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Christ the Meaning of all Scripture, Life and History (Part 1)

Chapter 5 Christ, the Meaning of Old Testament Law

The acts of covenant, righteousness and judgment in the Old Testament mirror or picture the death and resurrection of Christ. The Christ event is an act of covenant (Matt. 26:28; Luke 1:72), righteousness (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-26) and judgment (John 12:31; Heb. 9:27, 28).

Each of these three aspects of God's act in Christ merits a full presentation. But we can only briefly show how this great act of God, like the typical acts of the Old Testament, is both punitive and salvific. It is a manifestation of both wrath and mercy.

Some recognize the legal and juridical metaphors in the New Testament but think they are only one element among many. Such scholars emphasize that the New Testament also uses pastoral, domestic, medical, horticultural and other metaphors. They say, "The legal metaphors may appeal to some people—those unfortunate enough to have a legal mind set—but we prefer the more winsome metaphors." Of course, the New Testament does use imagery other than the legal in preaching Christ. But the legal motif is overwhelmingly central. Along with the historical element, it is the framework of New Testament theology. Those who wish to grapple with the New Testament message must accept the juridical element of biblical theology. It is irrelevant whether or not they think it is appealing. They must heed the God-
given framework of the gospel if they are to avoid misunderstanding and distorting it.

Some have said the presentation of the gospel in its historical and legal framework is too cold and impersonal, that it leaves the heart unwarmed and untouched. But we must be careful lest we accuse God of choosing a poor framework for the gospel as though we knew how to reach the heart better than He does. While the New Testament appeal may not be directly to the emotions, it may be more effective than more sentimental approaches in reaching man at the center of his existence. God's "root out of dry ground" may meet man's need more than do our own inventions. Some say, "We must make the gospel relevant today." But they often mean, "We must mold and fashion the gospel to our own taste."

There has been a stampede by theologians, pastors and people away from the legal or juridical elements of the gospel. The effect on the church has been devastating. Preoccupation with internal trivia has displaced justification by an imputed righteousness. The message of the New Testament has been so privatized, internalized and individualized that it has become something it was never meant to be. We must return and listen to what the Bible says and how it says it whether we like it or not. God's Word is our medicine. And that medicine may not at first seem palatable to our perverted taste.

The Legal Framework of Pauline Theology

Paul's theology of the cross abounds with legal metaphor. His training as a lawyer and judge doubtless qualified him in the familiar use of juridical concepts. But there is a more important reason for Paul's forensic language. As a Jew, Paul was immersed in the Old Testament. He preached Christ from the Old Testament background. And that background is both historical and legal. Says Derrett:

Paul is very direct. He preaches Christ crucified and glories in the cross. ... Paul blandly works out the meaning of that event in a strictly legal framework. His use of legal metaphors is not surprising since he was in any case brought up as a jurist, and legal metaphor was good style in an age when law was the prestige-bearing discipline. . . . The appeal is not directly to the emotions, but to existing belief in relationships known indeed to the law. . . . Christ died, he seems to say, in order to achieve realities which can only be expressed in terms of law, and which are fully and adequately so expressed. We, with our lack of interest in law and a long-inherited dislike of lawyers, find it hard not to regret this choice of language.1

It is not necessary to be a lawyer to appreciate Paul's thought forms. But it is necessary to see the cross against the same background as Paul saw it—that is, the Old Testament legal framework. Let us consider some of the Pauline expressions used to explain the meaning of the atonement.

Redemption and Ransom (Rom. 3:24; Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6). This Old Testament idea relates to release from debt by payment of a price. While it often means deliverance, it is always deliverance at a cost. If a man fell into debt, his inheritance could be taken and he himself sold into servitude. He could be redeemed, however, by his next of kin.

The breach of the covenant has put man into debt to the law of God. Sin is a debt (Matt. 6:12). Man has therefore lost his inheritance and is sold to hostile powers. Christ took human nature and became our next of kin. By His death on the cross He redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13) by blotting out our bill of indebtedness (Col. 2:14). By this means He also delivered us from the control of hostile powers (Col. 2:15).2 Redemption, therefore, is a legal conception.

Reconciliation (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Col. 1:20-22). The reconciliation Paul speaks about is not something done in man. The word here does not mean a change of attitude in man which enables him to see God in a friendly light. Rather, it is something entirely objective. Reconciliation was done and finished while we were still God's enemies. It was a covenantal transaction between God and Christ. But it was a transaction on our behalf and in our interest. By dying Christ removed the barriers which prevented a just God from coming to fellowship with poor, lost sinners. The barrier of sin gives man a standing of guilt before the holy law. Guilt is a legal conception. It must be removed by a legal transaction.

