Sunday, August 14, 2011
Thesis: The weekly Sabbath, as a ritual type, is fulfilled in the reality of Christ’s inauguration of eschatological Sabbath rest, and no longer requires prefigurement in the prescribed rites of the original ordinance; yet the Lord’s Day, as a celebration of Christ’s inauguration of eschatological Sabbath rest, entails specific obligations of worship for God’s New Covenant people.
In order to explain and defend this thesis I will first present the biblical hermeneutical principles by which we must proceed in interpreting and applying the Mosaic Law in the New Covenant era. Second, I will examine some of the most important biblical texts dealing with the theology of the Sabbath and the Sabbath commandment and show the manner in which the Sabbath receives eschatological fulfillment in Christ in terms of its theological significance and ethical obligation. Finally, I will briefly indicate the key New Testament material outlining the significance of the Lord’s Day and the obligations the Lord’s Day entails for New Covenant believers.
1) The fulfillment of the Mosaic Law in Christ and correspondent hermeneutical principles.
Craig Blomberg is right in identifying the fulfillment motif as paradigmatic in Christ’s and His apostles’ self-conscious understanding of the relation of the New Covenant which they heralded to God’s Old Covenant administration. Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5:17 in His Sermon on the Mount are properly taken to articulate the quintessential principle operative in the NT appropriation of the full-orbed OT revelation. Here our Lord denies that His aim in coming is “to tear down” (καταλῦσαι) the Law and the Prophets and asserts that it is contrarily “to fulfill” (πληρῶσαι) them. The phrase, “the Law and the Prophets” may be understood to compass the whole of the Hebrew Bible in terms of the Mosaic Law and the subsequent prophetic witness which enabled the Law to be correctly apprehended. The Greek verb πληρόω, that Jesus selects to describe the activity toward which His incarnation and ministry are directed with regard to the Hebrew Bible, is best translated “to give the true meaning to,” (L&N) or “to show (something) forth in its true meaning” (BDAG) in this context. Jesus carries out just this activity in His Sermon in the capacity of a teacher, giving a heightened sense to some of the centrally important moral commandments of the Mosaic Law, and enjoining moral obedience in respect to other Mosaic stipulations transcending that which the original laws could have required. Furthermore, through certain elements in the Sermon such as the repeated “ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν…” formula conveying self-referential authority (Matt. 5:22,28,32, etc.), and the promise of blessing for endurance in persecution on account of allegiance to Himself (Matt. 5:12), Jesus unmistakably indicates that it is not merely His teachings but His very person which gives the true meaning to the Law and the Prophets. Thus, while insisting that the Law maintains abiding significance and binding obligation (Matt. 5:18), Jesus shows Himself to be the One in whom this abiding significance receives its full expression and the One to whom this binding obligation is ultimately due.
The rest of the NT bears out the manifold notion of Christ as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible and specifically the obligations of the Mosaic Law, primarily in setting Him forth as the culmination of the Law’s salvific function (Rom. 10:4). Yet although believers in Christ as adopted sons and daughters of God are absolutely free of the tutelage of the Mosaic Law as it sets forth the means of meriting eternal life and the measure of judgment and curse for disobedience, the whole of the Law as fulfilled in Christ remains eminently relevant to New Covenant life (Rom. 3:31). Inductive study of Jesus’ and His apostles’ expository on the Law reveals that different aspects of the Mosaic Law receiving different manners of fulfillment in Christ have different New Covenant applications. Moral obligations of the Law are seen as fulfilled in Christ in terms of their heightening and intensification in His life and teaching. These fulfilled moral norms are repeatedly enjoined upon New Covenant believers and comprehended under the “law of love” for God and neighbor set forth as a perpetual rule and guide for the sanctification and ethical life of God’s people (Matt. 22:37-40, Rom. 13:10, Gal. 5:14, Jas. 2:8). Ceremonial and other typological obligations of the Law are viewed as fulfilled in Christ in terms of the reification in His person, word, and work of those things which their observance had foreshadowed. While the history of the Old Covenant typological rites remains illustrative as to the nature of the Spiritual realities these rites prefigured, New Covenant believers are loosed from continued observance of the rites that they might through faith participate in the realities of eternal salvation in Christ (cf. Acts 10-11:18, Eph. 2:11-22, Heb. 10:1-14).
Thus, before moving on to consideration of Sabbath and Lord’s Day ordinances, we may formulate two biblical hermeneutical principles key to correct interpretation of cross-covenantal development and application of Mosaic Law ordinances in general. 1) Every element of the Mosaic Law, whether or not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, must be understood and applied in the New Covenant in light of its particular fulfillment in Christ (no portion may be discounted as irrelevant since Jesus Himself has assured us of the whole Law’s abiding significance and permanently binding obligation). 2) Different aspects of the Law receiving different manners of fulfillment in Christ have different New Covenant applications, and so careful attention must be paid to the particular manner of each element’s fulfillment in Christ’s person, word, and work in order that we may make correct life application.
2) Sabbath fulfilled in Christ
Resuming admonishment of the saints at Colossae against the liability of being “taken captive” by proponents of philosophico-religious alternatives to Christian faith, the apostle Paul exhorts, “[L]et no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Col 2:16-17 ESV).” As this text has prima facie potential to offer pivotal NT comment on both the theological significance of, and the New Covenant obligation associated with the Sabbath, it is no surprise that the meaning of the term σάββατον as here employed is a topic of controversy. The controversy is not insoluble, however, and the exegesis of Col. 2:16-17 thus proves rewarding and auspicious as a starting point for this study.
