Book Review: Romans, 2nd ed. (BECNT), Tom Schreiner

Tom Schreiner Romans second edition book review

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The Baker Exegetical Commentary series aims to be both readable while paying careful attention to important Greek exegetical matters. Each volume is written with pastors and teachers in mind so they can teach God’s uniquely inspired word. Tom Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of NT Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology (1997) and the Associate Dean of the School of Theology at SBTS. Schreiner has been a NT and Pauline scholar for almost 40 years now. His first volume was published in 1998, and has been a massive help for many who have studied, taught, and preached through Romans.

Schreiner’s commentary is attuned to understanding Paul’s flow of thought, which is very important to understand anything Paul says in any of his letters. No verse is an island, and each reflects an aspect of Paul’s theology throughout the full letter. Twenty years later, Schreiner has reworked his commentary, changing his mind on a few bigger issues and on numerous smaller issues. 

Key Issues

As stated above, Schreiner has changed his view on a few key issues.

  • Romans 1.16-17, formerly he understood God’s righteousness as being both transformative and forensic; now he understands it as purely forensic.
  • Romans 2.14–16: The “doers of the law” are Christian Gentiles who fulfill the law by having the Spirit (Rom 8.5).
  • Romans 5.12: Romans 5.12-19 supports original sin and original death, but “it is established on different grounds than those defended by Augustine” (278). Rather than all people sinning because they enter the world spiritually dead (Romans 1.0), Schreiner understands the second half of Romans 5.12 to mean that all people die because they sin “individually and personally” (282). They sin and die because of Adam’s sin and their own. 
  • Romans 7.7–21: Schreiner previously interpreted this passage as the Christian Paul looking back at his pre-Christian experience, then, after being convinced by Will Timmins’ interpretation, he now understands Paul to be speaking about the Christian’s experience.

Smaller Interpretations

But, besides these, Schreiner has changed his interpretations on much smaller points too. In Romans 6.5, he once took ἐσόμεθα as a genuine (or “predictive”) future (“we shall be united in the likeness of his resurrection”), but now takes it as a logical future (“we are united in the likeness of his resurrection”). The first sees Paul telling the Roman believers to live holy lives because they have been and shall be united with Christ in his resurrection life. The latter understands Paul’s command to be based in the fact that Christ’s death and resurrection presently affects our lives. Schreiner says, “Those who are baptized (i.e., converted) experience the impact of christ’s death and resurrection in their present existence” (314). Ultimately, Schreiner’s argument in both commentaries revolves around the now-and-not-yet concept of God’s salvation, but this new edition bears the fruit of twenty years of thinking on Paul.

More briefly, in his first edition Schreiner understood “law” in Romans 7.21 and 23 to refer to the Mosaic law (376), but he now understands it to mean something akin to “principle” (375).

Revamped and Reworked

Bibliography

Being written twenty years later means that Schreiner’s bibliography has been revamped. It is now 76 pages long and has been updated to 2016, with the exception of Timmins’ work (2017), Peterson’s Romans commentary (2017), and Thielman’s forthcoming Romans commentary (2018). In some places that means that Schreiner’s arguments are updated; in other places it means that Schreiner’s arguments remain the same but notes with whom he does or does not agree. That means that if you’ve read Thiessen’s Paul and the Gentiles, you can see that Schreiner disagrees with Thiessen’s view that Paul in Romans 2.17 is speaking of Gentiles who see themselves as Jews. He agrees with Caneday (2.15), who is partially the reason for Schreiner’s change of view on this passage. He disagrees with Jipp on Romans 1.17 (70n20), but agrees with him that we are sons who are comparable to the Son in 8.15. I could go on, but basically—Schreiner has reworked his commentary, updated much… and has read a lot.

Footnotes

Of course, and I don’t want the head to deceive you, but much is still the same. It’s not as if every paragraph has been reworded. But things have been changed, even if only in a minor way.

In a footnote on Romans 8.10, In Romans 1.0 Schreiner said, “Fee… doubts that the Spirit is ever the agent of the resurrection, but I have suggested that this is the most natural reading of Rom. 8:10” and notes James Scott’s Adoption as Sons (1994). In this edition, he says, “Fee… doubts that the Spirit is ever the agent of the resurrection, but Rom. 8:10 suggests otherwise” noting that he agrees with Scott and now also Greg Beale in his A New Testament Biblical Theology (2011). At the end of his footnote Schreiner directs the reader to Yates’ The Spirit and Creation in Paul (2008) “for further criticisms of Fee’s view.” The main argument remains the same, but there has been some fine-tuning throughout all of the commentary.

Margins and Additional Notes

The section on Romans 8.5–11 has also been expanded, and verse headings have been added in the margins. In the same section in Romans 1.0, there were no verse headings in the margins. If you were looking specifically for Romans 8.9, you would have to search through all of the paragraphs in that section. Now it is much easier to find the discussion on that verse. Only a few sections are like this (cf. Rom 1.1-5; 8.35–39). Margin verse headings are left behind in those smaller sections (1.1-5; 11.26-27) so that Schreiner can better group his discussions together, but this is rare. 

Many of the additional notes (see that of 5:1) have been expanded; the font has been changed, decreased, and put into bold.

The Spoiled Milk?

There’s really not much to complain about with this volume. Overall, it’s much more pleasing to the eye in terms of font size, style, and layout. No one will agree with all of Schreiner’s interpretations, and there are some matters that I still have questions about, which I’ve noted in my posts below.

Due to his brevity in some places (or because of my own ineptitude) I don’t understand some of Schreiner’s arguments that God’s righteousness is to be understood only forensically (read my third point on it being a gift from God along with my conclusion here). Neither have I quite figured out his interpretation of 2.15 with the “accusing and excusing thoughts” of gentiles believers and how they are two different groups (believing and non-believing gentiles- see here too).

But those are minor issues. The text as a whole is very readable, though academic. And really, no one should rely on one commentary alone but on a few (such as Moo, Longenecker, Jewett) alongside one’s own study.

Recommended?

Certainly scholars will want to pick this up again for Schreiner’s changed positions, his updated nuances, and the additional bibliographic entries. But what about pastors and teachers who already have the first edition? At the risk of being rebuked by Michael Bird, if you have the first edition and you aren’t sure if you should get the second, just sell the first and buy the second (unless your loved one lets you keep both). Arguments are tightened, reworked, and carefully thought through again. The commentary is large, but it is shorter than other Romans commentaries, especially the multi-volumes.

Schreiner’s volume is perfect for examining the flow of thought along with other interpretive and exegetical matters. But for all that allotted space, other matters must be left for other commentators. I may not be given the details of a particular word, but I at least understand how it is used in Paul’s flow of thought. Schreiner has published a plethora of works since his first edition, and as a result he has sharpened his thinking on numerous matters. This comes highly recommended. 

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Author: Thomas R. Schreiner
  • Hardcover: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (October 16, 2018)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

My Interview with Tom Schreiner on Romans

As you might have seen from my other posts, Tom Schreiner has recently revised his Romans commentary which just released last month. I had the chance to ask him a few questions about the commentary, the impact of Romans on himself, and about Pauline scholarship.

