N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 18 (the faithfulness of Jesus Christ)

dayrevolutionbegan

[There is no Part 17. Subsequent editing deleted it, and it’s too much trouble to renumber an redate the following posts at this point.]

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:20-24

I shift back to the NET Bible translation, because I think it’s more accurate in a few places —

(Rom. 3:20-23 NET)  20 For no one is declared righteous [faithful to covenant] before him [God] by the works of [obedience to] the law [Torah], for through the law [Torah] comes the knowledge of sin.  21 But now apart from the law [Torah] the righteousness of God [faithfulness of God to his covenants] (which is attested by the law [Torah] and the prophets [of the OT or Tanakh]) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God [faithfulness of God to his covenants] through the faithfulness [obedience to the point of crucifixion] of Jesus Christ for all who believe [are faithful to/believe in/trust in Jesus]. For there is no distinction,  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 

Wright spends very few words in this book on the earlier part of chapter 3, but he has quite a lot to say about the rest of the chapter.

[just because]

“Faithfulness of Jesus Christ”

The Greek is πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ pisteōs Iesou Christou. The -ou ending generally indicates genitive, meaning we translate with an “of.” Hence, the KJV quite literally translates “faith of Jesus Christ,” which doesn’t make much sense but is very true to the Greek grammar.

Later translations “fix” the problem by changing “of” to “in.” Hence, “faith in Jesus Christ,” which is fine theology but grammatically doubtful. In fact, it creates a redundancy. The NIV has, for example, “faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” So that seems unlikely. Why say the same thing twice in the same sentence?

The NET Bible translator notes explain the question well —

Though traditionally translated “faith in Jesus Christ,” an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πίστις Χριστοῦ (pistis Christou) and similar phrases in Paul (here and in v. Rom 3:26; Gal 2:16, Gal 2:20; Gal 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phi 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness” (cf., e.g., G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, “Πίστις Χριστοῦ,” NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42).

Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πίστις takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Mat 9:2, Mat 9:22, Mat 9:29; Mar 2:5; Mar 5:34; Mar 10:52; Luk 5:20; Luk 7:50; Luk 8:25, Luk 8:48; Luk 17:19; Luk 18:42; Luk 22:32; Rom 1:8; Rom 1:12; Rom 3:3; Rom 4:5, Rom 4:12, Rom 4:16; 1Co 2:5; 1Co 15:14, 1Co 15:17; 2Co 10:15; Phi 2:17; Col 1:4; Col 2:5; 1Th 1:8; 1Th 3:2, 1Th 3:5, 1Th 3:10; 2Th 1:3; Tit 1:1; Phm 6; 1Pe 1:9, 1Pe 1:21; 2Pe 1:5). On the other hand, the objective genitive view has its adherents: A. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul,” NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730–44. Most commentaries on Romans and Galatians usually side with the objective view.

ExSyn 116, which notes that the grammar is not decisive, nevertheless suggests that “the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb πιστεύω rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful.” Though Paul elsewhere teaches justification by faith, this presupposes that the object of our faith is reliable and worthy of such faith.

Here’s the key point: pistis includes faith, trust, and faithfulness. It is often translated “faithfulness” in other biblical contexts. Our Reformation history wants us to radically separate faith from faithfulness, as though these are very different things, but we must both repent and believe. We repent to become faithful. Jesus expects his followers to be faithful.

Therefore, by translating it as the NET Bible (and Wright) translate, we find a theme emerging. God is faithful to his covenant and so is seen to be righteous. Jesus is faithful, through submission to the crucifixion most especially, and so is righteous. And those who are in Jesus through — what? — faith/faithfulness are followers of Jesus, are in Jesus, are brothers and sisters of Jesus because we are like Jesus. So we are declared righteous — justified (same word in the Greek!)

The goal is to restore to God’s image — his kingly, priestly, righteous, covenant obedient image — and Jesus is the very enfleshment of God’s image. So the goal is for us to become like Jesus. And that requires, first and foremost, faith/faithfulness, because these are the characteristics that define both Jesus and God the Father.

Why does faith save? Because it sets us on the path to becoming restored to God’s image, like Jesus, faithful to the covenant, and ultimately united with God the Faithful. Theosis! (if you remember that series.)

