Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Protestant Verses: Can Dave Armstrong Exegete This Passage?
12/30/2004 - James WhiteI'd like to ask Dave Armstrong to provide a biblically solid, textually grounded, linguistically accurate, contextually sound interpretation of Romans 4:6-8:
Romans 4:6-8 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD will not impute sin."
I scanned through The Catholic Verses and couldn't find a reference to this passage (I may have missed it); I looked at the Scripture index to A Biblical Defense of Catholicism and it is not listed. I tried googling Armstrong's blog and website, but got no hits on various ways of listing the passage. If Armstrong has already written something that fits this request, I will be glad to look at it upon referral. But, failing that, I would simply ask: "Who is the blessed man of Romans 4:6-8 in Roman Catholic theology?" I would assume Armstrong possesses a copy of The God Who Justifies (though it is not referred to in his new book, which is especially interesting regarding the 24 page chapter on James 2:14-24 that Armstrong neglects in his book), but should he not, allow me to reproduce the exegesis I offered of this section. I would be very interested in a response-in-kind from Mr. Armstrong. (Please forgive any formatting issues, the lack of italics, and of the footnotes that are in the original. Please refer to the published work for those details):
So even David himself speaks regarding the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
6 kaqavper kai; Daui;d levgei to;n makarismo;n tou' ajnqrwvpou w|/ oJ
qeo;" logivzetai dikaiosuvnhn cwri;" e[rgwn:
Paul is not here leaving Genesis 15:6 and Abraham. He is simply bringing in further confirmation from a statement of David. He is not shifting the focus to David, to David's life, or anything of the kind.
The appeal to David and to the psalm which is here attributed to him is not, however, independent of that demonstration drawn from the case of Abraham. It is confirmatory or, to use Meyer's expression, "accessory".
Instead, he is very specific in his understanding of the quotation he provides from the 32nd Psalm (Psalm 31 in the Septuagint). He says David spoke of a particular kind of blessing (makarismo;n ) upon a certain "man" (ajnqrwvpou ). He does not say this blessing was limited to, or even focused upon, David. The use of "man" indicates a wider context than David, or even Abraham. Instead, this is a blessing that belongs to all men and women to whom righteousness is imputed apart from, separate from, works. This gives us yet another "inspired interpretation" of an Old Testament passage. Paul gives us the proper understanding up front, so to speak: he quotes Psalm 32 solely to illustrate the imputation of righteousness apart from works (cwri;" e[rgwn ), for this is supportive of the thesis he continues to demonstrate regarding the means by which Abraham himself was justified. 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.
Surely this passage supports the previously demonstrated teaching that imputation does not subjectively change a person but instead treats them as if they are in possession of what is imputed to them. Hodge commented,
The words are levgei to;n makarismo;n , 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. 'To impute sin,' is to lay sin to the charge of any one, and to treat him accordingly, as is universally admitted; so 'to 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. To impute righteousness is the apostle's definition of the term to justify. It is not making men inherently righteous, or morally pure, but it is regarding and treating them as just. This is done, not on the ground of personal character or works, but on the ground of the righteousness of Christ.
7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the one against whom the Lord does not count sin."
7 makavrioi w|n ajfevqhsan aiJ ajnomivai kai; w|n ejpekaluvfqhsan aiJ aJmartivai:
8 makavrio" ajnh;r ¢ou| ouj mh; logivshtai kuvrio" aJmartivan.
The quotation provided by Paul is directly from the Septuagint, word-for-word. The triad of blessings are not upon three different men but upon the same "man" to which Paul refers. Therefore, the three descriptions are to be taken together: the forgiveness of the lawless deeds is equivalent to the covering of sins. And if this is the case, then both of these are equivalent to the non-imputation of sins in verse 8.
John Murray, combining depth of scholarship with the passion of the believing theologian, saw the centrality of this section of Scripture to the definition of justification by faith. His comments are not only worthy of citation, but of close examination:
What David spoke of in terms of the non-imputation and forgiveness of sin Paul interprets more positively as the imputation of righteousness.
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.
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.
Murray is again referring to the Roman Catholic concept of doing good works in a state of grace with the result that these good works are meritorious in God's sight. He rightly denies this is Paul's view, for the biblical view is wholly based upon the gracious remission of sins and the perfection of imputed righteousness, not inherent or "state of grace" righteousness.
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.
The last line in the above citation should be repeated. If Murray is rightly following the argument of the Apostle, as he most assuredly is, the argument is indeed conclusive. Paul has not moved to some other issue than justification by citing David's words. He is still speaking of justification, the imputation of righteousness apart from meritorious works. Paul then is saying that the remission of sin and the non-imputation of sin of 4:5-8 is correlative with the doctrine of justification he is defending. Therefore, since remission of sin is, beyond all dispute and question, a forensic declaration, so, too, must justification be a forensic declaration on the part of God. No one can possibly deny that to remit sin is to speak of an action that requires a judge with the authority to pronounce sentence, and then to remit sentence. So, if remission of sin is being seen as correlative with justification by the Apostle, it follows that justification is, as we have already proven, but now confirm beyond dispute, a forensic, legal declaration on the part of God the Father regarding the believer, based upon the work of another, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The appeal to David and to Psalm 32:1, 2, in addition to that said of Abraham, is for the purpose of demonstrating that what 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.