1. How has the landscape of Romans scholarship changed since your first edition?

Many more commentaries and monographs and articles have been written on Romans since 1998. Plus, the apocalyptic view of Paul has become more popular, and the post-new perspective apocalyptic view of Doug Campbell.

2. In what ways has your understanding of Romans developed or become more nuanced?

I have nuanced my view towards the new perspective, showing where it sees things rightly. The inclusion of the Gentiles was a major issue for Paul and the new perspective sees that correctly. I have made hundreds of small changes in the commentary as well, which reflect, I hope, a more mature reading that the first edition.

3. In the preface to your commentary you write that you’ve changed your interpretation of a few key passages. Aside from those, did anything strike you in a new way when you returned to Romans? 

Nothing that stands out. Romans always challenges, provokes, and encourages. I made many minor changes, but apart from what I said in the preface the 2nd edition remains the fundamentally the same. Still, the changes noted in the preface are quite significant!

4. As you reconsidered Romans, what aspect of the letter has been most influential to you? 

That is a hard question to answer. I am not sure any particular theme stands out. I suppose I was struck, if my reading of the last part of Romans 7 is correct, that we still struggle with sin, despite the remarkable changes in our lives, until the day of redemption.

5. You’ve been teaching and writing for almost forty years. Which scholars have been most influential to you? 

I take it that you are talking about Romans. I would say over the years: John Murray, Cranfield, Moo, and more recently John Barclay.

6. Are there any scholars breaking new ground in Romans or in Pauline studies? (—a very broad question, I know) 

I would say that John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift is a ground-breaking book. He helps us understand grace in terms of the cultural context in which Paul wrote, and he qualifies the understanding of grace proposed by E. P. Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

7. Lastly, are there any books you are working on now?

I am revising my book on the Apostle Paul and my commentary on 1-2 Peter and Jude.


Romans 2.25-29; True Circumcision

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Romans 2.25-29, “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”

The flow of Romans 2 so far:

vv. 1-5: *Unrepentant Jews criticize gentiles for their sins while committing those same sins.

vv. 6-11: The impartial God “will repay each person according to his or her works” (Schreiner’s translation, 121).

v. 12: All will be judged by a certain standard: gentiles by moral norms and Jews by the law.

v. 13: The doers of the law will be justified.

vv. 14-16: Who exemplifies doing the law? Not the sinful, *unrepentant Jews, but the Christian gentiles. They have the law written on their heart (and they fulfill the law by having God’s Spirit; Rom 8.5)

vv. 17-24: Paul tells the Jews that their sins against God take away any advantages they have over the gentiles by having God’s law. What’s the use in having the law if you don’t keep it?

In Romans 2.25-29, Paul argues that circumcision depends on keeping the law, something that (most of) the Jews (see Rom 9.1-6) don’t do, but the Christian Gentiles do!

Which Jews is Paul Talking About?

First, I have to reiterate which Jews Paul is rebuking. Paul wrote to the church in Rome which was made up of Christian Jews and gentiles. Paul presents his gospel to them in the form of a debate as if he were speaking to unbelieving Jews (arguing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills Scripture). So the Jews Paul speaks of in Romans 2 are *unrepentant Jews (2.5) who not only transgress God’s law without repentance, they disregard Christ as the Messiah.

Flow of Thought

Pagan gentiles will experience God’s wrath (Rom 1.18-32). Even some of the physically circumcised will experience God’s wrath unless they keep the law (25a). If a physically circumcised Jew does not keep the law, they will experience God’s wrath too. They may as well be a pagan gentile (25b). So the uncircumcised gentile who keeps God’s law will be counted as circumcised before God and will become a part of God’s people (26). But how can this be? It is so because “Jewishness and true circumcision are not outward matters,” as was seen in the Old Testament (145).

Deuteronomy 10:16: Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

Deuteronomy 30:6: And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (see Jeremiah 4.4).

Even circumcised Jews could be stubborn (Gal 5.2). One’s heart must be circumcised. So even though the Jews possess the law and all its advantages, if they transgress the law and do not repent there will be judgment. The Christian gentile, on the other hand, obeys. His obedience comes from his faith in Christ, and his obedience means his “uncircumcision” is “counted as circumcision” (149). Schreiner says, “To be considered as circumcised means that the gentile who keeps the commandments is part of God’s people, the redeemed community” (149).

Flipping the Script

Paul says that it is not enough to be a circumcised, law-possessing Jew because the law needed to be kept (and the Jews to whom he refers break the law). What it really means to be a Jew is to be one “inwardly,” that is, to have a circumcised heart. Paul says that even the gentiles who have faith in Christ have the required circumcised hearts that makes them covenant members and sons of Abraham (Rom 9.7-8; Gal 3.29). Their hearts are circumcised by the Spirit (Jer 31.31-34), not by the letter.

Ezekiel 36.26-27 says something similar to the Jeremiah 31 and Deuteronomy 30.6 texts:

26 [God] will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.

Schreiner says, “Although the law is glorious [2 Cor 3.7-11], it does not provide any ability to obey it. Thus both the ‘letter’ and circumcision’ are benefits for the Jews; the problem is that without the Spirit these gifts do not produce righteousness” (151). Through the Christ’s death, resurrection, and inauguration of the new covenant, those who believe in Christ come into the new covenant and receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us hearts of flesh, circumcises them, and causes us to obey God’s commands. We won’t obey perfectly until the end, but we are forgiven in Christ.

No one will be justified by the works of the law?

But doesn’t Paul say in Romans 3.20 that “no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law”? Yes, but Paul isn’t arguing that one can enter into a relationship with God by keeping the whole law. No one can keep the whole law perfectly. Only Christ could do that, and so those who believe in Christ are in union with him. Because they receive his Spirit, they fulfill the law by being in Christ. This is true for the Jew as much as it is for the gentile.

Why the Emphasis on Christian Gentiles?

Why does Paul emphasize that gentiles believe, are circumcised, are in the covenant, and are doers of the law? He’s trying to provoke the Jews to jealousy! Schreiner points out that Paul is foreshadowing his argument in Romans 11.11, 14:

11 I ask, then, have they stumbled so as to fall? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous12 Now if their transgression brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness bring!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Insofar as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if I might somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them.

“Paul hopes to provoke the Jews to jealousy and bring them within the blessings of the new covenant” (154).


*What if a Jew transgresses the law and repents? Schreiner says that “those who submit to circumcision to enter the covenant are under obligation to keep the rest of the law to gain salvation” (147).

Galatians 5.2-3:

Take note! I, Paul, am telling you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.
Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to do the entire law.

This doesn’t mean Old Testament saints had to keep the law perfectly. Sacrifices were provided when sin occurred. But after Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, there is no more provision for sin under the old covenant. Christ’s sacrifice annulled the old covenant and its sacrifices. For those who remain under the old covenant and thus apart from Christ, to be righteous means they must keep the whole law. But that is simply impossible. “The old covenant… does and cannot save” (147). Only by having the Spirit can one fulfill the law (Rom 8.4; 13.8, 10; Gal 5.14; 6.2).

