Sunday, July 06, 2008

How do you understand the ‘δικαιοσυνη θεου’ in Paul?

Yes, that's anew picture of me on the right. Ladies, get a control of yourselves – I'm already married.

Many of you no doubt know the many different options for understanding the phrase 'δικαιοσυνη θεου' in Paul. As I am about to teach on this subject, I would find it most helpful and interesting to hear from any of you how you understand this phrase. As a righteousness from God, or, as Luther put it, 'die Gerechtigkeit, die vor Gott gilt'? Or as God's own righteousness? If so, how would you understand that? Relationally? Covenantally? Or how? Or would you perhaps see both subjective and objective readings somehow involved? Or sometimes one, sometimes another? Shower me with your wisdom!

To show my own hand, I usually understand this phrase (and yes, also in 2 Cor. 5:21, despite what some say) as referring to God's covenant justice and faithfulness.


At 7/06/2008 10:25 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

and a very nice photo it is.

At 7/07/2008 12:57 AM, Anonymous Andrew said...

This must be just about the only point of Pauline theology on which I agree with Luther...

The other three instances/variants of the phrase in the NT are far less ambiguous and all mean "the type of human behavior of which God approves". IMO, that provides us with a basic starting point for the meaning of the same phrase in Paul.

Subsequently, the fact that such a reading makes sense of Paul far better than any other reading of Righteousness of God, simply seals the case. Also such a reading provides far more continuity between Paul and other NT writers and pre-Nicene church writers, than do the alternatives.

At 7/07/2008 8:53 AM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...

Because "theos" is missing the definite article I tend to interpret it as "the righteousness of a god".

At least, that's how my Greek instructor taught me.

By the way, did I mention that he was a Jehovah Witness.

At 7/07/2008 4:30 PM, Anonymous Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Seems to me that any interpretation of this phrase apart from the vicarious death of Christ will end up in error. Paul calls the crucifixion a "righteous act" contrasting it with the act of disobedience of Adam.

I agree with Luther on this too, that the righteousness of God has to do with God's judicial act whereby he cancels the debt of man's sin in the death of Jesus. It is not, in my opinion, referring to God's own moral character, as Luther at one time thought (which made him hate God). "But now, the righteousness of God is being revealed apart from the works of the Law." I also think that this is the righteousness that Jesus has in mind when he says in the Sermon on the Mount: "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees..."

At 7/07/2008 11:19 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Michael, :-)
That teacher of yours did you no favours!!

Hi Andrew,
I can't see how Luther's view makes better sense of, say, Romans 3:21f, given the context of the challenge to God's faithfulness and the sinfulness of both Jew and Gentile. It seems to me that the righteousness of God is subjective there mainly because of the context.

But, you know, Luther is a good ally to have!

Hi Andrew P,
As ever your thoughts are stimulating. Have you considered publishing a short commentary on Romans?

I was drawn to your take on Romans 1:16-18 in Re:Mission (I think it was there) as it made good sense of Habakkuk in the Pauline text. While I am basically with you on this, I think, the only thought I have is that we allow the ‘Christ-event’ to shape our understanding of salvation as much as the Habakkuk text. Hence the Pauline-apocalyptic crowd can charge those of us who are more prone to a Salvation History approach, that unless we think from Christ we essentially stumble into Barth’s critique of natural theology.

Hi Paul,
“It is not, in my opinion, referring to God's own moral character”
Luther reacted to the Latin Iustia, or “justice of God” as read into the phrase, and that is what was bad news for Luther. This is not quite the same as God’s righteousness, I don’t think, for God’s righteousness was the basis for the people of God’s salvation in many texts, the basis of God’s commitment to his covenant. But we should not exclude the point you make, at least in the construction one finds in Philippians: ‘no having a righteousness of my own, but that which comes from God’. This is not the same, I don’t think, as δικαιοσυνη θεου, however.

At 7/08/2008 9:46 AM, Anonymous Paul W said...


I'm with you in understanding God's righteousness as referring to God's truthfulness and keeping of promises. God is just because God is truthful by doing what he promises to do. Specifically, this means that God comes forth to save and/or vindicate his people. It is when God is seems to fail to do this in the OT that God's justice is questioned. As Isaiah says, for God to be just is to be a Saviour.

For Paul, God's action in Christ reveals his righteousness because through Christ God is effecting what he promised to do: salvation. And this is why faith is the only appropriate human response to God. It receives God's promises, like Abraham (Rom 4:13), yet it only "works" through the power of God (II Thes 1:11). So to have faith is to trust God's promise and let him accomplish salvation. "Justification by faith," therefore, is salvation by God's action.

This is all shamelessly stolen from Sam Williams' classic article 'The Righteousness of God in Romans', JBL 99 (1980), 241-90!

At 7/09/2008 12:10 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for the heads up on that article. I must admit that I have not read it, and it sounds right up my alley on how I read Romans 1-4.

At 7/10/2008 9:50 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks very much for the link to your book, Norman!

Your reading of 2 Cor. 5:21 is slighty different from mine; I read the righteousness of God as, again, God's own righteousness here. Paul and his missionary team embody God's righteousness which is why it is about the salvation of the world, a similar theme that runs through Romans 1-4 I think.

At 7/11/2008 2:49 AM, Anonymous Norman McIlwain said...

Well Chris, I wholeheartedly agree that 2 Cor.5:21 speaks of God's righteousness. If we are Christians, then we stand in the righteousness of Christ.

It is not that His righteousness becomes our own as something separate and distinct. It is always His righteousness - but given to us as a covering, as we read in Isaiah: 'He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness' (Is.61:10, NKJ).

That robe, I believe, is the righteousness of Christ.

At 7/13/2008 11:47 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Norman,
You may well be right!

By the righteousness of God I mean God's covenant faithfulness and justice. That I see embodied in the Pauline mission team. Hence i think the notion of imputation a little alien to the text, even if I think it a good and true doctrine to maintain in the light of later church debates with Rome.

Thanks for your ever welcome comments!


Post a Comment

<< Home