Blomberg cites this text as a plain reference to the weekly OT Sabbath celebration and accuses those who would take measures to impute a different meaning to σάββατον in this context of exegetical sleight of hand. Since the three terms “festival” (ἑορτῆς), “new moon” (νεομηνίας), and “Sabbath” (σαββάτων) are listed together in a number of OT texts clearly referencing celebratory ordinances of the Jewish calendar, it is clear that Paul’s use of this triad has such mandated Jewish holy days in view (Cf. Ezek. 45:17, Hos. 2:11, 1 Chron. 23:31; 2 Chron. 2:4; 31:3, Neh. 10:33, Isa. 1:13–14). Blomberg suggests that it is natural to read Paul as making exhaustive reference to holy days prescribed in the Jewish Law by enumerating in succession those which occur yearly (festivals), monthly (new moons), and weekly (Sabbath observance). Given that the OT loci which Paul’s locution most closely resembles appear to have precisely this same referential effect, Blomberg’s suggestion seems highly plausible.
Seventh-Day Adventist and Sabbatarian exegesis of Col. 2:16-17 often attempts to show that Paul uses σάββατον in v.16 to indicate special Sabbath celebrations associated with the Mosaic system of appointed feasts and not weekly Sabbath observance. Ronald du Preez advances the hypothesis that the immediate lexical context of σάββατον (or שַׁבָּת) in the OT and NT consistently indicates whether the weekly Sabbath ordinance or festal observance is to be understood. According to du Preez’s study, one or more members of a certain set of Hebrew and Greek lexemes (including those translated to English as “keep,” “the Sabbath,” “day,” “holy,” and “my”) consistently occur in the syntactic context of σάββατον (שַׁבָּת) when the weekly Sabbath is manifestly intended, while one or more members of a disjoint set of lexemes (including those translated as “your” or “her”) consistently occur with σάββατον (שַׁבָּת) when the festal Sabbaths are contemplated. Since none of the usual lexical signals of the weekly Sabbath are present in Col. 2:16, and since one of the specified lexical signals of the special festal Sabbaths is present in Hosea 2:11, the LXX text with which Paul’s triad in Col. 2:16 evidences the strongest structural affinity, du Preez concludes that Paul must have meant to exhort and instruct the Colossians in matters of festal, and not weekly, Sabbath observance.
Blomberg handily shows this conclusion to be wanting for corroboration by pointing out that, even granting the validity of du Preez’s hypothesis concerning contextual lexical indicators of the meaning of σάββατον, du Preez’s exegesis of Col. 2:16 does not follow since none of the lexemes signaling either meaning of σάββατον are present in Col. 2:16. Furthermore, the hypothesis itself comes to appear dubious upon close evaluation of the OT texts. In Hosea 2 the prophet likens idolatrous Israel to an adulterous wife and pronounces imminent judgment against her which will entail the termination of a variety of the people’s holy day celebrations as enunciated in verse 11. The immediately apparent reason for the third feminine singular suffix appended to שַׁבָּת in verse 11 is the sustained metaphorical portraiture of Israel as an unfaithful wife rather than the intentional lexical marking of the term for special festal denotation. Since, as Blomberg notes, the judgment foretold in this verse entails the halt of all holy day celebrations (general nouns modified byכֹּל bracket the trio of festival, new moon, and Sabbath) it makes sense that the weekly Sabbath would be mentioned in addition to yearly and monthly celebrations. Ezek. 45:17 is another probable candidate as the background of Col 2:16 which du Preez utilizes in support of both his hypothesis and his exegesis of the Colossians passage. In the proximate context the prophet elaborates upon the different kinds of holy days this verse lists in succession. Ezek. 46:1-3 expounds details concerning the rites to be associated with Sabbath observance in the restored temple and makes clear that the weekly Sabbath is in view (even employing du Preez’s lexical indicators of weekly Sabbath). To suggest an equivocation on שַׁבָּת in this near context requires impressive exegetical sleight of hand indeed. If du Preez’s hypothesis is discounted, these OT texts, along with many of the others which enumerate the triad of festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths, may be seen to support and strengthen the view that Paul’s statement in Col. 216 makes exhaustive reference to holy days prescribed in the Jewish Law.
It seems most reasonable, therefore, to conclude that in Col. 2:16-17 Paul is urging believers not to let themselves be judged in regard to weekly Sabbath keeping since the weekly Sabbath, like the food laws, the new moon and festival days, was a shadow (σκιὰ ) of the coming things (τῶν μελλόντων) , but the reality (σῶμα ) is Christ. In urging them thus, Paul effectively looses the Colossian Christians from continued observance of the rites associated with weekly Sabbath keeping and directs them to Christ that they might through faith participate in the realities these rites had foreshadowed. This evinces a conception of the Mosaic Sabbath as a typological ordinance which is fulfilled in Christ. Paul’s teaching that the weekly Sabbath ordinance is fulfilled in Christ should not surprise anyone. Yet Paul’s teaching concerning the typological manner in which the weekly Sabbath ordinance is fulfilled in Christ seems at odds with the view of the Sabbath as morally binding in its New Covenant obligation.