Propitiation (Rom. 3:25). This word probably comes closest to the Hebrew concept of atonement. The word propitiation (hilasterion) comes from the word used for the mercy seat or lid of the ark in the holy of holies (Heb. 9:5). The Hebrew word for this covering of the ark is kapporeth. It can be translated "place of atonement" because the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sin offering upon it seven times and thereby made the atonement for the sins of Israel (Lev. 16). All this, of course, relates to the law of God because the law was deposited in the ark beneath the kapporeth. By its very nature law is penal. It demands satisfaction for its violation. Without the shedding of blood there could be no pardon for sin (Heb. 9:22). Luther translated kapporeth with a German word which means mercy seat. But it would be just as correct to call it justice seat. Mercy is extended to the sinner only because justice has been done in the death of a substitutionary Victim. The Greek word hilasterion also contains the idea of placating an offended person or mollifying wrath. C. H. Dodd tried to soften the biblical concept of God's wrath and to prove that propitiation means expiation. It became fashionable to do away with the concept of God's wrath altogether. Leon Morris, however, has proved that it is not possible to do away with either the plain sense of propitiation or the wrath of God.3 The holy character of God demands that He take action against sin. The law of God is an expression of His holy self-consistency. We dare not lose the impression of God's horror and detestation against evil and evildoers. One who has no passion against the bad has no passion for the good. God is no Grecian stoic. Since He is a God of law, we may know that His wrath is neither unpredictable nor vindictive. His actions are always in harmony with His law. We can depend on Him to carry out His covenant with undeviating fidelity.

We must also remember that in the work of propitiating wrath God did not punish an innocent third party. The Lawgiver Himself bore the penalty of sin and exhausted His wrath. He provided the atonement (Lev. 17:11). "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19, KJV). The atonement does not cause God to love those whom He hated. He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins because He loved us (1 John 4:10).

Most problems with propitiation stem from trying to understand the atonement apart from its juridical relationships. If we start with the Old Testament premise that God is a God of law and that law by its very nature is inexorable and penal, then the death of Christ must be seen as a juridical penalty for sin.

Representation and Substitution. The principle of representation is taught in those passages where Christ is presented as the new Adam (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:22). It is also implied in most of the Pauline "in Christ" passages (e.g., Eph. 1:1-10). Representation means that Christ acts in our name and on our behalf. It is a legal concept. That is not all there is to it. But the legal character cannot be removed without emptying representation of its essential biblical meaning.

Substitution means that what Christ did, especially on the cross, was done for us. It was for us in the sense that it was done in our stead. Christ gave "His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The word "for" in this text is anti, meaning "in the place of." Paul also says Christ gave Himself "a ransom [antilutron—literally, a ransom in the place of, or substitutionary ransom] for all men" (1 Tim. 2:5). In many other places Paul declares that Christ died for us, was made a curse for us, etc. (1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 3:13). The word "for" in these places is from the Greek huper. Although huper does not literally mean "in the place of," it is nevertheless impossible to remove that sense from many of the passages. The idea that one's suffering and death could be accepted in the place of others is thoroughly juridical. This is the very element that many have been feverishly working to abolish. It would be better if the opponents of juridical salvation were to admit what Marcion admitted when he wanted to get rid of the book of Revelation. He simply said, "Too Jewish." An atonement conceived along juridical lines cannot be expunged from Paul nor from anywhere else in the New Testament.

Imputation. The words impute, reckon, accounted all come from the Greek word logizomai, which is used eleven times in Romans 4. The believer has righteousness imputed to him (Rom. 4:6). This is "the righteousness of One," even Christ (Rom. 5:18, KJV). Paul is not talking about the believer's experience but about his status in the judgment of God. Imputation of our sins to Christ (Rom. 5:19-21) and of His righteousness to us deals with legal realities. Neither the imputation of sin nor of righteousness means a change of character. It means a change of legal standing. Imputation in itself does not change the moral character of the object. But it does change the way the object is regarded. Surely Calvary is the proof of this!

