Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Dear Catholic.com visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Dear Catholic.com visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Who Are the Poor in Spirit and the Pure of Heart?

Episode 10: Year A–Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

In this episode of the Sunday Catholic Word, we look at two details that have relevance to doing apologetics. The first, which is Jesus’ teaching on poverty in spirit and purity in heart, comes from the Gospel reading, which is the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12a. The other, which is Paul’s teaching on the “righteousness of Christ,” comes from the second reading, which is 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Both details have to do with the of nature of justification.

The Readings: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012923.cfm

Looking for Sunday Catholic Word Merchandise? Look no further! https://shop.catholic.com/catholic-answers-merchandise/?q=sunday


The Sunday Catholic Word

Episode 10

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

 

 

Hey everyone,

 

Welcome to The Sunday Catholic Word, a podcast where we reflect on the upcoming Sunday Mass readings and pick out the details that are relevant for explaining and defending our Catholic faith.

 

I’m Karlo Broussard, staff apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers, and the host for this podcast.

 

In this episode, we’re going to look at two details that have some relevance to doing apologetics. One comes from the Gospel reading, which is the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12a and the other comes from the second reading, which is 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Both have to do with the of nature of justification.

 

I’m not going to read the whole Gospel passage here. You can do that on your own. The two beatitudes that I want to focus on are “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3) and “blessed are the pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8).

 

What I’d like to highlight first is the intrinsic nature of being poor in spirit and being pure in heart. Poverty in spirit entails an interior detachment from worldly goods. It’s determinative of the order that our will has relative to earthly goods and God.

 

Likewise, purity in heart is determinative of the interior ordering of our wills. In the Bible, the “heart” signifies the inner core of the person from which thoughts, words, actions, and emotions have their origin. As our Lord says, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matt. 15:18). And what comes from the heart can either make us pure or defiled. In fact, after Jesus tells us that our words come from our hearts, he speaks of such things as defiling a man. What proceeds from heart is determinative of our interior character—whether pure or defiled.

 

So, poverty of spirit and purity in heart have to do with an interior state of holiness.

 

Now, the two Beatitudes that we’re looking at—poverty in spirit and purity in heart, each of which entail an interior state of holiness—are both conditions for entering heaven, i.e., the Beatific Vision. Here is where we can connect the two Beatitudes with the concept of justification.

 

In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus teaches, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter, or by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” The first thing to note is that the condemnation that Jesus speaks of here is eternal damnation, since this is a condemnation that is received on the day of judgment (v.6).

 

Now, the opposite of eternal damnation is eternal life in heaven. But in this passage Jesus describes that which is opposite of eternal damnation as a state of being justified or having a right relationship with God. It follows, therefore, that to have eternal life in heaven is to be justified. In fact, it’s the perfect or complete state of justification.

 

Now, we said above that a basis or ground for having eternal life in heaven is our interior state of holiness—poverty in spirit and purity in heart. Since to have eternal life in heaven is to be justified—to have a right relationship with God, it follows that our interior state of holiness is a basis or ground for being justified.

 

Why is this important?

 

Some Protestants believe that our interior state of holiness is not a basis or ground for having a right relationship with God, or for being justified. This is not true given what we’ve shown above that poverty in spirit and purity in heart—both of which entail an interior state of holiness—are a basis or ground for having a right relationship with God in heaven.

 

Moreover, it shows that the Bible is congruent with Catholic teaching that the ground for our being in a right relationship with God (to be justified) is an intrinsic righteousness that God brings about in us. The two Beatitudes that we’ve focused on here don’t show that our intrinsic righteousness is the sole ground for our justification, which is what the Council of Trent taught, but it does show that our intrinsic righteousness is at least a basis or ground for our justification. More work would have to be done to show that it is the sole basis.

 

The second detail that we’re going to look at in this episode comes from the second reading, which comes from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. The key verse is verse 30, where Paul says, “It is due to him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”

 

Some Protestants appeal to Paul’s statement that Christ is “our righteousness” as biblical evidence for the belief that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us—that’s to say, God credits to our account the very righteousness of Christ, and it’s solely in virtue of His righteousness that we are justified or have a right relationship with God.[1] On this view, our interior state of holiness has nothing to do with our justification. This view is sometimes called “forensic justification.”

 

Does this passage support this view? In short, no. But there are a few twists and turns before we arrive at that answer.

 

Anglican New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, in his book What Paul Really Said (pg.124), gives one possible response, a response that takes the form of a reductio ad absurdum—reducing something to its absurdity. Many have followed suit.[2] He argues that if we’re going to say that this passage proves that Christ’s own righteousness is imputed to us, then we must be prepared to say that Christ’s wisdom is imputed to us as well, along with His sanctification and redemption, since all three are listed along with righteousness. But Christians generally don’t speak of wisdom, sanctification, and redemption as being imputed to us. Therefore, we shouldn’t read this text as supporting the view that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.

 

On the face of it, this seems like a persuasive response. However, some have countered that Wright’s argument assumes that the mode of communication for each of the benefits that Christ brings us—wisdom, sanctification, redemption, and righteousness—be the same. But this is an assumption that some scholars reject.

 

One reason is that the construction of the verse in Greek doesn’t require it. Consider that the single passive verb ginomai, translated as “has been made” (or in some translations “become”), is completed by four different nouns: “wisdom,” “righteousness,” “holiness,” and “redemption.” For Wright, the single verb “become” is governing the mode of communication for each of the nouns, such that if imputation is the mode of communication of one of the nouns, then it must be so for all the others.

