Posts for Feb, 2008.

2/25/2008 6:04:00 PM

Justification According to NT Wright: Part Seven

Overly Short Critique 2

Posted Monday, February 25, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology   Comments: 1
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            Wright’s view of imputation is not immediately clear. He rejects the imputed righteousness of Christ except in a very specific sense, saying that neither 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 nor 2 Corinthians 5:21 prove the point.1 But he also says that our incorporation into the Messiah takes care of the same area: when God looks at us, he sees Christ, but not simply the imputed righteousness of Christ.2 Based on the law court metaphor, Wright argues that it is to mix categories to say that the people have the righteousness of God: God’s righteousness is his covenant loyalty; it is not something that can be given to the people.3

This view of imputation and future justification leads to what seems to be somewhat of a conflict in regards to the ground of justification. Is the person justified because of what Jesus did or because of the future justification or some combination thereof? What is the relationship between the work of Christ and the future justification? He says that “justification by faith… is the anticipation in the present of the justification that will occur in the future, and gains its meaning from this anticipation”.4 This seems to drift towards some kind of works salvation, since justification is based on the whole life, although Wright strongly denies accusations of works salvation.5

One further disquieting feeling I have when reading Wright is related to one of his strengths: his presentation of a coherent meta-narrative. Being trained as a chemist, I like a well-ordered system as much as anyone. But my postmodern side makes me question well-ordered systems, such as the one Wright presents. The very lack of loose ends makes me wonder what has gotten chopped off to make everything fit into the box. But then, maybe I am just too postmodern.


1. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 252-253.

2. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 260-261.

3. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 99.

4. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 255.

5. R. Alan Streett, “An Interview with N. T. Wright,” Criswell Theological Review 2 (2005): 6, Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 260.


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2/24/2008 5:52:00 AM

Justification According to NT Wright: Part Six

Overly Short Critique

Posted Sunday, February 24, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology   Comments: None
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            As almost all reviewers say about Wright, there is much here to appreciate. One aspect that I particularly appreciated was his emphasis on the worldwide focus of the Abrahamic covenant, a focus I learned from another Wright.1 To think that God has given up on the nations and is now focusing upon Israel purely for Israel’s sake is to badly misread the text. Other aspects of Wright’s view which are worthy of appreciation are his coherent meta-narrative and his close attention to the text. 

            There are a variety of areas where I have concern with Wright’s view. His covenant reading of the Old Testament is helpful but overdone. While some have argued that covenant is the center of the Old Testament, there are too many loose ends to make it work, loose ends which Wright does not deal with. This is particularly evident in his wholesale understanding of צדק  as covenant loyalty, when the word group cannot be limited to such a narrow range.

I think that the basis for the future justification is weak. I do not think that Romans 2 requires a future justification since the futures can be read in other ways and not as temporal futures. Not only is there difficulty exegetically with future justification and go against the large stream of interpretive history, it also leads to problems about the ground of present justification and imputation.  


1. Christopher J. H Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006).

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2/21/2008 6:49:00 AM

Justification According to NT Wright: Part Five

Paul and justification

Posted Thursday, February 21, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology   Comments: None
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Wright builds on all of these foundations when he defines justification according to Paul. “It is God’s declaration that a person is in the right—that is, (a) that the person’s sins have been forgiven and (b) that he or she is part of the single covenant family promised to Abraham”.1 The quotation of Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4 is not to be separated from its context in Genesis, but is to be connected with the covenant. Abraham is not a random example, but chosen specifically show Paul’s point about the covenant. Those who are justified are like Abraham not only in their faith but also in that they have become part of his family.2 

Wright says that the initial moment of relationship between the believer and God is not justification, but is referred to by Paul as the “call”. Following the train of thought in Romans 8:29-30, he sees justification as based upon the call and thus reflecting reality.3 Faith is not something done to enter the covenant people, but it shows that one has become a member of the covenant family, in contrast to the Torah and the works therein which many Jews were using as a badge of membership in the people of God.4
 As mentioned earlier, justification actually happens twice: once in the future on the basis of the whole life of the person and once in the present in anticipation of the future justification.

