The Vindication of Imputation: On Fields of Discourse and Semantic Fields

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By D.A. Carson About Biblical Theology
Part of the series Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates

For many Protestants today, the doctrine of imputation has become the crucial touchstone for orthodoxy with respect to justification.[1] For others, imputation is to be abandoned as an outdated relic of a system that focuses far too much attention on substitutionary penal atonement and far too little attention on alternative “models” of what the cross achieved.[2] For still others, including N. T. Wright, imputation should be abandoned, even though (he maintains) everything that Reformed theologians want to preserve under that rubric he thinks he preserves under his much larger categories.[3] And for still others, such as Robert Gundry, what is to be rejected is certainly not every aspect of imputation, but affirmations of the imputed righteousness of Christ.[4]

What I propose to do in this short paper is peck away at various aspects of the debate, in the hope, somewhat forlorn and certainly modest, that by keeping in mind some of the larger parameters of the debate while simultaneously focusing on a handful of biblical texts, I may be able to help some students, and (who knows?) perhaps a few others, to take on board some elements that are sometimes overlooked.

(1) In both exegesis and theology, imputation has been tied not only to discussions of what Christ accomplished on the cross, but also to the relation between Adam’s sin and our sin. With respect to the latter subject, commonly five distinguishable positions have been maintained, three of them bound up with distinctive understandings of imputation.[5] Exploring these matters would take us immediately to Romans 5:12 and related passages, but I am not going to explore them in this paper, as important as they are. For the sake of brevity I will largely focus on the currently most disputed element, namely, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us.

(2) For clarity of thought and expression, it is important to distinguish between two domains of discourse, viz. exegesis and theology.[6] Of course, for those who want the “norming norm” of their theology to be Scripture, the links between the two disciplines must be much more than casual. Nevertheless, not only their respective methods, but even their respective vocabularies, can be very different.

Two examples might help. If one were to study sanctification, especially in the light of Reformation debates, one would immediately be caught up in the timehonored distinction between justification and sanctification. The former, it is argued, marks entrance into salvation, into the Christian way, and is forensic and unrepeatable; the latter is characterized by growth, development, and growing conformity to Christ across time. Of course, the heirs of the Reformation have often noted that some passages where the άγιος word-group appears cannot be understood within this framework, and so they have acknowledged the existence of what they variously called “positional sanctification” or “definitional sanctification.”[7] In such passages, Christians are set aside for God, possessed by God, in exactly the same way that, say, a certain shovel was set aside for God under the Mosaic code for the exclusive purpose of taking out the ash from the prescribed burnt offerings.[8] Thus the Corinthians are said to be “sanctified” (1 Cor 1:3), even though by the standards of customary theological discourse they are a singularly unsanctified lot. Indeed, Paul says that they are “sanctified” and thus “called to be holy” (1 Cor 1:3). The common New Testament ethical appeal is here very strong: be what you are. Some contemporary scholars go much farther, and argue that all or at least almost all Pauline references to holiness/sanctification belong to this “positional” or “definitional” category.[9] Assuming for the moment that they are exegetically right, does this mean that the Reformation and post-Reformation doctrine of sanctification is sadly mistaken? Of course not. There are plenty of New Testament passages—indeed, Pauline passages—where the apostle can write movingly of spiritual growth, of growing conformity to Christ, without using the holiness/sanctification word-group. In Philippians 3, for instance, Paul does not think that he has already obtained all that he is aiming for, but he presses on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him. He cheerfully “forgets” what is behind, and presses on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus.[10] In other words, he is talking about sanctification without deploying the άγιος or קִדוּשׁ word groups.

So the scholar deeply committed to exegetical rigor might well insist that Paul never, or only rarely, talks about sanctification in a progressive sense; the systematician, by contrast, might lecture for a long time, and very faithfully, about Pauline teaching on sanctification. Of course, if the latter has not done his or her philological homework, he or she might erroneously connect the theme of sanctification to the wrong texts, by hunting out occurrences of άγιος and cognates. If the former scholar has not been careful, it will not be long before he or she is calling into question the entire structure of the doctrine of sanctification in its Protestant heritage. But if each is aware of the other’s field of discourse, the claims that each will make will be more modest than will otherwise be the case.

Or consider what Paul says about reconciliation. At the philological level, the recent work by Porter is very helpful;[11] at the exegetical level, especially in its treatment of 2 Corinthians 5, the most recent work of Seyoon Kim will surely command wide assent.[12] But one of the things that all Pauline scholars note is that the apostle speaks exclusively of us being reconciled to God; the apostle never speaks of God being reconciled to us. Nevertheless a long and honorable heritage within theological discourse does not hesitate to speak of God being reconciled to us. It is bound up with biblical treatments of God’s wrath, and of the nature of the peculiarly Christian (as opposed to pagan) understanding of propitiation. When properly done, I find such discourse convincingly Pauline, and faithful to other biblical documents, even though the καταλάσσω word-group is never used to convey the idea. So I remain happy to sing, in the words of Charles Wesley’s immortal hymn “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” the lines “My God is reconciled, /His pardoning voice I hear; /He owns me for his child, /I can no longer fear.”

The biblical scholar who is narrowly constrained by the exegetical field of discourse may be in danger of denying that it is proper to speak of God being reconciled to us; the theologian who is not exegetically careful may be in danger of trying to tie the notion that God is reconciled to us to the wrong passages.

The bearing of these reflections is obvious. Even if we agree that there is no Pauline passage that explicitly says, in so many words, that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to his people, is there biblical evidence to substantiate the view that the substance of this thought is conveyed? And if such a case can be made, should the exegete be encouraged to look at the matter through a wider aperture than that provided by philology and formulae? And should we ask the theologian to be a tad more careful with texts called up to support the doctrine?

(3) For many in the traditional Protestant confessional camp, imputation has become one of the crucial criteria deployed to distinguish between a faithful understanding of justification and a suspect understanding of justification—the latter usually associated with one voice or another in the so-called new perspective on Paul.[13]

The issues are extraordinarily complex. At the risk of oversimplifying matters, we might say that the influence of Ernst Käsemann, mediated through E. P. Sanders and others, has convinced many that “justification” primarily has to do with God’s covenantal faithfulness.[14] In the further step taken by N. T. Wright, if people are “justified” they are declared to belong to God’s covenantal community. In this understanding, there are at least two significant divergences from the traditional view: (a) justification is no longer thought of as the entry-point of the believer’s experience with God, but is now bound up with the believer’s ongoing status with respect to the covenant community; and (b) justification is no longer immediately tied to justice/righteousness. It is this latter point that is important for our discussion. As I read the trends, the mistakes fuelled by Käsemann’s work are now, gradually, being rolled back—and none too soon.

I cannot resist an anecdote. A few years ago I found myself in prolonged conversation with a retired classicist and expert on the Septuagint. He had heard, vaguely, of the new perspective, and wanted me to explain it to him. I took a half-hour or so to give him a potted history of some of the stances that fall within that rubric, including the view that “justification,” for some, has come to mean something like “God’s declaration that certain people truly belong to the covenant community.” He asked a simple question: “Do those who hold this view know any Greek at all?” As far as this Greek expert was concerned, all the δικ-words—δικαιοσύνη, δικαιος, ἀδικία, δικος, δικαιόω, and so forth—have to do with justice, with righteousness. He was, of course, perfectly aware that one cannot assume that etymology necessarily provides any word’s true meaning. But from his own reading and re-reading of Greek texts from Homer through to the Byzantine period, he found it frankly incredible that anyone could think that the δικ- words could be fairly understood in categories that left out justice/righteousness. I think that insight, though naively put perhaps, is fundamentally sound, and a rising number of studies are combining to overthrow Käsemann’s heritage.[15] Moreover, there is a stinger in the tail to the view that δικαιοσύνη refers to God’s declaration that one is in the covenant, and not to righteousness: it means that δικαιοσύνη is one big step removed from the cross. I hasten to add that Tom Wright does not wish to minimize the importance of the cross, and has written insightfully and movingly on this theme. That is not quite the issue. The issue is how the cross and δικαιοσύνη are linked. And one of the tests, for the traditional confessional camp, to preserve the view that justification refers to God’s declaration that his people are righteous in his eyes, and that this is not some legal fiction but grounded on Christ’s substitutionary death, is imputation.

In terms of the response to the so-called new perspective, this is a telling argument. But Robert Gundry, as far as I can tell, does not see himself as one of the voices within the new perspective: he has always been more of a free spirit than to belong too whole-heartedly to any one preserve! One may argue that his stance is inconsistent, or flawed in exegetical or other ways, and enter into debate with him, but one should not forget that he is as deeply confessional as most of his opponents when it comes to his affirmation of penal substitutionary atonement.

(4) The issue should now be ratcheted up a notch in terms of its theological complexity. For many, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is bound up not only with a proper understanding of justification, but with discussions of Christ’s active and passive obedience. The matter received classic expression in the much-quoted words of W. G. T. Shedd:

First, I would explain what we mean by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Sometimes the expression is taken by our divines in a larger sense, for the imputation of all that Christ did and suffered for our redemption, whereby we are free from guilt, and stand righteous in the sight of God; and so implies the imputation both of Christ’s satisfaction and obedience. But here I intend it in a stricter sense, for the imputation of that righteousness or moral goodness that consists in the obedience of Christ. And by that righteousness being imputed to us, is meant no other than this, that that righteousness of Christ is accepted for us, and admitted instead of that perfect inherent righteousness that ought to be in ourselves: Christ’s perfect obedience shall be reckoned to our account so that we shall have the benefit of it, as though we had performed it ourselves: and so we suppose that a title to eternal life is given us as the reward of this righteousness. . . .
A second difference between the Anselmic and the Protestant soteriology is seen in the formal distinction of Christ’s work into his active and his passive righteousness. By his passive righteousness is meant his expiatory sufferings, by which He satisfied the claims of justice, and by his active righteousness is meant his obedience to the law as a rule of life and conduct. It was contended by those who made this distinction, that the purpose of Christ as the vicarious substitute was to meet the entire demands of the law for the sinner. But the law requires present and perfect obedience, as well as satisfaction for past disobedience. The law is not completely fulfilled by the endurance of penalty only. It must also be obeyed. Christ both endured the penalty due to man for disobedience, and perfectly obeyed the law for him; so that He was a vicarious substitute in reference to both the precept and the penalty of the law. By his active obedience He obeyed the law, and by his passive obedience He endured the penalty. In this way his vicarious work is complete.[16]

I wish to say four things about this exposition.

