Friday, January 31, 2014

Justin Taylor's Interview with Doug Moo: Some Reflections

Wheaton's Doug Moo
Over the past couple of months I have written only sparingly due to various and sundry reasons, not least a project on the Greek text of Galatians that has taken up a goodly portion of my study/writing time. It was with interest, then, when I discovered, via the blog of my man Mike Bird, that Doug Moo, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton Graduate School, had been interviewed last month by Justin Taylor on the occasion of the long-awaited release of his new Galatians commentary in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.

The towering Moo (speaking in terms both of his physical and intellectual stature) has long been my favorite American evangelical New Testament scholar, not least because of his 1996 Romans commentary in the NICNT series, which has proven, along with those of Dunn, Wright, Fitzmyer, Jewett, and the two titans from my seminary days (Cranfield and Kӓsemann) to be among my most helpful companions when working on that greatest of Pauline letters. Indeed, in many respects Moo's commentary remains the best of the lot, a fact which for years whetted my appetite for his forthcoming work on Galatians, the letter on which I had written in my doctoral dissertation two decades ago. As it turns out, Moo's new work is no disappointment, clearly surpassing the works of Betz, Bruce, Dunn, and Longenecker that were the state-of-the-art texts when I initially worked my way through the epistle, as well as the fine rhetorical commentary of Witherington written shortly thereafter.

Taylor's interview of Moo is interesting in a number of respects. First, he gives insight into the way he writes commentaries. It is common for scholars—Gordon Fee, author of the NICNT volume on 1 Corinthians, comes to mind—to claim that they work through the text on their own before they ever consult the vast ocean of relevant secondary literature on their subject. Moo, on the other hand, proceeds in the opposite direction, devouring everything possible in the secondary literature before doing his own detailed work. For some, this may sound counterintuitive. But it is also the way I work (after, of course, doing the preliminary work of translation and grammatical analysis) … and, I propose, the best way simultaneously to temper the influence of one's preunderstandings and engender genuine originality of thought (so long, of course, that one doesn't treat these works as authorities to which to conform one's ideas).

Second, Moo tells us about his upcoming projects. Two in particular stand out: a forthcoming commentary on Hebrews and what may well prove to be his magnum opus, a Theology of Paul. It has been years since I have done serious work in Hebrews (the most recent commentaries I have used extensively are the major works of Attridge [1989] and Lane [1991]). But it appears that this great "word of exhortation" (Heb 13:22) is just now coming into its own in the academy, with the recent publication of the volumes by O'Brien in the Pillar series (2010) and Cockerill in the NICNT (2012, replacing the fine 2nd edition of F. F. Bruce's classic), not to mention the forthcoming ICC volume by Philip Alexander, tentatively scheduled for a 2015 release. I have no doubt that Moo's work will compare favorably with these.

The same goes for his volume on Paul. It has been 43 years since the publication of the English translation of Günther Bornkamm's famous work on Paul and 39 since the appearance of the ET of Herman Ridderbos's groundbreaking salvation-historical reading of Paul (the work which, when I devoured it in the summer of 1982, forever changed the way I read the theology of the New Testament). Since that time, Pauline studies have burgeoned due to the seminal publication of Ed Sanders's Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977, and numerous major Theologies of Paul have appeared, most notably those of Dunn (1997) and Schnelle (2003 [ET 2005]). And, of course, the Colossus of Rhodes of Pauline studies, N. T. Wright's magisterial two-volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God, was just published in November of last year. Moo's projected volume promises to be the best and most responsible evangelical work written in its wake (for Moo's review of this work, see here) …

Which brings me to the third, and most interesting, aspect of the interview, namely, that Moo now affirms a dual aspect to Paul's signature theologoumenon, justification. In other words, justification, God's declaration that a person is "in the right," i.e., that he or she stands in right judicial relationship with him, is both already (Rom 3-5) and not yet (Rom 2; Gal 5:6). That such should be the case is hardly surprising to anyone attuned to the "inaugurated eschatology" that pervades the New Testament, and has been been articulated for decades by such conservative and even Reformed scholars as G. E. Ladd, Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin, and Tom Schreiner. Yet, as the comments to the Taylor-Moo interview demonstrate, such an admission is troubling to many "confessional" Reformed evangelicals, for whom any deviation from an exclusively past referent of justification is a step on the path to Rome or, worse (it sometimes seems), a "Wrightian" understanding of Paul. Witness one respondent who, while acknowledging Moo's point, still proposes that he substitute "vindication" for "final justification" because the latter "feels a little too Catholic" for his sensibilities (as an aside, one wonders if he catches the irony here, for N. T. Wright himself often associates our "justification" with our union with Christ in his death and resurrection/vindication).

