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Romans 2:7 and 2:13

November 12, 2017 4 comments

R. Scott Clark recently wrote a lengthy post Romans 2:13: Justified Through Our Faithfulness? As is often the case, Clark’s defense of sola fide is helpful and encouraging, while his handling of historical theology is not. Clark has a tendancy to always paint the reformed tradition to be in complete agreement with him, even when it is not.

In this particular post, Clark addresses Norman Shepherd’s erroneous reading of Romans 2:13 (“the doers of the law will be justified”) as referring to the believer at the final judgment. Clark rightly explains how “The whole of chapter 2 is a prosecution of the Jews according to the standard that had been revealed to them,” but he misleads the reader into thinking that has been precisely the reformed interpretation until 1978. He neglects to mention that many have interpreted 2:7 (“to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life”) as referring to believers at the judgment.

v7 = Gospel

Clark says “Calvin found no good news for sinners in this section [ch. 1-3] of Romans.” Yet commenting on v6-7, Calvin says “[A]s he sanctifies those whom he has previously resolved to glorify, he will also crown their good works… The meaning then is, — that the Lord will give eternal life to those who, by attention to good works, strive to attain immortality.”

On v.7 John Brown wrote “tho good works have no casual efficacy or influence on our salvation, as any meritorious cause, either procuring a right to life, or the actual possession thereof, (Christ’s merits being the sole procuring cause) and so are not necessary upon that score; yet are they necessary as the way carved out by infinite wisdom[.]”

Even Gill says “[S]uch who believe in Christ, and perform good works from a principle of grace, shall receive the reward of the inheritance, which is a reward of grace, and not of debt.”

Examples could easily be multiplied. Most of these men hold to a “mediating position” wherein they view v7 as referring to the gospel, but v13 as referring to the law. This has always seemed quite inconsistent to me. Sam Waldron agrees: “I find such a position somewhat contradictory and certainly unsatisfying.”

v6-7 = Law

Recognizing this inconsistency, others have held that v6-7 refers to the law. The Geneva Study Bible (1560) notes “Glory which follows good works, which he does not lay out before us as though there were any that could attain to salvation by his own strength, but, he lays this condition of salvation before us, which no man can perform, to bring men to Christ, who alone justifies the believers, as he himself concludes; see (Romans 2:21-22).”

In 1692, in the midst of the Neonomian controversy in England, William Marshall wrote a very important book called The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification Opened. Marshall said

Those that endeavour to procure God’s salvation by their sincere obedience to all the commands of Christ, do act contrary to that way of salvation by Christ, free grace, and faith, discovered in the gospel… Christ, or his apostles, never taught a gospel that requireth such a condition of works for salvation as they plead for. The texts of scripture which they usually allege for this purpose, are either contrary to it, or widely distant from it… They grossly pervert those words of Paul, Rom. ii. 6, 7. Where they will have Paul to be declaring the terms of the gospel, when he is evidently declaring the terms of the law, to prove that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, and that no flesh can be justified by the works of the law, as appeareth by the tenor of his following discourse, Rom. iii. 9, 10.

Owen said

The words there [Rom 2:7] are used in a law sense, and are declarative of the righteousness of God in rewarding the keepers of the law of nature, or the moral law, according to the law of the covenant of works. This is evident from the whole design of the apostle in that place, which is to convince all men, Jews and Gentiles, of sin against the law, and of the impossibility of the obtaining the glory of God thereby.

Charles Hodge said

The question at his bar will be, not whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile, whether he belongs to the chosen people or to the heathen world, but whether he has obeyed the law. This principle is amplified and applied in what follows, in vers. 7-11… [I]t is more pertinent to remark, in the second place, that the apostle is not here teaching the method of justification, but is laying down those general principles of justice, according to which, irrespective of the gospel, all men are to be judged. He is expounding the law, not the gospel. And as the law not only says that death is the stages of sin, but also that those who keep its precepts shall live by them, so the apostle says, that God will punish the wicked and reward the righteous. This is perfectly consistent with what he afterwards teaches, that there are none righteous; that there are none who so obey the law as to be entitled to the life which it promises; and that for such the gospel provides a plan of justification without works, a plan for saving those whom the law condemns… The principle laid down in ver. 6, is here [v7] amplified. God will render eternal life to the good, indignation and wrath to the wicked, without distinction of persons; to the Jews no less than to the Gentiles.

and in his Systematic Theology, Part II, Ch. VI, S6 “Perpetuity of the Covenant of Works he says

[W]hile the Pelagian doctrine is to be rejected, which teaches that each man comes into the world free from sin and free from condemnation, and stands his probation in his own person, it is nevertheless true that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Hence our Lord said to the young man, “This do and thou shalt live.” And hence the Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, says that God will reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin, either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be condemned.

