Monday, March 28, 2011

Refuting the "Identity Markers" Argument of the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul

"A section of Scripture that
is especially fatal to the
Auburn Avenue [Federal
Vision] doctrine is Galatians
5:1-4, where Paul warns
believers not to be entangled
again in a yoke of bondage."
by Brian Schwertley

(Editor's note: According to the “New Perspective on Paul” [NPP] [with its most popular advocate being N.T. Wright], the focus of Galatians is not about personal salvation, but Jewish identity markers, or ceremonial law.  The following is an a excellent refutation of this dangerous view. Here Brian Schwertley is particularly addressing the Federal Vision [Auburn Avenue theology], a heresy that also employs the "identity markers" argument):

(10) A passage of Scripture which explicitly refutes the “Jewish identity markers” theory is Galatians 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Here Paul follows the Septuagint rendering of Deuteronomy 27:36 with some slight changes. Instead of the Septuagint’s “all the words of this law” (Mt. also has “this law”)[1] Paul writes “everything that is written in the Book of the law. The apostle is emphasizing that every law in the whole written Torah in all of its details (i.e., every jot and tittle) must be perfectly obeyed to avoid being under the curse of the law. “This is the sword of Damocles which hangs over the head of all workers with law.”[2] Further, Deuteronomy 27 itself completely ignores the ceremonial law and focuses upon violations of the ten commandments (idolatry, v. 15; dishonoring parents, v. 16; theft, v. 17; adultery v. 20; murder, v. 25) and specific applications of the ten commandments (injustice, v. 19; cruelty, v. 18; bestiality, v. 21; incest, vs. 22, 23; unlawful violence, v. 24). Paul, writing under divine inspiration, makes it crystal clear that his phrase “the works of the law” refers to the whole law of god whether ceremonial (i.e. the identity markers) or moral (the ten commandments and moral case laws).

This section of Scripture refutes the Auburn Avenue theology in the following ways: (a) As noted, the expression “the works of the law” refers to the whole law of God not the ceremonial laws alone. (b) The apostle’s use of Deuteronomy 27:26 disproves the Shepherdite/Monroe interpretation of Romans 2:14b, “the doers of the law will be justified.” Paul’s point is not that a general obedience (i.e. “covenant faithfulness”) to the law will result in final justification; but rather, that any commitment to the law as a means or instrument of justification involves the necessity of a perfect obedience to the whole law in exhaustive detail. The Auburn theologians teach the law is easy to keep because God does not expect a complete and perfect obedience to all of its precepts. Paul says the exact opposite. Everyone who relies on the law as a means or even partial means of justification is under the law’s curse. Hendriksen writes: 
Now what was really the purpose of God’s law? God gave his law in order that man, by nature a child of wrath, and thus lying under the curse (Gal. 3:13), as definitely declared in Deut. 27:26; John 3:36; Eph. 3:2, might be reminded not only of his unchanged obligation to live in perfect harmony with this law (Lev. 19:2), but also of his total inability to fulfill this obligation (Rom. 7:24). Thus this law would serve as a custodian to conduct the sinner to Christ (Gal. 3:24; cf. Rom. 7:25), in order that, having been saved by grace, he might, in principle, live the life of gratitude. That life is one of freedom in harmony with God’s law (Gal. 5:13, 14). However, the Judaizers were perverting this true purpose of the law. They were relying on law-works as a means of salvation. On that basis they would fail forever, and Deut. 27:26, when interpreted in that framework, pronounced God’s heavy and unmitigated curse upon them; yes, curse, not blessing. The law condemns, works wrath (Rom. 4:15; 5:16, 18).[3] 
(11) Paul’s condemnation of the Judaizers in Galatians 4:21-31 implies much more than a mere hanging on to Jewish identity markers or exclusivity. Paul uses the symbol of two mothers to represent two different systems of doctrine. Hagar the slave woman and the Jerusalem which now is, corresponds not to the Mosaic law as it was intended by God; which pointed to Jesus Christ and not to a system of works salvation; but, to the slavish doctrine and worship that the Old Covenant religion had degenerated into under the Pharisees. Although the ceremonial ordinances were weak and beggarly elements for an immature church, the faithful saints of the Old Covenant were not spiritual Ishmaelites who were slaves under bondage. “This is a heavy reproach against the Jews, whose real mother was not Sarah, but the spurious Jerusalem, twin sister of Hagar; who were therefore slaves born a slave, thought they haughtily boasted that they were the sons of Abraham.”[4] The Jews placed themselves under the yoke of bondage because they believed that a strict obedience to the ceremonial regulations and moral laws, as well as their own man-made laws, could bring them into the kingdom of heaven. Paul says they were damnable heretics who were dead wrong. If the Jewish identity markers theory were true then Paul was engaging in incredible overkill in his statements.

