Reconciling Paul and James: Thoughts about Justification

An illuminated manuscript of the Epistle to the Galatians (From Wikimedia Commons)
An illuminated manuscript of the Epistle to the Galatians
(From Wikimedia Commons)

The following post represents some of my musings on the topic of justification which have proceeded in the comments to my last post. I do not intend these musings to be understood as reflecting a particular “Orthodox position,” as in “this is what the Orthodox Church teaches” and thus prescribing such belief. These ideas represent my own thoughts and opinions as I have dialogued with others. Therefore, please take them with ample grains of salt if you need to.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of Torah but through faith in Jesus Christ, and we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of Torah; for by the works of Torah no flesh shall be justified.   (Galatians 2:16)

You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.   (James 2:24)

Any discussion of justification is tasked with the almost impossible proposition of reconciling Paul and James on the matter, for what they say stands in apparent contradiction. In fact, most scholars do detect in James a deliberate attempt to answer or correct Paul, seeing how it is that he uses much of the same language as Paul as well as the same midrashic example of Abraham. Rhetorically, James does offer a corrective of a perceived excess in Paul’s thought, though ultimately they approach the terms justification, faith, and works from different perspectives and sort of “talk past each other” in their dialogue. What Christian theology is tasked to do, counting the writings of Paul and James as sacred scripture, is to uphold both as accurate statements of truth without contradiction.

Justification in Paul

Looking then at St. Paul, we discover a radically simple teaching on justification. There is almost a monergistic tendency, for Paul presents justification as God demonstrating his own righteousness both by raising Christ from the dead and by justifying the ungodly, for he says that God’s purpose was “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). That is to say, the Righteous suffered for the unrighteous thereby demonstrating God’s righteousness and proving that he has the “right” to forgive sins and justify the ungodly. Moreover, the contrast between justification by faith and justification by works is that the latter is an attempt to establish one’s own righteousness (Rom 10:3), which was the chief fault of the Jews according to Paul in Romans 9-11.

Yet to be justified by God is also to be given the Spirit by whom we can fulfill the righteous requirement of the Torah, which is the opposite of works, as Paul says in Rom 4:5, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” That is to say, not only does God justify by forgiving transgressions, but he himself makes righteousness possible by the indwelling Spirit. Therefore, as he says in Philippians 2:13, “It is God who works in you to will and to do for his good pleasure.” This happens to the degree that we walk in the Spirit, which is a function of faith. One might say then, that Paul’s teaching of walking in the Spirit (e.g., Gal 5:16) is the exact theological equivalent of what James means by “works,” it is just that James does not articulate such a refined pneumatology.

Yet, for Paul, justification is something entirely separate from walking in/by the Spirit, and accomplished by heart-felt belief in and confession of Jesus Christ. Paul’s statement in Romans 10:9-10 is striking in its simplicity: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” There are no further conditions placed upon the believer in Christ in order to obtain salvation.

Justification in James

Interestingly, the midrashic example that both Paul and James give of the justified person is Abraham. What is interesting here is to see which events in the life of Abraham each apostle focuses upon. Paul focuses upon the initial promise that Abraham will have a son by Sarah. Abraham believes God, trusts that God will fulfill his promises, and there’s very little “working” to be done here. James focuses upon the akedah—the binding of Isaac—where Abraham most obviously puts his faith into action through obedience to God.

For James, faith must have a corresponding action, obedience to God’s commandments, i.e., Torah. James did not construe the works of Torah as being an attempt to establish one’s own righteousness before God but to live by faith through obedience to the commandments. James and Paul have very different opinions of Torah, which I characterize as “insider” and “outsider.” James, a Jew writing to Jews, understands the Torah as being a perfect, divinely revealed means by which a person can be guided to living righteously before God. For him, it is the “perfect law of liberty,” not a burdensome slave master as it is for Paul (is he responding to Paul here?). Yet, for Paul, writing to a community of both Jews and Gentiles, and in some cases to an exclusively Gentile audience, the Torah is a foreign element and a burden which the Gentiles could not bear. Paul’s genius was to conceive of righteous obedience apart from Torah as a function of faithful living by the Spirit, yet this seems to be lost on James who finds no place for obedient living according to God’s precepts in Paul’s schema. What is clear in James is that faith must be accomplished by active obedience to God.

Justification in the Christian Life

Now, lets see how this scenario plays out in the life of a Christian: At baptism one (or one’s sponsor) makes a confession of faith, and then the baptism and chrismation proceed. There is no “working” to be done. Paul’s conditions in Romans 10:9 are the only ones met, i.e., belief with the heart and confession with the mouth. This newly baptized Christian is justified, washed, sanctified, and for all intents and purposes “saved,” having been placed within the safe haven of the Kingdom of God and rescued from the evil kingdom of this age. Yet after baptism, the new Christian is tasked with living in righteousness and keeping from sin, which can be very difficult indeed.

This is perhaps the root of Luther’s quandary and subsequent declaration of simul justus et peccator (“at the same time righteous/just and sinner”), for herein we discover that the Pauline conditions of justification are easily satisfied, yet the practice of “walking in the Spirit” to the keeping of the righteous requirement of the Law, as Paul declares is the consequence of justification by faith (Romans 8:4), is another matter entirely. In fact, we may find that our post-baptismal ability to “walk after the Spirit” is rather poor, in spite of the promises and encouragement of the Scriptures and our pastors.

There is, if I may be so bold to say, a rather underdeveloped doctrine of repentance in the New Testament, i.e., what do we do when we find ourselves engulfed once again in sin? There is a tendency toward rigorism, especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and elsewhere in James and perhaps in Paul as well. 1 John gives us the only definitive teaching on confession, and I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head that expects Christians to be so much in a state of sin while seeking repentance. Rather I get the impression that, for the most part, New Testament writers expect Christians to live in a virtual state of perfection. The most pressing matter at hand for the Biblical writers was endurance under persecution (which occupies Peter’s mind), the avoidance of Judaizing (Paul), or proper treatment of the less fortunate and the poor (James). While some epistles acknowledge the presence of sin in the lives of Christians, there is little by way of explaining how justification extends throughout the constant struggle against sin, confession, and repentance.

And yet we find in almost everyone we meet, most especially in ourselves, the constant presence of sin. Even Orthodox societies are given toward alcoholism, domestic abuse, hatred of others, racial prejudice, etc., that make us wonder if such a state of pristine justification is possible to maintain save for the very few who abscond themselves to a monastery. The point of all of this is to say that there is a danger of extending the role of works in Justification too rigidly to the point at which we lose sight of the mercy of God. We perhaps tend toward a scholastic definition of justification, then scramble to pick up the pieces when we discover that few if any can actually attain it, all the while forgetting that God is merciful. This is why, at least in my own life, I have tended toward the Pauline definition of justification rather than the Jakobian insistence upon works. As one commenter on the previous post asked, “Who is doing the justifying?” Of course there is an obvious answer to this question – it is God who justifies! But, when we insist upon works (in James’s sense) we then might reconsider our answer, for we very easily move from being justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ, allowing God to demonstrate his own righteousness working in us by the operation of the Spirit to attempting to establish our own righteousness by our own efforts to attain to state of justified perfection.

To clarify, it is important to understand, along with James, that active obedience to God is essential to living out a justified life, a life that freely moves about in a state of being in a right relationship with God. This involves a constant ascetic effort and confession of sins. But, when we fail at our efforts and fall back into our sins, God remains merciful, and the blood of Christ still wipes away our sins, thus our justification ultimately comes from God who forgives sins by faith in Jesus Christ.

Toward a Resolution?

I’m not sure there is any real resolution to this problem or a way of reconciling Paul and James that satisfies entirely. Paul remains (at least in my mind) as an ideal, while James represents the practicality of the situation. While we are justified by faith apart from works, nevertheless, our conduct does matter. But then, “If thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquity, O Lord, who could stand?” Justification is not entirely dependent upon our efforts, for God is merciful and strong to save to the uttermost those who put their trust in him.

In my opinion, the Orthodox Church has defaulted to the Jakobian position, insisting along with James on the necessity of “works,” i.e., obedient living according to divine precepts, for our salvation. We have, to a large degree become comfortable with divine Law, a Christian Torah, which we gladly keep as a means to work out our salvation. The Gentile Church has become the “insiders,” and we see no reason to cast aside the “works of the law” as Paul once did for the “outsider” Gentiles.

