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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What you didn't know about Romans 8:29-30 and Predestination.

The purpose of this post will be to look at one badly neglected reading of Romans 8:29-30. Though a lot can be said about Predestination itself, I think this is a good article that summarizes the Catholic view. For now, I just want to look at these two verses, since I think the details given are often get overlooked because people don't know what to do with them. 
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This passage is often read as referring to man's whole life being predestined, from their conversion ("called") all the way to Heaven ("glorified"). While there is truth to that concept and a legitimate interpretation of this among some of the Fathers, notably St Augustine, there is also an illegitimate interpretation that the reads it in a way that denies free will and that some are predestined to hellfire. (This illegitimate understanding of predestination has been formally condemned by the Church.) But there are other interpretations that are worth noting that don't really see this as predestination 'from start to finish', but rather the "glorious" predestination to adoption.

St John Chrysostom comments on these verses in his Commentary on Romans:
Ver. 29. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the Image of His Son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers

See what superb honor! for what the Only-begotten was by Nature, this they also have become by grace. And still he was not satisfied with this calling of them conformed thereto, but even adds another point, “that He might be the first-born.” And even here he does not come to a pause, but again after this he proceeds to mention another point, “Among many brethren.” So wishing to use all means of setting the relationship in a clear light. Now all these things you are to take as said of the Incarnation. For according to the Godhead He is Only-begotten. See, what great things He hath given unto us! Doubt not then about the future ...
Simply fascinating exegesis! Why are people predestined to be conformed to Christ's image? According to Paul, it's so that Jesus can become "the firstborn of many brethren"! While most people are fixated on the "us" going to Heaven, St Paul is focused on "Jesus" becoming the pinnacle of everything. Tragically, how often is this "detail" overlooked when reading this passage? What Paul is saying here is that Jesus was by nature a Son of God, but through His Incarnation He made it possible for us to become sons of God as well. Jesus is the "firstborn" here because He is the archetype of what we are to model after. Continuing onto the next verse, St John comments:
Ver. 30. “Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified.

Now He justified them by the regeneration of the laver. “And whom He justified, them He also glorified” by the gift, by the adoption.
As St John Chrysostom goes onto talk about the next verse, notice how he says "glorified" refers to "adoption." Where many read a long time span between "justified" and "glorified," St John is telling us they happen at roughly the same time. (The phrase "regeneration of laver" comes from Titus 3:5 and is universally understood by the Fathers to refer to Baptism.) This means verse 30 is to be read as referring to predestination to adoption, with the "calling," the "justifying," and the "glorifying" referring to the start of Christian's journey, at their conversion.

And if that wasn't enough, there is virtual unanimity among the Eastern Fathers on this interpretation (the text isn't really addressed by the Western Fathers, from what I could find). Here's what I found among the Eastern Fathers.

St Gregory of Nyssa says concerning Christ being "first born among many brethren,"
He becomes “the first-born among many brethren,” Who is born before us by the new birth of regeneration in water, for the travail whereof the hovering of the Dove was the midwife, whereby He makes those who share with Him in the like birth to be His own brethren, and becomes the first-born of those who after Him are born of water and of the Spirit [Jn 3:5]
Gregory plainly says this phrase from Romans 8:29 refers to a predestination to adoption through the waters of baptism, which is also signified in John 3:5. And earlier in this same work, speaking on the same "first born" subject, Gregory says the same thing:
In what sense then does He become “the first-born among many brethren?” ... He became the first-born of those who are spiritually born again, and gave the name of brethren to those who partook in a birth like to His own by water and the Spirit.

As I continue to quote from the Eastern Fathers, I want to point out that in most of these cases when this verse is quoted by them they are quoting it in opposition to Arianism. That might seem strange to us, but it actually ties in beautifully, as will become clear.

St John of Damascus says, commenting on Colossians 1:15:
He is called First-born among many brethren [Rom 8:29], for although being Only-begotten, He was also born of a mother. Since, indeed, He participated just as we ourselves do in blood and flesh and became man, while we too through Him became sons of God, being adopted through the baptism, He Who is by nature Son of God became first-born amongst us who were made by adoption and grace sons of God, and stand to Him in the relation of brothers. Wherefore He said, I ascend unto My Father and your Father [Jn 20:17]. He did not say “our Father,” but “My Father,” clearly in the sense of Father by nature, and “your Father,” in the sense of Father by grace.
The Arians were looking at the texts of Scripture where Jesus is said to be "first born of creation" and saying this meant Jesus was "first created," but as noted earlier, "firstborn" refers to an archetypal or pre-eminent status, nothing to do with first created. This is why Paul says Jesus is first-born because He created everything, not because He was first-created (Col 1:15-16). The term "firstborn" itself is not necessarily the best translation from the Greek, which is proto-tokos, the term "proto" referring more accurately to 'preeminent' (as in proto-type).

