The New Protestant believes that the gospel (or plan of salvation) presented throughout the pages of Scripture (from Genesis to Revelation) is the same in its basic framework. That gospel may be referred to as the Marriage Covenant Gospel (MCG) and can be summarized as follows:
God saves through establishing covenants between Himself and those He is saving1. The saving covenants of the Bible are not meritorious but marital in nature (e.g., Jer 31:31-32)2. As such, they follow the principles of gain and maintain: 1) Under the New Covenant, we gain salvation or covenant relationship with God by grace (or His gracious choice) through faith in Jesus Christ (i.e., through placing our trust in Him as Savior and vowing our allegiance or loyalty to Him3 as our Divine King4) and 2) we maintain (not merit) that salvation (justification) and its promises (including the promise of eternity) through faithful obedience to Christ’s Law (1Co 9:21; Gal 6:2; e.g., Mat 28:18-205). Biblical salvation is therefore not by faith alone (the Protestant/Evangelical view or Faith Alone Gospel (FAG)6), but rather requires also the condition of faithful obedience7.
Determining which gospel is correct requires it possesses consistency (or agreement) in the following three areas: 1) redemptive history, 2) the early church, 3) the relationship between faith and works. This study will show that the New Protestant MCG is the only soteriological framework demonstrating such consistency while at the same exposing the biblical and historical inconsistency produced by the Evangelical or (old) Protestant FAG.
1. Redemptive History: Jesus teaches that Judaism will provide the framework for New Covenant (or Christian) salvation (Joh 4:21-22).
Consistent with MCG, the soteriological framework of Judaism is: 1) gain a saving covenant relationship w/God by grace (or His gracious choice) through vows of allegiance/loyalty to Him and 2) maintain (not merit) that covenant/salvation and its promises (including the promise of eternity) through faithful obedience to His Law (e.g., Exo 24:1-8; Deu 4:39-40, 7:6-12, 28:1-2, 9, 29:1, 10-13-20).
In academic circles the soteriological framework of gain and maintain is often referred to as “covenantal nomism”, a term coined by Jewish scholar E.P. Sanders in his 1977 seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism.
“There does appear to be in Rabbinic Judaism a coherent and all-pervasive view of what constitutes the essence of Jewish religion and how that religion ‘works.’ That all-pervasive view can be summarized in the phrase ‘covenantal nomism’. Briefly put, covenantal nomism is the view that one’s place in God’s plan [of salvation] is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as a proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing a means of atonement for transgression.”
E.P Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (p.75)
“The pattern of Rabbinic religion [Judaism] is this: God has [graciously] chosen Israel and Israel has accepted the election. In His role as King, God gave Israel commandments which they are to obey as best they can…In the case of failure to obey, however, man has recourse to divinely ordained means of atonement, in all of which repentance is required. As long as he maintains his desire to stay in the covenant, he has a share in God’s covenantal promises, including life in the world to come. The intention and effort to be obedient constitute the condition for remaining in covenant, but they do not earn it…Obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such. It simply keeps an individual in the group which is the recipient of God’s grace.”
ibid (pp.180, 420)
“[Covenantal nomism] was the basic type of religion known by Jesus and presumably by Paul…The frequent Christian charge against Judaism…is not that some individual Jews misunderstood, misapplied and abused their religion, but that Judaism necessarily tends toward petty legalism, self-serving and self-deceiving casuistry, and a mixture of arrogance and a lack of confidence in God. But the surviving Jewish literature is as free of these characteristics as any I have ever read. By consistently maintaining the basic framework of covenantal nomism, the gift and demand of God were kept in a healthy relationship with each other.”
“One can already see in Paul how it is that Christianity is going to become a new form of covenantal nomism, a covenantal religion which one enters by baptism, membership in which provides salvation, which has a specific set of commandments, obedience to which (or repentance for the transgression of which) keeps one in the covenantal relationship, while repeated or heinous transgression removes one from membership.”
“There are two aspects the relationship between grace and works [in covenantal nomism]: salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works; works are the condition of remaining ‘in’ [the covenant], but they do not earn salvation.”8
Sanders: Comparing Judaism and Christianity
“Keeping the Law is always the condition for remaining in the covenant, never the means of earning God’s grace… The righteous person [the person who has already gained justification by grace] does not [therefore] earn but rather maintains his or her status within the covenant.”
E.P. Sanders, Comparing Judaism and Christianity (p.169)
Both Christian and Jewish scholars have echoed and accepted Sanders’ covenantal nomism as the correct understanding of Jewish soteriology.
“The larger pattern of soteriology found in…Jewish documents [is]…the framework of ‘covenantal nomism not legalism [works-based salvation]. The invitation to, and the provision for, life within God’s covenant favor and protection (or salvation) proceeds solely from God’s grace…However entry into and continuance in this gracious covenantal relationship requires accepting and walking in God’s ways. This is not seen as earning a covenant status one did not yet have, but as the only proper response…toward the covenant God who has already bestowed life. One’s works of obedience are not viewed as merits…but instead are the observable manifestations of the covenant loyalty of the unseen heart…Behavior demonstrating this fundamental inward disposition of covenant loyalty brings the promise of continued participation in the covenant blessings; consistently disloyal behavior brings God’s wrath. Faith and works are not competing criteria of judgment but represent two sides of the single coin of human response in light of God’s gracious covenantal agreement…One ‘gets in’ by covenant grace, and ‘stays in’ by not abandoning the covenant and its required obedience.”
