A Clarification on Justification Before God and Justification Before the World: It is God Who Justifies

St. Paul makes the distinction between justification before men and justification
before God in Romans chapter 4.  He says that Abraham had reason for boasting by being justified by his works, but not before God. He did have reason to boast before us, as our example, when God proved his faith by his obedience. To be justified before God is to be justified through faith in the promise of Christ who is the propitiation for our sins. To be justified before men (“You show me your faith, and I’ll show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18) is to be shown before men that you are justified before God. Faith alone can’t do this, because people can’t see your faith. But God who sees in secret rewards you (Matt 6:4).

So here is the clarification. To be justified before men does not mean that we are justified by men. Rather, God is always the one who justifies, whether before men or before himself. In a sense we must say that nothing is not before God. He sees all things. But the distinction is made by Paul in order to direct our boasting, that is, what we lay claim to. We are not received into favor before men simply by our faith. This is impossible, since they can’t see it. We are received into favor before God by faith apart from works, which is what we mean by faith alone (SD III, 36). So back to the clarification. God is always the one who justifies. He alone receives us into favor with himself (justification before God), and he alone proves our faith to the world and all the angels by preparing works in which we are to walk. So when we speak of justification before men we are not denying that this is God’s work. We are only denying that this is being received into God’s favor. God justifies us before men. This is also known as vindicating us. Jesus did this for the woman when he said to Simon the Pharisee, “I tell you that her sins are forgiven, for she loves much. (Luke 7:47; cf. Ap IV [III], 31ff)” He justifies her before the Pharisees by pointing to her love. But before himself she is justified by faith, as he says to her, “Your faith has saved you.”

God justifies us before men and angels. St. Paul says that the manifold wisdom of God is revealed through the church to all the authorities in the heavenly places (Eph 3:10). Now, jump to 1 Peter 1:6-12. God tests our faith with fire, confirming us in his saving gospel, which is something that angels long to touch. They long to touch what is being proved to them. This is what God did with Job when the devil, with all the other sons of God (angels), came before him (Job 1). God justified Job before the angels and before men (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar). And yet, he also rebuked Job, calling him back to trust in him (Job 38-41). Before himself God justified Job by calling him back to faith in him. But before everyone else God justified Job by proving his faith, saying (Job 42:8), “Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

So we might call justification before men (and angels) vindication, while justification properly speaking is when we believe that we are received into favor by God who has cancelled our debt for Christ’s sake. Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit and then seen by angels (1 Tim 3:16). That is, he was proven to be who he said he was. He was, on the basis of his work of fulfilling God’s will, declared innocent of all the sin, which he bore on the cross. His vindication is therefore our justification. We are justified on the same basis that Christ was vindicated – on the basis of the work of Christ. We are thereby vindicated – shown to be righteous before men and angels – by the charity in which we walk and the perseverance in hope through all afflictions. Throughout all this we are not put to shame, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:5). But all of this is a result of being justified by faith (Rom 5:1). God does not let us be put to shame, so he does not leave our faith to no effect (2 Peter 1:8).

Now, there is also a consciousness on the part of the believer of this vindication from God. We need to be vindicated even before ourselves. This is why St. Peter says that we should make every effort to make our calling and election sure, namely, by supplementing our faith with good works (2 Peter 1:10). If we practice these things then our faith will not be without effect. It is in this way, that is, in this context, that the entrance into the eternal kingdom of Christ will be provided for us (2 Peter 1:11). This entrance is provided while God confirms our faith by the works he has prepared for us to walk in (Eph 2:10). This is not a positive confirmation of our faith, as if our works are the source and sustenance of our faith. That is rather the case with the prophetic word, which St. Peter says in the same chapter is even more certain (2 Peter 1:19). Our works rather provide a negative confirmation of our faith. We are to be watchful that we are keeping busy in good works, lest we become idle and secure in our own flesh, and our faith dies (Ap XX, 90; SD IV, 33, 34).

It was only after Job repented that God told his friends that he spoke what was true. When God proves our faith, vindicates us, or justifies us before men – whatever you want to call it – we experience this as rebuke and repentance. This brings to mind an important point, which Luther makes in his Antinomian Disputations, namely, that every good work done by the Christian is an act of repentance.(1) Whenever you pursue those works, which make your election sure, you are repenting of the sins, in which you would otherwise be walking. Repentance always includes both rejecting the bad and affirming the good (Rom 6:13). So when the apostles admonish us to walk in good works, they are admonishing us to repent, lest we let sin reign in us and make us obey its passions (Rom 6:12).

Throughout all this God vindicates us. He tries our faith and proves to all of heaven, earth, and hell that we are his children. We experience it as rebuke and reproof. God reveals it to the world as proof that we are his children.

One final observation is that God is always vindicating himself. For his name’s sake he blots out our sins (Ps. 25:11). And also, by his might he vindicates us before men (Ps. 54:1) and pleads our cause (Ps. 43:1). He is showing that his own creation of faith in our hearts is good. And he is proving that his cause is good. So if you do your duty as a husband and a father, trusting in God’s mercy, God vindicates you not because of your worthy effort, but because of his cause. He vindicates his own cause, his own commandment. The integrity and righteousness, which we claim by faith, we also, in weakness, take up in our daily vocation. So God justifies his Word. He justifies his commandment. He has us endure this vindication with patience and long suffering, not as a way to make satisfaction for any punishment before him, but in order to learn to depend on him. We are therefore zealous for what is good, because all good gifts come from above, and God will finally prove them to be good. We are zealous for good works, because we know that the same God who saved us is the one who works them in us and will finally prove that his commandments are true. This is why the Psalmist can say (Ps. 119:66), “Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments.” We have the promise throughout this entire battle against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh that there is no one who can harm us if we are zealous for what is good (1 Pet 3:13). After all, it is God who justifies. He justifies the sinner through faith in Christ precisely because he justifies – vindicates – his own work, which was fulfilled in Christ (Matt 5:17).

(1)         Antinomian Disputations, Third Set of Theses, theses 8 &9: Toto enim tempore vitae durat peccatum in carne nostra, et adversatur spiritui sibi adversario. 9. Quare omnia opera post iustificationem sunt aliud nihil quam poenitentia seu bonum propositum contra peccatum.  “8. For the sin in our flesh lasts the entire time of life and strives against the spirit, its adversary (cf. Gal. 5:17). 9. This is why all works done after justification are nothing else than repentance or the good intention against sin.”  Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus: Martin Luther’s Complete Antinomian Theses and Disputations, ed/trans. Holger Sonntag, (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2008), 228-29.

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have four children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, and Robert.

Comments

A Clarification on Justification Before God and Justification Before the World: It is God Who Justifies — 19 Comments

  1. Thank you for a good reminder about the chief article of our faith.

    Just an observation (no criticism)on the subject of “work”:

    One thing I’ve noticed sometimes, when works are being encouraged for Christians is that some respond with, “I better get busy and start doing stuff.” Often cited is, Matthew 25. The problem with such a restricted view (besides the faulty exegesis)is that one’s vocation is seldom mentioned. It would be helpful for those talking about “works” to be sure to bring in “vocation”, lest one gets the wrong idea and imposes upon themselves and others a restricted interpretation of sanctification.

  2. @wineonthevines #1

    I agree. Another thing that is often neglected is talking about the battle against the sinful flesh. Good works are supposed to flow freely from faith, but we all know that that isn’t always how we experience them concretely. It always involves mortification. If we don’t make this point, along with your point about vocation, then people will inevitably become overwhelmed and burnt out doing as many works as they think a Christian is supposed to do with the consistent attitude the Christian is supposed to have.

  3. Hey Pastor Preus,

    This is a very helpful distinction. I have struggled for a very long time with the relationship between faith and works. I have never heard this distinction before between justification and vindication. I think it explains many difficult passages of scripture, such as the use of justification in the Book of James, very well.

