Friday, October 4, 2019

A Rebuttal To Catholic Nick On The Meaning Of Justify

  • Discussion:
          -A blogger who goes by the name of Catholic Nick published an article where he explains his understanding of what it means for God to justify sinners and how that supposedly undermines the doctrine of Sola Fide. Following are his remarks alongside with a critique:

          "To begin, the Greek word "justify" appears in about 36 verses in the New Testament. Of all these occurrences, the only time it is used in an explicitly forensic (legal, courtroom) context is in four verses: Mt 12:37; Rom 3:4; 8:33; 1 Cor 4:4. So how do Protestants come to the conclusion that it must mean "declare legally righteous by a judge"? Certainly not from the New Testament evidence, especially since 'forensic terms' don't really appear in places like Romans 3-4 and Galatians 2-3. Turning to the 40 verses of the Old Testament that use the term "justify," there were more occurrences in a legal context than in the New Testament, but still not enough to form any concrete conclusion: Ex 23:7; Deut 25:1; 2 Sam 15:4; 1 Kings 8:32 (same as 2 Chron 6:23); Ps 19:9; 51:4 (quoted in Rom 4:3); Ps 143:2; Prov 17:15."

          First of all, the meaning of the word justify is to be determined by the context in which that word is used. It can have more than one usage. This source says the following:

          "When we turn to the New Testament we must be clear that the righteousness and justification terminology is to be understood in the light of its Hebrew background, not in terms of contemporary Greek ideas. We see this, for example, in the words of Jesus who speaks of people giving account on the day of judgment: "by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt 12:37; the word NIV translates "acquitted" is the one Paul normally uses for"justified"). Those acquitted on the day of judgment are spoken of as "the righteous" (Matt 25:37; they go into "eternal life," v. 46).

          The verb translated "to justify" clearly means "to declare righteous." Any theological word dictionary such as Kittel's Theological Dictionary for example clearly demonstrates this. It is used of God in a quotation, which the New International Version renders "So that you may be proved right when you speak" (Rom 3:4; the NRSV has more exactly, "So that you may be justified in your words"). Now God cannot be "made righteous"; the expression obviously means "shown to be righteous" and this helps us see that when the word is applied to believers it does not mean "made righteous"; it signifies "declared righteous," "shown to be in the right," or the like."

          "So for a Protestant to say that "justify," especially as Paul uses it in Romans 3-4 and Galatians 2-3, means "declared to be a perfect law keeper by a judge" is by no means an established fact at all."

          When the term "justify" is used in Galatians, Paul is juxtaposing faith to the works of the Law in chapters two and three. The apostle speaks of both Jews and Gentiles being justified by faith. He refers to God's covenant with Israel and its nature as a relation of promise. But in the process, Paul pits an attempt to be justified by the Law against hearing with faith. Both sides of the contrast have life versus death as the two potential ends of that relationship. Paul discusses these themes also in chapters three and four of Galatians.

          Moreover, the Law convicting humanity is the whole theme in Romans 1-3 that builds to his use of justification in the subsequent chapters. See especially Romans 1:18, 1:24-26; 28; 2:1-3; 5-8; 12; 16; 3:9-13. This context clearly has forensic or judicial overtones. The "Law" is everything that God commands us. This places all mankind under it in everything we do (Romans 3:19-20).

          "Matthew 12:37, 1 Corinthians 4:4, and (arguably) Romans 8:33, are speaking of the final judgement, not something that takes place at the moment of conversion.Romans 3:4 (Psalm 51:4) and (arguably) Psalm 19:9 are speaking of God being justified, thus it cannot mean "declare righteous by a judge," for no judge is above God. So despite being in a forensic context, "justify" here can really only mean vindicate. (I wrote about this earlier this year.)."

          Justify can mean to vindicate, but that does nothing to weaken or undermine the traditional meaning of that word. To be vindicated means to be shown as right, innocent, or without sin in a set of circumstances. Vindication is related to a courtroom scene and the question of innocence and just actions. Romans 8:33 is a clear case of forensic categories because it comes alongside with the idea of "charge", accusation, and advocating.

          "Ex 23:7, Deut 25:1, Rom 8:33, 1 Cor 4:4, (and likely) Prov 17:5; Mt 12:37 are not speaking of "declaring righteous" - as in declaring that someone has done his duty like keeping the commandments perfectly - but rather of "acquittal," meaning being found not guilty, i.e. innocent. For example, if I'm on trial for speeding, the Judge can either find me guilty (condemn), or he can acquit me (find innocent), but he cannot declare me to be a perfect driver and worthy of a reward."

          We agree that justification means acquittal, the verdict of "not guilty." Nonetheless, it is difficult to see how the Roman Catholic Church could even affirm that (given concepts like purgatory and the treasury of merit). The imputation of Jesus Christ's righteousness takes place through us being united with Him (1 Corinthians 1:30). That would be the "perfect driver" part.

          "I made a distinction between vindicating and acquitting because it seems acquitting fits best in situations where a person is being found 'innocent' of a charge, where as vindicating means more to show someone is in the right. But that said, I would argue that acquitting is a form or subset of vindicating, so the terms are conceptually not that different. With that in mind, all vindication/acquittal framework, meaning this is how we should most probably view it as well, especially in the key texts of Romans and Galatians. This approach to rendering the term term "justify" as vindicate/acquit has the devastating effect of rendering the Protestant definition not only dubious, but completely without precedent."

          This seems to be quite a leap of logic, as Nick makes hairsplitting distinctions and fails to explain how his points are "devastating" to the "Protestant" argument. The author actually seems to contradict himself, since he says that the term "justify" as meaning "declare righteous" is "completely without precedence" while earlier acknowledging and citing certain passages of Scripture that definitely are to be understood in that same forensic sense.

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