Monday, September 3, 2018

Does Psalm 106:30-31 Refute Justification By Faith Alone?

  • Discussion:
          -Roman Catholic apologists (and others) sometimes appeal to the text of Psalm 106:30-31 as evidence of works being necessary for justification before God. Consider this excerpt from Steve Ray as an example of how this argument is made:

         "...centering on Abraham's faith in Genesis 15:6: "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Catholics agree with this Scripture, but the same words ("it was reckoned to him as righteousness") are applied to another person in the Old Testament besides Abraham, and the "justification" was there attributed to actions and zealousness, not faith alone. The phrase used in Psalm 106:31 is the same (in both the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Septuagint) as is used in Genesis 15:6. In Psalm 106:30, 31 we read, "Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed. And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore" (KJV). Evangelicals say his faith justified him, like his father Abraham-but the Psalmist must not have understood the faith alone doctrine, for he attributes the imputation of righteousness to Phinehas' zealousness." 

          The background of this event is recorded in Numbers 25. Israelites were committing fornication with the women of Moab. Consequently, God was provoked to anger and He cast a plague over Israel. Then, Phinehas took a spear and drove it through a couple in the act of fornication. He obtained mercy from God, terminated the plague, and was regarded as being a righteous man due to his desire for righteousness. His deed would be blessed and remembered from generation to generation. The reality of his faith was demonstrated before other men. This is a testimonial of faithfulness, not justification before God. Notice how other Bible translations render this verse:

          "This was counted for him as a righteous deed for all generations to come." (Psalm 106:31, New American Bible Revised Edition)

          "This brought him a reward, an eternal gift." (Psalm 106:31, New English Translation)

          "for this he is the example of uprightness, from age to age for ever." (Psalm 106:31, New Jerusalem Bible)

           Following is an excerpt from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Psalm 106:31:

           "31. counted … righteousness—"a just and rewardable action." for—or, "unto," to the procuring of righteousness, as in Ro 4:2; 10:4. Here it was a particular act, not faith, nor its object Christ; and what was procured was not justifying righteousness, or what was to be rewarded with eternal life; for no one act of man's can be taken for complete obedience. But it was that which God approved and rewarded with a perpetual priesthood to him and his descendants (Nu 25:13; 1 Ch 6:4, etc.)."

           D.A. Carson writes in regard to Psalm 106:30-31 in his essay titled the Vindication of Justification:

           "...although it is true that one important Old Testament text with the same grammatical construction (in the LXX) establishes a similar sort of equivalence (Ps 106:28), the equivalence in that case is not between faith and righteousness, but between a righteous deed and righteousness (the righteous deed in question is the zealous execution of public sinners by Phinehas, Num 25:7- 13). In other words, in this instance “God’s ‘reckoning’ Phinehas as righteous (see Num 25) is a declarative act, not an equivalent compensation or reward for merit (cf. also Gen 31:15; Ps 32:2).”

           The similarity in sentence structure ("it was reckoned unto him as righteousness") is beside the point because the context of Psalm 106:30-31 is not about how one gets right with God. It would be out of place for Paul to use this passage because he emphasized faith rather than works in being justified before God. Moreover, the passage in Genesis 15 is not the moment of Abraham's justification, but rather is the Lord's promise of salvation to him and posterity through faith. Genesis 15:6 foretells the foundational message of salvation as found in the gospel. That is what makes it relevant to Paul's argument.

          God certainly rewards Christians for their faithfulness to Him. He blesses those who love and serve Him. But we are not justified by works of righteousness (Titus 3:5). We are saved because God is merciful. He saved us in spite of our unrighteousness (Deuteronomy 9:3-6; Ephesians 2:4-9). The gospel requires that one must believe in order to receive justification (John 20:31; Acts 16:29-32; Romans 3:28; Galatians 3:4-9; 2 Timothy 3:15; Revelation 21:6; 22:17). This righteous act of Phineas has nothing to do with him meriting justification in part by good works. Rather, God deemed this man's conduct to be righteous and assured him that the priesthood would not depart from his line.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Excellent examination. RCC apologists keep grasping at straws to support their false works-based salvation.

Russell said...

Hello Jesse,

Glenn is right. They'll dig out anything they can to deny Sola Fide.