There's an amusingly lovely concept which is formally called the Law of the Instrument, or perhaps psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hammer, which stems from his 1966 work The Psychology of Science which states:
"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."
I suppose that because I work in an accounting firm, I also suffer from this particular aspect of confirmation bias; conseqently, I tend to see lots of things with regards economic, accounting and legal concepts.
When I read Romans 4 in The Living Bible though, my mind attempted to change gears without the clutch, sparks flew everywhere and I was left in a state of annoyance.
This comes from the passage in question:
For the Scriptures tell us Abraham believed God, and that is why God canceled his sins and declared him “not guilty.”
- Romans 4:3 (The Living Bible)
For the record, I agree with what it says. This paraphrase is attempting to put this into plain English which is perfectly acceptable and reasonable; however, I rather like both the NIV and the King James' better because of their selected word choices.
If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
- Romans 4:2-6 (NIV)
Let's for a minute assume that God is keeping a set of accounts. Assuming that each sin has a price which needs to be paid for, that price will accumulate in a Debtor's Ledger. Most sets of accounts will at some point contain a header account called Trade Debtors or something similar.
It's not like the concept is particularly uncommon in scripture either. Right in the middle of The Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 is the phrase: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
The word "credited" used here is the Greek word "Elogisthe" which means to assess or to count. Now I'm not a Greek scholar in any sense of the word but I do remember that in Plutarch's Parallel Lives written in the year 75AD, he uses the word in relation to the extracting of taxation from people who were unwilling to pay.
Similarly, the word "credited" used later is the Greek word "Logizetai" which is just a different form of the same verb and is similar in meaning.
The King James version which was published in 1611, chooses to translate that same passage like this:
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
- Romans 4:2-6 (KJV)
I like the word "imputeth" here. Okay, ignore the archaic past tense of the word, and we get the modern word "impute". In an accounting sense, we see so-called Imputation Credits all the time, where a company has already pre-paid the tax which is due and forwards on the remainder to the receiver. Go on, check it out when you do your Tax Returns in a fortnight's time.
In every possible sense, the words "Elogisthe" and "Logizetai" are both words used in an accounting sense; in reference to a debt which will become payable at some point.
A creditor has every right to collect upon a debt and in the case where the person who has accumulated a very large quantity of debt and declares bankruptcy, there are even cases where creditors have the right to claim and seize property.
The question then in Romans 4 if this is the case, is why would the people at The Living Bible choose not to select this sort of language?
Perhaps I should show the case visually:
These debts will continue to accumulate until such time as they are either paid, or written off. A payment into a debtor's ledger is shown as a credit.
Later on in Romans, Paul describes the wages of sin as death; that is, that and obligation exists which at some point will be called upon.
Obviously, we can choose to pay the debt ourselves, but to use the analogy given for us in Romans 4, where Paul is talking about a saving faith which is being credited as righteousness, it is like Christ's death is a massive credit note and moves use from the debtor's to the creditor's side of the ledger with a carried forward balance.
Now I know that I'm hardly the first to have seen this, or even the best person in the world to explain the concept, or even the first person to have been annoyed by it but it was an interesting sort of diversion; especially considering that here we are in the last two weeks before the end of the financial year and I'm busily trying to extract payment from people who are unwilling to pay and having to pass Credit Notes to forgive debts that I will never be able to collect on.
In a monetary sense those accounts are being credited as righteousness or being put right; and I just happen to see parallels all over the place.