“The overarching theme of Romans is the righteousness of God (Rom. 1:17)…The ‘righteousness of God’ in Paul transcends its ‘rabbinic’ interpretation of Torah-keeping. It reaches back to its prophetic and apocalyptic formulation (cf. Second Isaiah and Qumran) and radicalizes it. It denotes the victory of God and his cosmic act of redemption. God’s ‘righteousness’ in Christ not only acquits the sinner but also abolishes the power of sin by transferring us to the dominion of the lordship of Christ. And because the law is allied with the power of sin, righteousness must necessarily be ‘apart from the law’ (Rom. 3:21). Righteousness, then, refers to our new free access to God in faith and in the Spirit as ‘children of God.’ Because it signifies our new relationship to God, it also means life in the domain of righteousness, which extends into the eschatological future (Gal. 5:5). The righteousness of God is ‘power for salvation’ (Rom. 1:16), the gift of salvation and ‘the domain of salvation’ (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 5:5; Rom. 10:10: ‘righteousness’ = ‘salvation’), which inaugurates the apocalyptic destiny of the creation. To live in that domain means to live as righteous people, that is, to be ‘upright’ (dikaios) and to conduct one’s life in obedience to the norms of the new world (Rom. 6:16-23).
According to Ernst Kasemann, the ‘righteousness of God’ has a consistent apocalyptic meaning. As God’s eschatological salvation power, it claims the creation for God’s lordship and sovereignty that the Christ-event has proleptically manifested. Bultmann and others contest the apocalyptic unitary meaning of ‘the righteousness of God.’ Bultmann maintains that the genitive case in the term ‘the righteousness of God’ is a genitive auctoris (or an objective genitive) rather than a subjective genitive (Kasemann). According to Bultmann and others, ‘the righteousness of God’ is not an attribute of God but a gift from God, that is, a righteousness bestowed on people before God in Christ. Herman Nicolas Ridderbos, for example, points to Rom. 2:13, 3:20, 10:3, and Phil. 3:9 and states, ‘Righteousness is not a divine but a human quality and the nature of that quality is specified by the righteousness of God, as righteousness which is valid before God.’ This claim is supported by Paul’s formulations: ‘before God’ (2:13) and ‘in his sight’ (3:20). Moreover, because in Rom. 10:3 and Phil. 3:9 ‘the righteousness of their own’ and ‘of myself’ is antithetical to ‘the righteousness of God’, the forensic, eschatological aspect of righteousness as God’s justifying gift cannot be denied. It should be noted, however, that Paul’s metaphors interact with each other, so that the idea of righteousness as forensic acquittal (Rom. 2:12) flows over into a broader field of meaning, where righteousness is a life-giving power and a new domain. Thus, the apocalyptic meaning of ‘righteousness’ as life in the new age transcends in Paul, as well as in Qumran and in other apocalyptic literature, its rabbinic referent as forensic judgment and gift. Because righteousness in Paul has both ontological cosmic and interpersonal dimensions, it describes our new being in Christ as our obedience to his lordship. Thus, Paul’s hermeneutic of the lordship of Christ is based on the apocalyptic dimension of the term ‘righteousness’; it is both God’s gift of salvation and his power that will encompass his whole creation.
The phrase ‘the righteousness of God’–which Paul uses only in Rom. 1:17, 3:5, 21, 22, 25, 26, 10:3, and Phil. 3:9–transcends the category of of acquittal and personal relationship because it points to that order of cosmic peace and salvation that has been proleptically manifested in Christ and that discloses itself in our obedience to his lordship (Rom. 6:16-23).
Although the righteousness of God (and his verdict of justification) constitutes Paul’s original hermeneutic of the Christ-event, it is not his only hermeneutic or the master symbol. In other words, ‘original’ means first in order of time, not necessarily in order of importance. Each symbol interprets a different aspect of the one lordship of Christ that marks God’s imminent triumph over evil and death…Jesus Christ is the pledge of God’s imminent cosmic triumph, and thus faith in Christ is able to bear the tension between our confession of God’s righteousness and our empirical reality in the world…Paul unfolds the righteousness of God as God’s grace. Both metaphors interpret the indicative of the Christ-event, which is the sole object of faith. And faith celebrates the faithfulness of God in Christ in the midst of its suffering in an as yet unredeemed world.” (J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, pp. 92, 262-64, 69)