Objections like this demonstrate nothing more than what Bird terms "ultra-Reformed paranoia" from folks he elsewhere describes memorably as "Procrustean Presbyterians," viz., people who "force the biblical story onto a bed of dogma" (Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, ed. J. Merrick and S. M. Garrett [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013] 301), who have found a champion of sorts in Guy Prentiss Waters, whose unfortunate 2004 work Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul hardened skeptical Reformed attitudes to Wright and anyone broadly agreeing with his perspectives. But such hand wringing over Moo's supposed capitulation to error are as silly as they are misinformed. After all, Moo, like I, writes from the perspective of a Calvinistic theology of a broadly Reformed character. More to the point, he is quite clear—as is the execrated Wright, for all who actually take the time to read or listen to what he actually says—that the beneficiaries of initial and final justification are coterminous. Past justification through faith alone is, in Moo's (and Wright's) view, definitive, and so the works in accordance with which final justification is pronounced contribute not one whit to "achieving" the verdict. Indeed, past justification by faith contributes to the Christian's assurance of final salvation, based as it is on God's trustworthy promise.

Moreover, Moo can hardly be claimed to be an unabashed supporter of Wright's views on Paul. Indeed, Wright comes in for pointed criticism with reference to his famous "redefining" of justification language in terms of membership in God's covenant people. While recognizing that the context of Paul's initial articulation of justification is one dealing with the issue of Gentile inclusion in the messianic covenant community (the Antioch incident [Gal 2:11-14]; the Galatian crisis itself), Moo faults Wright for supposedly de-emphasizing the concept's lawcourt imagery and limiting the concept to matters of food and community identity/membership. The question to ask, as Moo sees it with reference to Wright's reading of the matter, is "whether the notion of membership in the people of God should be added to the notion of forensic acquittal, and indeed added to such extent that the latter becomes the dominant idea in the latter" (p. 54). His answer is as follows:
In this text, and the paragraph of which it is a part, Paul is using the Antioch incident as a jumping-off place to address the central theological issue that lies behind that incident and the situation in Galatia as well. And in both situations, the issue is the terms on which people can expect to find right standing with God. The focus is on Gentile inclusion; but Paul stresses that Jews also "know" that this right standing comes by christologically oriented faith and not by "works of the law" (2:16); if right standing with God could come by means of the torah, Christ need not have died at all (v.21) … There is no good contextual reason to insist that "justify" in 2:16 must be redefined to mean, or to include, the notion of membership in God's people. There is no need to collapse the two concepts into one … The flow of the text makes perfect sense if Paul in 2:16 is using the δικαιόω language in its well-attested sense "declare righteous."
Membership in God's people and justification are closely related, but they are not identical. One entails the other, but they are not the same. Paul argues both points in Galatians … But in Galatians, as in Paul's Letters in general, justification does not in itself refer to belonging to God's people; still less does justification include how one knows a person belongs to God's people (p. 55).
This reads like a thorough articulation of what Tom Schreiner succinctly argued at the 2010 ETS convention in Atlanta, namely, that whereas justification had ecclesiological implications, strictly speaking it was a soteriological doctrine concerned with an individual's forensic status before God.

