Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Book Review: "Approaches to Paul: a student's guide to recent scholarship"

I. Overview

In the preface and opening chapter, Zetterholm makes clear what his overarching goal is for writing the book, it is to inform readers of the various and incompatible views of Paul’s relationship with Judaism. There are really only two competing views that Zetterholm deals with. There are those of the “old” view, who maintain Paul’s separation with Judaism following his Demascus road experience (conversion). Then there are those who see the continuity of Paul’s Judaism after he was converted. Throughout the entire book, the author has in mind which of these positions is most consistent with the historical Paul. Those looking for absolute resolutions to modern conflicts in Pauline scholarship will be disappointed with this book because what Zetterholm does not want the book to be is an exhaustive exposition of Paul’s life and theology. He seeks to provide a coherent explanation of why Pauline scholarship has transpired the way it has in recent time. He divides the book into eight chapters in the following order: Paul and History, the Emergence of a Paradigm, the Formation of the Standard View of Paul, Toward a New Perspective on Paul, Beyond the New Perspective, In Defense of Protestantism, Breaking Boundaries, and Conclusion — History and Paul.
The first chapter deals primarily with introducing the reader to Paul and the contradicting perspectives concerning Christian and Jewish relation in Paul’s theology. Zetterholm launches the discussion between the old and new perspective here. Chapter 2 examines Hegel’s influence in the Tübingen School, especially F. C. Baur and his influence in modern Pauline scholarship. He also looks at anti-Semitism in the past within secular and Christian contexts. The following chapter examines the historical progress of the traditional view through Rudolf Bultmann and his continuance of the old perspective’s outlook on Paul and his departure from Judaism. Bultmann’s view, concludes Zetterholm, remains the standard view on Paul. Chapter 4 focuses on the development and theology of “the new perspective on Paul,” which he traces back to the works of Krister Stendahl, E.P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright. Moreover, he finds this new paradigm to be a kind of middle ground in Pauline scholarship; it departs from the old perspective with its rejection of the Lutheran law and gospel distinction, yet, in the final analysis, maintains a different approach to the old Paul and Judaism distinction. Appropriately, Zetterholm then follows the Pauline trend in modern education with progressive approaches to Paul, in which some theologians have completely erased the distinction between Paul and Judaism. In other words, Paul remained a Torah observing Jew even after his Demascus road experience. The modern theologians explored in this chapter are Lloyd Gaston, Peter J. Tomson, Stanley Stowers, Mark D. Nanos, and Caroline Johnson Hodge. The next chapter deals with the reactions from those who maintain a traditional reading of the Pauline corpus. Zetterholm goes through the works of several scholars: Frank S. Thielman, A. Andrew Das, Simon J. Gathercole, and Stephen Westerholm. Chapter 7, with the ever-increasing development of a new Pauline paradigm, he surveys the emergence of “different multidisciplinary approaches” (p. 12). Philosophical, postcolonial, and feminist approaches make up the content of this chapter. Zetterholm in the last chapter appraises the differing perspectives and seeks to explain why they have emerged on the scene. His solution is for Pauline scholars to fine meaning and truth through the various interpretations of Paul and his relationship with Judaism to gain a better perspective, and “a new dominant paradigm will perhaps eventually emerge” (p. 240).

II. Annotated Bibliography

Source: Zetterholm, Magnus. Approaches to Paul: a student’s guide to recent scholarship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Chapter 1 – Paul and History – pgs 1-32

1. Introduction: In the opening pages of Zetterholm’s project, he aims to take his readers into the recent “approaches to Paul” which centers on the discussion of whether or not Paul maintained his Jewish background. He introduces here briefly the traditional position and the antithesis view.
a. Traditional view: This is the understanding that Paul ultimately presents Christianity as being antithetical to Judaism. At its core, it sees Christianity as a grace religion and Judaism as a legalistic one.
b. Antithesis view: It is a reaction against the traditional view and poses questions as to whether alternatives readings of Paul can be more comprehensive.
2. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: This section highlights the importance of Paul’s letter to the Romans because, as he notes, it “is an excellent starting point for introducing the interpretive problems of Paul’s relation to Judaism” (p. 3). Romans is unique to say the least in that it is the only letter in which Paul is not writing to a church that he helped establish. Furthermore, the letter emanates questions about Judaism that many proposed interpretations have endeavored to answer.
3. The Elusive Paul: Zetterholm here explores why it may be so difficult to interpret Romans. He notes that the chief intention of Romans seems to be undefined by simply reading the letter. Consequently, similar to the problem of historical study, “…there are many historical issues that cannot be determined only from the ancient tests” (p. 4). Two conflicting assumptions affect the explanation of the text; one is to see it as simply a theological discourse and the other as Paul’s “answer to specific problems that had come up in the community” (p. 5). Accordingly, there are two additional assumptions that must be taken into account, the letter’s audience. “Is he speaking to
4. Paul and Judaism: The dawn of the twentieth-century brought about suspicions of the traditional view. These suspicions eventually led to an advance in Pauline scholarship in the latter part of the twentieth-century; namely, the research development of putting Paul in his second temple Jewish context. The aftermath of World War II and the anti-Semitic influence of the traditional perspective were responsible for the advance in research.
5. The Aim and Outline of this Book: Zetterholm’s overall intention is to present the contradictory views pertaining to Paul and Judaism, one that sees Paul departing from his Jewish roots to embrace Christianity and the other sees him continuing in his Jewish roots, which the salvation of non-Jews becomes the main hindrance. He attempts to understand the variegated perspective and assess which is more historically comprehensive. “The aim of this book is to attempt to explain how Paul’s relation to Judaism can be understood in two very different ways and to explore which approach is likely to produce the most historically plausible picture of Paul and the development of the early Jesus movement” (p. 10).

Chapter 2 – The Emergence of a Paradigm – pgs 33-67

1. The Tübingen School and German Idealism: This section deals with influence of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel and his influence on one particular school, the Tübingen School.
a. Hegel and Dialectics: Hegel’s philosophical idealism promulgated that ideas are continually evolving to greater phases. This evolution occurs when an idea faces its contrary idea to form a better idea. In other words, “Every thesis generates its antithesis, and these two opposites are joined in a synthesi.” (p. 34).
b. F. C. Baur and the Tübingen School: Hegel’s philosophical premise, which rendered all things past, including theology, as inferior in the evolutionary progress of history, influenced the Tübingen School professor Ferdinand Christian Baur. He, as a consequent, influenced David Friedrich Strauss, who sought to explain Christianity from a non-supernatural perspective, with his Hegelian idealism. According to Zetterholm, Baur and Strauss’ import of Hegelian idealism into theology, “laid the foundation for modern biblical scholarship” (p. 37).
c. Baur and History—Jew versus Christian: Again, Baur’s Hegelism shows up at the forefront of his research. The consequence of Baur in history is his view of the radical separation between Christianity and Judaism, with the assumption that Judaism is substandard to Christianity.
2. Anti-Semitism in Antiquity: This portion of the chapter moves into a discussion of anti-Semitism in history, the Jewish and non-Jewish relationships. It includes Judaism’s relationship with the secular world and non-Jewish Christians.
a. Pre-Christian Attitudes: Jewish and non-Jewish relationships before Christians came on the scene (antiquity) were bittersweet in nature. On the one hand, Jewish customs were regarded as worthy of reverence and Rome safeguarded them from excessive persecutions from their neighbors. Yet, on the other hand, some strongly opposed their Jewish effects on society and were afraid that Jews would promote rebellion among the people.
b. Christian Anti-Semitism: The non-Jewish Christians faced a situation even more peculiar than those of non-Christians did, due to their unique association with Judaism. After all, their messiah was a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. This meant of course that Roman assaults aimed at the Jews was also now directed towards non-Jewish Christians because Christianity was so closely connected to Judaism. With such pressure from Rome, non-Jewish Christians increasingly disassociated themselves from the Jews and much even demonstrated hostility towards them.
3. Law versus Grace—Luther and Protestantism: As the tension between Judaism and Christianity grew, some important theological formulation emerge that will eventually be the fulcrum of Protestantism; namely, the distinction between law and grace. Zetterholm surveys the discussion of sin and grace in the early church and Martin Luther’s view of Judaism.
a. The Early Church and the Problem of Sin and Grace: The Pelagian controversy is here examined and postulated as the beginning of the traditional paradigm, namely, the separation of Judaism as being dependant on the law and Christianity on grace.
b. Martin Luther, Grace, and the Jews: Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, according to Zetterholm, is the primary doctrine that has led to the division between Paul and Judaism. This is also evident in Luther’s anti-Semitic polemics against the Jews of his time.
4. Nineteenth-Century Effects: In continuance of the Lutheran view of Paul and Judaism, Ferdinand Weber, wanting to be a missionary to the Jewish community, conducted a research on Jewish texts, from which he formulated a systematic theology.
a. The Myth of Jewish Legalism: Ferdinand Weber and the Scales of Balance: Assuming the division Christianity and Judaism, Weber concludes in his research that Judaism is essentially a religion which is dependent on deeds for its salvation before God, but it does not have a means of assurance.
b. The Influence of Weber: The two prominent theologians influenced by Weber are Emil Schürer and Wilhelm Bousset. They both come to the same conclusion that legalistic Judaism is inferior to grace-Christianity.