Has Orthodoxy ignored or de-emphasized some aspects of Pauline theology? I think it is possible, though I believe that the sacramental theology of the Church safeguards it from ever returning to a purely Judaized approach to “works.” The sacraments ensure that we receive the grace of God freely through faith, though often legalistic stumbling blocks may be placed between the faithful and the sacraments. This is an important pastoral issue – How do we prepare for communion, by checking of a list of regulations, that we fast from midnight, go to confession, attend vespers, and say the proper (long) list of prayers so that God won’t get angry with us? All of these things may be beneficial for us in order to soften and enrich the soil of our hearts to receive the eucharistic seed, but we do not do them simply in order to satisfy a requirement or to keep God from being angry with us.

Whatever the role of “works” in our salvation, it is clear from Paul that any obedience to divine precepts cannot be construed as an attempt to establish one’s own righteousness before God. For Paul (and for James), to do so means to keep the whole Torah perfectly, which no man has done (there is no mention in Paul of the Virgin in this regard). So, to seek to be justified by works is to receive justification as a wage and not as a gift, and if a wage, then a debt (Rom 4:4). To be justified by faith is to be granted justification as a free gift (Rom 3:24).

Works are not excluded, but the manner in which they serve the justified believer changes, for they do not serve to establish a right relationship with God, rather they are the fulfillment and fruit of being in a right relationship with God. For having died with Christ in baptism, we have died to sin and are no longer slaves of it. Rather we are alive to Christ and slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:15-19). Therefore, to be justified, placed in a right relationship with God, is to be granted freedom to practice righteousness in such manner that it is not an attempt to establish one’s own righteousness, but to live in the grace in which we now stand in Christ. Because justification is given by grace, failure to live according to the righteous requirement is no longer counted as debt, for God is just in forgiving us when we confess our sins, for he wiped away our debts having nailed the bill to the cross (Col 2:14).

I have jokingly said to students before that Protestantism is Paul taken seriously. Of course, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I do hope to provoke some thought as to whether or not individually we do take Paul seriously. Do we trust in the mercy of God that our sins are forgiven, and therefore we have been placed in a right relationship with him solely on account of his grace, or do we seek to establish our own righteousness before God by trying to fulfill a list of rules? Do we keep the divine commandments and the ordinances of the Church in an effort to please God or do we keep them in eucharistic thanksgiving for having been given the grace of access to God and forgiveness of sins?


  1. Great article. You hit on many points that I think are very helpful for us Orthodox. However, I think you may be creating more of a tension between Paul and James due to controversy among scholars then what is necessary. We all know faith is the fountainhead and the initiation of salvation. Paul seemed only concerned with that reality and, as you pointed out, this was necessary given his audience and given the primacy (?) of faith. The problem with Protestant concept of justification is everything else that follows (sanctification) has no REAL bearing on our justification. The very fact that we, as Orthodox, take James seriously, completes the harmonization with Paul and James. I see this “issue” with Paul vs James as so typical of “doctrine vs works” or “doctrine vs love”. In this sense, Paul is speaking of the doctrine and theological truth behind the scenes of our initial step into salvation. However, what does all it really matter if we steal, lie, and go about our day like nothing matters? On the flip side, if we say “all we need is to just love God” or “all we need is to love others” then we are really confessing that we can EARN our salvation by just “loving” or “doing”. But perhaps, for the sake of correcting an over tendency towards “fulfilling” our justification within Orthodoxy, you wanted to stress Paul over James. This is understandable and perhaps a necessary pastoral move.

    1. Honestly, I think the tension between Paul and James helps us realize that even within New Testament Christianity, there was some natural variation in the way that theology could be expressed and even some conflicting ideas that all stood in tension within the pale of Orthodoxy. The New Testament is a snap shot of sorts of a time of massive change as a new Jewish sect who believed in a messiah called Jesus began to differentiate itself from the main body of Judaism, who subsequently began to allow massive numbers of gentiles into their ranks resulting in a whole new set of issues regarding how to gentiles were to relate to a Jewish Messiah and the Jewish Torah. We see this some to a tipping point at the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), though it is evident that tensions between Gentile Christianity and Jewish Christianity remained. One of the issues with James is that it does not have a very good pedigree among the earliest Christians. It takes some time for it to pop up on the early Christian literature, likely because there was some question about whether or not it was actually written by James as well as its quintessential Jewish character. In fact, if you excise the two references in James to the name “Jesus” (and they are passing references), there would be little left to identify it as being Christian. There is no “Gospel according to James” within his epistle, nothing that tells us how James considered Jesus to be the Savior. Now, we cannot demand these sorts of things from such a short text (it’s epistolary form is likely a literary creation. It was most likely a collection of sayings and exhortations), but it does leave us wondering exactly how James would have construed the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his terms. If indeed the Epistle of James represents a distinct “Jewish Christianity” at odds to some degree with Pauline Christianity, the diversity of early Christian theology comes into better focus, and we see the great importance of the synthesis of the early Church even to the present day. I want to point out the tension between Paul and James with the hope of highlighting the fact that we cannot leave the question there, but there needs to be a great work of interpretation within the Church in order that their distinctives might stand within the same coherent system we call Orthodoxy.

      1. I definitely agree that that theological variations and differences exist within the “boundaries” of Orthodoxy. But I also I feel like your reply is making a case to show how we should look at the epistle of James with a slight skepticism due to its late integration (Revelation anyone???). I see absolutely nothing wrong is seeing true harmony with Paul and James. Scholars thinking that James is correcting Paul due to his usage of the Abraham example is pure conjecture. Must we then assume two apostles (or perhaps not because who knows if the author of James was even James?) oppose each other so blatantly and we bring it into the canon? I am not saying you are confessing such a notion, but your argument is IMPLYING either a slight “miss” on the part of James or an actual over”correction”. This is problematic in so many ways and I, quite frankly, think it is actually unwarranted and unnecessary. You quote:

        ” If indeed the Epistle of James represents a distinct “Jewish Christianity” at odds to some degree with Pauline Christianity, the diversity of early Christian theology comes into better focus, and we see the great importance of the synthesis of the early Church even to the present day”

        If this is the road taken (again, one I think unnecessary), then why not think “Pauline Christianity” was the one that needed correction? Why a leaning to Paul and not James? Having converted from Protestantism to Orthodoxy a year ago, I can honestly say that the current understanding (more or less) with harmonizing Paul and James made so much more sense within Orthodoxy because it actually took James seriously. yes, perhaps Orthodoxy at large in its practice has taken James in mind too often while forgetting Paul, but this does not change the utmost significance and importance of James epistle. As far as I am concerned, if James really was a competing Jewish Christian theological framework that, ultimately was “wrong” or “off” compared to our cherished Pauline Christian theological framework, then it should not be in the Canon. Makes no logical sense to me.

        1. No, I was not expressing any particular skepticism in regard to the inspiration or canonicity of James. Regardless of its origins, it became canonical, but only after a longer period of time than other books. Paul was accepted almost immediately, and his letters circulated in collections from very early times as well as the four Gospels. Works like 2 Peter, Jude, Hebrews, the Revelation, and James took longer to gain canonical status. Eusebius of Caesarea placed James in his “disputed” category, so there was likely widespread disagreement about it up to the 4th century.

          Why Paul over James? Well, as already mentioned, Paul’s epistles were accepted very early as canonical scripture, while James was disputed up through the 4th century. Also, Paul wrote quite a bit more (13 epistles attributed to him not counting Hebrews), and had a much wider range of influence throughout the Anatolian and European Church. James was (if he actually wrote the letter, which, again, is disputed) was mostly confined to the Jerusalem Church. If the Epistle of James did come from Judaic-Christian circles, it also follows that it may have a closer associations with more egregious Judaizing heretical groups such as the Ebionites.