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Romans 2.14-15; Christian Gentiles Who Do the Law

Romans 2.14-16, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

In my previous post I looked at Tom Schreiner’s interpretation of Romans 2.13, which reflects what Paul says in 2:6 that God “will render to each one according to his works.” Schreiner, saying that verse 13 reiterates the essence of verse 6, says, “Those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

Hypothetical

Paul could be speaking hypothetically about “doers of the law.” The Jews (though not the Jewish Christians hearing the letter being read) thought they were acceptable before God because they had his Torah. Paul could be saying, “Look, those who keep the law perfectly will be justified by God. The gentiles sure don’t keep it, but neither do you. Thankfully, there is Christ’s sacrifice.”

General Gentiles

Could verses 14-16 be speaking of general gentiles? Schreiner understood it that way in his first edition. Here, gentiles have the work of God’s law on their hearts so that they know and keep aspects his law, though they don’t realize that their morality reflects upon God’s handiwork. They will be judged based on whether they obeyed those “norms” pressed upon them by their conscience. If so, Paul would be saying that both the Jews and gentiles will be judged for not keeping the law, as all know the law (or at least aspects of it): The Jews through the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament and the gentiles though “natural law,” that is, they are born naturally knowing that certain moral actions are correct to do. 

Christian Gentiles

However, Schreiner now believes Paul to be speaking of Christian gentiles. The flow of thought could be represented like this: 

Those who only hear the law will not be righteous before God,

but those who do the law will be justified.

How do we know this?

For the Christian gentiles who do what the law requires show that the law is written on their hearts, fulfilling what Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31.31-34 about what God would do for those who are in the new covenant.

So these gentiles are in the new covenant. Jeremiah 31.31-34 says,

31 “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. 

33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration.
“I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.

Israel was given God’s Torah in Exodus 20-23. The gentiles were. Gentiles who converted to Judaism took on the task of following the law, but gentiles all across the world weren’t given God’s law. Israel, at Mt. Sinai, received God’s law. So how do these gentiles, who do not have the law, do what the law requires?

They do it by nature. They have a new nature. They are new creations, and they have God’s Spirit working in them. Paul brings up this same idea in Romans 8.3b-4 when he says, “[God] condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” 

I didn’t include verse 16 here because I’m still trying to figure it out. In my final post, I’ll look at what Paul says about Jews and true circumcision and how that relates to Christian Gentiles.


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Romans 2.13; ‘Doers of the Law will be Justified’

tom schreiner romans 2

Romans 2.13, For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

In Romans 2.1-16, Paul’s flow of thought goes something like this:

2.1-5: Unrepentant Jews criticize gentiles for their sins while committing those same sins.

2.6-11: God is not partial; he will bless those who do good and judge those who do evil. He “will repay each person according to his or her works” (Schreiner’s translation, 121).

2.12-16: Schreiner observes, “Jews can scarcely use the Torah as a talisman, for anyone (whether Jew or gentile) who observes the law will be vindicated before God on the day of Jesus Christ” (126). Jews will be judged by the law, and gentiles will be judged by a “fair standard” (126).

Is Paul really saying that people will be judged according to their works? In Romans 3 Paul argues that no one is righteous (3:10) and all have sinned (3:23). The knowledge of sin comes through the law (3:20). How could any law-doer ever hope to be justified if “no one will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law” (3:20)?

Yet even Solomon, David, and Jeremiah all speak of God repaying one according to their works.

Proverbs 24:12: If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’
won’t he who weighs hearts consider it?
Won’t he who protects your life know?
Won’t he repay a person according to his work?

Psalm 62:12: and faithful love belongs to you, Lord.
For you repay each according to his works.

Jeremiah 32:19: the one great in counsel and powerful in action. Your eyes are on all the ways of the children of men in order to reward each person according to his ways and as the result of his actions. (see Jer 17.10; 25.14; Job 34.11; Psalm 28.4).

So, at least looking at what we have so far, if someone keeps the law, he (or she) will be declared righteous by God (Rom 2.13). Paul says in Romans 2:6 that God “will repay each person according to his or her works” (121). Schreiner says that verse 13 above reiterates the essence of verse 6: “those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

It was not enough for the Jews to own the law and only hear it; they also had to keep it. They wouldn’t get away with condemning gentiles for their sins only to turn around and commit the same sins against God’s kindness without repentance (2.4-5). But how could Paul say that those who do the law will be justified? Schreiner says that Paul did accept the idea that “those who perform the required works will be rewarded” (128).

Tom schreiner romans second edition

So is Paul speaking hypothetically? Is he saying, “If someone could keep the law, then, yes, that one would be justified before God, (but, in reality, all sin and no one can keep the law)”? Or does he mean that “gentiles know the law in their hearts, [but] they are condemned since they don’t keep it perfectly” (129)? Or does he mean that gentile Christians show that they have God’s Spirit in them by obeying the law?

In the next post I’ll look at how Paul’s argument continues in Romans 2.14-16.

(There are more interpretations on what Romans 2.13 means. You can read more on the different interpretations on this blog). 


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Three Troubles in Romans 2

When I think of difficult passages in Romans, I think of Romans 5.12-21, 7.7-25, and all of 9-11. It wasn’t until I sat in on Lindsay Kennedy’s Romans class at CCBCY that I found out that many scholars think Romans 2 is the most difficult chapter in the letter. Why is this? There are three sections in Romans 2 that can be understood in a few different ways.

1. Romans 2.13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

2. Romans 2.14-16, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

3. Romans 2.29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”

In the first point, is Paul saying that those who do the law are justified? Doesn’t he say that we are released from the law (7.6) and so we can now serve in the way of the Spirit? In the second point, who are these Gentiles? They don’t have the law, but they show that the work of the law is written on their heart. Does the pagan Polynesian show that somehow he ‘knows’ God’s commands? Or are these Gentiles Christians who, fulfilling Jeremiah 31.31-34, have God’s law written on their hearts? And thirdly, in perhaps the most well-known verse on the list, does Paul mean to say that Christian Gentiles are true Jews? How would that work?

This series will continue looking at Tom Schreiner’s revised Romans (BECNT) commentary because Schreiner has changed his interpretation of 2.14-16 since writing his first edition, and his understanding of the other two sections is helpful. I may write up separate posts on each text because that will make them shorter and more ‘bite-size.’


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God’s Righteousness as Forensic

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

This series has given some snapshots of Tom Schreiner’s arguments over “the righteousness of God” in his revised Romans (BECNT) commentary. Again, he summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). I’ve looked at the arguments that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness to his covenant people, and the argument that his righteousness is transformative. In his first edition, Schreiner understood God’s righteousness as being both forensic and transformative, with one aspect being emphasized more than the other in certain verses. Now he understands it as entirely forensic. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight. Though they are sinners, they stand not guilty before him.

He gives nine arguments for understanding God’s righteousness as being forensic, but I put a few together here.