Kent Yinger (Christian and Jewish scholar): Paul, Judaism and Judgment According to Deeds (pp.284-285)
“Paul understands the significance of this judgment [judgment according to deeds] within the larger framework [of] covenantal nomism…In short, one ‘enters’ the sphere of salvation (or is counted a participant among those who are saved) by God’s grace and election. One ‘stays in’ by obedience; or in more Pauline terms, by ‘living by the Spirit.’ The judgment of those saved by grace will be according to their deeds…Salvation is [therefore] not earned by human initiative but given by God’s grace; and is contingent upon continuance in faith and obedience which are required by that relationship. Such obedience remains a condition for the maintenance of righteousness and for final justification…When Paul says, ‘So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap [eternal life] at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9), he makes continuance in ‘doing what is right’ a condition for reaping eternal life exactly as in Judaism.”
“Scholars continue to debate some of the details, but since 1977 (when Paul and Palestinian Judaism was published) general agreement has been reached on the following points: 1) First century Judaism was not the legalistic [works-based] religion of past caricatures. 2) Covenantal nomism is a fair description of…Jewish soteriology.”
– Yinger: The New Perspective On Paul: An Introduction (p.12)
“Sander’s covenantal nomism must be pronounced a complete success…His ‘pattern of religion’ would be recognized by anyone familiar with Jewish liturgy.”
– Jacob Neusner (Jewish Scholar): Ancient Judaism: Debates and Disputes (p.128)
“[E.P. Sanders] shows everything in Rabbinic literature depends on the covenant – God’s election of his people, his provision of atonement for their sin and his promise of salvation for all faithful Israelites. Such religion may be termed ‘covenantal nomism’: The conception is that God acts, that Israel accepts the action as being for them, that God gives commandments, that Israel agrees to obey the commandments, and that continuing to accept commandments demonstrates that one is ‘in’, while refusing to obey indicates that one is ‘out’. In fact, a very similar pattern of religion can be found in other examples of Palestinian Judaism, for example the Dead Sea Scrolls and many of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. In each case the ‘pattern’ or ‘structure’ [is] covenantal nomism…On the whole, [Sander’s] analysis of the structure of thought in Palestinian Judaism has been widely acknowledged as accurate and convincing.”
– John Barclay (Christian scholar): Paul and the Law: observations on some recent debates (pp.8-9)
“One can scarcely fail to note the frequency with which several scholars…comment that their [analysis of assigned Rabbinic literature] largely fits the category of covenantal nomism.”
– D.A. Carson (Christian scholar): Justification and Variegated Nomism vol 1 (p.547)
The FAG does not adopt the covenantal nomism of Judaism as its soteriological framework, but rather the works-based system of Roman Catholicism. At its core, the FAG is nothing more than Roman Catholicism 2.0. In the words of Evangelical theologian, R.C. Sproul,
“Man’s relationship to God [is] based on works…Ultimately the only way one can be justified is by works. We are indeed justified by works, but the works that justify us are…the works of Christ.”
Getting the Gospel Right (p.160)
The origin of such thinking is the Protestant Reformers themselves, who projected back onto Judaism and the Jewish teachers of Jesus’ day (the pharisees), Rome’s meritorious religion9. As before, testimony in this respect, has been well documented by both Christian and Jewish scholars10,
“One must note in particular the projection on Judaism of the view which Protestants [the inventors of the FAG] find most objectionable in Roman Catholicism: the existence of a treasury of merits established by supererogation. We have here the retrojection of the Protestant-Catholic debate into ancient history, with Judaism taking the role of Catholicism and Christianity the role of Lutheranism.”
– E.P. Sanders (Jewish scholar): Paul and Palestinian Judaism (p.57)
“The distinction between keeping the law as a condition of remaining…in good standing [with God] and earning salvation is an important one. The point has been repeatedly missed by Christian scholars, especially in dealing with Rabbinic Judaism.”
– E.P. Sanders: Comparing Judaism and Christianity (p.169)
“It can be set down as something destined to endure eternally that the usual Christian commentators will disparage Judaism and its supposed legalism [works-based salvation], and Jewish scholars will reply, usually fruitlessly…With those Christians who persist in deluding themselves about Jewish legalism, no academic communication is possible.”
– Samuel Sandmel (Jewish scholar): The First Christian Century (p.66f)
“E.P. Sander’s model of ‘covenantal nomism’…performed an outstanding service in refuting the caricatures of…Judaism that had utilized Reformation [FAG] categories to denigrate Judaism as a religion of works-righteousness.”