          Now, regardless of this, the Church has nevertheless accepted its canonicity and orthodoxy. So, upon that authority, it is to be regarded as sacred scripture regardless of where it came from or who wrote it. Scripture qua scripture has more to do with its canonical position in the Church and how it is used in the Church than any disputed historical circumstance as to its origins. Scholars now say that many of Paul’s epistles were not written by him. Doesn’t matter. Even if he did not write 1-2 Timothy and Titus or 2 Thessalonians, they still remain scripture for us.

          Now, it is also true that there are canons within the canon, i.e. parts of the Scriptures that are used more prominently than others, and some parts are even happily ignored. In the Old Testament, for example, the Psalms, Proverbs, Genesis, Exodus, and Isaiah tend to rise above the other books in their importance. We carry about in procession a gilded and bejeweled book of the Four Gospels, while the Revelation is not read in church at all. When was the last time anyone made reference to 3 John? I hope you take my meaning.

          So, just because a book is included in the canon, it does not necessarily have equal influence with everything else. There are even some parts of the books which are happily ignored (Romans 9-11, the mention of baptism for the dead in 1 Cor 15:29, the injunction of men wearing long hair, etc.).

          Now, I would go so far as to say that because Orthodoxy has in some sense defaulted to a theology more in keeping with James and the natural tendency of religious groups to create and follow ordinances just demonstrates how radical Paul was in his break from Judaism. His ethic was not different, i.e. he was not an antinomian, but he introduced something extremely innovative, the Law of the Spirit which completely replaced the Torah as the ethical rule for Christians. This was, perhaps, underdeveloped in Paul’s thinking or else impractical for the growing Christian Church (people need and thrive on rules), hence a return to a more Jakobian model.

          Finally, it is important to understand that the Church builds upon the *foundation* of the Apostles. The Apostles (unlike some Protestant communions) do not comprise the entire edifice. So, the Church has built its theology with both Paul and James in mind, but it has nevertheless constructed its own theology that is in some sense unique – it is neither purely Pauline nor purely Jakobian – and this is a good thing. Orthodoxy is an amalgamation of a myriad of theological strands that were present in early Christianity, though which were apart of the broad consensus of “orthodox” and “catholic” Christianity.

  2. Dear Eric,

    A very interesting topic, one I’ve written about myself, pointing out to my Protestant friends the fact that the only place in Scripture where “sola fide” is found, James 2:24, disproves the doctrine of “sola fide.”

    (BTW, “talk passed each other” should be “talk past each other.”)

    In Christ,

    1. Excellent article BTW.
      This is actually simple, obvious, and thoroughly known to anyone who withholds the human bias towards works….Which is astounding actually because it’s the entire point of the Bible itself–that man inherently desires to earn salvation, so much so that God gave Israel 20 packs of cigarettes, locked them in the closet and had them smoke them all. Over 600 rules to basically say…You want to establish your own righteousness…This is what it will take.
      So the Apostle to the Gentiles, which we are, who was given the Holy Spirit virtually in the act of hunting down Christians..If that’s not Grace I don’t know what Work Paul qualified for while he was fighting Christ himself—the Chosen instrument of Jesus, set apart before birth and brought up to Heaven itself to be taught directly from Christ, who wrote almost the entire message of the NT with upteen verses explaining in every way possible as to not be misunderstood AND declared NO ONE ADDED to his Gospel received directly from God and people whip out 1 verse from a book that no one wanted in the Canon for the very reason that it was obviously Christianity in diapers, addressed to the jews, has no ending and doesn’t even compare faith in Christ ( as many people astoundingly don’t realize) but. Instead uses the Jewish mantra “God is One”–again, people somehow read it saying faith in Christ–and this is used to render Paul’s entire Gospel some kind of misunderstanding?

      It’s pathological denial. It destroys all the rules of logic and betrays any qualified rendering of the text. Its the kind of comprehension atheists use. Prop up one single piece of data(verse) and disregard or twist an absolute mountain of evidence.

      It’s very simple except for the fact that people lack the faith to believe God will actually save them by grace. Unmerited pardon by its very definition annihilates any thought of works being part of salvation. We know the truth but simply don’t believe it.

      I think also because Luther and Calvin went so overboard as to suggest we have no role or even free will that many reject the obvious. Going beyond what is written is the bane of Christianity . Protestants, Catholic, Orthodox, you name it. No one has a corner on the unbridled truth–the sin is thinking they do.

  3. This statement, “This is an important pastoral issue – How do we prepare for communion, by checking of a list of regulations, that we fast from midnight, go to confession, attend vespers, and say the proper (long) list of prayers so that God won’t get angry with us? All of these things may be beneficial for us in order to soften and enrich the soil of our hearts to receive the eucharistic seed, but we do not do them simply in order to satisfy a requirement or to keep God from being angry with us”, immediately made me think of the difference between Cain and Abel.

    It seems to me that what we offer, as well as the spirit with which it is offered, is important. Easy to say but paying attention to both is a constant source of tension for many people.

  4. Very nice work. If we define justification as the initial reception of forgiveness of sins and incorporation into the Body of Christ, then couching justification in terms of faith very much makes sense. There is nothing we bring but our willingness and faith to be forgiven, accepted and brought into the Church. I lean toward the perspective that justification answers the question, “how we get in”. Sanctification answers the question, “how we stay in”. As you have pointed out Paul differentiates the concepts of salvation and justification which are virtually synonymous in Evangelical theology. Thus, one can be justified and not saved in the end.

    I would also point out that the concept of works aren’t absent in Paul (Rom 2:6-11, Gal 5:21). The works just aren’t a part of initial justification, forgiveness and incorporation into the Church. They are very much a part of our working out that justification in our salvation. Hence we see the concept of synergy in Paul and James provided we define the terms correctly. Paul himself seemed to indicate a misunderstanding of his teaching that could be interpreted as antinomianism. He corrects that view in Romans 6. I think James was correcting a false teaching based on a wrong interpretation of Paul.

    The main issue with introducing any concept of synergy into salvation is that in the West works are usually viewed as meritorious. In reality works are simply the way that we get to know God (1 John 3:14). Works of love are the vehicle that transports the soul to a greater knowledge of God which leads us to salvation. It’s faith working in love that counts.

    1. Yes, the biggest problem in Protestant soteriology is the virtual identification of justification and salvation. Sanctification, however, is theologically synonymous with justification, as it entails being separated to God, i.e. being a part of the covenant people of God. It does not necessarily entail moral progress or the performance of good works of obedience to divine precepts, though purity from sin is in view.

  5. Righteousness and justification are not the same thing, though they are related. Righteousness is a condition, and it is this state that we work to acquire as to likeness with Christ. This is the right-ness of the divine nature.

    Justification is to be rendered or accounted just, so this is what only God can do for us. He declares us just insofar as we are in Christ. St. James makes it clear that a doer of the word is one whose state/condition is righteous. A non-doer of the word is not. Who can bring these two conditions together in a right judgment? God alone.

    Our primary concern is to prove ourselves to ourselves. The problem of sin after initial justification (Baptism) is our cross to bear. We can only leave to God the reconciliation of our condition and our reckoning, while we strive to be divinized and transformed through doing the word and living the sacramental life in the Church.

    1. I might quibble a bit with your statement that “Righteousness and justification are not the same thing.” Keep in mind that “righteousness” and “justice” (and their derivatives) are both translations of the same Greek word, δικαιοσύνη. To be justified is to be set in right(eous) relationship with God. Righteousness is the quality of being in a right relationship with God (or the state, for another example). To be conformed to the likeness of Christ, i.e. theosis, is something else entirely, though proceeding from justification. (Though I may have misunderstood you).

      1. What I’m trying to say is, it seems that we have a proper concern to be suspicious about the translation. To translate dikaiōsis necessarily as “justification” saddles St. Paul with a forensic model which the Orthodox Church has (rightly, in my view) questioned as the most helpful in interpreting St. Paul.

        In the KJV the adjective dikaios and the noun dikaiosune are translated “righteous” and “righteousness” thirty-four times in the Epistle to the Romans. So, we propose in response to the judicial framework, whether dikaio need mean something more than “to make righteous.”

        ” To be justified is to be set in right(eous) relationship with God.”

        Couldn’t you likewise say, to be righteous is to be in right relationship with God?

        “To be conformed to the likeness of Christ, i.e. theosis, is something else entirely,…”

        Is it? I think that’s the question at hand.

