Monthly Archives: July 2005

Philip Schaff defends Sola Fide from Protestantism’s detractors

According to Charles Hodge:

The analysis and exposition which Prof. Schaf gives of this great doctrine of justification by faith alone, is thoroughly evangelical. We commend it to our new school brethren as a mirror in which they may see the true principle of the Reformation, and thence learn how far they have lapsed towards Romanism in their denial or explaining away of the corruption of our nature by original sin, and in making justification mere pardon, to the exclusion of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. [Continue]

Emergent Reformed

This entry is quite suggestive.

However, I think he misses something. Or everyone does.

Why haven’t more of the emergent read John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God and Vern Poythress’ Symphonic Theology? These works are rich and deep in Reformed Biblical theology yet also radical and new in their conclusions.

I am thrilled many of these leaders are reading Wright, but these other authors would also be of great help to them.

By the way, while this should go without saying–but most certainly cannot do so in the presence of the cyber-heresy-hunting environment–I don’t agree with everything in the cited entry, nor everything written or spoken by anyone else linked in this post.

Back from Juarez

Back from Juarez but too busy to blog much! (VBS is next week and I am supposed to teach the fourth graders.)

But here’s the song my class sang (with skit I won’t try to describe) for our closing ceremony. What makes it work is the clapping, which I don’t think I can readily include:

I run toward the goal
So that I can win the prize
Of being called to heaven.
This is the prize
That God offers
Because of what
Jesus Christ has done.

Wright’s Perspective on Paul


Thank you for your warm welcome and generous hospitality. It is an enormous pleasure for Maggie and myself to be here in Monroe for the first time. I am particularly grateful to those who have worked very hard to set this conference up and make it all happen.

I want in this opening session to set some parameters for our subsequent discussion, and in particular to put some cards firmly and clearly on the table about my starting points, my fixed points in reading Paul, and my aims in expounding his theology. I am aware – and it is a matter of some irony in my mind – that my own views on Paul have been the subject of far more interest and debate in America, and within churches other than my own, than they have in England, or within worldwide Anglicanism. I do sometimes catch myself wondering, ‘Why should I worry if one branch of American Presbyterianism wants to fight another branch about whether I’m a good thing or a bad thing?’; rather as though two baseball fans were to argue about the respective merits of a cricket player. One answer is, I guess, that since I think my own reading of Paul represents a historically grounded and theologically accurate and sensitive understanding I naturally hope that other Christians of whatever tradition will find what I say fruitful, and I grieve that anyone should get into trouble in their own denomination, whatever that may be, for embracing a viewpoint which ought at the very least to be within anybody’s limits of orthodoxy. I suppose, though, that part at least of the reason I am concerned about all this is that within my own church I have engaged in a lifelong struggle to get Paul back on to the agenda, and to allow his vision of God in Christ, of the cross and resurrection, and justification by faith, to become once more part of the bloodstream of a church that was founded on them but has done its best to forget the fact. My church grew directly out of the sixteenth-century Reformation, and even where I have disagreed with some of the Reformers’ particular proposals I believe I have remained true to their foundational principles. And, indeed, I want now to begin the first section of this lecture with a quote from the first and perhaps the greatest of the English reformers, the one from whom I most securely learnt the formal principle which underlies all my reading not only of Paul but of the whole of scripture.

