A Refutation of the N.T. Wright, the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision View of Galatians

N. T. Wright is a dangerous wolf whose influence has infected the church with several false doctrines.   One especially influential view held by Wright, and those within a movement he is part of called the “New Perspective on Paul,”  is that the focus of Galatians is not about personal salvation, but Jewish identity markers.  

The following by Brian Schwertley is a refutation of this view. Here Schwertley is particularly addressing the Federal Vision (Auburn Avenue theology), a heresy with much in common with  N.T. Wright’s theology:

  • “(10) A passage of Scripture which explicitly refutes the “Jewish identity markers” theory is Galatians 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Here Paul follows the Septuagint rendering of Deuteronomy 27:36 with some slight changes.
  • “Instead of the Septuagint’s “all the words of this law” (Mt. also has “this law”) Paul writes “everything that is written in the Book of the law. The apostle is emphasizing that every law in the whole written Torah in all of its details (i.e., every jot and tittle) must be perfectly obeyed to avoid being under the curse of the law.
  • “This is the sword of Damocles which hangs over the head of all workers with law.” Further, Deuteronomy 27 itself completely ignores the ceremonial law and focuses upon violations of the ten commandments (idolatry, v. 15; dishonoring parents, v. 16; theft, v. 17; adultery v. 20; murder, v. 25) and specific applications of the ten commandments (injustice, v. 19; cruelty, v. 18; bestiality, v. 21; incest, vs. 22, 23; unlawful violence, v. 24).
  • Paul, writing under divine inspiration, makes it crystal clear that his phrase “the works of the law” refers to the whole law of God whether ceremonial (i.e. the identity markers) or moral (the ten commandments and moral case laws).
  • “… (11) Paul’s condemnation of the Judaizers in Galatians 4:21-31 implies much more than a mere hanging on to Jewish identity markers or exclusivity. Paul uses the symbol of two mothers to represent two different systems of doctrine.
  • Hagar the slave woman and the Jerusalem which now is, corresponds not to the Mosaic law as it was intended by God; which pointed to Jesus Christ and not to a system of works salvation; but, to the slavish doctrine and worship that the Old Covenant religion had degenerated into under the Pharisees.
  • “Although the ceremonial ordinances were weak and beggarly elements for an immature church, the faithful saints of the Old Covenant were not spiritual Ishmaelites who were slaves under bondage. “This is a heavy reproach against the Jews, whose real mother was not Sarah, but the spurious Jerusalem, twin sister of Hagar; who were therefore slaves born a slave, thought they haughtily boasted that they were the sons of Abraham.”
  • The Jews placed themselves under the yoke of bondage because they believed that a strict obedience to the ceremonial regulations and moral laws, as well as their own man-made laws, could bring them into the kingdom of heaven. Paul says they were damnable heretics who were dead wrong. If the Jewish identity markers theory were true then Paul was engaging in incredible overkill in his statements.
  • “(12) A section of Scripture that is especially fatal to the Auburn Avenue doctrine is Galatians 5:1-4, where Paul warns believers not to be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. The apostle says that the man who becomes circumcised is a debtor to keep the whole law.
  • Is Paul saying that anyone who becomes circumcised cannot be saved without exception? No. We know that that cannot be the apostle’s meaning for late in his ministry he circumcised Timothy (Ac. 16:3) to make it easier to minister in Jewish communities. Clearly then, the apostle’s argument is not against a love of Jewish identity markers or even exclusivity as bad as that may be (1 Cor. 3:3ff.).
  • “The thing that stirred up Paul and caused him to use such strong language was the doctrine behind circumcision. Although the false teachers acknowledged Christ, they in addition taught the necessity of circumcision as a commitment to follow another mode of justification. The Judaizers were teaching another gospel. They required obedience to the law in addition to faith in Christ.
  • Paul responded to this doctrine by pointing out that if you depend on the law in addition to Christ, then you must perfectly and perpetually obey the whole law (ceremonial and moral) in exhaustive detail. In other words, if people look to anything besides Jesus for salvation they have no hope of ever being saved. John Stott writes:
  • The slogan of the false teacher was: “unless you are circumcised and keep the law, you cannot be saved” (cf. Acts 15:1, 5). They were thus declaring that faith in Christ was insufficient for salvation.Circumcision and law-obedience must be added to it. This was tantamount to saying that Moses must be allowed to finish what Christ had begun.
  • See how Paul describes their position in these verses. They are those who “receive circumcision” (verses 2, 3), who are therefore “bound to keep the whole law” (verse 3), since this is what their circumcision commits them to, and who are seeking to “be justified by the law” (verse 4).
  • “What does Paul say to them? He does not mince his words. On the contrary, he makes a most solemn assertion, beginning Now I, Paul, say to you (verse 2). He warns them in three sentences of the serious results of their receiving circumcision; Christ will be of no advantage to you (verse 2), you are severed from Christ and you have fallen away from grace (verse 4).
  • More simply, to add circumcision is to lose Christ, to seek to be justified by the law is fall from grace. You cannot have it both ways.
  • “It is impossible to receive Christ, thereby acknowledging that you cannot save yourself, and then receive circumcision, thereby claiming that you can.
  • You have got to choose between a religion of law and a religion of grace, between Christ and circumcision. You cannot add circumcision (or anything else, for that matter) to Christ as necessary to salvation, because Christ is sufficient for salvation in Himself. If you add anything to Christ, you lose Christ. Salvation is in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone.” (Brian Schwertley, A Refutation of the Auburn Avenue Theology’s Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone.)
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4 Comments

  1. Due to the bulletized form of your message, it isn’t clear which are the words of Schwertly and which are the words of NT Wright.

    Regarding your application of the words “wolf” and “heresy” to men who have not been convicted of such, those words have traditionally been reserved for those who were simultaneously heterodox AND schismatic over a certain essential point of doctrine, and was determined by high level church courts.

    You may justly argue that these various folks are wrong, and in grave error, but their doctrine has not, like that of Jacob Arminius, been condemned as heresy by a church court (Synod of Dordt).

    Until they have been judged as such by the Church, it is schismatic of you to call them “heretics” and their doctrine “heresy”.

    Furthermore, the only church committee, not even a court, to rule on this was the PCA’s Committee Report on Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul.

    This report, though it concluded that some of these views were not in accordance with the Westminster Standards, states, “The committee also affirms that we view NPP and FV proponents in the PCA as brothers in Christ.”

    You and others who, as individuals unsupported by an church court, accuse these men of being “wolves” and “heretics” are yourselves acting like schismatics. Be careful, lest your accusation fall back upon you. Schism is halfway to heresy.

  2. Clarification on my last comment – the point is authority. You and the anti-FV crowd may be 100% correct that the FV doctrines are damnable corruptions of the Gospel.

    But as individual men you do not have the authority to publicly label these men “heretics”. It’s the same as declaring someone to be guilty of a crime before they’ve been found guilty by a court of law. To do so is libel and slander.

    The RPCUS did not invite any of the men to make a defense before releasing their “call to repentance” in 2002.

    If you, Schwertly, Otis and others care so much about saving the rest of Reformed Christendom from Federal Vision, then you should call a council of Reformed churches to hear charges and get a ruling – where the men accused of heresy are given a chance to defend themselves.

    You guys lose credibility by sniping from the sidelines.

  3. Ken,
    I will address your arguments one by one.

    1. “Regarding your application of the words “wolf” and “heresy” to men who have not been convicted of such, those words have traditionally been reserved for those who were simultaneously heterodox AND schismatic over a certain essential point of doctrine, and was determined by high level church courts.”

    But they have been convicted by the Word of God as heretics. I don’t see the Bible anywhere requiring the view you propose; indeed, Paul wants us to be able to discern for ourselves who teaches a false gospel:

    “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)

    Of course, I find it ironic that you say what you say, since you are a professing Protestant, and Protestantism didn’t rely on a court to see Catholicism as heresy.

    2. “You may justly argue that these various folks are wrong, and in grave error, but their doctrine has not, like that of Jacob Arminius, been condemned as heresy by a church court (Synod of Dordt).”

    Exactly—that’s what I have done. Damnable heresies are wrong, they are grave errors. Of course, one of the heresies of FV is Arminianism, anyway.

    3. “Until they have been judged as such by the Church, it is schismatic of you to call them “heretics” and their doctrine “heresy”.”