        “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
        Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”

        It looks like, from this passage, that to be conformed to the image of Christ includes predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. It’s the ordo salutis (to borrow a Protestant-borrowed Latin phrase) of “being made righteous.”

        1. First of all, dikaios does not mean “justification,” it means “just” or “righteous” as I have already indicated. Secondly, the bare Greek word family comprising dikaiosyne/dikaioo/dikaios/dikaioma/dikaiosis, etc. is used forensically throughout Greek literature, so it is not right to expunge forensic notions from it. Thirdly, could you please point me to a conciliar decision whereby the Orthodox Church has questioned forensic models of atonement? Perhaps something from the prominent Fathers? I am not aware of this “questioning” as being anything but modern Orthodox opinions viz-a-vis the West. Forthly, your translations are not respecting proper grammar, parts of speech, etc. You can’t mix up participles derived from verbs, plain adjectives, and nouns the way you are. I am really unable to follow your train of thought here. Finally, when I say that theosis is something else entirely, I mean that it is conceptually distinct, not that it has no relationship to justification, which it obviously does.

  6. Eric,

    Thanks for this essay.

    One small nit to pick. You write: “Paul focuses upon the initial promise that Abraham will have a son by Sarah. Abraham believes God, trusts that God will fulfill his promises, and there’s very little “working” to be done here.”
    ***This is inaccurate, I think. 100-year old Abraham and 90 year-old Sarah (who “lost her flow”) actually did have to do *some* work to conceive Isaac (Yitzak–laughter). Uhhhh, now that’s an act of faith! There was no monergism here. In fact, this is one of my favorite examples of faith and works being darned near inseparable. They didn’t sit there saying, “Gosh, I wonder how God in his monergistic glory is going to pull this one off.” In a moment of beautiful absurdity, 100 year-old Abraham and 90 year-old Sarah conceived a child. So I’ll see your akedah and raise you Abraham and Sarah’s conception of Isaac!
    Cheers, Eric!

    1. Okay, sure, but there was not necessarily an ethical “work” to do. Also, since Abraham has just previously conceived with Hagar and would later with Keturah with whom he had six more sons (and presumably daughters), and there was not the same act of faith at work there. Paul says that Abraham “did not consider his own body to be dead…” using the word “consider” κατενόησαν as an extension of his faith, but he doesn’t focus upon the marital act as such.

  7. Reposting due to formatting issue —

    “First of all, dikaios does not mean “justification,” it means “just” or “righteous” as I have already indicated.”

    That’s fine. We can refer to a dictionary for a definition of a specific term. Nevertheless it was you who earlier equated forensic justification with the term dikaiosuné (G1343), a term which is never translated “justification” in the KJV. No?

    “Secondly, the bare Greek word family comprising dikaiosyne/dikaioo/dikaios/dikaioma/dikaiosis, etc. is used forensically throughout Greek literature, so it is not right to expunge forensic notions from it.”

    Others take a position that the forensic framework must not be forced on the text when it is not required, and in full NT context is not the best explication.

    “Thirdly, could you please point me to a conciliar decision whereby the Orthodox Church has questioned forensic models of atonement? … Perhaps something from the prominent Fathers?”

    I didn’t attempt to build a conciliar or a patristic case. But neither did I hear that there was a conciliar decision establishing a forensic model. So, regarding these things which are disputed, we strive to give “a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

    “I am not aware of this “questioning” as being anything but modern Orthodox opinions viz-a-vis the West.”

    I won’t respond to this since it’s a bit of ad hominem.

    “Forthly, your translations are not respecting proper grammar, parts of speech, etc. You can’t mix up participles derived from verbs, plain adjectives, and nouns the way you are.”

    Okay. I don’t want to go tit-for-tat over all this. Feel free to illustrate how, if you have the energy.

    “I am really unable to follow your train of thought here. Finally, when I say that theosis is something else entirely, I mean that it is conceptually distinct, not that it has no relationship to justification, which it obviously does.”

    Is it somewhat inconsistent to argue that theosis is entirely different from justification, but that justification and righteousness are essentially identical? This is the question that is raised in many Orthodox minds.

    I think my earlier question makes my train of thought pretty clear.

    >>Couldn’t you likewise say, to be righteous is to be in right relationship with God?<<

    1. Dikaios is an adjective, so it cannot mean “justification,” which is a noun. It’s here that I lose your train of thought. Again, I’m not sure where this notion that Orthodoxy eschews forensic notions of justification. It may not emphasize it as much, but it’s there for sure. For example, read. St. John Chrysostom’s sermons on Romans. This is not ad hominem, because I am not attacking your character. Rather, I am asserting that the notion that forsensic justification is not Orthodox is not substantiated beyond recent, widespread opinion, which can be demonstrated to the contrary in the Fathers where notions of guilt and acquittal can be found. You state rather categorically that Orthodoxy does not include it, but you provide no evidence to back up your claim. But the very plain meaning of Paul’s notion of justification must include some forensic element, for he speaks about the Torah, i.e. the “Law” – hence forensics. Also, Paul says “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, for the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the Law of sin and death” (Rom 8;1ff). The legal metaphor is the dominant metaphor here. I mean, we can’t just ignore the very plain meaning of scripture where without lapsing into linguistic absurdities.

      1. “. . . Paul says “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, for the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the Law of sin and death” (Rom 8;1ff). The legal metaphor is the dominant metaphor here. I mean, we can’t just ignore the very plain meaning of scripture where without lapsing into linguistic absurdities.”

        “Law” in English can be understood in the sense of “legal code” (what I think of as “forensic”), or depending on its modifiers, it can be understood in the sense of dynamic principle, as in the sentence, “Sky divers seem to defy the law of gravity.” My question is does the Greek term have similar flexibility in terms of connotation? Certainly its modifiers in this sentence “the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” and “sin and death” are in reality ontological categories, not legal ones.

        The other question I have is, where “Torah” and not simply our modern “legal code” (always somewhat arbitrary–e.g., speed limit 55) is in view, shouldn’t we automatically add the connotation of “law” as dynamic principle inasmuch as “Torah” is an expression and extension of the very nature of the living God in His Self-revelation to Israel in a way the laws of our modern jurisprudence are not (though Torah is also a legal code)?

        1. First of all, when we talk about law or forensic models of atonement, we are speaking in certain metaphoric terms. These are terms which we use to help us understand divine mysteries, so, while they exist in Scripture, we are not trying to press them too stringently.

          Okay, now to your questions: Paul is speaking about Torah/nomos in the Jewish sense of divine statutes, precepts, and commandments which are found within a legal system to which Israel was bound as if to a husband (Rom. 6-7). There is a sense of being confined under sin by Torah, which brings knowledge of sin. Paul also speaks in terms of “righteous requirement” of the Torah, dikaioma, which can refer to the divine commandment itself, God’s judgment according to the commandment, and fulfillment of the righteous requirement. These are all very stark forensic terms. So, while there is metaphor and imagery (icon), these terms are nevertheless very stark in representing the absolute perfection required by God, and failure to keep it renders one liable to judgment. But, Christ has “cancelled the handwriting against us by nailing the bill to the cross.”

          Paul conceived of Torah is different ways than James, it would seem. Paul takes a very pessimistic view seeing mainly as an impossible requirement which could never be met, and which was given for the purpose of confining all under sin so that all might receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ. James, on the other hand, is much more Jewish in his approach, and conceives of the Torah is ways like you describe, as a “dynamic principle” woven into the very fabric of the cosmos, as a reflection of the divine Wisdom by which the universe was created. It is really amazing to see how the Jews waxed so poetically about the Torah in such a way, and as such one can see then the Pauline and Johannine insistence that this “dynamic principle” by which the cosmos was created is not Torah, per se, but Christ the Logos, or in Pauline terms, “Christ, the wisdom and power of God.” So, then, continuing the forensic metaphor, we, being confined under sin and guilty of transgressing divine precepts, die to the Torah with Christ, and we are raised to live under a new Torah – the Torah of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (i.e. the Logos and true “Cosmic Torah”). So, you see, the forensic language here is leveraged in order to demonstrate that the forensic concept itself, i.e. seeking to be justified by works, only leads to condemnation. You could almost say that the forensic model of justification in Paul was raised in order to show the limits thereof, so that we are no longer under law but under grace. Paul says in Romans 10, “Christ is the end (telos) of the Law/Torah for all who believe,” The Torah, and therefore all legal categories by which we are either excused or condemned by divine judgment, find their end, both in the cense of ceasing and final fulfillment, in Christ. We should, rather than being suspicious of these forensic terms, rejoice that they are there, because they get to the heart of the matter of how we relate now to the absolute standard of divine Wisdom/Logos, which is the substance of divine law to which we are held accountable.

