Saved by Faith?

Now this is interesting. Reading Tom Wright’s writings on Paul, especially the “new perspective” on the meaning of “justification” in Paul, led me to ask:

Does Paul actually ever say that we are “saved by faith”?

I put this question to my Logos bible computer software in the form of a search for verses with “pistis” and “sozdein” (I don’t know if I have transliterated that last one right) and their cognates in the same verse.

What did it show? Well, aside from all the predictable “Your faith has saved you” passages in the Gospels and Acts (where “sozdein” actually is better translated “healed” than “saved”) and in James 5:15 where the same applies (in reference to the “prayer of faith” of another), and an obscure passage in 1 Tim 2:15 which says that a woman is saved through childbearing if she continues in faithfulness, there are only two places where the two congnates occur together:

James 2:14 “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?” (lit. “Is the faith (he pistis) able to save him?”)

Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (“grace” is dative of instrument, and “through faith” is “dia pisteos”).

Strictly then, not only do the two passages do not contradict one another (the Ephesians passage says that it is grace that saves, albeit through faith) but nowhere in the scripture does it say that “faith” (let alone “faith alone”) saves, except in the sense that people are “healed” of illness by faith.

There are plenty of passages in Paul that assert that “justification” is by faith (Romans and Galatians mainly, with James 2:24 as a dissenting voice). But, if I read the “new perspective” rightly, “salvation” and “justification” are different categories, just as “justification” and “sanctification” are different categories.

In view of the “new perspective” therefore (post Augustinian/Pelagian theological development notwithstanding) I think it is quite possible for a Catholic to affirm that justification is “by faith alone” in the terms that Paul originally meant it (although not in the terms in which the Reformers and Trent argued the point out).

On the other hand, one can speak of being “saved by faith” if one understands “salvation” as “healing”, but one must also acknowledge that in this category of “healing”, to be “healed by works” makes no sense at all. So the New Testament (and Paul himself) never really envisages a controversy about whether one is “saved” by works or by faith.

To follow this further, we would need to see “salvation” (and all its cognates) as being parallel to the terminology and imagery of “justification”, “sanctification”, “participation”, “forgiveness”, “redemption” etc., rather than the latter categories as a subset of the former.

The controversy of “faith and works” belongs to the terminology and imagery of “justification”, but makes no sense in the terminology of “sanctification”, “participation”, “forgiveness”, or, I am arguing, “salvation”.

What do you think?

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3 Responses to Saved by Faith?

  1. Mike says:

    I think I should read more about it. The old perspectives as well as the new perspective. Can you recommend any good books? I have read the basic ideas but found it confusing in the past when apologists get to arguing about it, especially the Protestant explanations for passages such as Matt 7:14-27, Matt 25, etc, and Catholic explanations of all the Justification by Faith talk in St Paul’s letters.

    I would like to see a fair and strong outline of the “Protestant position” (as much as there could be said to be one) as well as the traditional “Catholic position” (ditto), and this “new perspective”, and I am willing to read a few books. Where should I start?


  2. Past Elder says:

    I think it sounds right in line with conciliar “Catholicism” — keep the costumes and real estate and the money, change everything else and call it “doctrinal development”, deeper understanding, aggiornamento, whatever.

  3. Schütz says:

    PE, I was discussing the scriptural texts themselves. Any thoughts on those?

    Mike, Tom Wright has a short book written 10 years ago called “What Paul really said” which is a good starting point. He followed this up with another book on Pauline themes simply called “Paul”.

    There is a website that is really useful here with stacks of stuff I haven’t even begun to sift through yet:

    My conclusions (re soteriology and the different languages and paradigms used) are my own, and not Wright’s or anyone elses – just inspired (?) by their suggestions.

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