Volume 6 - Issue 3

The status of justification by faith in Paul’s thought: a brief survey of a modern debate

By Ronald Y. K. Fung

It is well known that Martin Luther considered justification by faith to be the article of Christian belief by which the Church would stand or fall. From the Reformation period to comparatively recent times, that doctrine was generally held to represent the content or at least the centre of Paul’s theology.1 Since the mid-nineteenth century, however, some have disputed this estimate of that doctrine and given an entirely different appraisal of its status in the apostle’s thought, while others have upheld, with or without modification, the traditional understanding. The following survey of the course of scholarly research that bears upon this subject, which makes no claim to being exhaustive, will reveal that four broad positions may be distinguished.


The first view regards the doctrine of justification by faith as being of merely subsidiary significance to Paul and considers the centre of his theology to lie elsewhere.

R. A. Lipsius was apparently the first to suggest that there were two trains of thought in Paulinism, the one based on the judicial idea of justification, the other having its starting-point in the conception of the new life created by the Spirit, and that what was really effectual in redemption was union with Christ, brought about by the Spirit, which transformed the believer’s personality. A. Sabatier made the first important attempt to prove the existence of different phases in the thought and life of Paul; his theory was that the apostle advances from the simple doctrine of justification by faith, which occupies a dominant position in his Hauptbriefe, to a speculative, gnostic development of his ideas in the ‘captivity epistles’, and he (i.e. Sabatier) did not give the same prominence to the coexistence of the juridical and ethical series of ideas as did some of the later writers. Similarly, H. Lüdemann, who designated these two lines of thought as ‘a religious or subjectively ideal line’ and ‘an ethical or objectively real line’ respectively, saw ‘a noteworthy transformation … at the very centre of Pauline anthropology’ whereby the juridical-subjective doctrine of justification by faith was gradually eased out of the central position which it once occupied in Paul’s gospel and its place taken by the ethico-physical doctrine of redemption which was ‘the apostle’s actual, definitive view of man’s salvation in Christ’.2

In C. von Weizsäcker’s construction of Paulinism, the concept of ethical renewal is replaced by the notion of divine sonship, in which Weizsäcker found the central point of salvation to Paul. As for the judicial doctrine of righteousness, Weizsäcker observed that (i) it did not exhaust the whole of Paul; (ii) it was given prominence only in Romans and Galatians and even there only in a setting of conflict with Jewish doctrine; and (iii) in his independent doctrinal system it did not occupy the chief place.3

To R. Kabisch, Pauline theology was eschatologically orientated, this eschatological orientation being consciously dependent on the Jewish conceptions of his time; and ‘justification’ (like ‘reconciliation’) was subservient to salvation, which Paul conceived of as eschatological deliverance from judgment and destruction. Thus, as Lüdemann had made anthropology his starting-point in trying to understand the apostle’s doctrine of redemption from a single point of view, so Kabisch took eschatology as his point of departure; both agreed, with the other interpreters mentioned above, that the centre of Paul’s doctrine lay elsewhere than in justification by faith.4

Shortly after the turn of the century, W. Wrede—whom W. G. Kümmel has called ‘the real radical’ in the field of Pauline studies—gave in his study of the apostle what might be considered an elaboration on Weizsäcker’s thesis. Categorically denying the Reformation view of justification by faith as the central point of Pauline doctrine, Wrede claims that ‘the whole Pauline religion can be expounded without a word being said about this doctrine’, the ‘real significance’ of which he finds in the supposition that ‘it is the polemical doctrineof Paul, is only made intelligible by the struggle of his life, his controversy with Judaism and Jewish Christianity, and is only intended for this’. This doctrine, according to Wrede, ‘had its immediate origin in the exigencies of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles’ and furnished ‘the theoretical support for emancipation from Jewish institutions’, and the true essential Pauline doctrine is not justification, but redemption—redemption from the powers of the present world, flesh, sin, Law, death. How the polemical doctrine of justification is related to the essential doctrine of redemption Wrede does not say.5

A similar view of the Pauline doctrine was propounded by W. Heitmüller in the course of a speech delivered at Philipps University in Marburg on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Reformation. In attempting to denomstrate that Luther’s Christianity was not a reproduction or revival of Paul’s religion, Heitmüller asserts that whereas with Luther justification stands absolutely in the centre for the simple reason that his conversion consisted in the experience of justification, Paul’s conversion was not a matter of sin and forgiveness but had to do only with the question whether the crucified Jesus was the Messiah.