Chapter 3 – The Formation of the Standard View on Paul – pgs 69-93

1. Rudolf Bultmann: Zetterholm in chapter 3 examines the crucial connection between the dogma that Judaism was primarily a works oriented religion and the traditional view of Paul. He begins by analyzing one of the major theologians of the twentieth-century, Rudolf Bultmann. Zetterholm maintains, “Bultmann is central in the development of the traditional view of Paul that was firmly established in the middle of the twentieth-century” (p. 69). At this time, the liberal theology that was sweeping across Europe found itself in a peculiar relationship with Lutheranism. They rejected all things Lutheran, yet the Lutheran presupposition of justification by faith and Jewish and Christian antithesis remained.
a. Theologian and Biblical Scholar: The existential philosopher Martin Hidegger’s influence on Bultmann encouraged him to formulate his own type of existentialism in the realm of theological discipline. He argued that the actual historicity of Christianity is a matter of no importance, in fact, it is a hindrance to what really mattered: “the kerygma – the message of the death of Jesus and his victory over death” (p. 71).
1. Bultmann on Judaism: According to Zetterholm, Bultmann’s radical liberalism is a product of Luther’s theology of justification by faith. Moreover, Bultmann maintained Luther’s low view of Judaism. For Bultmann, evident in his work, Das Urchristentum im Rahmen der antiken Religionen (Primitive Christianity in its Historical Setting), Judaism has given up all its culpability of the present because of its focus on history, in the past and in the eschaton. What he is implying of course is God’s complete detachment from the Jews in the present. With the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, Bultmann claims, the Jewish placed a greater emphasis in the law, therefore, losing their present union with God. In other words, Judaism became primarily a legalistic religion trying to work itself to a transcendent God. Furthermore, he accuses the Jews of twisting Scripture to their own means because their scribes provided only various interpretations of the Torah with explicitly stating which one was the correct interpretation. Therefore, Jews could essentially follow that which suited their best interests. However, there was one universal law amongst them; the lex taliones principle, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (p. 74).
2. Bultmann on Paul: This works-merit oriented system is the basis for one’s justification before God in Jewish thought. Bultmann’s understanding of Pauline theology follows such underlying presuppositions regarding Judaism. Zetterholm observes that Bultmann’s understanding of justification is in complete agreement with the Lutheran perspective, which of course sees an opposition between God’s grace and the law. This means that Judaism is the primitive one of the two religions. It is ultimately dependant on the Torah for its redemption. Christianity, however, possessed a better and greater revelation through grace in Jesus Christ. With this background come Bultmann’s two most important disciples, Ernst Käsemann and Günther Bornkamm.
b. The Bultmann School
1. Ernst Käsemann: Käsemann, who responds to Stendahl in his book “Paulinische Perspektiven (Perspective on Paul) supports the Bultmannian position of Paul’s relationship with Judaism. However, he in some respect deviates from Bultmann. For instance, unlike like Bultmann, he emphasized that justification is not strictly a one-time grace from God, but it is also a life-transforming one. Nevertheless, in the final analyzes, he remained convinced of the Lutheran distinction between law and gospel
2. Günther Bornkamm: Like Käsemann, Günther Bornkamm deviated from Bultmann is some areas, but maintained the Lutheran distinction between law and gospel.
c. Paul versus Judaism:
1. The Standard View on Paul and Judaism:
2. Early Protest: With Bultmann, Käsemann, and Bornkamm exemplifying the normative position on Paul and Judaism, in which Paul completely separates from Judaism, Zetterholm notes that crucial Pauline “justification” passages may have other possible explanations, other than the Lutheran framework. Hence, it inevitable protests emerged from the Lutheran paradigm of law and gospel in Paul. The first to object were Claude Joseph Goldsmid Montefiore, Salomon, and George Foot Moore. They all concluded that the standard view of Paul was in error regarding its assumption of legalism in Judaism. On the contrary, Judaism did in fact contain a grace atoning sacrifice in its system.

Chapter 4 – Toward a New Perspective on Paul – pgs 95-126

1. A Changed World: The holocaust and Stendahl’s scholarship are the preamble of the new reworking and paradigms in Pauline thought.
a. The Post-War Era: Zetterholm here assumes a fundamental change in perspective in Pauline scholarship with the emergence of World War II. Theologians recognizing “a direct relationship between the anti-Jewish Christian theology and the industrialized mass murder of six million Jews” (p. 95), felt increasing pressure to establish ecumenical dialogues with Jews. Several councils convened to accomplish this purpose, but no full resolutions emerged. However, some were optimistic to find possible synthesis between Christianity and Judaism.
b. Exegetical Reorientation—Krister Stendahl: the Lutheran scholar Kriter Stendahl questioned the traditional interpretation of Paul’s relationship with Judaism. Unlike his Lutheran contemporaries, Stendahl “makes a clear distinction between the original meaning of the text, its impact on society during the course of history (Wirkungsgeschichte), and the meaning it may have for the present-day church” (p. 98). He argues that Luther’s struggle with medieval Catholicism is not Paul’s struggle with Judaism. Stendahl’s critique eventually becomes an inspiration for the new perspective(s).
2. The Prerequisite—A New View on Judaism:
a. E. P. Sanders and Covenantal Nomism: E. P. Sanders comes after Stendahl and produces one of the most influential works in twentieth-century Pauline scholarship, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Sanders commits a great deal of research in Palestinian Jewish texts in the time of Paul to determine the normative initiation, intermediate state, and completion of its religious standards. He concludes that Judaism is essentially based on “covenantal nomism.”
i. The Pattern of Religion: Sanders attempted to find second temple Judaism’s common practices, i.e., the beginning, middle, and end of their religion. In other words, he sought to understand how one enters the covenant, remain in the covenant, and to what outcome.
ii. Covenantal Nomism: Over against the Lutheran outlook, Sanders points out that Judaism is not based on strict legalism, but is rather characterized by what he calls “covenantal nomism.” Covenantal nomism is the view that God’s selection of the Jewish nation, in which God makes a covenant with them, is the basis for their salvation and obedience to the Torah is the requirement for staying in the covenant. In other words, Judaism is a religion of grace, not works-righteousness.
3. New Perspectives on Paul: These views are the results of Sanders’ new understanding of the Judaism in Paul’s time, which include Räisäsen, Dunn, and Wright. It all begins with Sanders.
a. From Solution to Plight—Sanders on Paul: Here, Sanders sees a reversal of traditional soteriology, which saw in Paul an explanation of the problem and then the solution.
b. The Inconsistent Paul—Heikki Räisänen: Guided by Sanders’ “covenantal nomism,” Heikki Räisäsen takes the baton from Sanders, but runs a different course in terms of his conclusion. According to Räisänen, Paul’s theology is contradictory in nature; Paul maintains a correct understanding of Jewish covenantal nomism, yet he argued for illogical conclusions. Like Sanders, Räisänen deviates from the traditional view, but cannot bridge the differences between Paul and Sanders new Jewish paradigm.
c. The New Perspective on Paul—James D. G. Dunn: Next in line to attempt to reconcile the chasm posed by Sanders, Dunn fundamentally agrees with Sanders premise – covenantal nomism – but disagrees with his conclusion that Paul distances himself from Judaism. Nevertheless, as Zetterholm points out, Dunn’s resolution to Sanders problem is itself problematic, and it fails to escape the distinction between Paul and Judaism. Dunn’s main contribution is his redefinition of “works of the law” in Paul’s letters. He argues that “works of the law” are equivalent to “Jewish identity markers.” Hence, what Paul is contending against in Galatians “was Jewish particularism, the tendency of defining the covenant in ethnic terms…” (p. 116). In other words, Paul is arguing against a particular view of Judaism that made the covenant accessible to only ethnic Jews. Jewish identity makers are now obsolete, and the new identity marker is faith in Christ. In this respect, Dunn has assumed the distinction between Paul and Judaism as well.
d. The Consistent Paul—N. T. Wright: Likewise, Wright maintains the idea that Jews, instead of extending the covenant throughout the world, limited it within an ethnic Jewish framework. Wright states, with the coming of Jesus Christ, that the church, those who have faith in Christ, has in essence, replaced national Israel, composing of Jews and non-Jews. Furthermore, it is Wright’s main objects to rework a number of Pauline themes. He modifies the traditional understanding of monotheism in Paul, election, eschatology, and the synthesis of Paul and Jesus’ theology. Both Wright and Dunn seem to hold to a middle position that maintains Sanders’ theological revision of Judaism and the Lutheran opposition of Paul and Judaism.

