Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America

Theses on the Article of Justification: A Refutation of the aclc’s Critique: Part Three

Posted on March 17, 2014 by Rev. Stefanski under Blog, Justification
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Part Three: Questions of Methodology: Thoroughgoing Theology vs. ‘Slam Dunks’

The ACLC accuses us of an unbiblical method—of mere Vater Theologie, which they condemn as fallaciously appealing to authority—because we fulfill the purpose of our “Theses” by presenting what the first generations of “Lutherans” taught regarding Justification and, especially, with regard to specific texts that are often adduced by those desiring to paint said theologians as supporting “Objective Justification.” Our theses were not meant to be a complete exegesis of the various texts, as such is not necessary to say what needed to be said. Indeed, were such a thing to have been our first offering, it would have resulted in an attempt to communicate exegetical findings with those who have a different hermeneutic: those who continue in the Synodical Conference tradition of dogmatics and exegesis have a hermeneutic that flows from the halls of rationalism and the cell groups of pietism, as they bind themselves to what was handed down to them by their founders who sprang from such backgrounds. Nonetheless, we shall engage in precisely that as we go forth from the “Theses” in the next several months and years.

When the ACLC makes this accusation, however, and then tries to claim that they have settled the whole issue by a quote from Gerhard and a quote from Calov (who was, actually, quoting Gerhard himself), we find that they are practicing Unehelichestiefkindtheologie, —by appealing to a non-authority, as it were—since they have not, indeed, even read and quoted either Gerhard or Calov, but only Pieper’s highly selective—and highly misconstrued—quoting of the same, as seen in the following from Calov’s Biblia Illustrata:

Verse 25. ὃς παρεδόθη
By God the Father. Into death, of course, which we likewise understand in 8:32. (See also our commentary on Matthew 18:22). He has in view the Greek version of Isaiah 53:6. κύριος παρέδωκεν αὐτὸν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἡμῶ&#x03BD.

διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν καὶ ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν.

He could have said, “…who both died and rose again so that He might justify or free us from sins.” But since he loves to employ contrasts, he combined sins with death, since they are the death of the soul. And he combined the obtaining of righteousness with resurrection, since righteousness is the resurrection of the soul. He wondrously brings us away from sins and leads us to righteousness, for we see that Christ was not afraid to die as a testimony to His teaching against sins and calling us to righteousness. And He was raised by God so that the ultimate authority might be established for that teaching. See 1 Pet. 1:3.

In what way did Christ die for the sake of our sins?

The death of Christ is not viewed only as a martyrium or testimony to His teaching, sealed with His death, but as a satisfaction for sins, as Grotius himself pointed out against Socinus in the defense of the Catholic faith de Satisfactione Christi, and as pointed out extensively by us in Socinismo Profligato. Nor is it only the bravery of Christ that brings us away from sin and leads us to righteousness in that He was not afraid to die for the sake of the testimony of His teaching against sins and calling us to righteousness. It wouldn’t have been necessary for the only-begotten Son of God Himself to undergo death in order to accomplish that, for such things have been witnessed in the case of many martyrs who were certainly not afraid to die as a testimony to their teaching. But the very death of Christ was a payment and ransom price for our sins, because they were laid upon Him; sins were the meritorious cause of His death. “Christ was delivered over to death for us, so that one might die for all” (2 Cor. 5:15). Nor is this referring to the bringing away from sins, but to the expiation of our sins made by the death of Christ, that is, the satisfaction furnished for our sins, which is the meritorious cause of our justification, not only a “cause that motivates us morally” to stop sinning.

In what way was Christ raised for the sake of our righteousness?

Again, the Apostle does not say that Christ was raised by God so that authority might be established for His teaching, which could have been sufficiently established for it by miracles and by the testimony from heaven, if the Jews had not been so hardened. But διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν, for the sake of our righteousness. And if the only-begotten Son of God was delivered over to death and raised from death only for the sake of confirming His teaching by the testimony of His death and by the miracle of the resurrection so that others might be set free from sin and death by His teaching, the same surely could have been accomplished by the death and resurrection of other martyrs, even as some of the early believers were raised and appeared to many, as St. Matthew testifies in 27:53. Why, then, would it have been necessary for the Son of God Himself—God, who is blessed forever and ever—to be delivered over to death and raised for this reason?

No, the Apostle teaches something far different, that the death of Christ surely took place, not only because of our sins, not merely for the sake of confirming the teaching of Christ which brings us away from sins, but on account of what our sins had deserved, for the words διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν καὶ ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν infer the meritorious cause of the death of Christ, that He was delivered over, that, by divine counsel and decree, He sustained the penalty of our sins in such a way as to free us from them.