The doctrine of justification was in his case fundamentally a polemic and apologetic doctrine: it first grew upon Paul the missionary in the course of his mission and served to defend his law-free Gentile mission against Jewish-Christian attacks and perspectives. That the heathen do not need to become Jews in order to be blessed, and that the Jewish religion is not capable of leading to salvation, that is its original meaning.

As for Paul’s essential doctrine, Heitmüller would find it in the conception of the Holy Spirit as summing up the complex of religious experiences: ‘the Spirit makes the Christian certain of sonship, of salvation.’6 A decade later, K. Holl could refer to the ‘low’ view of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith represented by Heitmüller as a widespread if not dominant view of his day.7

It was A. Schweitzer who made perhaps the most elaborate attempt at showing the secondary nature of Paul’s doctrine of righteousness by faith. As he sees it, there are in fact three different doctrines of redemption in Paul’s theology: the centre of Paul’s thought is given in the mystical doctrine of dying and rising again with Christ, which replaces by an ‘internal’ one the ‘external interpretation’ of Jesus’ death and resurrection provided by the eschatological doctrine of redemption;8 while the juridical doctrine of righteousness by faith ‘is only a fragment from the more comprehensive mystical redemption-doctrine, which Paul has broken off and polished to give him the particular refraction which he requires’. This judgment is based on ‘a series of facts’; (i) In Galatians, the doctrine is not yet independent but is worked out by the aid of the eschatological doctrine of the in-Christ mysticism; (ii) whether in Romans or Galatians, it appears always only in connection with the discussion required by his scriptural argument: what Paul ‘wants this subsidiary doctrine for is to enable him, on the basis of the traditional conception of the atoning death of Christ, to conduct his controversy with the law by means of the argument from Scripture’; (iii) the doctrine is not brought into connection with the other facts of redemption (ethics, the sacraments, possession of the Spirit, resurrection), and it is impossible to develop the doctrine of redemption as a whole from the juridical doctrine of righteousness by faith, which is possible only from the mystical doctrine of the being-in-Christ.

Schweitzer holds that Paul’s conviction of the essential link between freedom from the law and forgiveness of sins is derived from the mystical doctrine of being-in-Christ, according to which ‘those who have died and risen again with Christ are free both from sin and from the Law’. Since, on the one hand, ‘there is no argument against the validity of the Law to be derived directly from the atoning death of Jesus’, and, on the other hand, according to his doctrine of the mystical being-in-Christ, freedom from the law and forgiveness of sins go hand in hand for Paul, he is ‘forced by his mysticism to recast the doctrine of the atoning death of Jesus, in the sense of inserting into it the doctrine of freedom from the law’; in other words, he is forced to formulate freedom from the law, which is founded in his mysticism, also as righteousness by faith. The only way, however, for Paul to bring into close connection the two ideas of freedom from the law and the death of Christ is ‘by means of logical ingenuities’, viz ‘by showing by the argument from Prophecy that the only valid righteousness is that which comes from faith alone, and that work-righteousness is incompatible with faith-righteousness’. ‘The doctrine of righteousness by faith is therefore,’ Schweitzer concludes, ‘a subsidiary crater, which has formed within the rim of the main crater—the mystical doctrine of redemption through the being-in-Christ’; it is ‘something incomplete and unfitted to stand alone’.9

This evaluation of the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith is followed by H. J. Schoeps, who speaks of it as being in the scheme of Paul’s thought ‘a fragment of a doctrine of redemption, a polemic doctrine connected with the abrogatio legis and unconnected with ethics, a doctrine which may be understood only against the background of the very imminent parousia but not as a timelessly valid truth’.10 In the English-speaking world, one writer who has espoused a similar position is C. H. Buck, Jr. Largely on the basis of the non-use of the antithesis faith/works in 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians 1–9 and its prominence in Galatians and Romans, Buck draws the ‘inescapable’ conclusion that ‘justification by faith, while not incompatible with Paul’s earlier doctrine, was actually formulated and expressed by him for the first time when he found it necessary to answer the arguments of the Judaizers in Galatia’. Buck thinks it ‘not at all unlikely’ that the term justification derived its importance and at least a part of its meaning (as attested in Galatians and Romans) ‘not from Paul’s theological vocabulary but from that of its opponents’.11 In a similar vein, K. Stendahl judges Schweitzer to be ‘certainly right’ in assigning only a limited function to Paul’s teaching about justification, and considers that ‘it was his grappling with the question about the place of the Gentiles in the Church and in the plan of God … which had driven him to that interpretation of the Law which was to become his in a unique way. Salvation history, then, described especially in Romans 9–11, rather than justification by faith, is to Stendahl the centre of Paul’s theology.12