The view of the Sabbath command as a moral aspect of the Mosaic Law is commonly motivated in large part by the hermeneutical presupposition of the Decalogue’s primary functionality as a legal code propounding the moral core of the Mosaic Law as “timeless expression of God’s moral will.” Appeal is made to the distinguished character of the Decalogue within the rest of the Torah, and to several NT texts forthrightly reaffirming parts of the Decalogue and applying them together as perpetually binding moral imperative in order to ground this presupposition (Matt 5:21-29, Matt. 19:17-19, Rom. 9-10). Yet while the unique nature of the Decalogue and its majestic moral revelation should be appreciated and reverenced, the notion that the purport of the Decalogue is limited to the exposition of legal code delineating the “moral essence” of the Mosaic Law does not stand up to exegetical scrutiny. Meredith Kline laments the fact that a customary tendency to take the “ten words” written by the finger of God on two stone tablets and given to Moses as a legal code has obstructed the apprehension of their true nature as a suzerainty treaty, epitomizing the covenant granted by YHWH to his elect and redeemed servant, Israel. Kline insightfully compares the form of the “ten words” and the manner of their bestowal with parallel ANE treaty form and protocol to demonstrate that the two tablets given to Moses and deposited inside the ark were duplicate copies of content that was intended to represent and bear witness to the whole of the Sinai covenant, not merely two tables of a brief ethical catechism. Viewing the Decalogue as representative of and witness to the whole of the Sinai covenant, we may expect to find typological as well as moral aspects of that covenant summarily comprehended therein. Thus Paul’s conception of the Fourth Commandment as a typological ordinance fulfilled in Christ should not strike us as surprising or disconcerting.
If asserting that an element of the Sinaitic Decalogue is typological in character appears daring, proposing that the creation ordinance that it republishes is so might seem cavalier. Yet the consistent testimony of Scripture confirms rather than cautions us in viewing the creational mandate of the weekly Sabbath as a calling for God’s covenantal image-bearers to imitate His eschatological seventh day rest as a way of typologically prefiguring their future participation in the Lord’s eternal eschatological rest and enthronement. In order to appreciate the Sabbath ordinance in its typological function we must first apprehend its antitype telos and then trace the lines of its tributary flow toward fulfillment in that telos.
The Gen. 1-2 creation account clearly indicates the movement of God’s fiat-creational activity toward consummation in the seventh day. After the account describes God’s work in days one through three of constructing the diverse cosmic realms and in days four through six of constituting beings to “rule” or “have dominion” over the respective realms, it announces the plenary completion of God’s handiwork in Gen. 2:1, and in 2:2 relates that God rested (שׁבת ) from all His work on the seventh day. The pattern of the narrative’s hierarchical ascent from focus on realms to focus on rulers of the respective realms guides us to an understanding of God’s rest upon the finishing of all the heavens and earth and all their hosts as a rest of absolute dominion over all. There is no mention of “morning,” and “evening,” in association with the seventh day (these are the rhythmically reiterated terminal markers of every other day-frame), which meaningful omission reserves for the divine rest of that day an unbounded transcendent duration wherein God’s perpetual Kingship over all things is unshakably established.
Fuller, more direct exposition uniting consummatory and regal aspects of God’s rest in Gen. 2:2 is given in the NT book of Hebrews. In Heb. 3:11 the author, through his quotation of Ps. 95:11, invokes the historical type of the Israelites’ entry into and occupation of the land of Canaan (or their failure of enter and occupy) in the homiletic application of urging believers to persevere that they might enter the eschatological rest which God has set before them. In 4:3-4 the antitypal promised rest (κατάπαυσις) which the unbelieving Israelites failed to enter (3:19), and which even Joshua who led the successful conquest of Canaan could not give (4:8) is associated with God’s rest on the unbounded seventh day of creation. It becomes clear in 4:9-11 that the eschatological Sabbath rest (σαββατισμός) which the author exhorts the believers to strive to enter is a precisely a participation in the same seventh day rest which God has enjoyed from the foundation of the world (cf. especially 4:10).
Genesis 2:3 sets forth the original Sabbath ordinance. This verse records God’s acts of blessing the seventh day and making it holy. As Kline notes, God’s previous acts of blessing in the creation account were aimed specifically at beatifying the creatures’ spheres of existence (Gen. 1:22, 1:28). Throughout the Torah the designation of persons, places, and objects asקֹדֶשׁ marks their commitment to employ in the sacramental typological rites of Old Covenant worship. We may thus recognize in Genesis 2:3 a similar designation of an element of the creaturely realm of existence marking it for commitment to use in typological covenantal worship ritual. The consummative enthronement of YHWH over the heavens and the earth and all their hosts heralded in 2:1-2 immediately issues in a mirroring anticipatory religious mandate for His covenant creaturely vice-regents. In Exod. 20:11 the Fourth Commandment cites Genesis 2:3 as rationale for abiding by its stipulation of a weekly Sabbath noting that because God rested on the seventh day, therefore He blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Kline plausibly suggests that this variation in terminology bespeaks a conscious distinction and correlation between archetype (God’s transcendent eschatological regal repose) and ectype (God’s consecration of a day of the week for human celebration of the former) consonant with the distinction and correlation evident in Genesis 2:1-3.
Hebrews 4:1-11 thus confirms what we might have inferred about the hope and expectation which would have been the spirit of this ordinance’s observance from the very beginning. Eschatological Sabbath rest (σαββατισμός) – participation in the in the seventh day rest which God has enjoyed from the foundation of the world - is the antitype and telos of weekly Sabbath keeping for man. Thus before the Fall, man would have yearned after this telos, as he was reminded in the pattern of his weeks’ movement toward Sabbath celebration, of the pattern of all things’ movement toward the great seventh day of the Lord’s consummate enthronement which would reward his own obedience with eschatological blessing. Since the Fall, God has graciously opened to sinners the promise of entering His rest, and as the promise has stood open, yet pending, believers have yearned for this telos. At one time they were reminded through weekly Sabbath keeping of the movement of history toward the seventh day of the Lord and the eschatological blessing it would somehow bring for them despite their disobedience. But these were a shadow of the things to come, the reality is Christ’s.