– John Barclay (Christian scholar): Paul and the Gift (p.318)
“By a careful analysis of the relevant Rabbinic literature, [E.P.] Sanders [in Paul and Palestinian Judaism] shows that the common assumption that Rabbinic religion was a religion of legalistic works-righteousness is completely wrong: it proceeds from theological presuppositions and is supported by systemically misunderstanding and misconstruing passages in Rabbinic literature…it will take a major new analysis of first-century Judaism to overturn Sander’s description of it; and since none is so far forthcoming, we will have to continue to take seriously his claim that Paul (or for that matter, Jesus) could have no good grounds for imagining Jews to be anxiously seeking to achieve salvation by their good works. If this is so, we are left with two options in considering Paul’s attack on those who urged justification “By a careful analysis of the relevant Rabbinic literature, [E.P.] Sanders [in Paul and Palestinian Judaism] shows that the common assumption that Rabbinic religion was a religion of legalistic works-righteousness is completely wrong: it proceeds from theological presuppositions and is supported by systemically misunderstanding and misconstruing passages in Rabbinic literature…it will take a major new analysis of first-century Judaism to overturn Sander’s description of it; and since none is so far forthcoming, we will have to continue to take seriously his claim that Paul (or for that matter, Jesus) could have no good grounds for imagining Jews to be anxiously seeking to achieve salvation by their good works. If this is so, we are left with two options in considering Paul’s attack on those who urged justification by works of the law: either he was deliberately misrepresenting the Judaism he knew so well, in making it out to be legalistic, or the point of his criticism is not legalism [works-based salvation] but something else.”
– John Barclay: Paul and the Law: observations on some recent debates (p.8)
“This 15th-16th century conflict between Protestants and Catholics was later read back into the Pauline writings and projected back into Paul’s own words. Today hardly anyone will object to the fact that Paul must be read through first century Israelite interpretive lenses and not through the later lenses of Catholic-Protestant conflict historically unrelated to Paul. While the juxtaposition of law and the gospel was present in the Church Fathers, it is not until the time of the Reformation that the juxtaposing of law and grace became pronounced. This became a dominant emphasis. The opposite of grace became law; the opposite of law became grace. In all reality, the opposite of law was never grace but lawlessness. Just as the opposite of grace was never law but disgrace.”
– Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg: The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel (Jewish Studies for Christians Book 3) (p.9)
The heresy of the FAG’s works-based salvation is compounded by its belief in perfectionism as God’s standard for accepting man’s obedience. This error stems from: 1) ignorance of the Old Testament: [1.1.] God calls for faithfulness not perfection (Deu 28:1-2)11) [1.2.] Contrary to the beliefs of the FAG’s inventor, Martin Luther (e.g., The Bondage of the Will) and other Reformers (e.g., Calvinists’ doctrine of Total Depravity), God also emphasizes our ability to do this very thing: to faithfully obey (Deu 30:11-20). 2) a failure to reconcile such thinking with the sacrificial system (if perfectionism is the requirement, then why the sacrifices?), 3) misinterpretation of several New Testament passages: [3.1.] (Mat 5:48 “perfect”) = Given the context (vv44-47), Jesus is not calling for perfection in our behavior, but the scope of our love. Like God our love is to be extended not only to the righteous but also the wicked. [3.2.] (Gal 3:10 “abide by all things written in the Book of the Law”) = Not a reference to perfection, but rather the need to keep the whole or entire Law versus selected portions.
“The Bible nowhere uses ‘perfect’ in the sense we English-speakers normally assume (flawless conformity to a norm, sinless). It nowhere advances the notion that such flawless obedience is expected or required of human beings at any time… What God and his Torah do expect is for the covenant partner to adhere faithfully [not perfectly] to him…Recent debates over perfection, or better, Judaism and perfect law-keeping, took off with the publication of E.P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism…For Luther and most of the Protestant theological traditions in his wake, one of the chief problems with salvation according to the OT law was that no one had kept, or could keep, its commandments sufficiently to be considered righteous. Nearly all were agreed this was because the law required flawless or perfect obedience to all its commands. Since all are sinners, such a demand for perfect obedience returns a guilty verdict upon every single human being. The reformational reading of texts like Gal 3:10…made Paul a further Jewish witness to this position…Luther’s understanding of Pauline justification by faith apart from works required [this] assumption of perfect law-keeping in order to work…However, Sanders [proved] that this was a complete misreading of Jewish soteriology…Jews did not think Torah required of them a perfect, unerring obedience. ‘Human perfection was not considered realistically achievable by the Rabbis, nor was it required.’” In fact, as [Krister] Stendahl had proposed earlier12, Paul had no great problem at all with keeping the law adequately. ‘As to righteousness under the law’’ he thought he was ‘blameless’ (Phi 3:6b)…The standard for [Christian] judgment will not be flawless obedience (e.g., sinlessness), but a life characterized by faithful devotion to Christ and His ways.”
– Kent Yinger: God And Human Wholeness (p.1-2, 28, 11a, 93, 11b-12, 113)
2. The Early Church: The earliest of church writings and early church fathers viewed faithful obedience as not only something we as human beings are capable of doing, but as a necessary condition of salvation.
In regard to man’s ability (free will) to faithfully obey and its necessity to salvation, the MCG also possesses the support of the earliest church writings and early church fathers – some who were the direct disciples of the Apostles themselves13.
(human ability to obey)
“It is not by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but each man by free choice acts rightly or sins…But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. And this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both [virtue and vice]…In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God; for they have been born rational and contemplative. And if anyone disbelieves that God cares for these things, he will thereby either insinuate that God does not exist, or he will assert that though He exists He delights in vice, or exists like a stone, and that neither virtue nor vice are anything, but only in the opinion of men these things are reckoned good or evil. And this is the greatest profanity and wickedness…If all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions…But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.”
– Justin Martyr (AD 100-165): Christian evangelist and apologist
“God made man a free [agent] from the beginning…to obey the [commands] of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God…In man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice, so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves. On the other hand, they who have not obeyed shall, with justice…shall all deservedly incur the just judgment of God…Not merely in works, but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his own control…[If God made men good by nature without free will], communion with God [would not] be precious, the good would not be sought after, because it would be there without their own proper efforts…Their being good would be of no consequence, because they were so by nature rather than by will.”
