Wright on Justification – 7

Some notes on N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009.

Chapter 6 – Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians

A key issue in Philippians: the connection between the status of God’s people (as God’s people) and the life that flows out of that status. Looking at the role of the Law in this, Wright says,

The keeping of the Law was not a way of earning anything, of gaining a status before God; the status was already given in birth, ethnic roots, circumcision and the ancestral possession of Torah. All that Torah obedience then does – it’s a big “all,” but it is all – is to consolidate, to express what is already given, to inhabit appropriately the suit of clothes (‘righteousness’) that one has already inherited. (p. 145)

Looking at 1 Corinthians 1:30, Wright summarizes what Paul says of Jesus:

  1. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s wisdom. His way of wisdom is vastly different from the way of the world.

  2. He has become ‘righteousness,’ that is God has vindicated him… Those who are ‘in Christ’ share this status.” (p. 157)
  3. In becoming ‘sanctification’ Jesus has defeated sin and its power.

  4. He has become “redemption for us because “in him God has accomplished the great new exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea of death.” (p. 157)

In 2 Corinthians, Wright’s focus is on 5:21. He works mightily to make sure that verse, so often used as the foundation of a doctrine of “imputed righteousness,” is read in it’s context, in this case, of Paul’s apostolic apologia. Examining the structure of the the verses that immediately precede it, he notes how repetitive that structure is. In each case there is a statement of the work of Christ followed by a statement of ministry that flows from it. Read this way, the phrase commonly taken to refer to the imputation of righteousness, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” is paraphrased by Wright as “in the Messiah, we might embody God’s faithfulness, God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s action in reconciling the world to himself.

He argues that this reading makes much better since of the verb “become” than does the traditional reading. If this passage were trying to make the traditional point about imputation it one would expect it to use a different kind of verb to express our relationship with righteousness: we might gain it, or receive it, or even be covered by it. But become it? Traditional imputation teaching doesn’t say anything about us becoming the righteousness of God (unless it takes the force of become to be equivalent to one of those other verbs). Finally, and importantly, Wright also observes the importance of Isaiah 49 to Paul’s argument here.

Wright’s treatment of Ephesians – which he regards as Pauline – and its treatment of justification, can be stated very briefly. Ephesians 2, perhaps more clearly than any other text, lays out the individual and social dimensions of salvation (using that larger term rather than the narrower “justification”).

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