The result of Wright’s view of justification is that it has profound implications for table fellowship in the church. The boundary lines in the church are not between Jew and Gentile and between other nationalities and social groups, but between those who live holy lives and those who are still living in the flesh.6 Jesus Christ is true Israel, and all who belong to him are right with God.7 


1. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 260.

 2. Wright, Romans, 10:465.

 3. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 255-257.

4. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 132, N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (London: SPCK, 2002), 215.

5. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 260

6. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 262-263.

7. N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (London: SPCK, 2002), 25-27.

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2/19/2008 9:02:00 AM

Justification According to NT Wright: Part Four

Foundation Three

Posted Tuesday, February 19, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology   Comments: None
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            The third foundation which influences Wright’s view of justification is the time frame of justification. In traditional Protestant theology justification is a one-time event that happens at the beginning of salvation. But for Wright justification is past, present, and future.

“This declaration will be made on the last day on the basis of an entire life (Romans 2:1-16), but is brought forward into the present on the basis of Jesus’ achievement, because sin has been dealt with through his cross (Romans 3:21-4:25); the means of this present justification is simply faith”.1 

Justification is past in that it is based on the work of Christ. It is present because it is a forensic declaration that the person is now a member of the people of God on the basis of faith. It is future, most controversially, because of the future judgment before God when the works of a believer will be examined. There is no possible discrepancy between present and future justification because the Holy Spirit will work on the person so that they will, without a doubt, produce the good works that lead to a positive judgment later on in the future justification.2

        1. N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (London: SPCK, 2002) 217-218.
        2. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 253-255, N. T. Wright, “The Shape of Justification,” n. p. (cited February 11, 2008), online:
Read more of Justification According to NT Wright: Part Four

2/18/2008 3:46:00 PM

Justification According to NT Wright: Part Three

Second Foundation

Posted Monday, February 18, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology   Comments: None
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The second foundation for Wright’s view of justification is the covenant. The covenant allows him to put justification into the meta-narrative of the Bible, so that it is not an afterthought or an appendage, but an integral part of the Bible as a whole. The sin in Genesis 3 ruined what God had designed in Genesis 1-2, and the nations continue in directions opposed to God in the subsequent chapters of Genesis 3-11. The covenant with Abraham is not made because God has given up on the nations, but the point of the Abrahamic covenant is to save the nations: “Abraham emerges within the structure of Genesis as the answer to the plight of all humankind."1 The story of the Old Testament is the story of the covenant and God’s faithfulness to it.2 The righteousness of God in the Old Testament is to be understood, according to Wright, through the lens of covenant. Righteousness is God’s covenant faithfulness or loyalty, his dedication to stand by his promise.3 

           Wright moves to the New Testament through the literature of the Second Temple Period. God had not been shown to complete the covenant, and so the Jews were waiting for covenant faithfulness of God to be shown to them and for the exile to be ended. As mentioned earlier, the idea of righteousness was also influenced by the Second Temple Jewish law court: God is the cosmic judge who will make all things right. There is tension between these influences: God must show covenant faithfulness to Israel and he must also be the righteous judge and punish guilty Israel.4 How would these conflicting roles be resolved? The conclusion of this covenant faithfulness and righteous judge is what God did in Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ is Lord, which is the content of the gospel for Wright.

1. N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 1; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) 262.

2. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 118-120.

3. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 252-254; Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 100-103.

4. N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary and Reflection,” in The New Interpreters Bible, 13 volumes (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 10: 398-401; Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 117-118.

5. Wright, Romans, 10:402, Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 248-249.

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2/16/2008 6:13:00 PM

Justification According to NT Wright: Part Two

First Foundation

Posted Saturday, February 16, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology   Comments: None
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            Wright does not claim to deny the content of the classic doctrine of justification by faith alone, as he affirms many aspects of it. What he does claim is that this doctrine is not what the words usually translated as “justify” are talking about in the New Testament.1Justification according to N. T. Wright seems to me to boil down to three essential foundations, although these are not entirely separate and other aspects could also be considered foundation. These foundations are seeing justification as forensic, keeping the focus upon the covenant and viewing justification as past, present, and future.