– Irenaeus (AD 130-202): Bishop in modern day France. Sat under the teaching of Polycarp. Wrote primarily against Christian Gnosticism, a cult that held to a FAG: that you are saved solely by your belief and never by your works
“The nature of good, which again is with God alone, is brought to perfection in men through their freedom of choice, in order that the bad man may be justly punished, having become depraved through his own fault, but the just man be deservedly praised for his virtuous deeds, since in the exercise of his free choice he refrained from transgressing the will of God.”
– Tatian (2nd century): Disciple of Justin Martyr and fellow Christian apologist
“Choice depend[s] on the man as being free…For God compels not (for compulsion is repugnant to God)…And neither praises nor censures, neither rewards nor punishments, are right, when the soul has not the power of inclination and disinclination, but evil is involuntary… But since free choice and inclination originate sins…punishments are rightly inflicted.”
– Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215): Christian teacher in Alexandria.
“This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the Church, that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition…it follows, also, that we understand ourselves not to be subject to necessity, so as to be compelled by all means, even against our will, to do either good or evil. For if we are our own masters, some influences perhaps may impel us to sin, and others help us to salvation; we are not forced, however, by any necessity either to act rightly or wrongly…You will find also innumerable other passages in holy Scripture, which manifestly show that we possess freedom of will. Otherwise there would be an [inconsistency] in commandments being given us, by observing which we may be saved, or by transgressing which we may be condemned, if the power of keeping them were not implanted in us…To assert that we have no free will] is to say that we are like pieces of wood, or stones, which have no motion in themselves, but receive the causes of their motion from without. Now such an assertion is neither true nor becoming and is invented only that the freedom of the will may be denied.”
– Origen (AD 185-255): Studied under Clement of Alexandria and later took over the school.
“God made you as perfect as it seemed good to Him. He has given you a mind endowed with freedom…There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner of life, because you are a free man; or from seeking and finding out who is the Lord of all; or from serving Him with all your heart.”
– Melito (died in AD 190): Bishop of Sardis
“For God made man free, and with power over himself…so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and everyone who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption.”
– Theophilus (2nd century): Bishop of Antioch and Christian apologist.
“Those who decide that man is not possessed of free-will, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, and her unwritten commands, are guilty of impiety towards God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.”
– Methodius (died in AD 311): Bishop of Lycia
“God gave to every individual… free-will, in accordance with which standard He also instituted the law of judgment…certainly whosoever will, may keep the commandments…there can be no doubt that every individual, in the exercise of his own proper power of will, may shape his course in whatever direction he pleases.”
– Archelaus (3rd century): Christian bishop that publicly debated and stood against Manes, the founder of Manichaeism. Another sect that believed in determinism (no free will) and easy-believism like the Gnostics.
(obedience as necessary to salvation)
“Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness…being justified by our works, and not our words.”
– Clement of Rome (AD 35-99): Bishop of Rome from 88-99, and according to Irenaeus, was the 3rd Bishop of Rome after the Apostle Peter. Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome also believed that Clement was the one mentioned in Phi 4:314.
“But He who raised [Jesus] up from the dead will raise us up also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness.”
– Polycarp (AD 69-155): Disciple of the Apostle John and bishop in Smyrna.
“The matters of our religion lie in works, not in words…Now that we have learned the truth, [may we] by our works also…be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation…And we have been taught, and are convinced, and do believe, that He accepts only those who imitate the excellences which reside in Him…and if men by their works show themselves worthy of…His design, they are deemed worthy…of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering…those who choose what is pleasing to Him are, on account of their choice, deemed worthy of incorruption and of fellowship with Him…And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word.”
– Justin Martyr (AD 100-165)
“Those who believe God and follow His word receive that salvation which flows from Him. Those, on the other hand, who depart from Him, and despise His precepts, and by their deeds bring dishonor on Him who made them, and…heap up against themselves most righteous judgment.”
– Irenaeus (AD 130-202)
“Brethren, by doing the will of the Father, and keeping the flesh holy, and observing the commandments of the Lord, we shall obtain eternal life.”
– 2nd Clement (written between AD 95-140): Possibly written by Clement. Considered an early church sermon.
“He may bestow on them the blessing which He has promised them, with much glory and joy, if only they shall keep the commandments of God which they have received in great faith…All creation fears the Lord, but all creation does not keep His commandments. They only who fear the Lord and keep His commandments have life with God; but as to those who keep not His commandments, there is no life in them…All, therefore, who shall despise him, and not follow his commands, deliver themselves to death, and every one of them will be guilty of his own blood. But I enjoin you, that you obey his commands, and you will have a cure for your former sins.”
– The Shepherd of Hermas (written in the 1st or 2nd Century): Irenaeus considered this book to be canonical.
“Whosoever…distinguishes himself in good works shall gain the prize of everlasting life…But others…attaching slight importance to the works which tend to salvation, do not make the requisite preparation for attaining to the objects of their hope… It is the will of God that he, who is obedient to the commands and repents of his sins should be saved…And the Word, having unfolded the truth, showed to men the height of salvation, that either repenting they might be saved, or refusing to obey, they might be judged. This is the proclamation of righteousness: to those that obey, glad tidings; to those that disobey, judgment.”
– Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215)
“The Gentiles by faith in Christ prepare for themselves eternal life through good works…Who are they who have reconciliation made for their sins, but they who believe in His name, and propitiate His countenance by good works?” The righteous will remember only the righteous deeds by which they reached the heavenly kingdom.”
– Hippolytus (AD 170-236): Possible presbyter or bishop in Rome.
“He has set before you all these things, and shows you that, if you follow after evil, you will be condemned for your evil deeds. But, if you follow goodness, you will receive from Him abundant good, together with immortal life forever.”
– Melito (died in AD 190)
“To prophesy and to cast out devils, and to do great acts upon the earth is certainly a sublime and an admirable thing; but one does not attain the kingdom of heaven although he is found in all these things, unless he walks in the observance of the right and just way…we must [therefore] obey His precepts and warnings, that our merits may receive their reward.”
– Cyprian (died in AD 258): Bishop of Carthage during intense persecution. His statement, “there is no salvation outside of the church,” has been quoted by many, including the Reformers.
“For this reason He has given us this present life, that we may either lose that true and eternal life by our vices, or win it by virtue.”
– Lactantius (AD 250-325): Roman teacher that converted to Christianity.
“But wherefore has He chosen us? ‘That we should be holy and without a blemish before Him.’ That you may not then, when you hear that ‘He has chosen us,’ imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, says he, has He chosen us, and on this condition, ‘that we should be holy and without blemish.’”
– John Chrysostom (AD 347-407): Regarded as one of the “Doctors of the Church”. Through his preaching, he earned the nickname, Chrysostom (not his surname), which means “golden-mouthed” yet spoke directly against faith alone
3. The Relationship Between Faith And Works: Both are necessary as instrumental (or causal) conditions of salvation.
Scholars and theologians who have studied the issue agree that the debate surrounding the relationship between faith and works is ultimately not about whether works can be considered a necessary condition of salvation, but rather the nature of the condition itself. Are works an instrumental (causal) condition or an evidential (congruent) condition?15 1) Instrumental (Causal): the result cannot be achieved without the condition (salvation is the result of both faith and works). 2) Evidential (Congruent): the condition always follows the result (works always follow the result of salvation by faith)16.
A biblical syllogism to determine the nature of works with respect to salvation (Mac’s Hammer17)
- Who is commanded to possess saving faith? (Act 16:31) Answer: Us
- What makes the difference between saving faith and dead (or damning) faith? (Jam 2:14-17, 20, 26) Answer: Works
- Who is expected to do those works? (Jam 2:18-19, 21-23, 25; Joh 14:15; Mat 5:19-20, 19:16-17; Gal 5:19-21; e.g., Eph 6:1-2) Answer: Us18
- Works are an instrumental (causal) condition of salvation, not evidential or congruent (since we are not only the ones responsible for producing the works, but salvation [the result] cannot happen without them.
- FAG is false (since salvation requires faith PLUS works) (James 2:24)19.
A biblical syllogism to reconcile Paul and James and their (supposed) difference over works (Luther’s Cap20)
- Whatever James is referring as works is different from whatever Paul is referring to as works.
- The works James refers to are necessary to salvation (Jam 2:24), whereas the works Paul refers to are not necessary for salvation (Rom 3:28).
- The works referred to by James are related to the Law (Jam 2:1-13 is the context for Jam 2:14-26; See also Jam 1:19-27), and the same is true for the works referred to by Paul (Rom 3:28 “works of the law”).
- Since both James and Paul are referring to works related to the Law, and yet only those works referred to by James are necessary for salvation, there must be a distinction in the Law (at the very least, a bipartite distinction: laws no longer needed for salvation versus laws that remain necessary for salvation).
- Any person not making such a distinction in their understanding of the Law (especially when reading Paul or James) – or interpreting Paul as against the entirety of the Law as necessary to salvation (e.g., Evangelicals), are grossly misinterpreting their bibles (2Pe 3:16-17) = How the “unstable” and “untaught” twist Paul’s gospel and are damned: They preach a gospel that rejects obedience to the Law as a necessary/instrumental condition of salvation. They are “lawless people” (e.g., FAG people).
The only remaining question is what is the distinction? Or, what works of the law are necessary (to salvation) and which are not? Put in terms of James and Paul, which laws are each referring to in their respective promotion or prohibition? Once more the early church comes to our aid.
