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JUSTIFICATION (Heb. tsedheq, tsādhēq; Gr. dikaioō, to make valid, to absolve, to vindicate, to set right). Justification may be defined as “that judicial act of God by which, on the basis of the meritorious work of Christ, imputed to the sinner and received through faith, God declares the sinner absolved from sin, released from its penalty, and restored as righteous.” Expressed simply, it is being placed by God in a right relationship with himself (see Righteousness). The doctrine is found in Paul’s letters, chiefly those to Galatia and Rome.

The major emphasis in justification is that it is an act of God. It is an act, however, from three perspectives: (1) an act in process of completion, as a continuous operation of the work of Christ (Rom.4.25; Rom.5.18); (2) an act as already accomplished in the completed work of Christ (Rom.5.16-Rom.5.18; 1Tim.3.16); and, at the same time, (3) a state in Christ to which the justified sinner is elevated (Rom.8.10; 1Cor.1.30).

Although an act of God, it necessarily leads in the life of the believer to a “walking in the Spirit,” “bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit,” and “serving righteousness,” for the God who justifies also gives new birth and a call to wholehearted commitment. Saving faith leads to faithfulness to God in life, as Paul clearly shows in Galatians and Romans.

II. The Essentials of Justification. Four basic essentials in the act of justification are taught by Scripture. Justification involves:

A. Remission of punishment, in which the justified believer is declared to be free of the demands of the law since they have been satisfied in Christ (Rom.4.5) and is no longer exposed to the penalty of the law (Rom.6.7). It is more than a pardon from sin; it is a declaration by God that the sinner, though guilty, has had the fact of guilt remitted in Christ.

B. Restoration to favor, in which the justified believer is declared to be personally righteous in Christ, and therefore accepted as being in Christ’s righteousness. Mere acquittal or remission would leave the sinner in the position of a discharged criminal. Justification goes further in that it implies that God’s treatment of the sinner is as if that one had never sinned. The sinner is now regarded as being personally righteous in Christ (Gal.3.6). In this restoration there is not only acquittal, but also approval; not only pardon, but also promotion. Remission from sin is never separated from restoration to favor.

C. Imputed righteousness of God, which is granted the justified believer through Christ’s presence. Salvation in Christ imparts the quality and character of Christ’s righteousness to the believer (Rom.3.25-Rom.3.26). Christ is made the Justifier through whom a new life is inaugurated in the believer (1Cor.1.30). Paul uses the word righteousness to mean both the righteousness that acquits the sinner and the life-force that breaks the bondage of sin. Salvation can never be separated from the participational act of the believer in Christ, in which that one is now regarded judicially as having righteousness because the actual effect of righteousness has indeed come by faith (Rom.3.22; Phil.3.9).

D. New legal standing before God in which, instead of being under the condemnation of sin, the justified believer stands before God in Christ. There has been an absolute interchange of position: Christ takes the place of the sinner, the place of curse (Gal.3.15), being made sin (2Cor.5.21) and being judged for sin; the believer now stands in Christ’s righteousness (Rom.3.25) and is viewed as a son (Gal.4.5).

The instrumental cause of justification is faith, as the response of the soul to God’s redeeming grace (Rom.3.28). Faith is the condition of justification not in that it is considered meritorious, but only as the condition by which the meritorious work of Christ is accepted by the sinner. The final ground of justification is the completed, finished, sufficient work of Christ atoning for the sinner in his redeeming work on the cross.

Bibliography: G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification, 1954; H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 1976; John Reumann, Righteousness in the New Testament, 1982; Peter Toon, Justification and Sanctification, 1983.——CBB

(Lat. justificatio, Gr. dikaiosis). Any consideration of this term in the end resolves itself into an argument over etymology: the verb justificare undoubtedly has the “forensic” connotation of pronouncing a guilty person acquitted. Dikaioun, on the other hand, while clearly having this meaning in the majority of cases, is understood by some to imply making or becoming actually righteous.

The doctrine of Justification is clearly adumbrated in the gospels, but is brought to full realization by Paul, particularly in the Roman and Galatian epistles. Here it is presented as the result and completion of the redemptive work of Christ when man in faith responds to Him, and God in His mercy treats him as though he were righteous.

The clarity of Paul's teaching was obscured in the patristic period: Augustine at first sight seems to reaffirm the Pauline position, but really conflates the immediacy of the act of justification with the later process of sanctification. This became the accepted medieval view, reaffirmed by Thomas Aquinas for whom justifying grace was a supernatural quality infused like hope or love into the human soul, with faith its preliminary rather than its channel. Justification is thus no longer the acquirement of a status, but the production of a state, dependent especially on loyal observance of the sacraments. When the Renaissance threw men back onto the original Greek text of the NT and highlighted once more the significance of individual personality, the way was opened for Martin Luther's most vital contribution to Reformation theology: his rediscovery after agonizing search of the Pauline emphasis that in justification Christ's righteousness becomes our righteousness, or is imputed to us, by faith through grace.

This central belief of the Reformers, reiterated by Melanchthon and later by Calvin, Wesley, and Spurgeon, the Council of Trent anathematized in favor of the medieval view. Justification in post-Tridentine Catholicism became again an imparted gift, not a pronouncement of acquittal; a gradually realized psychological condition, not a once-for-event in the believer's experience. The way was opened, as before, to salvation by merit.

In later Protestant theology the theme of justification was variously handled. The basic Protestant emphasis was never entirely obscured, but Calvinists, particularly under the influence of Federal theology, dwelt on the highly contentious doctrine of eternal justification, others depressed faith at the expense of grace or vice versa, still more treated justification as progressively realized through different stages, others subsumed it under the general idea of reconciliation, while Ritschl's teaching that the community of believers is the object of justification raised the issues of the interdependence of justification, church, baptism, and the Holy Spirit. More recently Hans Küng has argued impressively that the differences between the Catholic and Protestant views are largely imaginary and capable of reconciliation, a theory more deserving of study by evangelicals than recent and impatient radical dismissals of justification as an “archaic term” (Macquarrie), its significance having been “vastly exaggerated” in previous debate.

W. Cunningham, Historical Theology (1863); C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (1873); A. Harnack, History of Dogma (ET 1894-99); A. Ritschl, Critical History of the Christian Doctrines of Justification and Reconciliation (ET 1900); J. Denney, The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation (1917); K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, I, 2 (ET 1956); F. Gogarten, The Reality of Faith (ET 1959); G. Ebeling, Word and Faith (ET 1963) and The Nature of Faith (ET 1966); H. Küng, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection (1964); J. Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament (ET 1965).

JUSTIFICATION (δικαίωσις, G1470, justification; δικαιου̂ν, to justify). In Christian theology justification is that act of God by which the sinner, who is responsible for his guilt and is under condemnation but believes in Christ, is pronounced just and righteous, or acquitted, by God the judge (Rom 3:28; 4:25; 5:16, 18; 8:28-34). In the Scriptures God justifies by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith.


The terms “justification” and “justify.”

The noun or substantive “justification” (dikaiosis) is not used frequently in the Bible—only twice by Paul in his famous Epistle to the Romans, which may be regarded as the greatest single treatise in the Scriptures and in all lit. on the subject. The infrequent occurrence of the term does not imply that the doctrine of justification is not important in Biblical theology, only that the Biblical writers are prone to speak of justification in dynamic terms of the verb “justify” (diakaioun) which is found also in the LXX tr. of the OT. The term “justification” is closely related in both the OT and NT to the concept “righteousness” (zadik, dikaiosyne) which is not always apparent in Eng. “Righteousness” is a pregnant dynamic term of action describing God’s act of “pronouncing righteous,” “making righteous,” or even “doing righteousness.”

