Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Saving Righteousness of God (chapter 6; pt. 2)

Well, Dr. Bird certainly offers us a heap of exegetical meat to chew on, and this chapter is the meatiest of all. In the latter portion of chapter 6, Bird takes an in-depth look at justification in Galatians and Romans. He begins with an analysis of the Antioch controversy. In my review from last week, I noted Bird's conclusion (in my own words)...

the Judaizers/James' party were offended not simply because Peter was eating with Gentiles, but the implication this action carried; by eating with Gentiles without forcing them to judaize, Peter was implying that the Gentiles were equal members with Jews in the covenant.

Moreover, through disassociating himself from the Gentile believers, Peter was effectively asking them to Judaize in order to enjoy full membership in the New Covenant community. Circumcision was the final step in judaizing, and this final step appears to be what Paul is opposing throughout Galatians (cf. Gal 2:3, 14; 6:12). Paul's opponents were attempting to convince believers to take on the distinctive marks of Judaism in order to be identified with covenant community, and it was precisely this community that the judaizers supposed would be vindicated at the final judgment. Paul thus opposes ethnocentrism, AND reliance on the law, since the judaizers supposed that their works would serve as the basis for final justification. In contradistinction, Paul maintains that faith is the sign of family membership (3:6-9), and the basis of justification (2:15-21). I like this reconstruction, as it goes a long way in, (1) tying together the different situations Paul mentions in Galatians (i.e. Jerusalem, Antioch, and Galatia), and (2) explaining how he effortlessly moves from speaking of table fellowship in 2:11-14 to justification in 2:15-21. The flow of thought is fairly clear, as Bird notes...

"If doing works of the law [i.e. judaizing] is necessary to be part of the people of God, and if the people of God are those whom God will justify, then the Judaizers were de facto making justification by works of the law." (140)

My only issue with the section was that Bird seemed to downplay the notion of human inability in Galatians. For instance, I agree that 3:10-14 is primarily about salvation-history (i.e. about the age of "faith" and the inadequacy of the age of law). However, I think what makes Paul's point particularly potent is his implied premise that the old age is characterized by human inability. Perhaps we agree on this Dr. Bird.

As for Romans, Bird traces the theme of justification throughout the epistle, with an eye to the Jew/Gentile conflict in the church. The Jewish opponents supposed that both their possession and peformance would garner them favor with God. Paul responds that this sort of presumption is foolish because of God's impartiality. Moreover, the apostle contends that it is faith in Christ which secures righteousness for the believer (Rom 3:21-26), and it is faith that marks one out as a member of the New Covenant community (Rom 4:9-17). God is impartial in judgment, and impartial in justification. I thought Bird did an excellent job of showing that Paul was arguing both against the presumption of membership in God's people based on ethnic privilege, and the presumption that obedience secures God's favor.

Where does this leave us? Well, justification is both about being acquitted in the divine law court, and being marked out as part of the redeemed community. It is both forensic and covenantal. It's about salvation and it's about the church.

One practical application I saw arising from this chapter pertains to the relationship between justification and adoption. Bird notes the need for more sustained reflection on this relationship (154), and I think he's right.

Being justified means being part of a new community; a new family. If this is the case, then my justification goes hand in hand with my adoption. As N.T. Wright says...

"The doctrine of justification by faith...[was] about how one could tell, in the present, who God's true people were - and hence who one's family were, who were the people with whom one should, as a matter of family love and loyalty, sit down and eat." [Paul in Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005); 159]

The doctrine of justification contains the implicit command that we are to show family love and loyalty to our brothers and sisters.

Well Dr. Bird, I don't have specific questions for this week. I'd appreciate any further thoughts you have on the chapter/my response to it.


Michael F. Bird said...

That's a pretty good round up of what I say in SROG. I would only quibble that Wright, in the quotation you cite, tends to over play the horizontal elements at the expense of the vertical horizon of justification.

Jeffrey Bruce said...

Agreed. I just like that's he's trying to find the interrelation between justification and adoption.