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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Justification and felicity

This post is really a question for Richard Rhodes, partly in response to his posts The 800 pound Gorilla and The itch that inerrancy scratches. But I am writing it as a separate post because I think it might get a bit long for a comment, and because others might be interested in this topic.

Over the last few days on a private mailing list for Bible translators there has been some discussion (mainly between David Frank and myself, and I have David's permission to post about this) of the word in Paul's letters usually translated "justify" being used as a performative. That is, it is being used in the same way as when a judge declares a defendant not guilty: that is not so much a statement that the defendant did not commit the crime as a declaration that he or she is legally treated as innocent and will not be punished. On this interpretation, when Paul writes that God justifies us by faith, he does not mean that God says we have not sinned, but that God is declaring that we will legally be treated as innocent and will not be punished.

One objection sometimes made to the Reformed Evangelical doctrine of justification (here to be distinguished from the understanding of Paul's teaching associated with the New Perspective on Paul) is that it teaches that God says that Christian believers have not sinned although in fact they have - which implies that God is a liar, as in 1 John 1:10. But, as David Frank pointed out to me, if justification is a performative one cannot say that it is a lie. Indeed, even if an unjust or corrupt human judge were to declare not guilty a defendant who he or she knew was in fact guilty, one would not call that verdict a lie.

This of course agrees with what Richard wrote in the gorilla post:
In the 1960’s, after the posthumous publication of John L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, the philosophical and linguistic worlds became aware that the notion truth only applied to a portion of language.

In short, it makes no sense to talk about whether utterances like the following are true or false:
And although none of the utterances Richard listed are in fact performatives, it also makes no sense to talk about whether performatives are true or false.

Richard goes on to introduce the concept of felicity, which does apply to all kinds of utterances. He also makes the claim that
Scripture is fully felicitous communication.
Presumably he would suggest that a fortiori all utterances of God are fully felicitous.

But what does it mean for a performative utterance to be felicitous? This is where my question to Richard comes in. In fact there are three questions, but the important one is the third one.

First, if someone who in fact has no authority to do so, who is not a judge, presumes to pronounce a perpetrator not guilty, that would be an apparently performative utterance which actually fails to perform, in that it has no legal effect and fails to protect that person from punishment. Would it be reasonable to say that the pronouncement is an utterance which is not felicitous?

Then I return to the unjust or corrupt human judge who declares not guilty a defendant who he or she knows is in fact guilty. Would that verdict also be an utterance which is not felicitous? After all, although it is not in itself an untruth, it is based on untruth and deception. Of course this verdict is felicitous in the common sense of the word for the defendant (not for the victim), but is it felicitous in the technical linguistic sense?

And now at last for my real question. If God declares me not guilty, or righteous, although he knows very well that I have committed many sins and am in fact guilty, is his declaration an utterance which is not felicitous? Again, it is felicitous for me in the common sense, but what about the technical linguistic sense?

If this verdict is not felicitous, then either we have to accept that God can and does make infelicitous utterances, or find some other interpretation of Paul's language about justification, such as that of the New Perspective on Paul, according to which justification is not just a declaration of not guilty but a real change in the person's status and actions.

The relevance for this for Bible translation is that, if translators cannot use a traditional word like "justify" whose precise meaning is not well known to their readers, they need to know what alternative to use. Should it be something like "declare not guilty"? Presumably it should not be "say that ... has not sinned". But perhaps, following the New Perspective on Paul, it should be more like "make not guilty". What does anyone think?

20 Comments:

At Wed Apr 16, 04:14:00 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Peter,

I'm not familiar with the New Perspective on Paul, but I think it makes more sense theologically if something like "make not guilty" was used.

My understanding has always been that we are guilty of sin and God knows and recognizes that, but the "sentence" for the sin, if you will, was allowed to be carried out by someone else (Jesus). Therefore we are still guilty of the act, but justified, or made not guilty because our "record" was expunged

 
At Wed Apr 16, 10:12:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Peter,
I'm running behind because when I went into work today my computer had died, so I'm not going to get my post up as quickly as I had hoped.

But a few minor points.

Please and thank you are, in fact, performatives. If I say thank you, I have by the saying of it, thanked you. Please is trickier, but the point is the same. Whatever it is that please does, saying it does it.

As for Paul using δικαιόω performatively, I don't see it anywhere. It would have to be phrased either:

δικαιῶ σε 'I justify you (sg.)'
δικαιῶ ὑμᾶς 'I justify you (pl.)'

and have the reading 'I hereby declare you justified.'