The word “justification” is derived from two Lat. words, justus and the verb facere, which together literally mean, “to make righteous” or “to do righteousness” (justificare). In the Scriptures, however, the terms “justification” or “to justify” are used in a special Biblical, forensic, or judicial sense, “to declare or pronounce righteous,” not to make righteous. Godet says “As to dikaioun (to justify), there is not an example in the whole of classic literature where it signifies: to make just” (Romans, p. 157). It is thus a declarative act of the God of grace by which He declares sinners free from the guilt and consequences of their sin through faith in the atonement of Christ.

One should not be misled by the familiar use of these terms today. In common speech today the words “justify,” “justification,” are used in a different sense from their original meaning. In present-day usage the “justified man” is an innocent man. The term is used to excuse action or to prove one was right in acting as he did, to vindicate himself either in the eyes of man or of the law. A person may say, “The man accused of murder did not commit murder. He was ‘justified’ in killing the intruder because he acted in self-defense.” A reliable dictionary today will define justification as “a reason, a fact, circumstance, or explanation that justifies or defends, for example, ‘the insult was sufficient justification for her to leave the party’.” In the art of printing, justification means the spacing of words and letters in a line so that all lines in a column have even margins. Used in these ways the term has little in common with the prevalent meaning in Scripture.

Justification according to the Apostle Paul.

Accordingly, the old Lutheran theologian, Martin Chemnitz (Loc. II 250), writes of Paul’s teaching on justification; “Paul everywhere describes justification as a judicial process, because the conscience of the sinner accused by the divine Law before the tribunal of God, convicted and lying under the sentence of eternal condemnation, but fleeing to the throne of grace, is restored, acquitted, delivered from the sentence of condemnation, is received into eternal life, on account of obedience and intercession of the Son of God, the Mediator, which is apprehended and applied by faith.” According to this, justification signifies “to be pronounced righteous,” or “to be acquitted.”

Justification by works.

In Romans 3, Paul answers the vital question, How is a man justified? How does he obtain a favorable judgment or acquittal? He writes: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (vv. 27-29). Judging may be “not guilty” or “guilty,” whether rendered by God or by man, but in God’s spiritual courtroom, man is always guilty under sin; therefore he cannot justify or render himself innocent (4:13-15). Considering all possible circumstances among all peoples, Paul is forced to conclude that no man can gain acquittal by his works or by himself. If the Jew with all of his advantages could not achieve justification by works, certainly no one else could (4:1-5). The verdict pronounced on every man from God’s universal courtroom is, “Every mouth may be stopped (that is, if anyone protests God’s decision), and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law” (3:19, 20). A triple truth thus emerges regarding justification by works: Man, a sinner, cannot do sufficient good works to gain acquittal; man cannot render judgment on himself because he is always guilty; a just God cannot render him just by his works because he is a sinner by nature (7:21-25).

Justification and the righteousness of God.

In the broader concept of justification in both OT and NT, the idea of the righteousness of God (dikaiosyne theou) is closely related to God’s judicial act of salvation. At times the terms justification by faith and righteousness of God can be used interchangeably. Paul speaks of this righteousness in Romans 3:21, “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, namely the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” The revelation of God’s wrath in the first part of Romans (1:18) is answered by the revelation of God’s saving righteousness in Romans 3. The word for righteousness in Paul is dikaiosyne which is a derivative of dikaio, “to justify.”

The well-known phrase “righteousness of God” as Paul uses it in 1:17, however, is not an attribute of God but the activity of God in saving man. The term is found again and again in the OT where God’s salvation in Christ is “witnessed by the law and the prophets” (3:21). Especially in the Psalms and in Isaiah the term pictures God’s grace in rescuing and delivering His people from sin and the oppressor. Psalm 98:2 (KJV), for example, has this message: “The Lord hath made known his salvation; his righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the heathen.” In Isaiah 56:1, the words occur: “Thus says the Lord: Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come and my deliverance be revealed.” Paul teaches that this righteous activity of God, this saving act of God, is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God saves men through the atonement of Christ and His merit earned on the cross is appropriated by faith. To have this righteousness is to be justified. The teaching is clear in Romans 3:22-26, esp. in the passage “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ,” and in the words “Whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” All human righteousness and justification are excluded. God’s righteousness revealed in the Gospel is that act of grace by which He cancels the condemnation of His wrath upon man. It is not the attribute of God’s divine justice or holiness, but that righteousness which is the justification of man in Christ, by which He bestows salvation upon man, for Christ’s sake, through faith. Therefore, it is also faith-righteousness since it is God’s righteousness. Faith receives the righteous saving act of God and renounces and looks away from self to find its all-in-all in Christ.

Justification and the atonement of Christ.

If God’s righteousness is the saving act of God in Christ for man’s salvation, then justification is closely related to our Lord’s atonement. In fact, Christ’s atonement is the grounds for justification. Christ’s person and activity is the justification or reconciliation with God and the basis of all individual justification. It is the only basis upon which God can and does justify the sinner (Rom 3:24; 8:1; 2 Cor 5:18-21). The atonement of Christ answers the question: “How can a just God acquit a sinner; yes, one who remains sinful even after he is justified?” Justification does not mean God “overlooks sin” or acts as if man were not a sinner. The sentimental view which conceives of God as a gracious old “grandfather” who winks at the sins of His “children,” denies the integrity of the true God and destroys any concept of justification. God’s justice and holiness demand payment for sin, and this penalty Christ paid in the atonement on the cross. Thus in justification God devised a plan whereby both His attributes of justice and His love manifested in grace for salvation of sinners are given full meaning.

By making Christ a substitute for man, God preserves His own justice and the same time achieves salvation for the sinner (Rom 3:26). It is un-Biblical, therefore, to speculate whether God could or does forgive without Christ. Sinful men “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as an expiation by His blood.”

God is involved in the justification-atonement syndrome in three ways: (1) He is the Initiator, who first loved man. (2) He is the Instrument or Means, who gave Himself in the incarnate Christ as the once-for-all sacrifice for man’s sin. (3) He is also the Object of His saving work, who satisfied His wrath and justice over sin through Christ’s all-atoning sacrifice. At one and the same time God satisfies Himself and forgives the sinner. Therefore, only in Christ does God justify the sinner by imputing Christ’s perfect righteousness to the sinner who has none of his own (2 Cor 5:21). The Scriptures teach plainly that the wrath of God is visited upon by sinful man or else the Son of God must die for them. Either man dies or Christ dies. But God “shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

Objective and subjective justification.

Objective or universal justification is important for what may be called personal or subjective justification. It is clear that if God did not justify the ungodly, then man would be justified by works and there could be no justification by faith. Also, if God had not justified all mankind, the individual sinner might doubt that he was included. Subjective or personal justification is simply this: when a sinner hears the Gospel and the Holy Ghost thereby works faith in Christ in his heart, then Christ’s atonement becomes his and he personally possesses God’s forgiveness and belongs to the family of God. This birth experience makes him a Christian. But it should be kept that universal or objective justification and subjective justification are really not two separate acts of God. The latter is only the application of the former. Missionaries through the centuries have declared that universal and personal justification should give the Church great incentive to preach the Gospel to all men. All of God’s love and Christ’s great atonement on the cross mean nothing to anyone if he does not hear the Gospel. In such a case, the Gospel is just as meaningless as if Christ had not risen (1 Cor 15:17). It should be kept in mind that terms like “objective justification,” “subjective justification,” and “forensic act,” are not formulas the Bible uses, but were created by the Church to illustrate, emphasize, and protect the great truths of God’s salvation for man.