This is amply taught in Isaiah 53, that we have been reconciled to God by the death of Christ, and that we are justified, and consequently, just as the death of Christ was the motivating cause or reason for announcing to us the remission of sins, justification and salvation, so we are not justified before God nor do we obtain salvation in any other way but by laying hold of the satisfaction of the death of Christ. This is the goal of the apostolic teaching and instruction in this chapter. This is why he describes faith as he does, which is imputed to us for righteousness, that it is placed in God, who raised Jesus from the dead, just as He was delivered over on account of our sins. For that resurrection from the dead is the infallible proof of the complete satisfaction and expiation of our sins and of the reconciliation with God made through the death of Christ. If this reconciliation had not been made, then God would never have raised this Mediator and Bondsman of ours, who gave Himself as a ransom (1 Tim. 2:4), from the dead so that He might communicate and distribute His righteousness to us, that is, our justification.

Therefore, it does not at all mean that Christ was raised on account of our justification in the same way as He was delivered over by God to death on account of our sins. For this death of Christ is established as the meritorious cause of the expiation of our sins, even as our sins were the meritorious cause of the death of Christ, because by the merit of our sins He was delivered over into death in our place, so that by the merit of His death we might be freed from sin and its penalty, death. But, of course, it cannot be said concerning the resurrection of Christ that Christ merited righteousness for us by His resurrection; His exclamation from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), also confirmed that the earning of righteousness was finished at the time of His death. Therefore, Scripture speaks differently concerning the death of Christ than it does concerning His resurrection. For it says that Christ suffered and died both for our sake and in our place. However, He rose again, not in our place, but only for our sake. Therefore, although the theologians sometimes speak of the resurrection of Christ as the meritorious cause of our justification, they understand the term “merit” only in a general sense, even as Blessed Gerhard taught in his commentary on this passage in answer to the question, Does the resurrection of Christ pertain to the merit that has been provided for us? He replies in this way:

The word “merit” is understood either generally as all that pertains to our justification; or specifically as that which Christ has provided for us and which we ourselves were obligated to provide. In the first sense, the resurrection of Christ pertains to merit, because the resurrection of Christ was required for our justification in the ways explained thus far. But with regard to the second sense, it does not pertain to merit, because, although Christ arose for our sake, He did not arise in our place, whereas He suffered and died, not only for our sake, but also in our place.

In which respects Christ’s resurrection was required for our justification, Blessed Gerhard explains in this way:

  1. (1) With respect to the manifestation and confirmation, because the resurrection of Christ is the clear testimony that full satisfaction has been made for our sins and that perfect righteousness has been procured. Chrysostom, Homily 9 on Romans: “In the resurrection it was demonstrated that Christ died, not for His own sins, but for our sins. For how could He rise again if He were a sinner? But if He was not a sinner, then He was crucified for the sake of others.”
  2. (2) With respect to the application. If Christ had remained in death, He would not be the conqueror of death, nor could He apply to us the righteousness that was obtained at such a high price (Rom. 5:10, 8:34).
  3. (3) With respect to the actual absolution from sin. Just as God punished our sins in Christ, which were imposed on Him and imputed to Him as our bondsman, so also, by the very act of raising Him from the dead, He absolved Him from our sins that had been imputed to Him, and consequently He also absolves us in Him. The following passages refer to this: 1 Cor. 15:17, 2 Cor. 5:21, Eph. 2:5, Col. 2:12-13, Phil. 3:8-10, 1 Pet. 1:3.

Nevertheless, the following must be observed here: the manifestation and confirmation of the expiation of sins and the demonstration of victory over death is certainly useful for our faith, but not for the merit of Christ. He makes a definite distinction between the application of the righteousness of Christ and the merit of Christ, and he says that the risen Christ is the efficient cause of the application. But he does not say that the resurrection of Christ is the meritorious cause either of the righteousness of Christ or of its application. Finally, when he says that in the risen Christ we are absolved from sin, it is admitted to this extent, that since He was absolved from our sins that were imputed to Him, the expiation of our sins is certain, just as certain as our vivification and our blessed resurrection from the dead to blessed life. On account of this certainty that rests on the merit of the death of Christ, confirmed by the resurrection of Christ, we are said to be made alive in Christ and to have been raised with Christ (Eph. 2:5). But these things are not properly included in the meritorious cause of justification. For the resurrection is highlighted only for confirming faith on our part, or for the application through the Gospel of the righteousness obtained for us by Christ, but not meritoriously. Nor should we overlook the fact that the Apostle says, “Christ died for the sake of our sins,” but he does not say likewise that He was raised for the sake of our righteousness, which is in other places contrasted with sins, but for the sake of our justification. For if Christ had not been raised from the dead, neither could faith, which is invariably needed for justification, be certain, nor could righteousness be applied to us by Christ.

We will continue in a couple of days with a little bit of elaboration on the above and then begin to consider the various theses themselves (by means of the misguided critique of the same), as well as have a statement on another, related matter.

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