St Basil expounds upon this very point:
If before the creation the Son was not a generated being but a created being, He would have been called first created and not firstborn. If, because He is called first begotten of creation He is first created, then because He is called first begotten of the dead [Col 1:18; Rev 1:5] He would be the first of the dead who died [and first resurrected]. If on the other hand He is called first begotten of the dead because of His being the cause of the resurrection from the dead, He is in the same manner called first begotten of creation, because He is the cause of the bringing of the creature from the non existent into being. If His being called first begotten of creation indicates that He came first into being then the Apostle, when he said, ‘all things were created by Him and for Him’ ought to have added, ‘And He came into being first of all.’ But in saying ‘He is before all things,’ [Col 1:17] he indicated that He exists eternally, while the creature came into being. ...  It might also be said that one who was before all generation was called first begotten, and moreover in respect of them who are begotten of God through the adoption of the Holy Ghost, as Paul says, ‘For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born among many brethren.
St Basil argues that "firstborn of the dead" in texts like Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5 cannot mean Jesus was the first person to ever resurrect, for that's simply not true. Folks like Lazarus resurrected before Jesus died, and thus "firstborn of the dead" must mean Jesus resurrected in a per-eminent manner, which He did, becoming the source of our resurrection. Thus, "firstborn" in such contexts carries a higher meaning than simple chronology. This is why texts like Exodus 4:22 has God calling Israel "my firstborn son," despite the fact other nations existed before Israel (or Jacob, Ex 32:28). Even King David is called "firstborn" by God, even though David was the youngest of many brothers (Ps 89:20,27).

And St Gregory of Nazianzen (not Gregory of Nyssa) says the same thing:
The Word recognizes three Births for us; namely, the natural birth, that of Baptism, and that of the Resurrection. ... My Lord Jesus Christ has showed that He honoured all these births in His own Person; the first, by that first and quickening Inbreathing [i.e. breathing new life into a body, Gen 2:7]; the second by His Incarnation and the Baptism wherewith He Himself was baptized; and the third by the Resurrection of which He was the Firstfruits; condescending, as He became the Firstborn among many brethren, so also to become the Firstborn from the dead.
Here St Gregory clearly links Jesus becoming the "firstborn among many brethren" of Romans 8:29 to that of getting Baptized, and despite his brevity it's clear he's following the 'standard' Eastern interpretation.

Finally, St Athanasius, the predecessor of them all, gives his take:
For, as men, receiving the Spirit of the Son, become children through Him, so the Word of God, when He Himself puts on the flesh of man, then is said both to be created and to have been made. If then we are by nature sons, then is He by nature creature and work; but if we become sons by adoption and grace, then has the Word also, when in grace towards us He became man, said, ‘The Lord created me.’ [Prov 8:22] And in the next place, when He put on a created nature and became like us in body, reasonably was He therefore called both our Brother and ‘First-born' ... For the term ‘Only-begotten’ is used where there are no brethren, but ‘First-born' because of brethren.
As one Catholic pointed out to me, this realization is actually a pretty damning rebuke of the Protestant understanding of salvation, because they read the category of adoption in legal terms (i.e. you're only an adopted son on paper). But the Eastern Fathers are clear that you become an adopted son in a very transformative sense, by the miracle of grace, and indeed without this it would serve to undermine Jesus' own divine sonship since there would be no way other than legal decree to make Him "firstborn among many brothers."

So there you have it, a more robust and awesome understanding of Romans 8:29-30, which I think is a lot more exegetically pleasing than the "Augustinian reading," and even the reading by fathers such as St Ambrose who follow the tradition that the "predestination" here is to Heaven, but it's based upon God "foreseeing" and taking into account our actions: "Wherefore also the Apostle says: “Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate.” He did not predestinate them before He knew them, but He did predestinate the reward of those whose merits He foreknew." This rich interpretation from the East side-steps all the disputing about how free-will relates to predestination, since this 'forgotten' interpretation refers to a more important issue, one that reveals the intimate bond between correct Christology and correct soteriology.

Somewhat related posts: Article on Romans 9 and Debate on Romans 9.

23 comments:

costrowski said...

Nick,
I thought this insight from R. C. H. Lenski was interesting and relevant to your article. According to Lenski:

“The phrase κατὰ πρόθεσιν lacks, the article and is not the equivalent of the adverb "purposely" which denotes manner; for κατὰ states concord, and the noun the norm of the concord. There is a divine purpose, and this underlies all else pertaining to our salvation, including all saving results attained, the intermediate such as "the called" and the final, the saints in glory. Everything tallies with this governing and normative purpose. … This is the purpose of God's ἀγαπη, of his love of comprehension coupled with corresponding purpose; his prothesis is filled with this ἀγαπη.