Justification and forgiveness.

Justification is really legal picture language for forgiveness of sins. Christian theologians have considered justification above all else as forgiveness of sins and have used the two expressions interchangeably. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son illustrates this concept dramatically (Luke 15:11-32). Paul says it is taught in the OT: “So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered’” (Rom 4:6, 7). God says to the sinner, “I do not count your transgressions against you. My Son has paid the punishment of your sin. I pronounce you righteous in My sight. I forgive you your sin.” This is what Christians do when they forgive each other their trespasses: “I do not hold your sin against you. I release you from obligation. I forgive you your sin. God has forgiven my sins, too.” In like manner Jesus taught Christians to pray, “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Justification, then, is not only a judicial declarative act but it is at the same time a remissive act in which God actually forgives the sin of man. The demands of the law and condemnation to punishment also are satisfied in Christ and forgiven. Justification as forgiveness is more than a pardon from sin, but an actual forgiving of the sinner, who, though guilty, has his guilt and sin remitted in Christ.

Justification as imputation of righteousness.

Justification as forgiveness of sin involves God’s act of imputation. Imputation is both negative and positive: in justification there is non-imputation of sin, and on the other hand, imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The merits of Christ are imputed to the sinner. He is given a righteousness alien to himself, namely, Christ’s righteousness just as his sins are not imputed or counted to him (2 Cor 5:19). Through faith the sinner receives the righteousness which Christ worked on the cross (Rom 3:25, 26). The Lutheran Confessions, for example, teach imputation very clearly: “The second matter in a mediator is, that Christ’s merits have been presented as those which make satisfaction for others, which are bestowed by divine imputation on others, in order that through these, just as by their own merits, they may be accounted righteous. As when my friend pays a debt for a friend, the debtor is freed by the merit of another, as though it were by his own. Thus the merits of Christ are bestowed upon us.” (The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXI, p. 347.)

Justification by faith.

Because of the emphasis given faith in the Bible, Christians speak of justification esp. as justification by faith. The phrase “by faith” is just as vital as the term “justify” in understanding the nature of justification as taught in the Scriptures. Paul, for instance, in stating the theme of the Book of Romans, stresses faith without using the term “justification”: “The righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” (Rom 1:17). The OT text Paul quotes here (Hab 2:4) also emphasizes the nature and function of faith: “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Faith and justification go hand and hand. Neither is meaningful or even possible without the other. We read in the OT that “Abraham believed the Lord,” but his faith is immediately linked to the words, “he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). In another epistle Paul also says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8, 9).

In justification, what exactly is the significance of the phrase “by faith”? Christians have always been aware of pitfalls at this point. Justifying faith is not faith in one’s works or merit; neither is it faith in a church, faith in an organization, faith in a certain system of theology, or knowing a certain set of facts. While saving faith is an act of the human intellect and will, it is much more than intellectual accepting the fact that God exists, that Christ died on the cross, etc.; saving faith is believing in the Gospel, relying on Christ’s merit, and receiving God’s declared righteousness.

For Paul, “by faith” essentially meant three things: (1) Salvation is without works. Faith and works in justification itself are mutually exclusive. Works never influence God in justifying a person; justification is “by grace.” Works always follow faith. No one can add to the atonement of Christ because Christ has done all (Gal 3:18, 23-29). (2) Faith in justification is the God-given instrument or means by which man accepts Gods’ justification of forgiveness in Christ. “By grace you have been saved through faith (dia pisteos)” (Eph 2:8). “The righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” (Rom 1:17). Christ is to be “received by faith” (3:25). (3) Faith is always faith in Christ. It appropriates Christ’s work on the cross, which is the basis of justification or forgiveness. If faith justifies it does so only because it receives Christ’s merit. The righteousness of Christ is always intended for those who believe and all who believe receive this righteousness. Faith is essentially trust or confidence of the individual Christian, that full forgiveness is bestowed for Christ’s sake and that he is now a child of God possessing the Holy Spirit for a new life. Faith believes the Gospel. Faith is always personal; each person believes for himself. He himself relies on the promises of the Gospel. Thus faith is in no sense a moral achievement or ethical principle originating in man. If people call faith a good work, they do not mean that it merits favor or adds to Christ’s work or influences God in justifying a sinner, but that it receives Christ. Man believes, but faith is really God’s work in man, for “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor 12:3 KJV). This is what the Reformation leaders meant when they stressed sola fide, by faith alone, and sola gratia, by grace alone. If justification is without works, and if God justifies sinners before they come to faith (as He did Abraham before he was circumcised), then faith’s role in justification is to receive the forgiveness offered in the Gospel as one’s own. The Bible never says man is justified on account of faith or because of faith but by or through faith. To speak in terms of the courtroom, as Paul does, when a guilty man is acquitted by faith all he can do is take the judge’s word for it, and walk out of the court room a free man, exceedingly grateful and humble.

The reality of this teaching staggers the human mind. Men have balked at the doctrine that God declares guilty men innocent, that He pronounces unrighteous sinners “not guilty as charged.” Men protest when they hear the teaching that God declares men to be what they are not and does so in strictest justice. They say, “In secular courts every effort is made to pronounce guilty men guilty and innocent men innocent. Every man must be responsible for his own sin. How can God do otherwise?” They label justification by faith as “a shocking doctrine,” “unjust,” “unworthy of God,” “unethical and immoral,” and “a license to sin.” Justification by faith is not reasonable, but theological. This is what it means to be justified by faith. It takes faith, which is the gift of God, to receive God’s forgiveness in this matter. Human protests and criticisms only document the fact that it is justification by faith.

Justification by faith is always total and complete. There are no degrees of justification as in sanctification. When God justifies, a man is forgiven completely, and that not in a long drawn-out process but in an instant. Also, all people are justified in the same way. Justification by faith is not regeneration, if this term is used to describe the entire life of a Christian; nor is it some psychosomatic or physical act which magically transforms an evil person into a righteous person. Justification by faith is complete and once-for-all; it involves nothing of injustice, since it is God who justifies man (Rom 3:26). If the judge himself has paid the debt, he has a perfect right to free the guilty person (8:31-34). This free forgiveness he gives in the Gospel and the sacraments by faith. These means of grace are God’s dynamic power to convey, present, and seal to us His forgiveness through faith (Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 6:11). The Lutheran Augsburg Confession presents this concise definition of what it means to be justified by faith: “also they teach that men be justified before God by their own strength, merit, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by his death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight” (Rom 3; 4). In summary, then, justification by faith should include these seven items:


Justification by faith as central doctrine of Christianity.

Justification by faith has been called the apex of all Christian teaching, the central and cardinal truth of Christianity. Paul declares: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). It is not only the central teaching of Paul, but also of Jesus and the apostles and of the prophets of the OT. In both the OT and NT, it is the heart of all of Gods’ mighty salvation acts. It is like the hub of a wheel from which extend all other doctrines of Scripture. Properly understood, all doctrines of the Scriptures serve the doctrine of justification by faith. It involves all the fundamental teachings of the law and Gospel and relates all truths of the Scriptures in one harmonious whole. If Christ is not God, how could He rise again? If He is not man, how could He die for man? If Christ were not man’s substitute, how could God justify a sinner, for then God could justify only the righteous man. If one denies that man is sinful, why bother with the Gospel or forgiveness? If one asks, what is the Church?, the answer must be “all those who believe in Christ for forgiveness and reconciliation.” This is why Dr. Martin Luther and the other reformers of the 16th cent. called the doctrine of justification “the doctrine of the standing or the falling of the church.” “This article is the head and cornerstone of the Church, which alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and protects the church; without it the church of God cannot subsist one hour. Neither can anyone teach correctly in the church or successfully resist any adversary if he does not maintain this article” (Luther’s Works 14, 168).

Justification and the OT.

It has been said that justification by faith is only a NT doctrine or only “Pauline theology.” In reality, however, justification by faith is derived from the OT and simply spelled out in greater detail in the NT under various pictures. In both Heb. and Gr. the words “justify,” “justification,” “righteousness,” and related terms have a common background. The LXX uses the same Gr. terms as the NT. Paul did not invent either the words or their contents. From his epistles, we know that Paul was acquainted with both the Heb. OT and the Gr. LXX well.

Paul often quotes the OT for support of his doctrine of justification. An example is Psalm 51:4 which Paul quotes in Romans 3:4, “that thou mayest be justified in thy words.” Here the term “justify” is used of God in the declaratory or forensic sense, since one can scarcely say that the perfect God is in any way made righteous. Another outstanding example is Paul’s appeal to David in Psalm 32:1-3. Paul uses Romans 4:6-8 to show that justification by faith is imbedded in the Scriptures of the OT: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (Ps 32:1, 2). Here David speaks of non-imputation of sin as parallel to forgiveness of sin. The statement is also in opposition to salvation by works. Nothing could be more illustrative of Paul’s thesis. The blessed man is not the man who has good works, but the one whose sins are not laid to his account. Even without Paul’s use of the terms in the context of his teaching on justification, the words in the Psalm by themselves clearly teach justification by faith as a declaratory act of God’s forgiveness.

Perhaps the crowning example of the teaching of justification by faith in the OT is the believing patriarch Abraham. It is stated in Genesis “And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Even without Paul’s use of this passage to support his teachings in Romans 4:3, the statement is as clear as that of David. The outstanding aspect of Abraham and justification by faith is that the great hero of the Jewish people, whom all called “Father Abraham,” with all of his blessings and good works, still is recorded as believing and having it counted to him for righteousness. The example is somewhat the opposite of King David, who fell into sin and threw himself upon God’s mercy. Yet both men were justified by faith.

Several important items may be pointed out concerning Abraham as an example of justification by faith: (1) Justification is reckoning or imputing to a man something he did not possess before, namely righteousness before God.

(2) God reckoned righteousness to Abraham entirely without merit on Abraham’s part as seen by the fact that it took place long before Abraham was circumcised or before the Jewish law was given.

(3) It was, therefore, justification by faith, because he received righteousness through simple trust in God’s precious promise of the Messiah through his people.

(4) This led to his obedience to God so that by faith Abraham left the land of his fathers and went to a strange country (Heb 11:8). The essential features of justification by faith are to be found in embryo in simple short OT texts like this, particularly in Isaiah, the prophets and the numerous Messianic promises. Paul selected the examples of David and Abraham from among many others he could have used. After a thorough study of the concept of justification and related words in the LXX, Dr. Leon Morris concludes: “When we turn to those passages where the term justify occurs, there can be no doubt that the meaning is to declare rather than to make righteous.

Jesus and justification.

The relevance of justification for modern man.

Men have justly criticized the doctrine of justification by faith, or forensic justification, when it simply remains “forensic” in the lives of Christians. Some have said that Paul, for instance, took the simple Gospel of the fatherhood of God and changed it into a drama of redemption through blood and antinomian justice. The point is made that Paul never heard of Darwin, Freud, or Dewey. What can a doctrine of forensic justification, through process of mind and intangible faith, say to modern man in an illogical world who has walked on the moon? “Who feels guilty?” they ask, “and who wants to be saved by works?” Involved is the fact of human sin and shortcoming, as well as man’s inhumanity to man, which cannot easily be written off as ignorance or something which can be cured by education and better social-economic arrangements. Since the doctrine of justification by faith is central to the Christian religion, the important question must be asked, “Is this Biblical diagnosis of sin and a cure through justification relevant and meaningful for modern man?”

The predicament of modern man, of which he does a great deal of talking and uses vast resources to remedy, is really of his own making, whether he traces evil back to Adam, or looks around at his own existence. After centuries of conflict and many ineffective solutions from the greatest minds, the man on the street today knows that his world is not a delusion. More and more men have come to realize that the problem of the world is a theological one. The modern predicament of man, found in various forms throughout the centuries, is the old predicament of sin of which the Scripture speaks. Justification by faith says that man is not hopeless and helpless in his situation, but that God has heard his cry and offers deliverance. Three important areas immediately suggest themselves: (1) For the meaningless and emptiness of many men today, the doctrine of justification by faith should mean “by the Gospel alone.” The heart of Biblical Revelation should teach mankind that God has not abandoned His creatures or His world. They are not cut off. He has adopted the sons of this world as His own, freely and fully out of a compassion He would give them to live by. He has not only reconciled man, but the cosmos to Himself (Rom 8:12-37; Eph 1:10). The importance of acceptance and “belonging,” of phsychotherapy, of “being” and “meaning”—answers to all these prominent current concerns may be found in God’s justification and reconciliation of the world. God has redeemed man from the slavery of self. He Himself has paid the supreme sacrifice for man. Men can now give up worship of man and things and turn to the loving God who gives meaning to all things. Man no longer need create his own purpose or his right to exist. God has done this for him in Jesus Christ. In the language of the day, “Man may stop trying to justify himself.”

(2) Just when modern man needs it most, justification by faith in Christ is a source of limitless spiritual and moral power for man in his world (Rom 1:16, 17). What often is called the doctrine’s greatest weakness is actually its greatest strength. Faith in God does not cast off Christian works, but is the source and power of the greatest work of all, namely, love. Luther said, “Good works do not make a good man but a good man does good works.” When opponents suggested to Paul that a doctrine of salvation by faith and not by works implied “Why not do evil that good may come?” (Rom 3:8), his firm answer was “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? So that...we too might walk in newness of life” (6:1-4). Justification by faith means not only forgiveness of sins but the gift of the Holy Spirit (15:13). To be justified is to experience the power of God in one’s heart. Paul said: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Justification by faith is the act of God which connects man to the dynamo of all power for all good in the world.

Justification by faith should lead to all the Christian virtues. If the teaching is empty and meaningless today, it is because it has not been completely seen and taught in all its dimensions, or has been accepted as a mere credal statement, that it is finally only legal fiction and man remains as before. Not only the act of justification, but also the results must be emphasized: peace, freedom, responsibility, compassion, the Spirit life, love, meekness, patience, strength to do well—the whole life of the Spirit of God. Luther once referred to the doctrine of justification as the periculosissima doctrina, the “most dangerous teaching,” because it has been used to allow license to sin and be irresponsible. He pleaded that the teaching be proclaimed so as to inspire gratitude to God, daily repentance, and resolve to serve God and man in a life of newness and obedience. Man has not been accounted righteous in some distant world, but here and now in the Church, and in and for our world.

(3) Justification by faith assures all men of God’s love and eternal life with God after death. He can face the future with confidence. Final judgment does not appall him, for he has already met his Judge and is forgiven. All systems of religion and philosophy which use or imply works for salvation result inevitably in wretchedness and tension of doubt. Those who trust in the doctrine of justification by faith, therefore, need no longer be the “devil’s martyrs.” In his commentary on Galatians, Dr. Luther used this pungent expression to describe those who worked harder trying to get to heaven by works than the wicked did in going to hell without them, only to arrive in the same place. When God says He justified the ungodly, all men know they are included. When God says to all men “It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants” (Rom 4:16), all men know His grace is sufficient. When God takes man from eternity to eternity in justification, “those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (8:30), man receives the comfort which no human words can convey. Beset by difficulties of every kind, his hope remains: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers; nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:37-39). Modern man, like ancient man, is not dissimilar in his needs of this truth, power, and certainty of life as offered by God through justification by faith.

Summary of doctrine of justification.

The following items or aspects may be considered a summary of the doctrine of justification as taught in the Holy Scriptures: (1) Justification is an act of God. In both the OT and NT, God is the initiator and actor in the Covenant and man’s salvation. It is a once-for-all act which is already accomplished in Christ (Rom 5:16-18). (2) Justification is a forensic act of God. God declares the sinner or the ungodly righteous in His sight (5:8). (3) Justification is based upon the atonement of Christ. God justifies a sinner for Christ’s sake. Without the substitutionary atonement of Christ God could not forgive the sinner all his sins without being unjust (3:24). (4) Justification is objective or universal. In the Gospel God offers the forgiveness of sins gained by Christ to the whole world (John 3:16). Personal or subjective justification is impossible without universal justification. (5) Justification is remission or forgiveness of sins. Justification is the same as forgiveness of sins. God does not count man’s sins against him but forgives them and sets him free (Rom 4:7, 8). (6) Justification is remission of punishment. The justified believer is declared free from the demands of the law and all condemnation resulting from sin against the law (3:25; 6:7).

It is more than pardon of sin, but a declaration by God. The sinner, though guilty, is relieved of the consequences of his guilt and sin.


L. Petersen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith the Leitmotif of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (Thesis 1940); J. Fritz, Justification and Sanctification In the Daily Life of the Christian (1948); F. Kramer, Through Justification to Sanctification (1952); G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification (1954); A. Hunter, Interpreting Paul’s Gospel (1954); J. Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (1955); L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (1955); H. Hammann, Justification by Faith in Modern Theology (1957); J. Murray, The Epistle To The Romans, Vol. I. (1959); H. Schmid, Doctrinal Theology of The Evangelical Lutheran Church (1961); Lutheran World Federation Assembly, A Study Document on Justification (1963); H. Stob, C. Bergenhoff, G. Forell, J. Leith, A Reexamination of Lutheran and Reformed Traditions III: Justification and Sanctification (1965); H. Huxold, Is Justification For Moderns? (1965); Arndt, Greek-English Lexicon (194-197); J. F. Crosby, From Religion To Grace; The Doctrine of Justification (1967); W. Dantine, Justification of the Ungodly (1968); R. Preus, Lutheran Trends in Regard to Justification (1968).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(tsedheq, verb tsadheq; Septuagint and New Testament dikaioma, dikaiosis, verb dikaioo, "justification" "to justify," in a legal sense, the declaring just or righteous. In Biblical literature, dikaioun, without denying the real righteousness of a person, is used invariably or almost invariably in a declarative or forensic sense. See Simon, HDB, II, 826; Thayer, Grimm, and Cremer under the respective words):


1. Universality of Sin

2. Perfection of the Law of God

3. Life, Work and Death of the Atoning Saviour

(1) Paul’s Own Experience

(2) The Resurrection Connected with the Death

(3) Faith, Not Works, the Means of Justification

(4) Baptism Also Eliminated

(5) Elements of Justification

(a) Forgiveness of Sins

(b) Declaring or Approving as Righteous

(6) Justification Has to Do with the Individual


1. The Synoptic Gospels

2. John’s Writings

3. 1 Peter and Hebrews

4. Epistle of James



1. Apostolic and Early Church Fathers

2. Council of Trent

3. Luther

4. Schleiermacher

5. Meaning and Message to the Modern Man


I. The Writings of Paul.

1. The Universality of Sin:

In this article reference will first be made to the writings of Paul, where justification receives its classic expression, and from there as a center, the other New Testament writers, and finally the Old Testament, will be drawn in. According to Paul, justification rests on the following presuppositions:

The universality of sin. All men are not only born in sin (Eph 2:3), but they have committed many actual transgressions, which render them liable to condemnation. Paul proves this by an appeal to the Old Testament witnesses (Ro 3:9 ), as well as by universal experience, both of the heathen (Ro 1:18-32) and Jews (Ro 2:17-28; 3:9).

2. Perfection of the Law of God:

The perfection of the Law of God and the necessity of its perfect observance, if justification is to come by it (Ro 3:10). The modern notion of God as a good-natured, more or less nonchalant ruler, to whom perfect holiness is not inexorable, was not that of Paul. If one had indeed kept the law, God could not hold him guilty (Ro 2:13), but such an obedience never existed. Paul had no trouble with the law as such. Those who have tried to find a difference here between Galatians and Romans have failed. The reminder that the law was ordained by angels (Ga 3:19) does not mean that it was not also given by God. It might be reckoned in a sense among the elements of the world (kosmos, Ga 4:3), as it is an essential part of an ordered universe, but that does not at all mean that it is not also holy, right and good (Ro 7:12). It was added, of course, on account of transgressions (Ga 3:19), for it is only a world of intelligent, free spirits capable of sin which needs it, and its high and beautiful sanctions make the sin seem all the more sinful (Ro 7:13).

3. Life, Work and Death of the Atoning Savior:

It was fundamental in Paul’s thinking that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures (1Co 15:3). In due season He died for the ungodly (Ro 5:6); while we were yet sinners He died for us (Ro 5:8); we are justified in His blood (Ro 5:9), and it is through Him that we are saved from the wrath (Ro 5:9). While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Ro 5:10), being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God set forth as a propitiation (Ro 3:24,25). There is no reconciliation, no justification, except through and by and for Christ.

(1) Paul’s Own Experience.

Paul’s own experience cannot be left out of the account. He lived through the doctrine, as well as found it through illumination of the Spirit in the Old Testament. It was not that he had only outwardly kept the law. He had been jealous for it, and had been blameless in every requirement of its righteousness (Php 3:6). What was borne in upon him was how little such blamelessness could stand before the absolute standard of God. Just how far he was shaken with doubts of this kind we cannot say with certainty; but it seems impossible to conceive the Damascus conversion scene in the case of such an upright man and strenuous zealot without supposing a psychological preparation, without supposing doubts as to whether his fulfilling of the law enabled him to stand before God. Now, for a Pharisaically educated man like himself, there was no way of overcoming these doubts but in a renewed struggle for his own righteousness shown in the fiery zeal of his Damascus journey, pressing on even in the blazing light of noonday. This conversion broke down his philosophy of life, his Lebensgewissheit, his assurance of salvation through works of the law done never so conscientiously and perfectly. The revelation of the glorified Christ, with the assurance that He, the God-sent Messiah, was the very one whom he was persecuting, destroyed his dependence on his own righteousness, a righteousness which had led him to such shocking consequences. Although this was for him an individual experience, yet it had universal applications. It showed him that there was an inherent weakness in the law through flesh, that is, through the whole physical, psychical and spiritual nature of man considered as sinful, as working only on this lower plane, and that the law needed bracing and illuminating by the Son, who, though sent in the likeness of the flesh of sin, yet (as an offering) for sin condemned sin and cast it out (Ro 8:3), to the end that the law might be fulfilled in those who through Him walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Ro 8:4). That was the glory of the new righteousness thus revealed. If the law had been able to do that, to give life, Christ need not have come, righteousness would have been by the law (Ga 3:21). But the facts show that the law was not thus able, neither the law written on the heart given to all, nor the law given to Moses (Ro 1:18-3:19). Therefore every mouth is stopped, and all flesh is silent before God. On the ground of law-keeping, what the modern man would call morality, our hope of salvation has been shattered. The law has spoken its judgment against us (Ga 3:10). It cannot therefore lead us to righteousness and life, nor was that its supreme intention: it was a pedagogue or tutor ("paidagogos") to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith (Ga 3:24; see Ihmels in RE3, 16, 483-84). What made Paul to differ from his companions in the faith was that his own bitter experience under the revelation of Christ had led him to these facts.

(2) The Resurrection Connected with the Death.

It was remarked above that the ground of justification according to Paul is the work of Christ. This means especially. His death as a sacrifice, in which, as Ritschl well says (Rechtfertigung und Versohnung, 3. Aufl., 1899, II 157), the apostles saw exercised the whole power of His redemption. But that death cannot be separated from His resurrection, which first awakened them to a knowledge of its decisive worth for salvation, as well as finally confirmed their faith in Jesus as the Son of God. "The objective salvation," says Ritschl (p. 158), "which was connected with the sacrificial death of Christ and which continued on for the church, was made secure by this, that it was asserted also as an attribute of the resurrected one," who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification (Ro 4:25). But this last expression is not to be interpreted with literal preciseness, as though Paul intended to distinguish between the forgiveness of sins as brought about by the death, and justification, by the resurrection, for both forgiveness and justification are identified in Ro 4:6-8. It was the resurrection which gave Christians their assurance concerning Christ (Ac 17:31); by that resurrection He has been exalted to the right hand of God, where He maketh intercession for His people (Ro 8:34), which mediatorship is founded upon His death--the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Re 13:8 ; compare Greek text).

B. Weiss well says: "It was by the certainty of the exaltation of Christ to Messianic sovereignty brought about by the resurrection that Paul attained to faith in the saving significance of His death, and not conversely. Accordingly, the assurance that God cannot condemn us is owing primarily to the death of Christ, but still more to His resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand (Ro 8:34), inasmuch as these first prove that His death was the death of the mediator of salvation, who has redeemed us from condemnation. .... The objective atonement was accomplished by the death of Christ, but the appropriation of it in justification is possible only if we believe in the saving significance of His death, and we can attain to faith in that only as it is sealed by the resurrection" (Biblical Theology of the New Testament, I, 436-37).

(3) Faith, Not Works, the Means of Justification.

The justification being by faith, it is not by works or by love, or by both in one. It cannot be by the former, because they are lacking either in time or amount or quality, nor could they be accepted in any case until they spring from a heart renewed, for which faith is the necessary presupposition. It cannot be by the latter, for it exists only where the Spirit has shed it abroad in the heart (Ro 5:5), the indispensable prerequisite for receiving which is faith. This does not mean that the crown of Christianity is not love, for it is (1Co 13:13); it means only that the root is faith. Nor can love be foisted in as a partial condition of justification on the strength of the word often quoted for that purpose, "faith working through love" (Ga 5:6). The apostle is speaking here only of those who are already "in Christ," and he says that over against the Galatian believers bringing in a lot of legal observances, the only availing thing is not circumcision or its lack, but faith energizing through love. Here the interest is, as Ritschl says (II, 343), in the kingdom of God, but justification proper has reference to the sinner in relation to God and Christ. See the excellent remarks of Bruce, Paul’s Conception of Christianity, 1894, 226-27. At the same time this text reveals the tremendous ethical religious force abiding in faith, according to Paul. It reminds us of the great sentence of Luther in his preface to the Epistles to the Romans, where he says: "Faith is a Divine work within us which changes and renews us in God according to Joh 1:13, `who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ This destroys the old Adam and makes new creatures of us in heart, will, disposition, and all our powers. Oh, faith is a living, active, jealous, mighty thing, inasmuch as it cannot possibly remain unproductive of good works" (Werke, Erl. Ausg., 63, 124-25).

(4) Baptism also Eliminated.

Not only are good works and love removed as conditions or means of justification of the sinner, but baptism is also eliminated. According to Paul, it is the office of baptism not to justify, but to cleanse, that is, symbolically to set forth and seal the washing away of sin and the entrance into the new life by a dramatic act of burial, which for the subject and all witnesses would mark a never-to-be-forgotten era in the history of the believer. "Baptism," says Weiss (I, 454), "presupposes faith in Him as the one whom the church designates as Lord, and also binds to adherence to Him which excludes every dependence upon any other, inasmuch as He has acquired a claim upon their devotion by the saving deed of His self-surrender on the cross." So important was baptism in the religious atmosphere at that time that hyperbolical expressions were used to express its cleansing and illuminating office, but these need not mislead us. We must interpret them according to the fundamental conceptions of Christianity as a religion of the Spirit, not of magic nor of material media. Baptism pointed to a complete parting with the old life by previous renewal through faith in Christ, which renewal baptism in its turn sealed and announced in a climax of self-dedication to him, and this, while symbolically and in contemporary parlance of both Jew and Gentile called a new birth, was probably often actually so in the psychological experience of the baptized. But while justification is often attributed to faith, it is never to baptism.

(5) Elements of Justification.

What are the elements of this justification? There are two:

(a) Forgiveness of Sins

Forgiveness of sins (Ro 4:5-8; compare Ac 13:38,39). With this are connected peace and reconciliation (Ro 5:1,9,10; compare Ro 10:11).

(b) The Declaring or Approving as Righteous

(6) Justification Has to Do with the Individual.

Finally it is asked whether justification in Paul’s mind has to do with the individual believer or with the society or Christian congregation. Ritschl (II, 217 f) and Sanday-Headlam (The Epistle to the Rom, 122-23) say the latter; Weiss (I, 442), the former. It is indeed true that Paul refers to the church as purchased with Christ’s blood (Ac 20:28, or God’s blood, according to the two oldest manuscripts and ancient authorities; compare Eph 5:25), and he uses the pronoun "we" as those who have received redemption, etc. (Col 1:14; Eph 2:18); but it is evident on the other hand that faith is an individual matter, a thing first between man and his God, and only after a man has been united to Christ by faith can he enter into a spiritual fellowship with fellow-believers. Therefore the subject of justification must be in the first place the individual, and only in the second place and by consequence the society. Besides, those justified are not the cleansed and sanctified members of churches, but the ungodly (Ro 4:5).

As to the argument from baptism urged by Sanday-Headlam, it must be said that Paul always conceives of baptism as taking place in the Christian community with believers and for believers, that that for and to which they are baptized is not justification, but the death and resurrection of Christ (Ro 6:3,4), and that the righteousness of God has been manifested not through baptism but through faith in Jesus Christ unto all that believe (Ro 3:22), being justified freely, not through baptism, but through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Ro 3:24). With Paul baptism has always a mystical significance as symbolizing and externally actualizing union with the death of the Lord, and would be both impossible and impertinent in the case of those not already believers in Christ and thus inwardly united to His society.

II. The Other New Testament Writings.

So much for Paul. Let us now take a glance at the other New Testament books. It is a commonplace of theology that is called "modern" or "critical," that Paul and not Jesus is the founder of Christianity as we know it, that the doctrines of the Divinity of Christ, atonement, justification, etc., are Paul’s work, and not his Master’s. There is truth in this. It was part of the humiliation of Christ as well as His pedagogical method to live, teach and act under the conditions of His time and country, on the background of Palestine of 30 AD; and it was specially His method to do His work and not His disciples’, to live a life of love and light, to die for the sins of the world, and then go back to the Father that the Holy Spirit might come and lead His followers into all truth. A full statement of the doctrines of Christianity on His part would have been premature (Joh 16:12), would have been pedagogically unwise, if not worthless. First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear (Mr 4:28). It would also have been spiritually and philosophically impossible, for Christianity was not a set of teachings by Christ--but a religion springing out of His life, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession, mediatorial activity in history through the Spirit who works in His disciples and on the world through and by that life, death, etc. The only question is whether the apostles were true to the spirit and content of His teachings in its moral and religious outlines. And especially in this matter of justification, a teaching by Christ is not to be looked for, because it is the very peculiarity of it that its middle point is the exalted Lord, who has become the mediator of salvation by His death and resurrection. Did the Pauline doctrine fit into the concrete situation made by the facts of Christ mentioned above, and was it the necessary consequence of His self-witness? Let us look into the Synoptic Gospels.

1. The Snyoptic Gospels:

2. John’s Writings:

3. 1 Peter and Hebrews:

Seeberg’s point that the "Pauline doctrine of justification is not found in any other New Testament writer" (History of Doctrine, I, 48) is true when you emphasize the word "doctrine." Paul gave it full scientific treatment, the others presuppose the fact, but do not unfold the doctrine. Peter’s "Repent ye, and be baptized .... in the name of Jesus Christ" (Ac 2:38) is meaningless unless faith were exercised in Christ. It is He in whom, though we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable (1Pe 1:8), receiving the end of our faith, the salvation of our souls (1Pe 1:9). It is only, however, through the precious blood as of a lamb without blemish, even that of Christ (1Pe 1:19), and is only through Him that we are believers in God (1Pe 1:21). The familiar expression, "Come to Jesus," which simply means have faith in Jesus for justification and salvation, goes back to Peter (1Pe 2:4). The Epistle to the Hebrews has other interests to look after, but it does not deny faith, but rather exhorts us to draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith (10:22), which it lays at the foundation of all true religion, thinking and achievement (Hebrews 11). The writer can give no better exhortation than to look unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (12:2), an exhortation in the true spirit of Paul, whose gospel of faith for justification is also summed up in 4:16.

4. Epistle of James:

We come lastly to the core of the matter in regard to New Testament representations of justification--the famous passage in Jas 2:14-26, which at first sight seems a direct blow at Paul. Here we are met by the interesting question of the date of James. As we cannot enter into this (see Epistle of James), what we say must be independent of this question. A careful look at this vigorous and most valuable letter (valuable in its own place, which is not that of Paul’s letters, in comparison with which it is a "right strawy epistle," as Luther truthfully said (Erl. Ausg., 63, 115; see also pp. 156-57), in saying which he did not mean to reject it as useless (straw has most important uses), but as giving the doctrine of salvation, for which we must look to Paul) will show us that contradiction on the part of James to Paul is apparent and not real.

(1) In this section James uses the word faith simply for intellectual belief in God, and especially in the unity of God (2:19; see also context), whereas Paul uses it for a saving trust in Christ. As Feine well says (Theol. d. New Testament, Leipzig,2 1911, 660-63), for Paul faith is the appropriation of the life-power of the heavenly Christ. Therefore he knows no faith which does not bring forth good works corresponding to it. What does not come from faith is sin. For James faith is subordination of man to the heavenly Christ (2:1), or it is theoretic acknowledgment of one God (2:19). Justification is for James a speaking just of him who is righteous, an analytical judgment. (Feine also says that James did not understand Paul, but he did not fight him. It was left to Luther through his deep religious experience first to understand Paul’s doctrine of justification.)

(2) James uses the word "works" as meaning practical morality, going back behind legalism, behind Pharisaism, to the position of the Old Testament prophets, whereas Paul uses the word as meritorious action deserving reward.

(3) When James is thinking of a deeper view, faith stands central in Christianity (1:3,6; 2:1; 5:15).

(4) Paul also on his part is as anxious as James vitally to connect Christianity and good works through faith (1Th 1:3; Ga 5:6; 1Co 13:2; Ro 2:6,7; see Mayor, The Epistle of Jas, 1892, lxxxviii ff; Franks, in DCG, I, 919-20; Findlay in HDB, 1-vol edition, 511).

(5) The whole argument of James is bent on preserving a real practical Christianity that is not content with words merely (2:15-16), but shows itself in deeds. He is not trying to show, as Paul, how men get rid of their guilt and become Christians, but how they prove the reality of their profession after they receive the faith. He is not only writing to Christians, as of course Paul was, but he was writing to them as Christians ("my brethren," 2:14), as already justified and standing on the "faith of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2:1), whereas Paul was thinking of men, Gentile and Jew, shivering in their guilt before the Eternal Justice, and asking, How can we get peace with God? "There is not," says Beyschlag (New Testament Theology, Edinburgh, 1895, I, 367-68), "an objective conflict between the Pauline and Jacobean doctrines; both forms of teaching exist peacefully beside each other. James thought of justification in the simple and most natural sense of justificatio justi, as the Divine recognition of an actually righteous man, and he thought of it as the final judgment of God upon a man who is to stand in the last judgment and become a partaker of the final soteria (`salvation’). Paul also demands as a requisite for this last judgment and the final soteria right works, the love that fulfills the law and the perfected sanctification, but he (except in Ro 2:13) does not apply the expression dikaiousthai (`to be justified’) to the final judgment of God, which recognizes this righteousness of life as actual. He applies it rather to that first sentence of God with which He graciously receives the believing sinner returning to Him, and takes him into fellowship with Himself." Beyschlag rightly insists that James undoubtedly taught with the first apostles that whoever believes in Christ and is baptized receives the forgiveness of sins (Ac 2:38; 3:19; 10:43), and that he would not have contested the Pauline idea of justification by grace on account of faith, insisting only that works must follow. Theologically, the chief if not the only difference is that James has not yet made the cross of Christ the center of his point of view, while the atonement was fundamental with all Paul’s thinking.

See, further, JAMES, EPISTLE OF.

III. The Old Testament.

1. Apostolic and Early Church Fathers:

2. Council of Trent:

Those consequences are best seen in the decrees of the Council of Trent (Session 6, 1547), to which we now turn, and which are the definite and final crystallization of the medieval development, so far as that development was Catholic.

(1) Justification is a translation from a natural state to a state of grace. With this works prevenient grace, awakening and assisting, and with this in his man cooperates and prepares himself for justification. This cooperation has the merit of congruity, though the first call comes before any merit.

(2) Faith is an element in justification. "Receiving faith by hearing, they of free will draw near to God, believing those things to be true which have been Divinely revealed and promised." Faith as a living trust in a personal Saviour for salvation is lacking. Among the truths believed is the mercy of God and that He wishes to justify the sinner in Christ.

(3) This faith begets love to Christ and hatred to sin, which are elements also of the justifying process.

(4) Now follows justification itself, "which is not a bare remission of sins, but also sanctification and renewal of the inner man through the voluntary reception of grace and of gifts."

(5) But this renewal must take place through baptism, which, to the prepared adult, both gives and seals all the graces of salvation, forgiveness, cleansing, faith, hope and love.

(6) Justification is preserved by obeying the commandments and by good works, which also increase it.

(7) In case it is lost--and it can be lost, not by venial, but by mortal sin and by unbelief--it can be regained by the sacrament of penance.

(8) To get it, to keep or regain it, it is also necessary to believe the doctrines as thus laid down and to be laid down by this Council (see the decrees in any edition, or in Mirbt, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums, 2. Aufl., 206-16, or in Buckley’s or in Waterworth’s translations, and for an admirable and objective summary see Seeberg, History of Doctrine, II, 433-38).