This Pauline message of "imputed righteousness" has been derided as "imputed nonsense" and "legal fiction" by those who reject the juridical framework of biblical thought. To those who dispense with legal categories and say moral transformation is all that matters, we answer with Luther that Christ must surely have labored in vain and suffered foolishly on the cross. For why did He not stay in heaven and save men by imparting to them a moral transformation? But the atonement was a juridical transaction entirely outside the realm of our moral transformation.

The Righteousness of Christ (Rom. 5:18, 19). The righteousness which God imputes to faith is the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 4:3-6; 5:18, 19). This righteousness consists in His covenantal faithfulness. He perfectly obeyed the divine law on our behalf (cf. Rom. 2:6-16; 5:18). John Calvin is scriptural when he says: "Righteousness consists in the observance of the law."4 "For if righteousness consists in the observance of the law, who will deny that Christ merited favor for us when, by taking that burden upon himself, he reconciled us to God as if we had kept the law?"5 The righteousness of Christ, therefore, being related to law, is a legal conception.

Justification. The central theme of Romans and Galatians is justification by faith. Justification is law-court terminology. It is a word which relates to the day of judgment (Rom. 2:13-16). It means being "pronounced righteous by divine sentence" (Shrenk) or being "set right before the law" (A. H. Strong). To be justified does not in itself mean to be changed in character.6 It means that one's legal status is changed. Justification by faith is inseparable from Christ's work on the cross because it is the saving application of it to the believer. At Calvary Jesus was "numbered with the transgressors." This did not make Him a sinner in character. It made Him a sinner in His legal standing. Those who deride the purely forensic nature of justification by imputed righteousness are attacking the purely forensic nature of Christ's condemnation because of imputed sin. Justification by faith is out of date and makes no sense in much of the contemporary religious scene because the legal framework of biblical thought has been abandoned. The gospel has not been allowed to lead people to love and reverence the law of God like the man of Psalm ". . . because the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so" (Rom. 8:7).

The Righteousness of God (Rom. 1:16, 17). Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel because in it God's righteousness or justice is revealed. The surprising thing about Paul's gospel is that it declares that God's justice means salvation for all who believe. There is a virile strength in the gospel when set in its biblical framework. It shows us that God is not only in the business of saving people. He is in the business of saving them justly. The divine law is maintained and honored in the whole process by which the believing sinner is justified and given eternal life. God is seen to be just when He justifies the believer (Rom. 3:26). The law is not annulled but established (Rom. 3:31).7

This reminds us again of what the Bible means by the power of God. It does not mean raw might. In the divine administration, power is first the power of right. There are some things God cannot do. He cannot lie. He cannot be unjust. If man is to be saved, he must be saved in a way which satisfies the highest demands of divine justice. It must also satisfy man's sense of justice, for man is made in God's image. An unjust, unlawful and cheap forgiveness will satisfy neither heaven's court nor the court of human conscience. God must therefore establish His right to save the sinner who believes. This is what cost the Godhead infinite self-giving.

We see an illustration of this in the affairs of any human society with a semblance of justice. Let us take the case of Patty Hearst. Her incarceration or freedom did not depend on who could muster enough police or military might. The real battle over this woman's fate was legal. This is where the Hearst family spent its great wealth and effort. This is where the prosecution also spent its great effort. Once the right of a certain course of action was legally established in court, confinement or freedom was a foregone conclusion. In an organized society right does not stem from might. Might stems from right. So also, in matters of big business and government the power to act is derived from legal procedures. When this ceases, all decent society is at an end and the "law of the jungle"—raw might—prevails.

Our eternal fate rests neither on vindictive wrath nor on impulsive love. The peace established by the blood of the cross is a just and lasting peace. We cannot dispense with the legal categories of biblical salvation without compromising God's righteousness and the believer's security.

Thus, a survey of Paul's major words and concepts proves that the apostle works out the meaning of the Christ event in the framework of Old Testament jurisprudence.

The Legal Framework of Johannine Theology

We now turn to the theology of a Bible writer often thought to emphasize the mystical rather than the juridical aspects of the Christian religion. We speak, of course, of John, the apostle of love.

Some scholars have recently awakened to a new appreciation of the pronounced Jewishness of John's Gospel. Of course, the Jewishness of John's Revelation has long been recognized. That entire book is a mosaic of Old Testament texts or allusions to Old Testament places, persons and institutions. The Gospel of John also reflects his Jewish, Old Testament background. We must not be surprised, therefore, to find he presents his Gospel in a legal framework.

In his brilliant essay on justification, Preiss has incisively shown that the juridical element is just as prominent in John as in Paul.