This explanation should be sufficient, but this phrase has been misinterpreted. Calvin uses it to posit a difference in the call extended to men: one call is "according to purpose" and converts irresistibly and is extended only to the elect, another is "not according to purpose" and never converts and is extended to the non-elect, the reprobate. But the latter is not a serious, true call but only a sham and a deception. According to Calvin the eternal destiny of every man was fixed by an absolute, mysterious decree prior to God's purpose which elected a few and reprobated the rest; why should there be a purpose back of the call of the latter?

A later view identifies "purpose" and "election" as being "substantially" the same and thinks of "election" as being the unconditional selection of a certain number of persons from the great massa perdita for faith and for heaven. Paul would thus speak of "those called in accord with election." But what shall we then say of the call extended to the rest? The call is universal and identical for all men. In all without distinction its intent and purpose is faith (mediate result) and final glory (ultimate result). In this its universality, identity, and identical intent it accords with God's purpose. No modification of the κλησῖς or of the κλητοῖ in any Scripture word, phrase, or clause makes the call of some men different from that of other men.”
(The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, R.C.H. Lenski, pp. 554-555)

Michael Taylor said...

>>As one Catholic pointed out to me, this realization is actually a pretty damning rebuke of the Protestant understanding of salvation, because they read the category of adoption in legal terms (i.e. you're only an adopted son on paper).<<

Nick. Once again you've isolated the part from the whole in Protestantism and used the that part to represent the whole. So if "adoption" were the only facet of what it means to be "in Christ," then based on these quotations, you might have a pretty good case for seeing "adoption" as transformative and not only legal.

But substitute the word "adoption" with "salvation" in my previous sentence and I think you'll find that most historic Protestant theology does say salvation is transformative and not merely legal.

The Reformation was about whether the word "justification" in the NT had that transformative sense. It does not, because the Bible clearly says that God justifies "the ungodly." They are not thereby made morally righteous and ontologically holy by God's decree of justification. But moral transformation and growth in holiness are accounted for in Protestantism--just not under the rubric of "justification," because unlike most of their Roman counterparts, the Protestants what dikioo meant, and more importantly, what it did not mean.

In any event, we Protestants do have a transformational understanding of salvation: "He who is in Christ is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). That does not mean we are only "legally" new creations.

Hymenaeus said...

Dear Michael,

This conversation looks like it is veering away from the topic of Nick's, but what occasion is not a good time to bring up the old justification debate?

First, answer this: Is justification not the only thing strictly necessary for salvation. It is my understanding that the Protestants believe justification consists in the non-imputation of sin and the imputation of Christ's righteousness. If this is so, then it seems this is all that is strictly necessary for salvation from the Protestant viewpoint. Have I erred so far?

This granted, I don't think your criticism has as much force as you make it out to have. While Protestantism certainly admits a transformational aspect to salvation, this is only in the sense that salvation transforms the saved, and not that that transformation is necessary to be saved, i.e. transformation only (in logical order) follows salvation, but salvation is not contingent on any. This is expressed, for example, in the WCF:

"1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God."

On the contrary, Scripture says,

"For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." (Romans 4:3)

So I would say from this, it is evident that the faith which God infuses into us and the obedience that comes from it is imputed by God as righteousness. Granted, there are alternative attempts at explanation, generally quibbling over what was imputed (not faith) or proposing that, although faith is spoken of, it is not imputed by God literally, but only metonymically. However, I think we ought to grant that this statement of St. Paul most easily lends itself to a Catholic interpretation, and that a Protestant interpretation requires that we explain away the plain meaning of the passage. If God, inspiring the Sacred Writers, meant to say that not Abraham's faith, but Christ's, was imputed to Abraham for righteousness, surely he would have inspired a clearer statement of this teaching.

If I have misrepresented your beliefs, I don't think I have misrepresented what is usually put forward as Reformed teaching, but please correct me if you perceive any inaccuracies of my position. Of course, I have read the Protestant commentaries so I know what they say about "Abraham believed God..." but you can engage that if you like. However, I would prefer if we could first agree on the meaning of the transformational aspect of salvation in Protestantism before we go anywhere else.

Michael Taylor said...

Hello,

I think you have fairly represented the historic Protestant understanding of justification. I agree that moral transformation is a result of salvation not a condition for it. (This is the heart of the debate.)

I don't think your reading of Romans 4:3 works at all, nor would I agree that it is "the Catholic" position on this verse. (In point of fact, Rome has not defined this text, so how can there by a "Catholic view?" In point of yet another fact, there is no single interpretation of this verse in the church catholic; rather there are many interpretations [plural]).

But if you feel Rome has definitely given a definitive interpretation of Romans 4:3, by all means show us the documentation.

As I said before, God justifies "the ungodly" not those who are already righteous. Sort of echoes what Jesus said about coming to call the sick rather than the righteous. Be that as it may, God does not first change so that he can accept us; rather he accepts us warts and all and then changes us.

Nick said...

