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Featured By Faith Alone?

Discussion in 'Theological Concepts' started by Michael Peterson, Sep 4, 2016.

  1. Michael Peterson

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    Greetings,

    This is my first post and I wanted to make it interesting. So here goes:

    In my essay, As It Is Written: Whose Righteousness: God's or Abram's?, I argue that the Christian understanding of Genesis 15:6 is not consistent with the actual Hebrew. A correct interpretation of this verse is that Abram recognizes the righteousness of God. In other words, the verse is not about Abram's faith or righteousness, it is about God's righteousness.

    To say that this is an important theological principle for Christians is an understatement. St. Paul bases much (all of?) his "justification by faith alone" on this, a widely misinterpreted Old Testament verse.

    Here, for example, is the NRS version of this famous verse:

    And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:6 - NRS)​

    and here is my translation of the same verse,

    Then he believed in the LORD and reckoned it to him [as] righteousness. (Gen 15:6 - mtp)

    I welcome comments and, especially, corrections and suggestions for improvement.

    Blessings,
     
    #1 Michael Peterson, Sep 4, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2016
  2. Deeje

    Deeje Deeje
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    Welcome Michael, hope you get some interesting replies.

    I looked at this verse in the CJB which reads....
    "He believed in Adonai, and he credited it to him as righteousness."

    And the OJB...
    "And he believed in Hashem; and He credited [emunah (faith)] to him as tzedakah (righteousness)." ("Hashem" is literally "the name" or YHWH)

    I figured that Jews should be able to interpret their own scripture....what do you see there?

    It appears that Abraham "believed" all that God told him and acted on his words in obedience. Since his actions were done in faith, he was credited as being a righteous man.


    I believe that James actually sums this question up very nicely....tell me what you think?

    James 2:18-26 (NASB)
    "But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

    Do you see James' words as contradicting Paul's? I don't. I see them as complementary. We need faith AND works, because faith on its own does not serve the interests of God unless it is active. Conversely, works are of no value if one does not have faith to carry them out in obedience to God as Abraham and Rahab did.

    Faith must come first so that the works actually mean something.

    "Righteousness" in its purest form is not possible for humans to attain without a special dispensation....it is credited to someone who follows through on God's instructions without question or hesitation.....like them having a sum of money put into their bank account by a benevolent benefactor.....Only in this case, it is the treasure in heaven that is being added to because their faith motivated works on earth.

    And to you. [​IMG]
     
    #2 Deeje, Sep 4, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2016
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  3. David1967

    David1967 Well-Known Member
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    Well said Deeje. :)
     
  4. David1967

    David1967 Well-Known Member
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    And welcome to the forum Michael!
     
  5. Michael Peterson

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    Deeje,

    Thank you for your thoughtful [and informed] response. Let me try to be as careful in my redirect as you were in your rebuttal.

    These two Bibles, like virtually all English translations, wrongly insert punctuation (the comma and the semi-colon) and the indefinite English pronoun 'he'. Neither the punctuation nor the pronoun are attested in the actual Hebrew text. These two additions were added much later. When the Hebrew is read in its original form (i.e., without added words and punctuation), then the grammar rule governing single-subject-multiple-clauses applies. Here's a simple example in English (tho' the rule is identical in Hebrew grammar):

    Jim met Mark at the Mall and then went home.

    Written this way (as is the actual Hebrew), then Jim is the subject of 'went', not Mark! When one inserts the indefinite pronoun, ambiguity is introduced, i.e., its antecedent can be either Jim or Mark. In 15:6, when 'he' is introduced as the subject of 'reckoned' (see the KJV's translation, for example), then either God or Abram can be its subject. No such ambiguity exists in the Hebrew.

    If by this you mean that Jews interpret this verse the same way as Christians, then you would be mistaken. Some of the greatest Jewish Bible scholars, Rambam (a.k.a., Maimonides) springs to mind, argue that the addition of the extra 'he' is unwarranted and mistranslates the actual Hebrew. Jews like Rambam believe verse 15:6 is about God's faithfulness.

    Throughout the Pentateuch, Abram is clearly pictured as the archetype of an obedient, faithful servant (c.f., the binding of Isaac). But in this particular verse, it is God that is being credited, not Abram. In other words, this specific verse does not speak to Abram's obedience nor his faith (I grant you both), but rather to God's faithfulness - specifically, that God lives up to His promises.

    Not really, though there are differences in the soteriology of the two. Paul denies the salvific nature of works to any extent. James differs somewhat from Paul in that he regards works as an expression of a rightly ordered faith. Put another way, James would argue that works is the measure of faith (ASIDE: a view to which I am partial). In other words, both hold that faith is salvific, but James differs from Paul in that he argues that God measures our faith by our works.

    James notwithstanding, the issue here is not faith v works. The question before the forum is whether genesis 15:6, correctly translated can be used by Paul to support justification by faith alone. I'm claiming that this verse rightly read, cannot be used in this way.

    Blessings,
     
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  6. metis

    metis aged ecumenical anthropologist

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    The Law itself speaks against the OP concept because the vast majority of the 613 Laws of Moses deal with actions prescribed or prohibited. Prior to the Mosaiic Law is the Noachide Laws, which also involves actions.

    With Paul, he says at one point there's "faith, hope, and love", and the greatest of these in which? It's not "faith". In Koine Greek, "love" ("agape") implies action. IOW, one doesn't just have love.

    To me, the key deals with what is involved in believing in someone rather than about someone.
     
  7. Michael Peterson

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    I'm not sure I fully understand your point so allow me to clarify mine: My point is only that Genesis 15:6 is widely misunderstood as describing God imputing righteousness to Abram. In fact, the original text means something entirely different, namely that Abram is simply reacting to God's promise of many descendants by recognizing God's righteousness. Therefore, correctly understood, this verse (15:6) cannot be read as supporting the Christian theology of "justification by faith". I would add that a case can probably be made for "justification by faith", but not using this verse.

    I largely agree with you, here. The Greek agape (likewise eros and philia) do not mean feelings. They are overt acts whose effects are felt by others. Agape - acts of kindness, friendship; eros - acts of an erotic nature; philia - acts of kinship, aka, brotherly love.

    Good point. The phrase "believe in" is widely misunderstood among many Christians. In biblical Hebrew (and Greek) to "believe in" someone is to put one's trust in that person. A good example would be your bank. Clearly you trust your bank to properly look after your savings. Hence, you believe in your bank, but not the mattress in your bedroom. Many contemporary Christians understand "believe in" to be an inner acceptance of the existence of a thing." Hence, to believe in God/Jesus is simply to assent that God/Jesus exists. In the Bible, when you "believed in" something you were certain that that something would fulfill its role - whatever that role might be. To believe in God, as Abram did, was to be absolutely certain that His promise of many descendants would be fulfilled.

    Blessings,
     
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  8. metis

    metis aged ecumenical anthropologist

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    It appears we're on the same page, so blessings back at ya.
     
  9. whirlingmerc

    whirlingmerc Well-Known Member

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    I would see Abraham declared righteous over 25 years before when 'Abraham believed and it was counted as rightoeusness' and much later he offered Isaac which was the vindication of his faith

    Paul in Colossians said your faith and fruitfulness goes back to the day you understood the grace of God in truth
    see circa Col 1:7

    In the early part of Isaiah 50 leading into the famous prophesy of Jesus rejection, suffering, death and resurrection in the end of Isaiah 52 through Isaiah 53 God calls on those who want to be righteous to see how Abraham became righteous
     
    #9 whirlingmerc, Sep 17, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2016
  10. Michael Peterson

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    Perhaps I'm missing your point, in which case, maybe you could explain it more detail. But, just so that my point is clear; in the Bible, God nowhere and never declared Abram righteous as I understand you to say. And certainly Gen 15:6 does not.

    As for the Binding of Issac, this is a quintessential example of Abraham demonstrating his faith in God by his deeds, i.e., he attempted to sacrifice his son at God's behest.

    More generally, I can find nothing in the Bible's story of Abraham that supports justification by faith in the absence of deeds. Put another way, Abraham demonstrates, expresses, and proves his faith by his deeds - not the least of which was the sacrifice of his son.

    In biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek, 'fruitfulness' refers to what you accomplish, i.e.,your deeds or works. Paul was most certainly not allergic to works connected to faith. For example, a fair number of Pauline scholars now hold that Paul's admonitions against "works" were targeted toward the Jewish cultic mitzvot and not deeds of kindness, charity, justice, and compassion.

    Finally, my point is not to persuade you (or anyone) that justification by faith alone is an unsupportable doctrine. There may well be specific and unambiguous texts that support this doctrine (I don't know of any, but then I'm far from the last word on this subject). But, Genesis 15:6 specifically and the Abraham narrative more generally cannot be shown to support justification by faith alone.

    Thanks for your thoughts and blessings to you,
     
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  11. whirlingmerc

    whirlingmerc Well-Known Member

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    The ordinary reading of Genesis 15:6 certainly sounds like Abraham was made righteous by his faith
    Gen 15:6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

    But the point was made by Paul in Romans using this as evidence
    Romans 4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

    As far as James, I think vindication is the preferred way to look at it... Abraham's faith was vindicated by his works

    And as far as Colossians their fruitfullness went back to when they understood the grace of God
    Col 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth

    Works follow justification in my view
    Works are the fruit not the root
     
  12. Michael Peterson

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    Thanks, your clarification helped a lot.

    If by "ordinary reading" you mean conventional, then the "ordinary" reading of Gen 15:6 is a mistranslation - see the link in the OP.

    Precisely so, but note that Paul's evidence was the Septuagint's mistranslation.of Gen 15:6.

    Alas, I am unable to understand the analogy. So, here's a piece I wrote a few years back on the confusion surrounding faith and works. It begins with this syllogism
    1. Faith is necessary for salvation.
    2. Faithfulness is the proper expression of faith.
    3. Obedience is the proper expression of faithfulness.
    Therefore, obedience is necessary for salvation.

    For more background and rationale for this syllogism, you may want to read this article.

    Blessings,
     
  13. Hockeycowboy

    Hockeycowboy Well-Known Member
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    Why would God need righteousness to be 'credited' to Him?! He's righteous already. In fact, God sets the standard.
     
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  14. jeager106

    jeager106 Learning more about Jehovah.
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    @Michael Peterson
    WELCOME to the forums.
    Another Bible scholar?
    Where did you study?
    I got one degree from Geneva University a Christian university.
    (the other is engineering so doesn't count here):confused:
    Glad to have you aboard.:D
     
  15. Michael Peterson

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    @jeager106

    Thank you for the gracious welcome. I am truly flattered, but I do not consider myself a scholar. To me, a scholar is someone who subjects their findings to peer review. Now, while I have many friends (mostly my former teachers) who know more about biblical Hebrew than I will ever know and they suffer my requests for review graciously, it's just not the same. However, I do have some scholarly experience, though minimal. I took a PhD in Tumor Immunology and Genetics many years ago (but no longer work in that field). As for religious studies, my academic work is limited to Biblical Hebrew (3 years Hebrew University, Tel Aviv), a seminar in biblical Hebrew literary structures (University of Washington), and a semester of Koine Greek - just enough to know that this was not a language I wanted to spend time learning.

    It's good to back again.

    Blessings,

    M
     
  16. jeager106

    jeager106 Learning more about Jehovah.
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    Believe me Mike you WILL get plenty of peer review here!:eek:

    Blessings to you and yours!
     
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  17. shava

    shava Active Member

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  18. Michael Peterson

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    I may not understand the point of your question - in which case I apologize. My confusion arises from the observation that many (most?) Jews and Christians devote much of their formal worship time reckoning God's righteousness just as Abram did, i.e., as a [positive] reaction to God's faithfulness. Indeed, we emulate Abram's reaction in most (all?) formal worship services by 'reckoning' God's righteousness when we recognize, praise, and glorify His faithfulness.

    Perhaps, is it possible that your question centered on the word 'need'? If you did, perhaps you could press this point further. For example, nowhere have I read that God made these promises to Abram in hopes that Abram would think Him righteous. But, again, I may be missing something.

    Blessings,
     
  19. shava

    shava Active Member

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    The bible teaches to obey his commandments, and Acts 2:38, states one must believe and then be baptized before your sins are washed away,
    38Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.


    The gift of the Holy Ghost means, eternal life, not some miraculous gifts as the Apostles received, also Corneilus and his household received it to bring attention that now Gentiles are accepted in God's eyes when they obey his commandment,
    Galatians 3:28

    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
    Another verse is clear that first one must believe and then be baptized, the conjunction in Mark 16:16 "and is" clearly states both must be done in order to be saved.
    Mark 16:16 (KJV)

    He that believeth "and is" baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.


    These are not works, there commands, they are works of God, not man. The verse in James is talking about your fruits, the good Christian things you've done to help others. The only works is the works of God.

    James 2:14-26New King James Version (NKJV)
    Faith Without Works Is Dead

    14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without youra]'>[a] works, and I will show you my faith by myb]'>[b] works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?c]'>[


    Romans 6:3-5King James Version (KJV)

    3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

    4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

    5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:


    1 Peter 3:21King James Version (KJV)

    21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:


    Acts 22:12-16King James Version (KJV)

    12 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,

    13 Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him.

    14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.

    15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.

    16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.



    Baptism is essential unto salvation according to New Testament scripture.
     
  20. David1967

    David1967 Well-Known Member
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    What about the thief on the cross that Jesus promised would be with Him in paradise? Does God make exceptions to the rule occasionally. Obviously I do not believe baptism is necessary for salvation. My belief is that of John 3:16. Baptism is a public show of faith and symbolic of the death burial and resurrection of Christ. But to be fair, I see where your coming from.
     
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