According to the research of Matthew J. Thomas (Paul’s ‘Works Of The Law’ In the Perspective Of Second Century Reception), the early church was unanimous in their view that those works (or laws) prohibited in by the apostle Paul refer only to those Jewish prescriptions related to covenant identity (think “justification”) – including those things associated with cleansing for sin and remaining ceremonially clean – what the early Reformers (e.g., Calvin) referred to as the ceremonial (or clean) laws: circumcision, animal sacrifices, Sabbaths, separation and food regulations21 22. For example:
The Epistle of Barnabas:
“The works objected to in the Epistle of Barnabas are…the specific works of sacrifices, new moons and Sabbaths, fasts, circumcision, and dietary regulations, which Barnabas sets in contrast with God’s righteous requirements [i.e., the moral law].” (p.103)
“In his epistles to the Magnesians and the Philadelphians, Ignatius objects to the works of Sabbath and ‘ancient practices’ and relativizes the work of circumcision. The observance of these works represents Judaism – the Jews system of belief and practice contained in the ‘archives’ of Jewish law -which Ignatius makes clear is the real target of his objections…Ignatius’s epistles show considerable influence from Paul’s writings and contain disputes that parallel the apostle’s own on this topic, and thus constitute supporting evidence for how ‘works of the law’ debates were received and understood in the early second century.” (p.124-125)
“In the Dialogue with Trypho, the works in question between Justin and Trypho are the precepts of the Mosiac law, such as circumcision, Sabbath keeping, calendar observances like feasts and new moons, sacrifice, laws regarding food, and the building of the temple. Justin is careful to distinguish such works, denoted with the word νόμος, from those natural and universally good practices given ‘for worship of God and the practice of virtue.” (p. 224)
“Irenaeus’s perspective on the works of the law is rooted within the debates over the role of the Mosaic law in the new covenant, with specific identity markers such as circumcision and Sabbath coming into particular focus. These works are distinguished from natural and moral precepts, which are necessary for salvation, such as those of the Decalogue.” (p.262)
As before, this understanding is supported by modern Jewish and Christian scholars:
“Once [Paul] excluded circumcision, food and days from ‘the commandments of God’ (and exclusion which is explicit with regard to circumcision in 1Cor 7:19), he could say, without contradicting himself, that his followers should observe ‘the whole law.”
– E.P. Sanders: Paul, The Law and the Jewish People (p.91)
“’works of the law’ do not mean ‘good works’ in general, ‘good works’ in the sense disparaged by the heirs of Luther, works in the sense of self-achievement. Rather the phrase is a ‘fairly restricted one,’ referring to ‘covenant works’ – those regulations prescribed by the law [necessary] to be a Jew…circumcision, food laws, sabbath…the particular commandments and ordinances which kept Jew and Gentile separate from one another”
– James D.G. Dunn: New Perspective On Paul (pp.111, 119)
“Instead of legalistic reliance upon one’s own performance, ‘works of the law’ refer to how Jews were identified in the ancient world. They were the people identified by those behaviors mandated in Torah, such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, food regulations, etc.”
– Kent Yinger: God and Human Wholeness (p.97 fn 12)
More importantly, however, this understanding of the “works of the law” is supported by the author, Paul, who: 1) never uses the phrase without also mentioning circumcision, animal sacrifices, Sabbaths, separation or food regulations (e.g., Gal 2:2-5, 11-16, 4:10-11, 5:1-6, 6:12-16; Rom 3:1, 19-31, 4:1-12), 2) equates them with justification/righteousness and demands they be replaced by justification through faith in Christ (Rom 3:28, 10:4; See also Eph 2:11-1223)24, 3) continues to demand that the moral commands be observed (Rom 13:8-10; 1Co 7:19).
The FAG invented by Martin Luther is the not only false, but the most “dangerous lie” of the last 500 years. It is eternally collapsing ground. It is only through the New Protestant MCG that the Reformation rally cry of “Post Tenebras Lux” (Latin: After Darkness, Light) is truly realized. Through the MCG the ancient beliefs of the church of the Apostles and their disciples is recovered. May its resurgence begin with Christ Covenant Church (Denver, CO).
“If this article [of justification by faith alone] stands, the church stands; if this article collapses, the church collapses.”
– Martin Luther
- The 5 saving covenants of Redemptive History are the: 1) Adamic (Hos 6), 2) Noahic (Gen 6), 3) Abrahamic (Gen 15/17), 4) Old (Exo 24) and 5) New (Mat 26)
- Examples could be given to support the fact that all the saving covenants of the Bible are indeed marital in nature. For the sake of the current study, only the Old and New Covenants will be considered. For further study on this subject see “Marriage Covenant” (2023) by R. Scott Jarrett and Kasey Bales. Consider also Kent Yinger’s view of salvation, “You [are either] one of the righteous or one of the wicked. One either walk[s] in covenant with God or turn[s] one’s back on him. Being in covenant with God was a bit like being married: either you were or weren’t.”
- In the 1st century, the word [Gk., pistis] faith was not only used to communicate belief or trust, but also allegiance or loyalty. For example in Josephus: “The inhabitants of this city determined to continue in their allegiance [pistis] to the Romans.” (The Life, 104). According to David M. Hay, 62% of the time pistis in Josephus refers to allegiance or a vow of loyalty (“Pistis as a ‘Ground for Faith’ in Hellenized Judaism and Paul”). The strong connection between allegiance/loyalty and faith in the first century is the reason pistis in the NT is often translated as “faithfulness,” a synonym for allegiance or loyalty (e.g., Rom 3:3; Gal 5:22). Key passages dealing with salvation where pistis clearly refers to allegiance or loyalty (versus belief or trust): 1) (Mat 8:9-10) = The centurion expresses allegiance/loyalty to Jesus in the same way his soldiers show allegiance/loyalty to him. Jesus views this as the ideal form of saving pistis [faith] in Himself. 2) (Act 26:18) = Paul defines pistis [faith] as turning “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” – i.e., as a change in one’s allegiance. Hence the reason faith always includes repentance (v19-20, “repent” = turning from sin and Satan). We turn from our former allegiances (“repent” [Grk., metanoia] = to turn) so that we can “turn to God” (give our allegiance to Him). Allegiance or loyalty as the correct understanding of pistis [faith] – especially when in reference to Jesus, is also supported by the biblical concept of love for God/Jesus. It is allegiance or loyalty that is the primary focus (Joh 14:15). At the very least then, what must be included in our understanding of pistis [faith] is that it communicates more than simple belief or trust. It communicates also our intention of allegiance or loyalty. And this faith-sworn allegiance/loyalty is viewed by God as a sacred pledge/binding vow (1Pe 3:21 “appeal” [Gk., heperowteyma] = Sacred pledge/binding vow). For further study see Matthew Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone.