Forensic Righteousness

1. Righteousness, Faith, and Believing

“Righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) is placed near to the words “faith” or “believing.”

Romans 4.11, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,”

Romans 10.3-4, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Galatians 5.5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”

The one who believes by faith stands not guilty in God’s presence. They are declared righteous, but that righteousness won’t be seen by all until the day of resurrection.

2. To be Counted

Those who believe by faith are not “made” righteous but are “counted” righteous.

Romans 4.3, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (see Rom 4.5, 6, 9, 11).

3. A Gift from God

This righteousness is a gift divinely granted to people.

Romans 5.17, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

God is the origin of righteousness, and he gives that status to the ungodly (see again Rom 4.3, 5, 6, 9, 11) .

1 Corinthians 1.30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Here, Jesus is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God. Paul’s comment in Philippians 3.9 refers to righteousness as a gift from God. So in Romans 1.17 and 3.21-22 “God’s saving righteousness is given as a gift to those who believe” (70).

Philippians 3.9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

So “God’s righteousness may be both an attribute of God and a gift of God, but it doesn’t follow logically that it is also transformative” (70). Philippians 3.1-9 can be paralleled with Romans 10.1-5. Just as Paul couldn’t have a righteousness of his own from the law, Israel as a whole has tried to establish their own righteousness from the law. Paul received God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel must do the same. It is not about keeping the law; it is about trusting in Jesus.

4. Second Corinthians 5

In 2 Corinthians 5.21, Paul writes that Jesus who had no sin became sin so that we could “became the righteousness of God.” God was not “counting their trespasses against them,” meaning he forgave those who put their faith in Christ. Christ died on the cross, and those who put their faith in him, though they are sinners, take on God’s righteousness.

5. Romans 3.21-26

If all have sinned, how can anyone be righteous? Schreiner observes, “Paul argues… that a right relation with God is not obtained by keeping the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. All people who trust in Christ are justified by God because of the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus (3:24)” (71).

6. Lawcourts

Romans 8.33 says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Schreiner writes, “The lawcourt background here is unmistakable. Paul followed the usage of the LXX… and other Jewish Second Temple literature… in assigning a forensic meaning to δικαίουν [‘to justify’].”

2 Samuel 15.4, “Then Absalom would say, ‘Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.'”

1 Kings 8.32, “then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.”

Judges didn’t make anyone wicked or righteous. They made declarations about the wicked and the righteous. God declares us righteous, and he will transform us at the resurrection.

Proverbs 17.15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Schreiner: “Paul… does not think God violates any standards of justice, since Christ bears the curse that sinners deserve” (72).

7. Righteousness and Forgiveness

Romans 4.7-8 quotes Ps 32.1-2. David’s sins are forgiven and he stands “in the right before God” (73). David is not transformed, but forgiven.

Conclusion

Honestly, with some of these points (#3) I do wonder why God’s righteousness being a ‘gift’ ‘from God’ means his righteousness is to be understood forensically. We can’t transform ourselves to be righteous. We need another (2 Cor 5.21). So whether it is forensic or transformative (or both), it is still from God. However, do to other points (#6) and parts of Scripture, I can still see how God’s righteousness is purely forensic.

God justifies sinners when they believe the human Christ Jesus died and was resurrected. He is currently ruling over all things, and he is the King. We are justified in the eyes of God. We stand “in the right” or “not guilty” before him because we are “in Christ.” Being justified in and of itself doesn’t transform Christians, but other aspects of the order of salvation that occur immediately (e.g., the reception of the Spirit) and other parts will occur over time (e.g., sanctification) will cause us to be transformed. God conforms us to the image of his Son by working in us through his Spirit. Through that, we are transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3.18), awaiting our final transformation at the day of resurrection (1 Cor 15.49, 51-53). Christians are sinners who are declared righteous now and will be made righteous in the future.


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God’s Righteousness as Transformative?

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

In my previous post I noted that in his revised BECNT commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). Commentators have come to different interpretations as to what God’s righteousness is. Schreiner explains three of the different interpretations in his commentary.

Last time I wrote about those who think that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness. This time I present Schreiner’s arguments for (and against) God’s righteousness being transformative.

Arguments For

1. Revealed

God’s righteousness being revealed refers to God’s eschatological (end-time) activity that has invaded history. It makes sense that God’s righteousness here means his saving activity if we ask the question ‘What is being revealed?’—a new status (forensic) or divine action (transformation)?

In fact, both God’s righteousness (v. 17) and his wrath (v. 18) are revealed.

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

God’s wrath is actively poured out against human sin, and so it fits the parallel that his righteousness would also refer to a divine activity. Schreiner notes, “Since verses 16–17 are connected with a γὰρ (gar, for), we can conclude that the saving power of God is intertwined with the righteousness of God” (68).

So as Paul writes, the gospel is God’s power for salvation to all who believe for in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed. The gospel is God’s salvation-bringing power. It is a divine activity, and his righteousness is actively revealed in it.

2. Old Testament Usage

Many of the uses of righteousness in the OT refer to God’s saving action.

Psalm 98.1–3

‘Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm

have worked salvation for him.

The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.’

After God brought Israel through the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army, Israel praised Yahweh as a ‘man of war’ (Exod 15.3) whose ‘right hand’ is ‘glorious in power’ and ‘shatters the enemy’ (v. 6). He stretched out his right hand that the earth would swallow up the army (v. 12). He led his people safely through the waters in his ‘steadfast love’ (v. 13; Ps 98.2). God’s salvation is an active salvation that rescues his people from their enemies. See also Isaiah 45.8; Micah 6.5 and 7.9.

3. Made righteous

Later in Romans 6 Paul says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died has been freed (δεδικαίωται) from sin” (6.7). Schreiner writes, “The use of the verb ‘to justify’ [translated as ‘freed’]… demonstrates that God’s declaration of righteousness really frees people from sin” (69). In Romans 5.19, many in Adam were made sinners; in Christ, they are made righteous. “God’s forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners now live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)” (69).

Pushback

As Schreiner explains in his commentary, there are a few problems here. I won’t list every rebuttal; you can find that in his commentary. But I will present a few of them. 

Problem 1: Revealed

God’s righteousness (1.17) is the grounds for God’s power (1.16). The two terms are not synonymous. Simply because God’s righteousness in Christ is apocalyptic does not mean that his righteousness is transformative. “God’s declaration about sinners is an end-time verdict that has been announced before the end has arrived” (73). Referring to Linebaugh, Schreiner says, “Justification… is the final verdict, which is pronounced now” before the end has come (73).

Believers, in union with Christ, stand in the right before God, but that does not mean they are automatically transformed because of that verdict. Rather, Christians are transformed through the reception of the Holy Spirit, becoming new creations, being sanctified—conformed to the image of Christ—and ultimately by being glorified. At the resurrection we will truly be transformed. It is then that we will be like Christ—righteous and perfect.

