May 8, 2018

What could be called the crown jewel of the Sola’s of the Reformation is Sola Fide. The wording for the concepts of justification by faith alone and salvation by faith alone has led to misunderstandings as well as misapplications. At the center of this tension are the biblical chapters of Galatians two, where it is normally understood that our faith is not considered a work that we do for our justification, and James two, where our faith is said to be a work. There are four different articulations within this discussion, but we first need understand the perceived textual tension.

Galatians 2:16 gets to the heart of this issue for “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16 ESV). The understanding of the phrase “works of the law” is generally understood as something you do that is pleasing to God or better stated, a form of merit. Therefore, any effort on your behalf to motivate God to look favorably upon you is seen to be part of this equation. So, faith cannot be a work, or have any type of works associated with it, least it fall into this category, and that is considered to be an undeniable truth.

We then come to James chapter two which states that faith is a work which aides us within salvation and needs to be exercised or it ceases to be faith as stated “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:4 ESV) “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:7). “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (2:26). It is therefore impossible for an inactive force to have a positive active outcome. This is a work that we can do because faith is a gift from God to be used for such a purpose as intended.

The first view is that faith is a work to be exercised for justification. The question that arises is, do your works bring saving grace or does grace produce works that save? When we look to other passages such as Roman 3:20 we see that the impetus cannot be on us and therefore must come from outside of us. God initiates this through the Church and thereby enabling the believer to become justified. Justification is used in the past tense and should be understood as a completed act. When the process is still ongoing it cannot be said that justification has occurred and therefore more work needs to be done through faith which is merited by works that have been enabled through grace infused by God as stated by the Council of Trent.

For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity.

Furthermore, chapter IX makes it clear on what faith within justification is not.

Moreover, it must not be maintained, that they who are truly justified must needs, without any doubt whatever, convince themselves that they are justified, and that no one is absolved from sins and justified except he that believes with certainty that he is absolved and justified, and that absolution and justification are effected by this faith alone, as if he who does not believe this, doubts the promises of God and the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Therefore faith is in fact a work needed to merit the fulness of the one being justified.

The second view is more commonly accepted by Christians from the Reformed traditions which states that faith is not a work for justification, but the passive agreement cognitively adhered to and apprehended through trusting in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. The Westminster Confession articulates the doctrine as, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.” God’s grace is understood as the favor dei rather than a gratia infusia which emphasizes the action is located within God and not within the believer. Article IV of the Augsburg Confession states, “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.” Notice that faith has a passive role in both confessions leading to the understanding that the type of faith in which James is referring to is in a pastoral sense within sanctification due to the action being located within the believer, whereas Paul’s use of faith is necessarily passive with regards to justification.

According to Millard Erickson, “the type of faith necessary for salvation involves both believing that and believing in, or assenting to facts and trusting in a person. It is vital to keep these two together.” This is true when discussing salvation as a whole without differentiating between the three accepted parts of past, present, and future or justification, sanctification, and glorification. When contemplating justification, Erickson could be read either way in regards to faith and works. Although, his focus on faith as more than a cognitive ascension in the Old Testament is to be understood as our faithfulness as we see in Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Faith, in regards to our faith, is used in verb forms and “does not connote intellectual belief as much as it suggests trust and a committing of oneself.”

The third view picks up on this variation between the notions of salvation by faith and justification by faith as it relates to God’s faithfulness. N. T. Wright understands Gal. 2:16 in this way, “We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah; so we came to believe in the Messiah, Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faithfulness of the Messiah, and not by works of the law…” Wright further states “in response to ‘the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah’, Paul declares (2.16b) that ‘this is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus; so that we might be declared “righteous” [sic] on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law.’” The implications drive a hard wedge into the common understanding of justification as put forth by the Augsburg and Westminster confessions as well as the reactionary polemic from Trent. The translation as “faithfulness” then renders the tension between Paul and James null and void because they are clearly talking about two different concepts.