Robert Haldane said

According to his deeds. – That is to say, either according to his righteousness, if any were found in himself righteous, which will not be the case, for all men are sinners, but it will be according to the judgment to require righteousness… [I]t will regard solely the works of each individual, and that their deeds will comprehend everything that is either obedience or disobedience to the law of God… a perseverance with resistance to all that opposes, namely, to all temptations, all snares… It is not meant that any man can produce such a perseverance in good works, for there is only one, Jesus Christ, who can glory in having wrought out a perfect righteousness… But here the Apostle only declare what the Divine judgment will demand according to the law, to which the Jews were adhering for justification before God… This shows how ignorantly the Church of Rome seeks to draw from this passage a proof of the merit of works, and of justification by works, since it teaches a doctrine the very contrary; for all that the Apostle says in this chapter is intended to show the necessiry of another mode of justification than that of the law, namely, by grace, which the Gospel sets before us through faith in Jesus Christ, according to which God pardons sins, as the Apostle afterwards shows in the third chapter. To pretend, then, to establish justification by works, and the merit of works, by what is said here, is directly to oppose the meaning and reasoning of the Apostle…

Eternal life – The Apostle does not say that God will render salvation, but ‘eternal life.’ The truth declared in this verse, and in those that follow, is the same as that exhibited by our Lord when the rich young man asked Him, ‘What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ His reply was, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,’ Matt. xix. 16… Luke x. 25… The verse before us, then, which delcares that eternal life shall be awarded to those who seek it by patient continuance in well-doing, and who, according to the 10th verse, work good, both of which announce the full demand of the law, are of the same import with the 13th verse, which affirms that the doers of the law shall be justified. In all these verses the Apostle is referring to the law, and not, as it is generally understood, the Gospel…

Note what else Haldane says.

I know that the view here given of these verses is contrary to that of almost all the English commentaries on this Epistle. I have consulted a great number of them, besides those of Calvin, and Beza, and Maretz, and the Dutch annotations, and that of Quesnel, all of which, with one voice, explain the 7th and 10th verses of this chapter as referring to the Gospel…

I have noticed that from this passage the Church of Rome endeavors to establish the merit of works, and of justification by means of works.

Accordingly, Quesnel, a Roman Catholic, in expounding the 6th verse, exclaims, ‘Merites veritables; necessite des bonnes oeuvres. Ce sont nos actions bonnes ou mauvaises qui rendent doux ou severe le jugement de Dieu!’ ‘Real merits; necessity of good works. They are our good or bad actions which render the judgment of God mild or severe!’ And indeed, were the usual interpretation of this and the three following verses the just one, it must be confessed that this Romanist would have some ground for his triumph. But if we take the words in their plain and obvious import, and understand the Apostle in this place as announcing the terms of the law, in order to prove to the Jews the necessity of having recourse to grace, and of yielding to the goodness and forbearance of God, leading them to repentance, while he assures them that ‘not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified,’ then the whole train of his discourse is clear and consistent. On the other supposition, it appears confused and self contradictory, and calculated not merely to perplex, but positively to mislead, and to strengthen the prejudices of those who were going about to establish their own righteousness. For in whatever way these expressions may with certain explanations and qualifications be interpreted in an evangelical sense, yet unquestionably, as taken by themselves, and especially in the connection in which they stand in this place, they present the same meaning as is announced in the 13th verse, where the Apostle declares that the doers of the law shall be justified.

v13 = Gospel

It is in the context of a great many commentators holding to a contradictory “mediating position” that Norm Shepherd argued that v13 refers to the gospel, just like v6. Thus it is not entirely out of nowhere, as R. Scott Clark implies (recall also Marshall above, who was writing against Presbyterian neonomians in his day). Shepherd said

20. The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25).

In his rejection of the Covenant of Works, Shepherd was very much following in the steps of John Murray (see Murray on Lev. 18:5 – Why Did John Murray Reject the Covenant of Works?). On Romans 2, Murray held to the mediating position. On v7 he said

The reward of this aspiration is in like manner the eschatology of the believer, “eternal life”… Could God judge any unto the reward of eternal life (cf. vs. 7) if works are the criteria? ‘The apostle thus speaks, not in the way of abstract hypothesis but of concrete assertion… He says not what God would do were He to proceed in accordance with the primal rule and standard of the law, but what, proceeding according to that rule, He will actually do.’… The determining factor in the rewards of retribution or of glory is not the privileged position of the Jew but evil-doing or well-doing respectively.