        2. Karen writes: “”Certainly its modifiers in this sentence “the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” and “sin and death” are in reality ontological categories, not legal ones.””

          That’s correct. Fr. Florovsky in The Ascetic Ideal And The New Testament writes:

          In the same chapter (6:17) St. Paul writes: “But grace to God that you who were slaves of sin obeyed out of the heart a form of teaching which was delivered to you.” In the second chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (2:15) St. Paul writes about the universal aspect of the “law” that is “written in the hearts” of mankind, a thought with profound theological implications. In using the image of the heart St. Paul is emphasizing the deepest aspect of the interior life of mankind, for such was the use of the image of the “heart” among Hebrews. When he writes that they obeyed “out of the heart,” St. Paul is attributing some type of spiritual activity to the “obedience” which springs from the “heart.” And to what have they become obedient? To a form or standard of teaching or doctrine delivered to them—this is precisely the apostolic deposit, the body of early Christian teaching to which they have responded and have become obedient. And in so doing, they have become “enslaved to righteousness,” the righteousness of the new law, of the life of the Spirit (6:18). And the “fruit” of becoming enslaved to God” is precisely sanctification which leads to life eternal (6:22). Throughout is a process, throughout is a dynamic spiritual activity on the part of man. St. Paul becomes more explicit about the distinction between the old and the new law (7:6). “But now we are discharged from the law, having died in that which held us captive, so as to serve in newness of spirit and not in oldness of letter.”

          When Eric says that the word dikaioma is a stark forensic term he is apparently presupposing a law court, distributive justice, image of the forensic. However that image is under dispute. There is another view that, in context, sees the NT revealing a different sort of legal/law in soteriology.

          1. I never said such forensic terms were incompatible with ontological concepts. We don’t need to place a wedge between them, but see how they relate to each other.

          2. “First of all, when we talk about law or forensic models of atonement, we are speaking in certain metaphoric terms. These are terms which we use to help us understand divine mysteries, so, while they exist in Scripture, we are not trying to press them too stringently.”

            Well said, Eric. I agree. As you probably realize, the trouble with the tradition I was in is that the forensic was interpreted very literally and made to carry all of the weight of the meaning of salvation as rescue from hell. It was the language of union in the Scripture that tended to be taken metaphorically in, e.g., John 6:48-58, whereas it seems to me Orthodoxy rightly places the language of union and our “being” in Christ (ontology) as central to the meaning of our salvation, interpreting it much more literally.

            Thanks for answering my questions.

  8. Eric,
    I agree that dikaios is an adjective and that the term that you referenced earlier, dikaiosune, is a noun. Thayer defines dikaiosune thus:

    1) in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God

    2) in a narrower sense, justice or the virtue which gives each his due

    If dikaiosune is never translated as justification, but two other words are (a total of 3 times, all in the Epistle to Romans) doesn’t that lend credence to my initial statement that righteousness and justification are not the same thing, though related? I guess I’m not understanding, at least textually, what your quibble with that was.

    “Again, I’m not sure where this notion that Orthodoxy eschews forensic notions of justification. It may not emphasize it as much, but it’s there for sure. For example, read. St. John Chrysostom’s sermons on Romans.”

    It’s not just in Orthodoxy that such questions exist. Gustav Aulen’s Christus Victor, N.T. Wright’s New Perspective on Paul, etc.

    I didn’t say that we deny any aspect of forensic justice, as Christ is the eschatological Just Judge. Although His judgment will be of a different order from a Roman law court. What I did express, or attempted to, is that we question the conventional wisdom that makes the Roman law court concept a priority over the works of faith preached by St. James.

    St. Paul does speak of the Torah Law. He rejects it as salvific for the Christian. He uses the law metaphor analogically, as it is obvious that the law of the spirit of life and the law of sin and death are not matters of legal exchanges.

    We don’t ignore anything in the Scriptures, we just handle it differently in some cases.

    There’s a parallel study of the OT revelation of God’s justice (Hebrew, sadaq) that would also shed some light on this discussion.


    1. dikaiosyne does not mean “justification,” rather it means “righteousness.” There are two words that mean “justification” dikaioma, which means “righteous requirement” and by extension the “fulfillment of the righteous requirement” and dikaiosis.

      See my comment to Karen.

  9. As I am converting from evangelical Protestantism, I have tended to see Orthodox soteriology as a welcome escape from the juridical gospel I was taught which places justification (as a legal acquittal) front and center, to something more correlated with reality than an abstract “cosmic moral economy”. I was unable to hear the hints that Orthodoxy does not completely reject a legal element to justification; I brushed them away as “sounding Protestant.” These posts have helped me to admit my willful ignorance, and to begin to see how juridical language can fit into justification without hijacking it (though it is still hard to tell the difference). Thank you.

    This is my attempt to tie together all the seemingly disparate things I have been taking in about justification lately. How confused am I still?

    “Justify” definitely can mean “vindicate” or “declare righteous”. But since God’s word is truth, justification from him can’t just be a declaration; it is a recognition of real (grace-enabled) righteousness by faith on our part. This justification, this change from “sinner” to “righteous”, allows us to enter and maintain a right relationship with God. It is an eschatological, “already-but-not-yet” reality from our perspective; we still sin, but are already “righteous” in Christ in a way that is more than an imputed legal fiction.

    1. What I really want to do here is separate the concept of justification from the concept of theosis. Justification is the forgiveness of sins, the wiping away of our transgressions and the enmity between us and God that was caused by them. Having had our sins forgiven, we have peace with God (= Rom 5:1). Now, this does not speak further about how we progress in divine grace to the complete likeness of Christ. Justification brings us from condemnation to peace, theosis brings us from peace to likeness. I think people have in mind that righteousness is a positive “thing” which we can attain to. No! That was Paul’s whole point! Righteousness cannot ever ever be attained to, because we cannot keep perfection. Rather we are forgiven of our sins and justified not by trying to attain to something positive, but by receiving forgiveness from God.Then, we press on to attain the upward calling in Christ Jesus by living according to the Spirit. Justification allows us to attain, to work, to become like God, not the other way around. Unfortunately, I think a lot of contemporary Orthodox thought gets this backward. We work in order to attain justification. No, we have been justified, therefore we live in freedom to work. Why? because when we are justified by faith our working is no longer counted as a debt to be paid. It doesn’t mean that we do not work, it only means that the aim or our working has changed from trying to attain justification to walking in the Spirit, i.e. theosis.

      1. You make justification sound only like a past reality, though. How does this fit with the fact that the Greek is essentially the verb form of “righteous”?

          1. Fr. Andrew, the “justification” of Baptism is also a death, a putting on of Christ, etc.

            Romans 6 (Darby):
            Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? … For he that is dead is justified from sin.

            Is there really a distinction between the “justification by faith” and by faith being “baptized into Christ,” and, hence, having “put on Christ”?

          2. The distinction is conceptual, though they are the same event. There are, of course, a multitude of things that happen at baptism. We can’t just collapse them all into one metaphor or another.

        1. Righteousness is being in a state of “rightness.” The past reality is that we are brought from a state of “unrightness” to “rightness” with God. If you had a friend who did wrong to you, injured you, or stole from you, he would be in a state of “unrightness.” There has been a breech in the relationship, and some debt is owed. But, if you chose to forgive him, cancel his debt, and he received it (by faith), then the “rightness” of the relationship would be restored. This is righteousness and justification.

          1. So righteousness is achieved in the past, but maintained on an ongoing basis–that makes more sense. Does this restoration of rightness involve a change in God’s disposition toward us, and how? (Protestant theology of justification makes a big deal out of this)

          2. Disposition, no. Relationship, yes. God’s disposition toward us was always love, but were were at enmity with God, because of our sin. Having been justified we have peace with God, no longer enmity (Rom 5:1).

