Archive for the ‘Righteousness of God’ Category

“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)


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“Believing in God is not enough.  Everything depends on the God in whom one believes and to whom one entrusts his or her life.  Paul saw this clearly.  The Christ-event, centered in Jesus’ death and resurrection, revealed God decisively and thereby uncovered the character of the human situation as well…Paul did not, and could not, fit the Christ-event into the understanding of God he inherited.  Rather, his encounter with Christ compelled him to rethink everything from the ground up (which is not to say he repudiated his heritage).  As E. P. Sanders noted in Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Paul did not work out his theology as a solution to a set of problems with which he had been wrestling unsuccessfully…

One of the most radical understandings of God in the NT cannot be found in a concordance because the term ‘God’ is not used–namely, the one ‘who justifies the ungodly’ (Rom. 4:5)…[This expresses] Paul’s keen awareness that the cross and resurrection reveal the disparity between God and the prevalent understandings of God.  The Christ-event disclosed the God one can really count on because it made clear God’s committments and his capacity to keep them, God’s moral integrity…

‘The moral integrity of God’ is not Paul’s phrase, of course; it restates the point of a phrase which he did use–the righteousness of God…Although Paul wrote Greek, his meanings are derived from the OT and its understanding of right, righteous, and so forth.  The Hebrew term [‘righteousness’], and its various forms, refers to a relationship, to a norm, not to an inherent quality that we might call ‘righteous’ or good.  Righteousness is rightness.  The specific meaning of righteous/righteousness depends on the norm in view…To be [‘righteous’] is to keep faith with what is right, with what is the right thing to do for the persons involved…To justify is to rectify the relation to the norm; justification is rectification.

It is one thing to speak of human relationships to a norm, but does it mean to speak of the ‘righteousness of God’?  By what norm is God to be judged?  And who is the judge of the matter?  Or does ‘righteousness of God’ means something quite different from the righteousness of a person?  The meaning of ‘righteousness of God,’ especially in Paul, has been debated vigorously in recent years.  On the surface, the debate has been over a grammatical point–how to take ‘of.’  But the issues at stake are far-reaching.

Ernst Kasemann has challenged (more…)

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“It is widely recognized that 1:16-17 functions as a statement of the major theme that Paul works out in the theological and paraenetic sections of Romans…The discussion of the meaning of the righteousness of God in Romans has generated a vast literature which it is beyond the scope of this book to review.  Before attempting to explain what Paul means by saying that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, however, it might be helpful to note the different aspects of the righteousness of God as they emerge in the apostle’s argument in Romans.

First, God’s righteousness as distributive justice is implied in 1:18-32 where Paul says that God recompenses humanity in accordance with its response to his revelation, and also in 2:2-11 where he says that God renders to all people according to their works–those who with patience and well-doing seek immortality will be rewarded with eternal life, while those who are factious and do not obey the truth will be rewarded with wrath and fury.  It is implied again in 3:1-20 where Paul defends God’s righteousness by arguing that God acts justly when he judges unfaithful Jews.

Second, God’s righteousness as covenant faithfulness is defended in 3:3-9, where Paul argues that when God judges Israel it is evidence not of failure of covenant loyalty on his part, but of sinfulness on Israel’s part.  In 9:1-29 God’s covenant faithfulness is further defended when Paul rejects charges that God’s word has failed (v. 6), that there is injustice on God’s part (v. 14) and that God has no right to find fault with Israel (v. 19).  Paul argues that Israel has failed to obtain the blessing, not because God is unfaithful to his covenant with Israel, but because that blessing always depended upon election and mercy, not on any inherent rights based on being born a Jew.  God’s covenant faithfulness is further defended in 11:1-10 where Paul argues that God has always maintained a remnant of Israel in whom his covenant promises are being fulfilled.

Third, God’s righteousness as saving action is expounded in 3:21-26.  Here God’s righteousness is manifested, apart from the law, by providing redemption through Christ’s death, so making possible a righteousness (a right standing before God) to be received by faith.

Fourth, God’s righteousness as the gift of justification and a right relationship with himself, already foreshadowed in 3:21-26, is expounded in terms of the experience of Abraham in 4:1-25.  It is referred to again in 5:17 (‘the free gift of righteousness’ received by believers as a result of Christ’s obedience), and explained further in 9:30-10:4, where the apostle speaks of a righteousness not based on law[-observance by Jews], but which comes from God, and is received by all those who believe.

Fifth, the righteousness of God (as a gift) which leads to righteousness of life in believers is expounded in 6:1-23 (esp. vv. 16-18) where Paul points out that those who are under [the] grace [of justification] are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of righteousness.  This aspect of the righteousness of God is also rejected in 8:4, where the purpose of Christ’s death is to condemn sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in believers.