    I have one question for you, however. How do we maintain the necessity of good works, even speaking of them as a means of vindication, yet avoid the pitfall of becoming legalistic fruit detectors and setting up our own little Inquisitions?

    It seems that legalism and antinomianism are opposite errors, and we can easily swing like a pendulum from one end of the spectrum to the other. How do we walk the middle path and remain faithful to scripture and the theology of the Reformers?

  4. Very good. Thank you! Your treatment of James 2 and of Job is clear and convincing. Many Lutherans have struggled over James 2. You retain the position that God is always the subject in justification — God is always doing the justifying — and at the same time you distinguish between God justifying us before men and before himself. Crystal clear! I think this article would be good to share with Roman Catholics, as well as Lutherans who are struggling over the apparent conflict between James and the rest of the Bible.

  5. @Ken Miller #3

    I think it is important to stress that good works are good works because they are commanded and even worked out by God. This, by itself, does not defend against the false doctrine of medicinal justification whereby God pours virtues into the soul to help us gain the righteousness of justification. Our position that we are not justified by works done in righteousness must be made clear (Titus 3:5). But when it comes to vindication we should keep in mind that God vindicates himself. If he has called you to do your duty as a father, husband, brother, or worker, he will vindicate his cause. If you find that you aren’t doing your duty, then repent. I don’t think it is entirely avoidable to “fruit check.” This is sort of what St. Peter tells us to do in 2 Peter 1. We should check our behavior and see if we are doing what God commands and wills. But our main comfort and certainty comes from the Word, as Peter clarifies later on.

    Another thing to consider is that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling precisely because it is God who works in us to will and work for his good pleasure. The fear and trembling is the acknowledgment that God is the one working on us, not merely us doing good stuff for God. It therefore all comes back to the First Commandment, fear, love, and trust. This sets our focus on how we stand before God rather than how good we imagine we have become. Certainly we will progress in sanctification, but our focus will always return to the fear and trembling of being worked on by God, humbled under his mighty hand, as St. Peter says (1 Pet 5).

  6. @Pastor Andrew Preus #5

    I don’t know. I’m very leery of some of what you’re saying. I was formerly a member of a church where we were always told we had to meet a certain checklist of good deeds in order to be sure we were saved. If we failed the checklist at certain points, we could have no assurance of our salvation.

    I’m not at all opposed to the idea of taking inventory of our lives in order that we might repent, but when we talk about this as a means of assurance, I think we’re getting into dangerous territory.

    Do you think that’s a pretty dangerous pitfall, or do you think that is expected, that we look to our works as the source of our assurance?

  7. @Ken Miller #7

    I agree with your concerns. That is why I say that they do not in themselves provide certainty. But they do, to an extent, give sign of certainty, albeit imperfectly. Luther talks about this in his first sermon of his church postils on Advent 1, his sermon “On Faith and Works.” We have to be very careful about how we speak of it, as to avoid what you describe as a “checklist.” We examine ourselves to see if we are acting like what God has created us to be in Christ. This is part of repentance. This is why I say it is not a positive confirmation, but a negative confirmation. Take a look at Apology 20 and Solid Declaration 4. I struggled with this for a long time as well. And you are right to be wary of a certainty by works kind of paradigm. But when we look at 2 Peter 1, we have to admit that it is really unavoidable. Yet, we have to maintain that such confirmation of faith by works is always imperfect, since our works are always tainted with sin.

  8. I would like to add one comment in the way of clarification. We do grow in faith and sanctification through the means of grace and through various trials in our lives. However, I don’t believe that the Confessions teaching a “progressive” sanctification.

  9. @Pastor Andrew Preus #8

    Thank you for your willingness to interact with me, Pastor Preus. I took a look at SD on the righteousness of faith. There’s a lot of good stuff there.

    Would you clarify what you mean by positive versus negative confirmation?

