Pages

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Another gold nugget in Romans 4:6 (against Faith Alone)

Most people who read this blog know I'm a huge fan of studying Romans chapter 4 because of its pivotal role in Protestantism. As I continue to study the chapter, I continue to find powerful arguments against the standard Reformed (Calvinist) interpretation of this chapter. This short post will be presenting an argument drawn from the first half of chapter 4, specifically how one is to understand the “works” mentioned there. The best part about this argument will be that Reformed Baptists apologist John Piper ends up doing most of the work for me.

Commenting on Romans 4:5-6, John Piper says this in his book Counted Righteous in Christ (pages 57ff):
(5) But to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousness, (6) just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.
The “just as” at the beginning of verse 6 shows that Paul is now explaining with an Old Testament comparison (Psalm 32:1-2) what it means for God to justify the ungodly. He says, “Just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits or imputes righteousness apart from works.” There are two crucial things to notice in the connection between verse 6 and verse 5.

The first is the parallel between “apart from works” in verse 6 and “the ungodly” in verse 5. In verse 5 God justifies “the ungodly.” In verse 6 God credits righteousness to a man “apart from works.” What it means to be “apart from works” in Romans 4:6 is defined in verses 7-8: The man is guilty of “lawless deeds” and “sin.” So God’s crediting righteousness to a person “apart from works” means that he credits righteousness to “the ungodly.”

This leads to the second crucial thing to notice about the connection between verses 5 and 6—namely, the parallel between God’s act of justifying in verse 5 and God’s act of crediting or imputing righteousness in verse 6. We have seen that “the ungodly” in verse 5 parallels “apart from works” in verse 6. It is natural then to take the phrase, “justify the ungodly” to be parallel with “credit righteousness apart from works.” ...
This second point is confirmed by the parallel in wording between Romans 3:28 and Romans 4:6. In Romans 3:28 Paul says, “A man is justified (dikaiousthai) by faith apart from works of the law (choris ergon nomou).” In Romans 4:6 he says, “God credits righteousness (logizetai dikaiosunen) apart from works (choris ergon).” The parallel between “apart from works of the law” (3:28) and “apart from works” (4:6) is so close as to suggest that the other parallel between “justify” and “credits righteousness” is similarly close, even synonymous.
In the middle of making a brilliant observation Piper also makes a huge gaffe. Here I'll explain why.

Piper shows that “justifies the ungodly” in verse 5 is a synonymous phrase for “credits righteousness apart from works” in verse 6. (And the “just as” in verse 6 strongly suggests this.) Since “justifies” corresponds to “credits righteousness,” then “ungodly” must correspond to “apart from works.” This is a perfectly valid argument, but when Piper pauses to define “ungodly” and “apart from works” is where he makes his mistake. This is what he says:
What it means to be “apart from works” in Romans 4:6 is defined in verses 7-8: The man is guilty of “lawless deeds” and “sin.” So God’s crediting righteousness to a person “apart from works” means that he credits righteousness to “the ungodly.”
While at first it can come off as reasonable to say “ungodly” means “sinner,” I don't think that's possible for two significant reasons.

First, Piper has not been consistent with the parallelism of the passage:
  • 4:6 Blessing to whom God credits righteousness apart from works
  • 4:7 Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven
  • 4:8 Blessed is he whom the Lord will not reckon his sin
Notice that the parallel is not of “iniquities” and “sin” corresponding to “apart from works,” as Piper hurriedly assumed, but rather the “crediting of righteousness” corresponds to “iniquities forgiven” and “not crediting sin.” In other words, Paul is saying that to “credit righteousness” is synonymous with “not crediting sin.” (Recall this important post where I showed even Luther and Calvin admit this.) Thus, there is no actual correspondence between “apart from works” and “sinner” here.

Second, consider that Piper shows there is just as much of a parallel between 4:5 and 4:6 as there is between 4:6 and 3:28. Here Piper shows that “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28) is to be understood synonymously with “credits righteousness apart from works” (4:6). Thus, the “ungodly” is one who is “apart from works of the law.” Realizing this, it is even less reasonable to say “apart from works of the law” is a synonym for “sinner” in general (for example, being uncircumcised does not make one a sinner in general).

The only fitting explanation is that “ungodly” is a slang (or even pejorative) way of speaking of a Gentile, who is by definition someone who lacks works of the law. Note this parallel found in Galatians 2:15-16
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ
And not only is this the only consistent way to interpret that parallel, it's the only way to make sense of Paul's earlier statements regarding Abraham. Consider the following.

In Romans 4, Paul is not making the argument that Abraham was a “sinner” (in the typical sense), since this would contradict verse 2: if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. Now, if Paul's point is that Abraham is a sinner, then to speak of him being justified by works (even hypothetically) is nonsense. This must mean verse 2 cannot be speaking of Abraham as sinner, but just the opposite: if Abraham was “godly,” he has something to boast about, just not before God. The question then is, why is Abraham able to boast in the first place, but unable to boast before God? It cannot be because of sin. It can only be because being found righteous in terms of works of the law (that is, being “godly” by Mosaic Law standards) is not ultimately what God is concerned about. Rephrased, what Paul is saying is that living as a Jew, being justified in the eyes of the law, is not the same as being justified in the eyes of God. A similar argument can be made for verse 4:4, where Paul is not speaking of a sinner earning wages, but rather a honest worker earning wages, just ones that are no match for those corresponding to grace. In other words, the 'wages' the Mosaic Law offers are not bad, but they are inherently inferior to the 'wages' the Gospel offers.

This understanding renders a coherent argument to Romans 4 overall, for since the Jews and Judaizers saw the works of the law as the standard to meet for justification before God, then Paul has just refuted them. In the example of Abraham, Paul argues that Abraham was justified apart from circumcision, that is apart from works of the law, that is justified as a Gentile. In the case of Paul's appeal to David, Psalm 32 recounts the repentance of none other than David himself, who is our role model “Blessed man.” But in what sense is David “apart from works of the law” since David was not a Gentile? The most logical explanation is that David lost his circumcision status through his grave sins regarding Bathsheba and Uriah (cf Romans 2:25). Since the Torah taught murder and adultery could not be atoned for, the Mosaic Law couldn't help David, only God's mercy could. Such details would not have been lost on Paul's Jewish audience.

One might be wondering what the apologetic value is here since it doesn't seem to attack anything significant. The fact is, the parallelism between 4:5, 4:6, and 3:28, is very powerful in establishing that Paul has “works of the [Mosaic] law” in mind the whole time. He didn't leave that thought behind in 3:28 and shift his focus to works-in-general in Romans 4. This poses a serious problem for Protestants, who going back to the Pretend Reformers themselves argued that the clearest proof for “Faith Alone” was that Paul put “faith” in opposition to every kind of work. And in providing a more coherent and consistent interpretation of Romans 4, the honest Protestant must concede that this chapter wasn't the stronghold that they thought it was, forcing them to either retreat to elsewhere in Scripture or raise the white flag.

11 comments:

Steve Martin said...

It boggles my mind why people would NOT want to be justified by "faith alone".

The Scriptures tell us that "there are none who are righteous, no not one"...and that "all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags."

And Jesus himself told the Jews when they asked him, "what is it to do the works of the Father?"..."this is what it is...believe in the one whom the Father has sent."

That Christ has done it all for us on the cross ( "It is finished") is what is called "Good News".

If we had to gin up enough good works to add to that, and with the proper motives (good luck)...just how good of news would that be? Not too.

Just sayin'.

Thanks.

lonelypilgrim.com said...

Steve: "Faith alone" (i.e. "I don't have to do anything" would be nice and easy for anybody to believe. The question is not whether or not anyone wants to believe it, but whether or not Paul teaches it.

I think you misunderstand what we mean by the "works" we are proposing are necessary for salvation. Nobody supposes that we have to do a certain amount or "enough" "good works" to "add" to Christ's sacrifice. Christ's work on the cross, and His work alone, certainly purchases our redemption and the salvation of all who receive it. But we have to receive it. We have to accept it. We have to receive and participate and cooperate with His grace: be baptized, obey His commandments, walk in the life of his grace and salvation, actively. Not just passively accept that "it is finished" means that "there's nothing I have to do." Christ's death opened the door: but I have to walk through it.

Your point of view is curious to me. Recently I've been wondering what it is Calvinists think Catholics believe. And no, that's not what we believe.