Chapter 5 – Beyond the New Perspective – pgs 127-163

1. Paul and the Parallel Covenants—Lloyd Gaston: Convinced also by Sander’s revolutionary understanding of Paul and second temple Judaism, Lloyd Gaston comes on the scene with Sander’s approach, but reaches radically deviates from his conclusions. Gaston points to the Holocaust as a major turning point for reworking past theologies. All past Christian anti-Semitism needs to addressing and Christian theology must develop accordingly. Part of this reworking is the need to see Paul as not departing from Judaism, but only assuming a position outside of it to include the Gentiles in God’s overarching plan of redemption.
2. Paul and Halakah—Peter J. Tomson: Similar in approach to Gaston, proposes a reading of Pauline letters as if they were part of Jewish literatures. In this manner, he deviates from Sanders’ interpretation of Paul; namely, his presupposition that Paul parted ways with Judaism. His work displays a synthesis with Paul’s view of justification and his view of halakah, both of which serve to give gentile believer’s “equal rights” in the church. This means that both Jesus believing Jews and non-Jews are required to observe the Torah and Christ.
3. Paul and Self-Control—Stanley Stowers: Recognizing the Torah’s inability to save gentile believers, Stanley Stowers attempts to explain as to why this is the case. From his perspective, non-Jewish believers cannot attain righteousness from the Torah because it was exclusively for the Jewish believers with their particular covenant with God. Thus his Paul, like Gaston and Tomson, remained Jewish, but his Paul had differing interpretations of God’s plan of redemption.
4. Paul, the Jew Among the Nations—Mark D. Nanos: Coming from a Jewish scholar, his interpretation of the Paul and Jewish paradigm is in complete opposition to the traditional view. Zetterholm sums up his position, stating, “Not only does Nanos argue that Paul was loyal to Judaism and even observed the Torah, but also that he held that non-Jewish followers of Jesus should be compelled to respect the Torah and, in addition, adapt a Jewish lifestyle out of respect for their Jewish brothers and sisters” (p. 148). For Nanos, Paul’s main problem in the early church is establishing a unified church despite a multiplicity of ethnicities.
5. Paul and Ethnicity—Caroline Johnson Hodge: She approaches Paul with the aim of breaking all ethnic barriers between Jews and non-Jews. Non-Jews essentially find their identity in the lineage of Abraham. She maintains that both group are now baptized in Christ and are therefore united as one.
6. Conclusion: Although the theologians above have move away from the new perspective on Paul, they remain convinced of Sanders’ conclusions regarding the Judaism in Paul’s day. Contra old and new perspectives, these theologians do away with any separation between Paul and Judaism. Here Zetterholm observes four consequences from this theological shift: 1) Paul exclusively wrote to the non-Jewish Christians in Rome; 2) Paul’s main theological problem is gentile inclusion, not Jewish particularism; 3) they reject the idea that Paul created a “third race”; 4) their theology tend to stray from any traditional interpretations on Paul.

Chapter 6 – In Defense of Protestantism – pgs 165-193

1. From Plight to Solution—Frank S. Thielman: Reacting to Sanders’ From Solution to Plight, Frank S. Thielman sees Paul’s theology going the opposite direction, in which Paul goes from solution to plight. He strongly disagrees with Sanders’ theological conclusions, especially Sander’s claim that Jews are able to fulfill the Torah in Paul’s perspective. He remains in line with the old perspective, asserting that Christ is the only one able to fulfill the whole law.
2. Beyond Covenantal Nomism—A. Andrew Das: Another element of critique in Sanders’ position is his unwillingness to acknowledge that second temple Judaism also contains perfect Torah observance from the Jews. Das proposes this understanding of covenant in Judaism: “the interplay between the demand to perfect obedience and the possibility of atonement” (p. 171).
3. Boasting in Christ—Simon J. Gathercole: In the same fashion as Das, he finds Sanders’ conclusion untenable, he questions Sanders’ narrow reading of second temple Jewish texts. Sanders, according to Gathercole, ignores texts that explicitly deal with rewards according to works.
4. The Explicitly Lutheran Paul—Stephen Westerholm: He maintains the Lutheran position and criticizes Sanders and the new perspective for their misreading of “works of the law” in the Pauline texts. However, he does commend Sanders’ scholarship, which reduces much of the faulty ideas regarding second temple Judaism.
5. Conclusion: Zetterholm points out that the traditional view on Paul and its proponents are worthy of serious considerations, despite the fact that these “scholars working from within a confessional paradigm usually reach confessional results, despite Sanders” (p. 193).

Chapter 7 – Breaking Boundaries – pgs 195-224

1. Paul and the Philosophers: This approach aims to understand Paul from a philosophical view. Zetterholm notes that despite being exegetically inferior to other approaches, it still may hold valuable contributions to the discussion if taken seriously.
2. Postcolonial Approaches: Due to its skepticism of Western empiricism, this view attempts to expose the “underlying power structures in the dominant Western readings of the Bible. In essence, it seeks to take away all Western readings of the Pauline corpus. Here, Zetterholm points out Neil Elliot’s rejection of the traditional and Sanders’ assumptions that Paul was mainly concern for redemption of the people of God through Christ. In Elliot’s view, Paul had a more political concern then a soteriological one.
3. Paul and the Feminists: The feminist reading, like that of the postcolonial one, is also seeks to take the Western power away from the Bible. Its main concern, however, is establishing an equal view of genders, taking away the common notion of male superiority in the Western reading of Paul. With Kathy Ehrensperger, Paul becomes more focused on everyday relationships and problem and human equality.
4. Multi-Disciplinary Approaches: This reading takes all the above approaches on Paul and attempts to make see a more holistic Paul. Davina C. Lopez brings these perspectives together, assuming that they all serve to understand Paul more comprehensively.
5. Conclusion: Zetterholm views these approaches as “the beginning of a formulation of a scientific paradigm in which certain assumptions simply are taken for granted” (p. 224).

Chapter 8 – Conclusion-History and Paul – pgs 225-240

1. Paul—From Hegel to Žižek: The overall aim here is to summarize the historical readings of Paul. One is the Reformation view and the other is the more progressive view.
a. The Early Church and the Reformation Period: The struggle between law and grace and the antithesis between Christianity and Judaism are two principles inherited by the early church. In the Reformation Period, Martin Luther developed the doctrine of justification by faith alone that further separated Christians from Jews.
b. In Wake of the Enlightenment: Hegelian idealism became the focal element that gave German liberal protestants “…scientific legitimation of the relation between Paul and Judaism” (p. 226), which maintained the dichotomy between them.
c. From Stendahl to Sanders: Christian theology changed dramatically by World War II. Stendahl, before Sanders, questioned the legitimacy of Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone and Paul’s departure from Judaism. Sanders confirms Stendahl’s thesis with his conclusion that Judaism is characterized by “covenantal nomism,” rather than legalism.
d. New Perspectives on Paul: Dunn and Wright, primary proponents of the new perspectives, maintain that Paul was not opposed to the Torah, contra Sanders, but to “national righteousness.” Nevertheless, this view upholds Paul’s departure from Judaism, but reduces its emphasis.
e. Radicalism and Reactions: Unsatisfied with the new perspectives’ account of Paul and Judaism, these radical views suggest that Paul did not depart from Judaism and he also remained a Torah observant.
2. The Different Perspectives on Paul: This section suggests the idea that existing paradigms, scientific and theological, often collide with new conceptions. Through this procedure, existing paradigms are substituted for improved paradigms.
3. Knowing the Truth:
a. The Framework of Interpretation: One’s interpretations are always according to a set of presuppositions. The fact that misunderstandings can occur in any given text and the true meaning is impossible to acquire, especially in the Pauline corpus, given interpretations come from a particular assembly and are not necessarily the truth of the given text.
b. Finding Truth through Diversity: Zetterholm concludes that all the various interpretations of the Pauline corpus must be taken into consideration for Pauline scholars to come to a more accurate view of Paul. Such interactions promote the developments of newer and better interpretations of Paul.

III. Critique and Analysis

Overall, Zetterholm’s project is very successful in terms of meeting his overarching goal of exploring the various perspectives in current Pauline scholarship and attempting to find the most consistent paradigm according to history. His composition of the book is clear and concise, which help the reader understand the flow of his arguments and assumptions. In addition, his choices of words are very easy to understand; they are composed mostly of ordinary words, rather than scholarly ones, which only scholars can relate. Where he does use scholarly words and phrases, he gives clear definitions so that the common reader is not lost in the complicated nuances in the discussions. His clarity is consistent to his goal of writing to “beginning students.” In addition, his arguments are strong, in the sense that he provides many historical backgrounds to them. The new perspective development was especially helpful, and many students would benefit from such careful scholarship. However, there several issues that may need of further investigation. One is the overarching presupposition that the doctrine of justification by faith alone necessarily leads to anti-Semitism. Second is second temple Judaism’s consistency with the Old Testament.
Zetterholm’s presumption that the Reformation doctrine of justification leads to the separation between Jews and Christians seems rather historically superimposed to achieve his goal of undermining the doctrine. He selectively analyzes the ill “effects” of the doctrine, instead of identifying its positive “effects,” such as the Reformers’ high view of Soli Deo Gloria, or to God alone be the glory, because of justification by faith alone. The book’s approach is obviously from a “historical” perspective, but it seems rather bias on its presentation, especially of the doctrine’s continuity in history. Would Luther and the Reformers approve of German Liberalism’s overall view of justification? This is a fair question because Zetterholm conflates the two. The need for a clear analysis of the Reformation doctrine is wanting because of his claim. In doing so, one may see whether the Reformation doctrine is compatible with German Liberalism’s reworking.
It may be an interesting facet of the Pauline discussion to approach second temple Judaism with the Old Testament in hand. In other words, was the Judaism in Paul’s day really the Judaism found in the Old Testament? This may further complicate the matter, but it will certainly move forward Pauline scholarship. Approaches to Paul can improve with this other dimension in the discussion.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Presuppositions and Central Dogma

It has been a while since I last posted, so here's a little to try to get the ball rolling on this blog:

