Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Present Recipients of Justification through the Faith of Christ: Part 5 (Scriptural objections from Galatians 2 and Acts 15)

Galatians 2:15

One of Frank’s primary proof-texts in support of his position was Galatians 2:15. Frank wrote, “But if we need further proof of what Peter’s faith was, we could again look at what Paul tells the Galatians when Peter got spooked by those men of the circumcision, sent from James, when he reminds Peter of what is right and fully knows. He says, ‘You and I Peter, who are Jews of the flesh and not sinners of the nations, know that a man is not justified by works of law, except alone through the faith of Christ Jesus, we also believe in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by works of law, seeing that by works of law shall no flesh at all be justified.’”

Frank is referring to what Paul wrote in Galatians 2, and provides a nearly-accurate quotation of verses 15 and 16. Unfortunately, the part of his quotation that is not accurate betrays an unwarranted assumption brought to the text. In verse 15, Paul did not write, “You and I Peter, who by nature are Jews…” He wrote, “We, who by nature are Jews…” The assumption Frank is making is that when Paul wrote “we” at the beginning of v. 15, he was including Peter (and, by extension, James and John). However, this assumption begs the question in favor of Frank’s position. If Paul didn’t mean “Peter and I” here, then everything he went on to write would be perfectly consistent with the view that Peter’s understanding of his own salvation and justification was the same as that articulated by James in chapter 2 of his letter to the twelve tribes.

It must be acknowledged that if what Paul wrote in v. 15 should be understood as a continuation of the quote that begins in v. 14, it would be unavoidable to understand Paul’s “we” as including Peter. But it is not necessary to understand the quote to continue beyond verse 14, and thus no grammatical necessity to understand the “we” of v. 15 to include Peter. Other contextual considerations must help us determine who Paul had in mind when he wrote “we” in v. 15. And I think there is good reason – both from this letter and elsewhere in the Greek scriptures – to understand Paul’s “we” to refer to Jewish believers whose ministry was in accord with the administration given to Paul, and who were said to be “for the nations” (such as, for example, Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Silvanus and Timothy). In fact, in the context, Paul makes explicit mention of himself and Barnabas as those who, in contrast with Peter, James and John, were to be “for the nations,” bringing them the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” (Gal. 2:1, 7-10, 13). In verse 9, Paul even contrasts himself and Barnabas with Peter, James and John by using the words “we” and “they!” In other words, Paul had already made a distinction between two clearly defined, separate “ministries” involving two groups of Jewish believers, and Paul’s “we” in v. 15 should be understood in this broader context.

Beginning around v. 13 of chapter 1, Paul had been recounting past events that were pertinent to the issue at hand, and which served to support his apostolic authority and the truth that he and his co-laborers had been dispensing among the nations. This historical recounting ends with the words Paul declared to Peter in Antioch (v. 14), and in v. 15 Paul has “returned to the present,” so to speak. Verse 15 is the beginning of another “phase” in Paul’s doctrinal defense of the truth he had previously taught the ecclesias of Galatia.

Paul mentions the incident involving Peter at Antioch in order to further defend his apostolic authority and ministry, and because it served to support his point that the gentiles didn’t have to become Jews (or “be judaizing”) in order to be saved. Even Peter had come to realize this through the events involving Cornelius, and had to be rebuked for living in a way that was inconsistent with what he’d learned. And if this was something recognized by Peter (as well as James and John), then what the Galatians were being pressured by certain Judaizers to do (i.e., proselytize to Judaism) was inconsistent with not only Paul’s administration and ministry, but with Peter’s as well!

However, Peter’s realizing that a gentile didn’t have to take the sign of the “covenant of circumcision” and thus proselytize to Judaism in order to be saved is a far cry from saying that, like Paul and Barnabas, he had come to perceive the much greater truth that Paul went on to defend in this letter, concerning the righteousness that is based on Christ’s faith alone rather than on anything that we do or don’t do.

Excluding Peter is, therefore, not some “ad hoc” move on my part. It’s an interpretation of what Paul wrote that is informed by the broader context of Galatians, and is in keeping with what we know to be true about the distinct ministries and administrations of Paul and Peter. Paul and Barnabas had been severed to God from the rest of the apostles for a distinct ministry that was in accord with a new administration. And the truth they dispensed to the nations (and those Israelites who came to faith in Christ through their ministry rather than before the start of that administration) was truth that I see no reason to assume Peter, James and John fully understood, and let alone were teaching the Jews, proselytes and God-fearers within the sphere of their “Circumcision-focused” ministry.

When Paul wrote, “We, who by nature are Jews, and not sinners of the nations, having perceived that a man is not justified by works of the law, except alone through the faith of Christ Jesus…” he obviously had in mind those Jews who had perceived the truth of which he wrote. The only way this verse could possibly be evidence for Frank’s position is by assuming that Peter (and James and John) had, like Paul and Barnabas, “perceived” the greater and more recently revealed truth about justification that Paul is defending in this letter to those in the body of Christ. But as we’ve seen, there is simply no good reason to assume this to have been the case.

Acts 15:7-11

Another passage used by Frank in support of his position was Acts 15:7-11, where we find recorded the words spoken by Peter at the “Jerusalem Council”:

Now, there coming to be much questioning, rising, Peter said to them, “Men! Brethren! You are versed in the fact that from the days at the beginning God chooses among you, that through my mouth the nations are to hear the word of the evangel and believe. And God, the Knower of hearts, testifies to them, giving the holy spirit according as to us also, and in nothing discriminates between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Why, then, are you now trying God, by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we are strong enough to bear? But through the grace of the Lord Jesus we are believing, to be saved in a manner even as they.”

We read that “some” who had come down from Judea (who, Luke tells us, were believing Pharisees) were teaching the new believers from among the nations that, unless they were circumcised (and thus received the sign of the covenant between God and Israel) they could not be saved (v. 1). We further read that this requirement would’ve included, or entailed, keeping the Law of Moses (v. 5).

The meeting in Jerusalem was, therefore, concerned with whether or not those among the nations who were coming to faith in Christ had to become proselytes in order to be saved. It was this question that the meeting in Jerusalem was intended to resolve. The question was not, “Is acting righteously necessary for Israelites to be worthy of receiving eonian life when Christ returns and the kingdom is restored to Israel?” Had this been the question, then I believe that James, Peter and John would have all answered in the affirmative. But again, this wasn’t the question under discussion.