The heartiest endorsement of Schweitzer’s evaluation of justification as a subsidiary doctrine in Paul has come from W. D. Davies and, most recently, from E. P. Sanders. Davies adduces the following arguments:

(i) ‘In some contexts justification is merely one metaphor among others employed by Paul to describe his deliverance through Christ, and we are not justified in petrifying a metaphor into a dogma’; (ii) ‘in those contexts where the idea of Justification by Faith is central, we find that this is so only because of certain polemical necessities’; (iii) Paul’s attitude to the old Torah (he practised obedience to it and urged other Jewish Christians to do likewise) is ‘only understandable when the doctrine of Justification by Faith is regarded not as the essential pivot of his thought but as a convenient polemic’; (iv) a doctrine such as Justification by Faith, which has always to be hedged about so as not to lead to antinomianism, a plague that Paul dreaded, and which leads, as Schweitzer has rightly insisted, to an ethical cul-de-sac, cannot have been the dominant factor in the thought of one who could never have separated religion and life.”13

Davies therefore has no hesitation in relegating the doctrine ‘to the periphery … of Paul’s thought’. As for the real centre of Paul’s thought, Davies suggests that this is to be found ‘in his awareness that with the coming of Christ the Age to Come had become present fact the proof of which was the advent of the Spirit’.14

In his attempt to locate a beginning point for the study of Paul, E. P. Sanders notes the debate between E. Käsemann and his critics and makes an observation in the manner of a syllogism: ‘the heart of Paul’s theology cannot be centred on the individual’ (in this Käsemann, Stendahl and others are correct); ‘the particular formulation “righteousness by faith” does primarily concern the individual’ (so Bultmann, Bornkamm and Conzelmann correctly maintain); hence ‘the catch-word “righteousness by faith” must be given up as the clue to Paul’s thought’. Sanders accepts Schweitzer’s arguments against considering the terminology ‘righteousness by faith’ as central to Pauline thought as, ‘cumulatively considered, convincing’, and he maintains with Schweitzer that to take that phrase as the central theme of Paul’s gospel is to miss the heart of his theology.15 In Sanders’ view, the central place in Paul’s soteriology is taken by the theme of participation: participation in Christ’s death so that one obtains ‘new life and the initial transformation which leads to the resurrection and ultimate transformation’, in Christ’s body and in the Spirit.16 As for the juristic category of righteousness by faith, Sanders holds (a) that it is not a set doctrine with any one meaning—‘Paul is rather unparticular about terminology’ and the definition of the righteousness of faith varies—and (b) that it serves a primarily negative purpose—‘as a negative argument against keeping the law as sufficient or necessary for salvation’.17 It is affirmed more than once that Paul was not conscious of any bifurcation in his own thinking: ‘Christ’s death was for acquittal and to provide participation in his death to the power of sin, and these are conceived not as two different things, but as one.’18 Yet, even though Paul himself did not make this distinction, it is clear that ‘the “participationist” way of thinking brings one closer to the heart of Paul’s thought than the juristic, once the two are distinguished’. Sanders believes that ‘there is a basic coherence in all this, but it is not systematically worked out. The precise relation, for example, between acquittal and death to the power of sin did not appear to Paul as a problem which required resolution’—a conclusion which is in keeping with Sanders’ description of Paul as a theologian and coherent thinker but not a systematic theologian.19

