Augustine – Promise and Predestination

In his work The Predestination of the Saints, Augustine argues that God brings about the very faith and good works that lead to man’s salvation. In the course of the argument, he brings up the promise God made to Abraham. The very nature of a promise, Augustine asserts, is that it must be accomplished by the one who made it. What God promises, he must himself fulfill. Since God promised “the faith of the nations” to Abraham, faith must come ultimately from God, not man:

God therefore promised to Abraham in his offspring the faith of the nations when he said, I have made you the father of many nations (Gn 17:4-5). Because of this the Apostle says, Therefore, on the basis of faith in order that the promise according to grace may be firm for every descendant (Rom 4:16). God made this promise not on the basis of the power of our will but on the basis of his predestination. For he promised what he himself was going to do, not what human beings were going to do. For, though human beings do good actions which pertain to worshiping God, he himself brings it about that they do what he commands; they do not bring it about that he does what he promised. Otherwise, it would lie not in God’s power but in the power of human beings that God’s promises are kept, and human beings themselbes would give to Abraham what God promised.

But Abraham did not believe in that way; rather, giving glory to God, he believed that he is also able to do what he promised (Rom 4:20-21). He does not say, To foretell; he does not say, To foreknow. For he can also foretell and foreknow what others do. Rather, he says, He is also able to do—and, for this reason, to do, not what others do, but what he himself does. (praed. sanct. 10.19, trans. Roland Teske)

Published in: on February 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Christ’s Resurrection and Paul’s Apostolic Authority

“Paul, an apostle.” The Epistle to the Galatians unveils, more than any other writing, the Apostle Paul’s understanding of his own calling and commission. Augustine mines Paul’s salutation for theological sustenance. In particular, he meditates on the ramifications of the apostle being not from human beings (non ab hominibus) nor through a human being (non per hominem). He exploits the difference between the Latin “ab,” indicating ultimate source, and “per,” indicating instrumentality. He is right to make this distinction, as the Latin reflects the Greek απο and δια.

Anyone sent from human beings is untruthful. Someone sent through a human being may be truthful, because God who is truthful may send through a human being. Therefore someone sent neither from human beings nor through a human being but through God is truthful because of him who makes truthful even those sent through a human being. Thus the earlier apostles, who were sent not from human beings but by God through a human being—that is, through Jesus Christ while he was still mortal—were truthful. And the last apostle, who was sent by Jesus Christ now wholly God after his resurrection, is also truthful. The earlier apostles are those sent by Christ while he was still in part a human being, that is, mortal; the last is the apostle Paul, sent by Christ now wholly God, that is, immortal in every respect. The authority of Paul’s witness should therefore be regarded as equal to theirs, since the glorification of the Lord compensated for any lack of honour attributable to the lateness of his commission. For this reason when he said, and God the Father, he added, who raised him from the dead, so as to state, if only briefly, that he was sent by the Glorified One.

Referring to Jesus as “still in part a human being” and “now wholly God” is alarming. However, Augustine doesn’t seem to intend anything by this except a distinction between Christ’s mortal human nature and his post-resurrection immortal nature.  “Mortal” and “divine”  are routinely contrasted in the Fathers. More interesting is the issue of Paul’s late calling. If Augustine is correct, Paul was executing an aikido throw, employing his opponent’s own momentum to disarm them.

Some Galatians might assume that the first apostles would rank higher than any subsequent apostles, just as some contemporary theologians rank the early Fathers higher than subsequent doctors of the Church. Perhaps later apostles would even derive their authority from earlier ones. However, Paul leverages his late apostolic status to his advantage by pointing out its source. Whereas the other apostles were commissioned during Christ’s period of humiliation, in which he took the form of a servant, Paul alone was appointed directly by the risen Christ, in the form of God.

Though neither Paul nor Augustine explicitly reference the Great Commission, it is there that the risen Christ declares that “all authority” (εξουσια) is given to him. We might read between both Augustine’s and Paul’s statements that, if push came to shove, a delegate of the risen Christ might be even more authoritative than the appointees of the mortal Jesus. In any case, Paul’s installation directly by Christ rules out any possibility of inferior status.

Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Machen, Two Ages, and Galatians

J. Gresham Machen wrote a series of articles on the book of Galatians for Christianity Today. His explanation of justification would now be called “Lutheran” or “old perspective.” Proponents of a “new perspective” emphasize Galatians as a story of the dawn of a new age, a new state of affairs inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ. Some of them reason that an eschatological reading of Galatians necessitates modifying the “Lutheran” doctrine of justification, which is individualistic and misleading. Machen notes the eschatological orientation of Galatians, yet maintains its harmony with a traditional doctrine of justification.