First, Shedd presupposes that what God requires is perfect righteousness. I entirely agree with this, although I would track the matter rather differently, as we shall see. Nevertheless it has to be admitted that there are some today, such as Don Garlington, who argue that the old covenant did not make such an absolute demand.[17] The topic at hand, imputation, is only marginally tied to that debate, so I cannot probe it in detail here. For the moment, it is enough to say that they seem to base a great deal of their argument on a certain understanding of “perfection” and on a rather disputed reading of Romans 2, which all sides admit is a complex and difficult passage. And for reasons I shall articulate far too briefly toward the end of this paper, I remain unpersuaded by either argument.

Second, the response of Tom Oden to Gundry, though well-intentioned, rather misses the mark. “Does the active obedience of Christ prior to his death form any part of the righteousness of Christ?” Oden asks. “The critic [i.e., Gundry] appears to answer no. But consider the alternative: Suppose Jesus is a bum, a philanderer, a punk. Would he be qualified to become our Mediator?”[18] In his response, Gundry points out, fairly enough, that this is a straw man. In his earlier essay, Gundry had written, “Certainly evangelicals affirm that Jesus had to live a life of perfect righteousness if he was to qualify as the bearer of sins.”[19] In other words, the disputed issue is not Jesus’ righteousness. Gundry goes on to say, “A forensic declaration does not equal or demand that kind of imputation. All that is needed to make forensic sense of Paul’s statement is for Christ’s obedient submission to death for our sins to result in God’s declaring righteous us whose sins have been imputed to Christ.”[20]

So now the question may be put more sharply. For our pardon, is nothing more required than that the sins of sinners be imputed to Christ and that he bear them away? Or is there some sense in which sinners must be reckoned righteous, as well as ultimately becoming righteous? Are sinners reckoned righteous on no other ground than that their sins have been expiated? Is that sufficient—or, better put, does that exhaust the biblical descriptions of what must take place? This is precisely the position of Johannes Piscator, who represents, I suspect, a distortion of Melanchthon.[21] If I read him aright, Gundry would say yes to these questions. Certainly this stance is reflected in his treatment of Romans 5:12-21. Moreover, when he also points out Paul’s pretty consistent preference for expressions referring to “the righteousness of God” rather than to “the righteousness of Christ,” Gundry still does not want to say that “the righteousness of God ” is imputed to us, but that this righteousness is nothing other than the result of God counting (imputing) our faith to us. In his view, there is no positive imputation of righteousness to us (whether labeled God’s or Christ’s), but a positive imputation of our faith to us as righteousness.

Third, to make matters more interesting yet, a few scholars in the Protestant tradition who avoid speaking of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness because they cannot find that exact form of speech in the New Testament, nevertheless eagerly teach the substance of the matter. One might call this a biblicist position. I am thinking, for instance, of the late Broughton Knox, long-time Principal of Moore College. Though he scrupulously avoids the term imputation, nevertheless he writes such things as these:[22]

Thus it comes about that what Christ did during His life on earth, He did not for Himself alone but as the representative and corporate Head of all those who are “in Him.” His work for man may be looked at from two points of view. He lived the perfect life. Alone of all mankind His life was flawless, a life of perfect obedience, trust, and love. Moment by moment, as God’s eye rested on that perfect life, it evoked the judgment, “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Christ is justified by the perfection of His life. God gives to Him the verdict of whole-hearted approval. Alone of mankind He stands in heaven by right, having fulfilled the conditions to which God had attached the reward of life. Christ stands before God, approved, crowned, exalted. We who are Christ’s stand in God’s presence covered with the robe of Christ’s merits. We have put on Christ, says the Apostle (Gal 3:27). We are “in Christ.” As God has raised Christ from the dead and exalted Him to the highest throne of heaven, crowning His perfect righteousness, so we who are in Him are made to sit with Him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6), for He is our righteousness, the sole means of our justification (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21).[23]
Thus He [Christ] fulfilled every man’s obligation to be completely obedient to the will of God. . . . Secondly, Jesus bore every man’s penalty.[24]

That “Secondly” of the last line is significant, for it shows that Knox is closer to Shedd than he thinks he is, even though he avoids Shedd’s terminology. But note in passing that Knox also appeals to corporate categories of Christology to deal with this issue. To this point I shall return at the end of the essay.

Fourth, however sympathetic one wishes to be with Shedd, however much one wishes to defend the view that the imputed righteousness of Christ is worth defending, however much one acknowledges that the perfection of Christ is something more in Scripture than the set-up that qualifies him for his expiatory death, however heuristically useful the distinction between the active and passive righteousness of Christ, one is left with a slightly uneasy feeling that the analytic categories of Shedd have somehow gone beyond the New Testament by the absolute bifurcation they introduce. A passage like the so-called Christ-hymn in Philippians 2 seems to depict Christ’s obedience as all of a piece, including his willingness to become a human being and his progressive self-humiliation, climaxing in his obedience on the cross itself. By virtue of all of this obedience, Christ was vindicated, and his people are saved. Perhaps it is not that Shedd’s categories have so much gone beyond the sweep of New Testament categories, as that they have not quite come up to them. To this, too, I shall return.

(5) It is time, past time perhaps, to devote some attention to the most crucial passage where Paul says that something was indeed imputed to a certain person as righteousness—even though Paul does not unambiguously say that what was imputed was Christ’s righteousness. No, he says that faith was imputed—credited, reckoned—to Abraham as righteousness, and the same is true today (Rom 4:3-5). The passage is notoriously complex. I shall restrict myself to the following observations.

(a) In Jewish exegesis, Genesis 15:6 was not quoted to prove that Abraham was justified by faith and not by works. Rather, the passage was commonly read in the light of Genesis 22 (the aqedah), and was taken as explicit evidence of Abraham’s merit. In 1 Maccabees 2:52, Abraham was found to be πιστος, faithful (not simply “believing,” ἐπίστενσεν, as in the LXX), faithful ἐν πειρασμῷ (which surely refers to Gen 22), and the previous verse explicitly sees this in the category of work (μνήσθητε τῶν πατέρων ἠμῶν τὰἔργα ἃ ἐποίησεν, 2:51). About 50 B.C., Rabbi Shemaiah has God saying, “The faith with which your father Abraham believed in Me merits that I should divide the sea for you, as it is written: ‘And he believed in the LORD, and He counted it to him for righteousness’” (Mekhilta on Ex 14:15 [35b]). Similarly, Mekhilta 40b speaks of “the merit of the faith with which [Abraham] believed in the LORD”—and then Genesis 15:6 is quoted.[25] What this means, for our purposes, is that Paul, who certainly knew of these traditions, was explicitly interpreting Genesis 15:6 in a way quite different from that found in his own tradition, and he was convinced that this new way was the correct way to understand the text. In the words of Cranfield, “It was clearly essential to the credibility of his argument that he should not by-pass a text which would seem to many of his fellow Jews the conclusive disproof of the point he was trying to establish and which was on any showing a text of cardinal importance in the biblical account of Abraham, but should show that, rightly interpreted, it confirmed his contention.”[26] Paul’s justification of his exegesis follows in the ensuing verses.

(b) Romans 4:4-5 has been understood in various ways. Barrett holds that the key lies in the verb λογίζομαι, which he thinks links nicely with πιστεύω and χάρις, but not with ἐργάζομαι and ὀϕείλημα, that is, “since Abraham had righteousness counted to him, he cannot have done works, but must have been the recipient of grace.”[27] But this argument founders on the fact that in Romans 4 Paul uses λογίζομαι with both κατὰ ὀϕείλημα and κατὰ χάρις. H.W. Heidland offers a still more subtle linguistic distinction that I shall not probe here.[28] Because Paul says that faith is counted as righteousness, Gundry says that, in effect, Abraham’s righteousness “consists of faith even though faith is not itself a work.”[29] Faith becomes the equivalent of righteousness that is the way God “counts” faith, though of course faith and righteousness in themselves are not to be confused. Merely to assert, however, that faith of such equivalent value is not itself a work would not have impressed readers familiar with the Jewish background, where the precise counter-claim was standard fare. Moreover, although it is true that one important Old Testament text with the same grammatical construction (in the LXX) establishes a similar sort of equivalence (Ps 106:28), the equivalence in that case is not between faith and righteousness, but between a righteous deed and righteousness (the righteous deed in question is the zealous execution of public sinners by Phinehas, Num 25:7- 13). In other words, in this instance “God’s ‘reckoning’ Phinehas as righteous (see Num 25) is a declarative act, not an equivalent compensation or reward for merit (cf. also Gen 31:15; Ps 32:2).”[30]

Of greater interest, because they are conceptually closer to Genesis 15:6, are those passages where the same construction is used to say that something is imputed or reckoned to another as something else. Thus Leah and Rachel assert that their father “reckons” them as “strangers” (though obviously they are not, Gen 31:15). The Levite’s tithe is “reckoned” as the corn of the threshing-floor and as the fullness of the winepress, though transparently it is neither (Num 18:27, 30). If a certain sacrifice is not eaten by the third day, its value is lost, and it is not “reckoned” to the benefit of the sinner (Lev 7:18): clearly the passage “envisions a situation in which righteousness could be ‘reckoned’ to a person, even though the individual concerned admittedly is a sinner.”[31] The relevant expression, לְ...חָשָׁב is used in other passages to refer to the offering of sacrifices that are “reckoned” to a person’s benefit (e.g., Num 18:27, 30).

In other words, neither the verb nor the grammatical form will allow us to decide whether this “faith” that Abraham exercises was originally viewed as a righteous act which God himself then declared to be righteous (as the act of Phinehas was declared to be righteous, Ps 106:28, above), or, alternatively, that this “faith” that Abraham exercises is to be viewed as belonging to a different species than “righteous act,” with the result that when it is “reckoned” or “imputed” to Abraham “as righteousness” it provides an instance in which, although God himself “reckons” it as righteousness, this is an instance in which something is imputed to another as something else.[32] How then shall we decide? We clearly see, of course, that the Jewish heritage in which Paul stood before his conversion opts for the former. The polemical context of Romans 3—4 argues rather emphatically that Paul now opts for the latter. Whose interpretation of Genesis 15 is justified?

Part of the hermeneutical distinction between the two positions is this: when dealing with the patriarchs, Paul the Christian is especially careful to observe the salvation-historical sequence, whereas his theological opponents tend to lump texts together thematically rather than salvation-historically. For instance, later in this chapter Paul carefully draws inferences from whether God’s declaration that Abraham’s faith is counted to him as righteousness precedes or succeeds circumcision. So also here. Paul is saying in effect that this faith must not be read in connection with the aqedah, found seven chapters later, but in the light of its own context. In the immediate context, God made gracious promises to Abraham, completely unmerited— and Abraham believed God. Thus Abraham’s response of faith is simply trust in the God who graciously made the promise—that is, in Cranfield’s words, “his faith was counted to him for righteousness can only be a matter of χάρις, that is, if his faith is understood (in accordance with the context of this verse in Genesis) as his reliance upon God’s promise (cf. Gen 15:1, 4).”[33] Detached from Genesis 22 and firmly attached to the context, it is hard to see how this faith is in any sense a work. Indeed, as Paul makes clear a little later in the same chapter, the specific promise of God that Abraham believed was God’s promise that through Abraham’s seed the blessing would come (cf. Rom 4:13).

(c) That is why Paul can draw the analogy he does in Romans 4:4: where wages are earned, they are credited to a person κατὰ ὀϕείλημα, but where (implicitly) something is not earned, it is credited κατὰ χάρις. By implication, then, because the faith of Romans 4:3 is not in any sense something earned, if it is credited to Abraham it must be κατὰ χάρι. Unpacking this further in Romans 4:5, Paul says that in the case of the person who does not work but who trusts God who justifies the wicked (as Abraham trusted God who graciously gave the promise), that trust, that faith, is credited as righteousness.

One of the reasons this may be formally confusing is that some translations do not adequately distinguish rather different expressions in Greek. Consider the NIV:

Romans 4:3: Abraham believed God, and it [presumably the faith] was credited to him as righteousness.
Romans 4:4: when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
Romans 4:5: his faith is credited as righteousness.

But the first and third expressions (εἰς δικαιοσύνην) tell us what something is credited to a person as (if I may end a clause this way), what this crediting terminates in (εἰς). By contrast, the analogy of Romans 4:4 does not tell us what the wages are credited as, that is, what they terminate in, but simply specifies whether they are credited “according to obligation” or “according to grace.” In other words, the structure of the crediting or imputing language is not consistent through these verses, so it becomes easy to force the wrong kind of parallelism and miss the train of thought. Romans 4:4 establishes that there is a crediting, an imputing, that is nothing more than getting your dessert; there is also a crediting, an imputing, that means something is credited to your account that you do not deserve. But Paul does not make this analogy from the field of wages walk on all fours and try to specify what this wage is credited as. It is sufficient for his argument, at this juncture, that the distinction between merited imputation and unmerited imputation be preserved. Romans 4:3, then, is clarified by Romans 4:4: when faith is imputed to Abraham as righteousness, it is unmerited, it is all of grace, because it is nothing more than believing God and his gracious promise. That same approach is then applied in Romans 4:5 to Paul’s discussion of justification, and the inevitable conclusion is drawn: “to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (TNIV).

(d) Of course, if this is applied to Abraham, it is tantamount to calling him ungodly, wicked, ἀσεβής. In other words, it is not enough to say that for Paul, Abraham’s faith is not a righteous “act” or “deed” but it is a genuinely righteous stance, a covenant faithfulness, which God then rightly or justly counts to Abraham as righteousness. That does not make sense of the “meriting”/“not meriting” contrast implicit in the wages analogy. More importantly, it does not bear in mind Paul’s own powerful conclusion: it is the wicked person to whom the Lord imputes righteousness. In the context, that label is applied to Abraham no less than to anyone else. In Paul’s understanding, then, God’s imputation of Abraham’s faith to Abraham as righteousness cannot be grounded in the assumption that that faith is itself intrinsically righteous, so that God’s “imputing” of it to Abraham is no more than a recognition of what it intrinsically is. If God is counting faith to Abraham as righteousness, he is counting him righteous—not because Abraham is righteous in some inherent way (How can he be? He is ἀσεβής!), but simply because Abraham trusts God and his gracious promise. In that sense, then, we are dealing with what systematicians call an alien righteousness.

This entire argument flows out of Paul’s discussion of justification in Romans 3:21-26, where Paul argues that God simultaneously vindicates himself and justifies the ungodly by setting forth Christ to be the ἱλαστήριον. In short, the flow of the argument is not affirming that God credits something intrinsic to us or properly earned by us or reflective of us to be our righteousness, but it is arguing that God counts us righteous, even though we are ungodly, by crediting faith as such righteousness—that is, faith in the justifying God who justifies the ungodly by setting forth Christ as the propitiation for our sins. Thus God credits us with a righteousness we do not have.

In other words, “faith” in Romans 4:3 depends on how “faith” has been used in the preceding verses. It is not faith in some purely psychological sense that is credited as righteousness, but faith with a certain object: in Genesis 15:3, faith in God’s gracious promise, and in Romans 3—4, faith in God who justifies the ungodly by setting forth Christ as the propitiation for our sins. It is such faith that is counted for righteousness. The significance of this observation will become clearer after the next two subsections.

(e) In Romans 4:6-8, Paul advances his argument by providing an Old Testament instance that shows what it means to say that God justifies the ungodly.[34] David, we are told, “speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits [imputes] righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:6)—and then the Old Testament text, Psalm 32:1-2, is cited. Observe the parallelism:

4:5 God justifies the ungodly
4:6 God credits righteousness apart from works

In other words, “justifies” is parallel to “credits righteousness”; or, to put the matter in nominal terms, justification is parallel to the imputation of righteousness. Observe two further points. First, if one asks whether this imputation, this crediting, is merely an accurate counting of the righteousness that is in fact intrinsically there, or, alternatively, an imputation of an alien righteousness (for as we have seen, λογίζομαι can be used in both contexts), we must decisively opt for the latter. For the parallelism shows that God justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5); he credits righteousness apart from works (Rom 4:6)—and this latter phrase is further elucidated in the quotation itself (Rom 4:7-8) as the works of those who have committed transgressions and sins. Second, both elements of the parallelism establish God as the One who is acting: it is God who justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5), it is God who imputes righteousness apart from works. The words are striking, because formally they contradict what God says he will do in the Old Testament. God says, “I will not acquit the guilty” (Ex 23:7).[35] Again, Scripture says, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both” (Prov 17:15). C. K. Barrett goes so far as to say that, by contrast, Paul’s words, “God justifies the ungodly,” actually “describe God as doing what the Old Testament forbids.”[36] That is true only at the formal level. The Old Testament context shows that God is passionately committed to justice, and therefore Israel’s magistrates must never pervert justice by acquitting the guilty or condemning the innocent (cf. also Is 5:23). At very least one must conclude that in these passages, “to justify” is a forensic term; it cannot mean “to make (personally and ethically) righteous.” But more important, Hofius has shown that even in the Old Testament there is ample evidence in God’s dealings with Israel that on occasion God does justify the ungodly (even though that terminology is not used): witness Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah 40.[37] Paul’s assertions in Romans 4 presuppose his detailed account of Christ’s cross-work in Romans 3:21-26. There he explains how God presented Christ as the propitiation for our sins, “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26).[38] In other words, “God’s forgiveness is no cheap forgiveness that condones wickedness, but the costly, just and truly merciful forgiveness διὰ της ἀπολυτρώσεωςτῆς ἐν Χριςτῶ̻ Ἰησοῦ, which does not violate the truth which the Exodus verse attests.”[39]

(f) The same argument can be extended a little farther into Romans 4 by observing the structural parallels that tie together Romans 3:27-31 and Romans 4. In other words, Romans 4 appears to be an enlarged meditation on the themes that are briefly summarized in Romans 3:27-31:

faith excludes boasting 3:27; 4:1-2
faith is necessary to preserve grace 3:28; 4:3-8
faith is necessary if Jews & Gentiles alike are to be saved 3:29-30; 4:9-17
Christian faith, then, far from overturning the OT, fulfills the OT anticipation 3:31; 4:18-25

If this parallelism holds up, then Romans 3:28 is parallel to Romans 4:3-8, and we have something to add to the parallelism we detected in the last subsection between Romans 4:5 and Romans 4:6. To put the three passages together:

4:5 God justifies the ungodly
4:6 God credits righteousness apart from works
3:28 [a person] is justified apart from the works of the law

Apart from the switch to the passive voice, then, once again we perceive that justification of the ungodly means the imputation of righteousness. Intriguingly, the same “imputation of righteousness” theme crops up in Romans 4:9-11, along with the “imputation of faith as righteousness” theme. Abraham, we are told, becomes the father of all who believe, because his faith was credited to him as righteousness before he was circumcised. Thus he is the archetypical model not only for the circumcised, but for all. Nor is Abraham at this juncture a model of faithfulness to the covenant, since he had not yet received the covenant sign! Paul concludes, “So then, [Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them” (Rom 4:11). In this text, the passive voice triumphs (as in Rom 3:28), but it is righteousness that is being imputed to these Gentile believers, not faith imputed to them as righteousness.

