Wednesday, January 26, 2011

LCMS Pastor Vernon Harley - Reconciliation - 2 Cor 5:19ff

By Norma Boeckler













EXEGESIS ON II CORINTHIANS 5 : 19

This is another text used as basis for the so-called objective or universal
justification. It is considered one of the major sedes doctrinae     . We therefore
need to consider it carefully.

However, first there are a number of observations that need to be made.
1) Invariably this verse is quoted and interpreted apart from its context, as
though it were an independent sentence disconnected from v. 18. In effect it
is only part of the complete sentence which begins with V. 18. Grammatically
the two clauses are tied together. 2) Usually those who teach this universal
justification interpret this verse to mean “God was reconciled” instead of “God
was reconciling the world.” The following is a classic example found in F.
Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics II, P. 348:

When Christ died, God became reconciled. As Christ’s death lies in the pst, so also our
reconciliation is an accomplished fact, 2 Cor. 5: 19: “God was in Christ, reconciling” (namely,
when Christ lived and died on earth) “the world unto himself.” The katallassein of Rom. 5:10
and 2 Cor. 5: 19 does not refer - let this fact be noted - to any change that occurs in men, but
describes an occurrence in the heart of God. It was God who laid His anger by on account of the
ransom brought by Christ. It was God who at that time already had in His heart forgiven the
sins of the Whole world, for the statement: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto
Himself” meant - and that is not our, but eh Apostle’s own interpretation - that God did “not
impute their trespasses unto them”. And “not imputing trespasses” is, according to Scripture
(Rom. 4: 6-8), synonymous with “forgiving sins,” “justifying” the sinner. The resurrection of
Christ, is as Holy Writ teaches, the actual absolution of the whole world of sinners. Rom. 4: 25:
“Who was raised for our justification.” At that time we were objectively declared free from sin.”

3) Notice that in the above quotation the time of the justifying action is placed
at the time of Christ’s life an death on earth, also that justification of the whole
world took place then. At the time of Christ’s resurrection all mankind was
objectively declared free from sin, i.e., justified, forgiven. In effect, II Cor. 5: 19
is made to read:

At the time of Christ’s life, death and resurrection God was in Christ
reconciling himself to the world, not imputing their sins unto them.

That appears from the very beginning to reverse the meaning of the text.

Let us now look both at the context and the text itself to see if the




1








above meaning can or should be read into the text: Questions that need
consideration are: 1) When was or is reconciliation accomplished? 2) Who is
the object of reconciliation? 3) Does this text teach universal justification?

II Cor. 5:19

THE CONTEXT

Going back to V. 12, we notice that St. Paul is speaking of the ministry
which God had committed to him and his coworkers. It is a glorious ministry,
and he wants the Corinthians to be able to “glory on our behalf” so they will not
be deceived by false ministers who “glory in appearance and not in heart.” That
seemingly left him and his coworkers open to the charge that they were “beside
themselves” because they were so zealous in proclaiming Christ and sticking to
that message regardless of the ridicule or persecution they might have to
endure (V. 13). It was for the sake of their hearers (the Corinthians) that they
were willing to suffer. Even more, it was because “because the love of Christ
constrains us.” Paul now expresses a judgment of his and his coworkers which
was behind their motivation. Actually, while it is a rational deduction, it is made
on the basis of Christ’s own teaching, that “One died for all,” that One being
Christ. What motivated Christ to do that? Paul’s answer is: “...then were all
dead.” He had compassion on all and died for all because all were dead through
sin. But there’s more, “He died for all, that they which live should not
henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose
again.”
Some already see universal justification in Vv 14 & 15 where it is twice
stated, “He died for all.” But that says nothing yet about justification. It
simply states for whom He died, namely, for those who were dead in sin. It
indeed teaches universal redemption       , or the universal vicarious death of Christ.
But if Paul were writing here about universal reconciliation, then one would
expect him to reason, “If One die for all, and all died (in God’s heart), He rose
for all so that all might live (in God’s heart). But he doesn’t. Instead, he
repeats “He died for all” and then brings in the further reason for Christ’s
redemptive work, namely, that “those who live should no longer live for
themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Those who “live”
are God’s believers who, having been brought to faith through the death and
resurrection of Christ, are now to live for and unto Christ.

Now in V. 16 Paul proceeds to show that the Christian faith is not based
on knowledge according to the flesh. Speaking again of himself and his




2








coworkers, Paul explains that their relationship to Christ was not one of physical
sight or contact, but of faith. Through such faith, he explains, we are “in
Christ.”

“Therefore,” Paul continues, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,
old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.” Clearly this
is not a statement about a change “in the heart of God,” but of the results of
Christ’s death and resurrection for and upon men, their coming to faith, their
becoming new creatures in Christ.