Though our full inheritance of σαββατισμός is still outstanding, Jesus Christ’s is not. Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Holy Spirit by His resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4), and by way of this conquest, the Lord of the Sabbath entered into the eschatological rest and enthronement of God’s seventh day. Believers in Christ are given His Holy Spirit (who is also featured in the protology/eschatology of the creation narrative) and so are granted a foretaste and earnest of the participation in God’s consummation rest which Christ now fully enjoys (Rom. 8:23). The eschatological σαββατισμός which Christ has thus inaugurated in His resurrection for all His own is the fulfillment of the ritual type of the weekly Sabbath. This reality may now be tasted and expectantly awaited simply through faith in Christ, and thus faith in Christ and rest in Him are the binding New Covenant obligations associated with the fulfilled Mosaic Sabbath ordinance.
3) The Lord’s Day
All the gospel writers take pains to highlight the fact that Christ’s resurrection conquest occurred on the first day of the week. In Revelation, John purposively notes the date of His visions of the eschatologically enthroned Lamb who rules and conquers on behalf of His saints to have been the Lord’s Day, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, so as to promote the use of the apocalypse in church’s liturgy. Luke evidences intentionality in recording two occasions of the believers’ gathering to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. The consistent and intentional apostolic witness is sufficient evidence to guide our inference that association of the corporate worship which the Lord requires of us with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week is obligatory. Such specific obligations of worship as the convoked gathering to hear the preached Word, and the celebration of the sacrament are required on the Lord’s Day per the NT. Devotion of the whole of the day to public and private worship of the Lord, Christian fellowship, and acts of mercy are beneficial in lands and societies which allow or promote such activities among Christians on the first day of the week. Yet, general cessation of work on the Lord’s Day is nowhere Scripturally required. Simply in view of the specificity of the Lord’s Day as a particular day out of the seven day week some relation to the fulfilled Sabbath ordinance is naturally suspected. From the synthesis of the biblical notions we will not falter in viewing our Lord’s Day worship as a celebration of Christ’s inauguration of eschatological Sabbath rest and an anticipation of our entry into that rest at His consummatory return.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
In my estimation the best theological argument in favor of new covenant sabbath observance on Sunday is Mark 2:23-28 in conjunction with a whole host of passages where Christians are meeting on the first day of the week which John calls the Lord's day in Revelation 1:10. In Mark 2:23-28 it is important to notice that Jesus does not abolish the sabbath as he does with other Mosaic covenant laws in Mark 7:19, rather Jesus corrects the Pharisee's application of the Sabbath. If Jesus wanted to abolish the Sabbath then this would be place to expect such an abolition, but instead we have Christ using the Mosaic Law to justify his understanding of the Sabbath in verses 25-26. When Jesus says that the Sabbath is made for man, but that man was not made for the sabbath this suggests that the sabbath was made for the benefit of man and that man was not made for benefit of the sabbath. In other words, Jesus is saying that when the sabbath was made at creation it was made for the benefit of man. Jesus then is teaching that an essential attribute of mankind is that they benefit from a sabbath rest. Because Jesus is teaching that a sabbath rest is essentially beneficial for mankind then he positively establishes a type of sabbath observance for the new covenant. In verse 28 Jesus says that he is Lord of the Sabbath and the present tense has a gnomic usage here. The fact that it is a timeless truth that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath moral obligation then it is reasonable to think that Sabbath observance is a timeless moral truth. Therefore, Jesus is teaching in the New Testament that there still is a sabbath rest. On the basis of Colossians 2:16 we know that the Mosaic observance on Saturday has been abolished. So then the question before us then is which days is the most plausible day for a sabbath rest on the basis of the New Testament evidence? The best candidate for a sabbath rest then is the first day of the week (Sunday) because this was the day when Chris resurrected and when the new covenant church gathered for the preaching of the word, collecting of offering, and administering the sacraments (John 20:1; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). For these reasons then I think we have good reason for thinking that there is some type of Sabbath observance on the Lord's Day (Sunday).
Sunday, February 13, 2011
The debate is downloaded in two parts so if you want to listen to the entire thing make sure to download both parts. Listen and decide for yourselves which is the correct view.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Tradition Still Requires Interpretation
Monday, February 7, 2011
Here are the details about the debate:
What is Hoagies & Stogies?
Hoagies & Stogies is a men’s fellowship for reformed, theological debate; it was created by one of my elders before he was an elder. When he was ordained, he got too busy, and he gave the reins of the ministry to me. The men gather for a simple meal of hoagies, with home-brewed beer, or soft drinks. After a while, we all refill our glasses, and those who are so inclined light up their best stogies and kick back and enjoy a theological debate. But if you are not a smoker (like me), or not a drinker (or not both!), you are still welcome. (You can consider it your mission to ensure that Christian liberty is exercised with due charity!)
What/when/where is the next Hoagies & Stogies?
* What: Rom 11 and the future of Israel
* When: Feb 12, 5pm–
* Where: Patton Compound: 3768 Miles Ct, Spring Valley.