1. No Syllable Altered

That formal principle is, of course, a total commitment to scripture itself, over against all human traditions, all structures created by human reason, all abstractions from the actual text. Of course, I read scripture within various traditions, I use reason in thinking about it, I make my own abstractions from the text as I go along. I am not a naive positivist, as some appear to think. But at every point one must come back to the text itself, the whole text, and in the last analysis nothing but the text. I have in mind in particular at this point a saying which has accompanied me through my whole adult life, a line from the early English reformer William Tyndale. The first research project I undertook as a postgraduate was a edition – the first one since the 1570s – of the work of Tyndale’s friend and colleague John Frith, a cheerful young scholar and devout Protestant Christian who was burnt at the stake two years before Tyndale, in 1533. As Frith lay in prison awaiting his fate, Tyndale, in exile in Belgium, wrote him two letters. The concern both men had shared, working at full stretch against all the odds, had been to get the Bible in English into the common life of the church and people. Many were suspicious of this attempt, preferring to control what people thought scripture contained rather than to allow it free rein and full force, an attitude some of you here know only too well. Tyndale rejects such suspicions. In his first letter to Frith, dated probably in January 1533, he writes this memorable sentence, which was etched upon my mind and heart long before I became a Bible translator myself. ‘I call God to record,’ he writes, ‘against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that I never altered one syllable of God’s word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honour, pleasure or riches, might be given me.’ I think of that sentence when I read and preach from scripture. I recalled it as I stood before Tyndale’s statue on the Thames Embankment before I went into No. 10 Downing Street to accept a senior appointment in the Church of England. I have recalled it a thousand times as I have struggled in my own work to express in clear, crisp contemporary English as close as I can get to the Greek of Paul, Mark, Luke and the rest. As far as I’m concerned, Tyndale’s principle is exactly right – even if he did not always, in our judgment today, live up to it himself. It’s not easy; it is again and again a matter of close judgment. But it is judgment informed not only by scholarship but also by conscience. Not one syllable must be changed. That is what it means to speak of ‘sola scriptura’ and to mean it.

It is for that reason that I begin my reflections with a single syllable at the heart of Romans 3. Indeed, in this case it is a single letter in Greek, the letter e, eta. In 3.29–30 Paul writes e Ioudaion ho theos monon? ouchi kai ethnon? nai kai ethnon, eiper heis ho theos hos dikaiosei peritomen ek pisteos kai akrobustian dia tes pisteos. That opening single letter, e, translates into a single syllable in English, this time with two letters: Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one, and will justify circumcision on the ground of faith and uncircumcision through faith. It would be interesting to study the various translations and commentaries and see what different traditions have done with that opening e, that connecting ‘or’. Sadly, Tyndale himself, followed by the King James version, omits it altogether. Several of the classic commentaries find it very puzzling. Paul has been talking about how sinners are justified by faith alone, apart from works of the law; why does he suddenly shift here to an apparently different topic, that of the equality before God of Jews and Gentiles? Some, indeed, have expounded the passage as though verses 29–30 did not exist, as though the paragraph stopped with verse 28. But Paul has written e; the Holy Spirit has inspired that single syllable, that single letter; and are we going to ignore it?

The answer, of course, is that for Paul there is an intimate connection between God’s free justification of sinners through the death of Jesus and on the basis of faith, on the one hand, and God’s creation, on the other hand, of a new family composed of Jews and Gentiles alike. We can well understand that the Reformers themselves, faced with the urgent challenge of a deeply corrupt Roman Catholicism, rightly wanted to emphasize the first rather than the second. But in sharing their formal principle of sola scriptura we are bound to highlight what is there in the text, syllable by syllable, even if they did not. And for Paul that little e is a crucial, tell-tale indication of where his actual argument is going. Its point is simply this: that if God were to justify people on any other ground than faith, then he would after all be God of the Jews only, and not of Gentiles also. And unless we are prepared to think through why that is so, and to grasp the fact that this is where the whole paragraph is going – in other words, unless we see that Romans 3.21–31 as it stands, syllable by syllable, in the text of inspired scripture, is driving towards this point, which is then massively supported by the whole of chapter 4, and that this point is not a side-issue, an ‘extra implication’ of a gospel which is about something quite different – then the formal principle of all reformation-inspired theology has been sacrificed on the altar of our own traditions….

…I thus discover that my call, my Reformational call, to be a faithful reader and interpreter of scripture impels me to take seriously the fact, to which many writers in the last two hundred years have called attention, that whenever Paul is talking about justification by faith he is also talking about the coming together of Jews and Gentiles into the single people of God. I did not make this up; it is there in the God-given texts. I do not draw from this observation the conclusion that some have done (I think particularly of Wrede and Schweitzer), namely that justification is itself a mere secondary doctrine, called upon for particular polemical purposes but not at the very centre of Paul’s thought. On the contrary: since the creation, through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of this single multi-ethnic family, the family God promised to Abraham, the family justified, declared to be in the right, declared to be God’s people, on the basis of faith alone, the family whose sins have been forgiven through the death of the Messiah in their place and on their behalf, the family who constitute the first-fruits of the new creation that began with the bodily resurrection of Jesus – since the creation of this family was the aim and goal of all Paul’s work, and since this work was by its very nature polemical, granted the deeply suspicious pagan world on the one hand and the deeply Law-based Jewish world on the other, it was natural and inevitable that Paul’s apostolic work would itself involve polemical exposition of the results of the gospel, and that justification by faith, as itself a key polemical doctrine, would find itself at the centre when he did so. That which God has joined, joined not least through the single little syllables which serve as the tiny rudders for the large ship of his holy word, let us not put asunder. And since these little words join together whole arguments, let us pay attention to the actual arguments Paul mounts, not to three or four verses snatched out of their real-life, God-given contexts. This is my first appeal to you, an appeal which is for the Reformation principle of sola scriptura to have its way again over against all our human traditions. [Read the rest]

