January 26, 2006

Galatians 2:20 and Real Union

On an internet discussion board, I was asked to respond to the following quote by James White. White refers to Galatians 2:20 to maintain his strictly limited atonement view as over against Dave Hunt's Arminian perspective. Here's the citation I was provided:
[Are] we truly to believe that in eternity the denizens of hell, while screaming their hatred for God, will be able to say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). Surely not!"
James White, Debating Calvinism, p.177.

One does not have to agree with White's position in order to disagree with the many errors of Dave Hunt. In the quotation above, White is presupposing the validity of the Owenic double payment argument. I have dealt with that fallacious argument elsewhere. White is also confusing the significant difference between federal (or virtual) and real union. I will say more about this issue in what follows.

First, I cite the text and several commentaries that rightly interpret Paul's flow of thought and theology. Then, I try to expound on the nature of White's confusion regarding virtual and real union. Here's my response to this quote:
NRS Galatians 2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Comments and Commentaries:

I would argue that Paul is referring to truths that pertain to real union in Galatians 2:20, not virtual union. He's clearly referring to things that occurred when he existed, not in some non-existent state, or even when he was in an unbelieving state. He says that he "died to the law," and that "it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." Further, he clarifies what he means when he says "the life I now live (i.e. as a believer or one having faith) in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God." One can see that Paul is saying things about himself that refer to real or vital union truths, not virtual union. Therefore, not even the unbelieving elect can say of themselves what Paul says of himself in Galatians 2:20, so it's no surprise that those in hell cannot say it either. The fact that those in hell cannot say of themselves what Paul says of himself in that passage is no argument against Christ dying for those who are now in hell, any more than it is an argument against Christ dying for the unbelieving elect who cannot describe themselves as Paul describes himself in that passage. In other words, the following argument is just as unsound:

1) Paul says that he has died to the law, lives to God, has been crucified with Christ and lives by faith.
2) The unbelieving elect cannot say these things about themselves.
3) Therefore, Christ did not die for them.

Consider what some commentaries observe about the context.

Richard N Longnecker says this in the Word Biblical Commentary:
The death of Christ was the focus of early Christian preaching, and it is that as well throughout Galatians (cf. 1:4; 3:1, 13; 6:12, 14). Later in Galatians Paul will speak of Christ's death as redeeming us from the "curse of the law" (see also Col 2:14) and from "the world" (see Col 2:20), and elsewhere in his letters he emphasizes Christ's death as saving us from our sins (esp. Rom 7:14-25). Here, however, Paul speaks of Christ's death and our spiritual identification with that death as releasing believers from the jurisdiction of the Mosaic law - much as he does later in the somewhat garbled illustration of Rom 7:1-6 which concludes: "so, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another.... Now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we might serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."

The συν prefix of the verb συνεσταύρωμαι highlights the believer's participation with Christ in his crucifixion. Paul is undoubtedly not here thinking of a literal physical death on the part of the Christian, but of his or her spiritual identification with Christ's death on the cross. The perfect tense of the verb signals the believer's once-for-all act of commitment, with that act having results and implications for the present.

The versification of the KJV has accustomed Protestants to read "I have been crucified with Christ" as the beginning of v 20, and that tradition has been followed by many modern Protestant translations (so ASV, RSV, NIV). Critical editions of the Greek text, however, are almost unanimous in placing Χριστω συνεσταύρωμαι with the material of v 19. And if that be its rightful place, as we believe it is, then Paul's argument in this verse as to believers being released from the jurisdiction of the Mosaic law is fourfold: (1) that it was the law's purpose to bring about its own demise in legislating the lives of God's people; (2) that such a jurisdictional demise was necessary in order that believers in Christ might live more fully in relationship with God; (3) that freedom from the law's jurisdiction is demanded by the death of Christ on the cross; and (4) that by identification with Christ we experience the freedom from the law that he accomplished.
Richard N. Longnecker, Galatians. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 41. (Nashville: Nelson, 1990), 92.

Notice how Calvin implicitly takes the verse to reference real union as well. He says:
I am crucified with Christ. This explains the manner in which we, who are dead to the law, live to God. Ingrafted into the death of Christ, we derive from it a secret energy, as the twig does from the root. Again, the handwriting of the law, "which was contrary to us, Christ has nailed to his cross." (Colossians 2:14.) Being then crucified with him, we are freed from all the curse and guilt of the law. He who endeavors to set aside that deliverance makes void the cross of Christ. But let us remember, that we are delivered from the yoke of the law, only by becoming one with Christ, as the twig draws its sap from the root, only by growing into one nature.
See Calvin's Commentaries

We are not "dead to the law," or "engrafted into the death of Christ," or deriving "secret energy" from the death of Christ in some pre-existent federal state. These things happen when we believe into Christ, i.e. when we are really united to him by faith. This is how Calvin is taking the sense, and rightly so.

Lenski, in his commentary is on the real union target as well. He comments:
Συν in the verb denotes faith, for it alone joins us to Christ crucified "with" him.
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians (Augsburg: Fortress, 1961), 116.

John Stott comments on the context of the passage this way:
Perhaps now it is becoming clearer why a Christian who is 'justified in Christ' is not free to sin. In Christ 'old things are passed away' and 'all things are become new' (2 Cor. 5:17, AV). This is because the death and resurrection of Christ are not only historical events (He 'gave himself' and now 'lives'), but events in which through faith-union with Him His people have comes to share ('I have been crucified with Christ' and now 'I live'). Once we have been united to Christ in His Death, our old life is finished; it is ridiculous to suggest that we could ever go back to it. Besides, we have risen to a new life.
John Stott, Only One Way: The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove: IVP, 1968), 65.

Curtis Vaughn also understands the context. He says,
Verse 20 describes the new life into which Paul came when he renounced the law and turned to Christ. It was in essence a life of identification with Christ, both in death and in resurrection. The former, identification in death, is expressed by the opening words: I have been crucified with Christ (ASV). Believers, by virtue of their corporate union with Christ, were included in his death (cf. Rom. 6:6). What he experienced, they experienced. This may be seen as yet another reason why the law has no claim on Paul. Phillips: "As far as the Law is concerned I may consider that I died on the cross with Christ." The tense of the verb (perfect) speaks of an act accomplished at some point in the past but having abiding results.

But Paul's Christian experience involved not simply an identification with Christ in his death; it was also an identification with him in life. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me (verse 20a, ASV). The sense is that Paul no longer thinks of himself as having a separate existence from Christ. Christ has become the source, the aim, and the motivating principle of all that he does (cf. Phil. 1:21). "As in the old days the law had filled his horizon and dominated his thought-life, so now it is Christ. Christ is the sole meaning of life for him now; every moment is passed in conscious dependence on Him" (Cole, p. 83).
Curtis Vaughn, Galatians: A Study Guide Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 54–55.

Donald K. Campbell says this:
Basic to an understanding of this verse is the meaning of union with Christ. The doctrine is based on such passages as Romans 6:1-6 and 1 Corinthians 12:13, which explain that believers have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ and into the church, the body of all true believers. Having been thus united to Christ, believers share in His death, burial, and resurrection. Paul could therefore write, I have been "crucified with Christ" (lit., "I have been and am now crucified with Christ"). This brought death to the Law.
Donald K. Campbell, "Galatians," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), 596.

Richard B. Gaffin interprets the verse as referencing the real union that believers experience by faith. He says:
The notion of resurrection with Christ is not difficult to see in these verses. Their affinity especially with the passage in Romans 6:3ff. appears at several points. Verse 20 contains the only other reference in Paul to crucifixion with Christ (cf. Rom. 6:6). Having died "that I might live to God" (v. 19b) is reminiscent of Romans 6:10f. The death to the law spoken of (v. 19a) is correlative with the death to sin (cf. Rom. 7:4, 6 with 6:6, 18, 22). Therefore, since this death is described in terms of solidarity with Christ in his crucifixion, the life which forms its pointed contrast (v. 20) should be understood in terms of solidarity in his resurrection. Moreover, since this life is obviously life in individual, existential union with Christ ("Christ in me"), the co-crucifixion and the co-resurrection in view are likewise primarily experiential in nature.

In these verses Paul writes in the singular, using himself and his experience as illustrative of all believers. This justifies understanding the "we" statements in the other passages examined distributively and as applying individually to every believer.
Richard B. Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1978), 52–53.

Anthony Hoekema brings up Galatians 2:20 in the context of his analysis of actual union. He says:
(2) We appropriate and continue to live out of this union through faith. It is important to remember that the only way in which we can appropriate union with Christ is by faith. Though, as we saw, it is the Spirit who brings us into this living union, we can only grasp and continue to enjoy this union by faith. By nature we are "old selves," enslaved to sin and alienated from God, but as we exercise our faith Christ can and does live in us. Through faith we actualize and experience our having been made new creatures in Christ.