* Who: We’ve got two WSCAL students. On the ”Future for Israel” side, Nate Taylor. On the ”No National Conversion side”, Ben Rochester.
If anyone wants to come please RSVP in the message box on this site: http://ruberad.wordpress.com/hoagies-stogies/ so they know how many people to expect. So far we are expecting to have about 50 men coming.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
An Argument for the Imputation of The Active Obedience of Jesus Christ
There are many Christians who are perfectly comfortable saying that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins. But the Historic Reformed Protestant Christians have wanted to say more than this. Reformed Christians have wanted to say that Jesus Christ not only paid the legal debt for our sins on the cross, but that Jesus also followed the demands of the law perfectly in our place1. In other words, Jesus' suffering the debt for our sins and his perfect obedience to God’s law is legally imputed to us in our justification. Jesus' suffering for the legal debt of our sin is referred to as the passive obedience of Christ, whereas Jesus following the law perfectly in our place for our justification is referred to as the active obedience of Christ. Evangelical Protestants who hold to justification by faith alone typically hold that justification involves the forgiveness of sins on account of Christ's death on the cross. However, there are many who hold to both passive obedience and justification by faith alone, but reject Christ’s active obedience, arguing that there is no clear scriptural evidence for this doctrine. This position is endorsed by evangelicals like Robert Gundry and Norman Shepherd, and also many federal visionist proponents2. The question of whether or not Christ's active obedience is imputed to us is very pressing because it concerns our justification: how we are made right before a Holy God. Moreover, many have cast much doubt on this crucial doctrine, which makes it all the more important to investigate. Therefore, it is my intent to argue that the active obedience of Jesus Christ is taught in scripture by a good and necessary inference from the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I do this by first giving a biblical and theological justification for the use of a good and necessary inference from scripture to support doctrinal positions. Secondly, I argue that justification requires perfect obedience to the law, which cannot be replaced by sacrifice. Thirdly, I argue briefly for the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Fourthly, I use the previous three points to establish that Christ is the ground of our active obedience, which is legally imputed to us. Lastly, I answer an objection to my thesis.
A Good and Necessary Inference
Many individuals object to the active obedience of Christ on the basis that there is no specific text that says "Christ's perfect obedience to the law is imputed to you". This is why it is essential to my argument that I demonstrate that, from scripture, a good and necessary inference is legitimate for establishing points of doctrine. To be clear, a good and necessary inference is an inference that is compatible with other biblical truths, and is reasonable to the degree that to doubt it would be unreasonable3. I will now give a theological justification of a good and necessary inference for establishing doctrine.
The two main reasons it is warranted to make a good and necessary inference are that we presuppose it in the doctrine of the two wills of Christ, and we see that Jesus makes use of a good and necessary inference when he reasons from the Old Testament during his earthly ministry. There is no text in the Bible that says that Jesus has two wills- a human will and a divine will. However, this is a legitimate inference when we read texts that tell us that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, because a fully divine nature will have a divine will, and a fully human nature will have a human will. So if the inference is legitimate with respect to the two wills of Christ, then it ought to be legitimate when formulating other doctrine. The second reason we should hold that a good and necessary inference is warranted when establishing doctrine is because the Bible, itself, teaches this method for establishing doctrine. This is what Jesus does in Matthew 22:31-32 when he argues for an afterlife by appealing to the Old Testament against the Sadducees, who rejected an afterlife. Jesus makes the inference that because God is God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, they will have an afterlife. He is implying that if God is your God, you will not be dead, but living. The text that Jesus appeals to does not explicitly say anything about them having an afterlife at all. Rather, Jesus infers from the text that the great patriarchs of the Old Testament will have an afterlife, based on the nature of God and his relationship to the patriarchs. Hence, because it was legitimate for Jesus to make a good and necessary inference from scripture to establish points of doctrine, it is also legitimate for us to make a good and necessary inference from scripture to establish points of doctrine.
Perfect Obedience For Justification
With this understanding of scripture and doctrine in place, I can move on to the second step in the argument, which is that God demands in his law perfect perpetual obedience for justification, which cannot be replaced by sacrifice.
One of the strongest biblical arguments in favor of God demanding perfect perpetual obedience for justification is Luke 10:25-28. In verse 25 we see that the Lawyer asks Jesus this question: "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" The Lawyer is asking a question that has to do with how someone can have the right to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers in verse 26 by asking the Lawyer his understanding from the law, of what one needs to do to have the right to inherit eternal life. The Lawyer answers in verse 27 by saying that one needs to love God with all that he is and that one should also love his neighbor as himself. Jesus confirms his understanding in verse 28 by saying "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” To firmly establish that Jesus is teaching that in order to have the right to inherit eternal life one needs to be perfectly perpetually obedient, two points from this text should be considered. The first point is that when Jesus says "do this, and you will live" he is not speaking of earthly life, but of eternal life. Given that the context indicates that the nature of the lawyer’s question in verse 25 has to do with eternal life, this is the most plausible reading of the text. The second point is that the conditions for eternal life in the passage are that "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind," and this entails perfect perpetual obedience to God’s law. The reason for thinking that this entails perfect perpetual obedience to God's law is that if a person does not follow just one commandment, then he could not be loving God with all that he is. If the person were loving God with all that he is, then he would follow all of the commandments perfectly. To delineate this more precisely, suppose we have two persons, Jones and Smith. Jones follows all of the commandments except one, whereas Smith follows all of the commandments perfectly. It seems we would say that Smith is loving God with all that he is and Jones is not loving God with all that he is. Therefore, it follows that if one were to love God with all that he is, then he would have to follow the law with perfect perpetual obedience; this, according to Jesus, is what it takes for one to have the right to inherit eternal life.