His rejection of the Covenant of Works left no reason for him to not follow through and carry this view on to v6, but he slammed on the brakes and argued for the hypothetical view of v13.

It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching of this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture…

This holds true as a principle of equity but, existentially, it never comes into operation in the human race for the reason that there are no doers of the law, no doing of the law that will ground or elicit justification – ‘there is none righteous, no, not one’ (vs. [3:]10)

Recall Sam Waldron

Though Murray clearly argues in his comments on verses 6-11 that the judgment in view is not hypothetical and that the works in view are evangelical works which vindicate one’s saving faith in the dya of judgment, yet to my surprise Murray also takes a hypothetical or empty-set view of Romans 2:13… Let me hasten to add that, though I respect John Murray a great deal and have sometimes named him as my patron saint (!), I find such a position somewhat contradictory and certainly unsatisfying.

John Kinnaird was an OPC elder who taught Shepherd’s false gospel. He was brought to trial but was defended by Richard Gaffin. Note what Gaffin said during his testimony

[W]hile a large number of Reformed exegetes have understood the scenario there, the final judgment scenario there, on the positive side, in verse 7 and 10 and 13, have understood that in a hypothetical sense… there have also been other exegetes, within the reformed tradition, that have questioned that hypothetical understanding. And you see that at least for verses 6 to 11 very clearly in John Murray’s Romans commentary.

The prosecutor brought up Murray’s comments on v13 and said “Can you reconcile the two statements by John Murray here?” Gaffin replied

I think really it’s regrettable we don’t have Professor Murray here to ask this question because I think … my own view in the light of what he has said,  and said so clearly about the judgment according to works in two … in verse six … that… it … that would argue for understanding verse 13 here in the same way as describing an actual positive outcome.  But he does, as you are pointing out,  back away from that.  But I can’t … see I think in my own view … it is Professor Murray that is in a bit of a tension here.

John Kinnaird was found guilty of teaching a false gospel, but he appealed to the OPC General Assembly where he was exhonerated. Why? Because the OPC had just prior voted to add Romans 2:6,7,13,16 as proof texts to WLC 90. For more on this see OPC Report on Republication – Background.

Conclusion

So the issue really has a lot to do with a long history of inconsistent exegesis of Romans 2:6-7 and 2:13 that we have to wrestle with. I agree with those who see 2:6-7 and 13 as both referring to the law.

Kline’s Two-Level Fulfillment 184 Years Before Kingdom Prologue

June 6, 2017 10 comments

Meredith Kline’s career was spent developing a more biblical understanding of God’s covenants. He broke new ground for Presbyterians in his magnum opus “Kingdom Prologue,” first published in 1993. There, Kline refers to “The two-stage pattern of the unfolding of the kingdom, which is such a major feature of the historical-eschatological projections in the Abrahamic Covenant” (328). He traces “the two-level structure with respect to the kingdom components of king, people, and land.” (332) (Here is an excerpt of the relevant sections of KP)

The promised king. “If Abraham was to be a father of a great nation and even a multitude of nations, then naturally he would number kings among his descendants (Gen 17:6)… Two levels of kingship were present in this prophetic blessing. Judah assumed the royal supremacy in Israel in the appointment of David as king. He, with his successors under the old covenant, were level one. Then David’s dynasty reached a distinctive second level of kingship in the coming of Jesus Christ, Shiloh, the universal Lord, and his inauguration of the new covenant in his blood… [I]n the course of biblical revelation two distinct levels of fulfillment, one provisional and prototypal, the other messianic and eternal, are clearly distinguishable in the king promise given to Abraham.”

