Imputation and Paradigms: A Reply to Nicholas BatzigAug 3rd, 2012 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
Nicholas Batzig is a graduate of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Richmond Hill, Georgia.
Recently he wrote an article titled “The Justification of Imputation,” in which he provides an exegetical argument for the Protestant conception of justification by way of extra nos imputation. Imputation is a point of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics. According to the Protestant conception of imputation, God justifies us not by infusing righteousness into us, but by crediting Christ’s obedience to our account, and our sins to His account. This forensic declaration does not make the person internally righteous during this life, hence the term extra nos (lit. ‘outside of us’). Justification is followed by a gradual process of sanctification, though a person is never in this life truly internally righteous until after death.
By contrast, according to the Catholic Church, God justifies us by infusing righteousness into our hearts at baptism. Subsequently, by growing in grace and agape, we grow in righteousness and thus in justification, not by moving from a state of imperfect justification, but from perfect justification to more perfect justification, through a greater measure of sanctifying grace and agape. Here I show how Batzig’s argument from Scripture makes use of a particular paradigm in order to reach the conclusions he reaches concerning imputation.
Batzig begins his argument as follows:
At the heart of the historical Protestant teaching on justification–as over against the Roman Catholic dogma–is the biblical teaching that God demands perfect and perpetual obedience. … The need for imputed righteousness rests squarely on God’s continued demand for perfect obedience. God is absolutely holy. In order for a Holy God to maintain His holiness He can never become lax in his demand for holiness. A general holiness will never do. Man is indebted to God as the creature to the Creator. It is unthinkable that the infinitely holy God would require less than absolute perfection. To do so would be for Him to deny Himself.
Batzig’s argument consists of two premises. The first premise is (1) God demands absolute, perpetual, and perfect obedience for entrance into heaven. The second premise is (2) no Christian is absolutely, perpetually and perfectly obedient in this life. Therefore, it follows that without an extra nos imputation of a perfect righteousness, no one would be saved.
Batzig supports the first premise of his argument from two places in the New Testament: Galatians 3:10, and Romans 10:5-6.
Concerning Galatians 3:10 he writes:
The locus classicus for the Reformed teaching on God’s demand for perfect and perpetual obedience is Galatians 3:10. There the apostle Paul cites Deuteronomy 27:26 in an attempt to prove that justification is by faith, not by works. If justification were by our law-keeping (works) then a man would have to keep the entirety of the Law. This is the reason why Paul appeals to Deut. 27:26, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things written in the Law of God to do them.” Schreiner, in his article “Is Perfect Obedience to the Law Possible,” notes the following important observation about Galatians 3:10:
It is unlikely, therefore, that in Gal 3:10 Paul cited Deut 27:26 because the latter condemned the sin of legalism. The simplest way of reading the quotation, and it is one that accords with the OT context, is that Paul is saying that there is a curse on anyone who does not observe the law entirely. Such an interpretation is strengthened when one observes that Paul, in basic agreement with the LXX, uses a Scripture text that pronounces a curse on anyone who does not abide by all things (pasin) written in the book of the law, to do them. It is very important to note that the MT does not have any word in Deut 27:26 that corresponds to the word pasin in Gal 3:10. It is fair to conclude, therefore, that Paul’s use of the word pasin clearly implies that the curse was pending if one did not observe any part of the law.
The πασιν τοις of Galatians 3:10 makes it undeniable that God demanded perfect and unbroken obedience to the Law. The legal demand for perfect obedience did not pass away with the fall of Adam. God is holy, and a holy God must continue to demand perfect obedience to His own holy standard. If God did not demand perfect obedience to His Law then He would deny His own holy nature. As Cornelius Van Til noted, “What God says is right because He says it, and He says it because it rests on His own holy nature.” Even in eternity, God will demand perfect moral obedience to His holy law.
Batzig claims that because St. Paul, quoting Deut. 27:26, includes the words πᾶσιν τοῖς [all the] in Galatians 3:10, this makes it undeniable that God demands perfect and unbroken obedience to the Law.