The general testimony of the scriptures affirm that in order to be justified one needs to follow the law with perfect perpetual obedience. For instance in Romans 2:13 Paul writes "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. " Paul writes this verse in the context of a larger argument that shows that both Jew and Gentile are guilty before God on the basis of their works (Rom. 3:19-20). Therefore, the sense in which dikaio,w is being used in this passage is not demonstrative, but it is in the sense that those who do and follow God’s law will be declared righteous4. According to James 2:10, if one fails to do and follow the law at just one point, he or she is guilty for all of it. So, in order to do the law at all one has to do all of it perfectly, because if one were to fail at any point, he or she would be held accountable for all of it. This is further clarified in Galatians 3:10 were Paul argues that all who want to be justified by keeping the law are under a curse because a person has to do "all" of the things in the law or else be under a curse. Clearly, Paul says that all are under this curse because everyone has failed to do all of the things in the law. This curse is contrasted by the blessing of justification by faith alone, and Paul’s implication is that one who is under this curse cannot be justified. In addition, when Jesus is communicating the true meaning of the Mosaic Law at the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, he reveals to us God's standard in his law. Verse 48 states "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." When this phrase in verse 48 is used, it occurs within the context of Jesus quoting and commenting on a commandment contained in the Mosaic Law, so it is evident that this phrase has to do with God’s obligation to us in the Mosaic Law. Therefore, the scriptures clearly teach that in order to be justified one needs to "do" with perfect perpetual obedience.
Another reason for thinking that justification requires perfect obedience is Anselmian Perfect Being Theology5. Perfect Being Theology starts with the premise that God is the most perfect being, and from that premise infers certain characteristics about the nature of God6. The reasoning for the law requiring perfect obedience for justification is as follows: God is the most perfect being, and because he is the most perfect being, he will have every property that is better for him to have rather than lack. It is better for God to have the property of requiring perfection in his law for justification, rather than not requiring perfection in his law for justification. A perfect being would obligate perfection for justification rather than be satisfied with imperfection for justification. Therefore, it follows that God, a perfect being, obligates perfection for justification. It also seems likely that it would be better for the most perfect being to have the highest quality of righteousness, rather than lack this property. The highest quality of righteousness would require perfection for righteousness. God has the highest degree of righteousness, and therefore requires perfection for righteousness.
The requirement for perfect perpetual obedience for our justification cannot be replaced by any sacrifice or a payment of the debt we owe as sinners, but rather obedience in addition to sacrifice is required. It is not that sacrifice or payment of debt can replace obedience, but rather obedience must be in addition to a payment of debt or a sacrifice. The example given by Dr. David VanDrunen suffices to demonstrate this point: Suppose there was a father who told his son that if he completed all of his homework he would receive dessert as a reward, and if he failed to complete this task he would be punished7. The boy, in fact, fails to complete the task and is punished. It would then be counter-intuitive to think that because the boy was punished he is rightfully entitled to the reward of dessert that he was initially promised, if he then completes his homework8. This is analogous to the position that Adam was in when he was asked by God to follow a command to receive eschatological life, as symbolized by the tree of life. As demonstrated in previous paragraphs, God requires perfect perpetual obedience to his law for justification, thereby meriting the attainment of eschatological life. Therefore, in order for a person to be justified he or she would need to pay the debt of the sins committed, and to obey the commandments given by God. It would be irrational to think that this could be replaced by any mere sacrifice or payment of debt.
The fact that sacrifice and payment of debt cannot replace perfect perpetual obedience to God’s law is not just a truth of reason, but a truth of scripture, which is specifically taught in Mark 12:28-34. In Mark 12:30, Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our ability. In verse 33, the scribes say this about the nature of the relationship between obedience and sacrifice: "And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." Affirming the scribes in verse 34, Jesus teaches that perfect perpetual obedience to God's law cannot be replaced by sacrifices to pay the debt for our sins, because perfect perpetual obedience is the most important element in keeping God's law9. If obedience is better than sacrifice from God’s perspective, then it is implausible to suggest that Christ’s sacrifice could replace God's demand for our perfect perpetual obedience. Therefore, perfect perpetual obedience remains a necessary condition for anyone to be justified, and this demand cannot be replaced by any sacrifice.
Justification by Faith Alone
The doctrine of justification by faith alone is very relevant to the question of active obedience because if justification is truly by faith alone, then there are no works or upholding of the law that can contribute to one's justification. Therefore, when a person is justified by faith alone, the keeping of the law cannot be on the basis of the sinner’s work, but on the basis of a sinless person’s work. It is the purpose of this section to establish the forensic doctrine of justification by faith alone, so that in the next section I can make a good and necessary inference that Christ is the ground of our active obedience.
