Reply to James White on Romans 4 and Justification

Romans 4:6-8 is a major proof text for the Protestant doctrine of justification: one of Reformed Baptist apologist Dr. James White's favorites, in fact. So, in the course of his critical review of Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong's new book, The Catholic Verses, Dr. White called these verses "The Protestant Verses" and challenged Dave to offer his own exegesis of the text, and/or a meaningful rebuttal to Dr. White's own commentary in his book, The God Who Justifies. Dave declined, and has since sworn off debating anti-Catholics all together, so, since I've had a lexical analysis of the Greek verb logizomai (this verb occurs 11 times in Romans 4; hence establishing the meaning of this word is critical to a proper exegesis of the text) in the works for some time now, I've taken up the task myself.

I'll begin with the lexical analysis itself. Here are the verses of Romans 4 in which logizomai is used:

For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited [elogisthe] to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited [logizetai] as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited [logizetai] as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits [logizetai] righteousness apart from works: "blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account. [logisetai]" Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "faith was credited [elogisthe] to Abraham as righteousness." How then was it credited [elogisthe]? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited [logisthenai] to them... Therefore it was also credited [elogisthe] to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited [elogisthe] to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited [logizesthai], as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:3-11, 22-24, NASB).

Protestants understand this passage as signifying that God legally credits the sinner with a righteousness which he does not intrinsically possess. God makes, as it were, an entry of infinite righteousness into one column of the sinner's ledger, which cancels out all the red ink in the other. Thus God can consider the sinner as righteous, and legally declare the sinner to be righteous, even though he is not, and acquit him of guilt, even though he is guilty. Catholics for centuries have justly called this concept a legal fiction. Indeed, basic Christian sense prohibits us from positing that God could declare something to be so (i.e. that the sinner is righteous), yet it not inwardly, ontologically be so. For us, God's word is absolutely efficacious; it effects what is pronounced (cf. Gen 1:3ff). Thus when we read of God imputing/reckoning/crediting/reputing righteousness to the Christian's account, we assume He must be doing so because He has made said Christian actually, inwardly righteous. As Bishop Challoner put it, God "reputeth nothing otherwise than it is" (Haydock New Testament, p. 1483). I'll now examine the various places where this verb is used in the New Testament, and demonstrate that anything approaching an objective analysis can only vindicate the Catholic exegesis.

  • For we maintain [logizometha] that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Romans 3:28)
  • Even so consider [logizesthe] yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).
  • For I consider [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
  • Let a man regard [logizestho] us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1).
  • Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider [logisasthai] anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Corinthians 3:5).
  • You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider [logizestho] this again within himself, that just as he is Christ's, so also are we (2 Corinthians 10:7).
  • Let such a person consider [logizestho] this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present (2 Corinthians 10:11).
  • For I consider [logizomai] myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles (2 Corinthians 11:5).
  • Brethren, I do not regard [logizomai] myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead... (Philippians 3:13)
  • He [Abraham] considered [logisamenos] that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:19)
  • Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard [logizomai] him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! (1 Peter 5:12)

These passages are all fairly straightforward. St. Paul, Abraham, and St. Peter are recognizing what is true. A man is justified by faith apart from works of the law. And God forbid that St. Paul would encourage people to think more of themselves than they actually are! There is only one admissible interpretation of Romans 6:11: St. Paul's readers are dead to sin but alive to God, and he is encouraging them to recognize this fact. He is not telling them to credit themselves with a righteousness that does not inhere in their souls. Again, the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come. St. Paul is a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. Man's good works do not come from himself, but from God's grace (cf. 1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:13; Gal 2:20). St. Paul enjoins his Corinthian readers to recognize the truth that he belongs to Christ and that he matches his words with deeds. St. Paul is not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles, though he has not yet laid hold of eternal life. God is able to raise people even from the dead. Finally, St. Silvanus is a faithful brother (cf. 2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1). In all these cases, the verb logizomai denotes a mental recognition of what is objectively true, not a mental accreditation of qualities which do not inhere in the subject to whom they are accredited. The New Testament does use logizomai in the latter manner in other cases, but as we shall later see, these do not exactly help the Protestant hermeneutic either.