    This aspect has been strangely neglected by exegetes and still more so, if that is possible, by those who have tried to give a bird's eye view of Johannine thought: I mean the juridical aspect. It is an elementary, evident fact and so simple that I feel inclined to apologize for making of it the object of a study, that juridical terms and arguments are notably frequent in the Gospels and Epistles—the Christ who is sent, witness, judge, judgment, accuse, convince, Paraclete. Even terms of a rather mystical character, like light and truth, reveal if considered from this standpoint a very marked juridical emphasis: truth is contrasted less with error than with falsehood, and less with falsehood in general than with false witness: and Jesus is the light which judges, and sheds light, as we say, in this dark and sinister world. . . .

    The only texts in which the verb 'witness' has the merely vague sense of 'solemnly declaring' are 4.44 and 13.21. Everywhere else both verb and noun connote an act that is at one and the same time religious and juridical, conceived in the framework of a contest in law.

    In 8.17 allusion is made to the juridical principle of Deut. 17.6, 19.15, which requires two or three witnesses: 'Thou bearest witness of thyself; thy witness is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Even if I bear witness of myself, my witness is true: for I know whence I came and whither I go. Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. Yea, and if I judge, my judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. Yea, and in your law it is written, that the witness of two men is true. I am he that beareth witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me . . . ' (8.13-18). Here it might be supposed that Jesus uses the juridical categories of witness, witnessing and judgment merely to answer the accusation of false witnessing leveled by the Pharisees. But in other connections the Johannine Christ has resort spontaneously to these themes. In the solemn monologue which crowns the interview with Nicodemus he declares that inasmuch as he is the Son of Man he is the sole eyewitness of the heavenly world (3.11-13) and explains later that he does not wish to be the judge which condemns, only the Son who saves, but that being the light he provokes judgment: those who believe come to the light which reveals that their works are good, those who do not believe evade it lest their works should be revealed. A little further (3.32-33) we read that he who comes from above 'what he hath seen and heard, of that he beareth witness; and no man receiveth his witness. He that hath received his witness hath set his seal to this (another juridical expression) that God is true. For whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God. . . .' The close connection between witnessing and the One who is sent can be clearly perceived. The Son of Man is sent from above to be the ambassador as rabbinical law understands the term: the ambassador is to be identified with the one who sends him; he is the witness who, because he has seen and heard the Father, has all the authority of a plenipotentiary. After having announced the judgment and the resurrection which he will accomplish inasmuch as he is the Son of Man, Jesus declares (5.30): 'I can of myself do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is righteous because I seek not mine own will but the will of him that hath sent me. If I bear witness of myself my witness is not true. It is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. Ye have sent unto John and he hath borne witness unto the truth. But the witness which I receive is not from man. . . . But the witness which I have is greater than that of John: for the works . . . bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me. . . .' Then Jesus affirms that he is the sole witness who has seen and heard the Father, that the Scriptures bear witness of him (v.39), that he does not receive glory from men, that the Jews have not the Word and the love of God in them (vv. 38, 42), that Jesus will not accuse them before the Father: that it is Moses who will accuse them, he in whom they have set their hope (vv. 45, 46).

    Thus here we have a whole series of interconnected themes: Jesus is the witness of the heavenly world; as such he is Judge of the end. But he does not intend to be the accuser of the Jews. Their kategor—it is well known that the Greek juridical term passed into the juridical and religious language of the Jews at the same time as its opposite sunegoros or parakletos—will be Moses, he whom they believe to be their defending counsel, who will intercede at the judgment day. Jesus returns to these themes in his last words addressed to the Jews (12.35-36, 44-50): 'I judge him not. . . For I come not to judge the world but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I spake not from myself; but the Father which sent me, he hath given me a commandment what I should say. . . .'