All these aspects of God’s righteousness can be included under the one umbrella idea of God acting in accordance with his own nature for the sake of his name [he cites Piper here].  Understood in this way, it can include God’s distributive justice, his covenant loyalty, his saving action, and his gift of justification leading to righteousness of life.

The central thrust of Paul’s teaching about the righteousness of God in Romans, however, is to explain the way God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel.  And what he means by this is that God’s power for salvation, by which Gentiles as well as Jews are justified freely by his grace, is revealed in the gospel.  This is done without any compromise of his distributive justice (because he has set forth Christ as an atoning sacrifice for sin), of his covenant faithfulness to Israel, or of his demands for righteousness of life in his people.” (Colin G. Kruse, Paul, the Law, and Justification, pp. 169-71)


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“Paul’s proclamation of the righteousness of God in Romans 1:17a and 3:21-31 is nothing more nor less than commentary on this text [Habakkuk 2:4]…If Romans 1:17a is indeed an interpretative gloss on the Habakkuk citation, this must determine the way in which this text is understood…Nowhere else in Romans are lexical connections between antecedent and citation as significant as they are here:




(A) Antecedent                       For the righteousness of God is revealed in it, by faith for faith

(B) Introductory Formula       As it is written,

(C) Citation                              For the one who is righteous by faith will live

…Exegetically, the most significant implication of this hermeneutical approach to Romans 1:17 is that the much-disputed ‘righteousness of God’ (dikaiosyne theou) cannot be understood in abstraction from the human figure of ‘the one who is righteous.’  Paul’s point is surely that the righteousness of Habakkuk’s ‘righteous person’ is a righteousness approved by God.  That the righteousness of which the prophet speaks is ‘of God’ is already implied in the claim to normativity entailed by ‘it is written.’  These references to God and to scriptural status converge on the issue of the truth of the assertion that righteousness is by faith and for faith.  Paul’s claim that the righteousness of which he speaks is genuinely ‘of God’ is supported by the fact that just such a righteousness is asserted by the normative prophetic text–from which indeed Paul’s claim derives.  While Paul will later claim that this righteousness is a pure gift, and that God’s saving action in Christ is summed up in the giving of this gift (cf. Rom. 3:24-26; 5:15-17), that is not the point here.  In Romans 1:16-17, Paul is concerned to establish an initial correlation of ‘righteousness’ and ‘faith,’ as suggested by his Habakkuk text.  As Paul understands it, this text speaks simply of a righteous status and identifies the means (i.e. faith) by which this righteous status can be attained.  It also implies a divine acknowledgment of this faith as righteous–an acknowledgement that constitutes the righteousness of faith.  In that sense, Paul’s gloss remains faithful to the text it interprets: the revelation of God’s righteousness in the gospel corresponds exactly to the identification of true righteousness in the prophetic text.  If the prophet speaks of a righteousness valid before God, it is the same righteousness that is revealed in the gospel.  The righteousness of God in Romans 1:17 is the pattern of human conduct that God acknowledges as righteous.

If Paul’s statement in Romans 1:17a is an interpretative gloss on the Habakkuk text, as he himself claims, then this understanding of ‘the righteousness of God’ as ‘the righteousness valid before God’ is virtually inescapable–even if the same phrase is later used with other nuances.  In the present context, it cannot refer primarily to righteousness as divine gift, and still less can it refer to the divine saving action in its entirety–the view that has dominated discussion of this phrase since Kasemann’s influential article of 1961.  The debate has often focused on scriptural and post-scriptural evidence, in the questionable belief that this will prove decisive for Paul’s own usage.  The mass of parallels and influences from deutero-Isaiah, the psalms, and the Qumran Hodayoth ensures, ironically, that ths scriptural origin to which Paul himself points (the Habakkuk text) is consistently overlooked…

On Kasemann’s reading, Paul’s actual citation of Habakkuk 2:4 is a wasted opportunity to make clear what he meant by ‘the righteousness of God.’  On the reading proposed here, the citation makes it impossible to detach the ‘righteousness of God’ from ‘by faith’…The righteousness of God is correlated not with the power of God but with salvation–that is, with the outcome of God’s action for humankind, which is at the same time the rationale of that action.  The human correlate of the powerful, self-disclosive divine action is ‘salvation,’ interpreted here as the righteousness that is finally valid before God, which occurs in and through faith.  ‘Salvation for everyone who believes’ is equivalent to ‘righteousness by faith.’  If Paul meant to say something like that in Romans 1:16-17a, then it is understandable that he should cite Habakkuk 2:4 in its support.  If he meant to say something quite other than that, he would seem to have selected the wrong text.” (Francis WatsonPaul and the Hermeneutics of Faith,  pp. 42, 47-50)