If Davies, Sanders and others reveal in their appraisal of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith the abiding influence of Schweitzer’s original thesis, Strecker holds (i) that up to the time of 1 Thessalonians (taken to be Paul’s earliest extant letter) the Problematik of the law had not yet been fully thought through by Paul, since there is in this letter no reflection on the subject of justification; (ii) that Paul’s persecution of the churches had not been motivated by the opposition between a Jewish piety based on the law and the (Gentile-) Christian freedom from the law, but its real cause had been the offer of a forgiveness of sins that is declared in the name of Jesus Christ; (iii) that Paul’s Damascus encounter with Christ and the origin of his doctrine of justification are ‘temporally and materially to be removed from each other’, since in Galatians 1:12ff., despite the fact that in the letter Paul is seeking to combat Judaistic doctrine by working out his message of justification, he does not describe either his conversion or his commission as an apostle in the familiar terminology of justification; (iv) that according to Philippians 3:4b–11 Paul originally did not interpret his call in the language of justification but rather ‘in the Christologico-ontological sense, as the beginning of his recognition of Jesus Christ as the Lord’; (v) that the doctrine of justification forms ‘eine sekundäre Redaktionsstufe’ over against both the Adam-Christ analogy of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 and the baptismal doctrine of Romans 6; and (vi) that ‘in spite of its juridical terminology it is rightly to be understood only on the basis of Paul’s doctrine of redemption which temporally and materially preceded it (on the basis, that is), of the ontological interpretation of the Christ-event as an act of deliverance from enslavement to the powers sarx, hamartia and thanatos’.20


Over against the previous position, the second view upholds the fundamental significance and even centrality of justification by faith in Paul’s theology.

Wrede’s view of justification as a Kampfeslehre in Paul was deprecated by J. G. Machen, to whom Wrede’s representation of Paul ‘reverses the real state of the case’:

The real reason why Paul was devoted to the doctrine of justification by faith was not that it made possible the Gentile mission, but rather that it was true. Paul was not devoted to the doctrine of justification by faith because of the Gentile mission; he was devoted to the Gentile mission because of the doctrine of justification by faith.21

Similarly, G. Schrenk protested against Wrede’s account of the Pauline doctrine on the ground that

Paul must first justify himself before his own earlier thinking, and his whole theology is rooted in this radical clarification of the question of the Law.… That justification is a militant doctrine and a keypoint in the Christian mission is because there is exposed in it a new insight concerning the relation of the Law and Christ.22

Schweitzer’s assertion of a dichotomy in Paul between the eschatological-mystical doctrine of redemption on the one hand and the juridical doctrine of justification on the other, also, was challenged by W. Grundmann, who, while accepting the juxtaposition of the two trains of thought, finds their Einheitspunkt in Paul’s interpretation of the law. Paul’s Damascus experience having made righteousness by law an impossibility for him, two inseparable questions arose for Paul out of his situation of legal piety:

(1) Since there is no righteousness of God in the law, where then is it to be found? (2) Since dominion of law and duration of life belong together, how is the situation with regard to the possibility of freedom from the law after death and the possibility of a new life that does not stand under the dominion of law?

Paul answers these questions with his doctrine of the righteousness of faith and his mysticism of being-in-Christ, respectively. Both are based on the act of God’s grace in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and both trains of thought form a unity, as passages like Romans 3:24, 6:7, 7:1–6; Galatians 2:15–21; 2 Corinthians 5:14–21 clearly show. Grundmann concludes that eschatology, mysticism and justification represent a Dreieinheit in Paul: ‘In the covering frame of the eschatology which realizes itself as redemption-event are its two sides, mysticism of the being-in-Christ and justification by faith, whereby the first provides the presupposition for the last.’23

The Reformation view of justification as the centre of Paul’s preaching was positively upheld by H. D. Wendland. He emphasizes the fact that Pauline theology is basically eschatology, and that this holds also for his doctrine of justification: it is the ‘exposition and application’ of Pauline eschatology to the position of man before God; it is ‘ “applied” or anthropological eschatology’. Justification is also christological in character: ‘In death and new life is Jesus the mediator of justification. There is no other justification-doctrine for Paul than a christological one.’ Nor is justification unrelated to ‘ethics’: ‘Paul turns the relationship of justification and work (as man’s moral behaviour) around: not that the work procures justification, but rather justification produces the work, and it can become the power and basis of work, since it is realized in the coming of Christ.’ Justification has also an ecclesiological character: ‘Reception of the Spirit and baptism as incorporation into the church of God belong together, as also justification and membership in the church’; justification and the sacraments are connected in that ‘the sacrament is eschatologico-historical sacrament; it has the event of justification in Christ’s death and resurrection behind itself and in itself’; and ‘the doctrine of justification and the concept of church are finally bound together in Christology’. On the basis of these observations, Wendland concludes that in Paul the doctrine of justification by faith is ‘no isolated piece of teaching, but rather a definite concentration and tapering off’ of his entire message and theology.24 To M. Dibelius and W. G. Kümmel, similarly, ‘there can be no doubt that it is here that the heart of Paul the thinker beats most vigorously, and that it is here that we have to look for the core of his message’; while J. I. Packer adduces five considerations as pointing to ‘the centrality of justification in Paul’s theological and religious outlook’. These are that (i) the doctrine of justification is the backbone of the Epistle to the Romans, which is ‘evidently to be read as a full-dress statement of Paul’s gospel’; (ii) justification was evidently the root of Paul’s personal religion; (iii) it is to Paul ‘God’s fundamental act of blessing, for it both saves from the past and secures for the future’; (iv) it is the basic reference point in Paul’s doctrine of salvation; (v) it is ‘the key to Paul’s philosophy of history’.25