Miguel,

You might have missed my important post where I discuss "justifies the ungodly" and show that Protestants bet almost everything on an unsubstantiated interpretation of "justifies the ungodly."

Here is the post:
http://catholicnick.blogspot.com/2012/12/another-gold-nugget-in-romans-46.html

If the Protestant interpretation of "justifies the ungodly" is wrong, then there goes the Reformation.

Hymenaeus said...

Dear Michael,

First, let's dispense with this argument. I never asserted the existence of "the Catholic interpretation" of Romans 4:3. If you read my post again, you will see that what I actually said was that Romans 4:3 "most easily lends itself to a Catholic interpretation." I did not anywhere assert that there was a single interpretation of Romans 4:3 issued by the Church and any difference in interpretation anathematized. However, my interpretation can most certainly be called a Catholic one because I am interpreting Romans 4:3 in line with Catholic doctrine.

Furthermore, if it is necessary to prove that my interpretation of Romans 4:3 is a Catholic one, allow me to summon St. Thomas to the stand. The following is from his Commentary on Romans.

Et sic patet quod apud Deum, a quo est ei reputatum ad iustitiam quod credidit, gloriam habet.
(cap. 4, l. 1)

Translated, this reads,

And so it is clear that before God, by whom it was reputed to [Abraham] as justice that he believed, he had glory.

So you see that my interpretation of that the antecedent of "it" in Romans 4:3 is Abraham's faith is not some novelty that I invented. Moreover, I would say that this is the plain meaning of the passage. Evidently, most Protestant commentators agree because they devote large explanations in their writings to explain how Abraham's faith is not what was imputed to him as righteousness, or how, even though the text does say Abraham's faith was imputed as righteousness, the wording is unfortunately imprecise and it is not true taken literally.

Incidentally, it would be possible to interpret Romans 4:3 in a Catholic way as saying that Abraham's faith was not imputed as righteousness if you are attempting only to clarify what the text is communicating in this particular verse, i.e. that whether or not faith is in any sense imputed as righteousness, Romans 4:3 does not comment on it. Now, this might be a factually incorrect interpretation, but it is not necessarily heretical. However, interpreting Romans 4:3 in a way that affirms Protestant doctrine in contradiction to Catholic doctrine would not be a Catholic interpretation.

I think you are trying to identify me with a position I never stated, which is that it is impossible to interpret Holy Scripture apart from the magisterium of the Church. This is not my position, as Scripture says what it says, and if it were totally ambiguous and could not be interpreted, there would have been no point for it to be written. Most assuredly, Scripture cannot be interpreted in opposition to the Catholic magisterium if one accepts the infallible teaching authority of the Church, but that does not mean that a Catholic is dependent on the Pope to issue a solemn definition of every word. Please don't try to start an argument over how "how can you infallibly interpret your infallible Councils" because that is not Catholic belief, nor my belief, nor am I at all interested in that conversation, and I will not respond any further on this point if you continue.

Hymenaeus said...

That last point dispensed with, now we can return to the verse itself. Even if "Rome" has not issued an infallible definition of Romans 4:3 in all valid senses of interpretation and anathematized anything not contained in that definition, Rome certainly has defined a doctrine of justification which excludes the Reformed view. On that basis, we can look at a verse like Romans 4:3 and evaluate whether it supports the Catholic doctrine, the Protestant doctrine, or whether it is inconclusive.

Let me summarize the conversation so far so we don't lose sight of the bigger picture. You took issue with Nick's portrayal of Protestant adoption as purely legal as if it excluded a transformational real transformation of the individual. I acknowledged that this would be wrong to say, but it is misleading if you give the impression that such a transformation is in any way a proper part of justification and, therefore, strictly necessary for salvation.

Our dispute is primarily over the meaning of terms. First, what they mean to Protestants. Concerning adoption, I think we can put aside any argument over what that means for Protestants as it seems you acknowledged that his point was correct if it concerned adoption in isolation apart from the rest of salvation. Concerning justification, we agree that the Protestant doctrine of justification, considered in isolation, does not entail any transformation of the individual. Therefore, I think we can happily agree that we all have a consensus on what these terms mean in the Protestant mind and lay that issue aside.

Hymenaeus said...

Secondly, the more difficult issue is what these words mean in reality according to Scripture. Unlike Protestants, Catholics believe that there is a real, ontological change in the believer that is a proper part of justification. Put another way, justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the infusion of grace.

You said:

As I said before, God justifies "the ungodly" not those who are already righteous. Sort of echoes what Jesus said about coming to call the sick rather than the righteous. Be that as it may, God does not first change so that he can accept us; rather he accepts us warts and all and then changes us.