We now proceed to V. 18: “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled
us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of
reconciliation.” Here Paul clearly sets the time of the reconciliation he has in
mind. it is when he and his coworkers were converted and received the ministry
of reconciliation. In all of this, God is the Subject, the acting One; Paul, his
coworkers and those both who have this ministry and are being ministered to by
them are the objects. The Greek text literally would be translated: “All things
are of God, the One having reconciled us to Himself through Christ and having
given us the ministry of reconciliation...” Both “having reconciled”
(katalaxantos) and “having given” (dontos) are aorist participles (describing
action completed in the past). The first has “us” in the Greek accusative form
(hemas), the second in the dative form (hemin), in other words, direct and
indirect objects of the action. But God is the Reconciler and the Giver. It’s all
“of God.” There is absolutely no indication of any kind that God is the object of
either verb. He’s the acting subject of each clause. And the time of reference
is when Paul and his coworkers became new creatures in Christ through
conversion and when they received their ministry.

That establishes the context up to and including V. 18. Verse 19 is the
rest of the sentence begun in V. 18, in fact a further elaboration of V. 18. This
is clearly shown by conjunction “to wit” or “that is”, (Greek: hos hoti). Paul is
about to explain further what was taking place in all this when he and others
were being reconciled and given the ministry, “namely, God was in Christ,
reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has
committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Clearly, this verse explains
God’s outreach to the world through the ministry as sinners are converted and
they themselves are given this ministry. God is at work “in Christ,” where this
ministry takes place, reaching out to all the world bringing sinners to faith and
not imputing sins to them.





3








In this part of the sentence (V. 19) we have “was” (en) followed by three
participles, two in the present tense, one past or aorist. All three describe
what was taking place at the time of Paul, the giving of the ministry, and
continues to go on through this ministry or reconciliation. They are not
specifically referring to the death and resurrection of Christ, although certainly
that is the effective cause of the subsequent reconciliation and the ongoing
ministry. Precisely for this reason Paul calls his ministry one of reconciliation
(diakonian tes katallages). It is through such ministry that God through Christ
reaches out to the world, pleading with men and using those with this ministry
as “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us. “...be
reconciled to God” (V. 20).

In our circles we have become so accustomed to hearing V. 19 quoted
out of its context with the implication that this verse is referring to the time
when Christ died and rose again that it , reconciliation, is identified with
redemption and even with justification. The term “...was reconciling...not
imputing” used in this verse is considered a past and completed one-time act by
which He allegedly justified the whole world. Such interpretation ignores the
fact that even grammatically it can not have this meaning, namely the past and
completed meaning. Dr. R. C. H. Lenski rightly states that we ought then to
have three identical verb forms, saying: “God did reconcile, God did not
impute, God did deposit the ministry.” But that’s not how it is. The first two
verb forms are on-going past forms “was reconciling” and “was not imputing,”
while the third (an aorist participle) places the given of the ministry to Paul and
his coworkers after their conversion but prior to their on-going work of the on-
going ministry. If V. 19 set the death and resurrection of Christ as its time
reference, the giving of this ministry to Paul and his coworkers and ministry
itself would have been prior to the redemption worked by Christ. Neither the
context nor the grammatical structure allows for the teaching of a universal
reconciliation or justification.

To help us understand the structure of verses 18 & 19, a modern
situation put in a similar grammatical structure may serve. A few years ago the
President of the U. S. had a conflict with congress. Both houses were opposing
the President’s tax program, almost angry with him. So the President took the
initiative, working primarily through his Secretary of Treasury. Imagine several
congressmen saying:

It was all the President’s doing. He reconciled some of us through his Secretary
to himself and gave us the job of reconciling others, namely, that the President was through his




4








Secretary reconciling congress to himself, not holding their former behavior against them, and
having placed the work of reconciliation on us. Now then, we are ambassadors of the Secretary,
as though the President did beseech you by us.... Be reconciled to the President.

Would anyone, reading the above statement, think it was the president
who had undergone a change of heart or mind, or that he was the object of the
reconciling activity? Could the time described be other than that during which
the President through his secretary and those already reconciled were working
to bring congress around to his way of thinking? Or could anyone imagine from
the above statement that the PResident, while trying to convert congress, had
in effect undergone a change of heart and was declaring already reconciled and
acceptable in his sight even while they were opposing his intent? Had that been
the case, there would have been no need for the Secretary of the Treasury or
others to take up the task of reconciling enough of congress to pass his budget.

In like manner, if the whole world had been reconciled to God at the time
of the resurrection, if all wrath had been removed at that time from the heart of
God toward mankind, if all men had already been declared righteous and
acceptable to God, what need would there have been for a gospel ministry, for
repentance on the part of sinners, or for offering men the remission of sins
through the gospel since all sins had already been remitted? In this writer’s
opinion, a person simply cannot keep the gospel message in tact, nor even
one’s own purpose as a minister of Christ, if one consistently believes and
teaches a universal justification “prior to and apart from faith.” Such teaching
certainly is not found in Scripture.



OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE RECONCILIATION

Relating to the above, it seems only proper to point out that there is
nothing wrong with the terms “objective” and “subjective” reconciliation, i.e., if
these terms are properly understood. Objectively, reconciliation is entirely the
work of God. It is brought about by God’s initiative, motivated by His grace,
merited by Christ’s redemptive work, effected by the Holy Spirit through the
means of grace. God is the Agent, the acting subject of the verb reconcile     .
Man is the object. But man must be reconciled to God. He must be made
“thoroughly other”. That is the basic meaning of katallassein       , the Greek word
for reconcile     . That’s what happens when through the gospel a sinner is brought
to faith. He is clothed in Christ’s righteousness and made acceptable in God’s
sight. That aspect of reconciliation is practically identical with justification.
That’s being made and declared righteous in God’s sight  .



5









Subjective reconciliation is a changing of the heart and mind of man. This
too is worked by God through the Gospel. It causes man to take a different
attitude toward God. He begins to love and trust God instead of hating and
fearing Him. But that aspect of reconciliation - the change of heart and mind of
man toward God - is sanctification in the narrower sense and is never complete
in this life. Unlike our justification or acceptance by God which either is or is
not, our attitude toward God, our acceptance of Him, and our love toward God
are continually in need of improvement. That’s why the exhortation needs to be
directed continually even to the rest of Christians, “You, be reconciled to God.”


“GOD RECONCILED”

IN THE LUTHERAN CONFESSIONS


It should be recognized that our Lutheran Confessions do speak of God
being reconciled, almost as though the change had taken place in the heart of
God. At times they also use the term “reconciliation” as synonymous with
redemption. In the latter case, it is quite obvious that they do so in a
metonymical sense since redemption is the meritorious cause of reconciliation.
An example of this is found in the Formula of Concord, S.D., Art. XI, where the
order of salvation is spelled out in eight steps. The first of these reads:

God has ordained the following: 1. That through Christ the human race
has been redeemed and reconciled with God and that by his innocent obedience,
suffering and death, Christ has earned for us “the righteousness which avails
before God’ and eternal life. - Tappert, p. 619.

There it is plain that “reconcile” like “redeem” is used for the meriting and
earning by Christ of righteousness for all of mankind. It is not used as
synonymous with justification, which is the 4th step mentioned in the order.
It reads:

4. That he would justify and graciously accept into adoption of children
and into the inheritance of eternal life all who in sincere repentance and true
faith accept Christ.

Here justification is clearly connected with the gracious acceptance by God of
those who are brought to faith.

Again in the Apology (ARt. IV, 158, Tappert, P. 129 we read:
Justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake. Therefore it is clear that




6








we are justified by faith  , for it is sure that we receive the forgiveness of sins by
faith alone.

Here “reconciliation is used in its more specific sense as the acceptance
of the sinner who believes in Jesus, namely, for justification instead of for
redemption. The context usually makes it clear in the Lutheran Confessions in
what sense a particular term is used.

Another example is found in Apology IV, 50, Tappert 127: “Therefore it
must be faith that reconciles and justifies.” See also Apology IV, 158:

“Justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake. Therefore it is clear that we are
justified by faith, for it is sure that we receive forgiveness of sins by faith

alone.”

-P. 129.


“We are therefore obliged to disagree with our opponents on justification. The
Gospel shows another way. It teaches that through him we have access to ‘God
through faith (Rom. 5: 2), and that we should set him, the Mediator and
Propitiator, against the wrath of God. It teaches that by faith in Christ we
receive the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and victory over the terrors of sin
and death.” Tappert P. 152.

Notice from the above that justification is not considered a once-for-all
occurrence, but that if we are to be justified, we “must make use of Christ”, and
that “through faith” we have access to God, also that God is not considered as
having no more wrath. Rather, if the sinner is to escape the existing wrath of
God, he must by faith “set Christ, the Mediator and Propitiator, against the
wrath of God.’ Reconciliation ad justification before God are considered on-
going, continuous. They are matters about which the believer must continually
be concerned, and Christ’s mediatorial work is not considered to have ended on
Calvary. As we learn from 1 John 1: 9 - 2: 2, this is part of his on-going high
priestly office.



I John 2 : 2

The passage just referred to is another used in support of universal
justification. The passage reads: “And he is the propitiation for our sins; and
not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (KJV).