The question arises to why the translational differences have not been resolved to clarify this distinction within the text? Why is πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ translated as “faith of Christ” or “faith in Christ” rather than “faithfulness of Christ”? Dan Wallace’s work on the NET bible decided in favor of “faithfulness” writing to the SBL Annual Meeting in November 2000,

In the first instance, the most significant departure in the NET from other English translations is undoubtedly the translation of the Pauline expression, πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ. A neutral rendering in, say, Rom 3.22—“by faith of Jesus Christ” (the KJV wording)—is virtually nonsensical. Because of this, modern English translations could not be ambivalent here; a choice had to be made. Should the genitive Χριστοῦ be regarded as objective or subjective? Virtually all modern English translations regard it as an objective genitive, both in Rom 3.22 and the other Pauline texts: “faith in Jesus Christ.” This is so in spite of an increasing number of scholars who, in the past few decades, have argued for a subjective genitive— “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

This construction, and its use in Rom 3.22, illustrates the need of both a completely new English translation and one that does not hide the tensions of biblical scholarship from the lay reader. In 1975, when C. E. B. Cranfield’s first volume of his ICC commentary on Romans was published, he could speak of the subjective genitive view of πίστις Χριστοῦ in Rom 3.22 as “altogether unconvincing” without giving much support for this conclusion, and citing only an early articulation of the subjective view written in 1891. The NIV NT had appeared two years earlier than Cranfield’s commentary. But in recent years, the subjective view has gained a greater hearing, although it still finds almost no place either in English translations or alternate renderings in the margin (italics mine).

I recently contacted Dan Wallace about this translation and he informed me that he would still argue that this is indeed the meaning. As for the other translations, I can’t tell if the resistance to the changing of πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ is because of tradition or not? In one sense it strengthens the argument for the supremacy of Christ alone in our justification, and would remove the tension from the faith vs. works debate, but it would also cause a re-evaluating of creeds, literature, and confessions that have stood for almost five hundred years.

The fourth view is also my conclusion of how we are to understand the relationship between faith and works in salvation. The Bible states that faith is more than just an intellectual assent, but that isn’t to say there is no cognition on our part. Faith as a work is what merits justification, but only a particular type of faith can achieve this. Our misunderstanding when defining terms is what leads to the wrong inferences in regards to a discussion of faith and works. Therefore, it is by Christ’s faith (as a work) that leads to our justification being forensically declared (Rom. 4:5) in order for us to have received faith (passively) that we express (as a work) demonstrating we have been justified by Christ through his faith (as a work) thereby producing good works by our faith (James 2) which shows we have a faith consisting of knowledge, assent, trust, and works as is the reality of our salvation manifested. It is by faith and works in which we are justified although it is neither our faith nor our works by which this transpires. The faith that we have received is the same as the faith that we had been justified by prior to our having received it. A faith that can justify by working for the benefit of others. All of this by the creative and declarative power of God’s word, through the working of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of Christ’s faithfulness alone. Works Cited

Augsburg Confession,

Council of Trent,

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2013.

Wallace, Daniel B.

Westminster Confession,

Wright, N. T. Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013.

---Justification, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.






APRIL 9, 2018

The understanding of Jesus as the only and unique Son of God in the Gospel of John is a central theme to understanding who Jesus is. The prologue of John’s gospel puts this relational attribute of Jesus to God the Father as the first concept the reader needs to come to terms with. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). We are introduced to the fact that Jesus is not an adopted son or a child through a generative process as with mankind, but that he is ontologically one with the Father. I. Howard Marshall notices the theanthropos relationship as well, “Although he was a human being, nevertheless they saw beyond the mere humanity to a person who embodied the glory of God. At this point God is identified as the Father, and the Word is identified as his Son.”

The cultural uniqueness that we may miss today is when claiming to be the son of someone you are claiming, not just kinship, but that you are the same thing or essence as your father. This concept is clear when Jesus interacts with some of his dissenters who are quick to reword what he says to them in a way that was culturally relevant to them. In chapter ten at the time of the Feast of Dedication, Jesus claims, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). I’ve spoken to people of different faiths about this passage before on what exactly do they think that Jesus means by saying this? Mormon missionaries who lived near me for many years said that this indicated Jesus and Heavenly Father are one in will and purpose. If we allow the pericope to remain intact the gravity of what Jesus said comes to light. The Jews pick up stones to throw at him, but Jesus presses them to expose the motive based on what he has said. How are they interpreting him at this time? Jesus asks if they want to stone him because of the good works from the Father that he has shown them or is it something else? They quickly respond, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

Jesus does not back down from this accusation, but he does not endorse it completely either. Jesus wants it to be clear about his relationship to God the Father in that he is not the God the Father but God the Son. Knowing the culture as it was, Jesus challenges them on the meaning they are prescribing to the word God by appealing to Psalm 82:6 which reads “I thought ‘You are gods; all of you are sons of the Most High’” (Ps 82:6 ESV). The study note in the NET Bible will flesh out this understanding further.