The scriptures explicitly teach the forensic doctrine of justification by faith alone. Romans 3:28 says "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." Those who disagree with justification by faith alone try to object to this passage on the basis that "works of law", or e;rgwn no,mou, refers only to a specific type of works, therefore not excluding all types of works from justification. The problem with this response becomes apparent as Paul continues his argument about the nature of justification in Romans 4 as indicated by verses 1-2 and 5. Paul reaches a crucial point in verse 5 when he says that a person is ungodly when justified. The Greek word for justified is dikaio,w, and this word means to be declared righteous, to acquit, or to treat as righteous. But what dikaio,w can never mean is to be inwardly transformed to be righteous, and then declared righteous. So when Paul says in Romans 4:5 evpi. to.n dikaiou/nta to.n avsebh/ logi,zetai h` pi,stij auvtou/ eivj dikaiosu,nhn\, he does not mean to suggest that God transforms the ungodly sinner to be righteous and then the individual is declared righteous. Rather, what the text is suggesting is that the ungodly are legally declared righteous by God. This legal context is all the more apparent when one realizes that terms such as count or logi,zomai in Romans 4:5 can carry a legal meaning as well10. In addition, logi,zomai is also used in verse 4 with ovfei,lhma, which is a legal term for debt11. If the ungodly are justified by faith in Romans 4:5, then it would it follow that there are no type of works that have contributed to one's justification. If any work could count toward one’s justification, then it would be the same as the godly being justified, which clearly contradicts Romans 4:5. Therefore, when Paul speaks of e;rgwn no,mou in Romans 3:28, he is excluding all types of works since Romans 4:5 teaches that one is ungodly when justified by faith.
Another argument in favor of justification by faith alone is that works are incompatible with the gracious nature of justification. Romans 3:24 describes justification as ultimately gracious when it says that we have been "justified by his grace". If we then discover that grace excludes all types of works, I will have good reason for thinking that one is justified by faith alone when Paul speaks of being "justified by his grace" in Romans 3:24. According to Romans 11:5-6, if something is on the basis of one's works then it is no longer grace, because grace by definition excludes works as its basis. One may object to my understanding of Romans 11:5-6 by saying that e;rgon is being used to indicate a specific type of work, rather than good and bad works in general. However, the problem with this objection is that in Romans 9:11 e;rgon is being used synonymously with good and bad actions. Moreover, in Romans 4:16 we see Paul teaching that a promise is by faith in order that it can have a gracious character. Grace, in Paul's thought, is such that it excludes works as its basis, yet it is compatible with the nature of faith that he describes in Romans 3 and 4. Therefore, when Paul speaks of justification by grace in Romans 3:24, he is speaking of a justification that excludes all types of works, yet includes faith; this is the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Justification in Christ Alone
Now that I have established that necessary inference from scripture is legitimate, the requirement of perfect perpetual obedience to the law for justification, and justification by faith alone, we can infer from these three truths that Jesus's active obedience is legally imputed to us in justification. In order for us to be justified, God requires perfect perpetual obedience that cannot be replaced by sacrifice. When one is justified by faith alone, it cannot be because of one's own perfect perpetual obedience. There are two reasons for this assertion. The first is that every person has failed to meet God's demands for perfect perpetual obedience because all persons other than Jesus are sinners (Rom. 3:23; Heb. 4:15). The second reason why it cannot be one's own perfect perpetual obedience after he or she has been justified, is because the doctrine of justification by faith alone requires that no work contributes to justification. Since it cannot be our own perfect perpetual obedience that justifies, it follows that it is another person’s perfect perpetual obedience legally imputed to us in justification. There was only ever one person who was perfectly obedient to God's standards, and the scriptures teach that this is the God-man Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:15; 1 Jo 2:1). Therefore, it follows that Jesus Christ’s prefect perpetual obedience to the law is imputed to us in our justification.
Answering an Objection
In this section I answer an objection to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ. There are many common objections to this doctrine that are either implicitly answered in this paper, or are not compelling12. In this section I answer a unique objection to the active obedience of Christ that may seem to be compelling.
One of the most compelling objections against the active obedience of Christ is that the doctrine relies on an unbiblical notion of merit13. This argument has been leveled by many who are in involved in the so-called "Federal Vision" movement14. The argument made by federal visionist proponents is that active obedience presupposes merit, and merit is unbiblical, therefore, active obedience is unbiblical. Those who object to this notion of merit often just simply claim that it is not taught in the Bible, thus it is unbiblical15. However, James Jordan goes a step further and argues that Luke 17:7-10 teaches against the idea of meriting or earning a reward16. In this parable Jesus teaches that when a servant obeys his master’s commands, he does not expect a thank you because he is only doing what he ought to do. Likewise, when Christians do what God requires they should think themselves unworthy servants, because they have just done what they ought to do. Jordan then appeals to Philippians 2:7 to warrant the idea that Jesus was a servant, and because he was a servant of God he could not merit anything, because he would only be doing what was commanded of him by the Father17. Jordan then claims the reason we get redemption through Christ is on the basis of the Father's promise to Christ, and not on the basis of the Father rewarding Christ for what he earned.18
The fundamental problem with Jordan's argument from the parable is that this parable is in the context of sin, and it is illegitimately applied to Christ. The first clear indication that this parable is to be seen in the context of sin and fallen humanity is that Jesus is addressing this parable to his disciples, who are sinners (Luke 17:1). The second indication that this is being applied to sinners is that in verse 10 the servants are deemed to be avcrei/oj, which means worthless or unprofitable19. This parable is perfectly compatible with the idea of one meriting salvation as defended in this paper, and it is also compatible with the Reformed Protestant tradition, because only persons who are sinless are in a position to merit an eschatological reward. Furthermore, Jordan's contention that this applies to Jesus on the basis of the Philippians 2:7 language of Jesus being a "servant" is not plausible, because Jesus is indeed a servant, but it does not say that he is a worthless servant. In addition, it hardly seems appropriate to call the second person of the trinity assuming human flesh to be a servant who is worthless or unprofitable, as the Greek word avcrei/oj suggests. Jordan's view of this parable is without any support, and it seems that there are good reasons for doubting his interpretation of this parable. Therefore, this parable cannot serve as an argument to refute the idea that Jesus Christ merited justification for us.