Or perhaps it could be

δικαιοῖ 'You (sg.) are justified'
δικαιοῦσθε 'You (pl.) are justified'

or perhaps

δικαιοῦται 'He/she is justified.'
δικαιοῦνται 'They are justified.'

None of which do I see in a performative usage in any of the 29 (if I didn't miscount) places that Paul uses the word.

Remember not only does a verb need to be a performative verb by meaning and syntax, but it also has to be used performatively, first person speaking in present tense.

The key notion is that the speaking is the doing.

I declare you husband and wife.

I pronounce you guilty.

I christen this ship the USS Hopscotch.


These are felicitous only when uttered in the formulaic form, by a person appropriately authorized to utter them, in the appropriate context.

My interpretation of how the word δικαιόω is used is in agreement with the notion that because of the Blood, we are treated as innocent by God, but it's not appropriate to call that performative.

While this verb has the kind of meaning one could imagine could be used as a performative, you'd have to show me evidence that it was so used.

Does that make sense?

I'll skip the theology, thank you.

 
At Thu Apr 17, 04:21:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Dave, I was thinking of "make not guilty" in a rather different sense, of changing the person so that they really stop committing sin. That is more what Reformed theology calls sanctification. But according to some theologians justification is really what is called sanctification and vice versa: that is, when we become Christians we immediately become holy, i.e. we are sanctified; but we only gradually become righteous, i.e. we are justified. But this is too theological for this blog.

Rich, I don't blame you for skipping the theology.

I didn't mean to suggest that Paul makes performative utterances. Rather, he says that God does. An example is Romans 3:26, a participle in Greek but with the same meaning as the active verbs you quote. See also Romans 8:30,33. Paul does not in fact make these explicit utterances by God, but they are often understood and translated (dynamically) as such, something like "God declares 'You are not guilty'".

Now I understand why you don't consider the utterances in the Bible to be strictly performatives. It was David Frank, who is I think an SIL consultant, who first suggested that God justifying people is a performative. He wrote, on 2nd April in the list correspondence I referred to:

The way I understand it, when God declares someone to be righteous, his act of declaring makes it the case. We are righteous because God declares us to be righteous.

That makes it a performative, surely? It is just that the actual performative utterance is not in the Bible.

What we have in the Bible, on Frank's view, is third party reports of performative utterances. As such they can be true reports or not; as they are in the Bible we presume that they are true. But, if they are true, the reported performative can also be felicitous or not. And that is the felicity issue which we are discussing.

According to you, δικαιόω means that "we are treated as innocent by God". That is not the same as Frank's understanding "we are declared innocent by God". And, whether you like it or not, the difference between your views is theological, and of great and controversial significance, including for Bible translation. Which is right? My question is really to elucidate whether your linguistic category of felicity can help to decide this issue.

 
At Thu Apr 17, 07:29:00 AM, Blogger david_frank said...

Peter,

You have summarized our conversation from a different context pretty well, but there is one subtle but significant clarification I would like to make. I didn't mean to argue that "I justify you" is a performative, but rather I am arguing that "I declare you righteous/not guilty" is the performative. It is the "declaring," uttered by a person who has the authority and does it on valid grounds, that acts as a performative. For this declaration of righteousness to be effective (felicitous), it is not necessary that we were actually not guilty or were righteous up to the point of being declared righteous/not guilty. It does presume that God has the authority to make such a declaration, and that He has valid grounds for doing so, which gets us off into the theological domain of substitutionary atonement. I believe that these conditions have been met, and that the declaration of righteousness is completely felicitous.

A problem, which is perhaps of my own making, is that I have been basing my "performative" explanation of our change in status on the wording of the NIV, and not on the wording of the Greek. Though this whole discussion was based on Romans 3, the wording in the Greek does not explictly use a word like "declare," though one might argue that it is there implicitly, as reflected in Rom. 2:13 and 3:20 in the NIV. The Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament gives the meaning of δικαιόω as "put into a right relationship (with God); acquit, declare and treat as righteous; show or prove to be right; set free." I was focusing on "acquit" and "declare" and my understanding of what God does, using our Western legal system as an analogy, rather than basing it on the wording of the Greek.

I am not familiar with the New Perspective on Paul, but I don't see any inconsistency between the "performative" explanation of how we can attain the status of being declared "not guilty," as explained here, and traditional reformed theology.

I will have to stay tuned to see how Richard Rhodes continues to develop his line of thought about the felicity of scripture. I have a question, but I will keep my question in reserve until he has had a chance to further develop his line of reasoning. But I believe that he and I share a common understanding of speech acts.

