Sunday, March 4, 2012

Something from Michael Bird's book on Paul

I have read the Bible from cover to cover many times, and I have to admit that I cannot easy detect the notion of imputed righteousness in the texts.  I cannot, for example, recall the words "imputation" and "imputed" in the Scripture (or have I missed them?). I have therefore referred to Michael Bird's A Bird's-Eye View of Paul for help. Here is what he says on pages 96-98.

But what about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the basis of justification? That is the notion that God imputes the obedience and merits of Jesus to believers and in turn imputes their sins to Jesus on the cross. Well, the fact of the matter is that we cannot proof-text imputation. If we think we can cite 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 4:1-5, 1 Corinthians 1:30 or Philippians 3:6-9 and find the entire package of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience and the imputation of our sin to Christ embedded in all these texts, we are sadly mistaken. These texts all come close to saying something like that, but fall short of doing so…

The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is a necessary and logical inference to make, as it allows us coherently to hold together a number of ideas and concepts in Paul’s story of salvation. Although no text explicitly says that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers, nonetheless, without some kind of theology of imputation a lot of what Paul says about justification does not make sense. Imputation is a synthetic way of holding together a number of themes that clearly point in the direction of imputation, or something very much akin to it…

Taken together, the language of ‘reckoning’, the emphasis on Christ’s obedience and faithfulness, the representative nature of Adam and Christ, the references to union with Christ, the fact that righteousness is explicitly called a ‘gift’ and the forensic nature of righteousness all make sense with some kind of theology of imputation. The mistake comes when scholars, even well-intentioned ones, try to read the entire package back into certain texts of Paul’s letters – it just does not come out that way. I concur with Leon Morris, who said that imputation is a corollary of the identification of the believer with Christ. (Here Bird refers to Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd edition [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2984], p. 282.)

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