The promised kingdom-people. “[T]he corporate seed, and the promised seed in this corporate sense is interpreted by the Scriptures as being realized on two levels… Development of the twelve sons of Jacob into the twelve-tribe nation of Israel of course constituted a fulfillment of the promise of the kingdom people at one level… (cf. 2 Sam 17:11; 1 Chr 27:23f.; 2 Chr 1:9)… Equally obvious is the Bible’s identification of a realization of the promise of the Abrahamic seed at another level… (Rom 9:7,8; cf. Rom 4:16; Gal 3:7)… Confirming the distinction made in the promise of the seed between literal and spiritual Israelites and pointing particularly to the second, spiritual level of meaning was the inclusion of the nations of the Gentiles among Abraham’s promised seed (Gen 17:4,6,16; Rom 4:11,12,16,17).”

The promised kingdom-land. “Step by step what was included in the promised kingdom land at the first level of meaning was more precisely defined. It was a land to be designated later as Abraham followed the Lord (Gen 12:1); the land of Canaan (Gen 12:7)… That the territory eventually occupied by Israel fully corresponded with the geographical bounds defined in the promise is explicitly recorded in Joshua 21:43-45 and 1 Kings 4:20,21 (cf. Num 34:2ff.; 1 Chr 18:3; Ezek 47:13-20)… Fulfillment of the land promise at the old covenant level (cf. 1 Kgs 8:65; 1 Chr 13:5; 18:1-12; 2 Chr 9:26)… The Canaanite, first level fulfillment of the land promise served the pedagogical purpose of pointing beyond itself to the second level fulfillment, intimated by the “everlasting” nature of the promised possession… with surprising abruptness the New Testament disregards the first level meaning and simply takes for granted that the second level, cosmic fulfillment is the true intention of the promise. In keeping with Old Testament prophecies that Messiah, the royal seed of Abraham, would receive and reign over a universal kingdom (e.g., Pss 2:8; 72:8; Zech 9:10), Paul identifies Abraham’s promised inheritance as the world (kosmos, Rom 4:13).”

Old vs New Covenants. “While the first level kingdom under the old covenant was itself a fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises, it had the character of prophetic promise when viewed in relation to the second level fulfillment under the new covenant… Kingdom level one is identified with the old covenant and level two with the new covenant… The new covenant is not a renewal of an older covenant… with respect to the old covenant as a typological realization of the promised kingdom realm, the new covenant does not confirm the continuing validity of the old but rather announces its obsolescence and end. Necessarily so. For, as the Jeremiah 31:31-34 prophecy indicated, the old covenant in its typological kingdom aspect was not a permanent order of the grace-guarantee kind but a probationary arrangement informed by the works principle, hence breakable. And having been broken, it was perforce terminated.”


In 1809, James Haldane articulated the same two-level fulfillment concept. He said “Many precepts and promises in the Old Testament had both a literal and a spiritual meaning. The literal accomplishment was both a representation and pledge of the spiritual… Some have argued, that the covenant with Abraham was carnal, others that it was spiritual. Both are true. The covenant was, that Christ should spring from him. Three promises were then given, in order that this might be accomplished, and they were fulfilled both in a literal and spiritual sense.” (66-67) Haldane does not deliniate the three promises exactly the same as Kline, but they amount to the same idea.

That he should be the father of many nations. “This was literally fulfilled in his descendents by Keturah, Gen. xxv. 1. 4. and by Hagar, chap. xvii. 20.; but the promise referred particularly to his seed in the line of Isaac, Gen. xxi. 12, and the number of his descendents is well known, Num. xxiii. 10… We have seen that Abraham was literally the father of a multitude of nations, but the apostle informs us, that this promise referred to his being the father of all believers, Rom. iv. 16, 17; Gal. iii. 29. Here the apostle shews how men now be come Abraham’s seed. His descendents were his children, and even the children of God in a certain sense, by their birth, Exod. iv. 22. But in a higher and spiritual sense, they could only become the chil dren of Abraham and of God by faith… John i. 11. 13.”