(g) Thus within the space of a few verses the apostle Paul can say two formally different things:

4:3, 9 [God] credits faith to Abraham as righteousness
4:6, 11 [God] credits righteousness apart from works [i.e., to the ungodly]

Robert Gundry wants these two utterances to be saying the same thing. More precisely, he holds that the righteousness that is imputed (in Rom 4:6, 11) is not God’s, and still less Christ’s, but is simply “the righteousness of faith” (Rom 4:11)—“i.e., the righteousness which by God’s counting consists in faith even though the exercise of faith is not intrinsically (a work of human) righteousness. ‘The righteousness of God,’ which is not said to be counted/imputed, is his salvific action of counting faith as righteousness, an action made [probable]—given God’s righteous character—by Christ’s propitiatory death.”[40] In other words, for Gundry the controlling expression is the one Paul draws from Genesis 15:6: God counts [imputes] faith to Abraham—and, in principle, to us—as righteousness. If the apostle then speaks of God imputing righteousness to us, this is merely his shorthand way of saying the same thing: the “righteousness” which, Paul says, God imputes to us is in reality the faith that God imputes to us as righteousness. Thus Gundry not only is denying that Paul speaks of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us, but he is denying that Paul speaks of God’s righteousness being imputed to us. The only imputation he sees is the imputation of faith as righteousness.[41] But too many textual factors stand against this reductionism.

First, it is not transparent that the two expressions, “[God] imputes faith to X as righteousness” and “[God] imputes righteousness to X” mean exactly the same thing. In the one case, the thing that is imputed or counted is faith; in the other, the thing that is imputed or counted is righteousness. It does not help to say that in God’s eyes, since he “counts” the faith to be righteousness, therefore from this perspective they are the same thing, for it does not solve the problem of the language. If God has counted or imputed our faith to us as righteousness, then, once he has so counted or imputed it, does he then count or impute the righteousness to us, a kind of second imputation? The awkwardness of conjoining the expressions in any obvious way makes us suspect that they are not saying exactly the same thing.

Second, the language of “God imputing righteousness to us” is powerfully and repeatedly placed in the immediate context of human ungodliness and wickedness, with the result that it reads as God imputing an (alien) righteousness to us precisely when we are unrighteous. It does not read as God imputing faith to us as righteousness. That is a slightly adjacent thought, as we shall see.

Third, the variations in language are somewhat clarified by the further explanation that Paul offers toward the end of Romans 4. There Paul speaks of Abraham being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised, and would in fact keep his promise. “This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’ ”—and thus the words of Genesis 15:6 are repeated again. But these words, Paul avers, “were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom 4:23-24). One might almost think, at first blush, that Gundry has it right, that is, that the notion “faith imputed to Abraham as righteousness” is written for us, and this is immediately linked with the notion that God will credit us with righteousness. But immediately one is forced to wonder if that is right, for the “us” of whom this is said are those “who believe (τοις πιστεύουσιν) in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” In other words, the believing is now portrayed as the means or the condition or the instrument[42] of the imputation of righteousness, not as that which is imputed as righteousness.

Fourth, this is entirely in line with the fact that in the verses immediately preceding Romans 4, Paul is at pains to stress the instrumental nature of faith. If in Romans 3:21-26 the controlling expression is ἠ δικαιοσύνην τοῦ θεοῦ, the controlling expression in Romans 3:27-31 is πίστις . We are justified “by faith” (πίστει, ἐκ πίστεως, διὰ τῆς πίστεως —all of which presuppose faith as the means of appropriating the gift, not that which is reckoned as the gift). That point is summarized in the very next verse, the opening verse of Romans 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith (ἐκ πίστεως), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The instrumentality of faith is commonplace in the New Testament: see, for instance, Philippians 3:8-9 (on which more below), or Hebrews 11, to go no farther. The reader of the text of Romans has thought his or her way through the object of the Christian’s faith and the ground of the Christian’s justification (Rom 3:21-26), as well as the importance of faith and of nothing else as the means for appropriating the grace, whether one is Jew or Gentile (Rom 3:27- 31), before reading the statement about Abraham’s faith at the beginning of Romans 4.

Fifth, although Gundry asserts, doubtless fairly, that he can find no unambiguous instance in the LXX, the New Testament, or in pagan literature, of λογίζομαι being used to refer to something being imputed in an instrumental sense, one must also aver that the verb is not a terminus technicus. It has an astonishingly wide range of meaning. Note, for instance, Romans 3:28: “we reckon (λογιζόμεθα) that a man is justified by faith (πίστει)”: here (i) the “reckoning” is certainly not imputation in any technical sense, (ii) the justification (in the light of the preceding paragraph) is grounded in Christ’s cross-work, and (iii) the means of benefitting from Christ’s propitiatory death is unambiguously faith. In the light of such linguistic realities, it seems a bit doctrinaire to read the Genesis 15:6 citation in Romans 4 in the controlling way that Gundry advocates. The primary point of the quotation, in Paul’s argument, is that Abraham’s faith in the sheer gratuity of God’s promise is what was counted to him as righteousness. That point is correlated with the fact that righteousness is imputed to the ungodly, but the expressions make slightly different points.

In the light of these contextual considerations, then, Herman Ridderbos speaks, not incorrectly, of this crediting of faith as righteousness as an instrumental usage.[43] In the flow of the argument from Romans 3 to Romans 4, I think that is conceptually correct, though not syntactically perspicuous.

This may be unpacked a little further. At the end of Romans 3, the object of the faith that is transparently instrumental in Romans 3:27-31 is transparently Jesus (Rom 3:26) in function of his propitiatory death, set forth by God himself (Rom 3:21-26). As Simon Gathercole observes, in Romans 4 Paul identifies three specific “objects” to the faith that is approved:

. . . πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ (Rom 4:5)
. . . ἐπίστευσεν θεοῦ τοῦ ζῳοποιοῦντος τοῦς νεκροὺς καὶ καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα (Rom 4:17)
. . . τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἐπὶ τὸν ἐγείραντα Ἰησοῦν τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν ἐκ νεκρῶν (Rom 4:24)[44]

Thus, although in broad terms it is true to say that the object of both the Christian believer at the end of Romans 3, and of Abraham in Romans 4, is the God who graciously promises, one can specify a little more detail. The God who is the object of faith is the One who justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5), the One who brings to life what is dead and calls into existence what is not (Rom 4:17, whether this life-giving power brings a son to Abraham and Sarah or calls the dead into life, whether Jesus or those who are spiritually dead), the One who raises Jesus from the dead (Rom 4:24; cf. also Rom 10). Faith is not faith which merely trusts a God who justifies the godly; faith is not faith “which believes in a God who leaves the dead as dead and leaves non-existent things as non-existent”;[45] faith is not faith which reposes in a God who does not raise Jesus from the dead. In other words, Paul detects a pattern of God doing the unthinkable, the transforming, the reversing. What this says about God’s justification of the ungodly as an event bound up with the resurrection of Jesus I shall probe a little below. For the moment, it is sufficient to observe that faith, because of its object, is imputed to the believer as righteousness. It was because Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:21) that this faith “was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:22). These words, Paul immediately adds, were written no less for us, to whom the Lord will impute righteousness (Rom 4:24)—“for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:24-25). In short, righteousness is imputed when men and women believe in this sense: we are fully persuaded that God will do what he has promised. What God has promised, this side of the “But now” of Romans 3:21, is the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. That is why there is no tension between believing the God who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 4:24) and believing in Jesus (Rom 3:26) whose death and resurrection vindicate God.

In the light of these thematic lines running through Romans 3—4, then, the righteousness that God imputes to the ungodly is bound up with his promises concerning the seed, and thus ultimately with his word concerning Christ’s death and resurrection. Faith in such a God is faith that is imputed as righteousness, not because the faith is itself meritorious but because it focuses absolutely on the God who justifies the ungodly by the means he has promised. In such a redemptivehistorical trajectory, the expression “his faith was imputed to him as righteousness” is necessarily a kind of shorthand for the larger exposition. To interpret it in a minimalist fashion and then to squeeze under this minimalism the rest of the imputation utterances of the chapter is precisely to invert the priorities of the argument. It is in this sense, then, that it is not unjust to conclude, with Ridderbos, that this crediting of faith as righteousness is an instrumental usage.[46]

(6) I must now step back and draw in a number of other texts that shed light on this discussion. Ideally space should be reserved for detailed consideration of Romans 5:12-21, but under the present restraints I restrict myself to brief comments on one or two other passages.

Several Pauline texts contrast, in one way or another, righteousness that comes through the law with righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.[47] For instance:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is by faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is through faith. (Phil 3:8-9, emphasis added)

Here, transparently, the righteousness that Paul seeks is not inherent, that is, it is not his own. Nor does it consist in faith; rather, it comes through faith (διὰ πίστεως) or is “based on faith” (ἐπὶ τῆ πίστει). This righteousness is explicitly said to be God’s: that is, it is alien to Paul. Although the language of imputation is not used, we find ourselves in the same conceptual world as in Romans 3—4.

The language of 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 is also instructive. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ [or: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself], not counting [imputing] men’s sins against them. . . . God made him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Explicitly, then, Paul speaks of the non-imputation of our sins to ourselves— that is, God refuses to count up to our account what is in fact there—on the ground that God made Christ, himself sinless, to be sin for us. True, the text does not explicitly say that God imputes our sins to Christ, but as long as we perceive that Jesus dies in our place, and bears our curse, and was made “sin” for us, it is extraordinarily difficult to avoid the notion of the imputation of our sins to him.