Richard wrote, "While this verb [δικαιόω] has the kind of meaning one could imagine could be used as a performative, you'd have to show me evidence that it was so used." I agree with him that it is more difficulty to explain δικαιόω as a performative, and my analysis was based on the use of the English word "declare" that might be used in translating δικαιόω into English (NIV), and on the implicit meaning in the use of the word. The best evidence I could show in response to Richard is the NIV translation of Romans 2:13 and 3:20, but it is not a strong argument. Mark 7:19 is an interesting cross-reference, but again it is the interpretation and the English translation (NIV) that makes the performative explicit. The use of καθαρίζων in Mark 7:19 and δικαιωθήσονται in Rom. 3:20 might be called implicit performatives, which is, in fact, a term used in the literature on speech acts. "Please" might also be considered an implicit performative. The way that the word is used -- i.e. what is implicit behinds its use -- is what makes it a performative. If "hereby" is understood to be implicit in the statement "I justify you," that would be evidence that a performative is involved. Then it would be parallel to "I (hereby) pronounce you husband and wife" or "I (hereby) promise I won't get into arguments like this again."

- David Frank

 
At Thu Apr 17, 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Peter,
There is a key distinction to be made about the semantic properties of words. Some words are performative, and we know this because they can be used as performatively. Declare is such a word in English, but the very close synonym say is not. So the judge can say:

I say you're guilty.

And that's at most an expression of an opinion. (Now contextually that statement might be taken performatively, but strictly speaking it is not.)

So the question about δικαιόω is ultimately linguistic and not theological. Can we find it used performatively? (I have an inquiry in with my Greek professor friend about this.) If it cannot be used performatively, then the translation 'declare justified' (or maybe better 'declare not liable') is not justified (pun intended). Instead the view must be that δικαιόω means 'have the (legal) standing of being not liable'.

Am I right in thinking that the theology question would disappear if the appropriate gloss for the root δικαι- were 'not liable' instead of 'justified'?

 
At Thu Apr 17, 02:05:00 PM, Blogger linguafranka said...

In agreement with what Richard Rhodes said, I thought I should clarify that most places where the NIV uses "declare" in the New Testament, it is not using it as a performative. I don't think the RSV ever uses it as a performative verb, and I don't think Greek has a speech verb corresponding to our English word "declare" in its performative use. Greek expresses the same sort of idea through verb tense-mood-aspect, as when Jesus uses an imperative passive form of a verb such as καθαρίσθητι 'Be clean!' In English this might be translated as "I hereby declare you clean," and the act of saying such a thing has the performative action of making the person clean.

-- David Frank

 
At Thu Apr 17, 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Peter,
There is a key distinction to be made about the semantic properties of words. Some words are performative, and we know this because they can be used as performatively. Declare is such a word in English, but the very close synonym say is not. So the judge can say:

I say you're guilty.

And that's at most an expression of an opinion. (Now contextually that statement might be taken performatively, but strictly speaking it is not.)

So the question about δικαιόω is ultimately linguistic and not theological. Can we find it used performatively? (I have an inquiry in with my Greek professor friend about this.) If it cannot be used performatively, then the translation 'declare justified' (or maybe better 'declare not liable') is not justified (pun intended). Instead the view must be that δικαιόω means 'have the (legal) standing of being not liable'.

Am I right in thinking that the theology question would disappear if the appropriate gloss for the root δικαι- were 'not liable' instead of 'justified'? LSJ only introduces the notion of 'declare justified' in connection with the LXX and the NT. Elsewhere it has to do with making claims on the basis of rights, do the just/right thing (either positive or negative), and so on.

 
At Thu Apr 17, 02:47:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Rich and David, thank you, but I am left somewhat confused. I understand that when a judge says "I declare you not guilty", that is a performative. But what if he just says "You are not guilty"? Maybe that is not the correct legal form of words in English, but that is not my point - imagine an alternative legal system in which this is the correct form of words. From what David says that is performative. But Rich would seem to disagree, making the essence of being performative a property of the word ("declare" but not "say") rather than of the intention of the utterance.

David, I have some problems with your description of καθαρίσθητι 'Be clean!' in Mark 1:41 and parallels as a performative. It is certainly not a case of Jesus declaring the leper to be ritually clean; it was for that that he had to show himself to the priest and make an offering, for Jesus did not have the legal right to make such a declaration. But the words had an actual physical effect, the leprosy left the man. So I would characterise this as a command, to the person and to the implied powers of evil behind the leprosy. As such it is different from Mark 7:19 which probably is a performative, with the same verb.