In Galatians 2:20 Paul writes, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." So strongly does Paul here express the truth of union with Christ that he affirms that there is a sense in which he is no longer living, but Christ is living in him. Yet in another sense he does still live: "The life I live in the body, I live by faith." He no longer lives as one who is a slave to sin; he now lives as a person in whom Chirst dwells. But he can only become aware of and draw power from that indwelling of Christ through faith. Faith means living in the joyful awareness that Christ lives in us.
Anthony Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 60.

The Nature of White's Confusion:

The commentaries above correctly see the sense of real union in the text. However, James White does not. He is, in effect, pushing the truths that pertain to real union back into federal/virtual union, or back into a time when we didn't even exist yet (back to the time when Christ died). He's fundamentally confused on the significant distinction between federal (sometimes called virtual or decretal union) and actual/real/vital union. White has probably picked up this error from the higher Calvinists like John Owen, or maybe even from John Gill. Gill says:
Ver. 20. I am crucified with Christ,.... Not literally, for so only the two thieves were crucified with him, but mystically; Christ was crucified for him in his room and stead, and so he was crucified with him, and in him, as his head and representative. Christ sustained the persons of all his people, and what he did and suffered was in their name, and on their account, and so they were crucified and suffered with him, as they are said to be buried with him, and to be risen with him, and to sit together in heavenly places in him. Moreover, their old man was crucified with him; when he was crucified, all their sins, the whole body of them, were laid upon him, and he bore them, and bore them away, destroyed and made an end of them; they received their mortal wound by his crucifixion and death, so as never to be able to have any damning power over them;
One can see that John Gill, a classic type of hyper-Calvinist, has a tendency to put real union truths back into virtual union. There is an 'already-not yet' confusion on the subject of union with Christ. There is also a tendency in the Dutch theological school to do this same thing (see Ridderbos' commentary on Galatians in the NICNT series, as well as my post here: Ephesians 2:4-6 and Real Union).

White is also assuming that Christ only represented the elect at the time that he died. He's only the last Adam for the elect. This presupposes that he suffers so much for so many people (it is commercialistic). On the contrary, Christ suffered as the last Adam representing all mankind. Every lost human being deserves to die. This is what God's moral law requires. Christ suffers all that the law requires, and his sufferings cannot be quantified. They are as infinite as his person. He dies one death (not many deaths) that is the moral equivalent to what every single sinful human being deserves. However, his death does not automatically liberate humanity. God's promise is conditional, not absolute. This is the case because it is a judicial or penal satisfaction, not a pecuniary debt payment. Since the promise of liberation is conditional, only those who fulfill the condition are set free. The condition for the reception of the benefits of Christ is faith. The elect alone meet the condition because the Holy Spirit grants them the moral ability to believe. Once granted this new moral ability via regeneration, they freely and voluntarily trust Christ unto salvation. The rest perish for failing to meet the condition. Thus, the limitation is in the effectual decree of the Father to apply the unlimited (his sufferings are not quantifiable or limited as if he feels the "weight and pressure" [Owen] for the sins of the elect alone) death of Christ through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The word "limit" should only reference the special, unconditional decree and the special application in the case of the elect, since there is no limit to the sufferings of Christ due to the majesty of his Divine person.

While it is true that God's justice renders it impossible that God should damn one in real union with Christ, that is not the case with unbelievers for whom Christ died, as is seen by the fact that all of them equally abide under God's wrath (Eph. 2:3).

A Few Concluding Remarks:

Actualizing real union truths in the pre-temporal (or prior to our existence) was a mark of Calvinistic antinomianism and Hyper-Calvinism. Both Peter Toon and Curt Daniel make this point in their books:
The doctrine of eternal union was a favorite doctrine of the doctrinal antinomians and is a theme to which the Hyper-Calvinists often turn.
Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Non-Conformity, 1689-1765 (London: The Olive Tree, 1967), 117.
Joseph Hussey accepted that a mark of Antinomianism, which he believed in, was the doctrine of union before faith.
Curt Daniel, Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1983), 264.

The doctrine of eternal union is related to eternal justification, eternal adoption and supralapsarianism (see C. Daniel, Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill, 264–267). These doctrines are dangerous and contrary to scripture. While I am not calling White an Antinomian or a full-blown Hyper-Calvinist, he does lean on (and even opens the door to) their arguments and positions in his expositions on "Calvinism." Beware of these mistakes in reading popular literature on Calvinism.

No comments: