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Archive for June, 2011

“There has been much discussion whether [the righteousness of God] is for Paul an attribute of God, or of men saved by God; whether, that is, the Gospel reveals the fact that God is righteous, or communicates to men a righteousness of character which is divine in origin.  No doubt it does both of these things.  But the key to the problem is to recognize that in Paul’s religious vocabulary the term righteousness stands, not only for a moral attribute (as in ordinary English, and Greek, usage), but also (in accordance with Hebrew usage) for an act or activity.  When he says, therefore, ‘God’s righteousness is revealed,’ he means that a divine act or activity is taking place manifestly within the field of human experience–whereas much of His operation is inscrutable and mysterious (11:33).  Paul’s background here as everywhere is the Old Testament…

A judge or ruler is thought of as ‘righteous,’ not so much because he observes and upholds an abstract standard of justice, as because he vindicates the cause of the wronged; his righteousness is revealed in the ‘justification’ of those who are the victims of evil.  In the faith of Judaism the ultimate act of vindication is the work of God (more…)

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“Of all the chief theological terms used by the Apostle Paul the one in regard to the meaning of which there is least agreement among competent scholars is perhaps ‘the righteousness of God.’  A glance at any conspectus of the views held by interpreters shows a bewildering variety, allowing, indeed, of a certain classification into groups, but presenting, even at this late stage of the discussion, scarcely any approximation to agreement.  And when the interpretations are examined in detail they prove unsatisfactory.  Some of them can be applied only to a part of the passages, leaving other cases of the term in the same immediate context to be differently explained.  Others are an evident combination of two or more divergent, if not contradictory, interpretations, and break down of their own weight.  Still others, which closely agree with the view that has commended itself to the present writer, have been presented with no adequate explanation of those particular circumstances connected with the history of the idea and phrase which alone make this view possible.  These more correct interpretations have therefore been exposed to the same objections as many of the others, namely, that they are psychologically impossible, since, so far as is made to appear, no rational mind could so use the term ‘righteousness of God.’

The lack of certainty in the interpretation of the terms ‘righteousness’ and ‘righteousness of God’ is in marked contrast to (more…)

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“The righteousness which is allowed before God that cometh of faith is sometimes in scripture called His mercy or favor towards us and in us, thereby He is moved for Christ’s blood sake to promise us forgiveness and sometimes is taken for His truth and faithfulness in the performing of His promise and of this He is called just, righteous, faithful and true.” (George Jove, 1553; cited in M. Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God, p. 35, n. 116)

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On Romans 1:17

“If we seek salvation, that is, life with God, righteousness must be first sought, by which being reconciled to him, we may, through him being propitious to us, obtain that life which consists only in his favour; for, in order to be loved by God, we must first become righteous, since he regards unrighteousness with hatred.  He therefore intimates, that we cannot obtain salvation otherwise than from the gospel, since nowhere else does God reveal to us his righteousness, which alone delivers us from perdition.  Now this righteousness, which is the groundwork of our salvation, is revealed in the gospel: hence the gospel is said to be the power of God unto salvation.  Thus he reasons from the cause to the effect.

Notice further, how extraordinary and valuable a treasure does God bestow on us through the gospel, even the communication of his own righteousness.  I take the righteousness of God to mean, that which is approved before his tribunal; as that, on the contrary, is usually called the righteousness of men, which is by men counted and supposed to be righteousness, though it be only vapor.  Paul, however, I doubt not, alludes to the many prophecies in which the Spirit makes known everywhere the righteousness of God in the future kingdom of Christ.  Some explain it as the righteousness which is freely given us by God: and I indeed confess that the words will bear this sense; for God justifies us by the gospel, and thus saves us: yet the former view seems to me more suitable, though it is not what I make much of.  Of greater moment is what some think, that this righteousness does not only consist in the free remission of sins, but also, in part, includes the grace of regeneration.  But I conside, that we are restored to life because God freely reconciles us to himself, as we shall hereafter show in its proper place…As our faith makes progress [this is Calvin’s understanding of ‘from faith to faith’], and as it advances in knowledge, so the righteousness of God increases in us at the same time, and the possession of it is in a manner confirmed.  When at first we taste the gospel, we indeed see God’s smiling countenance turned towards us, but at a distance: the more the knowledge of true religion grows in us, by coming as it were nearer, we beheld God’s favor more clearly and more familiarly.

On Romans 3:21-26

It is not certain for what distinct reason he calls that the righteousness of God, which we obtain by faith; whether it be, because it can alone stand before God, or because the Lord in his mercy confers it on us.  As both interpretations are suitable, we contend for neither.  This righteousness then, which God communicates to man, and accepts alone, and owns as righteousness, has been revealed, he says, without the law, that is, without the aid of the law; and the law is to be understood as meaning works; for it is not proper to refer this to its teaching, which he immediately adduces as bearing witness to the gratuitous righteousness of faith.  Some confine it to ceremonies; but this view I shall presently show to be unsound and frigid.  We ought then to know, that the merits of works are excluded.  We also see that he blends not works with the mercy of God; but having taken away and wholly removed all confidence in works, he sets up mercy alone…

Then the righteousness of God shines in us, whenever he justifies us by faith in Christ.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans

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Gerhard Von Rad brilliantly conveys an all-pervasive biblical theme, one we would do well to pay heed to:

“Probably like most people outside the culture determined by the Enlightenment of the West, Israel too was convinced that there was a definite and even clearly recognizable connection between what a man does and what happens to him, such that the evil deed recoils banefully upon the agent, the good one beneficially.  Like a stone thrown into water, every act initiates a movement for good or evil: a process gets under way which, especially in the case of a crime, only comes to rest when retribution has overtaken the perpetrator.  But this retribution is not a new action which comes upon the person concerned from somewhere else; it is rather a last ripple of the act itself which attaches to its agent almost as something material.  Hebrew in fact does not even have a word for punishment.  The words [in Hebrew] can denote the evil act: but they can also denote its evil result, and therefore punishment, because the two things are basically the same.” (Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Volume 1: The Theology of Israel’s Historical Traditions, p. 385)

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“I had been captivated with a remarkable ardor for understanding Paul in the epistle to the Romans.  But up until then it was not the cold blood about the heart, but a single saying in chap. 1, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed,’ that stood in my way.  For I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,’ which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically of the formal or active justice, as they called it, by which God is righteous and punishes sinners and the unrighteous.  Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt I was a sinner before God with a most disturbed conscience.  I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction.  I did not live, indeed, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.  Secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God.  Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Finally by the mercy of God, as I meditated day and night, I paid attention to the context of the words, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.”  Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.  This, then, is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, viz. the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous one lives by faith.’  Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.  There a totally other face of all Scripture showed itself to me.  And whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.  This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.  Then I ran through Scripture, as I could from memory, and I found an analogy in other terms, too, such as the work of God, i.e.,, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.” (Martin Luther, “Preface to Latin Writings [1545],” in Luther’s Works 34:336-37; WAusg 54.185-86)

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In his “Ad Romanos” found in Opera Omnia, Thomas Aquinas speaks of the righteousness of God in Romans 1:17 as that “by which God is righteous and by which he justifies human beings” (iustitia qua Deus iustus est et qua Deus homines justificat).  Richard Longenecker claims that between the 5th and 15th centuries, theologians, in their discussions about and definitions of the righteousness of God, “frequently combined, in various ways, both (1) what is true about God’s character and actions and (2) what God gives to those who believe the gospel and commit themselves to him.”

–Cited in Richard N. Longenecker, Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter, p. 296

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“Paul’s buildup to this point [in Romans 1:16-17] enables him to introduce it [the gospel] with great force in a bold and confident affirmation.  He is not ashamed or afraid to confess the gospel even in face of the distinctions made in v. 14, even though the gospel as to its origin or content, or he himself, might be classified as barbarian and lacking in wisdom (cf. 1 Cor. 1-2).  The reason for his confidence is not because he can dispute such an inference, nor because of the gospel’s sophistication or appeal to the rational mind, but because it is the power of God to salvation.  That is to say, his confidence in the gospel rests in what is for him a clear and simple fact: the gospel is the effective means by which God brings about the wholeness and preservation of the whole person.  He does nto say when this goal will be achieved, and there is certainly no implication that it will be instantaneous; his confidence is simply that the goal will be achieved.  This is a point worth grasping even at this early stage: Paul does not see the gospel as something which merely begins someone on the way to salvation, but as something which embraces the totality of the process toward and into salvation.  The gospel is not merely the intitial proclamation of Christ which wins converts, but is the whole Christian message and claim–in terms of the rest of the letter, not just chaps. 1-5, or 1-8, or even 1-11, but the whole letter.

This observation bears also on the next phrase–‘to all who believe’–for it follows from what has just been said that Paul here is talking not just about the initial acceptance of the proclamation of the crucified and risen Christ, but about that together with the life which follows from it as the whole process which leads into final wholeness.  This is the point of the present tense–‘to all who believe and go on believing’; namely, to all who not only come to a decision of faith, but whose whole life is characterized as a trustful acceptance of and committment to the gospel which is God’s power to salvation.” (James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, WBC, pp. 46-47)

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Perhaps I should have posted this one first in my series, but here is a striking statement about the ‘righteousness of God’ from the Qumran community (most likely the Essenes), whose ideology became famous through the 20th century discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

“As for me, if I stumble, the mercies of God shall be my eternal salvation.  If I stagger because of the sin of the flesh, my justification shall be by the righteousness of God which endures forever…He will draw me near by His grace, and by His mercy will He bring my justification.  He will judge me in the righteousness of His truth and in the greatness of His goodness and He will pardon all my sins.  Through his righteousness he will cleanse me of all the uncleanness of man and of the sins of the children of men.” (1 QS 11:11-15, translated by Geza Vermes)

The similarities to Paul are fascinating here, of course.  However, given the tenor of the Dead Sea Scrolls overall, it would be untrue to posit only continuity in the understanding of God’s righteousness with that of Paul’s:

“[For the Qumran sect] God’s righteousness lies in his setting the member of the community free from sin and in making it possible for him to observe the law perfectly, so that he might stand righteous before God in the final judgment on the basis of his works in the law … It is God’s prevenient grace, in establishing the covenant, that first allows for righteousness in the law; in the end, however, it is perfect fulfillment of the works of the law that establishes one as righteous before God in the final judgment …. Within Qumran’s strictly covenantal framework a nomistic basis is the only possible ground for justification, no matter how deep a sense of God’s grace is involved. Therefore justification must also be sub lege” [under the law].”  (Stephen Hultgren, From the Damascus Covenant to the Covenant of the Community: Literary, Historical, and Theological Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 448, 451, 459)

HT: Lee Irons

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“Augustine, writing during the final decade of the fourth century and the first three decades of the fifth (i.e. from 391 until hl is death in 430), came more and more to interpret the expression iustitia Dei in his Latin Bible not only in a subjective or attributive sense but also in an objective or communicative sense–that is, not only as an attribute of God and his actions, but also with reference to God’s justification of repentant sinner, his bestowal on them a status of righteousness, and his endowment of them with his own quality of righteousness…

Further, it may be assumed that it was this deep-seated conviction regarding the nature of God’s unmerited grace that caused Augustine to understand the phrase iustitia Dei not only as an attribute of God (i.e., in the subjective or attributive sense) but also as the righteousness that God gives to repentant sinners in redeeming them by his grace (i.e., the objective or communicative sense).” (Richard N. Longenecker, Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter, pp. 295-96; he cites these passages from Augustine’s writings–De Trinitae 14.12.15, De Spiritu et Littera 1.9.15, 1.11.18, Ep 140.72, In Johannis Evangelium 26:1)

Joseph Fitzmyer adds some further comments about Augustine’s interpretation of the righteousness of God–an interpretative position Augustine apparently modified over time–that are worth pondering:

“Augustine used the objective sense of iustitia Dei in De Trinitate 14.12.15 in addition to the subjective sense: ‘iustitia Dei, non solum illa qua ipse iustus est, sed quam dat homini cum iustificat impium’ (not only that justice by which he himself is just, but also that which he gives to a human being, when he justifies the impious); cf. De Spiritu et littera 1.9.15, where he limits it to the second sense: ‘iustitia dei, non qua deus iustus est, sed qua induit hominem, cum iustificat impium’ (the justice of God, not that by which God is just, but that with which he endows a human being, when he justifies the impious).” (Joseph Fitzymer, Romans, p. 259)

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