Justification: Yesterday, Today, And Forever -- By: N. T. Wright

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:1 (Mar 2011)
Article: Justification: Yesterday, Today, And Forever
Author: N. T. Wright

Justification: Yesterday, Today, And Forever

N. T. Wright*

* N. T. Wright is professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, College Gate, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, Scotland, United Kingdom.

I. Introduction

I am grateful for the invitation to be with you at this meeting and to take part in a further discussion of justification. I cherish the hope that we will be able this morning to sort out one or two key questions and see where the disagreements of recent years really lie. You may recall that John Henry Newman—who himself said some interesting things about justification—made a distinction between two different types of disagreement. Sometimes, he said, we disagree about words, and sometimes we disagree about things. Sometimes, that is, our disagreements are purely verbal: we are using different words, but underneath, when we explain what we mean, we are saying the same thing. Sometimes, though, we really are disagreeing about matters of substance— even though, confusingly, we may actually be using the same words. I suspect there is something of both types of disagreement going on in current debates, and it would be helpful if we could at least get some clarity there.

You might have thought, perhaps, that my title reflected the fact that this debate seems to be going on and on, yesterday, today, and perhaps forever. I hope that will not be the case, though I am not particularly optimistic. The title is intended to do two things. First, it is intended to flag up the fact that justification is anchored firmly and squarely in Jesus the Messiah, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Though that is a quotation from Heb 13:8, it could stand as a summary of Paul’s view of Jesus, too. And the point about justification is that what God says of Jesus the Messiah, he says of all those who belong to the Messiah. He said it yesterday, when Jesus died and rose again. He says it today, in and through Jesus who ever lives to make intercession for us. And he will say it tomorrow, when Jesus returns to judge and save, to complete his kingdom work on earth as in heaven. So the first point is that justification is anchored and rooted firmly in Jesus himself.

The second point to which my title refers is the triple tense of justification. Justification has, as we all I think know, three tenses in Paul’s writing. He can speak of past justification; he can speak of it as a present reality; and he can speak of it as still in some sense future. He can do all three in close proximity. This is not carelessness. He thinks eschatologically: God has acted in Jesus the Messiah, he is at work presently affirming that all...

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