- Divine King is the idea behind the title “the Lord Jesus [the] Christ” (e.g., Rom 1:7). “Lord” refers to Jesus’ identity as God whereas “Christ” His office as King. Both ideas are picked up in what precedes verse 7 (See Rom 1:1-6).
- John 3:5 and 1Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is the place God accepts our vow of faith and grants us regeneration and remission of sins. It is worth noting that the early church was unanimous in their agreement with this understanding of baptism and interpretation of John 3:5 and 1Peter 3:21. For example, “The prescript is laid down that ‘without baptism salvation is unattainable by none’ [1Pe 3:21], chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, ‘Unless one be born of water, he has no life.’[Joh 3:5]” – Tertullian.
- “[Our works of obedience] are never the ground basis [necessary condition] of our justification.” – R.C. Sproul (“Unto Good Works”, TableTalk Magazine, p.6).
- “Sola Fide [Faith Alone] is true when it describes how we first enter into a new standing with God, but it oversimplifies the nature of the Christian journey into the coming age, with potentially disastrous results…Since the 1520s [Faith Alone] has proven powerless to check repeated outbreaks of antinomianism (opposition to the teaching of the moral law) in churches indebted to the Reformation, resulting in large fringes of congregants today imbued with the heresy that without mortifying sins they can nevertheless rest assured of reaching heaven.” – Paul A. Rainbow (The Way Of Salvation: the role of Christian obedience in justification, pp. xvi-xvii).
- For a fuller definition of description of covenantal nomism see Sanders’ 8-point summary on p.422.
- This view was heavily propagated by Christian writers in the late 19th and early 20th century. Much of their literature became the standard textbooks in seminaries for educating future ministers about the Judaism of Jesus’ day. See George Foot Moore, “Christian Writers On Judaism” (Harvard Theological Review, pp 197-254).
- This should come as no surprise since Martin Luther (the inventor of the FAG) and the other Reformers were formerly Roman Catholics and the Protestant Reformation itself, a response to Roman Catholicism.
- Scholars agree, Judaism was never about perfectionism: “The requisite obedience [required by God] was never viewed as flawless perfection (p. 62)… judgment according to deeds demands not perfect obedience but covenant faithfulness… (p. 67)…perfect law-keeping was hardly typical of Judaism in Paul’s time (p.167)…the Jerusalem temple was a visible monument to all that Judaism believed not in perfect law-keeping, but in God’s forgiveness for sins (p. 167 fn 79).” – Kent Yinger (Paul, Judaism and Judgment According to Deeds); “Human perfection was not considered realistically achievable by the Rabbis, nor was it required (p.137)…Although the term ‘righteous’ is primarily applied to those who obey the Torah, the Rabbis knew full well that even the righteous did not obey God’s law perfectly. Thus the sufferings of the righteous in this world are believed to be chastisement for their sins, which indicates they had some…The general view was that the righteous man was not characterized by perfection – as one baraita [ancient Jewish oral tradition] has it, ‘if God judged strictly, not even the patriarchs could stand his reproof – but by the earnest endeavour to obey the law and by repentance and other acts of atonement in the case of transgression (p.203).’” – E.P. Sanders (Paul and Palestinian Judaism). With respect man’s ability to obey Christ or His commands, the early church is prolific in their affirmation. For example, Origen: “You will find also innumerable other passages in holy Scripture, which manifestly show that we possess freedom of will. Otherwise there would be an [inconsistency] in commandments being given us, by observing which we may be saved, or by transgressing which we may be condemned, if the power of keeping them were not implanted in us.”
- “The Apostle Paul And The Introspective Conscience Of The West” in Paul among the Jews and Gentiles, p. 78-96
- The gold standard of reliability in the science of hermeneutics are those artifacts or documents closest to the epicenter or source. Lest we be considered arrogant, it is this level of trust that should be given to those writings of the early church that transpired within the first three centuries after the time of the Apostles. As anecdotal support, even those in the early church, understood and operated by this principle. For example, Tertullian, in support of his gospel over that of the heretic Marcion (also a believer in a FAG) argues, “I say that my Gospel is the true one; Marcion, that his is. I affirm that Marcion’s Gospel is adulterated; Marcion, that mine is. Now what is to settle the point for us, except it be that principle of time, which rules that the authority lies with that which shall be found to be more ancient; and assumes as an elemental truth, that corruption (of doctrine) belongs to the side which shall be convicted of comparative lateness in its origin. For, inasmuch as error is falsification of truth, it must needs be that truth therefore precede error.”
- Irenaeus has this to say about Clement: “…[Since Clement] had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, [he] might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles.”
- Even Luther saw works as a condition of salvation. They were however rejected as causal or instrumental, “Works are necessary to salvation, but they do not cause salvation, because faith alone gives life.” (“The Disputation Concerning Justification”, Luther’s Works, p.165).
- Given the definition of a condition (a state of affairs that must exist before something else is possible), the term, “evidentiary condition” is an oxymoron.