Nick said...

Hello Steve,

Lonely Pilgrim is right. Truth isn't about what we feel or what we'd prefer, but rather about the facts. This is where Protestantism and Luther went wrong, because they based theology on feelings and not on the Word of God. Luther and Protestants want Sola Fide to be true, and from there they go hunting for verses to prove it. That's eisegesis, not exegesis.



De Maria said...

Steve Martin said...
It boggles my mind why people would NOT want to be justified by "faith alone".


Because Scripture says we are not justified by faith alone:
James 2:24
King James Version (KJV)
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

The Scriptures tell us that "there are none who are righteous, no not one"...and that "all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags."

Scripture is there referring to people who do not believe in God. Scripture points to examples of many who are righteous.

Luke 1:6
And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

And Jesus himself told the Jews when they asked him, "what is it to do the works of the Father?"..."this is what it is...believe in the one whom the Father has sent."

Jesus also said:
John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

And Scripture says:
Hebrews 5:9
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

That Christ has done it all for us on the cross ( "It is finished") is what is called "Good News".

Christ died on the Cross in order to give us an example to follow:
1 Peter 2:21
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

Those who refuse to do the works of God are not children of the Father. Because children do what their Father does:
John 5:17
But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

Ephesians 5
1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;

If we had to gin up enough good works to add to that, and with the proper motives (good luck)...just how good of news would that be? Not too.

You'd better hope you can gin up enough good works. Cause if you don't, you won't be saved.

God only saves those who do His works. Those who keep His Commandments.

Revelation 22:13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. 14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. 15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

Just sayin'.

Need to do a bit more listenin'.

Thanks.

You're welcome.

Sincerely,

De Maria

Christie said...

Nick,

Is the Greek word for 'works' in "apart from works" the same as "works of the law"?

--Christie

Nick said...

Hello Christie,

I have not had much time at a computer the last few days, but in answer to your question:

Yes, not only is the Greek word "works" (ergon) the same, but the phrase "apart from works" is itself the same in 3:28 and 4:6. John Piper says this himself above.

Joey Henry said...

Just want to leave a note for you to consider. The relationship between "works of the law" and "sin" is vitally important. It is your contention that "works" here merely represents the ceremonial aspect such as the circumcision and kosher foods or sabbath keeping. But Paul already refuted this in Romans 3:20. "For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin." The relationship between "works of law" and "sin" has been so forged in Pauline thought that to be found not having the "works of the law" is to fall short of the golry of God thereby unrighteous and ungodly.

Joey Henry said...

For anyone interested to know about how Law, Sin, Judgment van be systematically presented see article points 4, 5, 6.

http://thessalonians516.blogspot.com/2012/12/responses-regarding-imputation-article_13.html

Nick said...

Joey,

You said: "It is your contention that "works" here merely represents the ceremonial aspect such as the circumcision and kosher foods or sabbath keeping. But Paul already refuted this..."


Come on, Joey. How many times have you accused me of this and have I denied this? I have NEVER said "works" merely represent ceremonial works. I have never limited to that. I've maintained for a long time that the "works of the law" are "works of the Torah," namely all 613 Mitzvot. This is the fatal flaw of modern Reformed scholarship, because they think the "works of the Law" can only mean either ceremonial or only moral, but it's actually all the Torah.

I'm very disappointed that you would keep repeating this misrepresentation of my position (and the Catholic tradition in general).

It seems that, more and more, you cannot address my exegetical arguments head-on. You basically just repeat your own position but you don't realize your exegesis is seriously flawed, particularly heavily laced with presumptions.


Joey Henry said...

Nick,

Yet statements like this -"Realizing this, it is even less reasonable to say “apart from works of the law” is a synonym for “sinner” in general (for example, being uncircumcised does not make one a sinner in general)." - seems to show a very myopic view of the law.

If then your view is that the law consists of the 613 laws then it is difficult to even hold the view you wrote in this post.

Thanks,
Joey

Daly Myers said...

Paul calls jesus the new adam, meaning the cross restores us to the opportunity adam had to continue to walk with God but we can still turn against god and eat the forbidden fruits in our lives. We can fail as adam did and not recieve salvation. The cross is not a get into heaven free card it is what extends us to heaven when we fall short.