    Thanks,

  10. @Ken Miller #10

    By positive confirmation I mean that which positively affirms my faith. That is the Word of God. By negative confirmation I mean turning away from the things, which hurt my faith. Walking in good works does not by itself give certainty of salvation. But in so far as you are turning away from wicked works, you are persevering by avoiding those things, which would only damage your faith. This is why Luther calls good works acts of repentance, because they are necessarily turning away from wicked works. There is no grey area.

  11. @Pastor Andrew Preus #11

    Thank you for the response. That is very helpful. Some good hooks to hang my hat on. I’ll try to remember that distinction as I continue to think about the proper relationship between faith and works in the Christian life.

    Thanks again!

    Ken

  12. The Apostle Paul does not give a reason for Abraham to boast. He states, “For if Abraham was justified (out of) from works, he is having a boast” (Romans 4:2). This is a past condtional clause, and implies neither fulfillment nor non-fullfillment. Thus, the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit is offering a hypothetical possibility to refute the presumption of the Jewish Christians, whom he is addressing. Furthermore, God does not justify all good works. For are they good in the eyes of men or in the eyes of God? Note Luke 7:28-30 “And I say to you, ‘Greater among all those born of women is no one than John. But the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ And all the people having heard and the tax collectors justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers opposed the counsel of God, not being baptized by him.” So people who hear the Word of God and by His grace follow it justify God for His faithfulness to His Word of grace.

    So are ministers of the Gospel and also the hearers of the Word to do good works, that men may believe the Gospel. Evil works, indeed, can hinder a hearer’s faith. Nevertheless, a minister’s life is not a witness to the Gospel, for not since the days of the Lord and His apostles has anyone seen Him or heard Him (1 John 1:1-4). For it is written for the consolation of believers in the Gospel, “You are of Him (God) in Christ Jesus, who became to us Wisdom from God, Righteousness and Sanctification and Redemption, in order just as it is written, ‘The one who is boasting let him boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:29-30).

    F

  13. @Pastor and former Professor N. Alfred Balmer #13

    The boasting, which Paul entertains is not before God. It isn’t just that it is hypothetical. “There is boasting” is literally what it says. We do, in fact, boast of Abraham’s faithfulness shown by his obedience. But before God we only boast in the Lord, as you said. That’s my point. This boasting before men is not a boasting in ourselves, but in the Lord who proved the faith of Abraham by testing him and keeping him faithful, as shown by Abraham’s obedience. Maybe I should have clarified on that issue.

    I agree that God does not justify all works. But thank you for that other observation from Luke’s Gospel. That is great. We justify God by believing his Word.

    If Abraham was justified by his works then it wasn’t before God. St. James says he was justified by his works. Either St. James is wrong or Paul’s “but not before God” explains James’ position. Edikaiotheh is not a subjunctive, but indicative. That is why I take it as, “If Abraham…” and not “Even if Abraham…” It’s sort of like when the devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil is affirming that Jesus is the Son of God, and he is then using that to tempt him. He does not say eian with a subjunctive. In the same way, Paul does not use eian with subjunctive, but ei with indicative. He is affirming, at the very least, that there is a possible circumstance in which Abraham was justified by his works. And this is why he adds, “… but not before God.” This takes away any kind of boasting in anyone but in the Lord. So even when we boast that Abraham’s faith was proven (vindicated) by his works, we still are not boasting in men, but in the Lord, since it was the Lord who justified and vindicated him.

  14. I state my apology for the delay in responding to your response to me of October 27, 2016. I have been busy addressing the souls of men, male and female, regarding the command of our Lord Jesus Christ to His apostles: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance into the forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of this things” (Luke 24:46-48). This is the work of the Office of Word and Sacrament, the divine office which is given to called men, not women, which preaching no flawed synod of men can accomplish.

    You do well in distinguishing between the indicative and subjunctive forms of conditional sentences. Such distinction is necessary not only because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in and through the apostolic testimony, but especially to discern the distinction between possible statements, and certain statements.

    You refer to the temptation of our Lord by the Devil (Διαβόλος, Diabolos: the spear thrower, that is, slanderer). For the Devil is not making a certain statement, using eάν, but uses eί to cast doubt upon the possibility that Jesus is the not only the Person but also the authoritative, active, and present Creator of heaven and earth, the Son of God (John 1:3). So the Old Evil Foe intends by his charge, “If (eί) a son you are of God, say in order that these stones become bread” to cast a spear of unbelief and doubt into the heart and soul of Jesus, the Christ, who hungers after 40 days and nights without food alone in the wilderness. “If you, Jesus, have such a high authority and deity, use it to staunch the pangs of hunger.” So the Devil issues a charge that Jesus does not have the authority or power to perform a miracle. So he does not affirm the deity of the incarnate Son of God but rather to deny its reality by his slander, for otherwise Jesus would “say, in order that these stones become bread.” Simply stated, the Devil is mocking Jesus for His bodily hunger and thus His inability to turn the stones into bread.

    Consequently, the same blasphemy is uttered against the Lord during His trial and crucifixion. He is mocked by the soldiers, the high priests and elders, and the thieves on the adjacent crosses. “Those passing by were wagging their heads and saying, ‘He who would destroy the temple and raise it again in three days, save yourself, if (eί) you are a son of the God, come down from the cross’” (Matthew 27:39–40). Again, “And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save Himself, if (eί) this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.’ And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save Yourself’” (Luke 23:35–37). These statements are no affirmation of the deity of our Lord but the emphatic denial thereof. So the Devil during the Lord’s temptation in the wilderness was no affirmation of His deity but a denial thereof. Rather He manifested His incarnate deity by refuting the evil one by the written Word of God: “Many shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

    Now you have graciously acknowledged that not all justification is by God alone, but rather that penitent men justify God (Luke 7:29) for His gracious work of granting the forgiveness of sins through the preaching of John the Baptizer, who preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 3:3).

    Now there is also an unjust justification of men by men. “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). These words would apply to judges in particular and people’s misspeaking otherwise.
    Such evil is certainly not of God. Nevertheless, God justifies the ungodly to encourage the hearts and souls of the believers: “But to the one who is not working, but is believing in Him who is justifying the ungodly, his faith is being reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). So it is that Romans 4, the whole chapter refers both to Abraham’s faith by which he was accounted righteous and to those who have the faith of Abraham.

    For the Apostle Paul also soundly and rightly warns against the continual or repeated boasting in men, just as he had in Romans 4:2, “For if (eί) Abraham were justified out of works, he has a boast, but not before God.” In as much also the Apostle by the Spirit wrote, “Do not be deceiving ourselves; if (eί) anyone is thinking among yourselves to be wise in this present age, let him become foolish, in order that he may become wise. For the wisdom of the this world is foolishness in the presence of God, just as it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own folly,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the disputations of the wise that they are futile,’ so that no one may be boasting in men” (1 Corinthians 3:18–21). So let us not be boasting in men, lest we idolize the church fathers instead of Jesus Christ, our Lord, alone.

  15. @Pastor and former Professor N. Alfred Balmer #15

    Thank you for your response. I would actually go a bit different route on the indicative (ei) and subjunctive (eian) clauses. The indicative is stating a reality (either in truth or in jest). The subjunctive is stating a hypothetical. So when the devil and the mockers at the crucifixion use the indicative (ei) they are mocking him. They are being sarcastic. They use these titles, “King of Jews” and “Son of God,” ironically as insults. It’s kind of like when Joseph’s brothers call him a dreamer. It’s almost like saying, “Come on, Son of God! Save yourself!” This is indicative, describing not a hypothetical, but a reality. Except, it is not in truth, but in jest.

    So you could understand St. Paul in 1 Cor 3:18 as describing not a hypothetical, but a reality, which he had been addressing in the beginning of his epistle. Some in fact do consider themselves wise. It’s not a hypothetical, but more of a logic spelled out for them.

    So going back to the verse in question, Rom 4:2, Paul is basically saying, “So Abraham was justified by works. Sure, we can say there is boasting to this extent, but no before God. Sure he was shown to be righteous before the world. His faith was proven (vindicated). But by works no man shall be justified in the sight of God.” Paul is emphasizing his point all the more that we are not justified by works, but through faith.

  16. So we differ on the meaning and emphasis of N. T. Greek grammar. Is that indeed significant? Yes, it is. “For a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Galatians 5:9). Does that difference relate to the teaching of our professors of N. T. Greek? In other words have the professors of N. T. Greek changed their understanding and application of N. T. Greek. However, such a change of our minds could be as the result of further study in N. T. exegesis no matter who the original professor of N. T. Greek was for either of us. In my case that was your Great Uncle, Dr. Jacob A. O. Preus. Could he have erred? That is possible, because he was not an apostle of Jesus Christ. What of your teacher, could the same be declared of him or her? Yes. Who was your original professor of N. T. Greek or also of perhaps other N. T. courses in exegesis?

    So I was originally trained in the historical, grammatical, contextual study of the original languages, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Were you given an influence of modernism or post-modernism by either your original professor of N. T. Greek or by later professors of N. T. or O. T. exegesis?

    Ultimately the fine points of N. T. Greek do not determine the meaning of the Christian faith, although they may be useful, but rather the historical, contextual meaning with reference to grammar. However, there is one other influence besides the historical, contextual, grammatical, which is often ignored, because it seems so plausible to one who aspires to be a confessional Lutheran theologian. That is, the tradition of theology in which an aspiring theologian is trained. I refer to the influence of post-Book-of-Concord theological teaching of the last 400 years. For it, albeit unwittingly, the results of orthodox, rationalistic=tinged pietism, and individualistic, and subjective pietism. Thus, my question regarding our differing emphases on N. T. Greek Grammar may reflect the theological context of our education and subsequent practice.

    However, returning to the main point of our discussion, the exegesis of Romans 4:2, you could have made your point with brevity by quoting Proverbs 27:2, “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” This would have spared you much theologizing with an antilegomenon. Thus, let the Apostle Paul prevail and not a disputed book of the New Testament by men and perhaps women of the first two generations of Christians who had heard the apostolic preaching and spoke against (or perhaps originally ignored) the Epistle of James. For what the later church (from Clement of Alexandria and Origen and later writers) canonizes as the Word of God may or may not be the inspired, inerrant work of the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son. Necessarily the theological and not only the historical demonstration of apostolic or approved apostolic writings are paramount in determining the true canon of the New Testament as well as of the Old Testament.

    Nevertheless, I have profited from this discussion, just as it is written, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man’s mind sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). For the discussion has invigorated my recent theologizing in the doctrine of justification by grace in Jesus Christ and received by faith in His name, and revived interest in theological issues that has been set aside because of more pressing demands in the Office of the Ministry of the Gospel and family life.

    Among both the current and past teachings is the misuse of Romans 4:25 by the quasi-orthodox synods of Missouri, Wisconsin, and ELS. For that verse in grammatical context, that is Romans chapter 4, teaches contrary to these Synods’ confession that the verse does not teach objective justification, that is, of all men, but teaches subjective justification, that is, of the believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To God alone be the glory through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

    Peace in Christ to you this Day of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  17. An extended footnote January 6, 2017, The Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    I noted in my previous comment that our differing perspectives on the meaning of “ei” and “ean” in the New Testament Greek (Koine) of the Apostles of Jesus Christ can, in a theological context from 1600 to the present, and may result in a differing understanding of the doctrine of justification. For indeed there is both objective (general) justification of all men for the sake of God’s love in the redemption in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and subjective (individual) justification of believers in the Gospel. I refer to Romans 4:3-5 in which both are declared with apostolic authority and insight for the certainty of a believer’s justification and salvation, as are Romans 4:14-25, for such certainty in the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as also Romans 3:22-27.
    for “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law [principle] of faith” (Romans 3:27).
    We are dependent on our elementary and high school teachers, and also our college and seminary professors for our understanding and use of the English language in preaching, teaching, counseling, and leading in divine worship. Note the plethora of English translations of the Holy Bible over the last quarter of a century or more.
    Now we are dependent on the work of other men for what we have learned theologically, that is what is called “Lutheran” theology, and linguistically, that is, of New Testament Greek. Our professors of New Testament Greek were taught by other men who in turn were taught by other men ad infinitum. We are not native born speakers, readers, or writers of New Testament Greek. You could object, “That is obvious.” Indeed it is obvious; but is it weighed and considered in our service to Christ’s people, as we grapple with the Greek text of a sermon, Bible class, or theological dissertation?
    Is this skepticism? No. It is reckoning with the reality of the limitations of human learning and knowledge vis-à-vis the faith in our Lord’s redemption and of Father’s grace that is Spirit-wrought through the text of Holy Scripture.
    So is faith then “reasoning in a circle”? That would certainly be true of the Darwinian and neo—Darwinian theories of atheistic creation. In man’s reason or rationalism, also faith in the Gospel may indeed be called “reasoning in a circle.” Yet the Spirit of the Father and the Son, one God in three persons (theology) teaches us of a different realm of existence. Our Lord preached, as had John the Baptist: “Repent (continually, N.T. Greek present imperative), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 3:2). As the Spirit declared through the Apostle Paul regarding adiaphora, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Is it not significant that this year (2017) is the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation of the theology and consequently practice of the Christian church? “When our Lord and Master said, “Repent. He intended the whole life of the Christian be one of penitence” (First thesis of the Ninety-five Theses concerning Indulgences.” The common traditions of men, as influenced and further corrupted by the Devil, the world, and the flesh, tend to obscure divine truth. Just contemplate the secularism that exists in the people of the United States of America, including professing Christians.
    In conclusion, I am following in my understanding of “ei” and “ean” (if) in the New Testament from A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, F. Blass and A. Debrunner: A Translation and Revision of the ninth-tenth German edition incorporating supplementary notes of A. Debrunner, translator: Robert W. Funk (University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London) 1961. I refer to the section: (iv) conditional sentences, pages 188-190. Now as this book was printed 56 years ago, do you have some access to research in New Testament Greek that has since appear and that corrects or a expands this teaching?
    I note on page 188, “371. Introduction. (1) Ei with the indicative of all tenses denotes a simple conditional assumption with emphasis on the reality of the assumption (not of what is being assumed). ” That is, a man may have a reasonable expectation of the reality according to Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolutionary doctrine that modern man is descended from apes, but that assumption is not thereby a reality. So the reality of the assumption and the assumption itself differ in reality. Thus, this construction admits that the proposer of the assumption may have a different intellectual or theological motivation than the person who will or will not accepted the consequence of the conditional clause. Consequently, the use of “Ei” with the indicative does not prove the reality of the assumption but only that the assumption may be or may not be valid. Whether the assumption is true is neither demonstrated by the assumption nor disproven by the assumption, that is, the assumption is hypothetical and the consequence is also. If you wish to say that the Devil is affirming the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, then what you are stating is a negative affirmation, that is, a denial, which is mockery.

  18. @Pastor and former Professor N. Alfred Balmer #18

    I have looked more into this, and I have learned that I was going a bit too far with the grammar. In Wallace’s “Beyond the Basics,” pg. 690, he discusses the first class conditional sentence with “ei.” He clarifies that this does not mean “since,” but rather it is an assumption that the premise is true for the sake of argument. So a better way to understand what Paul is saying is, “In as much as Abraham was justified by works there is boasting.” But of course, such boasting would not be before God. The grammar assumes that it’s true in a logical argument, but this does not necessarily reflect the actual truth. I still contend, though, that there is such a thing as vindication by works.

    Thank you for driving me back into the grammar. Also, as a side note, you mentioned that the synodical conference synods did not teach that Romans 4:25 taught justification. I thought it was the opposite. I’m pretty sure that Romans 4:25 has always been a sedes for Objective Justification within the synodical conference.

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