Your statement is certainly not opposed to Catholicism if we interpret it in a Catholic fashion. This is good example of one confusion of concepts which lies at the heart of the conflict between Catholicism and Calvinism. In Catholicism, we distinguish between justification and election. If your use of "accept" is interpreted as pertaining to election, then it is correct. God has chosen his elect apart prior to any merits of those he has chosen. After election, God gives his justifying grace to those to whom he has determined to give it, again, apart from any merit of those whom he has chosen to justify. However, when he justifies the elect (or reprobate), he infuses his grace into their souls which makes them righteous in his sight, and, furthermore, he regards our acts that flow from this supernatural grace as meritorious of salvation in some sense, despite the infinite disparity between our merits and the heavenly reward.

Hymenaeus said...

Contrary to this, Calvinists seem to believe that election and justification are more or less equivalent. Not unlike Catholicism, God chooses to save some without consideration of their future merits. Unlike Catholicism, the only people that are justified are the elect whereas Catholic teaching is that those justified can fall from justice if they do not persevere to the end. In Reformed thinking, justification is merely the execution of his decision to declare them righteous (election). Additionally, the nature of justification is very different. Catholics and Calvinists agree that justification entails the remission of sins. However, Calvinists believe that instead of declaring the justified righteous on the basis of any infused grace, they are declared righteous on the basis of Christ's righteousness which is imputed as their own. This is laid out in the quotation from the WCF I gave earlier.

Regarding Romans 4:3, I would say that it lends more support to the Catholic view because faith is something residing in us. If faith is imputed to the believer as righteousness by God in any sense, then this supports the Catholic doctrine. It would also contradict the Reformed doctrine, that faith is not imputed as righteousness. Why do you believe that Romans 4:3 is not saying that Abraham's faith was imputed as righteousness, and why do you think that my reading of Romans 4:3 does not work at all?

Additionally, God "that justifieth the ungodly" seems to lend further support my reading of Romans 4:3. Romans 4:5 states that,

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Is this compatible with the words of the WCF that "Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies... [not] by imputing faith... as their righteousness?"

Maybe I misunderstand the Reformed objection on this point. Is this only an objection that faith does not merit justification? If so, Catholicism agrees. The Council of Trent states that the meritorious cause of our justification is Christ's meritorious work alone, and that neither faith nor works prior to justification merit the grace of justification. However, the Council of Trent also calls faith "the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification," which would perhaps not be agreeable to Reformed ears. It is also hard for me to understand why St. Paul would say that faith is imputed as righteousness in the context of his discussion of the justification of the ungodly if faith is not reckoned as righteousness in any salvific sense.

Maybe it would be best if you could put forward your understanding of the role of faith in salvation. What does it mean for faith to be the "instrumental cause" of salvation?

Yours,
Hymenaeus

Michael Taylor said...

Hi Guys,

Nick, I did miss that post. I'll take a look. Hymenaeus, I'm not sure if I can do justice to all your points, so I'm not going to to so now. I'd say in passing that you are wrong to collapse justification into election. We too distinguish those concepts, though to be sure there is a school of thought in Reformed circles which pretty much does just this.


For some Catholics election is unconditional (Thomists and Augustinians, for example), but it is in fact permissible (and arguably more prevalent) to view election as conditional--that is--God choosing on the basis of his foreseen knowledge of our cooperation with grace.

Because you believe justification can be lost, you have to posit a distinction between predestination to grace alone (i.e, not all the way to glory) and predestination to both grace and glory.

We on the other hand do not believe justification can be lost and so, de facto, those who are predestined are identical to those who are effectually called, justified and glorified, just as the Apostle said.

As for the Romans verses under consideration, that's what I really can't do justice to in a com-box. I'd rather blog a response to you on that, but my plate is full at the moment.

Michael Taylor said...

Nick,

I blogged a response to your Romans 4:6 article. Here it is:

http://fallibility.blogspot.com/2013/11/it-glitters-but-its-not-gold-reply-to.html

Lothar Lorraine said...

Hello, I'm going to be (a bit) off-topic.

I have just started a series of posts about James White and the likes (that is the New Calvinists).

I am searching for members of the Church of Rom who will bring a Catholic perspective to the conversations.
From all what I've read you seem to be a worthy candidate and I would be delighted if you accepted my invitation :=)
http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/naked-calvinism-motivation-and-methodology/

Lovely greetings in Christ.

Joey Henry said...

It is true that in this text the word predestine pertain to adoption. This text would say that a person who belongs to God will not fail to be conformed to image of his Son. That is the assurance of salvation which will assuredly reach glorification.

But if you want to argue against unconditional election, you should look at the verb "foreknew" not "predestinate". See article: http://www.thessalonians516.blogspot.com/2010/03/thoughts-about-uncoditional-election.html?m=1

Joey Henry said...

Hymenaeus,

You said in your exegesis of Romans 4:3 the following: So I would say from this, it is evident that the faith which God infuses into us and the obedience that comes from it is imputed by God as righteousness.

