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Righteousness by Faith (Part 1)

Chapter 2

Current Efforts to Include Sanctification in the Article of Righteousness by Faith

The purity of the doctrine of justification by faith can be maintained only by continual battle and eternal vigilance. If it is lost, said Luther over and over, all will be lost, and darkness, error and superstition will again triumph in the church.

Whether justify means to declare righteous or to make righteous, and whether the righteousness of faith includes what the Holy Spirit does in the believer, were issues of fierce debate between the Reformers and Rome.

If Rome's error was the fusion of justification and sanctification, Protestantism, in making a distinction, was exposed to the danger of separating justification from sanctification. In the 1840's, Anglican churchman John Henry Newman wrestled with the problem. He came up with this solution: Justify means to declare righteous, said he. On this point Protestants are right. But then he added, What God declares becomes fact. ("Let there be light: and there was light.") God's Word accomplishes what it declares. From this angle the Roman Catholics are right, Newman concluded. This was a synthesis of the Catholic and Protestant positions. The interesting (and vital) point to notice is that Rome can accept the synthesis and still be Rome, but Protestantism cannot accept the synthesis and still be Protestantism. Newman later became Cardinal Newman.

Only a few years ago Hans Kung (sometimes hailed as the new Luther within Catholicism) acknowledged that justify means to declare righteous. Yet according to Kung, that is not all it means. He has revived Newman's synthesis8 In Kung justification turns out to be both a declaring just and a making just.

The Australian Lutheran scholar, H. P. Hamann of Luther Seminary, protests against the current and widespread tendency among leading Protestant scholars of making "sanctification in one way or another, part of justification." He goes on to fault such eminent authors as C. H. Dodd, Vincent Taylor, James Stewart, Karl Holl and a number of German theologians such as E. Schlink, W. Dantine, H. G. Pohlmann and Ernst Kasemann.9 We could also add many more names.10

But for all the dislike that many modern scholars have for the concept of forensic justification, they cannot get away from the forensic, judicial meaning of justify in Paul. Even the majority of Roman exegetes now admit that it means to declare righteous. Hans Kung is very forthright in his admission that on linguistic grounds justify must be declaratory.11

In The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul, J. A. Ziesler reviews the history of the debate down to the present and then makes this apt summary:

    The debate about whether on a priori grounds dikaioo [justify] can mean 'declare righteous" must surely be regarded as closed. Not only is it clear that it does mean this in Biblical Greek, but the parallel with axioo, and the fact that in secular Greek there is only one place where it has been discovered to mean "make righteous," show that a declaratory force ought to be given to it unless there are strong reasons to the contrary.—J. A. Ziesler, The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul (Cambridge University Press), p.48.

Yet Ziesler seems to be troubled by "the main-line Protestant view" because, he says, "there is no road from it to ethics." —Ibid., p.5. (That is Rome's main criticism too.) In his scholarly thesis, Ziesler obviously sets out to make a bridge from the Protestant declare righteous to ethics. He comes up with his own theory of a twofold righteousness. But it is not Luther's original Protestant concept of twofold righteousness which we have already discussed.

In his doctrine of faith Paul uses a verb (dikaioojustify) and a noun (dikaiosunerighteousness). Ziesler points out that Protestants have tended to interpret the noun in the light of the verb (i.e., forensically), while Catholics have tended to interpret the verb in the light of the noun (i.e., ethically). But Ziesler sees a two-fold righteousness here:

1. "Justification by faith" means a forensic or declaratory righteousness.

2. "Righteousness by faith" means becoming ethically righteous, "a new kind of man" (ibid., p.168). While Ziesler does not like the term "imparted righteousness" (ibid., p.170), he means the same thing (i.e., sanctification).

These two things, forensic and ethical righteousness, are what Ziesler calls "the twin doctrines of justification by faith and righteousness by faith."—Ibid., p. 171). He suggests that justification by faith (God's pronouncement) is the root, and righteousness by faith (inward renewal) is the fruit.

Ziesler has set out to make a bridge between justification and ethics, but he has succeeded in making a bridge from Wittenberg to Rome. And that is the main point of his thesis. In his interpretation he says: ". . . we have some sort of reconciliation between Protestant and Catholic traditional exegesis."—Ibid. "We arrive at an exegesis which satisfies the concerns of both traditional Catholicism and traditional Protestantism."—Ibid., p. 212.12

Is there any good reason for seeing a distinction between justification by faith and righteousness by faith in Paul? If so, what is the precise relationship between justification and righteousness by faith?

In our next issue of Present Truth Magazine we will review the biblical meaning of the word righteousness and examine why Paul talks about salvation in terms of righteousness by faith.

(To be continued)



8 See Hans Kung, Justification (Burns & Oats), pp.199-211.
9 See H. P. Hamann, "Sanctification," Lutheran Theological Journal, Dec., 1976.
10 See for example, R. D. Brinsmead, "The Legal and Moral Aspects of Salvation," Part 1, Present Truth Magazine, July, 1976, pp.25-26.
11 See Kung, op. cit.
12 Ziesler also says that his formulation is a synthesis of Hebrew and Greek thinking. we are tempted to add that there was a similar synthesis between Hebrew anthropology (resurrection) and Greek anthropology (immortality of the soul) which became the essence of Catholic anthropology from Augustine on.