If the dispute concerning Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith has been largely a problem within Protestant theology, this does not mean that Catholic scholars have been completely silent about it. Thus, O. Kuss has taken issue with Wrede and (especially) Schweitzer, considering that it cannot be conducive to a historical understanding of the Pauline preaching to set the doctrine of righteousness by faith ‘rigorously and one-sidedly’ over against the mystical doctrine of the being-in-Christ. And K. Kertelge, addressing himself specifically to the problem, bases his conclusion on the twofold consideration that (i) justification is ‘the theological centre of gravity in the chief epistles’ of Paul, and that (ii) the theological function of the concept of justification is more than of passing, polemical value, but deals with the real need of man in his relation to God—hence the doctrine of justification is ‘the real theology, and certainly the anthropologically inflected theology of Paul’. While, therefore, the doctrine is related to Paul’s actual historical situation, it is nevertheless a valid expression of his gospel and stands in the centre of his theological reflections.26

The same emphasis is found, not surprisingly, in the works of other German, Protestant scholars. Thus, H. Conzelmann, subjecting various passages where Paul ‘cites and expounds stereotyped doctrinal formulae’ to a formgeschichtlich analysis, concludes that ‘where Paul expounds the tradition of the church it is his consistent intention to work out the significance of “faith” in its connection with justification and not in relationship to mysticism’. To Conzelmann, the doctrine of justification is the central theme which holds together and normalizes other themes of theology: ‘in it the criteria for current tendencies in theology will have to be sought’, and the correct approach to the ethical problems and crises of today is, he suggests, ‘to strive ever more intensively for the doctrine of justification as the article of a standing and falling theology’.27

But perhaps the stoutest defence in recent years of the centrality of justification in Paul is that which has come from G. Bornkamm and E. Käsemann. In Bornkamm’s view, ‘the unmistakably personal and peculiar factor in Paul’s understanding of the primitive kerygma’ consists in the fact that he ‘expounds and develops the Christian gospel as the gospel of justification by faith alone’: ‘to set out the gospel concerning Christ as a gospel of justification, and vice versa, is a decisive concern of his whole theology’, and ‘his whole preaching, even when it says nothing expressly about justification, can be properly understood only when taken in closest connection with that doctrine and related to it’. As for those ‘schemes of classification not directly stemming from his doctrine of justification’, such as sacramental statements and existential terms, ‘they are not to be played off against his gospel of justification, or separated from it or ranked above it. Influential as these mystico-ontological concepts and expressions are, Paul hardly uses them unqualified by his doctrine of justification’.28 In comparable, not to say more forceful, terms, Käsemann affirms—largely in criticism of the position of K. Stendahl whom he charges with ‘setting salvation history thematically over against the doctrine of justification’—that ‘Paul’s doctrine of justification, with the doctrine of the law that belongs to it, is ultimately his interpretation of christology’: it is ‘the centre of his theology’, the ‘theme which dominates the whole of his theology’; and while it indeed is ‘a fighting doctrine, directed against Judaism’, the struggle which it represents is not a merely anti-Jewish affair and is not superseded even today.29

The emphasis thus placed by Bornkamm and Käsemann on the centrality of Paul’s doctrine of justification to his whole conception of the gospel and not only in polemical situations is regarded by F. F. Bruce as properly given; against the view of C. H. Buck and W. Wrede referred to above, Bruce maintains that ‘the essence of justification by faith was more probably inplicit in the logic of his conversion’.30


A third view dissents both from Wrede and Schweitzer’s estimate of justification as of merely subsidiary significance in Paul and from the opposite view which accords the doctrine a central place.