Several criticism:
1. The text does not say that God "infused" faith and obedience.
2. The the text also does not say that God imputed faith and obedience as righteousness. It rather says "elogisthe auto eis dikaiosunen". It is faith not works that was considered that is "for righteousness". The preposition used is eis which in its natural usage means "for" or "unto" denoting movement, in this
case from an ungodly status to a justified one. Faith is not righteousness or equivalent to righteousness but that which brings righteousness.
3. It has been made clear already that the ground for righteousing the ungodly is the propitiation of Christ in chapter 3. Abraham then was justified on the basis of this propitiation which is external to him but for him.

For an extended exegesis see:

http://www.thessalonians516.blogspot.com/#!http://thessalonians516.blogspot.com/2012/12/responses-regarding-imputation-article_2665.html

http://www.thessalonians516.blogspot.com/#!http://thessalonians516.blogspot.com/2012/12/responses-regarding-imputation-article_2444.html

http://www.thessalonians516.blogspot.com/#!http://thessalonians516.blogspot.com/2013/04/responses-regarding-imputation-article_4.html


Regards,
Joey

Hymenaeus said...

Dear Joey,

After skimming through your articles on Romans 4, I am persuaded that you have not put forward a real argument against the Catholic position, but I think this is because you have not researched the Catholic doctrine of justification and mistakenly taking it for an attack on the merits of Christ. I will address your criticisms, hopefully not obscuring things further, and maybe we can settle on some specific issue to discuss further in more detail if you like. I will say from the outset that the main point in dispute is like Michael said, whether after justification there is any transformation in the believer that God imputes as righteousness.

1. The text does not say that God "infused" faith and obedience.

No, the text does not say this, but this obviously the case. The text says faith is imputed, not as if faith were "imputed" where there is no faith, but faith was imputed by God because Abraham showed faith. I think you are reacting instinctively to the word "infused" as if it is always the occasion for debate on "infused" versus "imputed," where "imputed" is always the correct Protestant answer. To impute means to reckon. Now it remains to be explained in what sense faith can said to be infused. It is in this sense: Abraham's faith does not have Abraham as it's origin. Rather, faith was given to him by God. Thus St. Paul says, it is the gift of God (Eph 2.8), and further, what hast thou that thou didst not receive (1 Cor 4.7). Faith is called infused because it is poured out into our hearts, as it says in Zechariah: And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications (Zech 12.10).

2. The the text also does not say that God imputed faith and obedience as righteousness. It rather says "elogisthe auto eis dikaiosunen". It is faith not works that was considered that is "for righteousness". The preposition used is eis which in its natural usage means "for" or "unto" denoting movement, in this
case from an ungodly status to a justified one. Faith is not righteousness or equivalent to righteousness but that which brings righteousness.


You are correct that the text does not say Abraham's obedience was imputed as righteousness, and perhaps I spoke carelessly, but it is not as if that is a baseless assertion on my part. James says in his explanation of Genesis 15:26, Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (Jas 2.21-22). Now this is not to say that his works were the ground of his salvation, but his just works can be fittingly acknowledged as righteous by God. If we were to insist that no work can ever counted righteous in God's sight in any sense, then it would make nonsense of many statements, for example, And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Lk 1.6).

However, the focus of St. Paul in Romans 4 is on faith, which you say is imputed "unto righteousness." I am perplexed by your insistance on this rendering. Surely if this is what the phrase "eis dikaiosunen" ought to be translated as, there would be a translation that would say this. However, all the translations I have consulted say that God counted Abraham's faith "as righteousness" or "for righteousness," and "for" is evidently intended as "as" and not as "unto." I think there are many questions which have to be answered before we can accept such a subtle argument. Does the Hebrew of Genesis (which lacks a preposition corresponding to "eis") support such a translation of "eis?"

Hymenaeus said...

3. It has been made clear already that the ground for righteousing the ungodly is the propitiation of Christ in chapter 3. Abraham then was justified on the basis of this propitiation which is external to him but for him.

This has no bearing on the discussion because no one disputes that the ground of justification (or, as you prefer, "righteousing") is Jesus Christ. The (very Roman Catholic) Council of Trent says of justification that "the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross." The problem is you are equivocating terms. Faith does not merit, in a primary sense, justification, for which reason the Council of Trent again says, "none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification." If we are only speaking of the primary cause of justification, then we can have no dispute that this belongs to God's grace alone.

However, man's merit may be considered subsequent cause of justification. This is called condign merit in Catholic theology. Let me quote St. Thomas on this one. He says first, If it is considered as regards the substance of the work, and inasmuch as it springs from the free-will, there can be no condignity because of the very great inequality. However, he distinguishes between man's meritorious work as it proceeds from his free-will and as it proceeds from the grace of the Holy Spirit. If, however, we speak of a meritorious work, inasmuch as it proceeds from the grace of the Holy Ghost moving us to life everlasting, it is meritorious of life everlasting condignly. For thus the value of its merit depends upon the power of the Holy Ghost moving us to life everlasting according to John 4:14: "Shall become in him a fount of water springing up into life everlasting." And the worth of the work depends on the dignity of grace, whereby a man, being made a partaker of the Divine Nature, is adopted as a son of God, to whom the inheritance is due by right of adoption, according to Romans 8:17: "If sons, heirs also." (ST I-II, 39, 3).