Problem 2: Old Testament Usage

Simply because the words righteous and salvation are in parallel (as in Psalm 98.1-3) does not mean they are equivalent. Schreiner says, “Words may overlap in meaning, but it doesn’t follow from this that they have an identical meaning. The righteousness of God, then, denotes the ‘rightness’ and justice of God’s salvation in Psalms and Isaiah” (73).

Problem 3: Made righteous

“Virtually all scholars agree that in the vast majority of cases the verb ‘to justify’ (δικαιόυν) is forensic” (74). Most English Bibles translate δεδικαίωται as “freed.” Even if δεδικαίωται here held a transformative connotation, it does not mean that every use of ‘justify’ or ‘righteousness’ holds that same connotation.

Schreiner observes, “God’s declaration that sinners are in the right before him is the foundation for a changed life” (74). Because believers are justified, are in union with Christ, and are given the Holy Spirit who works in us to image Christ. We are transformed not because of our ‘not-guilty’ verdict, but because God’s Spirit works within us.

As for Romans 5.19 and people being made sinners or made righteous, 2 Corinthians 3.9 points to a forensic use of righteousness. There, righteousness is contrasted with condemnation, “a declarative term” (74). When God condemns someone, he doesn’t make them wicked. They don’t turn into wicked people. They already are wicked. Similarly, God’s declaration that someone is righteous doesn’t mean he turns him into a righteous person. “The declaration that Jesus,” vindicated in his resurrection, “stands in the right is granted to all those who belong to him, to all those who are united to him by faith” (75).

Conclusion

One of the major differences between Schreiner’s first and second editions is his move toward God’s righteousness indicating a forensic status instead of both a forensic status and transformative state. Think about this scenario. Harry and Marv rob a bank. They have committed a crime. They are bandits. They are criminals. A judge declares Harry and Marv to be guilty of their crime. The judge’s sentence does not transform them into criminals; they became criminals when they robbed the bank.

We are sinners. Yet those who believe on Jesus Christ are declared to be “in the right” by God. I am still a sinner. I am not a ‘righteous’ person. As I said above, when Christians receive their resurrected bodies, they will be like Christ (1 John 3.2; 1 Cor 15.49, 52-53). They will be righteous, and they will be perfect. God sees what they will be in the future and he declares them to be that now. Christians have the status of righteousness even though they are still presently sinners because we are now in Christ.

In my next and final post I will look at what Schreiner has to say about God’s righteousness being forensic.


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A Scholar’s Devotion with Tom Schreiner

Going through seminary, students are taught to study the Bible and uphold its doctrines about God while also being encouraged not to neglect their devotional times with God. Yet during my own devotional time I, and probably many others, often ask, “Is this approach the best way to grow spiritually, or is there a better way? What could I do differently? Should I incorporate my studies with my devotions?”  From time to time, one can wonder how scholars and seminary professors manage to continue to grow spiritually while fulfilling their numerous responsibilities with family, work, and ministry.

Each week, I ask a different scholar two questions about how he or she spends time with the Lord and continues to love him with all their mind, strength, and heart. While no one method or style is “the only way,” we can draw on one another’s experiences to help us reflect on other ways we had not thought of before. This isn’t meant to hold each interviewee up as a perfect model, but to give you ideas of how to think about your devotionals from those who teach us the Scriptures. 

In this inaugural post, I have asked Dr. Tom Schreiner if he would share his thoughts.

1. How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord? 

Everyone is different, but I read two chapters in the OT in English, then one chapter of Psalms or Proverbs, one chapter usually of the Hebrew OT, and one chapter of the Greek NT. I try to read meditatively and pray about what I am reading.
.
I pray for daily concerns, for the members of our church, and through Operation World.
.

2. How do you practically seek to deepen your love for Christ? 

I have nothing dramatic to say here.
  • Bible Reading
  • Prayer
  • Regular fellowship and attendance with God’s people
  • Reading good books

Dr. Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of NT Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology (1997), the Associate Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and an elder at Clifton Baptist ChurchHe has written commentaries on Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, Peter and Jude, and Revelation, as well as a Pauline theology, a NT theology, and a whole Bible theology, and more.

Thank you, Dr. Schreiner!
Twitter: @DrTomSchreiner

Further Devotions

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God’s Righteousness as his Covenant Faithfulness?

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

In my previous post I noted that in his revised BECNT commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). Commentators have come to different interpretations as to what God’s righteousness is. Schreiner explains three of the different interpretations in his commentary.

Proponents

The first here is the understanding that God’s righteousness refers to his covenantal faithfulness to his people Israel. Those who argue for this position understand God’s righteousness to be “both effective and forensic” (67). His faithfulness toward Israel is due to his covenant with them and it is seen in his saving activity—that is, it is seen when he saves them from their enemies.

In his commentary Romans 1–8, James Dunn says, “God is ‘righteous’ when he fulfills the obligations he took upon himself to be Israel’s God, that is, to rescue Israel and punish Israel’s enemies” (41). God’s righteousness is to be understood as his covenant faithfulness (Rom 3:3–5, 25; 15:8). It is “God’s act to restore his own and to sustain them within the covenant (Ps 31:1; 35:24; 51:14; 65:5; 71:2, 15; 98:2; 143:11; Isa 45:8, 21; 46:13; 51:5, 6, 8; 62:1–2; 63:1, 7)” (41). 

In his book, Pauline Perspectives, N. T. Wright says, “God must be true to his covenant” with Abraham who would be the father of a great nation and who, by following God, would be a blessing to the world. He continues, “Paul [in Romans 4] quotes extensively from Genesis 15 and 17 to prove that covenant membership always depended on grace and faith” (31). Wright notes that “as God ‘redeemed’ his people from Egypt with the covenant blood, so now the blood of Jesus Christ becomes the blood of the new covenant, shed for the worldwide forgiveness of sins, achieving the redemption (3.21) of the true family of Abraham. God has dealt with sin; he has renounced partiality; he is true to his covenant. The Gospel of Jesus Christ reveals that God is in the right (Romans 1.16f.)” (31). Through the death and resurrection of the Son, God has saved Israel, Jew and Gentile—“the true family of Abraham”—from their ultimate enemies: sin and death.

Finally, Wright says, “The ‘righteousness of God’ is the divine covenant faithfulness, which is both a quality upon which God’s people may rely and something visible in action in the great covenant-fulfilling actions of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit” (74-75).

Old Testament References

Schreiner says, “God’s saving actions are rooted in his faithfulness to the covenant enacted with his people. That the righteousness of God involves his loyalty to the covenant is defended by OT and Second Temple antecedents” (75).

Psalm 36.5–6

“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.”

Psalm 88.11–12

11 “Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”

God’s righteousness is compared to his faithfulness and steadfast love to his people Israel seen through his wondrous works.

Psalm 142.1 (LXX)

In the Septuagint, the psalmist draws a parallel between God’s truth and his righteousness when he says,

“O Lord, hearken to my prayer.
Give ear to my entreaty with your truthfulness.
Hear me in your righteousness.”

God is both truthful and righteous to his covenant people.