The doctrine of the two ages was a well-known Jewish doctrine at the time of our Lord and of His apostles. Ultimately the doctrine had an Old Testament basis in such passages as the prophecy in Isaiah 65: 17-25 regarding the new heavens and the new earth. The later Jews were quite in accordance with Old Testament teaching when they looked forward to a new and glorious age which was to take the place of the present age of misery and sin.

But at this point an important difference enters in. The difference is that according to the Jews a man must be either in one age or in the other, whereas according to Paul (and really also according to Jesus) a man, through Christ, can already, here and now, be free from the present age and a citizen of the future kingdom. In one sense we look to the future for our salvation, but in another sense we have it here and now. Outwardly we are still in the present evil age, but inwardly we are already free from its bondage.

The double aspect of salvation—in one sense, future; in another sense, present—runs all through apostolic teaching, and is quite basic in true Christian life of all ages. Here in Galatians it is especially the present aspect of salvation that is in view. “You have already been made free from the present evil age,” Paul says to the Galatians; “what folly then it is to return into bondage! Christ died to set you free; will you then do despite to His love by becoming again slaves?”

It is a freedom, first of all, from sin—freedom from its guilt and freedom from its power. But the freedom from sin brings also a freedom from this whole evil world. What cares the true Christian what the world may do; what cares he what ill fortune, as the world looks upon it, may bring? These things hold the unredeemed in bondage, but over the redeemed man they have no power.

The Christian does indeed live still in this world. It is a travesty on this Pauline doctrine when it is held to mean that when he escapes, inwardly, from the present evil world by the redeeming work of Christ the Christian can calmly leave the world to its fate. On the contrary, Christian men, even after they have been redeemed, are left in this world, and in this world they have an important duty to perform.

In the first place, they do not stand alone, but are united in the great brotherhood of the Christian Church. Into that brotherhood it is their duty to invite other men by the preaching of the gospel; and they should pray that that preaching, through the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit in the new birth, may be efficacious, and that the great brotherhood may expand yet more and more.

In the second place, Christians should by no means adopt a negative attitude toward art, government, science, literature, and the other achievements of mankind, but should consecrate these things to the service of God. The separateness of the Christian from the world is not to be manifested, as so many seem to think that it should be manifested, by the presentation to God of only an impoverished man; but it is to be manifested by the presentation to God of all man’s God-given powers developed to the full. That is the higher Christian humanism, a humanism based not upon human pride but upon the sold foundation of the grace of God.

But these considerations do not make any less radical the step of which Paul speaks. It remains true that the Christian has escaped from this present age—from this present world with all its sin and all its pride. The Christian continues to live in the world, but he lives in it as its master and not as its slave. He can move the world because at last he has a place to stand. (30-32)

New perspective exegetes have offered genuine insights, but as a rule have exaggerated their own novelty. A thorough survey of commentaries on Galatians would show that many older Protestant commentators did indeed recognize the redemptive-historical dimensions of Galatians, but insisted they serve the doctrine of justification rather than the other way around. As in a fine musical piece, so much hinges on where the accent falls.

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Purpose of Galatians

Why did Paul write Galatians? Theologians, dead in body but alive in spirit, offer some answers:


The reason the Apostle writes to the Galatians is so they may understand what it is that God’s grace accomplishes for them: they are no longer under the law. For though the grace of the gospel had been preached to them, there were some form the circumcision who still did not grasp the real benefit of grace. Despite being called Christians, they still wanted to be under the burdens of the law—burdens that the Lord God had imposed not on those serving righteousness but on those serving sin. That is, he had given a righteous law to unrighteous people to point out their sins, not take them away. He takes away sins only by the grace of faith, which works through love.


It is obvious to everyone, even at first glance, that this letter breathes an indignant spirit. But I must explain the cause of Paul’s anger against his disciples. It could not be something small and unimportant or he would not have used such intensity. Only small-minded, gloomy, and bad-tempered people are annoyed by ordinary matters, just as lazy and listless people lose heart in important matters. Paul was not that kind of person. What then was the offence which aroused him? It was serious and important, one which was separating them all from Christ, as he himself says further on, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all” (Gal 5:2); and again, “You who are trying to be justified by law … you have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4).


St. Paul wrote this epistle because, after his departure from the Galatian churches, Jewish-Christian fanatics moved in, who perverted Paul’s Gospel of man’s free justification by faith in Christ Jesus.

The world bears the Gospel a grudge because the Gospel condemns the religious wisdom of the world. Jealous for its own religious views, the world in turn charges the Gospel with being a subversive and licentious doctrine, offensive to God and man, a doctrine to be persecuted as the worst plague on earth.

As a result we have this paradoxical situation: The Gospel supplies the world with the salvation of Jesus Christ, peace of conscience, and every blessing. Just for that the world abhors the Gospel.

Published in: on June 10, 2011 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment