Monday, September 03, 2007

Sanctification vs Justification

It's been traditional since the Reformation to draw a distinction between Justification and Sanctification. This is one of issues where I just can't fathom what the Reformers were thinking, since there seems no good reason for doing this. The two words mean substantially the same thing, and Paul uses them synonymously.

So it was with a sigh that today I read this post endorsing the traditional Protestant separation of justification and sanctification, written by someone who studies Paul's writings and thus ought to know better.

One of the other things that kind of makes me go "huh?" is that if someone demanded of me that I draw a distinction between Sanctification and Justification, then I would split the terms up the opposite way round. That is, the idea that the word "sanctification" in the Bible means what Protestants call justification and that "justification" means what Protestants call sanctification, is a more plausible hypothesis than the opposite. Given the evidence, it's silly to try to split the terms up, but if I had to that's how I'd split them... so I really don't get what the Reformers were thinking when they split them the way they did. Everyone in the church prior to the Reformation had held that they were synonymous and indicative of moral transformation, so why did the Reformers see fit to tamper, and tamper in such a bizarre and unevidenced manner at that? One of the mysteries of life, I suppose...

6 Comments:

Blogger InHim said...

Aren't we now justified by faith in forensic terms because of what Jesus did on the cross?

And isn't sanctification an already not-yet type Pauline theology? Where we are set apart to be holy and are in the process of becoming holy.

Let me know how your thinking is different on this.

3/9/07  
Blogger Andrew said...

Aren't we now justified by faith in forensic terms because of what Jesus did on the cross?

'No' on all counts. There is nothing significantly forensic about justification. The dikaio- word group (justification / righteousness) is about moral virtue and isn't forensic. Paul's view is that by following Christ's teaching and example faithfully we can escape from sinfulness and become virtuous. "Justification" (dikaiosis), literally "the process of becoming virtuous" (dikaio = virtue, sis = greek suffix indicating process) refers to the transformation in our lives from sinfulness to righteousness.

The New Testament writers are not of the view that a supernatural cosmic saving event took place on the cross - ie they don't believe that Jesus 'did' anything on the cross in the normal sense. They see the death of Jesus as being part of the story of his life, teachings, resurrection, and followers. Christ's death alone by itself accomplished nothing, but rather it is the overall story that is special.

Yes, sanctification is already / not-yet type in Paul's theology. And the word justification is the same. Paul sees us at the moment of conversion repenting of our old life of sinfulness, and committing ourselves to a new life faithfully following Christ's teachings and imitating Christ. But this transformation continues gradually over time throughout the Christian life. Both the words justification and sanctification are used to describe this moral transformation and are both used to describe both the conversion and continuing phases of it.

An example of the interchangeability of the two terms is found in Acts 26:18 where Paul's message to the gentiles is summarized as Sanctification by Faith. (whereas Paul speaks in his letters of Justification by Faith) For the first fifteen centuries of Christianity, no one thought there was any substantial difference in meaning between these two terms.

3/9/07  
Blogger Andrew said...

On this subject, also see Alister McGrath's A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification:

pg 53. "Augustine... demonstrates how the doctrine of justification encompasses the whole of Christian existence from the first moment of faith, through the increase in righteousness before God and humans, to the final perfection of that righteousness in the eschatological city. Justification is about ‘being made just’"

pg 216. "the medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the reformers departed from it."

3/9/07  
Blogger InHim said...

Thank you. I have Thomas Shreiner's commentary on Romans and see that his view is that righteousness is a forensic and transformative term.

Justification sounds like such a forensic word!

I will do more reading on this including the link to your other post. Thanks for the info.

3/9/07  
Blogger Andrew said...

Justification sounds like such a forensic word!

The word "justification" in English derives from a Latin law term. So the reason it sounds forensic is because it is. Note that in English the term "righteousness" (originally a moral term) is also used to translate the same Greek word-group (dikaio-). Due to pure chance, English has no verb corresponding to "righteousness" - ie "righteousify" or "rightwise" are not English words. Thus we get the strange situation where different forms of the same greek word (dikaiosune) are translated: "righteous", "righteousness", "justify", "justification". Attempts by scholars to standardise the English translations by inventing terms such as "rightwise" have been unsuccessful. It is worth bearing in mind that the underlying Greek term is always dikaio- and that this word group is not forensic in the same way that the English word justification is.

Though I don't always agree with Witherington, he gets this spot on:
"Dikaiosyne occurs over 300 times in the LXX, where it is used of both God and human beings. There can be little doubt that as applied to human beings, the term usually has an ethical rather than forensic flavor, indicating conduct that is pleasing to God, in accord with the Law, and morally correct (see Isa 5.7). It is often used of a godly and moral person (Proverbs 10-13)." (Witherington Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, pg 52)

The dikaio- word group is extremely common in both the Bible and Classical literature, and the vast majority of the time it is used to talk about morality and has nothing whatsoever to do with law courts or anything forensic. Protestant theology's obsession with things being "forensic" seemingly results from Erasmus' 1519AD Latin translation where he (mis)translated a number of key Greek words that are not forensic into Latin and used Latin Law terms. (This is where the word "impute" comes from. Whereas the Greek word concerned actually means "calculate".) His translation was used by Martin Luther among others.

I have Thomas Shreiner's commentary on Romans

So do I, and I had a quick browse just now with the help of the index and was unable to find him saying anything substantial on the subject. Anyway Shreiner holds very strongly to Reformed theology (which I think is totally unbiblical), and I think he is often guilty of reading his preconceived theology into Paul's words rather than trying to determine truly what Paul's actually saying.

3/9/07  
Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

I've been enjoyoing your blog, and never left a comment before. But in the end what I wanted to say on yours and Mike Bird's and other posts was so long, I blogged it instead here.

4/9/07  

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