 

But this is not necessarily true. There are several places in the Septuagint where we find the same Greek construction as in 1 Corinthians 1:30: the single verb ginomai used with two or more noun complements. Yet, in these passages the nouns that complete the single verb each imply a process or mode of becoming that is unique to themselves, even though the multiple nouns complete the single verb syntactically.[3]

 

One illustrative passage is Exodus 19:16, were we read, “On the morning of the third day there was [Gk. ginomai] thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.” Notice that there are several nouns that all complete the single ginomai: thunder and lightning, a thick cloud, and a trumpet blast. According to Wright’s interpretative principle of 1 Corinthians 1:30, the mode in which each of these things are brought about must be the same. But surely, the process by which thunder and lightning come about shouldn’t be imposed upon the trumpet blast. Each have their own proper mode of becoming proper to it even though syntactically they all complete the single verb ginomai.

 

Another example is found in the New Testament: John 10:1—“there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”  “There shall be” translates ginomai. And this single verb has the two complement nouns “flock” and “shepherd.” But surely the mode of becoming one flock shouldn’t be imposed upon the mode of becoming one shepherd. They are as different as sheep are from a shepherd.

 

So, Wright is wrong to assume that the mode in which each of the complement nouns is brought about must be uniform. It’s possible that they could have their own distinct mode of “having been made.”

 

But this doesn’t mean that Protestants who appeal to this passage in support of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is in the clear. They make a problematic assumption as well—namely, that the precise way in which Christ “becomes” these various things for us, or the mode in which each of these things is made or brought about, is not uniform. For example, it’s believed that the gift of righteousness is imputed to us in a legal sense and that the redemption is brought about by Christ buying us back through His death on the cross, each of which is entirely different than making us holy through sanctification. They are different categories, so it’s argued, and we shouldn’t impose one upon the other.

 

Now, there are only two ways that a Protestant can make this claim: either the text itself reveals that these benefits have their own distinct modes of “having been made” or the distinct modes are presupposed based on other texts.

 

The former option doesn’t work. There’s nothing in the text itself that shows precisely how these gifts are communicated to us. It only says that Christ has become these things for us, which leaves open the possibility for the variety of interpretations.

 

Take the benefit of righteousness, for example. It only says that Christ became our righteousness. If we interpret that to mean the gift of righteousness comes from Christ, as we interpret the gifts of wisdom, redemption, and sanctification as coming from Christ, then it’s ambiguous as to the precise way or mode in which this benefit comes from Christ.

 

It could be by way of imputation. But it could also come from Christ in the sense that Christ efficiently causes righteousness within us. And in that sense Christ has become our righteousness. Or it could be interpreted as coming from Christ in the sense that he is the meritorious cause of our righteousness—that’s to say, he merited for us the grace that makes us intrinsically righteous.

 

Given that the text itself doesn’t indicate precisely how Christ becomes our righteousness, or our wisdom, redemption, and sanctification, a Protestant can’t claim that each benefit is communicated to us according to its own distinct mode from the text itself. This being the case, he can only make this claim by presupposing it based on other texts.

 

Even D.A. Carson acknowledges this. He writes,

 

Those who are in Christ find that Christ has become for them everything needed for salvation. The precise way in which Christ “becomes” these various elements [including righteousness] can only be unpacked by what is said elsewhere.[4]

 

Similarly, Matthew Olliffee, an advocate for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness doctrine, in response to Wright’s above argument, writes,

 

[I]t is the well-established Pauline usage of the “righteousness” terms that suggests that it is given to a sinful person by imputation. The extrinsic features within the context of 1Corinthians 1:30 (“Christ has been made … from God … for us”) operate to confirm it.[5]

 

The problem with this option is that it undermines the very appeal to 1 Corinthians 1:30 as biblical support for the idea that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. Recall, the reason why we brought this passage up for apologetical discussions is because some Protestants appeal to it to justify their view that our justification is grounded in Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us.

 

If a Protestant assumes that the mode in which the “righteousness” spoken of here in 1 Corinthians 1:30 is communicated to us is by way of imputation, then 1 Corinthians 1:30 can’t be used as biblical support for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It would be the other texts that establish the presupposition that would be doing the work.

 

So, we can conclude that the appeal to 1 Corinthians 1:30 in support of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness doctrine is unsuccessful.

 

Well, that does it for this episode of The Sunday Catholic Word. We have a single apologetical topic that comes up in different ways from both the Gospel and the 2nd Reading: the nature of justification.

 

Thank you for subscribing to the podcast. Please be sure to tell your friends about it and invite them to subscribe as well. I hope that you have a great 4th Sunday of ordinary time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See George Whitefield, Ten Sermons Preached on Various Important Subjects (Ann Arbor: Text Creation Partnership, 2011), Sermon VI, p. 128.

[2] See ?????, in Brant Pitre, Michael P. Barber, John A. Kincaid, Paul: A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2019), 181.

[3] Such passages from the Septuagint are Exod. 9:28; 19:16; Lev. 22:13; 2 Chron. 17:5; 18:1; 32:27; Ps. 108:9; Prov. 4:3; Sirach 4:29.

[4] D.A. Carson, “The Vindication of Imputation: On Fields of Discourse and Semantic Fields,” in Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, eds. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 76; emphasis added.

[5] Matthew Olliffe, “Does 1 Corinthians 1:30 Imply Imputed Righteousness,” Bible & Theology, September 25, 2018, https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/1-corinthians-130-imply-imputed-righteousness/.

Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!Donatewww.catholic.com/support-us