Tom Holland: Justification and Creating a New Covenant

[T]here is a forensic aspect to justification that the Reformers correctly identified. My argument is not with this important fact. My concern is to demonstrate that this forensic understanding is best understood as being the condition of entrance into the covenant and that this often overlooked covenantal aspect is a vital key for appreciating the fullness of the biblical doctrine of justification. My stress on the importance of the covenant does not favour Wright’s understanding, for he says that justification is about being declared to be within the covenant. I am arguing that the covenantal aspect of justification means that there are uses of the word ‘justified’ which are not forensic but are about the establishment of a covenant relationship between Yahweh and the one who is called to salvation. To separate either aspects of justification from the other would fail to give the full biblical picture of the doctrine.But the strongest evidence that ‘counted as righteous’ means brought into the covenant is found in the OT. Psalm 106 speaks of Phinehas who took action against the ungodliness of his fellow countrymen for indulging in sexual immorality. Verse 31 states that ‘This was credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.’ The original account in Num. 25:10-13 makes it clear what being counted righteous means. It says:

‘The Lord said to Moses, Phinehas son of Eleazer, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honour among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honour of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.’

The meaning of ‘counted as righteousness’ could not be clearer. It means that Phinehas was brought into a covenant relationship with Yahweh.This covenant - making significance for the term ‘justified’ or ‘counted as righteous’ is supported by the New Exodus motif itself. Israel’s justification, her return from exile, was in fact the creation of the New Covenant. It was this, of course, that was ultimately the product of the death of Christ, which was his exodus and which has brought about the deliverance of the Christian community from the power of Satan.But why has this covenantal dimension been overlooked? I believe that the covenant perspective was missed because of the emphasis put on logizomai being an accounting metaphor.mIt certainly is, but it is also other things in the OT; it is also, for example, a legal metaphor. Whatever it means in the Genesis text, what is not permissible is to trawl the range of meanings from the biblical literature and amalgamate them into a new model or metaphor that is used as the key to a particular use of the word. Such a practice is a fundamental abuse of linguistics. It is the same type of misuse as saying that, because the word ‘bat’ can mean a flying mammal as well as a device used for playing ball games, we are entitled to say that some texts intend to suggest that the word speaks of the way that the ball ‘flies’ from the bat in a game of cricket! It is what Gen. 15 says about logizomai that matters, not what Proverbs or Leviticus say. . . .

Thus, going back to the New Exodus model, justification is repeatedly used to speak of Israel’s release from captivity. As a result of her release from exile, she was shown to have been acquitted, declared righteous, for her sin had been atoned for. In Israel’s case, being declared righteous was nothing to do with God overlooking her sins. She had paid double for her sins. She had paid the price for breaking the conditions of the covenant and this meant that God could now justify her claim to be His covenant people. This was done as He led her back from exile to retake possession of her inheritance, the land and Jerusalem in particular. Paul changes this rationale, for it is not the delivered people of God who have paid the price of covenant breaking, but the Son of God, the Paschal victim (1 Cor. 5:8).

Holland, Tom. Contours of Pauline Theology. London, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2004. 223-24.

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