  • That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded [logizetai] as descendants (Romans 9:8).

By "children of the promise" St. Paul refers to those descended from Abraham through Isaac (as opposed to those descended through Ishmael), who, of course, actually are descendents. Thus God, or anyone else for that matter, who regards them as descendants is simply acknowledging reality.

  • They began reasoning [dielogizonto] among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Then why did you not believe him?' (Mark 11:31)
  • When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason [elogizomen] like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).
  • Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell [logizesthe] on these things (Phillippians 4:8).

These verses, where logizomai carries the significance of reason, think, or consider, show again that it is not a word that provides a title which is the obverse of the physical constitution of the object in view. In each of these cases, the subject is thinking about reality. These verses lean towards the Catholic interpretation of logizomai.

  • And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And He [Christ] was numbered [elogisthe] with transgressors" (Mark 15:28).
  • "For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, 'and he was numbered [elogisthe] with transgressors'; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment" (Luke 22:37).
  • But do you suppose [logize] this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:3)
  • Just as it is written, "for your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered [elogisthemen] as sheep to be slaughtered" (Romans 8:36).
  • I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard [logizomenous] us as if we walked according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:2).
  • I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks [logizomeno] anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean (Romans 14:14).

One begins to notice a pattern here. Whenever someone reckons something to be the case, whereas in reality it is not so, that person has made a horrendous mistake! (a) Christ is not a transgressor; (b) if a man thinks he will escape the judgment of God he deceives himself; (c) those who martyr the Christian faithful commit an abominable sin; (d) St. Paul did not walk according to the flesh. Romans 14:14 is not so dramatic, but still, (e) one who regards a particular food item as unclean is making a mistake, and believes a doctrine contrary to the mind of the Apostle and the God-breathed Scriptures. One who reckons (logizomai) something contradictory to ontological reality is just flat out wrong. The online Greek lexicon states it very well, I think: "This word deals with reality. If I "logizomai" or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself." Obviously, these verses give no support whatsoever to the Protestant interpretation of Romans 4, since in their theology God knows that the sinner is not righteous but imputes righteousness to him anyway. If Protestants were to pattern their interpretation of logizomai in Romans 4 after the manner in which it is used in these verses, they would have God mistaking the sinner for a righteous man, regarding him as righteous because He did not know what he actually was.

  • "Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded [logisthenai] as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence" (Acts 19:27).

When exegeting this passage one must bear in mind that it is written from the perspective of the Ephesian idolaters, who believe the temple of Artemis to be anything but worthless. In their minds, anyone who regards it as such is monumentally (pun intended) wrong. Hence, this usage of logizomai belongs in the same category as the above; it denotes a person holding a belief which the speaker regards as erroneous and contradictory to ontological reality.

  • For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit [logisetai] me with more than he sees in me or hears from me (2 Corinthians 12:6).

This instance likewise belongs in the above category. If St. Paul boasts, he tells us, then someone might believe him to be even greater than he actually is. Such a person would then hold an erroneous belief. Obviously this verse, like the others, provides no precedent for reading the Protestant forensic imputation scheme into Romans 4, since in the Protestant scheme, God does not erroneously believe the sinner to be more righteous than he actually is, the way someone might hold an exaggerated notion of the holiness and accomplishment of St. Paul. In order for this instance of logizomai to support the Protestant exegesis of the word in Romans 4, someone would have to know, accurately, how great a man St. Paul is, yet legally credit to his account even more.

