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peter wilkinson | Mon, 01/31/2011 - 18:15 | Permalink

Very nicely put, Andrew, with your skill at presenting the argument in graphics, as well as disarming us by fairy-tale analogies, knowing no bounds. (I still think there's mileage in the Alice in Wonderland comparison, but it would depend on who you thought was being disadvantaged by the similarities).

Anyway, you say, and I can't get the blockquote feature to work, no matter how hard I try:

"But I think that the question that drives the argument about the justification of those who have faith is not “How is membership of the covenant people to be defined?” but “How will the covenant people survive the coming day of wrath?” Only that community which puts its trust exclusively in the prior faithfulness of Jesus as defining a way of salvation will not be condemned along with Israel, first, and then with the pagan world."

In response: first, there is a semantic range to the use of the word "justify" in the NT which makes the New Perspective generalisation about its meaning difficult, and all generalisations context-dependent. For instance, in Acts 13:39, English translations of all kinds reflect the Greek accurately when they say: "Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses." This is clearly talking about justification as forgiveness, and not simply identification of the community which has been forgiven, either on a day of wrath which has already occurred or is yet to come. 

Next, I can't read Romans 3:21-31 and come to Wright's or your conclusions about the 'future' sense of justification brought forward into the 'now', whether future to the disciples only (AD 70 or whatever), or future to us (day of final  judgement). It all seems very much in the 'now', rather than the future brought forward, eg "But now a/the righteousness from/of God has been made known" - v. 21; "He did it to demonstrate his justice/righteousness at the present time" - v.26, and so on. Tell me if I've missed the point.

The particular problem with your version of the meaning of justification as community redemption from the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, as I see it, is that the destruction of Jerusalem, and the retribution on Judea which followed, were local events, in the context of a worldwide diaspora of Jews (reckoned at 10% of the total population of the Roman Empire at that time). The judgement would likewise have affected only a proportion of those who might have become Christians but failed to do so. They can't all have been caught up in the siege of Jerusalem, or the retribution which followed - even taking Joesphus's figures at face value, which few do. I imagine many Jews would continue to do very well in the various enterprises across the Empire with which they were preoccupied, not least Josephus himself, who was far from following the narrow way of suffering which you feel the NT prescribes as the route to life of the age to come after AD 70.

But crucially, the weakness I find with your proposed narrative reading is that the church's destiny is narrowed down to “How will the covenant people survive the coming day of wrath?” - that day of wrath being certainly 1st century (Jerusalem), and maybe also fourth centuryish (Rome), according to your reading. So there is no enduring life of the Spirit which actually benefited from persecution (the church grew under these conditions). There is no Spirit empowered transformation of life and lifestyle, both within and through the transformed people of God. Or if there is, there has been no reference to it, since survival through judgement seems to be the overriding preoccupation.

And also crucially, if the original generation of Israel were the direct beneficiaries of the actions of Jesus, including justification in particular, but not the rest of the church in history, how is the church to obtain the same benefits without appropriating the actions which entitle the beneficiaries? That's assuming that the church is just as much in need of forgiveness of sins, cleansing, empowerment by the Spirit, as Israel had been. Where else is this to be obtained, except through the actions of Jesus? All I can see from your account is that we are baptised into a narrative about Jesus - not Jesus himself. But it wasn't the narrative that remade Israel; it was the actions directly appropriated from Jesus, who unlocked the narrative by facilitating personal transformation, through faith in him.

Each time I follow your argument, I'm left with these perplexing questions. Maybe I'm just being Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Definitely Grumpy.


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