            The first major foundation for Wright is that justification for Paul is based on a forensic background, especially in the Second Temple Jewish law court.  This law court had three parties: the judge, the plaintiff and the defendant. The righteous of the judge is quite different from the righteousness of the latter two. The judge is righteous when the case is handled in a correct and impartial manner. The plaintiff or the defendant, on the other hand, is righteous in a different sense. Their righteousness does not refer to their moral standing, but to the “status as a result of the decision of the court”.2

    1. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 116-117.
    2. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 97-98.


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2/15/2008 7:23:00 PM

Justification According to NT Wright Part One


Posted Friday, February 15, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology   Comments: None
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N. T. Wright is a very important figure in the debate about justification going on today. While N. T. Wright may not be the founder of the New Perspective on Paul, he seems to be the one who has brought it to the church. I have many friends who have never heard of E. P. Sanders or James Dunn but who love N. T. Wright. He is one of those unique individuals who seem to be equally at home in academia as in the church. His series Christian Origins and the Question of God demonstrates his academic ability and the influence his work has had on a wide variety of scholars. But he also actually lives in the real world, as he is not only the active bishop of Durham but also has written a sizeable number of popular level works.1 This ability to write for a popular audience in clear terms has helped New Perspective on Paul views to spread to a much wider audience than they would have otherwise.2

Having said this, Wright dislikes being put into the broad “NPP” category and takes many opportunities to show how he differs from E. P. Sanders and James Dunn.3 He says he came to his view on his own before E. P. Sanders published his watershed work Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977.4 Wright began his justification journey because he was confused as to how to reconcile the anti-law view of Galatians with the pro-law view of Romans. One night he read Romans 10:3 in a new light, seeing the righteousness of God not as a moral issue but as an “ethnic status based on the performance of Torah,"5 and everything came together for him. He read the entirety of Galatians that night and his new outlook on righteousness helped him to understand it in a way that made sense to him.

This independent arrival at the New Perspective on Paul is important for Wright since it means that he is not simply following Sanders or Dunn, but came to his view through a study of the text.6 Wright desires to show that he is not being trendy or rejecting the Reformation, but is just doing what Luther or Calvin would have done, which is paying close attention to the text. He still views himself as a Reformed theologian, he is just “moving some of the labels around in obedience to Scripture”.7 This claim to be a consistent Reformed theologian has been challenged by several, however, who do not appreciate his moving around the labels on the theological shelf. While Wright has been skewered by the liberal side of the spectrum for his views on Jesus, he receives considerable more criticism from the conservative side for his view on Paul and justification.

1. Douglas Wilson comments about Wright that “one of the gentleman's strengths appears to be that he can write faster than I can read” (“N. T. Wright and All That,” Anvil 13.3, n. p. [cited February 8, 2008], Online:

2. Just for some examples of this widespread appeal, Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said is ranked #11,572 (#1 in books on the theology of Paul) on, while James Dunn’s Theology of Apostle Paul is at #65,357. Wright’s bestselling book is Simply Christian, which is currently at #997 (cited 2-9-2008).

3. N. T. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 243-264, 246-248, “The Shape of Justification,” n. p. (cited February 11, 2008), online:

4. E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).

5. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 245.

6. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 245.

7. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 263.

8. “The Shape of Justification,” n. p. (cited February 11, 2008), online:

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2/14/2008 10:20:00 AM

Pauline Justification

Posted Thursday, February 14, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology   Comments: None
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I am taking a PhD class on Pauline Justification this semester with Doug Moo. For those of you who are interested, here is our work load and class outline.