That God would be a God to him and to his seed. “The term God is relative, and the promise implied that he would stand in a peculiar relation to him and to his seed… He brought them out of the house of bondage [in Egypt] (Exod. 2:24-25; 6:6-7; 19:4-6)… He delivered to them the law from Sinai, and gave them right judgments and true laws, good statutes and commandments. Here they entered into covenant with him, and became his, Ezek. xvi. 8. Hence the Lord is represented as the husband of Israel, and their children are called his, Ezek. xvi. 21. This was a new thing on the earth, for the Lord to take to him a nation from the midst of another nation, in the manner he had taken Israel, and to make them hear his words out of the midst of the fire, Deut. iv. 32-37… Deut 29:10-13. Here then we see the accomplishment of his promise to be a God to the seed of Abraham. He dwelt in the midst of them; he was their God, their judge, their lawgiver, and their king (Psalm 147:19-20; Amos 3:1-2; Hos 1:9)… We have seen how Jehovah was a God to the nation of Israel; but there is a higher sense in which he is the God of his people, Heb. xi. 16; viii. 10. 1 Pet. ii. 9. 10… the prophet Hosea foretold the rejection of Israel according to the flesh, and at the same time declared, that the number of the children of Israel should be as the sand of the sea. “Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God. Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered: and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God,” Hos. i.9, 10. The believing Gentiles are here called the children of Israel; for this passage is quoted by the apostle in proof of the calling of the Gentiles, Rom. ix. 26. consequently every argument in favour of infant-baptism, drawn from the promises made to the children of God’s ancient people must be altogether inconclusive.”

That he would give the land of Canaan to him and to his seed for an everlasting possession. “This he did when he drove out the Canaanites before them (Psalm 105:8-11)… The inheritance of Canaan also was but the let ter, while the spirit was the heavenly inheritance, Heb. xi. 10. 16. Col. iii. 24. Gal. iif. 29.”

“Thus we see, that the three promises, Gen. xvii. had both a primary and ultimate meaning, the one being the shadow of the other. 1st, A numerous seed; this prefigured Abraham’s spiritual seed, who should be numerous as the drops of dew. 2d, A God to him, and to his seed in their generations, fulfilled in their preservation in Egypt, receiving the law at Sinai, and in all his dealings with that extraordinary people; this prefigured the peculiar care and affection which the spiritual seed should experience, and the new and better covenant which should be given them. 3d, The land of Canaan, which prefigured the heavenly inheritance, Eph.i. 3. Col. iii. 24… As the promises made to Abraham had both a letter and a spirit, no doubt Abraham and others, whose minds were enlightened by God, discerned more in them than appeared to the carnal eye… One great means by which Satan has succeeded in corrupting the Gospel has been the blending of the literal and spiritual fulfilment of these promises, – thus confounding the old and new covenants. The former was a type of the latter, and to this the Apostle refers, in speaking of the revelation of the mystery ‘which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith’ (Rom 6:26). The mystery here spoken of is, the hidden meaning of God’s dealings with the posterity of Abraham, to which, in his epistles, Paul frequently refers.”


Haldane, a Scottish Presbyterian, made these observations when he began lecturing through Genesis. “For the first time [I] began to enter seriously into the argument for infant baptism.” The result was that James and his brother Robert became baptists. He explained that previously, he “explained the covenant with Abraham as the gospel, or covenant of grace, and overlooking in a great measure the temporal promises, dwelt on the spiritual meaning, which I thought I proved from Scripture. –Indeed there was much truth in what was said, but it was only part of the truth. The literal meaning and accomplishment of the promises were overlooked, and only the spiritual part insisted on.”

How did Kline seek to defend his paedobaptism in light of his correct understanding of the two-level fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant? At least two reasons.

First, Kline mistakenly equated the Abrahamic Covenant with the New Covenant (over against the Old), rather than recognizing, per Galatians 4:21-31, that the Old and the New covenants both flowed from the Abrahamic Covenant. Haldane correctly noted that “although an oath was made to Abraham, securing the blessing to all families of the earth through him, this does not prove that the covenant made with him was the new covenant… This was a promise that the Saviour, revealed immediately after the fall, Gen. iii. 15. should spring from him… To call this the covenant of grace, is only calculated to mislead; for surely it was peculiar to Abraham that Christ should spring from him.”

Second, Kline rejected the Presbyterian argument for paedobaptism and invented a new one instead.

[Note that Augustine also recognized this two-level fulfillment: “[T]hat divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings… pertain partly to the nation of Abraham’s flesh, and partly to that seed of his in which all nations are blessed as fellow-heirs of Christ by the New Testament, to the possessing of eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens… Therefore prophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found; forasmuch as there are some relating to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both… [W]hat we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith.”]

See also