. Do one’s presuppositions dictate whether he or she will side with a complimentary or contradictory reading of Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry? Is necessary, or helpful, to determine the center of Paul’s theology? These are the questions I am wrestling with in this entry.
In seeking to understand the correlation between Paul’s letters and Luke’s account in the book of Acts, I observed from the lecture on Monday that one’s presuppositions play a great deal of importance on whether one will take a negative or a positive approach. On the one hand, the German higher critical school of thought or any theological liberals assume that the Bible is filled with errors and myths; therefore, a person who is trained under such thinking will also assume that Paul’s letters and Luke’s narrative are necessarily contradictory. On the other hand, there are those who are Orthodox theologically, they believe in the inerrancy of the Bible because it is divine revelation. It seems as though the validity of Acts (of course, in a subjective manner) would be determined by one’s theological assumption. Presuppositions are essentially the starting place in any theological discussions, we all have them, but we must put them to the test with exegesis, history, logic, etc. In doing so, we can be honest with ourselves as well as the people around us.
The quest for the center of Paul’s theology is an interesting proposition posed by “Rediscovering Paul” on pages 266-272. Finding the center of Paul’s theology is an eighteenth century concoction that has prevailed into our own day. Can there really be a principal that is “the starting point, the conceptual ‘place’ from which his theologizing emerges” and “that which explains, supports and holds together everything else?” (p. 267). The authors answer yes; they conclude that the center of Paul’s theology is what Richard Bauckham refers to as “christological monotheism,” which means that “Paul’s Christology expresses his commitment to the identity and uniqueness of Israel’s one God” (p. 271). Admittedly, I find their conclusion quite compelling, but on the whole unhelpful. As J.V. Fesko correctly points out, “In the attempt to identify the one central doctrine, one inevitably produces conflict with the rest of Paul’s doctrines” (Justification, p. 75). I prefer rather to look at aspects of systematic theology, or Paul’s theology in this case, as pertaining to the whole. Yes, there are indeed central themes that are stressed above others but they are all part of the same body.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Calvin's 500th birthday

Here is a little something from Calvin.

"Man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God's majesty."

-found in his Institutes of the Christian Religion

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Response to Nick on Justification

The following is a response to Nick to his comments on my previous post.

Here is what Nick said:


I'd like to make a few comments on some of what you said.

You said: "For Luther, there are really only two legitimate options to obtaining a right standing before God. The first is to perfectly obey the demands of the Law. The second is to rely on the work of another; namely, the perfect law-keeping merits of Christ in one’s place."

Nick: I believe this is a false dilemma. The Law never was designed to save, even if kept perfectly, so whether you or Christ (in your place) keeps it doesn't translate into salvation. Gal 2:21; 3:17,21,25 explain the Law was temporal and never designed to save.

You said: The Reformers maintained, with St. Augustine, that Adam’s sin was imputed, or reckon, to all his progenies.

Nick: This is incorrect, Adam's guilt was not "imputed" to others, that's not a teaching of Scripture (because it never uses "impute" in that manner) and not accurate to St Augustine. Original Sin is true, it does affect all, but it is not "imputed." Think of it more as a genetic disease, which makes someone physically unable to do good works.

Further, the dispute with Pelagius went deeper than you and most other Protestants realize. The issue was a battle between nature and grace, which Augustine and Catholics see as grace added to nature, with original sin stripping grace from nature. With Pelagius, he denied grace added to nature, and saw only nature, so when Adam "fell" Pelagius saw nothing to fall from. The alternative to Pelagius' conclusion is the path Protestantism took, which was that human nature itself became corrupt. So while it might sound surprising, Protestantism is actually founded upon Pelagianism, because they start off with the same pre-fallen view of Adam.

And this is in fact the heart of the Catholic-Protestant dispute. We have the doctor diagnosing TWO DIFFERENT illnesses (two understandings of original sin), and thus there are TWO DIFFERENT treatments given (corresponding to each disease that needs to be cured). This leads to the two different views of justification.

You said: "In Romans 4:5, Paul tells us that God “justifies the ungodly.” How can this be?"

Nick: The Protestant interpretation doesn't make much sense here, because if justification is a declaration only, then God is saying "you unrighteous man are righteous," which is a lie. If righteousness is imputed to the sinner's account, then God is not looking at a unrighteous man but a righteous one, contradicting the "ungodly" term used.
The Catholic interpretation is that of God transforming the sinner so that they are righteous, seen nicely in 1 Cor 6:10-11.

You said: Here, we move to the center of the doctrine justification; namely, the reckoning of Christ’s righteousness on sin stricken, guilty sinners.

Nick: Though many don't realize it, the Bible never says "christ's righteousness" is imputed. That simply isn't found in Scripture.

You said: "What is meant by imputation? The Reformers often appealed to 2 Corinthians 5:21...there is only a twofold imputation found"

Nick: The main problem here is that the term "impute" is not used here, it's projected on this verse, which is invalid exegesis. The Bible never says sin is "impute" to Christ or that Adam's sin is "imputed" to us, nor that Christ's Righteousness is imputed. It might make the theology easier to speak like this, but Scripture does not use such terminology. Paul was well aware of the term "impute," so given that he never used it in this sense is problematic for your argument.

You said: "The good news of the gospel is that God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves; Christ obeyed the demands of God’s perfect law and he took the punishment that we deserve to present us as faultless before the Father."

Nick: Nowhere does the Bible say Christ obeyed the Law 'in our place', nor does it say Jesus was punished in our place in the Penal Substitution sense. Unfortunately, these things are repeated so often people begin to think the Bible teaches them.

Nick said...
In my study on this topic, the Greek term "logizomai" is the English term for "reckon/impute/credit/etc," (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular Protestant Lexicon here is what it is defined as:

QUOTE: "This word deals with reality. If I "logizomai" or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions."

The Protestant Lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham's faith is "logizomai as righteouness," it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) "I am deceiving myself." This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

The Lexicon gives other examples where "logizomai" appears, here are 3 examples:

Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Notice in these examples that "logizomai" means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul 'reckons' faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 6:11 the Christian is 'reckoned' dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul 'reckons' the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

To use logizomai in the "alien status" way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn't really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (3) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven's glory.
This cannot be right.

So when the text plainly says "faith is logizomai as righteousness," I must read that as 'faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act', and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham's heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and "that is why his faith was credited as righteousness" (v4:22).

Here is my response:

Hi Nick:

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to my post, your zealousness is commendable. I hope to have/continue this stimulating dialogue about the doctrine of Justification. With that in mind, let me respond to some of the comments you made here:

(i) You are correct to point out that the Law does not save (Gal. 2:21; 3:17, 21, 25). Why is this so? It is because humans, affected by the Fall, cannot naturally keep it. This is why it is by faith alone that we are justified, apart from the works of the Law, i.e., we are incapable of fulfilling it. The Law serves to reveal our sinfulness and bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24); the one who fulfilled it for us (Matt. 5:17).

(ii) I am astonished with your claim that “Protestantism is actually founded upon Pelagianism, because they start off with the same pre-fallen view of Adam.” This claim is unsubstantiated in my opinion. Reformation theology maintains that Adam was created holy and upright in nature contra Pelagius, who taught that Adam was created neither upright nor evil. Furthermore, contrary to your assessment, Augustine believed that humans were born with a fallen nature as a result of the Fall, which is upheld by the Reformers. In this regard, the Reformers do not start with Pelagius’ “pre-fallen view of Adam”, but Augustine’s view.

You said, “think of it more as a generic disease, which makes someone physically unable to do good works.” It seems to me that Scripture goes beyond a physical incapability. It further asserts that humans “became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 6, cf. Eph. 2:1; Tit. 1:15; Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-18 etc.). Moreover, the Scriptures teach that Adam’s sin is counted on our behalf. Take for instance Romans 5:12-19. Here we are explicitly informed that Adam’s trespass led to condemnation to all men. It is as if all men were present in Adam’s sinning.

(iii) Romans 4:5, I maintain, is a passage that demonstrates man’s utter need for the grace of God. It says that the ungodly cannot in any manner contribute to their salvation. Imputed righteousness here does not annul Paul’s claim that God “justifies the ungodly,” as you supposed. Once a sinner believes (he is justified on account of Christ righteousness), yet he is not immediately, intrinsically perfected at that moment. Hence, he may be considered justified because of Christ and, simultaneously, “ungodly.” This is paradoxical, but not contradictory.

It seems that your interpretation may in fact be the one in error. Nowhere in the passage is “transformation” being discussed. If God justifies according to our righteousness, then he is not “justifying the ungodly,” but the “godly.” If your analysis is correct, then you must employ the same with Romans 4:7-8. It says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against the Lord will not count his sin” (emphasis mine). Furthermore, your citation of 1 Corinthians 6:10-11 does not support your position here. Yes, unrighteousness will not inherit the kingdom of God, but the Paul does not appeal to our own righteousness for justification. He appeals to believers being “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11).

(iv) True, Scripture never says “Christ’s righteousness” is imputed, but the idea is there. J.V. Fesko rightly points out, “One of the most common theological contructs that theologians employ is the term, ‘Trinity.’ The term occurs nowhere in the Scriptures, yet it is universally employed to give expression to the idea that God is one in essence and three in person. The same may be said of the righteousness of Christ” (Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, p. 154).

(v) Again, your objection to my exegesis of 2 Corinthians 5:21 is unfounded because you fail to recognize the connection between the theological terminology and the meaning of the passage. The meaning of the passage is conveyed in the theological terminology. Therefore, they are compatible.

(vi) Once again, you are transfixed on the idea that because the word is not there, the meaning is not there. There are plenty of passages that present the message of “Christ obeyed the Law ‘in our place,’…Jesus was punished in our place in the Penal Substitution sense.” Here are a few of them: 1 Pet. 2:21-25; Gal. 3:10-14; Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 3:21-28.

(vii) I appreciated your word study of “logizomai.” However, there seems to be some problems with your exegesis here. You mentioned that “if Abraham’s faith is ‘logizomai as righteousness,’ it must be an actually righteous act of faith.” Do you mean that faith then justifies in its own act or essence? I think not. To separate faith and its object, namely Christ, would be totally absurd. Listen to what Herman Bavinck has to say: “If faith justified on account of itself, the object of that faith (that is, Christ) would totally lose its value” (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, p. 211).

Furthermore, you failed to mention that “logizomai” can also mean “to pass to one’s account.” However, Reformation theology never regards all the places where “logizomai” occurs as having such meaning, therefore, your examples are invalid cases against Reformed theology. The meaning of the word is rendered according to the context. Again, Bavinck is helpful here:

“The word Logizesthai can certaintly mean ‘to hold or consider a person for what he or she is’ (1 Cor. 4:1; 2 Cor. 12:6). However, it can also have the sense of ‘to credit to a person something one does not personally possess.’ Thus the sins of those who believe are not counted against them although they do have them (Rom. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:19; cf. 2 Tim. 4:16); and thus they are counted against Christ, although he was without sin (Isa. 53:4-6; Matt. 20:28; Rom. 3:25; 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Tim. 2:6).” (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, p. 211-212)

Certainly, when closely examined, your case for using “logizomai” in the exact same way is incorrect. It must be understood according to the context.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Reformed Doctrine of Justification: the Heart of the Christian Gospel

The doctrine of justification today has been largely forgotten, or even despised, in the evangelical world. However, if the Protestant Reformers were right in asserting that justification is the entrance into the kingdom of God, then the recovery of this doctrine is absolutely necessary for preaching, evangelism, ethics, good works, assurance, and, in fact, all piety towards God and neighbors. This is perhaps an incredibly bold claim in our pluralistic world, but the exclusivity of the Gospel is to be safeguarded if the church is to see the world come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, the only name by which we might be saved. What exactly is justification? Question 70 in the Westminster Larger Catechism answers this question in this way: “Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.” To put it differently, justification is the legal and forensic declaration that a sinner is righteous only on account of Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection. This paper will thus argue that the heart of the Christian Gospel is the doctrine of justification. I will first consider the importance of justification in Martin Luther’s theology and several proceeding theologians. Second, I will examine the relationship between justification and original sin, imputation, faith, and grace to further develop a more robust understanding of justification. Then, thirdly, I will respond several objections and opposing views, especially the New Perspective on Paul.

One may not need to search hard to see the centrality of justification in the thoughts of the Reformers, as well as theologians after them. In the 16th Century, the Reformers deemed the doctrine of justification as the chief article by which man may be reconciled to God. The question that they were primarily wrestling with was this: “How can a wrath deserving sinner have a right standing before a holy God, who does not tolerate sin?” This was the question that plagued the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther. For Luther, there are really only two legitimate options to obtaining a right standing before God. The first is to perfectly obey the demands of the Law. The second is to rely on the work of another; namely, the perfect law-keeping merits of Christ in one’s place. After studying the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he concluded, “For we hold, recognize and affirm, we conclude from what is said that a man is justified, reckoned righteous before God, whether Greek or Jew, by faith, apart from works of the law, without the help and necessity of the works of the law.” The doctrine of justification, in Luther’s theology, is the Gospel! Likewise, we also find similar assertions from Calvin, a second generation reformer. The doctrine of justification is, according to Calvin, “the main hinge on which religion turns.” The same may be said of those who have followed in the footsteps of the Reformers. J.I. Packer, a modern reformer in his own right, has famously said, “For the doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas. It bears a whole world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of God the Saviour.”

Before we proceed to consider the contents of the doctrine, let us first consider the way the Reformers understood sin and its consequential outworking. The doctrine of sin was hugely important for them. Centuries after, Reformed theologians have all affirmed this notion. Herman Bavinck, being one of them, said, “The doctrine of original sin is one of the weightiest and most difficult subjects in all of Christian theology.” The Reformers maintained, with St. Augustine, that Adam’s sin was imputed, or reckon, to all his progenies. As a result, all are condemned for the sin of one man as the Apostle Paul teaches us in Romans. In other words, as Berkhof explains, “Adam sinned not only as the father of the human race, but also as the representative head of all his descendants; and therefore the guilt of his sin is placed to their account, so that they are all liable to the punishment of death.” On the contrary, those who embrace the error Pelagianism, teach that man was not represented by Adam on an ontological sense, but only as a reprehensible illustration. The denial of original sin entails massive consequences in relations to one’s justification. The need to flesh out the entire controversy between St. Augustine and the English monk, Pelagius, is here unnecessary. So, we shall only note several main articles that affect the way justification is understood: (1) Pelagius, with his contention with St. Augustine, denied that sin was not passed to his descendants; (2) Adam’s sin was only a bad moral example; and (3) the merit of justification is obtainable by one’s good works.
With original sin as the backdrop to man’s condition in the courtroom of God, the Reformers saw a guilty verdict against humanity at the forefront. Of course this meant that man, in the end, is unable to save himself because of the sin nature that he has inherited in Adam. It has so corrupted him that even his will, as Calvin puts it, “…cannot move toward good, much less apply itself thereto; for a movement of this sort is the beginning of conversion to God, which in Scripture is ascribed entirely to God’s grace.” In Romans 4:5, Paul tells us that God “justifies the ungodly.” How can this be? Here, we encounter one of the cries of the Reformation, sola gratia, or grace alone. What they meant by this was that salvation must be only credited to God’s grace, not to any work that man performs. The Reformers argued that man must wholly be dependent on the grace of God, as Augustine proposed. They saw the need for God’s grace if man is to be saved from the impending judgment. It is the sole initiation of God alone that sinners can be justified; his grace is the origin of man’s justification. According to later Reformed theology, which builds from the theology of the Reformers, the grace that God bestows to man came in a covenantal construction, which they called the “covenant of grace.” In the covenant of grace, according the Westminster Larger Catechism, “…He (God) freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ.” We see here that the confession tells us that life and salvation are the benefits from God’s grace. Furthermore, it tells us that it is by Jesus Christ that we attain such benefits. “…Only Christ’s sacrifice could make satisfaction for our sins,” as Edmund Clowney correctly observes, “so, too, only Christ’s obedience can merit eternal life (Rom. 6:23).” Clowney reminds us that it is only Christ’s merit and atonement that we can have both our sins forgiven and eternal life to come. This takes us to the next logical question: “What is the nature of how these benefits are given?”

Here, we move to the center of the doctrine justification; namely, the reckoning of Christ’s righteousness on sin stricken, guilty sinners. If the heart of the Gospel is the doctrine of justification, as I am arguing, then the doctrine of imputation is the heart of the doctrine of justification. What is meant by imputation? The Reformers often appealed to 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” to demonstrate this doctrine. Chapter 11 of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains this divine transaction: “Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as He was given by the Father for them; and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice, and rich grace of God, might be glorified in the justification of sinners.” Notice that the confession mentions the “exact justice” and “rich grace of God” with relations to what has taken place. It is God’s chief purpose that his justice and grace be displayed our justification in Christ. Moreover, the confession tells us that the punishment that our sins have merited was paid by Christ for us, and the righteousness that he merited, in return, gets credited to us.

Although there is only a twofold imputation found in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Nevertheless, B.B. Warfield notes of a “threefold doctrine of imputation” found in Scripture. Let us consider the threefold imputation that Warfield spoke of: (1) the imputation of Adam’s sin onto humanity, (2) the imputation of our sins onto Christ, and (3) the imputation of Christ’s righteousness onto sinners. We began by surveying original sin because the repercussions for denying it are deadly. We noted that Adam’s sin was counted in our account (original sin), if we deny this we cannot partake on the two imputations above mentioned because the execution is the same. In other words, if deny cry out unfairness to original sin, we must logically say the same with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and our sins imputed to him, as found in 2 Corinthians 5:21. If it is not already clear, Warfield clarifies, “In the proper understanding of the conception, it is important to bear in mind that the divine act called “imputation” is in itself precisely the same in each of the three great transactions into which it enters as a constituent part.” What follows is that if God cannot reckon Adam’s sin to us, then it is impossible to reason that God can give us the righteousness that Christ merited for us and, furthermore, God cannot have “made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21a). Now that we have established the source of justification, let us turn to the instrument by which sinners received this justification we have been speaking of.

With the Roman Catholic Church’s emphasis on faith and merits as the instruments by which sinners are justified, the Reformers came to a different conclusion. They saw from Scripture that sinners are justified sola fide, or by faith alone. This is yet another crucial element in the Protestant Reformation, which today has turned into a mere slogan without substance in many Protestant churches. Yet in the time of the Reformation, it was of supreme importance. “Justification by faith alone” is well-known, but why is it by faith alone? What of faith that makes it the only instrument by which we are declared righteous? It is an open hand that receives all the benefits that Christ merited for us, responded the Reformers. Faith is the only instrument by which sinners can receive the righteousness that Christ earned for us. Furthermore, it is the only instrument by which our sins are regarded stricken in Christ. In other words, the imputation transaction above is effective only through faith, nothing else. Our works do not merit anything good in the courtroom of God, only Christ’s perfect work can we appear blameless on judgment day. We are saved by works, Christ’s perfect work.

There have been those in opposition to the Reformed doctrine of justification from its conception; from the Judaizers and antinomians in Paul’s day to the Roman Catholic Church in the time of the Protestant Reformation. Many may be surprised to hear that the Roman Catholic Church unmistakably understood what the Reformers were saying, and they condemned it. In the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church pronounced judgment against the Protestant churches when they said, “If anyone says people are justified either solely by the attribution of Christ’s justice, or by the forgiveness of sins alone, to the exclusion of the grace and charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Spirit and abides in them…let him be anathema.” Furthermore, Trent declared, “If anyone says that the faith which justifies is nothing else but in the divine mercy, which pardons sins because of Christ; or that it is that trust alone by which we are justified: let him be anathema.”

Today, one of opposition that has been gaining ground, even in some Reformed circles, is the so-called New Perspective on Paul. A lengthy exposition of this perspective is here unnecessary, so we will only briefly examine the position, and then present a Reformed critique. Fesko informs us that this new interpretation of justification finds its origin with Krister Stendahl, who argued that scholars “were reading him (Paul), not in the light of his immediate first-century context, but through the lens of Martin Luther.” But it was in E.P. Sanders’ famous work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, which the New Perspective began to take shape. Sanders’ main contribution was his shift from the soteriological concerns of the Reformation i.e., how one is saved, to an ecclesiological one i.e., the recognition of who is in the church. “The query, ‘What can I do to be saved?’ is one which,” according to Sanders, “is not prominent in the (Rabbinic) literature.” As Fesko notes, “Sanders researched the literature of the second temple and concluded that Judaism was not a works-righteousness-based religion but one of grace, which he termed ‘covenantal nomism’: ‘The view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression.’” What then is the problem with Judaism? According to Sanders, “…it is not Christianity.”

James Dunn, following Sanders, mainly agreed with Sander’s concern, however, he contended that the “covenant nomism” that Sanders spoke of is not antithetical to Paul’s theology. In doing so, Dunn was forced to rework Sanders original thesis. He maintained that “covenant nomism” of the Jews “…functioned as badges of covenant membership.” They were, for Dunn, “identity markers” that identified the Jews as God’s people. Now, according to Dunn, after Christ has come, the new badge is faith in Christ, rather than circumcision, food laws, the Sabbath, etc. This brings us the most prominent proponent of the New Perspective, N. T. Wright.

Wright for the most part, agrees with Sanders and Dunn’s assessment of Paul’s theology. Fesko rightly points out that “Wright believes that the Jews saw their entrance into the covenant on the basis of God’s grace and their obedience to the Torah was merely response to the divine initiative, not an attempt to merit entrance into the covenant.” Hence, Wright is essentially echoing Sanders and Dunn by appealing to Judaism as religion of grace, not works. It is important to note here that the New Perspective has radically changed the traditional understanding of Paul’s usage of “works of the law” and “righteousness.” What Wright proposes, as well as many of those who hold to the New Perspective, is that “works of the law” is nothing more than the “identity markers” that Dunn previously spoke of. “The righteousness of God,” for Wright, according to Fesko, “then, is primarily a demonstration of his covenantal faithfulness.” Thus, Wright affirms the notion that justification is more about being identified with the church, rather than salvation. If justification is about the society of the church, then there is no need for the “righteous imputation of Christ.” This denial, of course, is one of the primary reasons why Reformation theology is so concerned about this movement. The New Perspective essentially rips out the heart of the Gospel, as the Reformers understood it. Justification, according to Wright, is not an “alien righteousness,” as Luther claimed, that is credited to us, rather it is the declaration that we are part of the covenantal people of God. So, Wright asserts that at the eschaton people will be judged according, to what Piper says, “…the obedience of our lives that is produced by the Holy Spirit through faith.” This is contrary to the way the Reformers understood the doctrine of justification. In fact, it is a return to the Roman Catholic position.

Although, the Reformers would agree to a certain extent of taking into account the second temple Judaism literature of Paul’s day, as Sanders, Dunn, and Wright have done, however, they are not the final authority for interpreting Paul. Fesko rightly points out that J. Gresham Machen observed that “…Paul seeks testimonies to the universal sinfulness of man, he looks not to contemporary Judaism, but to the Old Testament. At this point, as elsewhere, Paulinism is based not upon later developments but upon the religion of the Prophets and the Psalms.” What this means for us here is that Paul could not have derived his theology from second-temple Judaism because he is primarily dealing with the Old Testament Scripture. There is, as Fesko brilliantly observes, a major problem with the New Perspective’s claim that second-temple Judaism has rightly interpreted the Old Testament. Fesko puts it this way, “If the NT redefined Israel’s expectation, then first-century Judaism has correctly interpreted the OT, but Christ and the apostles have redefined it. In other words, Christ and the apostles correct the view of the OT. Or first century Judaism has misinterpreted the OT, and it was first-century opinion that required correction.” This dilemma, in my opinion, is a huge stumbling block that cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, it seems rather odd that the New Perspective proponents are so eager to dismiss the Reformers’ interaction with medieval Catholicism as somewhat irrelevant. Yet, it is apparent that the New Perspective is noticeably similar to that of medieval Catholic soteriology. Even though Wright’s proposal that justification in the eschaton is purely by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it seems to imply justification by our works rather than Christ’s work. If we speak of our final justification based on the Spirit wrought obedience of the saints, it undermines the gravity of sin and God’s justice. How much work is acceptable before God can say, “Not guilty”? The reality is that God does not tolerate sin! In the final analysis, the New Perspective fails to account for this major chasm between our imperfect righteousness, even as believers, and the perfect judgment of God. To say the least, Roman Catholicism has developed a system of “purgatory” to relieve their inconsistency. But it seems the New Perspective is deficient to explain and harmonize these ideas.

In conclusion, if we do away with the doctrine of justification as the Reformers understood it, we do away with the Gospel itself. What is the good news in knowing that, in the end, we are judged according to our obedience, even if they are Spirit wrought? The good news of the gospel is that God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves; Christ obeyed the demands of God’s perfect law and he took the punishment that we deserve to present us as faultless before the Father. By faith alone, we receive what God freely gives in Christ.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Assessment of the Eastern Orthodox Doctrine of Deification from a Reformed Perspective