In many respects I find myself in sympathy with Moo here. In particular, his last sentence straightforwardly rejects Wright's peculiar, unnecessary separation of conversion (which he equates with the Spirit's effective call through the gospel) and justification (indeed, faith is indeed the "badge," as he often says, of God's new covenant people; but how does that necessarily conflict with the notion that "justification," in Sanders's language, is largely a "transfer term" or "entrance requirement" through which God utters the verdict "not guilty" over the forgiven sinner?). Moreover, he has rightly noted the clear implication in Galatians 2:16's assertion that Paul and Peter, though Jews, believed in Christ so as to be justified by faith (an implication I myself strongly championed in my Dallas dissertation [pp. 171-73, 318-19]), that justification is indeed fundamentally a soteriological doctrine, it sociological context notwithstanding. Hence also the legitimacy, as Moo puts it, of the classic Reformational understanding of a "deeper, anthropological argument in the letter" (p. 160). The question then becomes one of whether or not this anthropological argument is allowed to eclipse the fundamental salvation-historical/ecclesiological one (as I would argue has happened in Protestant polemic since the days of Luther), or be seen as a legitimate implication able to be drawn upon when contextualizing the letter's message (again, as in Protestantism since the days of Luther).

Nevertheless, some nagging questions remain. Wright may be wrong when, in his recent book on Justification (p. 100) he carelessly, and in more than a little tension to what he says elsewhere, claims with regard to Galatians 2:16 that "the lawcourt metaphor behind the language of justification, and of the status 'righteous' which someone has when the court has found in their favor, has given way to the the clear sense of 'membership in God's people'." But such literary and rhetorical misdemeanors hardly are sufficient to overthrow the clear correlation of the biblical "righteousness" language and its covenantal overtones. Indeed, Wright isn't making things up out of whole cloth when he notes that Paul, in both Galatians 3 and Romans 4, bases his argument that justification is by faith, apart from works of the Torah, for Jews and Gentiles alike, on the Genesis 15 account of God's covenant with Abraham. Indeed, as Wright has trenchantly argued against Sanders, the apostle doesn't point to Genesis 15:6 simply as a proof text for a doctrine he held for quite other reasons. Rather, he believed that his law-free message of justification by faith was the fulfillment of God's promise to the patriarch of a single, worldwide family (Gen 12), which would be marked out, like Abraham himself, by faith (in contrast, that is, to the physical seed of Abraham who would be marked out, in the time prior to the coming of Messiah Jesus, by circumcision (Gen 17) (cf. Gal 3:7-9)..

This brings us to the key text itself, Genesis 15:6: "And [Abram] believed YHWH, and he counted it to him as righteousness." Now in its original historical context, only the most inveterate Reformed confessionalist would claim that the primary intent of the text was to portray Abram as a forgiven sinner and "justified" by having an external "righteousness" credited to his account. Of course, progressive revelation might later indicate that such notions are part of what this prototypical "reckoning" entailed. But in its context, as Richard Hays notes, being "accounted righteous" means, in effect, to be reckoned "in right covenant relationship with God" ("The Letter to the Galatians," in The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. XI [Nashville: Abingdon, 2000] 255). And, as Paul uses the text in Galatians 3, it is the text that defines who are truly Abraham's progeny in the eschatological age apocalyptically inaugurated by Christ's death and resurrection—not those who are "of the law" (3:10), who get themselves circumcised and hence stand under the Torah's "curse," but those "of faith" (3:7) who are blessed "in" and "with" the patriarch by manifesting the family characteristic he exemplified when promised an heir. And this, Paul is at pains to emphasize, is true for both Jews and Gentiles, who by faith are united to the single "seed" and constitute the one family originally covenanted to Abraham. Ecclesiology—eschatological covenant membership, if you will—is thus built right into the structure of the apostle's teaching on "justification." And that means that ecclesiology is not merely an implication or corollary of justification, but a constituent element in it. Justification, in other words, has both individualist/soteriological and ecclesiological/covenantal aspects, neither of which should be gainsaid or downplayed. God's acquittal of the ungodly by faith, to put it yet another way, finds its concrete expression in the membership of the believing sinner in his eschatological covenant community.

Such minor adjustments notwithstanding, I consider Moo's work on Galatians to be clearly the best available in today's market. Watching the interview, moreover, gives a sense of the character and humility of the man, one of God's great gifts to his people in the early 21st century. Watch, and by all means, pick up his commentary!

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