  • So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded [logisthesetai] as circumcision? (Romans 2:26)

This verse comes the closest to providing a precedent for the signification which Protestants impute (pun intended) to logizomai in Romans 4. St. Paul informs us that if an uncircumcised man leads an upright life, God will regard him as if he were circumcised, even though He knows that in reality he is not. Nevertheless, not even the manner in which logizomai is used here completely mirrors Luther and Calvin's concept of forensic imputation. This verse is about God accepting one quality (righteousness) which a man truly, inwardly possesses, as a replacement for another (circumcision). For Luther and Calvin, man had nothing which God would regard as pleasing and acceptable, so He had to credit him forensically with the polar opposite of reality. Romans 2:26 is analogous to regarding someone with a GED as if he had graduated high school; Protestant soteriology is like giving a kindergartener a Ph.D.

  • [Love] does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account [logizetai] a wrong suffered (1 Corinthians 13:5),
  • namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting [logizomenos] their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19).
  • At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted [logistheie] against them (2 Timothy 4:16).

These verses, taken by themselves, could be interpreted either way. St. Paul is speaking of people being forgiven of their sin. However, he does not here explain in detail the manner in which this is accomplished, i.e. whether it is through a forensic imputation or through an infusion of grace. Hence, our interpretation of logizomai here must be controlled by the manner in which it is used in other places, just as with Romans 4.

In conclusion, we have 12 instances where logizomai is used in a manner which explicitly supports the Catholic position, 3 in which it leans Catholic, 11 which support neither side, and one which leans to the Protestants. Thus, based on this information alone, we know that the Protestant exegesis of Romans 4 is a long-shot before even looking at the chapter itself.

It is also helpful to analyze the specific construction used in Romans 4:3: "it (Abraham's faith) was credited to him as righteousness" (elogisthe auto eis dikaiosune). It is a quotation from Genesis 15:6 (the Hebrew parallel is chashab lo tsadaqah), and given the above lexical analysis of logizomai, it should be obvious to anyone without an overarching theological bias that the meaning of the text is that God is recognizing Abraham's faith for what it is, namely an inherently righteous quality in his soul. But if anyone is still not convinced, this position is further buttressed by the parallel usage of the construction in Psalm 106:30f, the only other time in the Old Testament in which it is used: "Then Phinehas stood up and interposed, and so the plague was stayed. And it was reckoned to him for righteousness to all generations forever." Phinehas did an actual righteous deed (skewering an Israelite man and a Moabite woman who were fornicating in the tent of meeting (cf. Num 25:6ff)) and all generations forever recognized it for what it was. They did not credit Phinehas with the alien righteousness of Christ. Neither did God do so to Abraham. Neither will God do so to us. Rather He will look at the righteous qualities which He has infused in us by grace and then declare that He is well pleased.

Next, there is a contextual issue to be addressed, viz. Abraham's status before God at the time his faith was credited to him for righteousness in Genesis 15:6. This is very important because Protestants view Genesis 15:6 as the time when Abraham received the one-time imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ. If it could be proven that Abraham had been justified beforehand this would deal a serious blow to their position. Contrariwise, it would present absolutely no problem to the Catholic position which holds that Genesis 15:6 was only one of many times whereupon God recognized inherent righteousness in Abraham's soul. And in point of fact this can be proven. In Genesis 12:4 Abraham trusts God and abandons everything he knows to follow His commands. Hebrews 11:8 calls this an act of faith. In Genesis 12:8 Abraham worships the Lord and calls on His Name. In Genesis 14:19f Melchizedek calls Abraham blessed by God. As should be abundantly obvious, these are not the faith and works of an unregenerate heathen; Abraham is an adopted son of God; he did not receive the one-time imputation of Christ's alien righteousness at Genesis 15:6. God credited him with righteousness at that time precisely because he was exhibiting righteousness.

Having established this background information, I'll now move on to White's commentary on Romans 4:6-8. He begins by asserting the relatively non-controversial thesis that the blessedness described in Romans 4:6-8 is not limited to David, but belongs to all men to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works, whose lawless deeds are forgiven, &c. However, he makes a formidable leap of logic with the following: "To attempt to go back into the life of David and undercut the Apostle's own interpretation of these words by pointing to some actions David engaged in is to question Paul's own understanding of the texts and his own authority as an apostle in this passage."

What White seems to be doing here is dismissing a common Catholic argument against eternal security. Basically, it runs as follows. In Psalm 32 David is describing his being justified by God after having repented of his grievous sins. Most likely, the sins to which he refers are those he committed in 2 Samuel 11, namely murder and adultery. We know that David had been justified prior to committing these sins, as Scripture would not call an unregenerate heathen a man after the Lord's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Hence, David must have lost his justification after committing the aforementioned sins, and in Psalm 32 he must be describing the process of getting it back.

Now, I'm not sure how White thinks this argument undercuts St. Paul's interpretation of the opening verses of Psalm 32. Granted, these verses do not apply solely to David. Granted, they apply generically to everyone whom God forgives of sin. However, David is one of the people to whom these verses apply, hence if we can learn anything about the characteristics of these "blessed men" (in this case that it is possible for them to have previously been justified, and then fallen into sin) by studying the life of David, all the better. All St. Paul's argument requires is that Psalm 32:1-2 be a generic description of an aspect of justification. David could have composed these verses after his first, second, or third justification, ad infinitum, and this would not undercut St. Paul's argument in the least. If White wants to assert that this would, in fact, undercut St. Paul's interpretation of Psalm 32, he needs to tell us how.

White goes on to quote an ipse dixit from reformed theologian Charles Hodge: "The words are legei ton makarismon, utters the declaration of blessedness concerning the man, &c. whom God imputeth righteousness without works, that is, whom God regards and treats as righteous, although he is not in himself righteous. The meaning of this clause cannot be mistaken." Sadly, it all too often is. Perhaps Hodge and White should have studied the meaning of logizomai in more detail. Protestants seem to adhere to certain dogmas concerning Greek grammar without bothering to find out if they are supported by the evidence. For example a Presbyterian elder recently informed Patrick Madrid's message board that it is a simple fact that Greek verbs ending in ow (of which dikaiow =justify is one) signify a forensic declaration. One wonders if his Greek vocabulary includes such verbs as doulow, enslave; nekrow, mortify; anakainow, renew; delow, make manifest; tuphow, make blind; et al. In any case, Hodge's assertion that Romans 4:6 teaches the Protestant doctrine of justification as plain as day is gratuitous, to say the least.

Hodge goes on to contradict what Scripture does, in fact, make plain as day: "[T]o impute righteousness, is to set righteousness to one's account, and to treat him accordingly. This righteousness does not, of course, belong antecedently to those to whom it is imputed, for they are ungodly, and destitute of works. Here then is an imputation to men of what does not belong to them, and to which they have in themselves no claim." Hodge refers of course to the Protestant doctrine of the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ. However, the Bible plainly states what is imputed to the believer's account as righteousness, namely, his faith! (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3,5) That which God credits to our account is not something extrinsic to our person, but something which inheres in our souls: virtue, in this case faith. How Protestants can read the entirely perspicuous statement that God credits a believer's faith to his account as righteousness, and come to the polar opposite conclusion, insulting to the justice of God (the dikaiosune theou which they claim to hold in such high regard) that God credits to the believer's account something which he does not actually possess, is beyond me.