Murray has touched upon the key difference between those who come to these passages with their traditions and systems of authority and those who come with a commitment to sola scriptura and a desire to hear only what is spoken by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. Man's religions focus upon man, man's works, man's merits, and limit God to the gracious "way-maker," who works out a plan but then leaves it to the creature to succeed, or fail, as the case may be. But the Apostle saw that such systems missed the heart and soul of what God has done in Christ. The greatest blessing is not receiving sufficient grace so as to be able to do good works in a state of grace so as to receive, at least in part, a reward of eternal life. The greatest blessing is to be forgiven of sin.
Who is the Blessed Man?
This brings us to a question that must be answered by every person who believes the Bible to be God's Word. Who is the blessed man of Romans 4:8? It seems an obvious question. The Apostle tells us the blessed man in 4:6 is the one to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works. But verse eight, as we have seen, defines this in terms of non-imputation of sin. So who is the blessed man?
The religions of men cannot answer this question. Man's religions, centered as they are upon man's works and merits and will, must, as a result, lack a perfect Savior who can save in and of himself, without the aid of the creature. Their systems, drawing from the nearly universal synergism of human religiosity, always make room for man's success, or failure, in "doing things," whether they be called sacraments, rituals, works, or good deeds, so that the final outcome of "salvation" is always in doubt. And if these systems contain any kind of belief in a punishment after life, there must be some means of holding man accountable for the sins committed during life. Without a perfect sin-bearer, the issue of unforgiven sin, rightly "imputed" to the one who committed it, must have resolution.
But it is just here that the question we are asking comes into full play. Who is the blessed man to whom the Lord will not impute sin? If a religion claims to follow the Bible and yet has no meaningful answer to this question, its error is immediately manifest. But before we press the question home, there are two issues about the passage itself that must be addressed.
First, as was noted above, there is a textual variant in the underlying Greek text. The Majority Text (and hence the KJV and NKJV) read, "to whom the Lord shall not impute sin," following the reading of w|/, to whom. The Nestle-Aland text, and hence modern translations such as the NASB and NIV, read "whose sin the Lord will not take into account." The NET, while following the Nestle-Aland text, in essence follows a middle road, interpreting the phrase in such a way as to render the variant meaningless, and truly, there is no real difference in the two readings, as far as the actual thrust of the passage goes.
The second issue is how we should understand the phrase ouj mh; logivshtai kuvrio" aJmartivan , "the Lord will not impute sin." Commentaries, even the best, are almost silent in discussing this issue. Often Old Testament citations are passed over unless there is a reason to go into some discussion of their text. It is taken almost as a given that the writer uses the form of the Septuagint as a default text, and only if there is an alteration is much attention devoted to the grammar and syntax of the citation. But at this point we wish to suggest that something important must be noted in the syntax of the passage.
ouj mh; logivshtai is an aorist subjunctive of strong denial, sometimes called the emphatic negation subjunctive. The aorist subjunctive is the strongest form of denial. Given the base meaning of the subjunctive, the aorist subjunctive denies the possibility of a future event. That is, it denies potentiality, saying something simply cannot and will not be. The aorist subjunctive is used primarily in the sayings of Jesus (John 6:37, 10:28, 11:26) and in quotations from the Septuagint, such as here. It is often soteriologically significant. That is, Jesus twice denies He will ever fail in His work of salvation by using the aorist subjunctive (John 6:37, 10:28), and other passages such as Hebrews 13:5 fall into the same category.
Now if we take the classic meaning of the aorist subjunctive in this passage we have the nature of the blessing being defined as the denial of the possibility of the imputation of sin to the believer. 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. In either case, that sin cannot, in any fashion, be imputed to the believer.
But there is indication in the passage that Paul has chosen this text from Psalm 32 specifically to make the very point that the believers sin en toto will never be imputed to him. The signs that point to this conclusion are two: first, Paul ends his quotation in the middle of a verse in Psalm 32. He chose what he cited for a reason, and surely he knew what the aorist subjunctive indicated. Secondly, join this with the fact that we already know that Paul is interpreting the non-imputation of sin in 4:8 as the direct equivalent of the imputation of righteousness apart from works from 4:6, and the key fact is then brought into play. 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. 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!
And so with these issues addressed, we ask the question again: who is the blessed man? The blessed man in Paul's context is the believer, the one who, having given up all hope of personal righteousness, has put his or her faith and trust in the God who justifies the ungodly. This one is imputed a perfect righteousness, his or her sins having been borne substitutionarily by Christ on the cross. This is the blessed man.