To this thought, Paul then adds the words, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” If there were no other passage treating these themes, it would be possible, just barely, to read this as follows: “Our sins are imputed to Christ, who by his death expiates them, so that we might become righteous.” In other words, there would be no hint of the imputation of righteousness to believers. But three things stand against such a reading.

First, Paul’s treatment of these themes elsewhere (though we have merely glanced at Rom 3—4 and Phil 3:8-9) affirms that God credits righteousness to the ungodly. It is entirely natural to take the last clause of 2 Corinthians 5:21 the same way. It would be entirely unnatural in the context of 2 Corinthians 5 to say that this “righteousness” which we “become” is in reality faith that is imputed to us as righteousness; Genesis 15:6 is not in play.

Second, within 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, the thought that our sins are imputed to Christ commends itself as a parallel to the notion that righteousness is in turn imputed to us. What might be thought by some to stand against such a view is that this righteousness is explicitly said to be God’s righteousness, not Christ’s righteousness. I shall return to this in a moment, but even so the opening clause of verse 19 must not be overlooked: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, or “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” All sides recognize that what “God” and “Christ” do in the New Testament can sometimes be distinguished. It is commonplace to observe that the Father commands and the Son obeys, never the reverse; the Son dies on the cross, the Father does not (we disown patripassianism). Before we retreat too quickly into such distinctions, however, the distinctions themselves must be distinguished. The first—that the Father commands and the Son obeys— pertains to their roles relative to each other. Similarly, in certain acts the Son may be shown to be the Father’s agent, not the reverse: New Testament writers can speak of God creating all things (e.g., Acts 14:15; Rev 4:11), or of Christ creating all things (e.g., Col 1:15-20), but sometimes of Christ or the Son or the Word being God’s agent in creation (e.g., Jn 1:2-3), never of the Father being the Son’s agent in creation. These sorts of distinctions, then, pertain to the respective roles that the Father and the Son enjoy relative to each other. But the second—the Son dies on the cross, and the Father does not—is rather different. In this distinction, the Son does something that the Father does not do, precisely because what the Son is doing is made possible by his humiliation and incarnation. In this regard, there are numerous things that the Son does that the Father does not do; there are no texts that tell us that everything the Son does, the Father also does. But the New Testament writers take some pains to affirm the reverse: all that the Father does, the Son also does. The locus classicus of this theme, of course, is John 5:16-30, but the same theme is implicit, for instance, in the ease with which New Testament writers take Old Testament texts that refer to Yahweh and make them refer without hesitation to Jesus Christ. It is understandable, of course, that New Testament writers should take pains to say that Jesus does all that God does, and refrain from saying that the Father does all that Jesus does. Yet once the point is observed, one cannot leap from our careful avoidance of patripassianism to the conclusion that although God imputes [his] righteousness to us, Christ does not impute [his] righteousness to us. For in the case of patripassianism, we are denying that the Father does everything the Son does, if what the Son does is conditioned by the incarnation, while in the case of imputation the action is fundamentally God’s, and everything the Father does the Son also does.[48] This is all the more important, then, when we recall the opening words of this passage. Whether we understand the word order to support “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” or “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,” what God was doing is then fleshed out in a particular way. On the one hand, God made Christ who had no sin to be a curse for us: here the distinction between God and Christ turns absolutely on the peculiar role of Christ in his death, though even here it is God who “made Christ” be a curse for us (as it is God, in Rom 3:25, who “presents” Christ as a propitiation). On the other hand, all this takes place so that “in him [i.e., Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.” The “in him” phrase doubtless reflects the “union with Christ” theme about which I’ll say more in a moment. What should be clear, however, is that on the basis of the parallels just advanced, it is difficult to imagine why this righteousness should be understood to be “the righteousness of God” and not the righteousness of Christ.

Third, the text does not say that, owing to the non-imputation of our sins to us, or owing to the imputation of our sins to Christ, we become righteous (i.e., the adjective), but that in Christ we become the righeousness of God (i.e., the noun). On first glance, this is an astonishingly awkward locution. I shall return to it in a moment.

(7) In this final heading, I want to broaden the aperture again, draw together some Pauline considerations not yet explored and respond to one or two objections.

First, Paul does not think of sin and evil primarily in legal terms. The origin of evil is bound up with rebellion, with idolatry, with the de-godding of God (cf. Rom 1:18—3:20). What draws down God’s wrath, above all things, is the obscenity of competition—for there is no God but God. That is why in Paul’s thought sin and death reign from Adam to Moses. The law makes sin transgression; it does not create an evil that was not already there by virtue of our rebellion, by virtue of our idolatry. It is vital to understand this if we are to grasp the sweep and power of salvation in Christ Jesus. That is why Seifrid, in an unpublished letter, is not too strong when he comments on Garlington’s insistence that the Old Testament does not demand utter righteousness, utter holiness:

I shall not here pursue his [Garlington’s] dilution of the demands of the mosaic covenant by appeal to a certain understanding of “perfection” except to note that he stands at odds with Paul, James, the author of Hebrews, Jesus, the prophets of Israel and Moses himself. Other than that, he is in perfect agreement with Scripture. He doesn’t understand that our acts of sin are expressions of unbelief and the desire to annihilate God. This desire resides in all our hearts. If it were not there, we would sin no more. The Law merely exposes us for what we are. He should let it do its work, because apart from it Christ’s work means nothing.

Sin is more than the breaking of rules (though the “rules” clarify and help to quantify the horrendous breach of idolatry). If the first commandment is to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength (Mk 12:28-34; cf. Deut 6), the first sin is the failure to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength. The first sin is therefore not a matter of doing something, so much as of not doing something. It is not only a positive evil; it is the failure to do a positive good. As a rule, the less clear we are on the horrendous odium and multi-faceted comprehensiveness of human idolatry, the less clear we will be on what the cross achieved and on our desperate need for a Redeemer.

Second, I cannot too strongly emphasize how often Paul’s justification language is tied to “in Christ” or “in him” language—yet this brute fact, far from clarifying matters, has sometimes merely muddied the waters.

On the one hand, justification is, in Paul, irrefragably tied to our incorporation into Christ, to our union with Christ. Thus, as we have seen, in Philippians 3:8-9 Paul wants to be found in him, not having a righteousness of his own. In 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, we are told that God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. It is because of God that we are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us righteousness (and other things: 1 Cor 1:30). Passage after passage in Paul runs down the same track. If we speak of justification or of imputation (whether of our sins to Christ or of δικαιοσύνη being credited to us) apart from a grasp of this incorporation into Christ, we will constantly be in danger of contemplating some sort of transfer apart from being included in Christ, apart from union with Christ.

On the other hand, the theme of union with Christ has been distorted in various complex ways. Many have pointed out that in the Joint Declaration of Lutherans and Catholics, the shocking element was not simply that both sides indulged in slippery language to mask substantial differences, but that when the Lutherans articulated their own position they managed to avoid all reference to imputation, preferring instead “union with Christ” language. But how is such language to be understood? Those with an inside track to the discussions assert that it was tacitly understood in theosis categories—which of course ends up sacrificing the Reformation understanding of justification altogether.[49] Some think of imputation and union with Christ in frankly antithetical terms,[50] instead of seeing the latter as the grounding of the former. Still others adopt so vitalistic or even mystical an understanding of “union with Christ” that its usage with respect to justification is misconstrued.

It is important to see that the “in Christ” language in the Pauline writings is fundamentally metaphorical, and sufficiently flexible that the dictates of the immediate context can shape the notion in various ways.[51] In other words, imputation is crucial, but it is itself grounded in something more comprehensive. Christians are so incorporated into Christ, “in him,” that their sins are expiated when he dies. That is why we can say, with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ”; that is how God sees it. I am so incorporated into Christ that Christ’s death is my death, and Christ’s life is my life: “For you died,” Paul writes, “and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4). In other words, the language of incorporation or of identification is precisely what grounds “the great exchange”: when Christ died, he died my death, so I can truly say I died in him; now that Christ lives, his life is mine, so I can truly say I live in him.

But in the case of Galatians 2:20-21 there may be additional precision. The “Christ in me” and “I in him” language always needs unpacking, with close attention to the immediate context. When Paul writes, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), we must ask what ἐν + dative of personal pronoun means in this context, and commonly in Paul. The phrase “Christ lives in me” is often understood in a vitalistic sense, or in a real sense by means of the Spirit, or the like—and certainly Paul and other New Testament writers can think in those terms. But the fact that the Greek preposition has been glossed by the English word “in” does not qualify as an argument. At the end of Galatians 1, Paul says this of the believers in Judea who heard of his conversion: “they glorified God ἐν ἐμοί”—and despite exegetical efforts to the contrary, the prepositional expression should probably not be rendered by “in me.” In fact, in as many as 30 percent of the instances of e0n + dative of personal pronoun in the Pauline corpus, the expression is somewhat akin to a dative of reference: “they glorified God with respect to me.”[52] In the context of Galatians 2:20-21, there is nothing in the immediate context that suggests vitalism; there is plenty that bespeaks Paul’s concern to explain justification (Gal 2:14-18). Thus in Galatians 2:20, Paul is not saying that he is literally dead. He has been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:19), because Christ has died in his place: as the apostle goes on to explain, Christ bore the curse for him (Gal 3:13). Because of this substitution, Paul is so identified with Christ that he can say that he was crucified with Christ. But so also with respect to Paul’s life. “I no longer live,” he writes, not because there is no sense in which he is living, but because “Christ lives with respect to me (ἐν ἐμοί).” So great is his identity with Christ that, as he has been crucified with Christ, so also Christ’s life is his. But as this does not mean that Paul is literally[53] dead, so it does not mean that there is no sense in which he can speak of himself living. That is why he immediately goes on to say, “And the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith [note the instrumental force of e0n pi/stei] in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”—which brings us back to Christ’s substitutionary death. The remarkable thing about this passage, however, is that not only is Christ’s death the Christian’s death, but Christ’s life is the Christian’s life.[54]

That insight sheds light on 1 Corinthians 1:30: “It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.”[55] Gundry says, “That the wisdom comes from God favors that righteousness, sanctification, and redemption—which make up or parallel wisdom—likewise come from God. Thus, the righteousness that Christ becomes for us who are in him is not his own righteousness, but God’s. Nor does Paul use the language of imputation.”[56] But observe:

(a) Gundry’s antithesis is perplexing: the wisdom is God’s, he says, not Christ’s, even though the text says “Christ has become for us wisdom” and “Christ has become for us . . . righteousness,” and so forth. Again, this is bound up with the language of union in Christ: “you are in Christ Jesus.” Nevertheless, the next word is a relative pronoun whose referent is Christ, who is explicitly said to have become our righteousness. Why, then, the complete antithesis (“God’s, not Christ’s”)? This is not far removed from the ideas found in 2 Corinthians 5:19-21: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. So yes, this righteousness is God’s; and yes, this righteousness is Christ’s. The text says so.

(b) True, there is no explicit mention of imputation. But to argue that the language of imputation could not be used here because it would not fit other elements in the list (e.g., redemption) is to presuppose that Christ necessarily becomes our righteousness, sanctification and redemption—whether these constitute wisdom or must be added to wisdom as parallels—in exactly the same way. But that is precisely why the “in Christ” language, the language of union with Christ, is more comprehensive than the categories tied more immediately to righteousness/justification. Compare rather similarly 1 Corinthians 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Thiselton has it right when he paraphrases along these lines: you were “sanctified,” set apart as holy; you were justified, that is, put right in your standing, in the name of the Lord Jesus, that is, precisely because you are united with Christ Jesus, by the Spirit of our God.[57] The point of 1 Corinthians 1:30 is that for Paul, the real “wisdom” is bound up not with the arrogance he finds in Greek pretensions, but with salvation, and thus with categories like sanctification, righteousness, redemption. That is precisely why Christ has become for us the true wisdom. Those who are in Christ find that Christ has become for them everything needed for salvation. The precise way in which Christ “becomes” these various elements can only be unpacked by what is said elsewhere. Granted such parallels as 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, Galatians 2:20-21, Philippians 3:8-9 and Romans 4, however, it is surely a brave scholar who insists that “Christ has become . . . our righteousness” has nothing to do with Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us.

(c) Very often Paul’s language of justification/sanctification/redemption points back to the saving event itself, rather than directly to their impact on us. Recall the objects of faith noticed by Gathercole in Romans 4:

. . . πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ (Rom 4:5)
. . . ἐπίστευσεν θεοῦ τοῦ ζῳοποιοῦντος τοῦς νεκροὺς καὶ καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα (Rom 4:17)
. . . τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἐπὶ τὸν ἐγείραντα Ἰησοῦν τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν ἐκ νεκρῶν (Rom 4:24)[58]

The God who justifies the ungodly is the same God who raised Jesus from the dead: the two participial verbs in Romans 4:5 and Romans 4:24 respectively portray the same saving event. To think of the justification of the ungodly as mere declaration with respect to the believer, based upon the redemptive event but distinct from it, rather than seeing justification as the great event itself in which God simultaneously is vindicated while justifying the ungodly, thereby incorporating the declaration into the saving event, is a painful reductionism that fails to see how our being “in Christ” ties us to the justifying event itself. This is commonplace in Paul’s use of “justification” terminology.[59]

In short, although the “union with Christ” theme has often been abused, rightly handled it is a comprehensive and complex way of portraying the various ways in which we are identified with Christ and he with us. In its connections with justification, “union with Christ” terminology, especially when it is tied to the great redemptive event, suggests that although justification cannot be reduced to imputation, justification in Paul’s thought cannot long be faithfully maintained without it.

Finally, I must directly address the question, “If all of your exposition is right, or merely largely right, why does not Paul at some point or other come right out and simply say, unambiguously, ‘Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us’?”[60] Perhaps a useful answer emerges in two points, the second more important than the first.

(a) Although the question is worth raising, one must always be careful of reading too much into silence, not least when one is dealing with occasional documents. Robert Gundry is a firm defender of the view that several New Testament writers hold to some (distinctively Christian) notion of propitiation, and I concur. But that does not alter the fact that the ι̒λαστήριον / ι̒λασμος word-group is rather rare in the New Testament; nor does the notion of propitiation depend on one word-group alone.

(b) Strictly speaking, there is no passage in the New Testament that says that our sins are imputed to Christ, though most confessional Christians, including Robert Gundry, would insist on the point. True, we are told that Christ was made a curse for us (Gal 3:13), and was made sin for us while our own sins were not imputed to us (2 Cor 5:19-21). We are told that he died in our place, and gave his life a ransom for many, and much more of the same. He is depicted as a lamb whose death expiates sin. Still, the fact of the matter is that there is no passage that explicitly asserts that our sins are imputed to Christ, even though most of us, I think, are prepared to defend the proposition that this point is taught in Scripture, even if the λογίζομαι terminology is not deployed in its support. So why should a scholar who accepts that Paul teaches that our sins are imputed to Christ, even though no text explicitly says so, find it so strange that many Christians have held that Paul teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, even though no text explicitly says so?

This is part and parcel of the “great exchange”; on the face of it, this reading makes most sense of most passages. And if our terminology in our theological expression does not perfectly align with Paul’s terminology, that is not unprecedented either, as we have already observed in the domains of sanctification and reconciliation.


