Is there a future justification by works at the day of judgment? # 12

by | Aug 18, 2010 | Uncategorized

After what is a very long interval by internet standards, I return to a subject which I thought I had finished several months ago. In the interim Lee Irons graciously responded to my posts critiquing his paper on Romans 2:13. In that paper he takes an empty-set or hypothetical view of the passage and claims that John Murray holds this view. I took exception to both these claims. I encourage anyone who would like to learn how to graciously respond to criticism to read the relevant blogs by Lee on his blog The Upper Register. He sets a fine example of gracious interaction with a critic like me.

There he makes clear that he actually is willing to say that in a certain sense he holds a future justification by works on the basis of many of the passages that I cited in my previous blogs. He also maintains that John Murray did hold his view of Romans 2:13. To my surprise and after checking the references he has quoted, I find myself forced to agree in a qualified way with him. What, I think, we have both discovered is that there are a number of exegetes who take a mediating position with regard to Romans 2:6-16. Though Murray clearly argues in his comments on verses 6-11 that the judgment in view is not hypothetical and that the works in view are evangelical works which vindicate one’s saving faith in the dya of judgment, yet to my surprise Murray also takes a hypothetical or empty-set view of Romans 2:13. What is particuarly convincing to me are Murray’s comments on Romans 3:20 and the footnote referencing Philippi on Romans 2:13.

Let me hasten to add that, though I respect John Murray a great deal and have sometimes named him as my patron saint (!), I find such a position somewhat contradictory and certainly unsatisfying.

Finally, let me address one claim that Irons makes in his argument which (after re-reading my posts) I find I did not address with a key argument. Irons claims that, since the overall thrust of Romans 1:18-3:20 is to show that “by the works of the flesh no man will be justified,” it is unlikely that Romans 2:13 is to be understood of evangelical works which vindicate saving faith.

Now leaving aside that John Murray and I agree that it is just such works that are in fact in view in Romans 2:6-11, Irons deduction from (what is undoubtedly) the overall thrust of the passage is contradicted by another patent feature of Romans 2. That feature is the lengthy description of evangelical good works in verses 25-29.

Romans 2:25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

By Irons’ reasoning we should not find all this stuff about the truly circumcised man who does good works and so proves that he is a true Jew in this context. And yet we do! I think this shows that it is perfectly possible that Paul also speaks of such works in Romans 2:13. Thus, we do not need to have recourse to the unlikely exegetical expedient which claims that the judgment of Romans 2:6-16 is hypothetical.

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