White moves on to vv. 7,8: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord does not count sin." Again, he starts by making a fairly non-controversial observation, that the three blessings are all upon the same man. He then quotes an observation of Presbyterian theologian John Murray: "What David spoke of in terms of the non-imputation and forgiveness of sin Paul interprets more positively as the imputation of righteousness." And adds his own thoughts: "This is a vitally important observation: Paul defines the words of David as referring to the blessedness of the imputation of righteousness apart from works, but the only imputation spoken of in the citation from Psalm 32 is that of the non-imputation of sin (4:8). Protestant exegetes have often pointed to the reality of "double-imputation," that is, of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer and the imputation of our sins to Christ, the necessary corollary to the non-imputation of sins to those who have faith in Jesus." There are several counter-points that need to be made here. First, there is plenty of "positive" language in Psalm 32 (in whose spirit there is no guile, holy, just, right of heart). From the Catholic perspective, it is easy to see how St. Paul could see the "positive" imputation of righteousness in this Psalm. As demonstrated above, when St. Paul uses this term, he does not thereby signify that God forensically decrees something contradictory to ontological reality, but that he mentally recognizes, or "takes into account" what reality is. Hence, when St. Paul speaks of God "crediting righteousness" in v. 6 we may understand him as referring to God taking into account the virtue which he infuses at justification. Likewise, the Catholic has no need to make the tremendous logical leap of reading the imputation of the believer's sins to Christ into St. Paul's discussion of the non-imputation of sin. Rather, we again interpret it as referring to how God takes into account what He has just accomplished in the realm of ontology, in this case that He has "blotted out," "washed," "cleansed," "purged," (Psalm 51) the penitent's sins, such that they no longer exist, and restored the penitent to a state of grace.

White quotes Murray again: "And the blessed man is not the man who has good works laid to his account but whose sins are not laid to his account. David's religion, therefore, was not one determined by the concept of good works but by that of the gracious remission of sin, and the blessedness, regarded as the epitome of divine favour, had no affinity with that secured by works of merit." This is just a blatant fallacy. Murray seems to be operating under the unproven assumption that Romans 4 describes the process of justification in its totality. Hence, since it makes no mention of the role of good works in the process of justification, he concludes that they do not have a role. However, the Catholic exegete would interpret this passage as teaching the proper attitude, or approach, toward God. Some background is in order. St. Paul is here refuting the Judaizers, who believed that the Law, an impersonal entity, had the power to give life (Gal 3:21). Not realizing that the essence of the Law was love of God and neighbor (Matt 22:36-40), and that one ought to internalize its precepts and obey them from the heart, out of a sincere desire to please God and to save souls, the Judaizers believed rather that one need only obey the law externally, out of a selfish desire to obligate God to repay them with eternal life, as an employer pays a worker his wage (Rom 4:4). St. Paul rightly teaches that if anyone attempts to approach God like this, his beloved Law will only turn around and convict him for the smallest infraction (Gal 3:10-12; Jas 2:10). Rather, St. Paul teaches us, we must approach God on a personal level, with faith and sincere contrition for our sins, that is, detestation for our sins for the primary reason that hey are offensive to God, the beloved. God will, in turn, graciously forgive us, make us a new creation, infuse us with supernatural virtues, and credit them to our account as righteousness. Of course, as faith is the "foundation and the root of all justification" (Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, Ch. VIII), and man possesses no meritorious works prior to justification (all he has beforehand are his own works, which can never justify, cf. Pope St. Clement, Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch. XXXII), God will always credit faith to a man's account prior to crediting works. Thus we understand the statement of Romans 4:6, that "God credits righteousness without works." However, this does not preclude the possibility that God might reckon the believer's faith to him as righteousness again at some other point in his life; we see God doing this to Abraham in Genesis 15:6, for example, long after Abraham had first been justified. Neither does it preclude the possibility that God might credit another virtue, such as hope or charity, to his account at a later time, or even that He might credit works of charity. Indeed it could not, as this doctrine is explicitly taught in other parts of Scripture. Murray and White miss this because they want to find their entire doctrine of justification in Romans 4, but it is there.

This theme of heaven as a reward for works is prominent throughout the Bible, most especially in the teachings of Christ and St. Paul and in the Apocalypse. God actually arranges for His elect to merit heaven. Make no mistake; this is not strict merit, as an employer is obligated to pay those who render him a needed service. Rather, it is condign merit, that is to say, God obligates himself to reward his saints when he makes a promise (cf. Gen 22:16-18; Heb 6:13-18). As St. Augustine put it, "The Lord made himself a debtor not by receiving something but by promising something. One does not say to Him, ‘Pay for what You received,’ but ‘Pay what You promised’" (Expositions on the Psalms, 83:16). And again, "What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?" (Letters 194:5:19) God has promised to reward His adopted sons for the works wrought through them by His Only-Begotten Son (cf. 1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:13; Gal 2:20), therefore He is obligated by that promise to do so, as He cannot sin (cf. Heb 6:10; 2 Tim 4:8). Hebrews 6:10 makes this especially clear. It actually states that God would be unjust if He were not to reward good works. From this we conclude that God's own nature as a perfectly just and righteous God impels Him to credit the good works of a Christian to his account as righteousness, which is quite ironic. Those who attempt to obligate God to reward them get damnation in return, yet those who attempt only to please God end up with God obligated to reward them. God has a way of turning everything on its head (cf. Luke 1:52,53).