Although Frank emphasized Peter’s words at the council concerning how God had not “discriminated” between the believing Israelites present and Cornelius and his household, it would be erroneous to conclude from this that Peter believed that God had justified both Jews and gentiles through the faith of Christ (as opposed to their justification being based on their own faith and righteous conduct). Again, when Peter spoke at the council, he was simply speaking in defense of the position that gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. The Pauline doctrine of justification through the faith of Christ was simply not on Peter’s “radar screen.” But if this wasn’t what Peter had in mind, what was?

That which Peter affirmed at the council in verses 7-11 was based entirely on his prior experience involving Cornelius and his household (which included Peter’s initial vision and everything subsequent to it). It was the truth that Peter learned through this experience that would later (at the Jerusalem conference) be used in defense and validation of Paul’s ministry. As Knoch notes in his commentary, it was by virtue of Peter’s experience with Cornelius that he was able to be convinced by Paul that “God could deal with the nations in a way different from His dealings with the Circumcision. The case of Cornelius was specifically designed to bridge the gap between the two ministries of Peter and Paul.” So it was on the basis of Peter’s experience that Paul’s ministry to the nations was recognized as valid by the ecclesia at Jerusalem (even if certain aspects of it likely remained an enigma to them).

After arriving at Cornelius’ house to share his evangel with him (and in light of all that had already taken place), Peter declared the following: “Of a truth I am grasping that God is not partial, but in every nation he who is fearing him and acting righteously is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). This statement concerning God’s impartiality can, I believe, shed some light on what Peter said at the Jerusalem council. The impartiality that Peter had in mind here was not absolute and all-encompassing, but rather concerned God’s qualified acceptance of both circumcised people (Israelites) and uncircumcised people (gentiles). The divine impartiality of which Peter spoke did not involve God’s acceptance of all Israelites and non-Israelites; rather, it embraced only Jews and gentiles who were “fearing [God] and acting righteously.”

Cornelius’ being acceptable to God was, for Peter, due to the fact that Cornelius was a just man who feared the God of Israel and acted righteously (something recognized by “the whole nation of the Jews”; Acts 10:22). Although Cornelius was not a “full-fledged” proselyte, he was certainly favorably inclined toward Judaism. In fact, Cornelius’ fasting, prayers to God and generous giving of alms “to the people” (i.e., Israelites, God’s covenant people) seems to be the very reason for which he - and not just any gentile living at that time - was used by God to reveal an important truth to Peter (Acts 10:1-5, 31). Moreover, in light of the conditions specified in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:3), it can be reasonably inferred that Cornelius and his household were eligible for receiving blessing (i.e., eonian life in the kingdom of God) because they were blessing the covenant descendents of Abraham. Although the uncircumcised (non-Israelite) status of Cornelius and his family would prevent them from having certain privileges in the eon to come (e.g., being able to enter the sanctuary in Jerusalem; see Ezekiel 44:9), they would still be able to enjoy an allotment in the millennial kingdom of Israel (Ezekiel 47:21-23; cf. Matthew 25:31-34, where it’s implied that the righteous gentiles or “sheep” in view are blessed with an allotment in the kingdom in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant).

Thus, Peter recognized Cornelius as one who, lack of circumcision notwithstanding, “feared God and acted righteously.” He qualified for entrance into the millennial kingdom in accord with the Abrahamic covenant. All that was lacking for Cornelius and his household was to hear and believe the evangel for which Peter was made an apostle (which, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, was the “evangel of the Circumcision”). Thus, when Cornelius and his household did hear and believe what Peter declared to them, there was nothing about their uncircumcised, gentile status that prevented them from receiving the holy spirit, and being given assurance that their sins were pardoned.

In Acts 15:9 we read that Peter declared, “And God, the Knower of hearts, testifies to them, giving the holy spirit according as to us also, and in nothing discriminates between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.” This has nothing to do with Peter (along with his fellow Israelites) and Cornelius (along with his gentile household) being justified through the faith of Christ. Just as God’s lack of partiality as referred to in Acts 10:34-35 is not to be understood as absolute and unqualified, so the lack of discrimination of which Peter spoke here must be similarly understood. The reader must ask, “In what way, or in what sense, did God ‘in nothing discriminate’ between Peter and his Jewish companions, and Cornelius and his household?” Peter tells us: God “in nothing discriminated” between them in the sense that those in both groups received the holy spirit, and the hearts of those in both groups were cleansed by faith. This fact is fully consistent with the view that Peter’s covenantal status as an Israelite (which involved his being circumcised and keeping the law) was inseparable from his eonian expectation, while Cornelius’ eonian expectation was based on the conditional promise of the Abrahamic covenant concerning gentiles who blessed Israel.

Moreover – and as I noted in my study on the two evangels – it’s significant that, after Peter had finished speaking (and Cornelius and his household had heard and believed the declarations by which they could be saved), Peter then had Cornelius and his household baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:47-48). Peter’s “bidding” Cornelius and his household to be water baptized was no mere superfluous action on Peter’s part. Water baptism was in accordance with his apostolic commission and Israel’s “salvation program,” as it was essential for one’s receiving the “pardon of sins” (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-38). It follows, then, that baptism was just as essential for Cornelius and his household as it was for Peter and his believing Jewish companions.

Thus, when Peter declared that God “in nothing discriminates between us and them,” he most definitely did not mean that acting righteously was unnecessary for those called through his evangel, or that their justification was - contrary to what James wrote to the twelve tribes - through “faith alone,” and apart from works. But what about the “yoke” which Peter declared in verse 10 had been placed on “the neck of the disciples,” which neither their “fathers” nor they were “strong enough to bear?” It is perfectly consistent with the position for which I’ve been arguing to understand Peter to have had the law of Moses in view here. Even before Christ’s death and resurrection, it is unlikely that Peter thought he had perfectly kept the law, or that he understood law-keeping to have been the basis for his (or any other Israelite’s) being saved. And yet, despite the failings of all Israelites and their inability to perfectly keep the law, no Israelite was exempt from attempting to keep the law of God (i.e., the "Ten Commandments," as distinguished from the "law of Moses") as an expression of their covenant loyalty to, and faith in, the God of Israel (for their relationship with God could not be separated from their covenant with God).

Thus, assuming the “yoke” that Peter had in mind in Acts 15 was the law of Moses, we have just as much reason to think that Peter had the same view of this law before Christ’s death as he did after it – and yet, again, Peter would’ve still believed that, as a man in covenant with God, his faith in God would’ve been “dead” apart from his doing what he could to keep the Ten Commandments, and seeking forgiveness whenever he failed to keep it perfectly. When the “yoke” is understood as the Law of Moses, it makes sense why Peter would say what he did. Peter would’ve understood that, by virtue of Israel’s covenant relationship with God, he and his fellow Jews were not exempt from trying to keep the "royal law" as a necessary expression of their faith in God (and of their faithfulness to their covenant with God), while also knowing that it was impossible for any man to perfectly keep it. Since Cornelius had already been shown to be “acceptable” to God and to have done what Peter understood as being essential for salvation, it was clear to Peter that Cornelius did not need to become a proselyte in order to be saved.

Peter concludes his speech with the following: “But through the grace of the Lord Jesus we are believing, to be saved in a manner even as they.”[i] Does this mean that there was (and is) no difference at all between how Peter, Cornelius and those who became believers through the apostleship of Paul are saved? It must be emphasized that by “we” Peter meant “we who are Israelites,” and that by “they” he meant “those who are not Israelites (i.e., “gentiles”).” He’s referring to two different categories of people, the former of which is comprised of those who are in covenant with God (and thus under the law), and the latter comprised of those who aren’t. Peter was not saying that there was no difference at all between Jews like himself and gentiles like Cornelius. Rather, he was simply affirming that the salvation of those under the law and the salvation of those not under the law both involves, and requires, believing “through the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

Moreover, it may be noted that the word translated “manner” in verse 15 (tropos) does not mean absolute sameness, with no differences; it simply means there is some important similarly in view (which, as we’ve seen, is simply that salvation for both groups necessarily involved believing “through the grace of the Lord Jesus”). The same word appears in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34, where Christ declared that he often wanted “to assemble [Jerusalem’s] children in the manner (tropos) a hen is assembling her brood under her wings.” But of course, Christ certainly did not mean that there were no differences between his assembling of the children of Jerusalem and a hen assembling her brood under her wings!

By appropriately emphasizing what believers among the Circumcision and believers among the Uncircumcision had in common, Peter more forcefully drove home his point that neither circumcision nor the Law of Moses could be understood as the basis for the salvation of believing Israelites who were not in the body of Christ (i.e., those who comprised the “Israel of God”). However, this doesn’t mean that Peter was saying that circumcision and the keeping of the royal law were in no way relevant or connected to the salvation of believing Israelites. Circumcision and the royal law were important for Israelites insofar as they were inseparably tied to their identity as a people in covenant with God (and to whom God had made certain promises that are distinctly theirs, as a people in covenant with God). For an Israelite to consider circumcision and/or the law of God as something that was either unnecessary or only optional (as if it was just a “personal lifestyle choice”) would’ve been to repudiate their covenant standing.

[i] Luke Timothy Johnson argues for nearly the same grammatical construction as is found in the CLNT translation of Acts 15:11 (“…through the grace of the Lord Jesus we are believing in order to be saved according to the manner they also are”). See Johnson’s essay, “Narrative Criticism and Translation: The Case of Luke-Acts and the NRSV,” as found in Scripture and Traditions: Essays on Early Judaism and Christianity in Honor of Carl R. Holladay (edited by Patrick Gray, Gail R. O'Day, 2008).

The Present Recipients of Justification through the Faith of Christ: Part 4 (the rest of the “circumcision letters”; 1 & 2 Peter, Jude; Hebrews; 1 John)

The rest of the “circumcision letters” considered

In the last section we saw that Christ’s teaching concerning the nature of the righteousness required for salvation – which is a righteousness that is relative rather than absolute (depending on both faith and righteous conduct) - was the view affirmed in the Hebrew Scriptures. We’ve also seen that the same doctrine is implicit in what Christ declared to the seven ecclesias referred to in the book of Revelation, and that the salvation of these Israelites is based on both faith and works, rather than “faith only.” This tells us that the Pauline teaching concerning justification (as explicitly affirmed by Paul in his letters to the Romans and Galatians) cannot be understood as being applicable to them. Instead, the conditions according to which those living during Christ’s earthly ministry could be saved are the same conditions according to which the Israelites living at the time of these seven ecclesias can be saved. The righteousness by which they will be worthy of life in the eons to come will be based on both their faith and their works.

But what about those believing Israelites addressed in the other “circumcision letters?” What were the stated or implied conditions by which the Jewish recipients of these letters could be righteous and thus worthy of eonian life? Was the righteousness necessary for their being saved a relative righteousness, and their salvation thus based on faith in conjunction with righteous conduct? Or is there evidence that their eonian salvation was based on the absolute “righteousness of God” that is through Christ’s faith, when he died for our sins?

It must be emphasized that the only epistles in the Greek scriptures in which the righteousness of God that is through Christ’s faith (and which is received by us by faith, apart from works) is even explicitly referred to and affirmed are letters that were written by Paul to those in the body of Christ. The rest of the letters making up the Greek scriptures make absolutely no mention of this. It is necessary to emphasize this point in response to an objection raised by Frank in our discussion. According to Frank, since Paul stressed the importance of good works and righteous conduct in his letters, an emphasis on this in other letters (such as 1 John or Hebrews, for example) cannot be seen as implying that those addressed in these other letters weren’t justified by faith apart from works.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that, despite Paul’s emphasis on good works and appropriate conduct for the saints, he was equally clear with regards to the fact that such righteous works were not the basis on which those to whom he wrote had been saved, or by which they were qualified for eonian life (Titus 3:4-7). When we take into account everything Paul wrote to those in the body of Christ, we find that the righteousness that was connected with righteous, God-honoring conduct by the saints was not the same righteousness of God that is through Christ’s faith, and which the believer receives by his or her faith in Paul’s evangel. But we find no such distinction made anywhere else in any of the other writings comprising the Greek scriptures. Instead, the only sort of justification or righteousness referred to in these other letters is one that is based on the faith and righteous conduct of those to whom the letters were addressed.