- The title of this syllogism is in honor of Judah Maccabees (the “Hammer”), who led the Maccabean revolt and restored of the Law (or the necessity of obedience to God’s Law for salvation) to God’s people (Israel) in the time after the OT prophets and just before Christ. Jesus honored men like Maccabees by attending the holiday created to remember him and the importance of God’s Law in salvation (Hanukkah). See also James Dunn, The Parting Of The Ways, p.33
- Salvation is therefore synergistic (human free will cooperating w/God in salvation) (e.g., Phi 2:12-13 = Notice, it is us who are required to “work out [our] own salvation”, God’s role is merely to work in [or with] us, influencing us “to will and to work” in the direction of “His good pleasure”) and not – as (reformed) evangelicals claim, monergistic (God alone determining and working all aspects related to human salvation; i.e., the HS obeys for us). Like the FAG, monergism was also rejected by the Early Church. For the first 300 years after Christ, synergism was the Church’s official position. In the words of Reformed historian Loraine Boettner, “It may occasion some surprise to discover… that the [Early Church Fathers]…taught that salvation was through Christ; yet they assumed that man had full power to accept or reject the gospel… They taught…synergism in which there was a co-operation between grace and free will.” Consider (Luk 7:30).
- “The sole occurrence of the phrase ‘by faith alone’ in the New Testament is in James; and he pointedly rules it out as a way to be justified (Jam 2:24). This fact ought to unsettle any for whom sola fide has become a shibboleth. It is reason enough to re-examine the biblical grounds…“One legacy of the Reformation is a bias toward Paul within the biblical canon, and a preference for select proof-texts even within Paul…As is well known, Luther valued Romans but considered James an epistle of straw. The Protestant tradition rejects that idiosyncrasy, yet cherishes Luther’s concept of justification by faith alone, oblivious of the fact that his views on the canon of Scripture were direct corollaries of his grasp of Paul. If Paul taught sola fide in Luther’s sense, then James’s inclusion of the works in the instrumentality of justification (Jas. 2:21, 24, 25) does not jive. Either Paul’s doctrine of justification was as Luther took it, and James is irreconcilable with it; or else James, who spoke face to face with Paul, betrays something seriously awry in Luther’s construal of Paul’s doctrine of justification. Today there are few if any Protestants who would follow Luther all the way with his ‘canon within the canon’. Nevertheless, Luther’s enduring influence on Protestant concepts of justification is both subtle and immense. Those who pride themselves on faithfulness to the Reformation heritage have taken over the sola fide, even though it could never have arisen in the first place without Luther’s explicit elevation of his selective line on justification to a control for interpreting everything else in Scripture. And while we do read and study the whole New Testament, as Luther unquestionably did, surprising numbers of us still come up with similar, ingenious, interpretative devices to hold at bay passages that do not fit our construct on justification. Sola fide has become not only a norm which governs exegetical and theological decisions, but a subconscious pre-understanding by which we sift what we will allow ourselves even to see on the sacred page. If obedience [is necessary], then… the Reformation’s rigid exclusion of Christian good works from saving faith is invalid, and the doctrine of sola fide falls victim to such severe qualifications that it yields up a large share of its utility…Luther and Calvin did not acknowledge the distinction in Paul’s usage between works of the law and good works… They [instead] tried to negate it.” – Paul A. Rainbow (The Way of Salvation, p.xvii-xviii, xxi, 84).
- “To him who can make these [St. Paul and St. James] agree I will give my doctor’s cap, and I am willing to be called a fool.” – Martin Luther (Luther’s Works Vol. 2, p.277)
- By stating that men like Calvin made such a distinction does not infer that he operated accordingly. Though recognizing this distinction to be operative in the early church, Calvin arrogantly rejects their wisdom, “Here [our opponents] have an ingenious subterfuge: even though they have not devised it themselves but have borrowed it from…ancient writers, it is still utterly silly. They prate that the ceremonial works of the law are excluded but not the moral works.” (Institutes Of Religion, Vol 3, Part 2.19, On Romans 3:28)
- Adding to the confusion of Calvin (or the Reformers in general) consider the following quote from Calvin. In one breath, he stands vehemently opposed to the idea of works, in the next such opposition is qualified by language that strongly implies just the opposite: that works are absolutely in the causal sense: ‘Faith without works justifies, although this needs prudence and a sound interpretation; for this proposition, that faith without works justifies, is true and yet false, according to the different senses that it bears. The proposition that faith without works justifies by itself is false, because faith without works is void. But if the clause “without works” is joined with the work “justifies,” the proposition will be true, since faith cannot justify when it is without works, because it is dead, and a mere fiction. He who is born of God is just, as John says (1 John 5:18). Thus faith can be no more separated from works than the sun from its heat, yet faith justifies without works, because works form no reason for our justification; but faith alone reconciles us to God and causes him to love us, not in ourselves, but in his only-begotten Son.’ CR 40.439. Quoted in John Leith, John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life (1989), 98, n. 66.
- Possibly more than any other in the NT, verses 11 and 12 of Ephesians 2 make clear the importance of the OC clean laws to salvation prior to the NC. Given the context, these are also the laws Paul is speaking of being “abolished” by Christ in verse 17.
- It is important to note that the NT associates Christ with all those clean laws being replaced (by faith in Him): circumcision (Col 2:11), sacrifice (Heb 10:12), Sabbaths (Heb 3:7-4:11) and food regulations or separation (Mar 7:19; Heb 13:10-13).