It is important to look at the OT context: The whole line reads “I say, you are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” Jesus will pick up on the term “sons of the Most High” in 10:36, where he refers to himself as the Son of God. The psalm was understood in rabbinic circles as an attack on unjust judges who, though they have been given the title “gods” because of their quasi-divine function of exercising judgment, are just as mortal as other men. What is the argument here? It is often thought to be as follows: If it was an OT practice to refer to men like the judges as gods, and not blasphemy, why did the Jewish authorities object when this term was applied to Jesus? This really doesn’t seem to fit the context, however, since if that were the case Jesus would not be making any claim for “divinity” for himself over and above any other human being – and therefore he would not be subject to the charge of blasphemy. Rather, this is evidently a case of arguing from the lesser to the greater, a common form of rabbinic argument. The reason the OT judges could be called gods is because they were vehicles of the word of God (cf. 10:35). But granting that premise, Jesus deserves much more than they to be called God. He is the Word incarnate, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world to save the world (10:36). In light of the prologue to the Gospel of John, it seems this interpretation would have been most natural for the author. If it is permissible to call men “gods” because they were the vehicles of the word of God, how much more permissible is it to use the word “God” of him who is the Word of God?

Although they no longer want to stone Jesus on the spot they do want to arrest him and bring him to trial for the statement that follows, “I am the Son of God” (John 10:36b ESV). This is a very interesting word selection in that “I am” could be seen as an identification as YHWH and where “Son of God” could be referring to himself as in Psalm 82:6 along with the others, but you can’t ignore the definite article within the statement. “The Son of God” shows uniqueness and exclusivity insinuated by Jesus that only he alone possesses with God the Father. John then finishes his pericope by writing, “but if I do them (works of the Father), even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38 ESV). In doing so, John shows that verses 30 and 38 are bookends with the qualifying and quantifying substance in between. The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus reveals to us another uniqueness of him being the only Son of God, and that is of a pre existence before creation. John shows us in the first chapter of his gospel that he thinks of Jesus as having existed before all creation and now we have the same declaration from the lips of Jesus. “Father the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you; And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:1b, 5 ESV). The uniqueness of this relationship is an actual infinite, eternal sonship. In Putting Jesus In His Place we read, “It is difficult to imagine a more explicit affirmation of Christ’s existence before creation. To these statements we may add Jesus’ statement, ‘Before Abraham came into being, I am’ (John 8:58, literal translation).” Chapter seventeen also walks us through the intimate reconciliation of mankind by our being united with Christ as he is united with the Father. The language that Jesus uses about his relationship with God the Father is the same wording he then uses of our relation to him. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them (17:10 ESV); they may be one, even as we are one (17:11b ESV); for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us” (17:20b-21a ESV). This is a powerful and awesome understanding that our relationship to the Son is how we are united with the Father. What can be more comforting than to know the uniqueness of the only Son to the only God?

A striking aspect in John’s gospel is that by identifying Jesus as the Son of God is also to negate any claims made by or for any created beings such as angels or humans. John’s Gospel was recognized as scripture by the Church full of believers who already agreed with this concept. Otherwise, they would have rejected or disputed such claims. What we can deduce from this is a three-fold description of Jesus Christ as God the Son. First, his ontological relationship with God the Father, second is his unity with the Father within the incarnation, both expressed by John and understood by Jesus, and third his pre existence before creation itself. Any Christological doctrine must take into account the timeless immutability of the eternal sonship of Christ along with the ultimate causal power and authority he possesses that is reserved for God alone. To read the gospel of John and not have an understanding of Christ’s deity and unity with the Father as His unique and only Son, would be a very shallow reading indeed.

Works Cited

Bowman Jr., Robert M., and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus In His Place, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007.

Marshall, I. Howard, New Testament Theology, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2004.

The NET Bible First Edition, Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 2005.