7








Again, those who try to see universal justification here almost never
consider the passage in its context. The context takes us at least back to verse
9 of the previous chapter, which does speak of justification, the forgiveness of
sins. But that verse shows that God forgives sins when we confess our sins to
Him. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to
cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It in no way says, “God already once and
for all forgave your sins, so you are forgiven forever whether you confess or
not.” Indeed, here redemption is referred to. Because Jesus shed His blood and
paid for all sins, now when we come to God trusting in Jesus and confessing our
sins, God who is faithful and just cannot and will not hold our sins against us.
We can count on that because He recognized and accepts His Son’s death as
sufficient payment for all. We continue to be justified. But if we think we do
not need Christ, that we have no sin, the result is that we remain in our sins, we
are not forgiven and Christ’s blood, though shed for all mankind, does not
cleanse us from sin. Then it is not God who is unfaithful or unjust when His
wrath is upon us, but we are the liars who try to make God appear as a liar (v.
10). It is then as Jesus said: “He who believes in the son has everlasting life;
and he who does not believe the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God
abides on him” (John 3: 36).

Now, proceeding to chapter 2: 1, the line of thought continues in which
St. John tells his readers not to sin, but “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate
with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He Himself is the propitiation
for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

Here John directs his readers to the risen and ascended Christ who as our
Mediator and High Priest, our parakleton with the Father represents us even now
and pleads our cause on the basis of the propitiation (hilasmos) which He
provided by shedding his own blood for all mankind. “Hilasmos” is the Greek
term used for the blood sprinkled by the High Priest on the “hilasterion,” the lid
on the Ark of Covenant which covered the accusing law in the Holy of Holies in
the O. T. temple. In V. 2 therefore Christ is called the propitiation because He
as fulfillment of that foreshadowed IS the COVERING that covers our sins, or
blots them out with His blood. This verse thus clearly teaches universal
redemption       . Although His blood was shed for all, if sinners are to be covered by
it, hidden and shielded from the wrath of God, they must make use of Him as
their Mediator and Propitiator, as stated above int he Apology to the Augsburg
Confession. It is when His shed blood is applied to us and we come to the
Father through faith in Jesus to be purged of sin that we have forgiveness of
sins and are accepted as saints in the sight of God.




8









We must also note the fact that the verb in V. 2 “is,” (estin) is in the
present tense. While the shedding of Christ’s blood was an act accomplished in
the past, its effective cleansing power in on-going and continuing. It frees men
from the wrath of God and from all condemnation as by its power sinners are
brought to repentance and faith and covered by His blood they approach God.
This is the thought conveyed also in Revelation 7: 4 where those saints who no
inhabit heaven are described as “arrayed in white robes” and who “have washed
their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” But nowhere in
Scripture are we told that the whole world had been declared righteous or
forgiven, or that all people have been given the status of saints. To preach that
would make confession of sins, repentance and faith unnecessary, hence also
our preaching itself.




JOHN 1 : 29

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

This passage, too, is appealed to by some to teach universal justification.
The reasoning is: John the Baptist pointed to and identified Jesus as the Lamb
who took away the sins of the world. Therefore when Jesus was crucified and
died His work was completed. All sins therefore were taken away. If there is
now no longer any sin standing between men and God, all men must be and are
forgiven.

It should be noted however, that while many translations have “takes
away” in this passage, the basic meaning of the Greek verb airo is to lift up, to
take up, to carry. Luther properly translated it as “carry” or “bear”. “Siehe, das
ist Gottes Lamm, welches der Welt Sunde trägt”. English: “...Who bears the
sins of the world.” The passage simply teaches the same truth found in Isaiah
53:4, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” And , “The Lord
has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (V. 6). Clearly, Jesus bore the sins of all
mankind and fully paid for them with His blood. But bearing and atoning for sin
is not yet justification or removal of sin form the world. Men still have sin, live
in sin, and most of them still die in their sins . As Jesus said, “If you do not
believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.” John 8: 24.

We must therefore be very careful how we present the justification of




9








sinners. This writer therefore simply cannot agree with statements like the
following from the Theses on Justification produced by our Synod’s Commission
on Theology and Church Relations:

Thus the Gospel is the message that God has saved the world through the work
of Christ, that He is reconciled and at peace with the sinful world because of the atonement of
His Son and has by the raising of His Son from the dead declared the whole world to be
righteous (objective justification). P. 18, Par. 41.

This is but one of many confusing and misleading statements in the CTCR
document. If taken by face value, this document can only make our ministry
difficult, even unnecessary, and jeopardize the eternal salvation of those who
actually believe that God considers them righteous and therefore saints at
peace with Him even while they live an die in their sins. May God have mercy on
us if that’s what we tell sinners! May our message ever be one of “repentance
and remissions of sins” by grace for Christ’s sake through faith!




Vernon H. Harley
511 Tilden
Fairmont, MN 56031
January 31, 1986
































10
Post a Comment