          3. Thanks, that helps. Would it be accurate to say that justification does not change anything on God’s side of the relationship, only ours, or is this going too far? Another way justification is often described in Protestantism is as God forgiving us, with the implication that before the application of the atonement of Christ to our “account”, God is unable to forgive us because of his justice. When you justification involves forgiveness, does this just mean our reception of the forgiveness God always desires for us? (i.e. not God extending the offer of forgiveness for the first time, anthropomorphically speaking)

          4. No, God doesn’t change. There is no contradiction between the love of God for the world and his wrath against sin. We may not fully understand how they can coexist, but they do. When the wrath of God is satisfied by the cross, it is not as if Christ is satisfying some urge that the Father has to be angry, or some passion on his part. Wrath is the divine response to sin insofar as it must be eradicated and destroyed. When Christ made expiation for sin by his blood, sin was destroyed, therefore the wrath of God ceased. Justification is a change in our relationship to God by virtue of the forgiveness of our sins, both at the cross and when we receive it by faith. It is a state in which we live, confessing our sins, and living in the freedom of the Children of God.

          5. In the context of the ongoing practical outworking of our salvation, I have heard Protestant preachers say, “If God seems far away, guess who moved (it wasn’t God)?” It is always acknowledged in that context if our relationship to God seems to change (He seems far away), we, like the Prodigal Son, are the ones moving away from God through sinning. He is always in the same place awaiting our repentance (and we see in Christ’s Parable of the Lost Sheep, He is not just passively waiting for, but actively seeking, the sinner in this situation). This permanence of God’s loving disposition toward His creatures seems to get lost in much of Protestant language when we are talking about “salvation” as initial justification of the believer and as the ultimate disposition of the sinner after the Final Judgment. At that point, there is a lot of language within Protestantism, which represents God’s “wrath” as a disposition toward the sinner in opposition to His mercy, rather than something which describes His relationship with our sin. It tends to also represent God’s “judgment” as something imposed externally by God, rather than God’s “judgment” being seen as little different than His Light, His Truth, and His omniscience showing us clearly for who we are and have become (“in Thy Light, we see light”).

          6. One other hopefully last question: what does it mean for God to forgive or pardon our sins, if not a change in the divine disposition toward us from “against” to “for”? (These are equated in Protestant understandings of justification)

          7. The predominant Greek term is /afeimi/ meaning “send away.” In Hebrew, the term was /kapper/ meaning “cover” but usually translated “atone.” There are other terms as well that establish other metaphors. Throughout the Bible, Christ is described as the sacrificial lamb who makes expiation for our sins. As I’ve talked about before, expiation describes the dissolving, destruction, an eradication of sin like taking Lysol to a germ-infected countertop. The blood of Christ completely eradicates sin and purifies that which had borne the sin. God’s wrath could be described as the drive to eradicate sin and purify what is holy. It is not so much that he is passionately angry with us, but that his very nature as Holy, cannot endure the presence of sin. Sin can be eradicated by the destruction of the sinner. But, as Is 53 states, “God has laid upon him the iniquity of us all,” or as St. Paul said, “He who knew no sin became sin for us…” Christ takes upon our sin, “becomes” it, and as his body was destroyed in death, sin was destroyed as well. In this way, God’s wrath is satisfied, because sin is destroyed, not that he was formerly angry with us, but Christ stepped in and changed his disposition or satisfied God’s honor in some way (as if God were so needy). God’s disposition does not change – He always has and will love us, hence why he put forth his only Son to die for us as an expiation of sin in order that his love might be consummated, for without the removal of sin, there is enmity between us and God, because sin must be eradicated in order that God’s love might be fully received by its object. In this way, God’s love toward us and wrath towards sin work in harmony through Christ to eradicate sin without destroying the sinner, just as Jerusalem was destroyed as a substitute while the Jews taken into exile were “saved.” They realized that Jerusalem had been destroyed in their stead, so that they could live and eventually return.

          8. I do have a some difficulty with saying things like “God cannot endure our sin” to explain God’s wrath against sin, because of how this tends to be understood (outside of Orthodoxy in my experience). In many people’s minds, this makes God sound like the ultimate Pharisee in the Sky, or it makes Him sound like a “sinophobic”, much like Frasier’s brother, Miles, in the TV sitcom is germophobic. It may be technically correct to say this according to certain anthropomorphic Scriptural expressions, but it seems to communicate the Scriptures’ meaning more truly to say that our sin cannot endure the presence of God–He is a consuming fire consuming our sins and cleansing us from them (and here your Lysol analogy is apt). Looking at the bigger picture of the narratives of Scripture to understand these anthropomorphisms from Scripture, we can see after the disobedience of Adam and Eve, God seeks them (even in their sin) and they are the ones who hide. Similarly, “while we were still sinners”, God sends His Son into the world “to seek and to save the lost.” He “ate with tax collectors and sinners.” He carried our sin, and this was sin’s demise, not Christ’s because Christ remained incorrupt and rose from the dead (though death seemed to have claimed Him). Rather He trampled down death (and sin) by His own death (becoming sin for us).

          9. This is biblical language, however. “I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred assembly” Is 1:13. If you have difficulty with it, that is no reason to exclude it. God is holy, which means he is utterly separate from from all sin (understood here as an ontological evil, non-being, an imperfection). I don’t think it is wise to allow perceptions of these ideas to cloud the biblical modes of expression of God’s holiness. The Glory of YHWH departed from the Temple, because the iniquity of the people was so great, prompting its destruction in 586. “Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” Yes, these are images, to be sure, but they reveal the holiness of God.

          10. I do agree that God is holy and utterly “separate” from sin, of course. My only concern is when folks are not actually hearing the true meaning of this language and rather hear something different (and when the message they “hear” actually contradicts many other things the Scriptures teach). It seems to me there are a number of ways in this culture the language of Scripture may be misconstrued to mean something other than it does in its full context. Do you believe it is ever possible to be faithful to the language of the Scriptures (in this or other areas), but ultimately unfaithful in effectively communicating its overall message to others because we fail in the area of discernment of our hearers?

          11. Certainly, that is possible, but the answer is not to eschew the concepts altogether, but to accurately describe them, which is what I’ve been trying to do here. There is an opposite danger, of course, in running to an exaggeration in the opposite direction.

  10. What all this seems to be is an argument of either/or rather than both/and, which is basically why there are over 30,000 different, competing Protestant denominations in the world today.

    1. That would be true only if Orthodox thought having some differences of opinion (or emphasis) such as is seen here was a reason to break communion. Thankfully, what holds us together is far deeper than our own opinions about some of the nuances of what the Scriptures (or the Fathers) mean. I don’t think I personally have any real disagreement with Eric. I’m just emphasizing some different things because I’m speaking from (and to) a different experience (i.e. my Protestant background).

    2. I should have prefaced my first comment by saying, it seems to me Protestants split over differences of opinion about what Scripture means not only because they see certain things as “either/or”, but because of “Sola Scriptura”, the fact each individual or each group acts as its own interpreter, and there is no agreed upon arbiter in doctrinal disputes (no trust in the Holy Spirit to work in and through bishops in council, nor submission to that process).

  11. Correct me if I’m wrong, since I don’t have the background in languages that you do, but I don’t see much of a tension between Paul and James. Paul says that “works of the Law” can never justify a person. James doesn’t dispute that idea; when he refers to people being “justified by works,” he’s not talking about how well they kept the Law. That much is obvious from the examples of Abraham and Rahab with which he makes his point, Abraham living before the Law existed and Rahab being a gentile.

    Rather, all James is saying is that faith cannot be intellectual assent to a set of facts; it cannot be something you merely “have” like a birthmark, but rather must be something that comes out in the form of radical trust and a radically changed life. If you don’t have these things, James says you have some other form of “faith” that cannot save you (2:14).

    Paul, of course, concurs. He quotes (in Romans 1:17) Habakkuk’s line that “The righteous shall live by faith;” again, not merely possess it, but live by it. And the bulk of Paul’s letters either explicitly state or assume without needing to state it that a life of faith will be a changed life; this is perhaps most dramatically presented in Galatians 5 where he contrasts works of the flesh with fruit of the Spirit.

