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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Arnold, Brian J.


Justification in the Second Century.


Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2017. XIV, 221 S. = Studies of the Bible and Its Reception, 9. Geb. EUR 99,95. ISBN 978-3-11-047677-4.


Mark W. Elliott

According to the introduction, the doctrine of justification by faith is not only ›missional‹, it is the main hinge on which all religion turns (Calvin). But no Reformer, not even Luther created it. (Douglas Campbell is wrong to say it is ›modern‹.) A. invokes D. H. Williams’s essay »Justification by Faith alone: a patristic doctrine« JEH 57 (2006), which argues that Hilary of Poitiers broke with the Eastern tradition by establishing that Matthew 20 (the parable of the workers in the vineyard) and agreed with Paul that the reward is the same for all, irrespective of post-baptismal merit. One target of this book is the thesis of T. F. Torrance, namely that the Apos-tolic fathers turned aside from Paul’s doctrine of justifying grace. But, A. argues, there is not a ›gap‹ between Paul and Augustine (as many assume) or Hilary. The claim is bolder still: ›the second-century fathers examined below held to a view of justification that was in large measure congruent with the Lutheran reading of Paul.‹ (6) This is despite their admittedly not focusing on justification; when they did discuss it they put what Paul thought in terms of their own expression. This is claimed despite A. Lindemann’s reservations.
According to Chapter 2 in 1 Clement 32 there is a ›justification through faith‹, corresponding to a ›glorification through his will‹. ›Faith‹ thought Torrance here meant self-abnegating humility. But no, it is purely Pauline and there is no need (as Lightfoot did) to bring in some Jacobean (James 2) influence. Raïsanen has shown how diverse Paul himself can be. Yet how much evidence is there that Clement knows the Pauline corpus as distinct from the figure of Paul? In Chapter 3, on Ignatius of Antioch, one wonders just how much the background and some of the footnote conversations are essential, how much superfluous. It is of course right to establish that Ignatius warned against both Docetists and Judaizers, and drew strong boundaries. Yet, A. admits, there is not much about circumcision or works of law in Ignatius; instead, the Sabbath is more an issue. Well, just how ›Pauline‹ is this? For Ignatius, the gospel consists of the coming of the Saviour, and ›the archives‹ are not the Scriptures but cross, death, resurrection and faith that comes through Christ (Philad 8,2, where δικαόω is actually used). If pressed, Ignatius would have been prepared to abandon the Old Testament. It becomes clear that A. wants to affirm that it was not just justification but a forensic form of it that they held to, as when he insists on a translation of Smyr 11.1l: ›considered worthy by grace of God‹.
The subject of Chapter 4, the Epistle to Diognetus is even more challenging for his thesis. Not only is there no mention of the Pauline corpus, it is not clear that faith has much to do with right-eousness, which is rather something that Christ has already achiev-ed through being a substitute. Instead faith in the Epistle is di-rected towards the providential goodness of a God who has pro-vided for his creation spiritually as well as materially. Another methodological feature is that although Paul is quoted in Greek, the text of the fathers is not quoted in the original language. So good intentions of ›exegesis‹ are not totally fulfilled. He is right to observe (in some footnotes on p. 97) that Aulen’s Christus Victor argument does not hold here: the soteriology is more of ›pleasing God‹. Yet again A. insists that ἀξιωθῶμεν has to be translated as ›considered worthy‹ rather than made worthy, claiming Lampe’s authority for this preferred translation. Again 9,5 seems to be more about Christ’s activity than anything to do with faith, despite A.’s claim: ›For the author, justification comes through Christ alone, and is on the basis of faith.‹ (102: my italics) Faith is hardly related to the theme of righteousness or justification.
Chapter 5 explores The Odes of Solomon. It is encouraging to see how widely the author will range in an attempt to be truly ›catholic‹. It does not strike this reviewer that the language of Ode 17 is particularly ›forensic‹. At p. 126 A. admits that ›union with Christ‹ is more to the fore, and that Ode 25 is largely about ›grace‹. Having just claimed ›he had a salvific experience in which he shed the skins for the Spirit‹, A. adds: ›There is no element of transformative righteousness here‹ and goes on (strangely) to talk about the ›imputation of the Spirit‹ (138–9). To my mind he fails to resolve the key question of who is speaking (Christ or the believer) at 25,12 and just what the Syriac word t;wddza means. It is not enough to rely on Charlesworth’s translation. The strongest evidence comes at 29,5–6: ›I humbled my enemies/and he justified me in his grace/For I believed the Lord’s Messiah‹. In any case the conclusion – ›The very fact that in Ode 17 and Ode 25 justification is linked to freedom from bondage in chains reveals that the Odist believed that justification is forensic‹ (153) – seems strained.
The final chapter (6) concerns Justin, who stands to his opponent Trypho as Paul did to the Galatian Judaizers. In fact it is claimed the resemblance is so close that ›it is almost inconceivable that he is not borrowing from the Apostle‹ (172), not least in the appeal to Abraham in Dial 119.6 (cf Rom 4:11), and circumcision as merely symbolic in value (which does not seem particularly Pauline.) The key idea is ›hope in Christ‹ (182), but nothing more specific.
In conclusion, more on the dates and locations of the process of collection of the Pauline letters would have helped. A. admits in the final paragraph that he has tried to ›detect these rare snippets of justification‹, and that ›it is unfair to ask the second-century fathers to give a full-orbed understanding of justification‹ (188). However is it not the case that when post-biblical writers pay close attention to and debate about the meaning of texts that they tend to give more not less precision to the theme than the biblical writers? Might the simple answer be that they were just not very interested in this theme?