Jesus Himself plainly teaches that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone when the rich young man asks Him how to obtain salvation in Matthew 19:16ff; He tells him to keep the commandments in order to inherit eternal life, and that if he sells all his possessions, gives to the poor, and follows Him he will be rewarded with heaven. After the rich man leaves, Jesus tells his disciples that those who do act thusly will indeed be so rewarded.

Other prominent passages teaching that salvation is the reward for works include Prov 11:18f; 24:12; Matt 5:12; 6:3-4; 16:26-27; 25:34-36; Luke 6:35; 14:13-14; Rom 2:5-7; 1 Cor 3:8; 2 Cor 5:10; Eph 6:8, Col 3:23-24; 2 Tim 4:8; 2 John 8; Apoc 3:21; 20:12-13; 22:12 (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Polycarp, 6:2). Lest one reply that these Scriptures are about personal rewards for those whose salvation has already been secured by the imputed righteousness of Christ, this interpretation does violence to the context in nearly every case. For example, Matthew 16:26f is about the last judgment. Those who sin will be recompensed with hell, and those who do good works will be recompensed with heaven. Again in Matt 25:31ff everyone is judged based upon their deeds. Likewise Romans 2:5ff: the contrast is between the elect and the reprobate. 2 Corinthians 5:10 is almost identical to Matthew 16:26f: the righteous are recompensed with heaven for their good works and the wicked with hell for their sins. Again, in Colossians 3:24 the reward described is not merely a nifty personal crown; it is the believer’s inheritance i.e. eternal life. Finally, Apocalypse 20:11ff is the ultimate Biblical judgment scene, yet here again all are judged on the basis of their works; there is absolutely no mention of those “hid from God’s eyes under the blood of the lamb” versus those exposed to shame. Most of these passages are quite simply incompatible with faith alone theology, and the argument that they are about personal rewards and not the destination of the immortal soul is utterly devoid of merit (pun not intended this time). It is only so much sophistry.

White quotes Murray again: "When Paul speaks of God as "imputing righteousness" (vs. 6), he must be using this expression as synonymous with justification. Otherwise his argument would be invalid. For his thesis is justification by faith without works. Hence to "impute righteousness without works" is equivalent to justification without works... When Paul derives his positive doctrine of justification, in terms of the imputation of righteousness (vs. 6), from a declaration of David that is in terms of the remission and non-imputation of sin (vss. 6, 7) and therefore formally negative, he must have regarded justification as correlative with, if not as defined in terms of, remission of sin. This inference is conclusive against the Romish view that justification consists in the infusion of grace. Justification must be forensic, as remission itself is." Again, counter-points must be made. First, God recognizing one as righteous is only the crown of justification, which Trent defined as the "remission of sins" and "the sanctification and renewal of the inward man" (Decree on Justification, Ch. VII). If White wants us to believe that this definition invalidates St. Paul's argument in Romans 4, he is going to have to show us how; quoting sympathetic Protestant theologians is not enough. Second, St. Paul did not derive his doctrine of justification primarily from Psalm 32:1-2, but from the life of Abraham (and as we have seen, the imputation of righteousness as defined in Genesis 15:6 consists not in the remission of sins, but in the divine recognition of the supernatural virtue of faith). David is only called in, as White has admitted, as an accessory, another witness to the blessedness of the man whom God has reckoned as righteous because He has made him righteous. David is then quoted as extolling this blessedness, of the man freely justified by grace, particularly with respect to the divine gift of the remission of sins (an integral part of justification, but by no means an exhaustive definition of thereof).