Pushback

Yet just because terms such as ‘righteousness,’ ‘truthfulness,’ ‘faithfulness,’ and ‘steadfast’ are paralleled does not mean that they all denote the same thing. Even though the idea the idea of God being faithful to his covenant is present in the broad context of the above psalms, Schreiner points out elsewhere that “God’s salvation of his people is also the right thing to do; he vindicates his people in saving them.”

Israelite judges were to “acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty” (Deut 25.1). Schreiner notes the forensic aspect of their judgments saying, “Judges do not make someone righteous or wicked. They render a forensic declaration based on the reality that is before them.”1

While in Romans 3.1–8 Paul links God’s ‘righteousness’ (3.5) with his ‘faithfulness’ (3.3), ‘reliability’ (3.4), and ‘truth’ (3.7), Schreiner points out that Romans 3.5 speaks of God’s judging righteousness. The Jewish opponents ask if God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on them. God, in his righteousness, judges guilty sinners and pours out his wrath upon them (1.18). God is right and just to judge sinners.

Because God is righteous and doesn’t “pervert the right” (Job 8.3), he faithfully and steadfastly fulfills his OT saving promises and his covenant promises. However, “it is quite another thing to say that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness” (75). Schreiner writes, “The righteousness of God, then, denotes the ‘rightness’ and justice of God’s salvation in Psalms and Isaiah,” which displays itself in his faithfulness to his covenant people (73).


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1 Schreiner, 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, 111.

What is the ‘Righteousness of God’?

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

After explaining how eager he is to preach the gospel of the resurrected Jesus Christ in Rome, Paul tells the church in Rome that he is not ashamed of the gospel (Rom 1.16). Why? It is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe it. In the upcoming second edition of his Romans (BECNT) commentary, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 as, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63).

But just what is the ‘righteousness of God’? This is an important question to ask because “in the bulk of the letter, Paul fills in the content of this gospel so that the Romans will understand why he is so desirous to preach the gospel in Rome and Spain. The letter as a whole focuses on the content of the gospel because the gospel gives Paul boldness to preach in places where Christ is not named (Rom 15:20–21)” (63).

Yet many commentators understand God’s righteousness differently. In a series of posts, I will look at three different understandings of the righteousness of God from Schreiner’s new commentary. Commentators understand God’s righteousness as: 

  1.  Covenantal faithfulness
    1. God’s faithfulness toward Israel is due to his covenant with them and is seen in his saving activity—that is, it is seen when he saves Israel from their enemies.

    2. N.T. Wright says, “The ‘righteousness of God’ is the divine covenant faithfulness, which is both a quality upon which God’s people may rely and something visible in action in the great covenant-fulfilling actions of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit” (Pauline Perspectives74-75). 

    3. Proponents: James Dunn, Robert JewettN.T. Wright, etc.
      .
  2. Transformative
    1. On this view Schreiner says, “God’s forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners now live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)” (69). In his first edition he says that God’s declaration of righteousness is a gift that “is an effective declaration, so that those who are pronounced righteous are also transformed by God’s grace” (67).

    2. Romans 5.19, “For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

    3. Proponents: Ernst Käsemann, Eberhard Jüngel, Adolf Schlatter, Tom Schreiner 1.0 (he advocated for both the forensic and transformative meaning in his first volume). 
      .
  3. Forensic
    1. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight.

    2. Philippians 3.8b-9, “so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.

    3. Proponents: Martin Luther, John Calvin, C.E.B. Cranfield, Doug Moo, Tom Schreiner 2.0 (he now advocates for only the forensic understanding).

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Book Review: Progressive Covenantalism (Wellum/Parker)

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prog-cov

If you missed the boat, or didn’t even know there was a boat, back in 2012 SBTS professors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum write the massive Kingdom Through Covenant (KTC), a slightly different way of putting together Bible’s storyline from how both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology view it. Progressive covenantalism (don’t let that title scare you away) seeks to answer questions about how the Mosaic law applies to Christians, what the relationship between Israel and the Church is, and how these work out in the life of God’s people. 

Progressive seeks to underscore the unfolding nature of God’s revelation over time, while covenantalism emphasizes that God’s plan unfolds through the covenants and that all of the covenants find their fulfillment … and terminus in Christ” (2). The way to properly determine how God’s plan is fulfilled in Christ is to place each covenant “in its own covenantal location … in terms of what covenant(s) preceded it and follow it” (2).

As massive as KTC is, one volume can’t cover everything. Progressive Covenantalism was written to unpack certain points that weren’t given much space (if any at all). Those specific points will briefly be laid out below.

Outline

Chapters 1–4

These essays develop topics usually brought up in discussions between DT and CT.

  • In chapter 1, Jason DeRouchie provides exegetical warrant for NCT in the OT by examining texts that deal with the “seed” of Abraham. His descendants are those who physically come through his line, but his true descendants are those who place their loyalty in Christ. As DeRouchie states, “It is those who are in Christ who are ‘sons of God,’ those who have put on Christ who are baptized, and those who are Christ’s who are counted ‘Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise’” (38).
    .
  • In chapter 2, Brent Parker examines “how Jesus typologically fulfills Israel and how the Church, through Christ, inherits the promises of Israel” (47). Israel is not displaced by the Church. Rather, Parker puts forth that the church is the “new covenant community that Israel looked forward to” (47).
    .
  • In chapter 3, Jason Meyer, who wrote The End of the Law, works through how DT and CT influence the way we think about the Mosaic law, how PC understands the Mosaic law, saying that “love for neighbor is the primary lens through which the Christian views the law of Moses” (87). The lens every Christian should read the Mosaic covenant through is love because the varied instructions given to us in the law give concrete examples of what love should look like.
    .
  • In chapter 4, Ardel Caneday disagrees with the idea put forth that the Bible is split between law (“God’s commands”) and gospel (“God’s gracious giving”). Instead, covenant stipulations remain the same across covenants while the content of those stipulations change. While God unconditionally established his covenants with people, “each covenant entails provisions with stipulations that both promise blessings to all who obey … and announce curses upon the disobedient” (103).

Chapters 5–8

These essays target issues that arise in CT.

  • In chapter 5, John Meade examines circumcision of the flesh to that of the heart. After briefly looking at the Ancient Near Eastern view of circumcision, he explains the development of circumcision through the Bible as it moves from external circumcision to “internal heart (un)circumcision” and its relation to baptism (128).
    .
  • In chapter 6, Tom Schreiner looks at the Sabbath in the OT and NT and it’s place in the believers’ life.
    .
  • In chapter 7, Chris Cowan presents an “alternate … paradigm for understanding the warning passages” that are given to the NC community in Hebrews and responds to some objections to this view from those in the DT and CT camps.
    .
  • In chapter 8, Stephen Wellum asks, “How should Christians apply the whole Bible as our ethical standard?” He says that “the entire OT, including the law covenant, functions for us as the basis for our doctrine and ethics. Although the Christians are not ‘under the law’ as a covenant, it still functions as Scripture and demands our complete obedience” (217). Wellum ends his chapter with a few illustrations on ethics under the New Covenant with the whole Bible.

Chapters 9–10

These essays target issues that arise in PD.