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“Bultmann, looking at this question of the continuity between the teaching of Paul and that of Jesus, suggested that ‘the concept of the ‘righteousness of God’, and of ‘justification’…corresponds to the ‘kingdom of God.”…God’s righteousness is a singularly elusive and elastic phrase, at least to our ways of thinking….Thus in these passages [in Paul’s letters] ‘God’s righteousness’ seems to denote both that which we have or are and the activity of God which either gives us that righteousness or makes us into it and that in God’s nature which causes God to act in this way.  That the one expression embraces all three uses may perhaps be explained by arguing that this characteristic of God is unintelliglbe apart from appropriate activity which expresses it and that, since God does not act righteously in isolation, that activity must have its outworking in our world; for ‘righteousness’ involves a relationship and ‘declaring righteous’ is for Paul an activity which does not simply observe what is already the case, but rather creates a state of affairs embodying that relationship…

This oscillation between the activity of God and the results of that activity are also a feature of Jesus’ use of the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ and it is this feature, I suggest, which may point us towards a way of tracing one element of continuity between Jesus’ thought and Paul’s that lies at a deeper level…For while at times in this century students of (more…)

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“The analysis and interpretation of v. 17 [in Romans 1] is all the more important since this verse, no less debated than the subject matter as a whole, is the fork in the road for all subsequent exposition.  At least in the course of the last century we have freed ourselves from the Greek understanding of dikaiosyne as a norm of what is right for God and man…The setting in the history of religions of the Pauline theologoumenon is provided by the OT and Judaism…In biblical usage righteousness, which is essentially forensic, denotes a relation in which one is set, namely, the ‘recognition’ in which one, for example, is acknowledged to be innocent.  In Jewish apocalyptic this understanding is applied to the verdict of justification at the last judgment…

Previously it was not clear whether the righteousness of God is a divine quality or the gift given to mankind…A complete history of the interpretation of dikaiosyne theou in Paul can scarcely be given here since it would embrace many volumes.  Yet the range of interpretation must be seen paradigmatically in order to avoid escaping the problems of exegeting this passage through shortcuts, as has happened up to the present…

Even reference to Paul’s christology as the reason for the difference [between Paul and Judaism] remains within the sphere of a purely historical explanation and does not answer the material theological question.  This question runs as follows: Why and to what extent does Paul view the righteousness of God sine lege [apart from law] and sola fide [faith alone] as the content of the gospel and the end-time gift pure and simple?  That it has to be regarded as God’s gift is not derived only from Phil. 3:9 but is apparent everywhere, and allows the (more…)

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“The epistle to the Romans subsumes the whole of the preaching and theology of Paul under the one head–the self-revealing righteousness of God…Conversely, the central problem of Pauline theology is concentrated on this theme…

Even the gift of divine righteousness does not bring us to the goal, but only sets our feet upon the road.  It is given to us in such a manner that it lies always before us and has to be continually appropriated anew.  Or, we can formulate it in terms of Rom. 5:6-10: the divine righteousness possesses us before we grasp it, and we retain it only as long as it holds us fast.  The gift itself has thus the character of power.  The meaning of this in concrete terms is quite clear.  Paul knows no gift of God which does not convey both the obligation and the capacity to serve.  A gift which is no authenticated in practice and passed on to others loses its specific content…

The same Paul who, in Rom. 4, undoubtedly describes God’s [justification] as a forensic act of declaring righteous, says with equal decision in Rom. 5:19 that the state (i.e. of justification) is founded in righteousness.  He has characterized this state…as the reality of the transformed existence conveyed in the baptismal event, and–in accordance with the whole structure of Romans–has based on it the nova oboedientia of the Christian.  Neither are justification and sanctification to be separated.  The Christian service of God in everyday life…is the manifestation of God’s righteousness on earth–that [service of righteousness] which can be properly rendered only by those to whom God has given the gift of such service and whom he has counted among his liberated children…

I begin my own attempt to interpret the facts by stating categorically that the expression dikaiosyne theou was not invented by Paul.  It appears independently in Matt. 6:33 and James 1:20 and can be traced back in the Old Testament to Deut. 33:21.  Two quotations may serve to show that it persisted in late Judaism [he cites Testament of Dan 6:10 and Rule of Qumran 11:12]…The methodological implications of Paul’s adoption ofa ready-made formulation is that the righteousness of God, as he uses the term, is not to be subsumed under the general concept dikaiosyne, and thus deprived of its peculiar force.  It is of course extremely significant that the apostle describes God’s saving activity as righteousness, and we must conclude by investigating the history which lies behind this fact.  From the outset it will be noticed that in the field of the Old Testament and of Judaism in general, righteousness does not convey primarily the sense of a personal, ethical quality, but of a relationship…But the formulation which Paul has taken over speaks primarily of God’s saving activity, which is present in his gift as a precipate without being completely dissolved into it…

God’s power becomes God’s gift when it takes possession of us and, so to speak, enters into us…This gives us a proper understanding of the double bearing of the genitive construction: the gift which is being bestowedhere is never at any time separable from its Giver.  It partakes of the character of power, in so far as (more…)

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