The letters of Peter and Jude

Frank does not actually appeal to anything written by Peter or Jude in support of his view, so we won’t be spending much time examining the content of their letters. What really needs to be emphasized concerning these letters is the reason that they can’t be appealed to in support of Frank’s view: like all of the “circumcision letters,” there is nothing said in them about justification by faith apart from works, or about a “righteousness of God through Jesus Christ’s faith.”

While it’s clear from these letters (especially Peter’s) that faith was understood as essential to the salvation of those addressed, this is (as we’ve seen) perfectly consistent with what James affirmed in his letter, as well as with what Christ taught during his earthly ministry. Faith has always been necessary for the salvation of those under the law and in covenant with God; apart from it, there was no pleasing God. Peter and Jude are conspicuously silent, however, concerning any sort of righteousness or “just” status that a person could have other than the sort of righteousness referred to throughout the Hebrew scriptures (1 Peter 3:12; 4:18; 2 Pet. 2:5, 7-8).

Some other striking differences between what Paul wrote to those in the body of Christ and what Peter and Jude wrote are as follows:

1. According to Peter, water baptism was a matter of salvation (1 Pet. 3:20-21; cf. Mark 16:16). What Peter wrote concerning the saving nature of baptism in his letter is perfectly consistent with what he declared to Israelites in Acts 2:38-40, when he made known to them the evangel of the circumcision. In these verses, it is clear that Peter understood water baptism to be essential to (although certainly not sufficient for) being pardoned of one’s sins. In contrast with what Peter declared and wrote, Paul learned early in his ministry as the apostle of the nations that water baptism was not necessary for salvation, and that Christ had not commissioned him “to be baptizing but to be bringing the evangel” (1 Cor. 1:17). With regards to Paul’s ministry and administration, the only baptism that mattered for those to whom he wrote was the baptism “in one spirit,” by which they had become members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13; cf. Gal. 3:27-28; Rom. 6:3-6ff.; Eph. 4:1-5; Col. 2:12).

2. Even when Christ’s suffering and death is in view in Peter’s first letter, the emphasis - without exception - is on the example that Christ set for those to whom Peter wrote, and the positive change it had (and should continue to have) on their conduct (1 Pet. 1:14-18; 2:20-25; 3:13-18). There is no indication anywhere in the letters of Peter or Jude that Christ’s death had the same significance for them or the believing Israelites to whom they wrote as it had for Paul and those in the body of Christ.

3. The eonian salvation of those to whom Peter wrote was (from their perspective at least) conditional, for they had to “endeavor through ideal acts to confirm [their] calling and choice” (2 Pet. 1:10). Only in doing so would they “under no circumstances be tripping at any time,” and would, consequently, be “richly supplied” an “entrance into the eonian kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 11). In other words, the “calling and choice” of those to whom Peter wrote was something of which they could have continual assurance only by their faithfulness in doing good works, or “ideal acts.” But for those who have been called by God through the evangel Paul heralded among the nations (and have thus become members of the body of Christ), our future glorification can be anticipated with just as much certainty as the occurrence of the snatching away itself (Rom 8:29-30).

4. Peter also described the believers to whom he wrote as those who had come to “the recognition of our Lord, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8), and who were consequently “fleeing from the corruption which is in the world by lust” (2 Pet. 1:4). But later in this same letter, Peter wrote that for those who, after having fled “from the defilements of the world by the recognition of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” became yet again “involved” in these “defilements,” the following would then be true of them: “their last state has become worse than the first” (2 Pet. 2:20). Peter went on to warn, “For it were better for them not to have recognized the way of righteousness, than, recognizing it, to go back to what was behind, from the holy precept given to them” (v. 21). Again, Peter is referring to those who, in their “first state,” could be characterized as believers, for they had come to “a recognition of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (which was true of all who believed the “evangel of the Circumcision” heralded by Peter). But for those who have been justified through the faith of Christ and received the righteousness of God, it could never be the case that our “last state” could be worse than the state we were in before we were justified.

5. Those to whom Jude wrote were exhorted to “keep [themselves] in the love of God, anticipating the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for life eonian” (v. 21). Here, the receiving of eonian life is not only understood as involving the (future) mercy of Christ at his coming, but it’s implied that this mercy was for those who kept themselves in the love of God. In other words, remaining in “the love of God” was something that depended on the present and future conduct of those to whom Jude wrote. In contrast with this, we find in Romans 8:31-39 that, for we who have been justified by God on the basis of Christ’s faith, nothing can condemn us or “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

The letter to the Hebrews

The letter to the Hebrews came up frequently in my discussion with Frank, so among the “circumcision letters,” it will receive the most attention in this article. Frank claimed that, for both the members of the body of Christ to whom Paul wrote and the believing Hebrews to whom the author of this letter wrote, the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works was “milk doctrine” – i.e., it was a doctrine that was considered rudimentary or foundational, and in which one needed to grasp and be grounded before they could go on to spiritual maturity (rather than remaining a “minor” in Christ). However, the author of the letter to the Hebrews actually referred to doctrines that he considered “milk” (as opposed to “solid nourishment”) and “foundational,” and – significantly - the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works is not mentioned as one of them (Heb. 5:11-6:3). Instead, we find “repentance from dead works,” “faith on God,” the “teaching of baptizings,” the “imposition of hands,” the “resurrection of the dead,” and “judgment eonian.” It was these doctrines that were considered by the author “rudimentary elements of the oracles of God” and the “rudiments of Christ” in which those to whom he wrote had to be grounded before they could “be brought to maturity.”

Immediately following this passage concerning “milk doctrine,” the author went on to write the following to the Hebrew recipients of his letter:

“For it is impossible for those once enlightened, besides tasting the celestial gratuity and becoming partakers of holy spirit, and tasting the ideal declaration of God, besides the powerful deeds of the impending eon, and falling aside, to be renewing them again to repentance while crucifying for themselves the Son of God again and holding Him up to infamy. For land which is drinking the shower coming often on it, and bringing forth herbage fit for those because of whom it is being farmed also, is partaking of blessing from God; yet, bringing forth thorns and star thistles, it is disqualified and near a curse, whose consummation is burning.