To the Reformed ear, the word deification, or theosis, conjures up all sorts of negative undertones. The pagan notion of actually and ontologically becoming gods immediately arises from Western spectacles. Emperors and heroes in the ancient world, especially in the Greek culture, are said to have undergone such a process that they were transformed into deities and were worshipped accordingly. This would be a warranted presumption if taken from a strictly Hellenistic conception. But as Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen points out, “It was not a Christian word first, nor was it only employed by Christians even after they made it central. But they cleaned it up and filled it up with a Christian meaning.” In other words, the early Christians made use of a foreign and pagan concept by transforming it in a way that corresponded with Christian vocabulary and theology. Therefore, Reformed Christians ought not to be afraid of such language, instead they must learn the meaning behind it. Correspondingly, the Eastern Church must likewise learn the Reformed language. Despite the fact that this is primarily written for Reformed people to informed them of the doctrine of deification, nevertheless, it is of benefit to Eastern Orthodox who may want to see the commonality and differences between the two positions. A complementary reciprocity of learning is required for any helpful discussions. In doing so, the results will be fruitful as dialogues between the two sides emerge. What this paper intends to accomplish is to present a concise assessment of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis in order to evaluate points of agreement and contention with the Reformed tradition. Firstly, the historical and theological dimension of theosis will be examined accordingly, but focusing largely on the latter for the purpose of this paper. Secondly, we shall investigate the fundamental issues that unite and separate Orthodoxy and the Reformed on this crucial issue.
The idea of deification in the ancient world was utterly pagan in nature, but the origin of the word in the Christian world dates back to Clement of Alexandria, who was the first to utilize it writing. However, he did not see a need to articulate a technical definition; as a result, no formal explanation was given until the sixth century when the need to clarify its meaning arose. It was at this time when Dionysius the Areopogite gave a definition. Russell tells us that Dionysius defined it this way: “…‘Deification (θέωσις) is the attaining of likeness to God and union with him so far as is possible.’” Furthermore, no theological discourse with regards to deification was presented until the time of Maximus the Confessor in the seventh century. Since then, it has been a central doctrine in the Orthodox Church, but has been mostly forgotten or lost in the West.
Although there have been many contributors to the doctrine of deification in the history of Christianity, two important figures in its development will be considered. First, Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-200) was one who made a pivotal step into the formulation of this doctrine. His understanding of the incarnation of Jesus Christ may have been a key to the idea of deification. Irenaeus described the relationship between the incarnation and deification in this way: “How shall man pass into God, unless God has passed into man?” In other words, the incarnation was the initial action that God took to divinized humanity. God could not have begun such a process unless He Himself became man, this is central in Irenaeus’ view of salvation. Interestingly, Irenaeus is thus forced to conclude that Christ necessarily had to die at an old age to secure the salvation of the elderly. It is important to note here that Irenaeus is not at all denying the Creator and creature distinction between God and man, as it may appear at first glance. Jonathan Hill tells us, “The fundamental distinction between Creator and creation is never abolished, but we can share in the divine qualities and the divine life.”
Second, another important figure in the advancement of theosis is the church father Athanasius (c. 293-373). His primary contribution to the doctrine is his famous ‘exchange formula,’ which stated, “He (Christ) became human that we might become divine.” It is essentially another way of phrasing what Irenaeus previously stated. Theosis is the pathway in which humanity is once again set forth in the right track to divinity; the track that humanity wandered away from in the Fall of Adam. It is an ongoing process back to the union that humans were created to participate in.
The transition from the historical aspect of deification to its theological aspect is to simply further developed the doctrine’s internal components. What exactly does the word theosis convey? Here, we will explore the following: the means by which deification is accomplished and centrality of deification in salvation.
What are the means by which the church is deified? This is an important question before us. According to Orthodox antiquity, deification is entirely wrought by the Holy Spirit as a result of God’s grace. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the agent by which all the benefits of deification—i.e., immortality, incorruptibility, and Christ-likeness—are gained by believers. Or, to put it in another way, “… the Orthodox regard[s] theosis as being, first and foremost, the result of the Holy Spirit’s activity in people.” Cyril of Alexandria, for example, recognizes that the Holy Spirit plays a pivotal part in our union with God. Russell, speaking of the role of the Holy Spirit in Cyril’s theology, mentions, “Participation in the Spirit conforms us to Christ, and enables us to be ‘described as children of God and gods.” Still, a further question remains: How does the Holy Spirit confer the benefits of deification onto the church?
Fairbairn answers the above question straightforward, he says, “To the Orthodox, the primary means by which the Holy Spirit works to give grace and deify people are the church’s sacraments and human effort.” We see here the centrality of the church sacraments. They are means by which the Holy Spirit dispenses grace in the life of the church—the Reformed tradition would refer to the sacraments as “means of grace.” The idea of grace flowing from the sacraments is too often times ignored or even denied in the broad evangelical landscape, where the sacraments communicate nothing more than mere symbols or remembrance.
Baptism, according to the Orthodox position, is a means by which the Christian begins the process of deification. Unlike its Evangelical counterpart, who sharply insist on the prior experience of conversion before the event of baptism, Orthodoxy sees an inseparable marriage between the water (physical) and reality (spiritual). And the Eucharist (Communion) is the sacrament that brings believers into the life of Christ by uniting them to the Father and one another; it is the supreme expression of the church’s union with the incarnate Son of God. There is real presence and union with Christ in the Eucharist. Bishop Kallistos Ware explains, “… the Orthodox Church believes that after consecration the bread and wine become in very the Body and Blood of Christ: they are not mere symbols, but the reality.”
Human effort also plays a significant role in the deification of believers. Here, Orthodoxy takes a synergistic position, where God does His part and man does his part, in the deifying of man. In other words, the means by which believers are deified is one of participation. Man’s free will must be exercised for any progress to occur. Orthodox theology essentially makes human autonomy the preeminent substance that God will never impose upon. Vladimir Lossky strongly affirms this view, he maintains, “God becomes powerless before human freedom; He cannot violate it since it flows from His own omnipotence. Certainly man was created by the will of God alone; but he cannot be deified by it alone.” It is important to note here that Orthodoxy maneuvers itself away from the Pelagian heresy by asserting that good works alone do not merit union with the incarnate Christ. Good works are means that the Holy Spirit uses transform believers, but they are not of themselves meritorious.
By now it is apparent that the Orthodox Church’s understanding of salvation revolves around the doctrine of Theosis. Orthodoxy ultimately centralizes the human process of divination in the salvific purpose of the Triune God. To say it differently, the process of becoming more Christ-like is salvation. The change that is wrought upon believers is much more emphasized in Orthodoxy. Nassif thus correctly distinguishes, “…the East adopted a ‘transformational’ model that places emphasis on who Christ is (i.e., the person of Christ, his resurrection, and his triumphant victory over sin and death—the Christus Victor theme).
As mentioned above, the word deification need not be a dreadful word to the Reformed ear. If properly understood, one may see words in the Reformed tradition that are quite equivocal to its meaning. Don Fairbairn points us to a few terms, he says, “…deification corresponds somewhat to concepts which evangelicals describe using the terms sanctification, eternal life, and fellowship or relationship with God.” What then can the Reformed Christian learn from the Orthodox understanding of deification? In light of the previous discourse about theosis, let us therefore answer this crucial question by analyzing the major principles that Reformed Christians can affirm and reject.
Reformed Christians heartily agree with the principle that deification, or sanctification, to use a more familiar term, is an ongoing process by which believers are transformed into the image of Christ. Reformed theologians have always maintained this to be the case. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes this principal as the process by which believers “more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.” According to Orthodoxy, deification remains largely imperfect—the process of divination will not be completed in this life. The same idea is present in Reformed theology. Here, this shared theological conviction distinguishes the two sides from the error of Christian perfectionism —the view that believers may earn a perfect status in the sight of God. However differently grace is defined by both sides, it remains clear that the process theosis, or sanctification, is credited entirely as the work of the Holy Spirit. This remains a significant agreement that separates and disassociates the two traditions from Pelagianism, which too many Evangelicals have fallen victim of. Reformed and Orthodox alliance may serve as a loud warning to the rest of Evangelicalism to reevaluate the role of grace in their personal transformation and growth.
Furthermore, the central role of the sacraments in the transformation of believers is another important theme shared by the respective positions. An element in the evangelical world that is almost all together absent. Reformed theology, like Orthodoxy, sees a real mystical union with Christ that occurs in the bread and wine, not mere symbols of commemoration. And course both sides would sharply separate themselves from the Roman Catholic doctrine transubstantiation.
However much concurrence this discourse between Orthodox and Reformed theology, regarding deification, has produced, many sharp and significant theological disagreements, like the role of human effort and sacraments, exist. But the focus here will be largely on the overarching function of deification in salvation—this is where the central difference lies. Before we move forward, it is important to ask whether this soteriological antithesis even matters. In the Reformation, the issue of salvation would have mattered immensely. The place where people stood was a church-splitting consequence. Today, however, the same cannot be said about the modern evangelical world; it is more concerned with personal piety, prosperity, and therapy, instead of the universal and object reality of the church’s salvation in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. For those who recognize the magnitude of our salvation in Christ, will also perceive that our theological conclusions will greatly affect the way we view the Gospel. Consequently, our differences will separate us for the cause of the Gospel. Michael Horton keenly explains, “Our disagreements lie at the heart of our confession, not at the periphery.” Others are convinced that both positions can in fact be harmonious rather than contentious. Kärkkäinen argues, “The New Testament canon itself gives legitimacy to various conceptions of salvation.”
Orthodoxy, as already mentioned, centralizes deification in salvation. Transformation is the dominant theme upon which salvation rest, whereas the emphasis in Reformed theology is in justification or the “transactional” dimension of salvation. However, Nassif claims that both camp do not reject either theological concepts, rather they simply emphasize one above the other. Kärkkäinen is further convinced that there may be ecumenical convergence between both sides, due to the fact that deification and justification do not annul one another. He rejects the idea of distinguishing between justification and sanctification, the way Reformation theology does. For Kärkkäinen and others, justification (the declaration of God that sinners are righteous on account of Christ’s righteousness) is deification.
Others remain hesitant to affirm such a conclusion, however. With such assertions made by Kärkkäinen and others, Horton rightly criticizes such an understanding as “collapsing justification with sanctification.” The confusion and blurred lines between justification and deification has monumental consequences for the church’s right standing before our holy Creator. Granted that our deification is our justification, as some suggest; what difference does it make? The most important thing to not here is that if this is true, then completely deified life will never occur in this lifetime. Thus, R. Scott Clark concludes, “If justification is divinization, then we are not justified.” For the Reformers, however, justification is the root by which the fruits of deification, or sanctification, flow from. The mistaking of one for the other is an error of colossal significance.
Moreover, for the reason that Orthodoxy, it is argued, understands justification differently than that of the Reformers, it never really affirms the doctrine at all, but actually denies it. Fairbairn notes George Florovsky’s critique of the way Martin Luther understood justification. He (Florovsky) says, “For Luther ‘to justify’ meant to declare on righteous or just, not ‘to make’ righteous or just—it is an appeal to an extrinsic justice which in reality is a spiritual fiction.” Is this not essentially the same argument that Rome used at the time of the Reformation? It is a denial of the “…purely forensic declaration based on the imputation of Christ’s ‘alien righteousness.’” Furthermore, Florovsky’s assertion strips any personal dimension in the Reformation view of justification. A legal declaration does not necessarily mean that there is no personal dimension in the event. Take for instance the idea that God “adopts” us. Adoption is clearly a legal matter, but it is also incredibly personal, as deification is personal.
Much more can be said about the theological agreements and disagreements between Orthodoxy and Reformed Christianity regarding deification. We have seen places where the two traditions can indeed stand alongside one another in the theological surface, but there are other places where parting ways may be the best option for the sake of the kingdom. Yet, it does not follow that dialogues between the two theological perspective ought not to continue. There is yet undiscovered theological landscapes that both sides can learn from one another. Let us explore in humility, patience, and love to the glory of God in the Gospel of our Lord.


Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit Church and New Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Vol. 4. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2008.

Clark, R. Scott. "Iustitia Imputata Christi: Alien or Proper to Luther's Doctrine of Justification?" Concordia Theological Quaterly, 2006: 269-310.

Fairbairn, Donald. Eastern Orthodoxy Through Western Eyes. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Fairbairn, Donald. "Salvation as Theosis: The Teaching of Eastern Orthodoxy." Themelios, 1998: 42-54.
Hill, Jonathan. The History of Christian Thought: The Fascination Story of the Great Christian Thinkers and How They Helped Shape the World as We Know it Today. Downers Grove , IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. One With God: Salvation as Deification and Justification. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2004.

Nassif, Bradley, Michael Horton, Vladimir Berzonsky, George Hancock-Stefan, and Edward Rommen. Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Russell, Norman. The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997.

Westminster Confession of Faith. glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2001.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

An Introduction to the Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church is rich and robust in its culture, arts, history, tradition, and theology. There is indeed much to say about the roots and foundation of the Orthodox faith, but for the sake of simplicity and the introductory nature of this paper, this essay will primarily address its historical background and theological infrastructure. The historical portion will include a synopsis of the early Byzantine era and conclude the twentieth Century Orthodoxy. As for the content, it is important to note that only significant events related to Orthodoxy will be examined as concise as possible. The latter half of this paper will conclude with a brief examination of the theological infrastructure of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

As we begin to flesh out the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is important to highlight that the conception of the Christian Byzantine Empire occurred after the conversion of the Roman Emperor, Constantine. In the year 325 A.D., Constantine became the first to gather an ecumenical council that came to be known as the Council of Nicaea. The first Council of Nicaea became one of the seven councils held during 325 A.D. and 787 A.D., which are of supreme importance, not only to the Eastern Orthodox Church, but Christendom as a whole. The first six councils were essentially a clear and concise refutation of the Alexandrian priest, Arius, that later became known as Arianism. Arius desired to defend, as Ware notes, “the uniqueness and the transcendence of God,”1 but the result was the denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Here, the council decisively concluded that Christ was not merely an exalted creature, but Christ was “‘one in essence’ (homoousios) with the Father,”2 which resulted in the formulation of the Nicene Creed. In 381 A.D., Constantinople, the Nicene Creed was further developed in the Second Ecumenical Council, with the articulation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The Nestorian heresy, which separated the unity of the Divine and humanity of Christ, arose in 431 A.D. that provoked yet another council that consequently defended the incarnation of Christ and Mary as the “‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos).”3 Shortly after, another heresy arose in Ephesus that came to be known as ‘Monophysite.’ The successor of Cyril in Alexandria, Dioscurus, in responding to Eutyches, proposed and insisted upon the “one Person” of Christ, but in doing so, he greatly erred by confusing the two natures of Christ – i.e., Christ’s divinity and humanity. Hence, the Chalcedon Council was forced to formulate a statement that defended the church from the Monophysite error. In which the council proclaimed in a sweeping summary, “…the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”4 The fifth and sixth councils were essentially reiterations of the fourth council; the fifth council took place in 553 A.D. under Emperor Justinian and in 680-1 A.D., the sixth council was arranged by Emperor Constantine IV. The seventh and final council was held in 787 A.D. over the issue of icons in the church, upon which the Ecumenical Council concluded that “…are [icons] to be kept in churches and honoured with the same relative veneration as is shown to other material symbols such as the ‘precious and life-giving Cross’ and the Book of Gospels.”5

At this point many different factors have been prevalent between the Eastern Church and the Western Church. Key differences included: language barrier, ecclesiastical orientations, cultural characteristics, and political agendas. The Eastern Church primarily spoke Greek while the Western Church spoke Latin. With regards to their ecclesiastical orientations, the west insisted on a single ruling bishop, the bishop of Rome, who later became the Pope of Rome, and the east insisted on multiple bishops to administrate the church. Furthermore, there were theological disagreements between the two sides. The Eastern Church greatly opposed the Western Church’s insistent on the infallibility of the bishop of Rome (Pope) with regards to the doctrinal issues of the church. Several other theological issues were greatly debated amongst the two churches and eventually rejected by the Eastern Church: the Western Church doctrine of Purgatory, the unwarranted addition of the filioque6 in the Nicene Creed, and the Pope’s universal authority over the entire church. With such overwhelming disagreements between the two, in the year 1054 A.D., the unity of the One Holy Orthodox Catholic Church collapsed. The Eastern Church became the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Church became the Roman Catholic Church. This historic separation became known as the Great Schism.

Before we move into the theological portion, let me first highlight other key components worth mentioning, without overly explaining them; particular Eastern Orthodox history that help usher us in the twentieth century. First, in 988 A.D., the conversion of the Russian Empire began. An event that helped established the Eastern Orthodox Church in Russia, an effect that still resonates today. Secondly, after the Great Schism, the Roman Catholic Church initiated the Crusades, which further distances the already separated Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church. And lastly, it is important to note the end of the Byzantine Empire with the Turkish invasion of Constantinople.

Much of Eastern Orthodox Church theology is derived from the all-important doctrine of the Trinity. For Orthodoxy, the doctrine of the Trinity is not simply an abstract theological formulation but is also immanently practical for the lives of Christians. According to Ware, “The human person, so the Bible teaches, is made in the image of God, and to Christians God means the Trinity: thus it is only in the light of the dogma of the Trinity that we can understand who we are and what God intends us to be.”7 In other words, the way the church understands the Trinity has direct correlation to the way it sees itself.

Worship in the Eastern Orthodox Church centers in primarily in the sacraments because it is immanently liturgical. To understand the Orthodox view of worship, one must understand its sacramental theology. Very much like the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodoxy observes seven distinct sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation or Confirmation, the Eucharist, Holy Orders or Ordination, Repentance or Confession, Marriage or Holy Matrimony, and the Anointing to the Sick or Holy Unction. It is essential to understand that the majority of the sacraments are framed with the understanding that the physical, or material, is indeed a sufficient means to the spiritual. Consequently, the sacraments are visible manifestation of the remembrance of the Incarnation of Christ, who took on flesh (physical) and used it as a means to the spiritual. Although the seven sacraments, mentioned above, are all important in the sacramental theology of the church, here, we will examine two of the most significant sacraments, the Eucharist and Baptism.

The central sacrament of the Eastern Orthodox Church is the sacrament of the Eucharist, or the Divine Liturgy. It is the communal celebration of Lord Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on the Sabbath and Holy day. Hence, it has been known as the “Sacrament of Sacrament.” In the tradition of the Patristic Father, Cyril, who, as Nassif notes, believed that “…the real communion with God was [is] possible through the Eucharist because of the mystery that God ontologically united himself to humanity through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.”8 Finding an inseparable correlation between the sacrament of the Eucharist and Christology, the church, therefore, teaches the real presence of Christ in the sacrament. Although it teaches the real presence of Christ body and blood in the Eucharist, it is important to note that the Orthodox Church is not teaching the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist – i.e., the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. In contrast, the Eastern Church appeals to the mystery of the reality of the Eucharist. Moreover, it recognizes this sacrament as sacrifice.

Baptism is a sacramental initiation into the church, upon which one is made partaker of the Body of Christ and is introduced into the life of the Holy Trinity. The water is a physical representation of renewal of life and spiritual cleansing. As with the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the early Christian community, the Eastern Orthodox Church practices the baptism of infants. Two crucial acts are accorded with the sacrament of Baptism: first, the priest calls upon God’s presence by invoking the Name of the Holy Trinity, and second, the three-fold immersion into the water of Baptism. By partaking in the sacrament of Baptism, the individual publicly identifies with the atoning death and triumphant resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Along with the prescribed sacraments of the church, another important feature must be addressed to properly understand the Orthodox theology of worship, namely, the veneration of the Holy Icons. Through the medium of art, the Orthodox Christian is given a sight of the spiritual realm; not mere arousal of emotions from the beauty of the icons. The essence of the veneration of the Holy Icons may be described in this way: the substance of the Holy Icons is not to be venerated, but because they share likeness with person represented, the prototype is to be venerated through them. The veneration of the Holy Icons is within the context of Tradition and is thus confined by prescribed rules of the church. A Christian painter may not reproduce his own artistic interpretation, but he must reflect the mind of the church.

Given the above historical and theological background, it is easy to see the richness and stability of the Eastern Orthodox Church, especially in its theology and worship. From the conception of the Christian Church to the present, the Eastern Orthodox Church has remained essentially the same.


1. See Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, The Orthodox Church (London, England: The Penguin Group, 1997) p. 22.
2. Ibid., p. 22.
3. Ibid., p. 25.
4. Italics mine. A citation of the Chalcedonian Definition in Stephen W. Need, Truly Divine and Truly Human (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008) p. 100.
5. The Orthodox Church, p. 31.
6. For a definition of filioque, see the glossary in Truly Divine and Truly Human, p. 165.
7. The Orthodox Church, p. 208.
8. See Bradley Nassif, Three Views On Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and James Stamoolis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004) p. 50.