Wright and women’s ordination into the ministry

Here’s an appraisal I received from a correspondent, which I thought was worth passing on:

I just read through N.T. Wright’s paper on women in ministry here:

Very disappointing (although I expected to disagree with it knowing Wright’s position).

Wright does preface his remarks with some qualifications about his own lack of thorough study in this area. He also related his ignorance of the debate within American evangelicalism where the debate has been primarily about biblical hermeneutics, contrasting that with the debate he knows better in the Church of England, where the opponents of women’s ordination have been primarily Anglo-Catholics employing arguments mostly from church history/tradition and ecclesiology. Indeed, he betrays little or no knowledge of the detailed exegetical work done by American scholars represented in the works promoted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Wright also offers a very good corrective to the feminist (mis)use of Gal. 3:28 to abolish sex-based role distinctions in the church.

But his biblical arguments are lacking. I found his arguments about the texts in 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2 to rely mostly on speculative reconstructions of the cultural context of the letters and not nearly enough on the actual flow of argument in the text itself. This is not typical Wrightian exegesis. He usually insists on testing any proposed exegesis by the way that it accounts for the specific details of the text in a comprehensive way. (Although this was a short paper, and it unfortunately lacked footnotes where he could have revealed his sources and tackled some more technical questions.)

He commits several significant errors in dealing with 1 Tim. 2:11-15. All are extensively refuted in the book Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, eds. Kostenberger, Schreiner, and Baldwin (Baker, 1995). The references to authors in the points below refer to essays in this book:

  1. He bases his exegesis on the speculation that the cult of Diana/Artemis in Ephesus was dominated by female priests. Allegedly, then, Paul’s comments about women are intended to deny that women are to dominate the leadership of the church in this way. Stephen Baugh at Westminster West has shown from the primary sources in Ephesus that this characterization of religion in Ephesus in the first century has no basis in fact.
  2. He takes the verb usually translated “to have/exercise authority over” (a hapax and admittedly difficult word to translate) in a negative fashion: “to dominate or dictate to in a bossy way”. H. Scott Baldwin has shown in an exhaustive analysis of this word in extant Greek literature that this meaning is possible. However, the more neutral sense of “to exercise authority over” (without a negative or positive moral connotation) is equally well attested in the literature. Thus, context, and not lexicography, must determine which sense fits in 1 Tim. 2. If Wright wants to adopt the negative sense, then he must argue for this and not simply assume it.
  3. The possibility that this verb has a negative connotation is all but ruled out by an analysis of the syntax of the construction in which it occurs in 1 Tim. 2:12, specifically, the construction (1) negated finite verb + (2) infinitive + (3) oude + infinitive + (4) alla + infinitive. The specific question here is whether connecting two infinitives with oude makes the expression one connected idea rather than two separate ideas simply strung together. Andreas Kostenberger has shown via an extensive analysis of syntactical parallels in both the NT and other Greek literature that a consistent pattern emerges: in such a construction, the infinitives are either both negative or both positive but not mixed. Therefore, since the verb “to teach” in 1 Tim. 2:12 is positive (no one interprets this as teaching in a morally defective manner; instead, the verb is used consistently in the NT to refer to the authoritative teaching of Christian doctrine), therefore, the verb “to have authority over” must also be positive, and not negative as Wright has suggested.
  4. His proposed reading fails to make any sense of v. 13 at all. This is the verse that feminists usually ignore.

I would love to see Wright’s response to the Kostenberger & Schreiner book I’ve mentioned above. A second edition is coming out this year, which should update its interaction with the last ten years of secondary literature.