The author then “switches gears” from fearful warning to encouraging exhortation:

“Yet we are persuaded of better things concerning you, beloved, and those which have to do with salvation, even if we are speaking thus. For God is not unjust, to be forgetting [your faith? No, but rather] your work and the love which you display for His name when you serve the saints, and are serving. Now we are yearning for each one of you to be displaying the same diligence toward the assurance of the expectation until the consummation, that you may not be becoming dull. Now be imitators of those who through faith and patience are enjoying the allotment of the promises.”

Although the author follows his words of doom with words of hope, even his encouragement presupposed that the future salvation of those to whom he wrote - those who had been “enlightened” (cf. Heb. 10:32) - depended on their “work and the love which [they] display for His name when [they] serve the saints, and are serving” (which is precisely the kind of faith-perfecting works of love that James had in mind in chapter 2 of his letter). As if this doesn’t make it clear enough that their future salvation was based on works done in faith and not “faith only,” we find that their “assurance of the expectation” (i.e., enjoying the allotment of the promises) required “displaying the same diligence toward the assurance of the expectation until the consummation” (v. 11). And, from the context, it’s evident that this “diligence” involved doing the things which the author described in v. 10 (which, of course, involved works of love and not “faith only”).

In other words, those to whom the author wrote could have assurance that they would be saved at the consummation (i.e., at the return of Christ) if they faithfully continued doing what they had been doing – which meant being “imitators of those who through faith and patience are enjoying the allotment of the promises” (v. 12). Their enjoying the allotment of the promises was not by faith only. Rather, it was “through faith and patience.” But what was the author referring to by the word “patience” here (or, we might ask, “patience doing what?”)? Again, the context makes it clear what this “patience” referred to: “…displaying the same diligence toward the assurance of the expectation until the consummation.” If they were to be saved at the consummation, their faith required works just as their works required faith.

This is consistent with what the author had written just a chapter before (after noting that Christ “learned obedience from that which He suffered”): “And being perfected, [Christ] became the cause of eonian salvation to all who are obeying Him…” (Heb. 5:8-9). The eonian salvation that these believing Israelites hoped to enjoy at Christ’s return was one that required their obedience – which, of course, is consistent with what Christ taught during his earthly ministry, as well as with what he declared to the seven ecclesias of Revelation. For those to whom the author wrote, “holiness” was a status or condition that was not only required for their salvation (for we’re told that “no one shall be seeing the Lord” apart from it), but it was something that they had to “pursue” (Heb. 12:14) – the implication being that, if they weren’t pursuing holiness (through obedience), they wouldn’t “be seeing the Lord.”

Another glaring example of the difference between the nature and means of eonian salvation for the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews and those in the body of Christ can be found in Hebrews 10:24-31. There, the author wrote:

“And we may be considering one another to incite to love and ideal acts, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves, according as the custom of some is, but entreating, and so much rather as you are observing the day drawing near. For at our sinning voluntarily after obtaining the recognition of the truth, it is no longer leaving a sacrifice concerned with sins, but a certain fearful waiting for judging and fiery jealousy, about to be eating the hostile. Anyone repudiating Moses' law is dying without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, are you supposing, will he be counted worthy who tramples on the Son of God, and deems the blood of the covenant by which he is hallowed contaminating, and outrages the spirit of grace? For we are acquainted with Him Who is saying, Mine is vengeance! I will repay! the Lord is saying, and again, "The Lord will be judging His people." Fearful is it to be falling into the hands of the living God!”

In this somewhat lengthy passage, the author is warning the believing Israelites to whom he wrote – those who’d obtained the “recognition of the truth” and been hallowed by the blood of Christ - of the possibility of suffering an even worse punishment than that which was inflicted upon those who repudiated Moses’ law (compare this with the author’s warning in Heb. 12:25). The author goes on to refer to this “much worse punishment” as “destruction,” and contrasts it with the salvation (the “procuring of the soul”) that the Hebrews hoped to receive at the coming/arriving of Christ (see Heb 10:35-39 and compare with 1 Pet. 1:3-9). Given that the salvation in view is that which will be received when Christ arrives and “is seen a second time” (Heb. 9:28), and the “punishment” and “vengeance” of which the author wrote is contrasted with this salvation, we can reasonably conclude that the author had in view the vengeance of God that will be poured out on unbelieving Jews and gentiles alike during the “day of the Lord.”

But regardless of when, exactly, the Israelites addressed in this letter believed this “much worse punishment” and “vengeance” would be suffered by those “falling into the hands of the living God,” it is simply not possible to reconcile these words of warning and exhortation with Paul’s words to the body of Christ in Romans 5:9 and 8:1, or with what he wrote in 1 Thess. 1:10 and 4:9-11. If these Israelites had been justified by faith apart from works (as is the case for all in the body of Christ), why were these believing Israelites being warned/exhorted to avoid doing that which would expose them to the vengeance and judgment of God that unbelievers will suffer before and during the time of Christ’s return, as if they could (by doing what the author exhorted them not to do) forfeit the eonian salvation they hoped to receive at the unveiling of Christ?

In an attempt to support his view that what the author of Hebrews wrote was consistent with everything Paul wrote concerning justification by faith apart from works (meaning that no works or obedience was required for the salvation of the Israelites to whom this letter was written), Frank wrote: “Hebrews chapter three and four uses a beautiful analogy of God resting from His works on the seventh day. This is to illustrate to the Hebrews that Christ brings them to the same rest. It does not however mean that they will not be displaying righteous acts.” Frank’s argument seems to be that the “rest” (or “stopping”) which the author had in view figuratively represents justification apart from works, or being justified by faith alone. However, the author does not once say that those to whom he wrote had been justified by faith apart from works, or mention anything at all about justification or righteousness apart from works.

Even in chapter 11 where faith is emphasized, the emphasis is not on “faith only” but on what certain notable people of faith had done “by faith.” Noah, for example, is said to have become “an enjoyer of the allotment of the righteousness which accords with faith” because of what he did by faith (Heb 11:7). Although Noah’s righteousness was “in accord with” faith, it wasn’t based on “faith only,” but on what he did by faith (i.e., construct an ark). This faith-based obedience is the source of the righteousness of those to whom the author of Hebrews wrote, and it is the same sort of righteousness of which James wrote to the twelve tribes. Everything the author of Hebrews wrote is perfectly consistent with what James taught in his letter, and which Christ taught during his earthly ministry.

