N.T. Wright’s Doctrine of Justification, Part 2

This is part 2 of a 2 part discussion with Guy Prentiss Waters. Part 1 is also available for download.

The Christ the Center panel had the distinct privilege of discussing N. T. Wright’s new book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision with Guy Prentiss Waters, associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. Dr. Waters is an ordained minister in Presbyterian Church in America and did his doctoral work under the supervision of E. P. Sanders at Duke University. Dr. Waters has written numerous books and articles, including The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology, and he has co-edited with Gary Johnson By Faith Alone and has contributed a chapter to the recent publication The Law is Not of Faith. Dr. Waters and the panel discuss various features of Wright’s book, such as what is new in the book from what Wright has previously published, continuities with Wright’s past work, and the tone of the book. This a a fascinating and detailed discussion that we have divided into two episodes.


  • Guy Prentiss Waters
  • Jim Cassidy
  • Nick Batzig
  • Jeff Waddington
  • Camden Bucey


Carson, D. A., Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid. Justification And Variegated Nomism. Baker Academic, 2004.

Fesko, J. Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine. Phillipsburg N.J.: P&R Pub., 2008.

Johnson, Gary L. W., and Guy Prentiss Waters. By Faith Alone : Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006.

Waters, Guy. The end of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.

Waters, Guy Prentiss. Justification and the new perspectives on Paul : a review and response. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2004.

—. The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology : A Comparative Analysis. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publ., 2006.

Wright, N. T. Justification : God’s plan and Paul’s vision. London: SPCK, 2009.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

Reformed Forum » N.T. Wright’s Doctrine of Justification, Part 1

11 years ago

[…] Part 2 of this discussion is also available. […]

Steve in Toronto

11 years ago

Thanks a lot guys it a rich and informative conversation. Do you think that at least part of what is driving the new perspective is an attempt to prevent Paul from being dismissed by scholars who have mythic reading of the first few chapters of Genesis? It would seem to me that Wright’s system does not require a literal Adam. Do you know how Wright reads the Genesis?

God Bless

Steve in Toronto

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Nicholas T Batzig

11 years ago


I think these are some interesting questions. I am not sure what Wright would say about the historicity of Adam, though I would assume that he acknowledges it to some extent. The real question is probably whether Wright understands Adam in the same way as historic Reformed theology views him. And this, I think, is in relation to the covenant of works. I highly doubt that Wright believes in any semblance of the covenant of works. This of course affects his Christology, as is true of the Federal Vision theology.

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Michael Bid

11 years ago

Thanks for hosting another interesting discussion (which I’ve only just got around to listening to). I pretty much agree with Guy Waters on Gal. 3.10-14 (though I prefer Andrew Das’ articulation on the details). A few points for thought:

1. I would side with NTW on the issue of merit. To put it bluntly, it seems to reduce Jesus’ life as a means to acquiring frequent flyer points so that sinners can go to heaven. In which case, as long as Jesus had a sinless birth and sin bearing death, he could have lived in a cave for 30 years for all it mattered. Yet when I read John 1.13, Matt 15.24, and Rom. 15.8-9 about his mission to Israel and other passages with an adamic quality like Rom. 5.12-21, Phil. 2.5-11, and the temptation narratives in Matt 4/Luke 4, I see Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness as part of a story not a syllogism. Jesus fulfills the roles of Adam and Israel who failed to obey God and is thus qualified to represent both in his death and resurrection. Jesus is faithful not because he had to fulfil a covenant of works, but because God’s salvation was always intended to come to the world through Israel – a transformed Israel would transform the world! That is how the redeemed and renewed humanity comes into being.

2. On 2 Cor. 5.21, NTW is simply strange on his ambassadorial interpretation of “righteousness of God”. Yet commentators on the other side seem to assume what the text does not explicitly state. There is no real mention of imputation. (a) In v. 19 there is the non-accounting of transgressions (see 1 Cor. 13.5). (b) In v. 21, the verbs “made” (poieo) and “know” (ginomai) are not synonyms for “impute” (logizomai, and one specific variation of logizomai at that). What it is saying is that Christ was made sin (= sin offering, representative, etc) and we become (= participate, share, etc) in the righteousness of God by union with Christ. Thus, while this is certainly consistent with a theology of imptuation (perhaps it is even implied in light of other passages!) it still falls way short of saying that we are justified by the imputation of the active obedience of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the covenant of works.

3. Rom. 2.13 is a tricky verse. If I remember correctly, Calvin sees 2.13-16 as expressing a principle laid down in Lev. 18.5 (contra Calvin I find no basis for hearing the echo of this text). Guy Waters is certainly right that you cannot interpret 2.13 as saying anything that will contradict Paul’s summary in 3.20. Still the hypothetical option remains problematic: (a) Paul does not construct it as a conditional clause of “if … then”; (b) There is no rhetorical signifier like “I am using a human argument”; (c) the categories expressed are justification and condemnation respectively; (d) Paul connects this statement to his gospel in v. 16 and this gospel is not about a hypothetical justification or a hypothetical judgment, real justification and real judgment are at stake. My own view is that we should read 2.13-16 in light of 2.25-29. Paul is tying together in Romans 2-3 two major points: God’s faithfulness to Israel and God’s impartiality in judgment. This confirms Israel’s special position in redemptive-history but undermines any claim to mere possession of the law as a basis for justification. In fact, Paul shames his imaginary Jewish interolocutor by suggesting that when a weighing of deeds is done impartially it is (Christian!) Gentiles who will be justified. Paul provides a sneek peak of the coming A.D. period. The Gentiles he descibes have the “works of the law written iin their hearts” (v. 15) and being a Jew inwardly (v. 29) etc. It is Gentile Christians who will be justified according to works (i.e. as evidence of justifying faith) at the final judgment (see also Rom. 14.10).

4. On Abraham, I think Paul is responding to one of two ways of reading the Abrahamic narrative in Second Temple literature. One was to say that Abraham kept the Law of God (from Sirach I think) because God gave him a private revelation of the Law (much in the same way that God gave Calvin a private revelation of the complete works of B.B. Warfield 🙂 or else to read Genesis 15 in light of Genesis 22 (so 1 Maccabees and James 2!). Instead, Paul reads the Abramic story in its redemptive-historical context so that circumcision was a seal of righteousness and not the means of righteousness.

5. I thik NTW did write this new Paul book out of exaperation. And while I endorsed the book, I was genuinely disappointed that Wright did not go the route of giving Piper a chance to look at the book and respond to it in advance. I think NTW just wanted to get it over and done with (and to his defence he does have several other jobs to attend to like trying to save the Anglican communion, finishing the COQG series, and perhaps he didn’t want to get involved in another protracted exchange with Piper). But a return of the courtesy would have been reciprocally appropriate in my view.

Sorry for being so long, but that is my two pence! Thanks again for a good interview series. I would like to listen to a further interview series on J.V. Fesko’s book if it is ever on the cards. If someone can genuinely tie together the ordo salutis and the historia salutis then I think that they have remedied one of the major blind spots of the reformed tradition raised by the new perspective on Paul.

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