Wright on Imputed Righteousness

It seems that the followers of N.T. Wright continue to suggest that he does not deny the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Beside the fact that he has made a career out of criticizing the Reformers on their doctrine of justification (specifically in regard to the sufficiency of the imputed righteousness of Christ), it is fair to say that Wright explicitly denies the imputed righteousness of Christ throughout many of his books and lectures. One very clear instance of this is found in his August 2003 Rutherford House lecture “New Perspectives on Paul.” In the course of that lectures Wright asserted:

What God’s righteousness never becomes, in the Jewish background which Paul is so richly summing up, is an attribute which is passed on to,
reckoned to, or imputed to, his people. Nor does Paul treat it in this way. What we find, rather, is that Paul is constantly (especially in Romans, where all but one of the occurrences of the phrase are found) dealing with the themes which from Isaiah to 4 Ezra cluster together with the question of God’s righteousness: how is God to be faithful to Israel, to Abraham, to the world? How will the covenant be fulfilled, and who will be discovered to be God’s covenant people when this happens? …1

Far from misunderstanding Wright, we see from this example that Wright affirms that the Bible does not teach, whether in the Old Testament or the New (at least in Paul) the idea of God imputing or reckoning righteousness to His people.

1. N.T. Wright “New Perspectives on Paul” from the 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: 25–28 August 2003. You can find this lecture here .

7 Responses

  1. Faris

    Apologies if I do not use the tags correctly.

    Does not Wright end up in the same place as imputed righteous though he reformulates this as union with Christ?

    From the same article you just quoted:
    “First, Paul’s doctrine of what is true of those who are in the Messiah does the job, within his scheme of thought, that the traditional protestant emphasis on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness did within that scheme. In other words, that which imputed righteousness was trying to insist upon is, I think, fully taken care of in (for instance) Romans 6, where Paul declares that what is true of the Messiah is true of all his people. Jesus was vindicated by God as Messiah after his penal death; I am in the Messiah; therefore I too have died and been raised. According to Romans 6, when God looks at the baptised Christian he sees him or her in Christ. But Paul does not say that he sees us clothed with the earned merits of Christ. That would of course be the wrong meaning of ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’. He sees us within the vindication of Christ, that is, as having died with Christ and risen again with him. I suspect that it was the mediaeval over-concentration on righteousness, on iustitia, that caused the protestant reformers to push for imputed righteousness to do the job they rightly saw was needed.”

  2. Nicholas T. Batzig


    I do not think that Wright does end up in the same place. First, Paul is not dealing with imputed righteousness in Romans 6, he is dealing with definitive and progressive sanctification by our faith-union with Christ. The quote you posted only serves to confirm the conclusion of those who suggest Wright confuses justification and sanctification. Union makes imputation possible, it does not replace it. How can Wright deny imputation on the one hand and affirm it on the other? Have you ever taken a logic course? If not, I humbly suggest that you do so.

  3. Nicholas T. Batzig

    I will grant that Wright affirms the imputation of infused righteousness if that is what you mean. That is not what the Reformers taught.

  4. Is one not allowed to disagree with the Reformers? Are they such sacred cows that they are above scrutiny? To hear some traditional Protestants speak, there really are some men whom we may call “master.”

  5. Jeff Waddington


    The question is not whether we can disagree with the Reformers (for they disagreed on some things among themselves), but whether we have good reason to disagree with them. I can say that on the issue of the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience, Wright may think he ends up at the same place as the Reformers, at least with regard to intent, but he does not. Imputation is not a doctrine in contradiction to union with Christ. Imputation occurs within union. Another way of putting this is that imputation and union with Christ are complementary truths.

  6. Just to clarify, Wright does affirm imputation, just not in the passages you are referring to. He accepts that Paul talks of the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness, but not God’s Righteousness. And this is because Wright interprets God’s Righteousness as God’s Covenant Faithfulness. Now, you can disagree with Wright about that interpretation, but you cannot claim that he reject imputation completely. He doesn’t and he has pointed that out several times. One of the passages he accept for the Reformed concept of imputation is Philippians 3:9, where Paul says, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”

    I understand how Wright can be frustrating sometimes, but I don’t think that people need to keep trying to prove that Wright does not believe in the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness, when he always has and likely always will believe in it. His view is simple to understand… there are not that many verse that speak of imputation in the Reformed sense, but there are still verses that do speak of it.

  7. Steve

    Imputed righteousness goes a lot further back than Paul the Apostle. In Genesis 15:6 “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him righteousness” not only trumps Wrights interpretation, it blows it out of the water.

    Besides even if the Jewish tradition of Paul’s time did not think in terms of imputed righteousness why should that be normative? No less a person that Christ Himself opposed the Jewish tradition as hypocrisy and dead men’s bones.

    Elsewhere Wright made a straw man (I read it online so cannot attest to it, sorry) . He suggested that imputation reified righteousness, making it a gas or a substance, in order to reject the notion.

    So he does not know what imputation is. He undercuts the means whereby anyone can approach a Holy and Terrible God and he exalts community far above its lawful place. Oh, community has its place but each man must stand alone before a righteous and angry God. To make righteousness a matter of community standing is to reject our individual standing before the Holy and Terrible

    What saddens me is that we protestants make mediators out of writers and preachers showing we do not believe in sola fide or the sole mediatorship of Christ

    reformers preachers or theologians are neither here nor there, and if we truly believed in sola scriptura we would know this

Leave a Reply