom. 8:3,7) [pg.239]

“In the light of this, then, Paul can be seen to be opposing the confidence of Jews in final vindication on the basis of obedience to the law. Again, this is not because he disagrees with the eschatological framework of his Jewish contemporaries or because he thinks obedience is unimportant but, rather, because he views obedience to Torah as impossible without the transforming power of Christ and the Spirit. [pg.240]

Lastly, Gathercole has some interesting thoughts on the relationship between “initial justification” and “the final judgment”, with the link being perseverance.

“Can this diversity, even within Paul himself, be accounted for? If can as long as we do not have a monolithic conception of justification whereby it only ever refers in the New Testament to the justification of the ungodly. A particularly important clue comes in the Jesus tradition from Matthew 12. The New Testament does not offer two ways of salvation, one by faith and one by works. Rather, the category of those who are justified by faith is coextensive with those will be justified on the final day after a whole life of perseverance. The two groups are identical; there are none who begin in faith but, as a result of not obeying, are not vindicated. Similarly, for Paul, it does not make sense to speak those who have somehow managed to obey outside faith. Obedience is the “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, etc.). [pg.235]

[1] These quotes are taken from the book "Justification in Perspectives: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges" edited by Bruce McCormack

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