A Response to Don Garlington on Imputation -- By: John Piper

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:4 (Fall 2003)
Article: A Response to Don Garlington on Imputation
Author: John Piper


A Response to Don Garlington on Imputation

John Piper

It may be most helpful to begin by going straight to Romans 4:3–6 to show why I believe in the imputation of divine righteousness to the ungodly through faith alone apart from any works. In verse 3 Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (ESV). Garlington argues from the Old Testament use of “was counted to him” (elogisthe auto eis dikaiosune) that this does not mean God credited anything to Abraham which he didn’t have, but that he regarded him as what he was. “The point of Genesis 15:6, as taken up by Romans 4, is that Abraham was regarded as a righteous, that is, covenant keeping, person when he continued to place his trust in God’s promise of a seed.” In other words, Abraham’s faith is his real personal righteousness (by grace), not his link to God’s righteousness which is credited to Abraham’s account in spite of his ungodliness.

The meaning of imputation does not hang on whether elogisthe auto eis dikaiosune means “regard as” instead of “credit to.” The reason is that you can regard something as what it is in itself or what it is not. These phrases are used this way in the Old Testament and the New Testament. If you regard someone as something he is not, and if you are God, you have, in effect done what is historically meant by “imputation.” You have, in fact, “credited” something to someone that

they didn’t have by “regarding” him that way.

Paul’s own explanation of Genesis 15:6 which follows in Romans 4:4–6 points away from Garlington’s interpretation toward historic “imputation.” He says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” Paul immediately takes up the word “counted” from verse 3 and interprets it in a business context where wages are credited to someone’s account. It can happen in two ways: if you work, your wages are credited to your account according to debt; if you don’t work, but still get “wages” credited to your account, it is according to grace. This does not fit with Garlington’s insistence that the words, “it was counted to him as righteousness” must mean “Abraham was regarded as [what he was, namely] righteous, or covenant-keeping.” Rat...

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