    Is it a mere coincidence that these four groups of texts or chapters 3, 5, 8, 12, gravitate around the title of Son of Man? It is consistent with classic Jewish eschatology and with that of Jesus according to the Synoptics that the Son of Man should be the central personage of the last judgment. He will be the Judge at the end. But he will also be the Paraclete before the Father, because he is the righteous One who died for the sins of the world (I John 2.1). And at this very moment witnessing to the Father he exercises judgment by his Word. Like the prow of a boat cleaving the waters to right and to left, he constrains men to declare themselves for or against him. Hence his judgment is both future and present. The process of judgment unfolds itself both on earth and in heaven: the witness who has come from heaven, to whom God himself, his works, the Scriptures, and John the Baptist, bear witness—he who will become the object of the world's attack (first concealed then open), is the One who is about to be condemned by men. But he does not cease to bear witness to the world that its works are evil (7.7); he does not need that anyone should tell him what is in man: he knows himself what is in man (2.25), because he is the Judge who is light and who sheds light (3.21). Before the court of Annas Jesus behaves as a witness (18.23) and before that of Pilate (18.37) he affirms that he has come into the world to bear witness to the truth. The truth is that the world is condemned and that he whom it is engaged in condemning is the sole righteous and true man. In the course of this gigantic juridical contest, of which the earthly career of Jesus consists, other figures emerge, notably John the Baptist, the eyewitness, those who have heard him (3.28) and the crowd which bears witness to the raising of Lazarus (12.17).

    After the resurrection the contest goes on: in face of the hostile world, the witness par excellence will be the Spirit. He bears witness with the water of Baptism and the blood of the crucified; and these three are one; the Spirit is like the Son and the Father, truth itself (I John 5.6). The witnessing Spirit makes the disciples witnesses before the world (15.26-27).

    And thereupon John unfolds a whole theology of the interior and exterior witness of the Spirit which can only have meaning when it is seen against the background of the quarrel between the world and believers which is developed both before the inner tribunal of the believer and the outer tribunal of the world (I John 5.4-11).

    But to appreciate properly this new phase of the earthly conflict and its connection with the conflict of Jesus, we must view the drama from the celestial and cosmic plane. The Johannine kerygma is rather reserved at this point. But what it does disclose is quite clear. At the moment when the Son of Man accepts his glorification, that is, is willing to be buried in the darkness of condemnation and death, and when the heavenly voice says in confirmation 'I have both glorified it and will glorify it again' (12.23, 28), Jesus declares: 'Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me' (12.31, 32).

    This text alone would be sufficient to explode the current prejudice which supposes that judgment for John is something purely interior and immanent and spiritual, that he has interiorized the primitive eschatology of Jesus and expects of the future only the continued presence of the Spirit. In point of fact the quarrel includes a transcendent aspect and a last judgment. But the fact is that John is very reserved about the transcendent world as about the future. He has quite simply taken very seriously the truth that only the Son of Man knows the life of the world to come and that he forbids apocalyptic speculation about this world of the beyond. Yet the few glimpses of the beyond which he permits suffice to show us that eschatology like everything else is severely concentrated on Christology. In the Son of Man, the future Judge, judgment is already mysteriously present. At the very moment when the Son of Man accepts death, there takes place in the presence of God the decisive event: Satan is cast out. He whose name means 'accuser' is banished from the divine presence. That is the judgment of this world. The dominion of Satan is shattered. This text could have no better commentary than that of the apocalyptic hymn (Rev. 12.10-12): 'Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accuseth them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony. . . .' Can it be maintained that because this event is considered as past the Apocalypse has spiritualized and interiorized eschatology? The hymn goes on to warn men that the devil has descended to the earth to vex it in anger knowing that his time is short. Similarly the Gospel of John knows that Satan will continue to work on earth. There will be a tragic but provisional disjunction between the heavenly and the earthly series of events. But the quarrel which is to issue in the condemnation of Jesus is accompanied by that which ends in the condemnation of Satan the Accuser. And with his prophetic vision the Johannine Christ—and John too—sees transcendent and future events already contained in earthly and actual events. The Son of Man exalted on the Cross and at the same time paradoxically raised to the glory of the Father will take the place of the Accuser to reign as Intercessor, as Paraclete. Paraclete before God, he the Just, is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (I John 2.1). Hence he will be able to draw all men unto him (12.32).

    How will he do so? By the Spirit, until the day of final advent for the general resurrection and the last judgment. Is it not significant that the function of the Spirit is regularly described in John more than in the rest of the New Testament in juridical terms? He is the Paraclete, he bears witness; he convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He is the witness par excellence: he is the truth as opposed to false witness. If exegetes have not quite known what to make of the Spirit-Paraclete it is because it has not been realized that he has meaning only within the framework of the cosmic conflict. Even in Jewish thought a precise juridical role is assigned to the Spirit.8
Preiss also points out the way John's Gospel complements Paul's.
    If he is less full than Paul on the subjective aspect of justification, on the other hand he is more precise than Paul with regard to the cosmic conflict . . .