The next section of White's exegesis consists in him putting Murray's argument into his own words, and as I do not feel obliged to respond to this argument twice, I will pass over it.

White's next quote from Murray contains a statement that I find quite extraordinary, and contradictory to Scripture: "[W]hat the Scripture conceives of as the epitome of blessing and felicity is not the reward of works but the bestowment of grace through faith. Blessedness consists in that which is illustrated by the remission of sins and not by that which falls into the category of reward according to merit." Certainly, Scripture describes as blessed those who receive grace through faith. However, it uses the exact same language (makarios =blessed) with respect to those whom God rewards for their works. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the sons of God. Blessed are they who have suffered persecution for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you whenever they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you falsely, on account of me: Be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in heaven. For thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5:3-12, CASB). "Blessed is that servant, whom when his lord shall come will find him so doing (i.e. faithfully watching over his family, a good work). Amen I say to you: he shall place him over all of his goods (i.e. reward him) (Matt 24:46-47, CASB). "When thou makest a dinner, or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor thy neighbors who are rich; lest they also invite thee again, and a recompense be made to thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the feeble, the lame, and the blind: and thou shall be blessed, because they have not wherewith to make thee recompense: for recompense shall be made thee at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:12-14, DRV). "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him" (Jas 1:12, DRV). "But he that shall look into the perfect law of liberty, and continue in it, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed" (Jas 1:25, DRV). One wonders what has led White and Murray to believe that makarios and its cognates are more emphatic when describing men being forgiven of sin than when describing men being rewarded for works, or even that blessedness has nothing to do with meritorious works at all. Perhaps it is their "tradition" which has lead them to this conclusion. Characteristically, White goes on to denigrate tradition and authority, and to extol those who approach Scripture with a blank slate, as it were, and treat it to pure, unbiased exegesis. However, it should be clear by now that White & Co. approach Scripture with plenty of traditions of their own. And whereas Catholic Tradition comes from the apostles themselves, White's tradition comes to him from a madman.

White next asks a fairly simple question, the answer to which should be fairly obvious by now. "Who is the blessed man [of Romans 4:6-8]?" I will skip over White's philosophizing about religions of men and cut right to the answer: he is the justified believer whom God reckons as righteous because He has made him righteous in justification. But White objects: "Great: so, if this person commits a mortal sin, to whom is it imputed? Him, or someone else? If this person commits a venial sin, to whom is it imputed? Him, or someone else? If either sin is imputed to him, how is he the blessed man to whom the Lord will not impute sin? There are two possible responses here, one of which is provided by White himself: "Now the immediate question that arises is, "Does this refer solely to past sins, so that what is being said is that God will not impute past sins to one who has been forgiven?" Or, is there something more here? Is the aorist subjunctive saying this blessedness is found in the non-imputation of sin ever? That is, do we have warrant, in the grammar or in the context, to say that the aorist subjunctive is here referring to the denial of the possibility of there ever being imputation of sin? On the basis of the strict grammar itself, the issue could not be decided, for the question is not about what the aorist subjunctive indicates, but it is about the meaning of the word "sin" and whether that is referring to past sin only or all a person's sin." Next, we can make an argument based on the meaning of the aorist subjunctive. The normal translation of the aorist subjunctive is "may" + verb. Romans 4:8 is a special case where it is used to make an emphatic negative assertion, and thus it is here translated as a future indicative. However, to quote the resident Greek scholar at CAI, "it is a future not in the sense of time, but of firm resolve, as when we might say "I will never stoop to such tactics" or "I would never be so unkind." Hence, any attempt to base an exegesis of the passage on the time element (that is, the future as opposed to the present) is off the mark. If the Greek had intended an emphasis on time itself, it would have used the future indicative tense itself, not the aorist subjunctive. Again, the aorist subjunctive is used only to show the strong resolve of the subject never to engage in something that would obviously be bad or against his character. Other instances of the aorist subjunctive in a negative assertion are Heb 13:5; Mt 5:18; Mk 13:30; Lk 9:27." Hence, if something about the "man" spoken of in Psalm 32:1-2 were to change, such that it would no longer be against God's character to impute sin thereto, He might very well do so. Context gives us the answer as to what sort of change this might be. God is not reckoning sin against David because David has first repented and asked for forgiveness. And if David commits another mortal sin at some point in the future, he has the same promise that, if he sincerely repents, God will not reckon his sin against him. What the aorist subjunctive emphatically denies, then, is that if a man sincerely repents, God might still reckon his sin against him anyway. In essence, it refutes Donatism. However, if this "man" of Psalm 32:1-2 were to become a different sort of man (i.e. one who persists obstinately in his sin, is not penitent) God certainly will reckon his sin against him.

