Top Notch Evangelical Scholar on the Lack of Exegetical proof of the Reformed Doctrine of Imputation

“I’m not convinced any New Testament texts, on its own, leads to this doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.”

So says Dr. Douglas J. Moo, Professor of New Testament @ Wheaton College (see minutes 25 to 31). This is one of my favorite modern commentators on the letters of St. Paul, and I particularly followed his thought in my Protestant days. That was many years ago. At that time, my own exegetical studies were leading me farther away from the traditional exegesis of Paul’s use of “imputation” as understood by Reformed Covenant theology. I remember when I had reached a point where I still retained a purely forensic understanding of the justification act, but I didn’t think there was exegetical support to insist that the “active obedience” of Christ was imputed to the believer to make for the cause of his or her justification. I thought the discharge from guilt achieved by the atonement of the cross was sufficient to match what St. Paul was arguing for in his letters. I remember I had a brief correspondence with Professor Moo at some point about this precise issue, but I can’t find it since it was an old email account. I find it interesting that in 2019, I happened upon this lecture he gave last year at DTS where he expresses his inability to see any texts forthrightly teaching imputation of Christ’s active obedience and righteousness in the justification act.

Now, that isn’t to say that Professor Moo rejects the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in the justification-act, but it goes to show that he, as one of the foremost Pauline interpreters of our generation, understands the full basis of said doctrine to involve a supra-textual theological construct, rather than in any precise reference or citation from Holy Scripture. That is not revolutionary, of course. I believe it was D.A. Carson who argued as much in his essay “The Vindication of Imputation: On Fields of Discourse and Semantic Fields” (2004) in a book “Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates” (eds.) Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier. There, Carson argued that the Protestant doctrine of the imputation of humanity’s sins to Christ is nowhere explicitly stated but it is a reasonable construct from the texts of Scripture.

In any case, I just find it interesting that, for a doctrine that ascends the heights of doctrinal importance, such that by it the Church stands or falls, it is being admitted by these top notch Evangelical scholars to be nowhere stated explicitly in Scripture, but rather relies on theological and systematic construction. I think that countless exegetical Reformed theologians have always been aware of this, but it is an observation to keep handy for everyone.