N. T. Wright And John Calvin On The Doctrine Of Imputation In 2 Corinthians 5:21 -- By: Jeffrey A. Stivason

Journal: Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal
Volume: RPTJ 004:2 (Spring 2018)
Article: N. T. Wright And John Calvin On The Doctrine Of Imputation In 2 Corinthians 5:21
Author: Jeffrey A. Stivason


N. T. Wright And John Calvin On The Doctrine Of Imputation In 2 Corinthians 5:21

Jeffrey A. Stivason

Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology
Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Wright’s Exegetical Challenge

Anglican scholar N. T. Wright has suggested that the doctrine of imputation is a Reformation construct having no validity other than its being enshrined in hymns, liturgies, and popular devotionals.1 Wright’s arguments in regard to imputation are not merely ad hominem attacks on prominent churchmen and theologians and their exegetical labors. Wright argues his points from Scripture; according to his analysis, 2 Corinthians 5:212 has been traditionally read “as a somewhat detached statement of atonement theology,” to wit, as a proof for what Luther dubbed the “wondrous exchange” that takes place between Christ and sinners.3

Wright believes that his conclusions are founded on at least two Biblical arguments. First, for Wright, God’s righteousness mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is not something that “the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers” across a courtroom; rather, this righteousness is God’s faithfulness to His covenant.4 Embedded in this assertion is Wright’s argument that the righteousness mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is God’s righteousness and not Christ's. This contention opens the way for his second major assertion, namely, that Paul’s ministry “is itself an incarnation of the ministry of the covenant faithfulness of God.”5 Therefore, Wright eliminates from this text any notion of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, or God’s for that matter, to His covenant people.

Looking further, Wright’s attack is even more devastating than it first appears. According to the Anglican bishop, 1 Corinthians 1:30, the only place where the righteousness of Christ is mentioned, cannot be used to support the doctrine of imputation unless theologians are

“prepared to talk of the imputed wisdom of Christ; the imputed sanctification of Christ; and the imputed redemption of Christ.”6 Yet, as Wright points out, such a notion would make nonsense of the...

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