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.

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

  1. what are your thoughts on the fact that Romans 4:8 uses the aorist subjuncitive/emphatic negation subjunctive for the word “impute” or “count”? It is “logisetai”.

    Dan Wallace in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics on pg 468 lists Rom 4:8 as being an instance where this emphatic negation subjunctive occurs. Specifically in regard to the whole phrase from Rom 4:8 [ou me logisetai].:

    “c. Emphatic Negation Subjunctive 1) Definition Emphatic negation is indicated by οὐ μὴ , plus the aorist subjunctive or, less frequently, οὐ μὴ, plus the future indicative (e.g., Matt 26:35; Mark 13:31; John 4:14; 6:35). This is the strongest way to negate something in Greek. One might think that the negative with the subjunctive could not be as strong as the negative with the indicative. However, while οὐ + the indicative denies a certainty, οὐ μὴ, + the subjunctive denies a potentiality. The negative is not weaker; rather, the affirmation that is being negatived is less firm with the subjunctive. οὐ μὴ, rules out even the idea as being a possibility: “οὐ μὴ is the most decisive way of negativing someth. in the future.”58 Emphatic negation is found primarily in the reported sayings of Jesus (both in the Gospels and in the Apocalypse); secondarily, in quotations from the LXX. Outside of these two sources it occurs only rarely. As well, a soteriological theme is frequently found in such statements, especially in John: what is negatived is the possibility of the loss of salvation. 2) Illustrations Matt 24:35 οἱ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν My words will not at all pass away. — John 10:28 δίδωμι αὐτοῖς ζωὴν αἰώνιον, καὶ οὐ μὴ ἀπόλωνται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα I give them eternal life, and they will not at all perish. —John 11:26 πᾶς ὁ ζῶν καὶ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ οὐ μὴ ἀποθάνῃ Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. —Rom 4:8 μακάριος ἀνὴρ οὗ οὐ μὴ λογίσηται κύριος ἁμαρτίαν Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not at all count. —Heb 13:5 ouv mh, se avnw/ ouvdV ouv mh, se evgkatali,pw I will not at all fail you nor will I ever leave you.”

    (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, pg. 468)

    Bauer’s A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian literature also on pg. 517 also lists Rom 4:8 as being a place where the emphatic negation subjunctive occurs./aorist subjunctive. Note that Wallace says that the emphatic negation subjunctive, when used with οὐ μὴ denies the potential of thing/event which it is negating. And according to both Bauer and Daniel Wallace (James D.G. Dunn also mentions this in his commentary on Romans 1-8 from the WBC series), Romans 4:8 is denying even the potential/possibility of God imputing sins to the one to whom “God credits righteousness apart from works” (4:6)

    Paul is thus denying even the possibility of God imputing the believer’s sin to him. Due to the phrase “just as” at the beginning of verse 6, vv 6-8 as a whole are a further part of Paul’s argument from 4:1-5. Thus, Paul/David is addressing justification in vv 6-8.

    Would not this disprove the Roman Catholic idea that one can lose their justification? If one’s sins are imputed to him (which Paul denies in the strongest way possible as I have shown above), then is he still justified? On the contrary, if someone’s sins will never be imputed to him, then wouldn’t that been he can never lose his justification, of which the non-imputation of sin is an essential component?

    I have searched on Catholic Answers as well as through Robert Sungenis’ book on justification. So far I have not seen any Catholic address the use of the aorist/emphatic negation subjunctive in Romans 4:8.

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