    So I don’t think the gulf between the two is quite as large as is normally assumed. One is talking about the Law; the other is not. Both take for granted that faith ought to change a person dramatically. Paul’s teaching about salvation by grace through faith in Ephesians 2 merely receives a qualifier in James, that “grace through faith” doesn’t mean simply muttering some prayer at church camp when you’re six, but rather means something that sinks into the depths of your being and gives you the ability to trust God for all your needs, just as did Abraham and Rahab. (Paul says that Abraham was justified by his faith, while James says Abraham was justified by the work that his faith produced – is it even possible to separate the two? If there were no work, there would have been no faith.)

    I’m a Southern Baptist, myself, but I read this blog and “Two Cities” regularly and enjoy what I see.

    1. No, you’re not incorrect in principle. The conflict (if any) is between Paul and James’ opinion of the Torah and what it can and cannot do. Paul is very pessimistic of it, saying that it only brings knowledge of sin, but cannot produce righteousness, i.e. justify. James seems to think otherwise. You could turn the issue around, and say that they have differing understandings of sin. Paul sees mankind as “sold under sin” and thus incapable of keeping the righteous requirement of Torah. James seems to believe that the Torah can still be kept toward righteousness. At any rate, they seem to be talking past each other, and that fact alone allows us to reconcile them, because they are not necessarily contradicting each other.

      I’m glad to have some Southern Baptist readers. I spent a good deal of time in the SBC, even graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University, so I have a lot of love and respect for Southern Baptists.

  12. Eric, a very interesting article that touches on many points!

    If I may, I would say, however, that I disagree with you on several points. I don’t believe there is a real tension between Paul and James. I think that one should be read through the other’s sayings, and both should be read in the light of the Parents of the Church.

    Now, to explain myself. By “works” I understand any kind of action one is performing: mental, verbal, or bodily. We can do wrong/good only by thinking something with our minds and hearts, by saying something or by actually doing a movement with our bodies. They’re all works.

    I’m sure you also make the distinction, but just to be clear, I think there’s significant difference between mere “belief” and “faith”. And there is much to be said about what faith actually is and how it relates to other virtues that any christian must have.

    And one more definition, in which it seems I disagree with you: I see justification/salvation/theosis as being part of the same process in which the christians moves from death to life.

    As for justification, you mention a few times that it is being in the right relationship with God. True. But the right relationship between two or more persons is not possible if one of the persons is not in the likeness of the others. That is because that person is still missing something that handicaps him/her from seeing and understanding and participating wholeheartedly to the relation. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. The pureness of the heart is something that must be achieved. The Orthodox theology of salvation/theosis is therapeutical. Man must be healed, heart must be cleaned, eyes must be opened. Sins are not forgiven because God stopped being angry. There is no change in God. Rather, the forgiveness of our sins is our healing from the passions that made them possible.

    Being justified, being righteous, implies a pure heart, a good will, that makes it possible for all of our actions/works to be good, to be according to God’s will. Our acts not only start (see the treatment of will at St. Maxim) from the heart, but they also have consequences on the heart. Our will is free, but subject to temptations. Our will is weak but God’s grace helps us if we ask for help in humility. Good works, in humility open our hearts for God’s grace, for we walk as Christ walked. Bad works close our hearts. It’s important to understand that there is no separation between an action/work and the heart which wills and starts that action.

    Just as there’s a difference between me willing to do a sinful act and actually doing it, there is also a difference between me willing to help someone and actually doing it. Of course, in the case of monks who spend their lives in solitude, their acts are restricted to prayer and reading and abstinence. But still, the purpose of their actions is the pureness of their hearts which ensures the proper, just, relationship with God.

    I guess that the important point that Paul, James, John are always trying to make is that we should all live by the Law of Freedom from this world and its passions. That is the true justification/salvation. When our works/acts are free, in the will of the absolutely free and loving God, and that there is no freedom without love.

    1. First, I should add that I am making a distinction between what disagreement probably did exist at some point in history and how their writings have been subsequently interpreted. We know there was conflict between Paul, Peter, and the “party from James” which we read about in Gal 2 and eventually lead to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. No, regardless of that, the Church has interpreted them in its own way, and that’s fine – we are not limited to historical-critical interpretations.

      “But the right relationship between two or more persons is not possible if one of the persons is not in the likeness of the others.” I don’t understand how this could be the case. The liturgy of Baptism/Chrismation specifically says that such a person is justified, even though they are just beginning the path of acquiring the likeness of Christ. Paul repeatedly states that the enmity between us and God has been removed, and this does not assume complete likeness. If this were the case, hardly anyone but the saints would be justified.

      As I stated in the previous post, justification has to be maintained by confession and repentance. It is not necessarily static, so our conduct does play a role in it, but this no where implies that we have to acquire ” a pure heart” or some state of theosis before we are justified. This is backwards. Paul clearly makes the case that it is first being justified by faith that allows us to live by the Spirit and achieve likeness to Christ. Go back and read Romans.

      1. I personally don’t agree with your separation between the words of the Apostles, and their initial meaning, and the interpretation of the Church, like if the Apostles and the Parents of the Church haven’t spoken the same Truth in the same Spirit. Yes, there was a conflict between Paul and Peter but I don’t think that the teachings of the Scripture reflect that initial conflict. It was local and on a very specific matter. Peter himself was lead by the Spirit of God in understanding things initially he did not understand. But it was not like already produce a Scripture writing just to come back later to correct himself or to be corrected by someone else.

        The enmity between each of us and God persists as long as we don’t do His will. Because not doing His will implies our loving of the world. That was and still is the source of the enmity between us and God, us loving the world instead of the Creator. And no one can say that they love God and not love their neighbour. And loving someone, God or your neighbour, requires a pure heart, requires humility, requires righteousness. You can not say you love God, and not feed the hungry or the thirsty, or not visit the ill. And doing those things is doing them to Christ, and this meeting with Christ in the little ones will transform you, will change you in the likeness of Christ.

        Grace is needed to do good works in humility, for without Christ we can’t do anything. And more grace is given to those who believe in Christ, those who die daily to the acts of the world. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

        If we believe that the Holy Spirit has spoken through Paul and and James and John and Peter, we will do our best, in the light of Church’s teachings, guided by the same Spirit, to understand them as a whole.

        I will go back and read Romans.

        1. As a historian and a biblical scholar, I have to make sense of the data as I see it. You don’t have to follow me on that, and I certainly don’t think it is necessary. It makes a lot of sense to me, and helps me sort out certain difficulties. But, eventually, we both come around to a patristic doctrine, though we may phrase it differently. When I use terms like justification, sanctification, etc., I am being very careful to parse out their exact meanings in their historical sense as they were used in Scripture. They all fit together like a puzzle, and this makes it very easy to confuse them or to jumble them up together in order to articulate certain aspects of the whole. Justification by itself is different than theosis, though they fit together hand-in-glove.