Hymenaeus said...

This is the heart of the dispute. The Council of Trent similarly affirms, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity.

I would argue that you would have to agree that faith is a subsequent cause of justification if you are to honestly say, as you did above, that "faith... brings righteousness." If one thing "brings" another, then the first is a cause of the second. The only question is whether faith in any sense can be said to be imputed as righteousness. Again, I would argue that this is the obvious interpretation of Romans 4:3. Maybe you could give more reason why I should discard Romans 4:3 as speaking of "faith imputed as righteousness" when even the Calvinist commentaries I'm reading do not seem to dispute this rendering?

Joey Henry said...

Hi Hymenaeus,

Thanks for the response.

1. At this point, I am not putting forwarded an argument against the Catholic position but rather the proper exegesis of Romans 4:3. However, you said that, “the main point of dispute is... whether after justification there is any transformation in the believer that God imputes as righteousness.” In my opinion though, there is no dispute on this one. The Protestants believe that there is indeed a transformation in the believer that occurs after justification that God recognizes as righteousness. The righteousness that comes from his work of sanctification towards the justified is pleasing in his sight. But, this is not the righteousness that merits forgiveness and justification. (See WCF on Good Works).

2. I pointed out that your interpretation does not come from the text in two fronts simply because after Romans 4:3, you prefaced your explanation with this words, “So I would say from this [I take it to mean from the text]...” where the text does not say what you would want to say. You may want to derive your point from other texts systematically such as what you’ve done in your latest response which I have no objection. It may be interesting for you to know that as a staunch Protestant, I believe also that God infuses faith and obedience to whom he will justify. I also believe that God “imputes” faith and obedience AS righteousness. The word “impute” in English does carry the meaning of recognizing or regarding, i.e. a mental assessment of the object thought about. God does recognize the faith and obedience he infuses to the justified AS righteousness because he is the source of regeneration and sanctification. But this is not the righteousness that justifies the guilty. This can be derived from other texts of Scripture. To note, though Abraham indeed was faithful, it was not his faithfulness that reverses the verdict of his being “ungodly” before God (Read my articles again on this matter). Rather, it is the faithfulness of Christ that did so through the cross and his resurrection. This work is external to him, i.e. something done not by him but for him. The basis then of justification is extra nos. Thus I want to go back to Romans 4:3.

3. I want to point out at the outset that you read “eis” in this passage as somehow denoting equivalence. You are essentially saying that “Faith = Righteousness”. Though the English “as” carries this meaning, you may want to look at the word in the original language. “Eis” naturally carries the concept of motion not equivalence. In this case, “faith” is said to be “for righteousness”, i.e. not the equivalent of righteousness but the carrier of “righteousness”. It leads us or moves us to get this “righteousness” which Paul was talking about that reverses our guilty verdict. Faith is not righteousness itself but the vehicle of attaining or gaining such righteousness that justifies. See my second article again especially note 3 and first article note 6.

Regards,
Joey

Hymenaeus said...

Dear Joey,

I appreciate your response, which is entirely free of empty rhetoric. Sorry I have taken so long to get back to you, but I have not had an opportunity to sit down at my computer for several days.

1. At this point, I am not putting forwarded an argument against the Catholic position but rather the proper exegesis of Romans 4:3. However, you said that, “the main point of dispute is... whether after justification there is any transformation in the believer that God imputes as righteousness.” In my opinion though, there is no dispute on this one. The Protestants believe that there is indeed a transformation in the believer that occurs after justification that God recognizes as righteousness. The righteousness that comes from his work of sanctification towards the justified is pleasing in his sight. But, this is not the righteousness that merits forgiveness and justification. (See WCF on Good Works).

We agree that we cannot merit the grace of justification, but Catholics admit a sense in which our works done in grace after justification do "merit" salvation. The first way is called "congruous merit," which is the notion that there is a proportionality between our works and our reward. The second is the notion of "condign merit" which I described in my previous post. St. Thomas' prooftext is 2 Timothy 4:8: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

The WCF prefers to emphasize the utter disparity between God's grace and our merit (which no one disputes), but I think there are some problems with the words of the WCF "Of Good Works." For example, it seems to say that all the works of the unjustified are worthy of damnation. If a non-Christian fed the homeless, God would look on the act with disgust and that "good deed" would merit hellfire (paragraphs 5 and 7). The WCF fails to admit that fallen man can do anything good even in a purely natural sense. The teaching on the God's view of the works of the justified (in par. 6) is less clear, but you are right in that it says that "He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere." However, I don't think the WCF as it stands allows us to say something like "faith is imputed as righteousness" since WCF 11.1 says that the justified are only righteous by God "imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them." On the other hand, Trent says that we ourselves are formally just after justification. If these two concepts are to be reconciled, I think it is necessary to reword the WCF.

