Friday, August 12, 2011

Douglas Moo on Justification

On 11 August 2011 Douglas Moo, an influential New Testament scholar, delivered the Eliza Ferrie Public Lecture at the Audrey Keown Theatre at the Presbyterian Ladies College in Croydon, New South Wales, Australia. The lecture was entitled Justification in the Crosshairs.


Douglas Moo
Moo began by identifying himself as a child of the Reformation committed to the principles of semper reformanda and sola scriptura. He then noted that the doctrine of justification has moved firmly into the center of theological discussion in recent years, due to the influence of the New Perspective on Paul, the desire for ecumenical unity, a general cultural distaste for doctrine, and an emphasis on practical Christianity.

The major part of the lecture focused on what Moo regards as the key issues of justification: (1) what is justification; (2) how does justification happen; and (3) when does justification occur?

What is Justification?

Moo identified three main opinions regarding justification. He contrasted justification as total transformation (i.e., a right legal status before God plus moral renewal) with the purely forensic view of justification advocated by the Reformers, where justification is simply the declaration of the status of being legally in the right before God. The third influential view identified by Moo was the idea of Tom Wright that justification is God’s declaration that we belong to his people, i.e., that Gentiles are incorporated into the people of God with the same status before God as the Jews.

Moo sided with the second view, stating that the relevant Greek words focus on legal standing. He dismissed the objection against this view that it makes justification into a legal fiction. Justification is a legal decision that has important and real consequences. Justification concerns the individual’s personal relationship before God. This vertical dimension is primary. Contra Tom Wright, belonging to God’s people is not justification, but a necessary result of justification.

How Does Justification Occur?

Moo followed John Calvin’s idea that justification and sanctification are two of the important benefits experienced by those united to Christ by faith. While noting that a belief in imputation was not ascribed to universally among the Reformers, Moo argued that double imputation (i.e., the idea that through union with Christ our sin is imputed to him, and his righteousness is imputed to us) is “a reasonable and appropriate deduction” from Scripture. Moo agrees with Luther’s idea of Christ’s righteousness as being an alien righteousness, and he spoke of Christ’s active and passive righteousness as being involved in the righteousness imputed to believers.

Regarding the meaning of the phrase the works of the law, Moo distinguished between torah faithfulness and doing torah. He cited James Dunn as a representative of the first view, where the phrase the works of the law is taken as denoting faithfulness to the Mosaic law torah with a view to maintaining Israel’s special status before God, distinct from Gentiles. This narrow definition of the works of the law allows the advocates of this position to distinguish the works of the law from works in general. Disagreeing with the idea that the phrase the works of the law denotes an exclusively Jewish torah faithfulness, Moo nevertheless expressed his opinion that this phrase specifically denotes obedience to Mosaic torah. At the same time, however, Moo stated that the works of the law should be considered to be a subset of works generally. Using a kind of a fortiori argument, his application of the Pauline teaching about faith and works is: if doing the torah of Moses was unable to save Israel, then doing any “lesser” kinds of works must be even more deficient.

On the issue of the meaning of the phrase the faith of Christ in Pauline usage, Moo is of the opinion that the wider context of Galatians supports the idea that the faith of Christ denotes the believer’s faith in Christ rather than the faithfulness of Christ himself.

When Does Justification Occur?

Moo began this section of his lecture by stating that certain forms of Protestant theology have an unbalanced view of certain aspects of justification. Citing Rom 5:1, 9, Moo stated that justification is talked about in the New Testament as being a definitive event in the present. In other words, justification is settled at the point of conversion. Justification leads to a holy life which in turn leads to salvation on the final day.

But this is not all there is to justification. Moo also stressed that there exists a future aspect to justification, an idea to which mainstream Protestant theology has given little attention. He upheld the NIV’s translation of Gal 5:5 as an example of justification in the future. The issue in Galatians is not initial justification, but justification understood as vindication in the future on the last day. Moo stressed that it is incorrect to speak of two justifications, but being faithful to Scripture does lead us to speak of two aspects of justification. There is “a biblical tension at this point” that should be acknowledged. While expressing that he was not totally sure how these two aspects of justification could be reconciled, Moo suggested that the future aspect of justification is probably to be understood in terms of being a public confirmation on the last day of the initial justification that has already taken place in the life of a believer.

Moo linked this second aspect of justification in with the biblical doctrine of judgment according to works. Disagreeing with the common Protestant view that views works as merely evidential, Moo argued that works contribute to final salvation “in some way,” yet it must be understood that these works are those that God enables the believer to perform. Moo contrasted the zero sum model that views divine agency and human agency as operating in competition with each other with the biblical tension model that views divine agency and human agency working together, the divine agency being primary, and human agency secondary.

The Practical Implications of Justification

Moo stated that justification, understood within the biblical tension of the present and future aspects of the concept, leads to assurance without presumption. We are justified fully by faith, yet at the same time we need to earnestly strive for holiness.


Moo concluded his lecture by stating that the ultimate cause of justification is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, whereas the instrumental cause is faith alone, yet this is a faith that goes together with works (Jas 2:14–25; Gal 5:6).


Richard Lucas said...

Is there a place where I can find audio of this talk?

Steven Coxhead said...

Hello Richard!

It looks like you can find the audio of the lecture here:

Richard Lucas said...


Thanks for the link! Unfortunately it looks like the first few minutes are cut off. It doesn't start until half way through Moo's first section. I don't suppose you know of a complete audio copy?

Steven Coxhead said...

I recall that they had some technical difficulties with a video link of the lecture at the time, but not sure if that affected the audio. The only other option would be to contact the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Burwood, Sydney, via email to see if they have the audio of the complete lecture.