(12) A section of Scripture that is especially fatal to the Auburn Avenue doctrine is Galatians 5:1-4, where Paul warns believers not to be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. The apostle says that the man who becomes circumcised is a debtor to keep the whole law. Is Paul saying that anyone who becomes circumcised cannot be saved without exception? No. We know that that cannot be the apostle’s meaning for late in his ministry he circumcised Timothy (Ac. 16:3) to make it easier to minister in Jewish communities. Clearly then, the apostle’s argument is not against a love of Jewish identity markers or even exclusivity as bad as that may be (1 Cor. 3:3ff.). The thing that stirred up Paul and caused him to use such strong language was the doctrine behind circumcision. Although the false teachers acknowledged Christ, they in addition taught the necessity of circumcision as a commitment to follow another mode of justification. The Judaizers were teaching another gospel. They required obedience to the law in addition to faith in Christ. Paul responded to this doctrine by pointing out that if you depend on the law in addition to Christ, then you must perfectly and perpetually obey the whole law (ceremonial and moral) in exhaustive detail. In other words, if people look to anything besides Jesus for salvation they have no hope of ever being saved. John Stott writes: 
The slogan of the false teacher was: “unless you are circumcised and keep the law, you cannot be saved” (cf. Acts 15:1, 5). They were thus declaring that faith in Christ was insufficient for salvation. Circumcision and law-obedience must be added to it. This was tantamount to saying that Moses must be allowed to finish what Christ had begun. See how Paul describes their position in these verses. They are those who “receive circumcision” (verses 2, 3), who are therefore “bound to keep the whole law” (verse 3), since this is what their circumcision commits them to, and who are seeking to “be justified by the law” (verse 4). What does Paul say to them? He does not mince his words. On the contrary, he makes a most solemn assertion, beginning Now I, Paul, say to you (verse 2). He warns them in three sentences of the serious results of their receiving circumcision; Christ will be of no advantage to you (verse 2), you are severed from Christ and you have fallen away from grace (verse 4). More simply, to add circumcision is to lose Christ, to seek to be justified by the law is fall from grace. You cannot have it both ways. It is impossible to receive Christ, thereby acknowledging that you cannot save yourself, and then receive circumcision, thereby claiming that you can. You have got to choose between a religion of law and a religion of grace, between Christ and circumcision. You cannot add circumcision (or anything else, for that matter) to Christ as necessary to salvation, because Christ is sufficient for salvation in Himself. If you add anything to Christ, you lose Christ. Salvation is in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone.[5]
From Brian Schwertley, A Refutation of the Auburn Avenue Theology’s Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone.  See this article for more refutations of the "identity markers" argument.  This article is part of Schwertley's book refuting the Federal Vision, Auburn Avenue Theology: A Biblical Analysis.

    [1] See Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 141 and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 158.
     [2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, [1937] 1961), 141.
     [3] William Hendriksen, Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967, 68), 1:126-127. Ernest DeWitt Burton writes: “The unexpressed premise of the argument, necessary to make this passage [Gal. 3:10b] prove the preceding proposition, is that no one does, in fact, continue in all the things that are written in the book of the law to do them” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1980], 464). John Eadie writes: “They are under the penalty, according to the apostle’s proof, not merely because they have broken, but because they are breaking, the law. Their obedience is neither complete nor uniform. They are under the curse, and the law cannot deliver them; for the function of law is to arraign, convict, and punish. By it is “the knowledge of sin,” it shows their conduct to be out of harmony with its requirements, and thus by its demonstration all the world becomes guilty before God” (A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians [Grand Rapids: Baker, (1869) 1979], 241). Huebner writes: “If we will be saved by the law, we must do all, and must be able to say, that we have never neglected any thing commanded, nor done any thing forbidden. In brief, the matter stands thus: if we will merit salvation, amazingly little will come of it, for our virtue is piece-work; against one or two legal performances God can oppose ten transgressions” (as quoted in Otto Schmoller, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960], 73).
        [4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 140.
       [5] John R. W. Stott, Only One Way: The Message of Galatians (London: InterVarsity, 1968), 133-134.  

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