Judgment and Justification in Paul: A Review Article -- By: Michael F. Bird

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 018:2 (NA 2008)
Article: Judgment and Justification in Paul: A Review Article
Author: Michael F. Bird


Judgment and Justification in Paul: A Review Article

Michael F. Bird

Highland Theological College–UHI Millennium Institute

Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. By Chris Van Landingham. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006.

The tension between justification by faith and judgment according to deeds in the Pauline letters is well known in the history of interpretation and goes back at least as far as Augustine.1 Since the Reformation, justification by faith alone has been the center and boundary of all Protestant theology.2 Indeed, Paul’s theology of justification, as conceived of as being strictly forensic and distinguished from moral sanctification (simil iustus et peccator), is said to be the chief article of the Christian faith (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae). But the Protestant conception of justification by faith has always been vulnerable to a number of criticisms, including the charge that it fails to solve the purported antinomy that emerges when justification by faith is juxtaposed with judgment according to deeds in Paul in particular and the wider New Testament in general.3 This is not to say that Lutheran and Reformed commentators were unaware of the problem and did not offer some cogent solutions (see, e.g., Calvin, Institutes 3.11.23), but no solution has won a consensus in the face of criticism, and the tension between justification by faith and judgment according to deeds has continued to perplex commentators and preachers. It is unsurprising then that Bultmann spoke of judgment according to works as a “seeming contradiction” to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith.4 This seeming contradiction has kept commentators on Paul well and truly occupied with

finding a way of resolving this antinomy.5 A recent contribution to this debate is made by Chris VanLandingham (henceforth, VanL) in his volume Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul.6 VanL argues that in the Judaism of the Greek and Roman periods and in Paul’s letters, God determines an individual’s destiny on the basis of his or her behavior and deeds. He states that “both corpora agree that an individual’s behavior during his or her lifetime provides the criterion for this judgment: good behavior is rewarded with eternal life, bad behavior with damnation.”

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