  1. The latest, but neither the first nor the last, is John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2002). Perhaps I should add that informed Protestants would not want to say that the Reformation invented their understanding of justification. Besides claiming that they are faithfully expounding texts of the New Testament, they would say that the Reformers are in line with a substantial patristic stream (though they would aver that the Reformers clarified aspects of the doctrine): see Thomas C. Oden, The Justification Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
  2. Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in the New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000). In recent years, a handful of scholars from various traditions have either recognized the violent language of the atonement and then sought to dismiss it, or in some way or other marginalized related biblical themes dealing with God’s wrath and judgment. See, inter alios, Anthony W. Bartlett, Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001); J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001); C. D. Marshall, Beyond Retribution: A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime and Punishment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001). For a more traditional exposition from the same period, see David Peterson, ed., Where Wrath and Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001).
  3. His literature is so well known it need not be listed here. Some specific points and their sources will be introduced later.
  4. Robert H. Gundry, “Why I Didn’t Endorse ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration’ . . . even though I wasn’t asked to,” Books & Culture 7, no. 1 (2001): 6-9; and his response to the criticism of Thomas C. Oden, “On Oden’s ‘Answer,’” Books & Culture 7, no. 2 (2001): 14-15, 39. See also Gundry’s stimulating contribution to this volume, which of course I have not seen as this essay is being revised, but merely heard as it was presented at the Wheaton Theology Conference, April 10-12, 2003.
  5. (a) Immediate imputation, by which, in virtue of the federal and natural union between Adam and his posterity, the sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity, even though the sin is not their act, and that this imputed sin is the judicial ground of the penalty pronounced on them. (b) Mediate imputation, by which it is affirmed that Adam’s corrupt nature comes to all his posterity, so that all that is really imputed to them is their own inherent, though inherited, depravity. (c) Under the “realistic” theory, all of humankind was generically in the persons of Adam and Eve, so that their sin was, in reality, the sin of the entire race. In this instance, what is imputed to Adam’s posterity is in fact their own sin, and nothing more. The other two most common positions deny any notion of imputation. (d) The hereditary corruption is no more than an instance of “like producing like,” and imputation is left out of the equation. (e) Some have argued that Adam sinned, and all others sin, but that there is no causal or natural connection between the two. This summary is a somewhat modified version of that offered by Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (New York: Scribners, Armstrong, 1872), 2:192-93.
  6. I am here using “theology” in the American sense, rather than the British sense. On the U.K. side of the Atlantic, “theology” is the umbrella discipline that includes exegesis, dogmatics, historical theology, and much more. In North America, “theology,” whether systematic, biblical, philosophical, historical, or something else, is a more synthetic discipline, and is regularly set over against exegesis.
  7. E.g., Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), esp. pp. 202-9.
  8. E.g., Numbers 4:14-15.
  9. So David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness, NSBT (Leicester, U.K.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995).
  10. Cf. further 1 Corinthians 14:1; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Timothy 6:11; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15; 2 Peter 3:18; and G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), pp. 101ff.
  11. Stanley E. Porter, καταλάσσω in Ancient Greek Literature, with Reference to the Pauline Writings, Estudios de Filología Neotestamentaria 5 (Córdoba: Ediciones El Almendro, 1994).
  12. Seyoon Kim, Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
  13. On the whole, this is how John Piper, Counted Righteous, casts his work. Incidentally, Piper seems to take his list of who falls into this camp from Gundry’s list of people who do not wholeheartedly embrace the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, and as a result ends up lumping, for instance, Mark Seifrid and N. T. Wright in the same camp. No one who has read their works closely could make that mistake: Seifrid has been one of the most perceptive critics of the new perspective.
  14. This is not to say that Käsemann, Sanders and later “new perspective” writers are all saying the same thing when they assert that “justification” primarily has to do with covenantal righteousness. In particular, Käsemann holds that Paul critically expands the term to include “creation-faithfulness,” and unlike later writers in this stream, does not disassociate justification from judgment. Doubtless Käsemann has been influenced by Adolf Schlatter.
  15. The most important of these is the essay by Mark A. Seifrid, “Righteousness Language in the Hebrew Scriptures and Early Judaism,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Volume 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism, ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark A. Seifrid (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2001), pp. 415-42. See further his continuing linguistic discussion in volume 2 (forthcoming). In addition, see Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 70-90; and, more briefly, Peter Stuhlmacher, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary, trans. Scott J. Hafemann (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), pp. 61-65. The writers just cited are not in perfect agreement, of course, but they all insist on tying δικ- terms explicitly to righteousness. Among the many observations that Seifrid offers is the fact that in the Hebrew Bible the terms בריה(“covenant”) and צדק(“righteousness”), despite their very high frequency, almost never occur in close proximity. In general, “one does not ‘act righteously or unrighteously’ with respect to a covenant. Rather, one ‘keeps,’ ‘remembers,’ ‘establishes’ a covenant or the like. Or, conversely, one ‘breaks,’ ‘transgresses,’ ‘forsakes,’ ‘despises,’ forgets’ or ‘profanes’ it” (p. 424). Righteousness language is commonly found in parallel with terms for rightness or rectitude over against evil. Moreover, the attempt to link “being righteous” with “being in the covenant” or with Israel’s “covenant status” does not fare much better in Qumran and rabbinic literature. Pace N. T. Wright, “Romans and the Theology of Paul,” in Pauline Theology, Volume III: Romans, ed. David M. Hay and E. Elizabeth Johnson (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), pp. 38-39, who claims that “righteousness” means covenant faithfulness, and therefore that this “righteousness” is “not a quality of substance that can be passed or transferred from the judge to the defendant” (p. 39). Cf. further D. A. Carson, “Why Trust a Cross? Reflections on Romans 3:21-26,” in the forthcoming festschrift for Roger Nicole, The Glory of the Atonement, ed. Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004). It is no answer to insist that God’s saving act of righteousness, by which we are declared righteous before him, fulfills his covenantal promises. Doubtless that is true, but it entirely misses the point. The question is whether the term δικαιοσύνη refers to the fulfillment of or faithfulness of God’s covenantal promises, or refers to God’s vindication of both himself and his people.
  16. William G. T. Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1888 [1865]), 2:341; cited also in Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:148-49. Cf. also William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889) 2:546-549.
  17. Don Garlington, Faith, Obedience, and Perseverance: Aspects of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, WUNT 79 (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1994), passim. This is a fairly common stance among the various strands of the “new perspective.” Cf. the verdict of Jacob Neusner on E. P. Sanders’s defense of that position, in Neusner’s Ancient Judaism: Debates and Disputes (BJS 64; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1984), p. 198: “[N]ow exactly what Sanders means when he says that it would be ‘un-Pharisaic’ [of Paul] to exact perfect obedience to the law I do not know.” See also Timo Laato, “Paul’s Anthropological Considerations: Two Problems,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Vol. 2: The Paradoxes of Paul, ed. D. A. Carson, Mark A. Seifrid and Peter T. O’Brien (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, forthcoming).
  18. Thomas C. Oden, “A Calm Answer,” Books & Culture 7, no. 2 (2001): 13.
  19. Robert H. Gundry, “Why I Didn’t Endorse,” 6; referred to in Gundry, “On Oden’s ‘Answer,’ ” p. 14.
  20. "On Oden’s ‘Answer,’ ” p. 15.
  21. I am indebted for this observation to Mark A. Seifrid, in a paper so far unpublished, “The Justification of the Ungodly: Promise and Peril in the Current Discussion of Justification,” p. 23.
  22. I am indebted to Graham Cole for isolating these passages for me.
  23. David Broughton Knox, Justification by Faith (London: Church Book Room, 1959), p. 6.
  24. David Broughton Knox, The Everlasting God: A Character Study of God in the Old and New Testaments (Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1982).
  25. Cf. discussion in H. Moxnes, Theology in Conflict: Studies in Paul’s Understanding of God in Romans, NovTSup 53 (Leiden: Brill, 1980), pp. 155-63.
  26. C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols., ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975-1979), 1:229- 30. In a lengthy essay that circulated for a while on the web (at < paulpage/Imputation.pdf>), but which has subsequently been withdrawn, Don Garlington, “Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper,” cites some of the same Jewish sources to argue, rather, that what Paul means is precisely what they mean: that is, Abraham’s faith is imputed to him as righteousness precisely because his faith showed him to be faithful to the covenant and thus endowed with covenant righteousness (e.g., pp. 3-4 on my printout). But not only does this reading domesticate Paul by ascribing to him the meaning found in the texts of Jewish “background” (cf. the perennially à propos warnings of Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” JBL 81 [1962]: 2-13), it fails to take seriously the profoundly polemical context of Romans 3—4. I am grateful to Peter T. O’Brien for initially drawing my attention to this essay by Garlington. Apparently it is scheduled to appear in print in Reformation & Revival Journal, along with a response from John Piper, who kindly sent me a copy. Piper similarly draws attention to Garlington’s false dichotomy.
  27. C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1971), p. 88.
  28. H. W. Heidland, “λογίζομαι κτλ,” TDNT 4:290-92, argues that Paul is playing off the Hebrew meaning of λογίζομαι (viz. חָשָׁב) with respect to κατὰ χάρις, over against the Greek meaning of the verb with respect to κατὰ ὀϕείλημα. In the LXX, λογίζομαι renders חָשָׁב in all but five of its occurrences, and the Hebrew verb has little to do with “counting” or “reckoning” in a commercial sense, and much more to do with the notion of “plan,” “invent,” “devise,” or, alternatively, to denote a kind of thinking in which will and emotion are involved, or to denote “count (as)” or “count [something or someone](as),” often as a subjective judgment (e.g., Gen 31:15; 1 Sam 1:13; Job 41:27, 29 [MT 41:21, 24]; Is 5:28). But this presupposes not only that Paul made this subtle distinction in his interpretation of Genesis 15:6, but that he expected his readers to, which is highly unlikely (or that he was incompetent if he did not expect them to, which is scarcely more attractive). More importantly, not only here in Romans 4 but even more so in Galatians 3:6-7 (where Paul again quotes Gen 15:6), the apostle fastens not on the verb λογίζομαι but on the verb πιστεύω: note (1) the contrast between τῷ . . . ἐργαζομένω and τῷ . . . μὴ ἐργαζομέῳ, πιστεύοντι δέ and, further (2) after πιστεύοντι the addition of ἐπί τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ (on which see further comment below).
  29. Gundry, “Why I Didn’t Endorse,” p. 8.
  30. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 262 n. 35. This distinction perfectly reflects the fact that sometimes logi/zomai conceives of the “counting” or the “imputing” as a reckoning up of what is in fact there, and sometimes conceives of the “counting” or the “imputing” as a reckoning up of one thing as another thing. See further below.
  31. O. Palmer Robertson, “Genesis 15:6: New Covenant Expositions of an Old Covenant Text,” WTJ 42 (1980): 266. The other examples just mentioned are drawn from pp. 265-66. On this issue, cf. further H. H. Schmid, “Gerechtigkeit und Glaube: Genesis 15,1-6 und sein biblisch-theologischer Kontext,” EvT 40 (1980): 408; and many commentaries on Genesis.
  32. Strangely, Don Garlington, “Imputation or Union with Christ?” n. 4, refers to the sorts of passages in which there is not strict equivalence as supporting a “non-imputational” reading of λογίζομαι. It is true that λογίζομαι has a semantic range large enough to include non-imputational readings: see, for instance, Romans 3:28, briefly discussed below. But these passages are not among them. In each instance, something that is not-X is reckoned to be X. To label them “non-imputational” in order to enforce the conclusion that the faith of Romans 4:3 demonstrates that Abraham was thus rightly reckoned to be righteous is to pre-judge the linguistic matters and, as I shall argue above, distort the flow of Paul’s argument.
  33. Cranfield, Epistle to the Romans, 1:231.
  34. The Greek καθάπερ, “just as,” or, in the NIV, “David says the same thing,” invites the reader to discern just what comparison Paul is constructing.