As for Rich's question:

Am I right in thinking that the theology question would disappear if the appropriate gloss for the root δικαι- were 'not liable' instead of 'justified'?

I'm not sure. If by "not liable" you simply mean "not about to be punished", you are probably right. I think Reformed and NPP interpreters of Paul would agree that Christians are not going to be punished for their past sins. The difference in essence, as I see it, is that according to the NPP justification is more like the cleansing of the leper as I have interpreted it, not a performative but an action causing a real change - the leper not simply being declared clean, while still having the symptoms, but being actually healed.

 
At Thu Apr 17, 03:08:00 PM, Blogger linguafranka said...

Peter --

A quick answer: For a judge to say, "You are not guilty," I don't think there is any performative involved. On the contrary, a statement like that can be true or false.

But if he were to say, "I (hereby) declare/pronounce you not guilty," then there would be a performative involved, and such an utterance would not be falsifiable, though it could be infelicitous.

-- David Frank

 
At Thu Apr 17, 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

I think David is right technically that, in English for a judge to say You are not guilty. constitutes the expression of an opinion, not the invocation of a change in legal status, although I can image that if the judge then acted like he/she had executed a performative act, no one would challenge it.

I certainly can imagine that there are languages in which the say word is performative. The weird languages I know best often omit verbs in performative acts altogether. miigwech "thank you" is an adverb. It would be as if the formula were Guilty!. I think we're a little misled by the fact that performative acts are very elaborated in our society. (Many, many are related to the courts.) I don't know of many languages with tests as good as hereby in English. (And there are a few performatives in English that don't work with hereby anyway, like please. It sounds odd to me to imagine that the chair of our Planning Commission were to announce: We hereby do not find for a variance. but We do not find for a variance. gets said all the time, and is performative.)

The real question is what are the verbal formulas that do whatever it is that they say.

My initial foray into Greek performatives (apparently a grossly understudied area, but I'll get back to you on that) suggests that one of the formulas is used by Pilate: οὐδὲν εὑρίσκω αἴτιον ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ τούτῳ 'I find this person innocent of [all] charges.' (Lk. 23:4)

I haven't yet found a clear case with ἔνοχος 'guilty'.

Finally, there are those interesting miraculous commands. Most performatives are about adjusting social relations, we treat people as married because the right person said they were, we treat someone is guilty or innocent because of the pronouncement at the end of the appropriate process, we say a ship has a name because it was so christened. So it seems odd to say that the saying is the doing in the case of miracles. Given our worldview, it's probably the case that the analysis would have to be one of causality rather than performativity.

(BTW, the culture hero in Ojibwe mythology has efficacious thoughts. He thinks(!) "Would that the lake were frozen." and presto the lake is frozen. That maybe part of why I think causality is a better analysis, because it will generalize better.)

 
At Fri Apr 18, 12:07:00 AM, Blogger solarblogger said...

There is another way to frame this.

If you use the idea of union with Christ, then you have another picture. That is, Christ suffers the guilt of our sin. At a certain point, His payment is finished. He is justified (1 Timothy 3:16). When we are united to Him, we share in that. The justification is not that we have not sinned, but that our sins have been paid for. We are united to one who has done the time, so it is as if we have done the time.

Gerhard Forde gives this extended treatment in his book Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life. Romans 6 figures into this heavily.

I'm probably in agreement with what I have read Peter say elsewhere that there is more than one way to speak of many of these things. But I think this idea of union, where our identity is in His, offers some ways of considering justification that take it away from being declared what we are not.

The first justification is of Christ, and it is not performative. It is a real judgment. He is truly righteous. Then we are in Him.

 
At Fri Apr 18, 08:02:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

OK. So it seems that whether a statement is performative or not is not dependent on the precise words, but on whether in the context of the utterance it is officially recognised as being performative. I suspect that in societies where the detailed wording of something is considered important, whether for legal or magical reasons, that is understood to depend on the exact words used. In other societies the precise wording might not be considered important, but only the clear intention. In a western auction the performative is actually non-verbal, the fall of the hammer, and the same might be true of a legal case in some societies.

I haven't yet found a clear case with ἔνοχος 'guilty'.

What about Matthew 26:66, compare Mark 14:64? Isn't this a "guilty" verdict being pronounced?

But I have a problem with οὐδὲν εὑρίσκω αἴτιον in Luke 23:4 being taken as a performative "Not guilty" declaration: why did the Jewish leaders not recognise this verdict? Pilate repeats it in verses 14 and 22, but in the past tense. He also uses almost the same words in John 18:38, 19:4,6, all in the present tense. But the biggest problem comes with the same formula with the aorist participle in Acts 13:28, where the Jewish leaders are the subject and is followed by "they asked Pilate to have him killed". Did the Jewish leaders really declare Jesus not guilty? That conflicts with Matthew 26:66 and Mark 14:64 where they find him guilty.

 
At Fri Apr 18, 09:13:00 AM, Blogger hook said...

OT:

Your link to the Trinity Bible redirects the browser to Windows Live SkyDrive if you're not yet logged into Windows Live.

 
At Fri Apr 18, 04:56:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Peter,
Yes. Performativity is about a communicative act being an act which changes things socially. An auction is a great example. It really is a matter of particular languages/cultures specifying how crucial the wording is. Voting in small bodies is another. In some you have to say aye or nay, in some you can just raise your hand at the appropriate time.

It's this piece about the combination of communicative act and effect being one in the same that most gets misunderstood.

The most common form of the misunderstanding is the failure to distinguish between the act and a report of the act.

You are probably right that ἔνοχος θανάτου ἐστίν is a performative act, although I suspect it is the vote of the individuals in the Sanhedrin. The Nasi probably had to say something to make the outcome of the vote a valid verdict, and that's the performative that I'm looking for.

I don't see the problem with the Jewish leaders acting as if the legal pronouncement of a Roman had no validity to them. Jesus was, in their view, guilty under Jewish law. Period. Having a Roman say he was not guilty under Roman law, just meant that their ploy to get an easy death sentence from Pilate didn't work and they would have to find another way to muscle Pilate into executing Jesus.

As for the participle construction in Acts 13:28, I read that as if it were an genitive absolute, unless someone who knows better can show me that such participles MUST have an Equi-subject reading, I lean that way. The participle refers to the Romans.

The other possibility is that Luke is implying that the members of the Sanhedrin knew in their heart of hearts that Jesus wasn't guilty of a capital crime. Certainly a possible belief in the early Christian community. Particularly if there were, as is likely, some members of the Sanhedrin connected with the post-resurrection community (say, Nicodemus). This would also explain how the Gospel writers knew what happened in the trial and with Pilate.

 
At Sat Apr 19, 10:09:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

As for the participle construction in Acts 13:28, I read that as if it were an genitive absolute, unless someone who knows better can show me that such participles MUST have an Equi-subject reading, I lean that way. The participle refers to the Romans.

I find this a highly improbable exegesis, motivated by a desire to harmonise with the gospel accounts. There is no way that the participle, even if it were a genitive, could refer to the Romans (plural), as there is no mention of them anywhere in the context. And the participle being nominative, not genitive, it must refer to the subject of the sentence. This is in fact one of a string of nominative plural participles all clearly referring to "those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers".

Of course this subject is wider than the judges in the Sanhedrin. But to me the obvious understanding is that they found no cause to put him to death but nevertheless condemned him. So this is not a report of their verdict but of the trial, and the point of the verse is that they knowingly acted unjustly. At least that is how I read it, in part in the light of English translations.

 
At Sun Apr 20, 06:17:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Peter,
You're right. The participle has to be read with an Equi-subject. (in contrast to a genitive absolute, which specifically doesn't refer to the subject of main clause. e.g. Mat. 9:33. I've been a little sloppy with my Greek grammar.)

So it must have the reading that Paul holds the Sanhedrin responsible for knowing that Jesus had done nothing deserving of death.

BTW, over the weekend, I was a delegate to the annual convention of the regional conference of our denomination. (Think diocese.)

When when it came time to vote to accept new churches into the conference (missionary church plants receiving full member status) the chair called for the vote by saying:

All in favor say, "Praise the Lord."

and

All in favor say, "Thanks be to God."


His speech act in each case created a new, but temporary, speech act such that the wordings Praise the Lord and Thanks be to God became performatives for the purposes of the delegates registering their respective votes.

 
At Tue Apr 22, 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

the chair called for the vote by saying:

All in favor say, "Praise the Lord."


Reminds me of the joke about the Christian horse. But if I tell that, I won't do so in a comment like this which I guess almost no one will read.

 
At Fri Apr 25, 01:39:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Ah yes. The joke about the horse bought from a pastor, but I can't remember what the four commands were -- only that "Amen" means "Whoa!" and "Praise the Lord" means "Giddy up." (I guess you can tell that one with just those two.)

 
At Sat Apr 26, 04:02:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Richard, my version of the joke has only those two commands. I'd better tell it myself before someone else steals my thunder.

 
At Sat Apr 26, 04:20:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

See my version of the joke.

 

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