A better (and, I think, more contextually informed) understanding is that the “rest” or “stopping” referred to by the author of Hebrews simply refers to the “allotment of salvation” and “eonian salvation” to which the author referred several times in the letter, and which those to whom he wrote hoped to enjoy at “the consummation” (Heb. 3:6, 12-15) – i.e., their entering into their “eonian enjoyment of the allotment” (Heb. 9:15) at Christ’s return. It is only THEN – i.e., when Christ “is seen a second time by those awaiting Him” (Heb. 9:28) that the exhortations and warnings with which this letter abounds will no longer be needed for Israelites, because their eonian salvation will be an experienced reality rather than an expectation that requires their obedience, diligence, patience, endurance (etc.) “unto the consummation.” No longer will such diligence and patience in avoiding and “contending against sin” (12:4) be necessary for salvation, since they will have been saved and will be enjoying their deserved “rest” or “stopping.”

Until this time comes, the Jewish brethren to whom the author wrote had reason to “Beware, lest…anyone of you may be hardened by the seduction of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, that is, if we should be retaining the beginning of the assumption confirmed unto the consummation…” (Heb. 3:12-15). Their “rest” – which is also referred to as “a sabbatism” that is “left for the people of God” (4:9) – was not a present, fulfilled reality for them, but rather the future realization of their expectation.

Another objection raised by Frank in support of his position is that the Israelites to whom the author of Hebrews wrote were no longer under the old covenant; hence, keeping (or attempting to keep) God’s law – even as an expression of their faith - could not have been a requirement for their eonian salvation. With regards to the old covenant, Frank states that “[the author of Hebrews] emphatically declares” that the old covenant had been “done away.” Contrary to Frank’s assertion, nowhere does the author of Hebrews “emphatically declare the old covenant to be done away.” Of course, the author could have easily said this. But this he did not do. Rather than saying that the old covenant had been “done away,” he instead wrote that the old covenant was “GROWING old and decrepit” and was “NEAR its disappearance” (Heb. 8:13). Since this was true of the old covenant when the author wrote, it would not be true to say that it had already been “done away” by this time.

It’s true that the new covenant was “ratified” or “confirmed” by Christ through his death, but its fulfillment – when what God promised actually goes into effect and is “in force” for all with whom the promise was made - is still future. The future fulfillment of the new covenant is one of a number of things that Christ procured through his death, but which await future realization/fulfillment. The fulfillment of the new covenant will take place when Christ returns to rescue Israel, and brings an end to this present wicked eon (see Rom. 11:25-27).

The time between Christ’s death and his return to the earth is a “transitional” period for Israel, covenantally speaking. Again, even at the time the author of Hebrews wrote (which could’ve been close to forty years after the death of Christ), the old covenant wasn’t yet “done away with.” It was simply “growing old and decrepit” and was “near its disappearance.” It had not “disappeared” at that time, but it will disappear completely when Christ returns and “all Israel is saved.” Moreover, the “nearness” of the disappearance of the old covenant is consistent with the motif of “imminence” that runs throughout the Greek scriptures. James, for example, wrote that the “presence of the Lord is near” and “the Judge stands before the doors.” Peter wrote in his first letter, “Now the consummation of all is near.” Insofar as the nearness of Christ’s return was true then, the disappearance of the old covenant could be said to have been “near” as well, since it is at the consummation referred to by Peter (when the “Chief Shepherd is manifested”) that it will disappear and be replaced by the new covenant.

John’s first letter

In 1 John 1:6-9, we read:

“If we should be saying that we are having fellowship with Him and should be walking in darkness, we are lying and are not doing the truth. Yet if we should be walking in the light as He is in the light, we are having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, is cleansing us from every sin. If we should be saying that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we should be avowing our sins, He is faithful and just that He may be pardoning us our sins and should be cleansing us from all injustice.”

Notice how, according to John, one’s being cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus depended on one’s conduct – i.e., “walking in the light as he is in the light,” rather than “walking in darkness.” John and those to whom he wrote were being “cleansed from every sin” by Jesus’ blood if they were doing this. What did John mean by “walking in the light” rather than “in darkness?” In the next chapter it is clear that walking in the light involved “keeping his precepts,” “keeping his word” and thus “walking as he walks” (2:3-6). And to be doing this meant (or at least essentially included) “loving [one’s] brother,” rather than hating one’s brother (vv. 8-11), and “believing in the name of [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ” (3:23-24). Only in keeping these precepts would those to whom John wrote be “remaining in the light” and not “walking in darkness.” Moreover, John explains that one of the reasons for writing was so “that [those to whom he wrote] may not be sinning” (2:1); however, when they did sin, they had to “avow” their sins so that their sins could be pardoned and “cleansed from all injustice.”

John went on to say that it was those who were “doing the will of God” who would be “remaining for the eon” – and, in the immediate context, doing the will of God evidently meant “not loving the world” or “that which is in the world” (1 John 2:15-17). In the larger context of John’s letter, “doing the will of God” involved “keeping [God’s] precepts” and “doing what is pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22-24). Only those who remained in Christ would not be “put to shame by him in his presence,” and those who remained in him were those who were “doing righteousness” and were “begotten of him” (2:28-29).

Concerning what it meant to be “remaining in Christ,” John went on to say: “…everyone who is remaining in [Christ] is not sinning...let no one deceive you. He who is doing righteousness is just, according as he is just. Yet he who is doing sin is of the Adversary…everyone who is not doing righteousness is not of God, and who is not loving his brother” (1 John 3:6-7). Thus, one’s “remaining for the eon” – i.e., having eonian life – required not just believing in the name of Christ (which, being the evangel of the circumcision, was essential), but also keeping his precepts and loving one’s brother (rather than “the world” and “that which is in the world”).

The only “just” status or standing of which John wrote in his letter is that which depended on the precept-keeping conduct of those to whom he wrote. John did not seem to be aware of any other “righteousness” that the recipients of his letter could have except that which was based on “doing righteousness” (which, again, meant “keeping [Christ’s] precepts,” “keeping his word” and “walking as He walks”). For John, it was because those to whom he wrote were keeping Christ’s precept to “be loving the brethren” that they were aware of having “proceeded out of death into life” (3:11-13).