    Not all the personages of this drama of justification were still known: the accuser Satan had been forgotten. In particular the drama had become a nontemporal and personal interior affair, detached and isolated from the great cosmic drama of the coming of the Kingdom and its righteousness, and of the victory over Satan. Is it not significant that exegesis still fails to recognize that the parable of the Wicked Judge (Luke 18.1-8), just as much as its twin sister concerning the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer, treats of justification, but of its objective aspect, of the great clash between God and his elect on the one hand and Satan and his partisans on the other? . . .

    Is not eschatology as a whole centered around God's judgment on the world? And will it not always include as a consequence an absolutely essential juridical aspect? And will not the central personage of this conflict between God and the prince of this world be the Judge, the Son of Man? All that Paul says about justification is but an integral part of what one might call, for want of a better term, the cosmic conflict. In this connection I can only mention apart from Luke 18.1-8 the grandiose vision of the celestial court of justice which forms a climax to the process of justification (Rom. 8). If we wish to overcome our difficulty in appreciating the true dimensions of this doctrine we must break this age-long habit which goes back perhaps beyond the Reformation to the second century and which one-sidedly emphasizes the purely individual and subjective aspect of this important doctrine. But we are not here concerned to show how this distortion has impoverished the biblical kerygma and obscured its splendid unity. Let us simply point out that it has unduly exaggerated the difference between Paul and John. For Johannine thought puts before us precisely this cosmic and objective aspect of the great conflict.9
Now we turn to the work of Allison Trites. A large portion of his book, The New Testament Concept of Witness, deals with the Johannine literary corpus since John uses the word witness (testimony) about seventy times—more than any other New Testament writer. Says Trites:
    The Fourth Gospel, like Isaiah 40-55, is of particular importance for it presents a sustained use of juridical metaphor. . . .

    To begin with, the sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel are often described as 'discourse', but are rather more commonly juridical debate. The discussions of Jesus with 'the Jews' sound like a lawsuit: indeed, the first twelve chapters have as their main theme the conflict of Jesus with the Ioudaioi, who represent the unbelieving world in its hostility to God. 'This whole section', Professor Johnston has pointed out, 'has the form of a great contest or assize.' The 'argumentativeness' which Burkitt found 'so positively repellent' is an integral element in the Fourth Gospel, and provides just the context of contention and debate in which one would expect to see witnesses called and evidence presented to substantiate the claims of Christ. . . .

    The idea of witness in John's Gospel is both very prominent and thoroughly juridical, and is to be understood in terms of Old Testament legal language.

    Other juridical words are notably frequent in the Fourth Gospel in the context of hostility and debate; e.g., judge, cause, judgment, accuse, convince. The use of such Greek words as krisis (eleven times), krinein (nineteen times), krima (9: 39), kategoria (18: 29), kategorein (5: 45, twice), apokrinesthai (5: 17, 19), apokrisis (1: 22; 19: 9), bema (19: 13), zetesis (3: 25), elegchein (3: 20; 8: 46; 16: 8), homologein (1: 20, twice; 9: 22; 12: 42), arneisthai (1: 20; 13: 38; 18: 25, 27), aitia (18: 38; 19: 4, 6), heuriskein (18: 38; 19: 4, 6) and schisma (7: 43; 9: 16; 10: 19) suggests the idea that the work of Christ is set against a background of opposition in which it would be natural to try to prove Christ's case when it was being questioned and challenged.

    The work of the Holy Spirit appears to be interpreted in a juridical way in the Fourth Gospel. Not only is the Spirit described by the juridical word Parakletos (14: 16, 26; 15: 26; 16: 7; cf. I Jn 2: 1), but his activity is thoroughly in keeping with such a designation.

    The respect paid to the Old Testament law of evidence indicates that John has a case he is anxious to prove. Thus even Jesus' own declaration is not accepted as valid without confirmation (5: 31). Similarly, Jesus is presented as quoting the rule from the Old Testament that 'the witness of two men is true' (8: 17). This rule comes from Deut. 19: 15, and can be discovered in several places in John's Gospel—chapter 1 has the double witness of the Baptist and the disciples; chapter 2 establishes the reality of the miracle by two independent witnesses; chapter 5 records the witness of the Baptist, the works of Christ and the scriptures; chapter 20 has two angels at the empty tomb where Mark has only one. John is definitely concerned to present legally admissible evidence.