This view is represented by J. Jeremias, to whom the formula ‘justification by faith’ is but one of ‘a multitude of illustrations’ which Paul uses to show to the newly converted what the rite of baptism means to them.

It is the description of God’s grace in baptism using a figure taken originally from the judicial sphere: God’s grace in baptism consists in his unreserved pardon. It is that formulation of the grace of baptism which Paul created in conflict with Judaism. Therefore it is not a ‘subsidiary crater’, but it occupies a place of equal importance with all the other descriptions of the grace of baptism—e.g. being ‘washed’ and ‘sanctified’ (1 Cor. 6:11). Hence the doctrine ‘should not be isolated’; rather, ‘we must include justification in all the other sayings interpreting baptism in order to put it in its proper setting’.31

In this connection we may note that E. P. Sanders also considers ‘righteousness by faith’ to be ‘only one formulation among many’; he treats ‘justification and righteousness’ as part of Paul’s ‘transfer terminology’ together with ‘participation in the death of Christ’, ‘freedom’, ‘transformation, new creation’ and ‘reconciliation’, and concludes from the study of several Pauline texts ‘that “justify” as a “transfer” term can be paralleled either with “sanctify” and “reconcile” (referring to past transgressions), or with “set free” (referring to sin as an enslaving power)’.32 This should not, however, mislead one into thinking that Sanders’ position as a whole is similar to that of Jeremias, since, as we saw above, Sanders does not regard the participationist and the juristic categories as of equal significance but unequivocally gives priority to the former as representing the heart of Paul’s thought.


The fourth position may be described as a modification of the Reformation view of Paul’s doctrine of justification as the centre and content of Paul’s gospel.

An outstanding proponent of this view is H. N. Ridderbos, who in general stands firmly within the Reformed tradition. His objection to the Reformed view of this matter is not that it attaches too great an importance to justification by faith; over against Wrede and Schweitzer, he affirms that the doctrine ‘unmistakably belongs to the very heart of Paul’s preaching’. But, he observes,

by approaching Paul’s doctrine exclusively from the standpoint of justification by faith there is a danger of depriving Paul’s preaching of its redemptive historical dynamic and of making it into a timeless treatment of the vital question: how is one justified before God? Justification by faith as proclaimed by Paul is rather one aspect, although a very central aspect, of the great redemptive event of which Paul knew himself to be the herald, and which he described as the fulness of time in which God has sent the Son (Gal. 4:4), … so that it can now be said, old things are passed away; behold all things are become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

Ridderbos sees ‘the dominating perspective and foundation of Paul’s entire preaching’ as that of Heilsgeschichte, for ‘before everything else, he was the proclaimer of a new time, the great turning point in the history of redemption, the intrusion of a new world aeon’; and he maintains that such a perspective ‘alone can illuminate the many facets and interrelations of his preaching, e.g. justification, being-in-Christ, suffering, dying, and rising again with Christ, the conflict between the spirit and the flesh, the cosmic drama, etc.’.33 This view is shared by F. F. Bruce, who, while agreeing (with Bornkamm and Käsemann, as noted above) that justification by faith is central to the Pauline gospel, at the same time recognizes that ‘it does not exhaust that gospel’, but that ‘Paul sets his doctrine of justification, together with his other doctrines, in the context of the new creation that has come into being with and in Christ’.34 It is espoused also by G. E. Ladd, who expresses agreement with Ridderbos (and W. D. Davies) to the effect that the unifying centre of Paul’s theology is ‘the redemptive work of Christ as the centre of redemptive history’; to him, Paul’s conversion meant a recovery of the sense of redemptive history that Judaism had lost: Paul’s experience of Christ forced him back beyond the Mosaic law to rediscover the promise given to Abraham and to see its fulfilment in the recent events in the person and work of Jesus.35 The same heilsgeschichtlich emphasis underlies the proposition of R. B. Gaffin, Jr., that ‘not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps most prominently) is the central motif of Pauline soteriology’.36

By way of conclusion, we may perhaps make three observations and one suggestion, (i) It is clear that the primary issue in the modern debate on the status of justification by faith in Paul’s thought is, in the words of K. Kertelge, ‘whether the doctrine of justification plays only a subordinate role in the totality of a doctrine of redemption which proceeds on a multiple track, or whether, from its basic intention, the central place in Pauline theology belongs to it’.37 (ii) With the possible exception of the works of H. D. Wendland and K. Kertelge, there has appeared since Schweitzer propounded his thesis no monograph which takes up the issue in a fundamental and comprehensive way, although various scholars have expressed their own position with regard to it. (iii) The debate has been carried on mainly among German scholars, and their counterparts in the English-speaking world have by and large taken little part in it. It would seem that a thorough study of the issue by a scholar from the English-speaking world might make a welcome contribution to the debate. (iv) If theological judgments, to be sound, must be firmly rooted in careful exegesis of Scripture, then one of the best approaches—not to say the best approach—to the dispute in question is by way of patient exegesis of Paul’s letters, at least those parts of his letters which are pertinent to the subject. Such a study, we submit, will make it abundantly plain that the last of the positions in the above survey approximates most closely the Pauline perspective. At least that is how it has turned out for one student of Paul.38

1 H. D. Wendland, Die Mitte der paulinischen Botschaft (Göttingen, 1935), p. 6; H. N. Ridderbos, Paul and Jesus, ET (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1958), p. 63.

2 For the above information see (on all three scholars mentioned) A. Schweitzer, Paul and his interpreters, ET (London: A. and C. Black, 1956), pp. 19f., 32, 28–31; and also (on Lüdemann) W. G. Kümmel, The New Testament: the history of the investigation of its problems, ET (London: SCM, 1973), pp. 28–31.

3 C. von Weizsäcker, The apostolic age of the Christian church, ET (London: Williams and Norgate, 1894–1895), vol. I, pp. 141, 373f., 165f.

4 A. Schweitzer, Paul and his interpreters, pp. 58, 62f.; cf. W. G. Kümmel, The New Testament, pp. 232–235.

5 W. Wrede Paul ET (London: Philip Green 1907) pp. 123, 147, 92–115, 177f.

6 W. Heitmüller, Luthers Stellung in der Religions-geschichte des Christentums (Marburg: N. G. Elwert’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1917), pp. 19f.

7 K. Holl, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte. II Der Osten (Tübingen, 1928), p. 19. Holl himself argues against this view. O. Pfleiderer, while placing the ethical series of ideas alongside the juridical, maintained that both sets of conception held an equal place in the consciousness of the apostle from the first; this emphasis made Pfleiderer’s view something unique during the period to which he belonged. Cf. A. Schweitzer, Paul and his interpreters, pp. 31f.

8 A. Schweitzer, The mysticism of Paul the apostle, ET (London: A. and C. Black, 1931), pp. 25 and 74.

9 Ibid., pp. 220–226.

10 H. J. Schoeps, Paul: the theology of the apostle in the light of Jewish religious history, ET (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961), pp. 123, 196 (cf. 206). Yet, curiously enough, Schoeps can also speak of justification by faith as ‘the kernel of Paul’s teaching, … leading to the mysticism of being in Christ and the total suspension of the Mosaic law’ (p. 263).

11 C. H. Buck, Jr, ‘The Date of Galatians’, JBL 70 (1951), pp. 113–122 (121f.) Dr R. T. France kindly informed me that Buck’s views are greatly expanded in the latter’s book (with G. Taylor), Saint Paul: a study of the development of his thought (New York, 1969), and that it has been subjected to analysis and heavy criticism in J. W. Drane, ‘Theological Diversity in the Letters of Paul’, Tyndale Bulletin 27 (1976), pp. 3–26.1 have not been able to consult Buck’s book for myself while my reading of Drane’s article (cf. esp. pp. 10f.) has given me, understandably, no new information on the specific point with which we are immediately concerned (but the article was not), viz. justification as a late formulation in Paul’s thought.

12 K. Stendahl, ‘The apostle Paul and the introspective conscience of the West’, HThR 56 (1963), pp. 199–215 (204 with n. 10). This article is reprinted in Stendahl’s book, Paul among Jews and Gentiles (London: SCM, 1977), pp. 78–96 (84f. with n. 10; cf. 25f.); the latter work also contains (pp. 129–132) Stendahl’s rejoinder (see esp. p. 130 for his own statement of his thesis) to E. Käsemann’s critique of his article (cf. n. 23 below).