However, I am glad we agree that there is some sense in which the justified themselves are imputed righteous, but that this personal righteousness is not the ground of the justification of the ungodly.

Hymenaeus said...

2. I pointed out that your interpretation does not come from the text in two fronts simply because after Romans 4:3, you prefaced your explanation with this words, “So I would say from this [I take it to mean from the text]...” where the text does not say what you would want to say. You may want to derive your point from other texts systematically such as what you’ve done in your latest response which I have no objection. It may be interesting for you to know that as a staunch Protestant, I believe also that God infuses faith and obedience to whom he will justify. I also believe that God “imputes” faith and obedience AS righteousness. The word “impute” in English does carry the meaning of recognizing or regarding, i.e. a mental assessment of the object thought about. God does recognize the faith and obedience he infuses to the justified AS righteousness because he is the source of regeneration and sanctification. But this is not the righteousness that justifies the guilty. This can be derived from other texts of Scripture. To note, though Abraham indeed was faithful, it was not his faithfulness that reverses the verdict of his being “ungodly” before God (Read my articles again on this matter). Rather, it is the faithfulness of Christ that did so through the cross and his resurrection. This work is external to him, i.e. something done not by him but for him. The basis then of justification is extra nos. Thus I want to go back to Romans 4:3.

I see what you are saying. I agree that justification is extra nos if it is meant as the Council of Trent said, that the meritorious cause is Christ's Passion, not to the exclusion of the formal justice that God infuses into the ungodly.

However, I think think this is irrelevant to Romans 4:3, namely, because I do not see this verse as directly concerning the justification of the ungodly, although that is also under discussion in this passage. We know that faith is not the ground of the justification of the ungodly (Eph. 2.8), so the imputation of righteousness in this case can either be interpreted in reference to the act of believing itself which God considered a righteous action or this faith as it proceeded from Abraham, in which case this virtue residing in Abraham is reckoned as righteousness.

This may seem like pointless distinctions, but you have to remember what Michael said earlier, which is what I initially responded to.

The Reformation was about whether the word "justification" in the NT had that transformative sense. It does not, because the Bible clearly says that God justifies "the ungodly." They are not thereby made morally righteous and ontologically holy by God's decree of justification. But moral transformation and growth in holiness are accounted for in Protestantism--just not under the rubric of "justification," because unlike most of their Roman counterparts, the Protestants what dikioo meant, and more importantly, what it did not mean.

His argument is that the ontological transformation (under which I would include the infusion of faith) is not a part of justification proper. My main point was that God does impute faith as righteousness, which makes much more sense of the expression that we are justified by faith. Therefore, the Protestant distinction the justification is purely a putative act of God appears to be an artificial one that is not really founded in the biblical text.

Hymenaeus said...

3. I want to point out at the outset that you read “eis” in this passage as somehow denoting equivalence. You are essentially saying that “Faith = Righteousness”. Though the English “as” carries this meaning, you may want to look at the word in the original language. “Eis” naturally carries the concept of motion not equivalence. In this case, “faith” is said to be “for righteousness”, i.e. not the equivalent of righteousness but the carrier of “righteousness”. It leads us or moves us to get this “righteousness” which Paul was talking about that reverses our guilty verdict. Faith is not righteousness itself but the vehicle of attaining or gaining such righteousness that justifies. See my second article again especially note 3 and first article note 6.

I don't fully understand what you are trying to say. I will hopefully get some time to look at your articles later. For now I will just say that I disagree with what you seem to be saying. "Impute as" and "impute for" are equivalent expressions. I think you are reading to much into the preposition, and no commentary I have consulted makes this distinction. Secondly, faith is not merely a hand by which we lay hold upon Christ's righteousness but a part of the infused habit of grace by which we are made formally just.

Yours,
Hymeneus

Anonymous said...

Off topic but look at this, in defense of Anselm's ontological argument:

http://voices.yahoo.com/in-defense-st-anselms-ontological-argument-12167010.html?cat=9

Regarding Anselm... said...

I don't believe that argument (as far as I understand it) is a valid proof for the same reason St. Thomas gives.

Perhaps not everyone who hears this word "God" understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be thought, seeing that some have believed God to be a body. Yet, granted that everyone understands that by this word "God" is signified something than which nothing greater can be thought, nevertheless, it does not therefore follow that he understands that what the word signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally. Nor can it be argued that it actually exists, unless it be admitted that there actually exists something than which nothing greater can be thought; and this precisely is not admitted by those who hold that God does not exist. (ST I, q. 2, a. 1 ad. 2)