  13. As a convert to the Orthodox Church from Lutheranism, I think it *is* possible to reconcile the teaching of St Paul with that of St James. I think you go too far when you write, “…for Paul, justification is something entirely separate from walking in/by the Spirit.” In soteriology as well as Christology, Orthodox theology makes distinctions without imposing divisions! Consider again Romans 8:1-17, especially vv. 3-4, which does not separate God’s justifying work *for* us from His justifying work *in* us: “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (NKJV). St Paul goes on to say that to live apart from the Spirit is incompatible with salvation, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v. 13). A key difference between a Protestant view of justification and the Patristic view is that for the latter, Holy Baptism (and the unmerited forgiveness of sins and gift of new life in the Spirit bestowed therein) is understood as the beginning, but not the end of our justification. Terms like “justification”, “sanctification”, “glorification”, and “theosis” can refer to our salvation in the past, present, or future. Even though we often think of our “justification” as in the past and our “glorification” as in the future, St Paul uses “glorification” to refer to our past salvation in Romans 8:30, and “justification” to refer to our future salvation in Romans 2:12-16. Blessed Augustine of Hippo wrote, “You are the only authorities who suppose that justification is conferred by the remission alone of sins. Certainly God justifies the impious not only be remitting the evil deeds which that man does, but also by granting love, so that the man may turn away from evil and may do good through the Holy Spirit” (The Unfinished Work Against Julian’s Second Reply 2, 165). St Mark the Ascetic added, “Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfill the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken” (On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works, 18). The key to avoid a Pharisaical reliance on “works of the law” (whether the commandments of the Torah or the canons of the Church) for salvation is to avoid thinking that we earn God’s grace, and to practice perpetual repentance by turning to Christ to save us from our sins and renew us in His likeness. St Mark again: “He who repents rightly does not imagine that it is his own effort which cancels his former sins; but through this effort he makes his peace with God…No one is as good and merciful as the Lord. But even He does not forgive the unrepentant…One alone is righteous in works, words and thoughts. But many are made righteous in faith, grace and repentance. One who is repentant cannot be haughty, just as one who sins deliberately cannot be humble-minded” (Ibid., 42, 78, and 109-110). St Tikhon of Zadonsk teaches us, “Set your salvation on nothing else but on Christ Jesus alone, the Savior of the world. If you truly believe that He suffered and died for you and is your Savior, then love Him with all your heart, obey Him and please Him as your Savior, and lay and confirm all your hope of salvation on Him alone. We must unfailingly do good works as Christians, but we ask and await salvation from Christ alone” (Journey to Heaven: Counsels on the Particular Duties of Every Christian, p. 44).

  14. I am surprised there hasn’t been much engagement with the various (no longer that new) New Perspectives on Paul running various views from Sanders to NT Wright. Just to take Wright he puts forward that justification in it’s 1st century Jewish perspective was not about earning a right relationship to YHVH but who was, the boundary markers that demonstrated and revealed who was in the covenant of Abraham, was faithful Israel and the vindicated people of God, marking them out from those (pagans and other Jews or Jewish sects) who were not, and therefore who was taking the Kingdom of God upon themselves and was Israel whom YHVH would vindicate in the great reversal. Whether those of focused on Temple, the various intensifications of Torah and/or calls to action against Rome and other Jewish sects in revolutionary and Messianic (in different ways) movements or the Qumran community and the Essenes who (quite pertinently to the early Christians) believed the Kingdom of God or great reversal had already begun in advance and been inaugurated by the Teacher of Righteousness and that living to the Community Rule marked them out as the true Israel, God’s vindicated people and therefore revealed through that life with it’s badges, boundaries and faithfulness in an eschatological manner the vindication ti cone and be revealed openly in the final victory and completion of the Kingdom and defeat of the enemies of Israel and God with them being placed in charge.

    It seems to provide and strong historical argument that this is what justification was, who was and who wasn’t in the covenant of Abraham and belonged to faithful Israel and was the vindicated people of God
    . And that the works of Torah in mind in Romans and in the debate or the tradition boundary markers and badges that marked the Jews from pagans, circumcision, food laws etc, and whether Gentiles responding to the Lord were required to keep the works that traditionally marked the people of God from pagans in order to be justified, to br and join the covenant, to have full fellowship with Jewish Christians. Paul in this view is arguing this is not the case, that by the works of Torah (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath etc) people are not justified, the very presence in Israel of some who do steal, commit adultery, idolatry, murder etc, in this view he is not saying all have fallen, the purpose is to demonstrate that even the continuing presence of these things within Israel and at it’s highest only allows those in Israel to be at the same level as the virtuous pagans than the works of Torah did not justify and mark Israel out as the vindicated and covenant faithful people of God only a righteousness, a covenant faithfulness apart from those works in the faithfulness of the Messiah on behalf of Israel and by that the world. That this displayed God’s righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, in rescuing and bringing in the forgiveness of sins and return from exile and keeping His promises and inaugurating the promised Kingdom of God despite the faithlessness of Israel.

    Therefore what counts is faithfulness to and in the faithfulness of Christ entered into and marked by the mysteries of Baptism and the Eucharist, and faithfulness to and in Christ, they were the badges and boundary markers that displayed who was in the Messiah and was belonged to the covenant people and Abraham’s family, and were revealed as the vindicated people of God, displaying their covenant membership and the eschatological reality both now and the vindication and rescue to come.

    That what mattered is belonging and standing in Christ and His vindication, not the works of Torah (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath, possible intensification) and the Spirit (and holiness by the Spirit).

    In this view I don’t see not only no real conflict between the epistle of James to Paul but nor that they are talking past each other, since there was not any Pelagian sense of needing to earn salvation, nor were the works of Torah in dispute the moral aspects but rather the badges and boundary markers that marked Jews from pagans and whether Gentiles required to follow such to be justified as part of God’s covenant people, as Abraham’s family, and Paul response was it was membership in Christ and faithfulness to Him and in His faithfulness that mattered.

    As such, in this view Paul and James are discussing different things (given James audience was likely all or nearly all Jewish such problems were not so directly an issue) but emphasis a similar issue, faithfulness to Christ and to living in the eschatological reality in Him, one should see in them and their lives the reality of the their status as God’s covenant people living in the inaugurated Kingdom, to see life and not death in their bodies (which is little different to Paul’s reminder of being created to good works, or his problems with the Corinthians and bringing in the dose of inaugurated eschatology).

    I personally have found the argument convincing at least in general (though I don’t know if I have fairly represented or remembered it fully, though I hope I have been somewhat accurate in my presentation) in this view I don’t see the conflict at all.

    I won’t comment to much on other issues further from this as though I have began to attend an Orthodox church I am not yet a catechumen let alone a member of the Orthodox Church and prefer to be more quiet on those things and read, listen and learn for now.

    1. Grant, thanks for your comment, which was a brilliant summary of the NP points, which I think are (as I told N.T. Wright at a conference) very compatible with Orthodoxy. I have tried to address these issues to some degree, though perhaps not as well as I would have liked.

      I don’t disagree in principle with anything you have said in your outline of the NP. However there is a very interesting phenomenon that I have observed in Orthodoxy, that Orthodoxy has established for itself certain markers of covenant membership and faithfulness that mirror very closely the type of justification by works of Torah that Paul was writing against. In some instances it might be fasting or women wearing head coverings or the calendar or even the practice of the virtues itself, which become badges of covenant membership. A friend of mine has identified what he calls LARPodoxy, whereby someone tries to imitate Orthodox identity markers in such a strict fashion that genuine faith in Christ becomes excluded as the basis by which we are justified. And justification, because it is so poorly understood, becomes something that one must merit by doing all of these things, even practice of the virtues in order to gain it, rather than something which they realize that they have been given by faith through baptism and in which they live by faithfulness, which is repentance. It is interesting to note that Paul, in excluding works of Torah as the means by which we are justified, did not then turn around and say, “so we are justified by practicing the virtues!” Rather, what was substituted was faith in Jesus (“if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart…” Rom 10:9). Why? So that justification could be by grace and not by merit through works of Torah or whatever system of law one adopts. And if we are justified freely, then our works and our virtues are performed in the freedom of adoption as sons of God. Read my part III in this series for more on that idea. To summarize, I think that some of the talking points raised by the NP ultimately dissolve into the very human tendency to set up Torah wherever they can, whether it be a Jewish Torah or a Christian Torah, and there is a constant pull to try to be justified by keeping these works rather than simply living in faith and in faithfulness to Christ through the Spirit. I mean, if you look at the Jewish Torah and the Christian Tradition with all of its canons and ordinances and fasting rules and such, it’s virtually the same thing! Now, I say this as an insider now being somewhat critical in self-reflection, and I think Paul, while excellently stating the ideal is very impractical as far setting up a Church and an ecclesial culture, which ultimately will default back to a system of law and ordinance. This is why, I think, the first Protestants were so attached to Paul’s epistles (and still are) to the virtual exclusion of everything else, because they were rebelling against a system of law that had, in their minds, set itself up in place of Christ, and all who for whatever reason consider themselves to be outsiders of the Church’s culture and Tradition will cling to Paul for that same reason. So, we are dealing with certain socio-cultural factors here, which repeat themselves in Christianity as they existed in Judaism, and I think Paul and James represent the dynamic of the outsider/insider as we see in the first century as well as in our own.

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