13 W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (London: SPCK, 21955), pp. 221f.

14 Ibid., pp. 222f. Cf. Davies in IDB, III, p. 100b for the same view.

15 E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (London: SCM, 1977), pp. 438–440, especially 438 (cf. 434), 440.

16 Ibid., pp. 514, 502–504, 452–463 (especially 453, 456).

17 Ibid., pp. 490–495 (especially 492), 505–506.

18 Ibid., p. 507; cf. pp. 501, 508, 519–520.

19 Ibid., pp. 502, 520, 433.

20 Georg Strecker, ‘Befreiung und Rechtfertigung: zur Stellung der Rechtfertigungslehre in der Theologie des Paulus,’ in Johannes Friedrich, Wolfgang Pöhlmann and Peter Stuhlmacher (ed.), Rechtfertigung. Festschrift für Ernst Käsemann zum 70. Geburtstag (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) and Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1976), pp. 497–508, especially (i) 481; (ii) 483, 505 n. 92; (iii) 485f.; (iv) 487; (v) 497n. 78; cf. 499, 507; (vi) 508.

21 J. G. Machen, The origin of Paul’s religion (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1921), pp. 278f.

22 G. Schrenk, TDNT, II, p. 202, s.v. dikaiosynë. Cf. H. R. Mackintosh, The Christian experience of forgiveness(1927; Fontana Books, 1961), pp. 103f., who had written, independently of the debate under review: Paul had ‘a Judaist in his own heart, with whom from the outset he was bound to reach an understanding’, so that it is reasonable to suppose that ‘the great new insight formed part of his personal religion from the first’.

23 W. Grundmann, ‘Gesetz, Rechtfertigung uad Mystik bei Paulus,’ ZNW 32 (1933), pp. 52–65, esp. 61–65.

24 H. D. Wendland, op. cit. (see n. 1 above), esp. pp. 6, 8, 14, 25, 34, 38, 44, 46, 48.

25 M. Dibelius and W. G. Kümmel, Paul (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1953), pp. 114f., J. I. Packer, NBD, pp. 684a–685a, s.v. ‘Justification’.

26 O. Kuss, Der Römerbrief (2 parts; Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 21963), pp. 129–131; K. Kertelge, ‘Rechtfertigung’ bei Paulus (Münster: Verlag Aschendorff, 21971), pp. 286, 295–306.

27 H. Conzelmann, ‘Current Probems in Pauline Research,’ Interpretation 22 (1968), pp. 171–186, esp. 175–178, 186; id., ‘Die Rechtfertigungslehre des Paulus. Theologie order Anthropologie?’, EvT 28 (1968), pp. 389–404, esp. 394–397, 404.

28 G. Bornkhamm, Paul, ET (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1971), pp. 115–117, 152.

29 E. Käsemann, Perspectives on Paul, ET (London: SCM, 1971), pp. 66 (cf. 63), 73, 76, 80, 164, 70, 71–73.

30 F. F. Bruce ‘Galatian Problems. 4. The Date of the Epistle’ BJRL 54 (1971–1972), pp. 250–267, esp. 261–264. Cf. id., The epistle of Paul to the Romans (TNTC; London: Tyndale, 1963), pp. 35–37; ‘Some thoughts on Paul and Paulinism,’ Vox Evangelica VII (1971) pp. 5–16, esp. 10.

31 J. Jeremias, The central message of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1965), pp. 57–66, esp. 60, 63.

32 Sanders, op. cit., pp. 493, 463–472 (especially 472).

33 H. N. Ridderbos, Paul and Jesus, pp. 63–65. Cf. id., Paul: an outline of his theology, ET (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 161f., 166f., 173f.

34 F. F. Bruce, Romans, p. 40.

35 G. E. Ladd, A theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), p. 374.

36 R. B. Gaffin, Jr, Resurrection and redemption (ThD thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1969; printed by Westminster Student Service, 1971), p. 143.

37 Kertelge, op. cit., p. 295.

38 Cf. R. Y. K. Fung, ‘The relationship between righteousness and faith in the thought of Paul as expressed in the letters to the Galatians and the Romans’ (2 vols; unpublished PhD thesis, Manchester University, 1975); idem, ‘Justification by faith in 1 and 2 Corinthians,’ in D. A. Hagner and M. J. Harris Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1980).

Ronald Y. K. Fung

China Graduate School of Theology