On the other hand, one who hated his brother was a “man-killer,” and consequently had no “life eonian remaining in him” (v. 15). For those to whom John wrote, keeping Christ’s precept by loving the brethren was just as essential to having life eonian as “believing in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). It was, in other words, just as essential for their salvation as it was when Christ first gave his disciples this precept, shortly before his death (John 15:12-14). It was by keeping Christ’s precepts that they remained in his love (John 15:9-10). 

The Present Recipients of Justification through the Faith of Christ: Part 3 (Christ’s teaching on earth; Christ’s message to the seven ecclesias; the great white throne judgment)

Christ’s teaching on earth consistent with James and the Hebrew Scriptures

We find in Christ’s teaching to Israel during his earthly ministry perfect harmony with what James and the Hebrew Scriptures affirmed concerning human righteousness and how an Israelite was able to be just before God and worthy of salvation. What Christ affirmed (both implicitly and explicitly) concerning how people were justified and saved was, for thousands of years before his earthly ministry began, “the only game in town,” so to speak. This is not to say that no changes took place whatsoever after Christ began his earthly ministry; rather, the changes that did take place can be understood as being simply a continuation of (and a building upon) the “salvation program” that was already in place for Israel and the nations at that time.

At this time in history, it became the case that an Israelite’s faith in God could not be separated from faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus – that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:13-17) – became just as important as faith in Yahweh, the one God of Israel. This is made especially evident in John’s Gospel account, where one of the central themes of the book is that faith in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God is essential to having eonian life (John 20:30-31). Despite the emphasis in this book on believing that Jesus is the Son of God, it would be a mistake to think that, during Christ’s earthly ministry, “faith without works” was sufficient for an Israelite’s being righteous before God and worthy of an allotment in the kingdom during the eon to come. For Christ, the faith that was essential to an Israelite’s being righteous - and thus worthy of salvation - could not be separated from their conduct.

According to Christ, if an Israelite wanted to be saved and enter into the kingdom of God, their righteousness had to “super-abound” more than that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20), and it’s clear from the immediate context that this involved doing the precepts of the law (vv. 17-19). This sort of “super-abounding” righteousness is clearly the same sort of righteousness referred to as having been possessed by men such as Noah, Daniel and Job (Ez. 14:14, 20).

Although the righteousness that made an Israelite worthy of entering into life in the eon to come undoubtedly involved the heart rather than the external conduct only (we find this point emphasized throughout Christ’s teaching), it’s also clear that an Israelite’s conduct was in no way irrelevant or unimportant to his being righteous. According to Christ, it was not “workers of lawlessness” but rather those who were “doing the will of [his Father] in the heavens” who would “be entering into the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 7:16-23; cf. vv. 24-27). When asked by a young man what one needed to be doing in order to have life eonian in the kingdom of God, Christ replied, “If you are wanting to be entering into life, keep the precepts” (Matt. 19:16-17). Christ went on to name five of the Ten Commandments, as well as what he considered the second of the two “greatest precepts” given to Israel: “You shall be loving your associate as yourself” (vv. 18-19; cf. Mark 12:29-34).

Christ also warned his disciples against being “snared” by the temptation to break one of these precepts with the following exhortation: “Now, if your right eye is snaring you, wrench it out and cast it from you, for it is expedient for you that one of your members should perish and not your whole body be cast into Gehenna. And if your hand should ever be snaring you, strike it off and cast it from you, for it is expedient for you that one of your members should perish and not your whole body pass away into Gehenna…It is ideal for you to be entering life maimed, rather than having two hands, to be cast into Gehenna…” (Matt. 5:27-30; Mark 9:42-48). For an Israelite to “save” or “find” his soul – i.e., be worthy of eonian life after Christ returns to set up his kingdom - he had to “renounce himself and pick up his cross and follow [Christ],” and be willing to have his soul “destroyed” during this lifetime on account of Christ and the evangel (Matt. 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38). To be unwilling to do this (seeking instead to “save one’s soul”) was to “forfeit” and “destroy” one’s soul, with regards to being worthy to enjoy life in the eon to come.

According to Christ in his “Olivet Discourse” (which pertains to events that will be taking place during, and immediately after, the second half of the 70th heptad prophesied in Daniel), all believing Israelites who will be alive during the time of “great affliction” must remain “vigilant” (Luke 21:36), “watchful” (Matt. 24:42; 25:13), and “faithful” (25:21-23). They must avoid being “snared” and “deceived” (Matt. 24:4), and must “endure to the consummation” in order to be “saved” (Matt. 24:13). We know that the “consummation” Christ had in view in this verse refers to his coming in power and glory at the end of the eon, and that being “saved” means being worthy to stand before Christ at this time and to enter into life in the kingdom (Luke 21:28-31). And based on John’s words in Rev. 14:12, it can also be reasonably inferred that the “enduring” which Christ had in mind entailed “keeping the precepts of God and the faith of Jesus.”

According to Frank’s position, Christ’s death – from the moment that it took place - automatically changed everything for every person alive on earth at that time, with regards to how one was justified and saved. That is, Frank’s understanding was that the truth which Paul dispensed to those in the body of Christ concerning justification became, from the time of Christ’s death onward, a universally applicable and relevant truth that everyone alive on earth had to understand and grasp if they were to be saved and “be on board” with what God was doing. Frank’s position seems to assume or require that a new administration began when Christ died, and that everyone was, from that point on, expected to understand and believe what Paul affirmed in Romans and Galatians concerning justification.

Although Frank’s position seems to require this view, I see nothing in scripture that supports it. Even according to Frank’s position, we have absolutely no reason to think that, during almost the entire decade following Christ’s death and resurrection, any of Christ’s twelve apostles – Peter included - had any inkling whatsoever that anyone would, or even could, be justified by faith apart from works, and that this justification was based on the faith of Christ when he died for our sins. Their belief concerning the kind of righteousness required for salvation was in complete agreement with what James wrote in his letter to the twelve tribes. Their view on this subject underwent no change during this period of time, because there was no reason for it to. No new, paradigm-shattering revelation had come from Christ that challenged what they believed concerning the inseparable connection between faith, works, righteousness and salvation.

Christ’s message to the seven churches consistent with his teaching on earth

What we read in the Gospel accounts is, of course, very much in contrast with what Paul clearly taught concerning both the eonian expectation and the justification of those saints who, in his day, constituted the body of Christ. With regards to those in the body of Christ, no sin committed prior to our death – or prior to our being snatched away to meet Christ in the air - can possibly jeopardize our eonian salvation. This is because (as argued earlier) our justification is “through the faith of Christ Jesus,” and the righteousness to which this justification pertains is absolute rather than relative. Our faith does not have to “have works” in order for it to be living, saving faith, since it is not our faith that is the basis of our justification, but rather Christ’s faith.

Although a new administration was given to Paul and involves Jews and gentiles being justified through the faith of Christ, it needs to be emphasized that the “salvation program” according to which Israelites could be saved - and which Christ affirmed during his earthly ministry - did not terminate for Israel at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection. Nor did it terminate when Paul’s administration began. What changed during the time period covered by Acts was not the termination of the old program of salvation for Israel, but rather the introduction of a new program of salvation at the start of Paul’s administration (which, from that point on, ran parallel with Israel’s “old” salvation program).

That the salvation program according to which Israelites could be saved during Christ’s earthly ministry did not terminate with Christ’s death and resurrection is evident from the post- ascension words of Christ himself. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the book of Revelation, we find Christ delivering messages to the “messengers” of seven different churches in Asia. Although I believe these churches will all exist at a future time (and were not in existence at the time John wrote Revelation), it should be noted that a fulfilled, “historical” interpretation of Revelation 2-3 (which views these churches as contemporaneous with John at the time he wrote) is equally consistent with the position being advanced in this article.

Regardless of whether these churches existed in John’s day or will exist at some future time, the point that needs to be emphasized is that Christ’s messages to these churches all presuppose the same view of salvation as that found in both the Gospel accounts and in James’ letter – i.e., one’s being worthy of life during the eons of Christ’s reign is dependent on both faith and works/conduct. From the perspective of the to whom Christ delivered the words in these chapters, their future salvation is not something that will come to pass irrespective of what they do and how they live; rather, to be worthy of having life in the kingdom during the eons of Christ’s reign will require continued obedience, diligence and faithfulness. And if they “stumble” in this regard, repentance will be absolutely necessary (followed, of course, by a commitment to doing what they were doing before they were in need of repentance). In short, their being saved at the consummation will require “conquering”:

“I am aware of your acts, and your toil, and your endurance…But I have against you that you leave your first love. Remember, then, whence you have fallen, and repent, and do the former acts. Yet if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, if ever you should not be repenting…To the one who is conquering, I will be granting to be eating of the tree of life which is in the center of the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:2-7).

“Become faithful until death, and I shall be giving you the wreath of life…the one who is conquering will not be injured by the second death” (Rev. 2:10).

“I will give to each of you as your works deserve…the one who is conquering and who is keeping my acts until the consummation, to him will I be giving authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:23, 26-28).

“I am aware of your acts, that you have a name that you are living, and are dead. Become watchful, and establish the rest who were about to be dying; for I have not found your acts completed in the sight of my God…Yet you have a few names in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is conquering will be clothed thus in white garments, and under no circumstances will I be erasing his name from the scroll of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his messengers.” (Rev. 3:1-5)

As noted earlier, this view of what makes one righteous and thus worthy of life in the eons to come is precisely what James affirmed in his letter. One’s being “just” (and thus “justified”) depended on “discharging the royal law” and doing the sort of works by means of which one’s faith was perfected. Failing to “endure trial” by transgressing the law (and thus “working sin”) jeopardized one’s future salvation, and disqualified one from obtaining the “wreath of life” (which, as we’ve seen from Christ’s words above, means being worthy of life during the eons to come rather than having one’s name erased from the “scroll of life” and being among those who will be “injured by the second death”). Their justification was not “through the faith of Christ,” because if it was, there would be no danger of their losing or forfeiting the “wreath of life,” or of their being erased from the “scroll of life.” Their receiving eonian life would be just as secure as Christ’s present life, since the basis for their deserving it would be Christ’s own righteousness, rather than their own.

What about the "Great White Throne Judgment?"

Before considering the rest of the “circumcision letters,” I’d like to conclude this section with a few remarks on the “great white throne” judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15. In this passage, we read of “the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne.” We read that scrolls will be opened, and that, in addition to these scrolls, there will be a scroll opened that John identifies as being the “scroll of life.” John then tells us that everyone he saw appearing before the great white throne were “judged by that which is written in the scrolls in accord with their acts” (vv. 12-13). John later added that “if anyone was not found written in the scroll of life, he was cast into the lake of fire” (v. 15).

The belief of most students of Scripture throughout history – and, perhaps most notably among those in the body of Christ today, A.E. Knoch - is that no one being judged at this judgment will be “found written in the scroll of life.” That is, it is commonly believed that all who will be appearing before the great white throne will end up being cast into the lake of fire. One of the beliefs that seems to underpin this popular view is that the standard by which God will be judging people at this time is God’s absolute righteousness – i.e., the righteousness that is “through Jesus Christ’s faith,” and which is “for all, and on all who are believing” (Rom. 3:21-22).

However, when we keep in mind that there were righteous, believing pre-Israelites (such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Job, etc.), the view that all who will be judged at the Great White Throne will be cast into the lake of fire is very much undermined. This category of righteous people - being non-Israelites - will not be among those raised by Christ at the "former resurrection" (Rev. 20:5) to enjoy an allotment in the land of Israel during the millennial reign. And we have no scriptural reason to deny that they’ll be among those judged at the great white throne judgment. However, since Hebrews 11 leaves us little doubt that they will have an allotment on the new earth during the last and greatest eon, we can conclude that their names are written in the “scroll of life.” The people in this category (i.e., righteous pre-Israelites) are not, therefore, going to be cast into the lake of fire. And if that’s the case, then the same can be said for righteous non-Israelites who lived in subsequent time periods – including those alive today, who aren’t members of the body of Christ.

Now, if the standard by which people are going to be judged is the absolute righteousness of God, then no one outside of those in the body of Christ will be found in the “scroll of life,” and will be able to avoid being cast into the lake of fire. Since some – perhaps many – human beings will, in fact, be found in the scroll of life, then it follows that the standard according to which people will be judged at the great white throne is not the absolute righteousness of God. Rather, the sort of righteousness that will qualify people for inclusion in the scroll of life (and thus eonian life on the new earth) will be a relative righteousness.