The second passage Batzig uses to support this first premise of his argument is Romans 10:5-6. Concerning this passage he writes:
The other significant passage to which biblical scholars have pointed in defense of the demand for perfect obedience to the Law of God is Romans 10:5-6. Citing Leviticus 18:5, the apostle Paul contrasts two different kinds of righteousness: (1) The righteousness of the Law, and (2) the righteousness of faith.” Guy Prentiss Waters, in his outstanding JETS article on this passage, charters the exegetical waters (no pun intended) of this text. He writes:
When Paul encompasses Moses’ phrase [from Lev. 18:5] “all of my decrees and all of my commands” (πάντα τὰ προστάγματά μου καὶ πάντα τὰκρίματά μου) in a single word (αυτα), he is stressing a vital point. The righteousness which is of the law (την δικαιοσυνην την εκ του νομου) is a righteousness which is based upon and demands perfect and entire obedience to all the commands of God’s law. It is the meeting of this standard that is requisite for entrance into “life.” We have, then, an important affirmation parallel to Paul’s claim at Gal 3:10 that failure to perform flawless obedience to the law results in coming under the law’s curse (“for as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is every one who does not abide in everything which has been written in the book of the law, to do them.”
Paul sums up the biblical teaching on the demand for perfect obedience in the “πασιν” of Galatians 3:10 and the “αυτα” of Romans 10:5. This alone ought to suffice as sufficient proof of the exegetical accuracy of this doctrinal assertion.
Here Batzig notes that Romans 10:5-6 contrasts the righteousness that is by law with the righteousness that is by faith. Romans 10:5 refers to Moses’ teaching in Leviticus 18:5 that the people shall keep God’s commands and ordinances, and live by doing so. Batzig, drawing from Guy Waters, claims that when St. Paul summarizes Moses’s statement regarding the righteousness which is of the law, St. Paul implies through his use of the word ‘αυτα’ (i.e. them) that such righteousness requires the keeping of all the laws, thus demanding “perfect and entire obedience to all the commands of God’s law.”
From a Catholic point of view, as I explained in “Why John Calvin did not Recognize the Distinction Between Mortal and Venial Sin,” there are two different paradigms here regarding what it means to keep the law. Call one the list paradigm, and call the other the agape paradigm. In the list paradigm, perfect law-keeping is conceived as keeping a list of God given precepts. According to this paradigm, perfect law-keeping requires perfectly and perpetually keeping (and not in any way violating) every single precept in the list. In the New Covenant, we are given more gifts for growing progressively in our ability to keep the law, but nevertheless, nobody in this life keeps the list perfectly. All fall short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness. That’s the paradigm through which Batzig views God’s requirement of righteousness for salvation.
In the agape paradigm, by contrast, agape is the fulfillment of the law. Agape is not merely some power or force or energy by which one is enabled better to keep the list of rules, either perfectly or imperfectly. Rather, agape is what the law has pointed to all along. To have agape in one’s soul is to have the perfect righteousness to which the list of precepts point. Righteousness conceived as keeping a list of externally written precepts is conceptually a shadow of the true righteousness which consists of agape infused into the soul. This infusion of agape is the law written on the heart. But the writing of the law on the heart should not be conceived as merely memorizing the list of precepts, or being more highly motivated to keep the list of precepts. To conceive of agape as merely a force or good motivation that helps us better (but imperfectly, in this life) keep the list of rules, is still to be in the list paradigm. The writing of the law on the heart provides in itself the very fulfillment of the law — that perfection to which the external law always pointed. To have agape is already to have fulfilled the telos of the law, a telos that is expressed in our words, deeds, and actions because they are all ordered to a supernatural end unless we commit a mortal sin. The typical Protestant objection to the Catholic understanding of justification by the infusion of agape is “Who perfectly loves God? No one.” But this objection presupposes the list paradigm.1
Here’s my point. Does Batzig’s exegesis answer the question: Which of these two paradigms is correct? No. His exegesis presupposes, and is written entirely within, the list paradigm. It operates as if there just is no other paradigm, and therefore it does not provide any reason to choose one of these two paradigms over the other.
Batzig goes on in his article to claim that certain passages of Scripture support the notion of extra nos imputation. He points to Genesis 15:6, where God reckons Abram’s faith as righteousness. But, given the agape paradigm, if Abram’s faith was fides formata (i.e. faith informed by the supernatural virtue of agape), then God ‘reckoned’ Abram righteous because he was in fact, internally, righteous, having in his soul the gift of agape by which he was truly a friend of God. And in that case, this verse does not support the thesis of extra nos imputation. But again, Batzig does not consider the other paradigm when appealing to Gen 15:6 to support the extra nos conception of imputation. He uses the list paradigm in order to argue for the extra nos conception of imputation. Catholic doctrine, however, is formulated within the agape paradigm. So using the list paradigm to construct an argument against the Catholic doctrine of justification presupposes the Protestant position in the very methodology by which the argument is constructed. It loads the premise “Protestantism is true” into the very argument by which one attempts to show that Protestantism is true and Catholicism is false.