  • In chapter 9, Richard Lucas argues against the dispensational understanding that Israel will be “restored” in the millennium as a nation which is separate and distinct from Gentiles. Lucas argues that these “implications” are not found in Romans 11:26–27, especially when viewed within the larger canon of Scripture.
    .
  • In chapter 10, Oren Martin, having written Bound for the Promised Land, looks through the OT and NT and shows, contra to DT and CT, how PC says the OT land promises will be fulfilled in Christ.

As a whole, this is a fantastic resource that draws out the implications of the larger work of KTC (see also the concise work God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants). No chapter is worthless; they all take on issues that arise between CT and DT, although the best chapter in my opinion was that by Jason DeRouchie. DeRouchie (along with the end of Meade’s chapter) argues exegetically against the long-standing and widely held belief of infant baptism. Those who disagree will have to work closely through his chapter to disprove his exegesis of Scriptures.

Unfortunately, Cowen’s chapter didn’t add much more to the discussion of the warning passages in Hebrews besides what Schreiner argues for in his Hebrews commentary, and what Schreiner and Caneday have argued for. And while much of Martin’s chapter could be found in his book, he brings out many good points (such the use of Psalm 37.3, 9, 11 and more in Matthew 5.5) and gives those readers who haven’t read his book a taste of how the land promise is fulfilled in Christ (it’s also a more succinct reading than if you read through Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology as well).

Recommended?

Why does this matter? Why nitpick so much? We should never become stagnant in our faith and think that we now know enough. God is infinite, and his Word has more depth than we can ever plumb. A book that seeks to tie Scripture together is worth reading, especially for the student and the pastor, and you can use this (and KTC) so show the glory of God’s plan in Christ to your people. When it comes to ethics, as Wellum says, “Most Christians, regardless of their commitment to covenant or dispensational theology, will arrive at similar conclusions. But, as noted above, where the important difference lies is in how we get there” (233). Our doctrines and beliefs have consequences. They have meaning. They affect how we will. Because we have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, let us strive to know him more that we may be like him and awaiting Christ’s return when we will be transformed. 

Lagniappe

  • Editors: Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (April 15, 2016)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

October Updates

leaving-norway
All packed and ready to go

After spending a year in Norway, we packed up the house and left for Louisville, Kentucky (by way of Louisiana first).

Our cat didn’t want us to leave (for those of you who know me, can you believe I owned a cat? and liked it (eventually)? and wasn’t allergic to it??).

catn-crunch

We left this wonderful backyard

backyard

. . . for tobacco!

tobacco

Not quite. That’s actually in Southern Ohio . . . and we didn’t leave for tobacco either. We left for this place below.

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Norton Hall, where we have all of our classes (this semester)
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Our large lawn and some dorms

By now school has started (and is almost finished). In my first draft we were just into our fifth week. The next time I updated this we had five weeks left. Now we only have just over three weeks left. Mari is taking an MDiv with a concentration in Biblical Counseling, and I’m taking an MDiv with a concentration in Christian Ministry (and this one has six free electives which I plan to use for the languages-hopefully). This semester we each have four classes, and three of those classes we get to attend together (Systematic Theology I, Personal Spiritual Disciplines, and Biblical Hermeneutics). I have Elementary Hebrew and Mari has Elementary Greek. The two languages are the most demanding, but they are definitely our favorite classes (usually).

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Me posing with some hideous pillows on our first couch

Biblical Hermeneutics

A big word for how to study the Bible. Rather than examining how to approach the text according to its genre, in light of the entire canon, in light of Israel’s history up to a certain point (e.g., when you read Lamentations, you should know that Jerusalem had just been destroyed and Israel has been exiled out of the land God promised them because of their utter wickedness), etc. In this class, Dr. Jim Hamilton, the professor, takes a look at the broad storyline and the small details which connect the story. I’ll be writing about some of the small nuggets Dr. Hamilton has talked about.

Personal Spiritual Disciplines

What is fasting? What does it mean to pray? To meditate? To pray the Bible? To even read the Bible? To be held accountable? Even to journal? It’s one thing to look at what the Bible says about these topics; it’s another to live them out. We do both in this class. I’ll write a bit about this too, because there are some things I’ve learned that have been tremendously helpful (like with prayer and meditating on the Bible).

Systematic Theology I

Who is God? What is Scripture? Why do people arrive at such strange conclusions about these topics? This is an brief introductory course to these two topics, and the teacher loves what he teaches.

Elementary Hebrew

This one is basic. Dr. Peter Gentry, a brilliant scholar, called by some as a “true Hebraist,” teaches us how to understand Hebrew. Next semester we’ll get into the Bible itself. It’s great. It’s difficult. It’s my favorite class.

The Kentucky State Fair

You can’t live in Kentucky and not attend some kind of fair. And what do you know? Just mere weeks after arriving in Louisville, Kentucky held it’s state fair, and nothing says “America” like putting fried sugar-glazed bread on both sides of a greasy burger.

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Nothing except deep-fried Funnel Cake Oreo Sundaes. Just how many things can you fit into one dessert? It’s like going to a Ryan’s desert buffet.

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And then we needed to find a church . . . without having a car.

which-church

But we didn’t really need to look. I had heard of Clifton Baptist Church back when I was in York. Tom Schreiner was the teaching pastor then, and John Kimbell has since taken his place. Plus, it’s only a 20 minute walk from our apartment, which is only a 7 minute walk from school (also good when you don’t have a car).

I managed to pull a muscle/obtain a pinched nerve in my shoulder over a month ago. The pain subsided a few weeks ago, but the shoulder itself is still pretty weak. It’s difficult to lift something up or to the side with my arm stretched out (even to push some doors open), so I’m borrowing a exercise band to work it back to what it was before and not look like some poor guy who can’t open doors.

tfs
The Far Side

Reviews

I have some reviews in the pipeline too, but I’m busy enough that I can’t make much time for doing anything else besides on Sundays. Mari and I have tried to make one day out of the week open to do anything else besides school. It usually works well, but sometimes we have too much schoolwork to do so that idea doesn’t work. No rest for the weary.

I’m trying to make it sounds like we’re drowning, but for the most part we’re not. Usually.

Something I’ll start doing with upcoming reviews is to write shorter reviews which focus less on summarizing the book and more on the benefits of the book itself. It’s much easier to only summarize the book, but it’s also not so exciting. It might be helpful before one reads a book, but what would be better would be to interact with the book itself to show why you should read this and how it will (hopefully) benefit you in your walk with Christ and in your knowledge of him.

There are other websites which summarize Christian books better that I can, and really, the average person who reads my reviews would rather know why they should read this book and how it will benefit their thinking rather than what is in the book. Since most of the books I read lean toward the academy, it’s better to show both how reading such books is beneficial and why you might want to.

I should also start reading more fiction. Correction: I should start reading fiction period. Maybe that can be my New Years Resolution. Though I have started moving toward that direction. But believe it or not, I’ll be reviewing a few non-theological books too. I’ve asked for (and received) another book on Norway, The Nordic Theory of Everything, and I’ve also asked for a few books on Apache Indians and the early days of the US Postal Service. So it’s a start.