  35. The LXX puts this into the second person.
  36. Barrett, Romans, p. 88.
  37. Otfried Hofius, “ ‘Rechtfertigung des gottlosen’ als Thema biblisher Theologie,” Jahrbuch für biblische Theologie 2 (1987): 79-105. I am grateful to Mark Seifrid for drawing my attention to this essay.
  38. Thus I accept the more traditional rendering of Romans 3:25-26, which understands the lines to give us the “internal” explanation of the cross. See especially the commentary by Moo, Romans, pp. 218-43; and Carson, “Why Trust a Cross?”
  39. Cranfield, 1:232 n. 1.
  40. This is from a private e-mail, dated April 16, 2003, in which Dr. Gundry graciously unpacked his views for me a little more, thus lessening any potential I might have had for misrepresenting him. I am grateful for his patience.
  41. That is why, in the essay that provoked some of these debates (“Why I Didn’t Endorse,” p. 9), Gundry concludes his piece with a postscript in which he suggests that there might be a more fruitful dialogue between evangelicals and Roman Catholics “if both sides were to give up their respective notions of imputation and infusion.”
  42. Even if one holds (as I do) that the delivering up and the raising of Jesus is the means of our believing (cf. also Eph 2:8-9, where faith is the gift of God), and thus the fruit of grace, this does not in the slightest vitiate Pauline insistence, in the appropriate context, that faith is the means or instrument by which grace is appropriated.
  43. Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 176-78.
  44. Cf. Simon J. Gathercole, “Justified by Faith, Justified by his Blood: The Evidence of Romans 3:21— 4:5,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Vol. 2: The Paradoxes of Paul, ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark A. Seifrid (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, forthcoming).
  45. Ibid.
  46. Here, it appears, Don Garlington wants to have his cake and eat it: “It is just such an appraisal of the reckoning of righteousness that opens up the intention of Romans 6:4: because of its object, faith, and faith alone, is accepted in the place of allegiance to the law of Moses, including most prominently the various boundary markers of Jewish identity. In strict terms, faith is reckoned as righteousness: our faith in Christ is looked upon as tantamount to righteousness in its quintessential meaning—conformity to the will of God— because in Christ we have become God’s very righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21)” (“Imputation or Union with Christ,” p. 5 on my printout [emphasis his]). Apart from the gratuitous reference to boundary markers, which are scarcely central to Paul’s concerns in the opening chapters of Romans, Garlington is entirely right to emphasize that it is faith’s object that is crucial in Paul’s argument. That is what makes faith, intrinsically in Paul’s argument, a means. On the other hand: (a) It is far from clear that Paul accepts faith “in place of allegiance to the law of Moses”: faith shuts out the law, which condemns. (b) While by stressing faith’s object Garlington implicitly recognizes faith as means, by then defining faith’s “quintessential meaning” as “conformity to the will of God” he surreptitiously makes this faith essentially the righteousness which is then rightly imputed to believers as righteousness. The language is notoriously slippery. In some broad sense, of course, Godcommanded faith is in “conformity to the will of God,” but in the context this faith justifies the ungodly, that is, those who are not in conformity to the will of God. Like most who take this line, Garlington has not come to terms with Paul’s insistence that the faith he has in view is not in any sense properly seen as something intrinsically the believer’s and so “good” that it earns this imputation as righteousness. Rather, it is categorized as a “gift” (Rom 4:4), which is given to the ungodly. (c) Garlington is entirely right to show that it is in Christ that we have become God’s very righteousness. But the antithetical nature of the way he casts this union in Christ is troubling: see further below.
  47. Inevitably something must be said about the heated debate between those who take the subjective genitive (“the faith[fulness] of Christ”) and those who take the objective genitive (“faith in Christ”). Despite the claims of Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1- 4:11, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), which is doubtless the premier defense of the former option, linguistically much more can be said for the objective genitive. From the voluminous literature, see especially Moisés Silva, “Faith Versus Works of the Law in Galatians,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism. Volume 2: The Paradoxes of Paul, ed. D. A. Carson, Mark Seifrid and Peter T. O’Brien (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, forthcoming). In most of the relevant passages, there is a sense in which at one level the decision one forms on this issue does not necessarily control too much of the ensuing discussion. For instance, even if one were to adopt the subjective genitive in the expression in Romans 3:21-26 (i.e., reading “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ”), there is still a major emphasis on faith (e.g., Rom 3:22, 25, 26).
  48. This form of words, of course, is Johannine, not Pauline, but I have briefly argued that the thought is not peculiar to either of them but common to both.
  49. At the Wheaton Theology Conference at which this paper was read, Dr. Anthony Lane made this point most forcefully.
  50. Hence the title of Don Garlington’s paper to which I have already referred, “Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper.”
  51. The literature on this subject is of course extensive and complex. In this collection, see the essay by Bruce McCormack, “What’s at Stake in Current Debates Over Justification? The Crisis of Protestantism in the West.”
  52. Hence the NIV’s paraphrastic but certainly idiomatic and faithful “because of me.”
  53. The terminology is admittedly tricky. As one scholar remonstrated me in private, “Surely Paul is ‘literally’ dead—crucified with Christ. ‘Literally’ depends on whether reality is defined by what we see or by what we hear in the Gospel.” What lies behind this riposte, I think, is that if the alternative to “literally” is “metaphorically,” then the latter seems too weak, too unreal. But one might equally fear that “literally” in its strongest sense leads inexorably to the well-known errors of Watchman Nee (e.g., The Normal Christian Life, 3rd ed. [London: Victory, 1961]). But one may put something other than “metaphorical” over against “literal”: for example, juridical. And in any case, “metaphorical” does not signify “unreal.” In ordinary parlance, one does not speak of being “dead to something” the way Paul can speak of being “dead to sin”: one is either dead, or one is not. The fact that someone can be “dead to something” shows that what one means by “dead” is not the customary meaning: the “literal” meaning has been extended to something more specialized. Luther’s affirmation of Scripture as a litera spiritualis, grounded on the observation that Scripture speaks not of everyday things but of eternal things, not of the fallen creation but of God and the gospel, though I sympathize with what he is trying to preserve, is in danger of sanctioning, however unwittingly, a kind of gnostic approach. Provided one does not import into the notion of “not literal” the assumption of the unreal, but tries instead to sort out as humbly as possible just what Paul means, I do not see a safer way of insisting that in Galatians 2:20 Paul does not mean that he is “literally” dead.
  54. The main thrust of my argument is, I think, pretty convincing, even if this proposal for the exegesis of Galatians 2:20 is rejected. Certainly the secondary literature on Galatians 2:20 reveals exegetical landmines and debates, only a few of which can be mentioned here. One must reckon not only with Galatians 1:24 but with Galatians 1:16: it pleased God “to reveal his Son ἐν ἐμοί/.” F. F. Bruce (Commentary on Galatians, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], p. 93) comments, “The prepositional phrase e0n e0moi could be a substitute for the simple dative (cf. ϕανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς, Rom 1:19;ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον, 2 Cor. 4:3), but here it probably points to the inwardness of the experience. For Paul the outward vision and the inward illumination coincided: Jesus, whom he persecuted, was revealed as the Son of God, and the revelation was the act of God himself.” On this basis, many (e.g., Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, Hermeneia [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979], p. 71) link Galatians 1:16; 2:20 and 4:6 on the (reasonable) assumption that Paul makes little distinction between saying that God or Christ or the Spirit is “in” the believer. Some go further and apply this “in” language even to Galatians 1:24: “they glorified God [who is] in me.” After all, it is God who is being glorified, not Paul. Nevertheless: (1) It is God who is being glorified in Galatians 1:24 even on the (now standard) reading: “and they glorified God on account of me.” Thus the object of the verb “to glorify” is not in dispute. (2) Betz’s work does not inspire confidence. He does not so much as comment on the ἐν ἐμοί in Galatians 1:24. When he raises the question of the meaning of the phrase in Galatians 1:16, he begins with a footnote: “See on the philological question BDF, §220,1.” Apparently Betz obtained this reference to BDF from the BDF index, which turns out to be a typo. In fact, BDF §220(1) mentions Colossians 1:16, not Galatians 1:16, and the discussion treats e0n + dative of a personal instrument, not dative of reference. (3) Probably the commentary with the most detailed justification for taking ἐν ἐμοί in Galatians 2:20 to mean “within me” is that of Ernest de Witt Burton, The Epistle to the Galatians, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1921), pp. 50-51, 137-38. But his entire argument is based on the assumption that the only alternative to “within me” is “by means of me to others,” which he has no trouble dispatching to oblivion, with the assumption that his only alternative must therefore be right. The errors in method are palpable. (4) Most commentaries that reflect on ἐν ἐμοι in Galatians 1:24 rightly perceive that at least in this instance the prepositional expression must mean “on my account” or the like. Indeed, many cite the parallel to which J. B. Lightfoot (Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians [London: Macmillan, 1896], p. 86) first drew attention, namely, Is 49:3 LXX: “You are my servant, Israel, ἐν σοὶ δοζασθήσομαι.” (5) Some grammarians hold that even in Galatians 1:16 the phrase should be taken to mean something like “in the case of ”: e.g., A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), p. 587. In this light, cf. again the parallels adduced by Bruce, above. (6) Even if in 2:20 the prepositional phrase ἐν ἐμοι is rendered by “in me,” we should not too quickly leap to the conclusion of F. F. Bruce (p. 144): “[I]t is by the Spirit that the risen life of Christ is communicated to his people and maintained within them. It makes little practical difference whether he speaks of Christ living in them or the Spirit dwelling in them (cf. Rom 8:10a, 11a), although the latter expression is commoner (contrariwise, although it makes little practical difference whether he speaks of them as being ‘in Christ’ or ‘in the Spirit’, it is the former expression that is commoner).” In general terms, that is true, but precisely because the “in Christ” language takes on different hues in different contexts, one cannot fail to observe that in the context of Galatians 2:20, “living” terminology is parallel to the “crucified” terminology: I am crucified with Christ, and Christ lives ἐν ἐμοι and the Spirit cannot replace Christ in both sides of the parallel. Add to this the strong context of justification (Gal 2:15ff.), the parallel of ἐν ἐμοί as a dative of reference at least in Galatians 1:24 and perhaps in Galatians 1:16, and the very least that must be said about the force of the prepositional phrase in Galatians 2:20 is that the dative of reference reading should not be ruled out of court too quickly. Or to put the matter another way, even if some sort of “incorporation” idea lurks behind the expression in Galatians 2:20, the idea in this context is tied much less to any sort of vitalism than it is to the kind of deep identification of the believer with Christ that stands behind “the great exchange.”
  55. It is disputed whether the four items—wisdom, righteousness, holiness, redemption—are all parallel, or wisdom is the controlling element with the latter three elucidating it. The use of te plus the context in which the dominant theme is “wisdom” argue persuasively for the latter, though little in my argument depends on the point.
  56. Gundry, “Why I Didn’t Endorse,” p. 7.
  57. Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGTC (Carlisle, U.K.: Paternoster, 2000), p. 454.
  58. Cf. Simon J. Gathercole, “Justified by Faith, Justified by his Blood: The Evidence of Romans 3:21— 4:5,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Vol. 2: The Paradoxes of Paul, ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark A. Seifrid (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, forthcoming).
  59. This is greatly stressed in the varied writings of Mark A. Seifrid. See especially his essay, “Paul’s Use of Righteousness Language Against Its Hellenistic Background,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Vol. 2: The Paradoxes of Paul, ed. D. A. Carson, Mark A. Seifrid and Peter T. O’Brien (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, forthcoming), passim. Seifrid himself unpacks union with Christ language in close allegiance to Luther, but, in a slightly different structure, Calvin likewise sees union with Christ as the fundamental issue that separates him from Trent on the matter of justification: see Craig B. Carpenter, “A Question of Union with Christ? Calvin and Trent on Justification,” WTJ 64 (2002): 363-86.
  60. The question was explicitly raised by Robert Gundry at the Wheaton Theology Conference.
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