Similarly, Batzig argues that Psalm 32:1-2 supports the extra nos conception of imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ, because the psalmist’s use of the word ‘covered,’ he claims, implies that sins must be covered before they can be forgiven. But ‘covered’ can also refer here to our sins being atoned for, in the sense explained here.
Batzig also appeals to Jeremiah 23:5-6, in which the prophet, referring to Christ, says:
Behold the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: “The Lord our righteousness.”
Regarding this title attributed to Christ by the prophet, Batzig concludes, “It is on account of the imputation of that righteousness from the Redeemer to the redeemed that accounts for the imputation of this title.” Here too, Batzig does not consider the agape paradigm. He assumes that the only way Christ can be our righteousness is by extra nos imputation.
In the Catholic paradigm, sanctifying grace is a participation in the divine nature. But so is agape. Sanctifying grace inheres in the whole of the soul, whereas agape is the supernatural perfection of the will (which is one of the powers of the soul) by which the will is ordered above its natural end to the beatific vision. (Regarding the difference between sanctifying grace and agape, see Summa Theologica II-I Q.110 a.3-4.) But that difference does not mean that agape is not a participation in the divine nature; rather agape is a different mode of participation in the divine nature — that mode in which a created will gratuitously participates in the Good that God is as God is known to Himself. God is agape, says the Apostle John. And the agape infused into our hearts by the Holy Spirit is a participation in God. Hence the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or “justice”) here means the rectitude of divine love. (CCC 1191)
By “rectitude of divine love,” the Catechism is referring to the righteousness had by the infusion of the supernatural gift of agape. My point is that “Christ our righteousness” does not entail extra nos imputation, because it can just as easily refer to the infusion of agape whereby we are partakers of and sharers in the God who is Agape. But Batzig’s argument ignores this paradigm.
Subsequently, Batzig uses Romans 4:9-12, to argue that Abram was justified at a particular point in time — namely, the time described in Gen 15:16. Therefore, claims Batzig:
The apostle eliminates the possibility of understanding justification as occurring after Abraham was circumcised. Our Reformed and Confessional statements on the doctrine of justification insist that it is a once-for-all ”act of God’s free grace” (WSC. 33). … This, it seems to me, is the most indisputable argument against those who would suggest that justification is ongoing. The apostle Paul clearly observed that Abraham’s justification was prior to his circumcision, and (if that wasn’t enough) explicitly states that righteousness wasn’t imputed after he was circumcised.
Batzig’s reasoning goes like this. Because Abram was justified prior to his circumcision, therefore St. Paul eliminates the possibility of his being justified after his circumcision. Therefore justification is once-for-all, and not progressive. That conclusion would follow only if justification cannot be both an event at a time, and also a process extending through time. For example, the Council of Trent teaches in Chapter IV of Session Six that there is an initial justification that takes place at baptism. It also teaches in Chapter X of that same session that subsequently, there is over time an increase of the justification received, as the believer remains in Christ, and grows in grace and agape. Batzig’s argument presupposes, therefore, that justification cannot be both initial and progressive. In that respect, Batzig’s argument in support of a Protestant conception of justification presupposes the falsehood of the Catholic doctrine of justification.
Finally, Batzig argues that the doctrine of extra nos imputation is supported by the biblical teaching on clothing. Catholics can agree with much of his description of the biblical significance of clothing. The problem, however, is that Batzig’s argument assumes that what is true of clothing (i.e. they can only be on the outside of our bodies) must also be true of that righteousness of which they are a type, much as his argument about law-keeping presupposes the list paradigm. From a Catholic point of view the righteous robes of the saints are a symbol of the agape infused into our hearts, not intended to be treated as covering over remaining filth, but as replacing sin with the gift of true righteousness. Again, the point is that Batzig’s argument presupposes his own paradigm in order to reach the conclusion that the biblical data supports his paradigm over against the Catholic doctrine. That gives an inquirer no reason to choose one paradigm over the other.
My purpose in writing this reply to Batzig is to help foster a better understanding and reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics, by helping us see more clearly the two respective paradigms, and how we make use of them in our evaluation of the data by which we construct arguments for one paradigm over another. My criticisms should not be taken as personal, but as constructive criticisms offered in charity, for the sake of unity. May God help us find agreement in the truth, through the agape that seeks unity in the truth.