Saturday, August 28, 2010

Excellent Point By Greg!

In the discussion of the last post, we move into talking about the imputation of the sin of Adam to the human race.  I noted that this concept was never universally accepted by Lutherans or clearly defined by our confessional documents.  Pieper seems to suggest it's an open question.  

Greg notes that the concept of the imputation of Adam might very well be important because of its parallel to universal and objective justification.  He writes:

"For many years I saw little value in the doctrine of imputed Adamic sin. Lately I have been seeing more value to the doctrine because of its parallelism to the doctrine of Objective Justification. Perhaps we have a line of historical development in our understanding of the Gospel that goes like this: Augustine imputed Adamic sin to all- Anselm- All sin imputed to Christ- Luther- Christ's righteousness imputed to the believer- Walther- This righetousness imputed to all but only recieved by the believer."

It's an interesting suggestion.  I would take two exceptions (and Greg is free to disagree with me of course).  First, I would not read Anselm as suggesting that sin is imputed to Christ.  Rather, Anselm teaches that Christ won a superabundance of merit which was capable of covering sins by doing more than he really had to do.  He himself was not imputed as a sinner.  That was uniquely Luther's idea in the early Psalms commentary and it later moved into Protestant orthodoxy.  Luther was the first person to claim that the penitential Psalms should be read as the prayers of Christ.  He believed that Christ was simul justus et peccator as well, just the other way around than us.  You can also see this very heavily reflected in the late Galatians commentary.

Secondly, I would suggest (as I did in a number of Luther quote that I have cited several times) that Luther clearly did teach universal and objective justification, even if he doesn't use the terminology.  As Robert Preus also shows, so did Lutheran orthodoxy.  I would recommend people read his piece on Quenstedt's atonement theology.  Quenstedt states in no uncertain terms that Christ objectively justified everyone.

Great comment Greg and very interesting stuff!


  1. I found your Luther quotes on Objective Justification facinating and persuasive. There is one quote though that seems to militate against objective justification at least in the sense that Luther here handles Romans 5 differently then we do. This is from Luther's Sermon on John 1 in Lenker's translation:"And I cannot reject this interpretation; for St. Paul also speaks in like manner in Rom. 5, 18: "As through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men unto justification of life." Although all men are not justified through Christ, he is, nevertheless, the only man through whom justification comes." To find this on the web in context see Luther seems to speak here in a way that I would not since I believe in Objective Justification.

  2. I don't think that this problematic because I think Luther is just talking about the application of justification. Again, I don't think we need to suggest that Luther used the terms "universal justification" or whatever to say he held to it. We just need to be able to see the concept there. And because Luther taught that God atoned for all sin in the cross and offered salvation for all, I think we can posit that he did hold to the concept.

  3. It sounds like in your description of Anselm that the atonement consisted of Christ's active obedience- that is Christ's death on the cross is a meritorious act which can be used to cancel our sin debt. You also seem to be suggesting that Luther was the first to come up with (if I am understanding your point about the imputation of sin to Christ correctly) the doctrine of Christ's passive obedience- what the reformed call penal substitution. Am I undestanding you correctly? I know I am using terminology of later Lutheran orthodoxy that neither Anselm or Luther would have used but am I understanding you correctly?

  4. Regarding imputation of sin, I think you can find the idea of the passive righteousness in the Church Fathers- notably Tertullian, Athanasius, Cyril and John of Damascus. It's really not talked about though as an imputation of sin directly. There is a direct idea that punishment for sin is happenng in the crucifixion.

    You are correct about Anselm. Anselm views Christ's death not really as punishment, but as a payment of merit. In other words, it's an act of superogation. He lived a virtuous life, so he didn't really have to die. It's not really punishment- though it is compensation of merit. Also, there's no idea of imputation of sin. I really think Luther is the first person to really develop this idea outside the New Testament. Again, I think it's present elsewhere, but undeveloped in other theologians.