This doctrine, that it is possible for a truly justified Christian to fall from grace and be damned, is plainly taught in other passages of Scripture. If White would like to expand this discussion to cover such verses as Ezek 3:20f; Matt 10:22; 18:23ff; 24:12f; John 15:6; Gal 5:4; 1 Cor 9:24ff; 2 Cor 11:3; Col 1:21ff; 2 Tim 2:12; Heb 2:1ff; 3:6; 6:4ff; Jas 5:9; 2 Pet 2:20ff; 2 John 8; Apoc 2:26; 3:3, 11; 22:19, I will certainly oblige.

White asks and answers a rhetorical question: "Is the righteousness that is imputed to the believer one that is merely a "now" righteousness that can be undone by a single act of disobedience, or is it a perfect righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, that cannot be added to or diminished? We have already seen that it is the righteousness of God, so it would follow, then, that if the imputation of this righteousness results in the perfect salvation of all those who receive it, then the corresponding non-imputation of sin would have to refer to all the sin of the individual, not just sins up to a certain point." I respond: White has yet to prove his interpretation of the righteousness of God. He, as a Protestant, believes that it refers to the alien righteousness of Christ which is forensically credited to the sinner's account. I, on the other hand, maintain that it refers to the supernatural virtues which God infuses into our souls in justification. And I have a proof text: James 1:19-20 clearly requires that one interpret the righteousness of God as a quality that God and St. James the Just desire to see in man, not as a covering they expect to see on him (Robert Sungenis, Not By Faith Alone, p. 318). Hence, I see no reason that God should not be able to take His righteousness back, as it were, and retract the supernatural virtues and divine grace from the soul of a willful sinner. Perhaps White would care to show us where his version of the "righteousness of God" is taught in Scripture.

White makes one last point before his conclusion: "This becomes very clear in light of Paul's stated belief that the Father made the sinless Son "sin in our place," with the express purpose being that we would, as a result, be made "the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). If Christ is made sin, the question is, what sin? The only answer is the sin that is never imputed to the blessed man!" Just as with the righteousness of God, White here departs from the consensus of patristic exegesis (viz., that when St. Paul calls Christ "sin" he means "a sacrifice for sin," following Old Testament terminology) in favor of the novel interpretations of a lunatic. This leads him, as one would expect, to an erroneous conclusion: "[The blessed man] is imputed a perfect righteousness, his or her sins having been borne substitutionarily by Christ on the cross." To put it mildly, this doctrine is a blasphemy against the justice of God. White has called Romans 4:6-8 "the Protestant verses" because he believes that it is taught therein, but as we have seen, these verses teach nothing of the sort. Rather, they are just as Catholic as the 95 about which Dave Armstrong wrote his book The Catholic Verses, as indeed the entire Bible is Catholic. It was written by Catholics, compiled by Catholics, and transmitted by Catholics, and it teaches much Catholic doctrine perspicuously, and refutes Protestantism perspicuously as well (e.g. Jas 2:24).

Ben Douglass

Catholic Apologetics International
February 10 Anno Domini MMV