Concerning “justification by faith” and somethings I’ve been learning, here is my second of three post summarizing the Justice of God by james d.g. dunn
Justice for Gentiles: Paul and Justification by Faith
In the second chapter Dunn outlines the contours of Jewish faith at the time of Christ and what exactly Paul was converted to (or rather, commissioned to), shedding light on his resultant doctrine of “justification by faith.”
the Shape of Judaism
At the time of Paul, two tenets of Judaism were taken for granted: 1) God is one; and 2) God had chosen Israel to be His special people. The second aspect, the theology of election, meant that Israel was different than the other nation, and had to sustain that distinctiveness at all costs. And this distinctiveness as marked out through the Torah, or Law. The foundation of this for Israel is not that they had to earn God’s favor and stay in His good graces, but that they were chosen to be God’s people and instrument among the nations. This election of Israel through the giving of the Law meant that the Gentiles were extremely disadvantaged, being “outside” the Law, and therefore outside God’s favor.
So, what was Paul converted from? He was converted from a ‘zealous’ attachment to Israel’s distinctiveness (separated from the Gentiles) and step up by the Law (as a boundary marker b/w Jew and Gentile, particularly circumcision and food laws). He was converted from a rigid nationalism which had forgotten that the election of Israel was meant for the benefit of the Gentiles also, not to their exclusion.
Commission, not Conversion
So, what was Paul converted to? A better question is to ask about his commission , not his conversion. On the Damascus road Paul was commissioned to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. And it is this commissioning that changed everything. Being confronted with the risen Lord Jesus Messiah, Paul had to come to grips with theses Christians who being so friendly to Gentile, because now he was commissioned to preach to them. As we will now see, “the Christian doctrine of justification by faith begins as Paul’s protest not as an individual sinner against Jewish legalism, but as a protest on behalf of Gentiles against Jewish exclusivism” (p. 24).
the Shape of Justification
Dunn now shifts gears to see what light can be shed on the Luther’s formulation of this doctrine. Justification by faith, for Paul, was not merely the conviction that sinners cannot rely on their own merit to earn God’s favor (although Paul would certainly agree with this). Rather, it is the conviction that God grace is not limited to a particular people (defined as those who follow the Law), but that God’s goodness and mercy is open to all people through Faith. One of the main points (and the one forgotten by the Reformation) is that one doesn’t have to change cultures to be accepted by God (i.e. change from a Gentile into a Jew to be saved). Rather, through Christ, all are justified by faith, b/c God’s grace is not locked into a certain people, but mediated through a certain person, our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Messiah, Savior.
(So, what does this mean for preaching the gospel and discipling the faithful? What implications does this have? what do you all think?)