In the mean time, I’ll write up a few posts about where I got the name for this blog and how I’ve used it within my blog itself.

fair
Later, skater

Review: What Is Biblical Theology?

What Is Biblical Theology?
James Hamilton, Jr. does a wonderful job on simplifying the Bible’s grand, overarching story in his new book
What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. I often hear about how the Bible is a continuous story, but I often forget just how much of it really is a unified story. I forget to picture it with story qualities: episodes, themes, conflicts, victories, mystery, symbols, a protagonist, an antagonist, and many other mini-characters in other mini-settings.

What Is Biblical Theology?

Hamilton defines Biblical Theology as the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors.
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What does that mean?
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It is the way in which the authors reflected how they understood earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing in the form of narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses. They do this within the framework of knowledge and truths they live in to describe the way they understand the world and the events that take place in it.

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For example, Moses didn’t write a story about Balaam in Numbers 22-25 because he was desperately searching for a good story to tell. He singled that event out of all the events of the 40 years in the wilderness, carefully arranged it amongst the rest of the narrative, and presented the true story. Doing it this way enabled his audience to clearly see how what Balaam said and did fits into the true story of the world we live in which Moses shows in the Pentateuch.
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Moses didn’t write down facts for the sake of being a historian. He followed and wrote down the themes he saw so that we can see the connections between stories:

  1. Noah survived through the Flood while God’s enemies (rebellious humanity) were destroyed.
  2. Moses and the Israelites made it across the Red Sea while God’s enemies (Pharaoh and the Egyptians) were destroyed.
  3. The faithful remnant made it through the “flood” of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies while God’s enemies (unfaithful Israel) were destroyed.
  4. Jesus was baptized and fully submerged into the Jordan river, and as Christians our old man is put to death in Christ and raised in the likeness of Him, putting off the body of the flesh and putting on the new man [Col. 2:11-12]. Who is God’s enemy that is destroyed? The old man, and sin’s reign over us [Rom. 6:6]. Sin is still here, but it is no longer our master; Jesus is.

Literary Forms

The images in the Bible are meant to give real-world illustrations of abstract concepts. In Psalm 80:8, Asaph helps us to understand Israel’s importance by comparing her to a vine planted by the Lord, recalling Genesis 2:8-9 when God planted the garden of Eden and Isaiah 5:1-7 where God relates Israel to a rotten vineyard. (Or perhaps Isaiah 5 recalls Psalm 80. Who knows?)
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Typology

Hamilton explains the extra step of Typology over Symbolism. Typology doesn’t have to be difficult or weird to understand. It’s just what God typically does (p. 44). We have the initial occurrence of an event (the archetype), then we have the uphill climb (the installations) until the type finds fulfillment in its ultimate expression.
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These themes culminate in Jesus Christ, but some of these themes continue in the church too. The seed of the woman was always antagonized by the seed of the serpent (Gen 4:8; 6:5; 9:22; 21:9; 27;41; 31:24; 34:2; 37:5; 37:18; Ex. 1:15-16), but through the suffering and persecution God would save His people and put down the enemy (Gen. 3:15; Mk. 15:33-41). Through the cross, Christ died for His people in agony, weakness, and humiliation, but rose in great strength according to the power of the glory of God (Rom. 1:4).
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This flows into how we should perceive the church, why the church seems so unimpressive, yet is considered so important in the New Testament. We are the mystery revealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:5). The Bible’s story and symbolism teach the church to understand who we are, what we face, and how we should live as we wait for the coming of our King and Lord.

The Chocolate Milk

Most of what I’ve said previous to this section could also be included in this section, but I thought I would put in a few specific points here.
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This book clears up a number of the issues people have with biblical prophecy. How can Jesus say in John 13:18 that the one who eats His food will turn against Him according to the Scriptures (in Ps 41:9)? When you read Ps 41:9 it just says that the one who shared the author’s food, who he trusted completely, has turned against him (my paraphrase).
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Why was this scripture prophetic?
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There’s a recurring theme through the Bible to have your closest ally turn against you (Noah with Ham, Jacob and Esau, Jacob and Laban, Moses and Aaron, David and Saul, Jesus and Judas). Jesus is just fulfilling one of the messages of the grand story: someone very close to you is going to turn against you.
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His chapter on Typology was great. His definition of it was super-easy to understand. Typology is what God typically does. As you can tell from the section above, I don’t have much more to say about it here: I did appreciate it. I remember hearing about typology in high school and thinking it was a neat idea. As I got older I wondered what the base of it was. How can you tell what the typology is? Are we just making it up as we go or is there a clearer road to understanding the process? This section lays it out in layman’s terms, which is just what I need.
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The application of Chapter 13 “The Church’s Plot Tension and It’s Resolution” was highly favored. Why does the Church suffer? Because Christ suffered. He was hated for who He was, and we will be hated for the One we know and are united with. Satan is pursuing the same strategy with the church as He did Jesus. He thought he had the upper hand in the death of Jesus, but God accomplished victory with what looked like defeat. And He will do the same for us (Dan 7:23-27).

The Spoiled Milk

As great as I think this book is, there are some shortcomings in my view.
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Patterns: Hamilton reuses the Israel’s Feasts and the Righteous Sufferer examples. These are good examples, but I would like to have seen more (I know they’re in there). Otherwise it makes me wonder why there even had to be a Patterns chapter. Even in the beginning of the chapter he says patterns are almost the same as typology.
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I was disappointed in how short Chapter 12 (The Church’s Setting in the Story) was (three pages long). The temple is a symbol of the cosmos, and the church being the temple of the Spirit means that the church is a preview of what the world is going to become. It was a wonderful section on the place of the church in the Big Setting.
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Thankfully, this was one of four chapters of Part 3 that makes up roughly 21 pages (in my version). Despite Part 3 itself not being very long, it still provided an adequate explanation of the purpose and place of the church in the setting of the Scriptures.
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Of course I wish this section was longer. I wish this whole book was longer! It’s hard to fault Hamilton though for how clear he is throughout the book. This is one of those books that makes me want to read more because of how easy it is to read yet how much you can learn in it. I guess I’ll just have to keep reading Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and start reading Schreiner’s The King In His Beauty.

Recommended?

This was a great book that introduces the overall themes of the Bible to it’s reader. It’s important to go book by book when studying the Bible, finding out what each passage really says as well as the book as a whole. But also important is how the entire Bible flows together. If it’s important to know how we went from verse 1 to verse 10, it’s equally important to know how we went from Genesis to Revelation.
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The only way to get out of the world’s thinking and into the Bible’s is to actually read the Bible itself. A lot.
What kind of character defines our God? What kind of character should we have? What is so important about being a Christian over any other belief? Read the Bible. Hamilton doesn’t give detail to every connection in this book, but he gives you a framework on which to start viewing the Bible.
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Lagniappe

[Thanks to NetGalley and Crossway for allowing me to read and review this book before it came out. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]+
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