Part One: Background. We read hundreds of pages of statements about justification from Aquinas to Calvin to various confessions and discussed those viewpoints in class, culminating in the recent ecumenical statements about justification. Then we looked at righteousness in the OT and examined many of the contexts in which it is found. One of the primary questions for the OT data is to what degree righteousness  is connected with covenant. For this section we read a variety of essay, such as some from the two collections of essays in Justification and Variegated Nomism. We also read the entire book by Ziesler, The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul.

Part Two: New Perspective on Paul. Each of us in the class were assigned an author who has an interesting view of justification, including Peter Stuhlmacher, James Dunn, NT Wright, John Piper, Mark Seifrid, Richard Moore, and Kent Yinger. We then read everything that those authors wrote about justificaiton, wrote a 2000 word review article and presented it to the class. I read NT Wright, and my paper will be appearing here shortly.

Part Three: Exegetical Survey. We just go through the relevant passages in Greek, such as those in Galatians, Philippians, and Romans.

Part Four: Seminar Presentations. Each of us writes a research paper on some topic related to Pauline justification and present it to the class.  


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2/12/2008 3:46:00 PM

The center of the Old Testament?

Posted Tuesday, February 12, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament   Comments: None
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I've been slowly reading through Walter Brueggemann's OT Theology. It is an important work, since it is being called the first postmodern OT theology. Whenever I finish it I will post my thoughts on the book. But he made one point that I wanted to post about now. He was arguing aginst seeing a center to the OT, which has been a common view. Some view the center as Christ, or at least salvation history. A famous attempt was made by Eichrodt to see covenant as the center. Hasel argues against a center, along with many others, because no one idea can fit all the OT, particularly the wisdom literature. The only other option is to go with some unhelpful idea like God, which is true enough but not very helpful as a model. But Brueggemann argues against a center not only because there isn't one, but because even the idea is wrong-headed. If there was a center, then it would allow the OT to be controlled intellectually, which is not the point of the OT. The OT is to be encountered intellectually as well as emotionally and with the will. It is to work on us not simply through an intellectual theological point, but directly by means of the poetry and narrative and prophecy. This kind of thinking, as long as it does not lead too far to the other end of the spectrum and deny theology any role at all, is helpful for American evangelicals who have been overly influenced by a focus upon intellectualism.
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2/8/2008 8:36:00 PM

Tower of Babel

Is everything you know about it wrong?

Posted Friday, February 08, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament   Comments: None
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The latest issue of JETS (December 2007) has some interesting articles. The first is entitled "A Historical Reading of Genesis 11:1-9: The Sumerian Demise and Dispersion under the Ur III Dynasty" by Paul Penley. This fascinating article argues for the a known historical reading of the Tower of Bable, i.e., an event that we actually know about. Instead of being simply a historical event that happened a long time, Penley (a PhD student at Trinity) says that the story refers to the fall of the Ur dynasty. Here is how he gets there. Read more of Tower of Babel

2/5/2008 4:54:00 PM

Biblical Interpretation: Then and Now

Gerald Bray

Posted Tuesday, February 05, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Church History   Comments: None
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            This is a very ambitious book: Gerald Bray is not afraid of a challenge. He has undertaken to document the complete history of biblical interpretation, from the very beginning to the date of publication (1996). This is no small feat because the Bible is likely the most interpreted book in the world, with libraries worth of interpretations over the past two thousand years. But in spite of the difficulties, I think that Bray has done an excellent job in this endeavor. Granted, it did take him almost 600 pages, but the result is a readable and accessible overview of how the Bible has been interpreted throughout the ages. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the broad view of how those who have gone before read the Bible.

            The book was written because of a distance the author felt between scholars and the church. Scholarship in the area of biblical interpretation has exploded in the past one hundred years, but instead of helping the church it has progressively moved farther away from the church. The church, on the other hand, has continued on its preaching, but bewildered by the enormous amount of scholarship has ignored much of the work done by scholars. In this lack of communication Bray has written to seek to show the history of biblical interpretation to help the church see the history of biblical interpretation and to see what the current trends are among scholars. Here is how he admirably achieves his very ambitious goal. 

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