3. Luther:

Recent researches in Luther’s early writings have shown that almost from the beginning of his earnest study of religious questions, he mounted up to Paul’s view of justification by faith alone (Loofs, DG, 4. Aufl., 1906, 696-98). Faith is the trust in the mercy of God through Christ, and justification is the declaring righteous for His sake, which is followed by a real making righteous. From the beginning to the end of his life as a religious teacher these are the elements of his doctrine. Speaking of 1513-15, Loofs says (p. 697): "Upon these equations (to justify = to forgive, grace = mercy of the non-imputing God, faith = trust in His mercy) as the regulators of his religious self-judgment, Luther’s piety rests, and corresponding to them his view of Christianity, and even later" (than 1513-15); and he adds that "to reckon as righteous" (reputari justum) must not be understood with Luther as an opposition "to make righteous," for his "to be justified without merits" in the sense of "to forgive" (absolvi) is at the same time the beginning of a new life: remissio peccati .... ipsa resurrectio. "His constantly and firmly held view, even more deeply understood later than in 1513-15, that `to be justified without merit’ = `to be resurrected (to be born again)’ = `to be sanctified’ is a pregnant formulation of his Christianity." So much being said, it is not necessary to draw out Luther’s doctrine further, who in this respect "rediscovered Christianity as a religion," but it will suffice to refer to the Histories of Doctrine (Seeberg gives a full and brilliant exposition), to Kostlin, Luthers Theologie, 2. Aufl., 1901 (see Index under the word "Rechtfertigung," and I, 349), and especially to Thieme, Die sittliche Triebkraft des Glaubens: eine Untersuchung zu Luthers Theologie, 1895, 103-314.

From Luther and the other reformers the New Testament doctrine went over to the Protestant churches without essential modification, and has remained their nominal testimony until the present. A classic expression of it, which may be taken as representing evangelical Christendom, is the 11th of the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England: "We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings: wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification." It is true that at one time Wesley’s opponents accused him of departing from this doctrine, especially on account of his famous Minute of 1770, but this was due to a radical misunderstanding of that Minute, for to the last he held staunchly Paul’s doctrine (for proof see my article in Lutheran Quarterly, April, 1906, 171-75).

4. Schleiermacher:

A new point of view was brought into modern theology by Schleiermacher, who starts from the fundamental fact of Christian experience that we have redemption and reconciliation with Christ, which fact becomes ours by union with Christ through faith. This union brings justification with other blessings, but justification is not considered as even in thought a separate act based on Christ’s death, but as part of a great whole of salvation, historically realized step by step in Christ. The trend of his teaching is to break down the distinction between justification and regeneration, as they are simply different aspects of union with Christ.

Ritschl carried forward this thought by emphasizing the grace of the heavenly Father mediated in the first instance through the Son to the Christian community, "to which God imputes the position toward him of Christ its founder," and in the second instance to individuals "as by faith in the Gospel they attach themselves to this community. Faith is simply obedience to God and trust in the revelation of his grace in Christ." This brings sinners into fellowship with God which means eternal life, which is here and now realized, as the Fourth Gospel points out, in lordship over the world (compare Franks in DCG, I, 922-23). The judicial or forensic aspect of justification so thoroughly in-wrought in Paul’s thought is denied by Ritschl. "In whatsoever way we view the matter," he says, "the attitude of God in the act of justification cannot be conceived as that of a judge" (Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, English translation, 1900, 90). W.N. Clarke agrees with Schleiermacher in eliminating justification as a separate element in the work of salvation, and harks back to the Catholic view in making it dependent on the new life and subsequent to it (Christian Theology, 407-8). No book has had as much influence in destroying the New Testament conception of justification among English-speaking readers as that of J. H. Newman, Lectures on Justification, 1838, 3rd edition, 1874, which contains some of the finest passages in religious literature (pp. 270-73, 302, 338-39), but which was so sympathetic to the Catholic view that the author had nothing essential to retract when he joined Rome in 1845. "Whether we say we are justified by faith, or by works, or by sacraments, all these but mean this one doctrine that we are justified by grace which is given through sacraments, impetrated by faith, manifested in works" (p. 303).

5. Meaning and Message to the Modern Man:

Lastly, has the New Testament conception of justification by faith any message to the modern man, or is it, as Lagarde held, dead in the Protestant churches, something which went overboard with the old doctrine of the Trinity and of Atonement? After an able historical, survey, Holl concludes (Die Rechtfertigungslehre im Licht der Geschichte d. Protestantismus, Tubingen, 1906, 40-42) that there are two principles thoroughly congenial to modern thought which favor this doctrine, namely, that of the sanctity and importance of personality, the "I" that stands face to face with God, responsible to Him alone; and second, the restoration of the Reformation-thought of an all-working God. Whoever feels the pressure of these two principles, for him the question of justification becomes a living one. "The standard on which he must measure himself is the Absolute God, and who can stand in this judgment? Not simply on account of single acts, but with his `I’ and even with his good-willing. For that is just the curse which rests upon a man that his `I’ is the thing with which alone he wills and can seek God, and that it is this very `I’ which by its willfulness, vanity and self-love poisons all his willing. Accordingly, it remains true, what the Reformers said, that man is entirely corrupt, and that he can do no otherwise than to despair when the majesty of God dawns upon him" (p. 41). There is, then, no other solution than the venture of faith that the same God who crushes our self-deceit lifts up with His sovereign grace, that we live through Him and before Him. Luther is right that religiously we can find no hold except on the Divine act of grace, which through faith in the Divine love and power working in us and for us ever makes us new in Christ. To give up the doctrine of justification, says Holl rightly (p. 42), is to give up conscious personal religion. Holl writes as a liberal, and he quotes a stronger liberal still, Treitschke, as saying that in the 19th century it was the orthodox preachers who proclaimed this doctrine, who built better than the liberals. Nor, says Holl in another book (Was hat die Rechtfertigungslehre dem modernen Menschen zu sagen? Tubingen, 1907, 26), can anyone who has experienced justification as an inner transformation be misled into moral unconcern. A moral ideal becomes his, much stronger and more compelling than worldly ethics. The new attitude toward God constituted by justification impels to an unending movement in the service of God and man. The doctrine has not had its day. It is a part of the eternal gospel. As long as sinful man has to do with an all-holy God, the experience of Paul, Luther and Wesley becomes in a sense normative for the race.


Besides the books mentioned in the text, the following on justification itself may be consulted (those marked with a star are Protestant, those with a dagger are Catholic or High Church Anglican): Goodwin, new edition, with preface by Wesley, 1807; Junkins, 1839; Hare, new edition, 1839 (1st edition with preface by Jackson, 1817); Kerwick,t 1841; Heurtley, 1846 (Bampton Lectures for 1845); McIlvaine, 1861, 3rd edition, 1868 (Righteousness of Faith, important); Buchanan, 1867 (important); Body, 1870; Bunyan, new edition, 1873; Harkey, 1875; Davies, 1878; Sadler, 1888; and Holden, 1901. Besides these, Laurence, Bampton Lectures for 1804, sermon 6; Drummond, Apostolic Teaching and Christ’s Teaching (see index); Schlatter, New Testament Theology, 2 volumes, 1909-10; the various systematic Theologies; Theologies of the New Testament, and Commentaries may be consulted; also Menegoz, Die Rechtfertigungslehre nach Paulus und nach Jakobus, 1903; Kuhl, Die Stellung des Jakobusbriefes z. alttest. Gesetz u. z. Paulinischen Rechtfertigungslehre, 1905.

John Alfred Faulkner