Contrary to the claims made by Jordan and other federal visionists, the idea of merit is directly taught in the scriptures. Romans 4:4-5 contrasts two alternative means of justification: one of works meriting an eschatological reward and the other trusting in God for justification. In verse 4, the first means of justification is by working, and the person who works receives a reward. Paul makes it clear that this reward is not a gift, but it is rather something ovfei,lhma, or owed to the individual who has done these works. The idea that God owes us something for our works is inherent in the concept of meriting, or earning. Furthermore, verse 4 is clearly about justification because this is the context that Paul sets up in 4:1-2. Finally, Paul uses the Greek word de. to contrast verse 4, which speaks of earning a reward by doing works, and verse 5, which speaks of justification by trusting. This suggests that Paul is contrasting two alternative ways to salvation: one meriting justification by works and the other trusting in God for justification20. Therefore, the scriptures clearly teach the category of merit, contrary to the claims made by Jordan and the other federal visionists.
Another reason for thinking that a perfect person can merit justification is as follows: if one rejects the idea of merit, then he or she has ultimately undermined the idea that God is the most perfect being21. For God to be the most perfect being entails that he will have the highest degree of justice. It would be entirely unjust of God not to reward a creature who were to follow all of his demands perfectly. If God did not reward the perfectly good creature with a good reward, then God would not be a perfect being. God is a perfect being, however, so out of the necessity of his nature, he has to reward the perfectly good creature with a good reward. Clearly, when one rejects the idea of a creature meriting by perfect perpetual obedience an eschatological reward from God, then one has ultimately undermined the perfection of God.
In this paper I have demonstrated that the active obedience of Jesus Christ is taught in scripture by a good and necessary inference from the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I established this by giving a biblical and theological justification for the use of a good and necessary inference from scripture to support doctrinal positions. Secondly, I established that justification requires perfect perpetual obedience to the law that cannot be replaced by sacrifice. Thirdly, I established the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Fourthly, I argued that these three truths lead to the conclusion that Christ is the ground of our active obedience, which is legally imputed to us. Lastly, I responded to an objection to this thesis. Throughout this paper we have seen that a rejection of the active obedience of Christ is not only unbiblical, but it either undermines the doctrine of God, or it undermines the doctrine of justification.
Clark, R. Scott. Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub, 2007.
Husbands, Mark, and Daniel J. Treier. Justification: What's at Stake in the Current Debates. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
Johnson, Gary L. W., and Guy Prentiss Waters. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2006.
Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. The new international commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996.
Morris, Thomas V. Anselmian Explorations: Essays in Philosophical Theology. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987.
Sandlin, Andrew. Backbone of the Bible: Covenant in Contemporary Perspective. Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2004.
Sandlin, Andrew, John H. Armstrong, Don B. Garlington, Mark Horne, Peter J. Leithart, Rich Lusk, and Norman Shepherd. A Faith That Is Never Alone: A Response to Westminster Seminary California. La Grange, Calif: Kerygma Press, 2007.
Spear, Wayne R., and Anthony T. Selvaggio. The Faith Once Delivered: Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne R. Spear. Westminster Assembly and the Reformed Faith. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub, 2007.
The Westminster Confession of Faith
White, James R. The God Who Justifies. Minneapolis, Minn: Bethany House Publishers, 2001.
Wilkins, J. Steven, and Duane Garner. The Federal Vision. Monroe, La: Athanasius Press, 2004.
1 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XI Of Justification, Paragraph 1.
2 Husbands, Mark, and Daniel J. Treier. Justification: What's at Stake in the Current Debates. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2004,pg.17-45; Wilkins, J. Steven, and Duane Garner. The Federal Vision. Monroe, La: Athanasius Press, 2004, pg. 192-195; Sandlin, Andrew, John H. Armstrong, Don B. Garlington, Mark Horne, Peter J. Leithart, Rich Lusk, and Norman Shepherd. A Faith That Is Never Alone: A Response to Westminster Seminary California. La Grange, Calif: Kerygma Press, 2007, pg. 249-278.
3 Spear, Wayne R., and Anthony T. Selvaggio. The Faith Once Delivered: Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne R. Spear. Westminster Assembly and the Reformed Faith. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub, 2007, pg. 171-190.
4 Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. The new international commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996, pg. 147-148.
5 Morris, Thomas V. Anselmian Explorations: Essays in Philosophical Theology. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987, pg. 10-25.
6Morris, Anselm, 10-25.
7 Johnson, Gary L. W., and Guy Prentiss Waters. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2006, pg. 136.
8 Johnston, By Faith Alone, 136.
9 Johnston, By Faith Alone, 137.
10 White, James R. The God Who Justifies. Minneapolis, Minn: Bethany House Publishers, 2001, pg. 209.
11White, Justifies, 209.
12 Clark, R. Scott. Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub, 2007, pg. 252-265.
13Sandlin, Andrew. Backbone of the Bible: Covenant in Contemporary Perspective. Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2004, pg. 85-101.
14Wilkins, Federal Vision, 192-195
15 Sandlin, Never Alone, 276-278.
16 Wilkins, Federal Vision, 192-193.
17 Wilkins, Federal Vision, 192-193.
18 Wilkins, Federal Vision, 192-193.
20David VanDrunen, Class Lectures on Justification, Fall 2010.
21Morris, Anselm, 10-25.