It makes too much sense not to be true. And now go re-read any of Paul’s epistles with this in mind and see how much more clear Paul’s writing becomes.

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N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 16 (the whole world is accountable)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:9-18

(Rom. 3:9-18 ESV)  9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,  10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;  11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.  12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”  14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;  16 in their paths are ruin and misery,  17 and the way of peace they have not known.”  18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Wright explains, Continue reading

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N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 15 (Israel’s Unrighteousness and God’s Righteousness, Part 2)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:1-6

Let’s look a little closer as some of the verses to make sure that Wright’s interpretation really fits the text.

(Rom. 3:1-2 ESV) Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?  2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 

Remember the context. Paul had just argued that circumcision of the heart by the Spirit matters in preference to circumcision of the flesh, at the end of chapter 2. That gives rise to the very natural question: What’s the point of physical circumcision? Continue reading

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N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 12 (Circumcision of the heart, Part 6A)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

David’s comment

I want to respond to a comment by David,

David wrote,

It would seem that Joel 2:30, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” was the apostle’s prooftext to show that when the Messiah and Spirit came, the ceremonial laws of Moses would be irrelevant.

I agree, and I think there’s even more to it. Continue reading

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N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 14 (Israel’s Unrighteousness and God’s Righteousness, Part 1)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:1-6

Wright probably spends more words in his book on Rom 3 than any other chapter of Romans. He sees the interpretation of this chapter as the turning point in how the rest of Romans should be read, especially the last few verses.

Wright explains,

Israel’s privilege was to be entrusted with the divine oracles; that is a way of summing up the vocation spelled out in 2: 19– 20 [JFG: to be a light to the world]. But Israel had been “faithless” to that commission, putting in question the divine “faithfulness” (3: 3) and the divine “truthfulness” (3: 4); but God will be seen to be dikaios, true to his covenant justice, despite it all (3: 4b– 5). Continue reading

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N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 13 (Circumcision of the heart, Part 7)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes our salvation.

Rom 2:25-29

(Rom. 2:25-29 ESV)  25 For circumcision [the mark of a Jews] indeed is of value if you obey the law [Torah], but if you break the law [Torah], your circumcision becomes uncircumcision [of the heart under Deu 10:16 and 30:6].  

26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law [Torah], will not his [physical] uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision [or the heart]?  27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code [Torah] and circumcision but break the law [Torah].

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter [merely knowing Torah rather than obeying Torah]. His praise is not from man but from God.

I realize that I’ve spent too much time on this one passage, but if you don’t get this passage, you don’t get Romans. If you assume that Paul is talking about the importance of individual Bible study, you’ve missed Romans. If you think that Spirit is irrelevant to the modern church, then you’ve missed Romans.

In fact, Paul did not write this passage to address the faith/works controversy. And he’s not focused on atonement theory (how we get saved). Of course, the passage does speak to those questions — profoundly. But that’s not the over-arching point. The main point is that Gentiles are welcomed by God into the Kingdom, along with Jews, without having to become Jewish proselytes. They may enter the Kingdom as Gentiles because their hearts are circumcised by the Spirit — and this is the true mark of a child of God.
Continue reading

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N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 12 (Circumcision of the heart, Part 6)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 2:25-29, Part 6 [JFG]

(Rom. 2:25-29 ESV)  25 For circumcision [the mark of a Jew] indeed is of value if you obey the law [Torah], but if you break the law [Torah], your circumcision becomes uncircumcision [of the heart under Deu 10:16 and 30:6].  

26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law [Torah], will not his [physical] uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision [or the heart]?  27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code [Torah] and circumcision but break the law [Torah].

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter [merely knowing Torah rather than obeying Torah]. His praise is not from man but from God.

Joel [JFG]

We have to cover Joel 2:28-32a, because the NT authors repeatedly cite to this passage:

(Joel 2:28-32a ESV)  28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.  31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

At Pentecost, Peter declared this prophecy fulfilled. We generally skip ahead to Acts 2:38, ignoring almost all of Peter’s sermon. But this is the passage that Peter both began and ended with. And it’s the passage that Paul relies on in Rom 10. That is, the two passages we rely on to teach the Five Step Plan of Salvation are both based on this passage in Joel! It just might be important. Continue reading

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