    Here is where you refute yourself: early on you argue “Regarding your application of the words “wolf” and “heresy” to men who have not been convicted of such, those words have traditionally been reserved for those who were simultaneously heterodox AND schismatic over a certain essential point of doctrine, and was determined by high level church courts.”

    In short, you argue that one cannot call another schismatic unless judged so by a high level church court. But then you turn around and call me schismatic.

    However, by your own reasoning, you cannot call me a schismatic, unless I have been determined so by high level church courts. So you are being schismatic about calling me a schismatic.

    The ultimate authority is not church courts, but the Bible. Your appeal to the corporate church (“church courts”) and tradition (“those words have traditionally been reserved for”) instead of the Bible is consistent with Roman Catholicism. Of course, the FV and N.T. Wright, in their emphasis of the church over God, are likewise consistent with Roman Catholicism.

    4. “Furthermore, the only church committee, not even a court, to rule on this was the PCA’s Committee Report on Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul.”

    RPCUS and WPCUS, to name just a couple, have condemned FV and NPP. I’m not sure if they technically had church committees, but they did base their condemnations on God’s Word.

    5. “This report, though it concluded that some of these views were not in accordance with the Westminster Standards, states, “The committee also affirms that we view NPP and FV proponents in the PCA as brothers in Christ.””

    Exactly. The PCA is double minded. This is why I left the PCA. Is the PCA infallible—and do you agree with everything it says?

    6. “You and others who, as individuals unsupported by an church court, accuse these men of being “wolves” and “heretics” are yourselves acting like schismatics. Be careful, lest your accusation fall back upon you. Schism is halfway to heresy.”

    For you to recognize something as being “halfway to heresy,” then you must recognize full heresy—otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to gauge what constitutes the halfway point to heresy. But don’t you believe only courts can recognize full heresy?

    If I were you I would fear the wrath of God. Jesus says “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30a). By siding with these heretics, you side against the Lord Jesus Christ. If you are honestly unsure whether these men teach heresy, and need further study, I hope you do so. The evidence that they are wolves is plain enough.

    I would be sinning against my Lord and Savior if I didn’t warn others about the FV and NPP. The church must be warned about wolves; to not do so is not an option. There are plenty of passages about this here:

    https://flockalert.wordpress.com/2009/07/01/wolves-among-you/

  4. Ken,
    Again, I will address your arguments point by point:

    1. “But as individual men you do not have the authority to publicly label these men “heretics”. It’s the same as declaring someone to be guilty of a crime before they’ve been found guilty by a court of law. To do so is libel and slander.”

    But by your own reasoning, you are guilty of libel and slander, since you are publicly slandering and libeling me (on a public blog) by calling me libelous and slanderous before I’ve been convicted of such by a court of law.

    2. “The RPCUS did not invite any of the men to make a defense before releasing their “call to repentance” in 2002.”

    With good reason. The many heretical statements of the FV proponents was already more than enough evidence to prove their apostasy. Moreover, the Apostle Paul did not invite the Judaizers to make a defense—he judged them by their words.

    And neither were the Gnostics and Antinomians invited to make their defense before they were condemned. Indeed, the Bible says to avoid such men, not to give them a platform:

    “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.” (Romans 16:17-18)

    Thus, wolves are to be avoided. To give them a platform leads to hearts being deceived.

    Again,

    “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said,

    “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (Titus 1:10-16)

    Wolves must be silenced, and rebuked sharply. They are not to be given a platform, since they upset whole families.

    In Galatians 2:4, 5, Paul says

    “Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”

    One thing that stands out is that in order for the truth of the gospel to be preserved, those who teach false gospels cannot be accommodated for even a moment.

    But the PCA and OPC, in not acting decisively against FV and NPP, have yielded for years–with the effect of the FV and NPP spreading like gangrene (cf. 2 Tim. 2:17), and Baptist circles (no thanks to John Piper giving Douglas Wilson a platform) are now exposed to it.

    You aid in this spreading of heresy by defending these wolves.

    3. “If you, Schwertly, Otis and others care so much about saving the rest of Reformed Christendom from Federal Vision, then you should call a council of Reformed churches to hear charges and get a ruling – where the men accused of heresy are given a chance to defend themselves.”

    A court would be for discerning whether or not they made the statements they made. But what they said was out in the open, so the only issue becomes weighing in a judgment (“sentencing”)–calling them to repentance, and warning the church about their damnable doctrines.


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