"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, November 25, 2013

Martin Luther versus the "New" Perspective on Paul

Here I submit a passage from Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will, in which to my delight, Luther attacks (if I may be a bit anachronistic) the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP), which apparently when apparently when Dunn and Sanders and Wright discovered it, was really nothing new under the sun. Luther here denies that Paul means “ceremonial laws” by works of the law, or a NPP advocates call it “covenant badges” like dietary laws and circumcision.

Martin Luther. Bondage of the Will pages 302-304. [Library of Christian Classics edition]

“But they are in the habit of trying to get round Paul here, by making out that what he calls works of the law are the ceremonial works, which sine the death of Christ are deadly. I reply that this is the ignorant error of Jerome, which in spite of Augustine's strenuous resistance – God having withdrawn and let Satan prevail – has spread out into the world and persisted to the present day. It has consequently become impossible to understand Paul, and the knowledge of Christ has been inevitably obscured. Even if there had never been any other error in the Church, this one alone was pestilent and potent enough to make havoc of the gospel, and unless a special sort of grace has intervened, Jerome has merited hell rather than heaven or it – so little would I dare to canonize him or call him a saint. It is, then, not true that Paul is speaking only about ceremonial laws: otherwise how can the argument be sustained by which he concludes that all mean are wicked and in need of grace? For someone could say: Granted we are not justified by ceremonial works, yet a person might be justified by the moral works of the Decalogue, so you have not proved by your syllogism that grace is necessary for these. Besides, what is the use of a grace liberates us only from ceremonial works which are the easiest of all, and which can at the lowest be exhorted from us by fear or self-love? It is, of course, also untrue that ceremonial laws are deadly and unlawful since the death of Christ; Paul never said that, but he says they do not justify and are of no advantage to a man in the sight of God as regards setting him free from ungodliness. Once this is accepted, anyone may do them without doing anything unlawful – just as eating and drinking are works that do not justify or commend us to God (1 Cor 8:8), yet a man does nothing unlawful when he eats and drinks.

They are also wrong in that the ceremonial works were as much commanded and required in the old law as was the Decalogue, so that the latter was neither more nor less important than the former. And as Paul is speaking primarily to Jews, as he says in Romans 1:16, no one need doubt that by works of the law he means all the works of the entire law. For it would be meaningless to call them works of the law if the law were abrogated and deadly, since an abrogated law is no longer a law, as Paul very well knew. He is therefore not speaking of an abrogated law when he speaks of the works of the law, bot of the law that is valid and authoritative. Otherwise, how easy it would have been for him to say: “The itself is now abrogated!” -then we should had a clear and unambiguous declaration.

But let us appeal to Paul himself as his own best interpreter, where he says in Galatians 3:!0: “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'” You see here, where Paul is making the same point in the same words as in the epistle to the Romans, that every time he mentions the works of the law he is speaking of all the laws written in the Book of the Law....”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Grace in Controversy. John Newton on Controversy

Controversy is nothing new. John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace, wrote a now famous letter to a friend about to engage publicly on a controversy. The whole letter may be read here:

But I thought I would draw out a few of the highlights in this helpful piece:

1-Controversy can wound even the right and triumphant party
“I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded.”  


“And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value.”

2-Before writing against someone, pray for them
“As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.”

3-Calvinists should be the most gentle and moderate in controversy
“Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.”


“I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind.”

4-Speak not merely to the man to convince him, but to the public
“Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.”

5-One can be right and still sin in controversy
“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”

6-Controversies are rarely conducted well
“Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.”

7-Do not return insults in kind
“Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.”

8-Though Dangerous, engagement in a controversy may be necessary and honorable
“I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.”