    Belief is a central concept in the Fourth Gospel; indeed, 'no other evangelist speaks so often of belief and unbelief.' Thus the verb pisteuein appears some ninety-eight times in the Gospel, usually with reference to Christ as the object of faith (e.g., 3: 16; 4: 39; 6: 29; 12: 44; 17: 20). This is not surprising in view of the testimonial and evidential character of this Gospel (20: 31), and supports the notion that the Evangelist is trying to convince people that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He writes, to borrow a phrase from 19: 35, 'that you also may believe'. . . .

    In chapters one to twelve John uses forensic language to describe a cosmic lawsuit between God and the world, and in this respect he resembles Isaiah 40-55. In this lawsuit Christ is the representative of God and the Jews are the representatives of the world. In their pleading the Jews base their arguments on the law, while Jesus appeals to the witness borne to him by John the Baptist, his own works and the scriptures, and refers also to precedents in Old Testament history and fulfilled predictions. The lawsuit reaches its climax in the proceedings before Pontius Pilate in which Christ is sentenced to death. Paradoxically, however, Christ's death is the means whereby he is glorified and draws all men to himself (12: 28, 32). By his apparent defeat on Calvary Christ wins his case and 'overcomes the world' (cf. 16: 33, where the perfect tense of nikan is used). Instead of the cross being his judgment, it is really the judgment of the world; by it every mouth is stopped and the whole world is found guilty before God (12: 31; cf. Rom. 3: 19). The diabolos is active in opposing Christ (8: 44; 13: 2); as ho Satanas he makes use of Judas, ho hujos tes apoleias, in engineering the betrayal and arrest (13: 27; 17: 11; cf. 18: 2-12 and 6: 70, where Judas himself is termed a diabolos). However, the cross entails the legal defeat of Satan. The archon tou kosmou, mentioned in 12:31,14: 30 and 16:11, is 'cast out' of the heavenly lawcourt, so that he can no longer accuse those who follow Christ; he has been vanquished by the uplifting of the Son of Man (12: 31f., where note the double meaning of hupsoun; cf. Job 1: 6-12; 2: 1-6; Zech. 3: if.; Rev. 12: 9-12). The charges of the world and of the Jews against Jesus have been proven untrue—a point suggested apocalyptically by the ejection of the heavenly prosecutor (ekblethesetai, 12: 31). 'The ruler of this world is judged not to have any just title or claim upon God's people.' Conversely, by winning the lawsuit, Jesus acquires a legal claim upon all men—an idea which becomes clear when the juridical background of helkein is understood. The first phase of the lawsuit is completed when the first Advocate 'ascends' to the Father (20: 17), to plead, according to I John, the cause of sinful believers in the heavenly lawcourt (I Jn 2:1; cf. Jn 17: 9ff.). The second phase begins when the Holy Spirit comes to function as the Paraclete on earth (14: 16, 25; 16: 8-11).10
With regard to the book of Revelation, Trites cites the words of Caird:
    The repeated use of the words 'witness' and 'testimony' is one of the many points of resemblance between the Revelation and the Fourth Gospel. In Greek as in English these words could be treated as dead metaphors, without any conscious reference to the lawcourt, which was their primary setting. But both these books use the words in their primary, forensic sense. The author of the Fourth Gospel, perhaps inspired by the example of Second Isaiah, presents his argument in the form of a lawcourt debate, in which one witness after another is summoned, until God's advocate, the Paraclete, has all the evidence he needs to convince the world that Jesus is the Son of God, and so win his case. In the Revelation the courtroom setting is even more realistic; for Jesus had borne his testimony before Pilate's tribunal, and the martyrs must face a Roman judge. What they have to remember as they give their evidence is that the evidence is being heard in a court of more ultimate authority, where judgments which are just and true issue from the great white throne.11
Says Trites:
    Under these conditions one would expect that words with forensic overtones would be given their full weight in any message of encouragement. The use of nouns such as martus (1: 5; 2: 13; 3: 14; 11: 3; 17: 6), martuija (1: 2, 9; 6: 9; 11: 7; 12: 11, 17; 19: 10; 20: 4), satanas (2: 9; 3: 9; 12: 9), diabolos (2: 10; 12: 9, 12), kategor (12:10), krisis (14: 7; 16: 7; 18: 10; 19: 2), krima (17: 1; 18: 20; 20: 4), thronos (2: 13; 20: 4, hf.), hujos (tou) anthropou (1:13; 14: 14; cf. Jn 5: 27), nephele (1: 7; 11: 12; 14: 14-16; cf. Mk 14: 62 par.), biblia (used twice in 20: 12 to refer to the 'record books'; cf. Dan. 7: 10); of verbs such as 'bear witness' (marturein, 1: 2; 22: 16, 18, 20), 'confess' (homologein, 3: 5), 'deny' (arneisthai, 2:13; 3: 8), 'accuse' (kategorein, 12:10), 'judge' (krinein, 6:10; 11: 18; 16: 5; 18: 18, 20; 19: 2, 11; 20: 12f.), 'avenge' or 'vindicate' (ekdikein, 6: 10; 19: 2; cf. Lk. 18: 3, 5), 'have against' (echein with kata in 2: 4, 14, 20), 'find' (heuriskein, 3: 2); and of adjectives such aspistos (1: 5; 2:10, 13; 3:14; 17:14; 19:11; 21: 5; 22: 6) and alethinos (3: 7, 14; 6: 10; 15: 3; 16: 7; 19: 2, 9, 11; 21: 5; 22: 6) show that this is in fact the case. Metaphors drawn from the lawcourt are never far from the author's mind.12

Revelation 12 "presents one of his [John's] great legal scenes."13 Satan is the accuser or prosecutor, while Michael stands as the counsel for the defense. By the blood of the cross Satan's case against God's people is quashed, and they emerge victorious in the court of law.


The gospel of the New Testament is not only set in the framework of Old Testament history. It is also set in the framework of Old Testament law. God's salvation act in Christ was both a historical event and a legal transaction. God acted in such a way that the redemption of the human race was legally accomplished, the sin problem was solved, the devil was defeated, death was abolished, and everlasting righteousness was brought in. The future is a foregone conclusion because the decisive victory has already taken place. Salvation is founded on the just and lawful proceedings of the court of the universe.

The objection that the juridical element of theology is cold and impersonal stems from a twofold misunderstanding. On one hand, it stems from misunderstanding the character of God. He is a God of law who has created a structured universe governed by inexorable law. The Bible everywhere declares that man is confronted with a final judgment which will judge him by law (Rom. 2:6-16). On the other hand, man, made in God's image, is a creature of law. His own conscience testifies to the human heart's insatiable demand for justice. Man cannot be truly human unless he knows he is in the right—justified. All human behavior is related to justification. Man's behavior either springs from the effort to be justified or from the consolation of being justified. Only a salvation historically and legally established can give man peace of conscience and a secure basis on which to build for time and eternity. Although biblical truth may not appeal directly to the emotions, it strikes a man in the center of his existence. It alone can profoundly affect his deepest feelings because it alone can reach his deepest needs.



1 J. Duncan M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament, p.397.
2 See Gustaf Aulen, The Faith of the Christian Church, chap. 26. Aulen emphasizes that the atonement means deliverance from hostile powers and contends this was Luther's interpretation of the meaning of the atonement. Aulen is right in what he affirms but is wrong in what he denies. Neither Aulen nor anyone else can get rid of the plain legal sense of the Calvary transaction as presented by Paul and Luther. The truth is not found in playing the deliverance-from-hostile-powers element against the legal element. They belong together. Man's legal debt meant that he was sold to hostile powers. In fact, the law of God binds the sinner to the control of sin (Rom. 7:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:56). Freedom from legal debt leads to freedom from enslavement to hostile powers (COL 2:14, 15). The two elements are inseparable.
3 Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, pp.144-213.
4 John Calvin, Institutes, bk. 2, chap. 7, sec. 5.
5 Ibid., bk. 2, chap. 17, sec. 5.
6 Although a change of character will always accompany God's verdict of justification.
7 The comment by James Orr on this point is very apt: "It was before remarked that the Reformers were far from regarding justification as a simple amnesty, or passing by, or forgiveness of sin, without regard to what is due to the condemnatory testimony of His law against sin. Justification was not in their view, any more than in the Apostle's, the simple setting aside of the claim of the law upon the sinner, but was the declaration that that claim had been satisfied, and that the law had no more any charge to bring against him. It is justification on an immutably righteous basis; only that the righteousness which grounds this new relation is not in the sinner himself, but in the Saviour with whom faith unites him."—James Orr, The Progress of Dogma, p.260.
8 Theo Preiss, Life in Christ, pp. 11, 15-20.
9 Ibid., pp. 27, 13-14.
10 Allison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, pp. 78-81, 112-13.
11 Ibid., p. 154.
12 Ibid., pp. 161-62.
13 Ibid., p. 170.