11/17/2010

The Righteousness of God (Romans 1:17)

Three ways of understanding the "Righteousness of God" (The Theme of the Letter [Rom 1:16-17]by Douglas Moo):
  1. "The Righteousness that belongs to God" (God's attribute of absolute justice).
  2. "The Righteousness being established by God" (God's act of putting his people "in the right"). This comes closest to what Paul means in Rom 1:17.
  3. "The Righteousness that comes from God" (The righteous status that God gives us).
"Righteousness" Language
  1. Righteousness, justice (noun): δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē)
  2. Righteous, just (adjective): δίκαιος (dikaios)
  3. Justify (verb): δικαιόω (dikaioō)
Look at the OT to see how Paul might be using a word. How is God's righteousness used in the OT? Ps 50:4-6 expresses faithfulness to God's own character and purposes.
  • Vindication of the faithful (Ps 50:15).
  • Condemnation of the wicked (Ps 50:16-23).
Isaiah was particularly important to Paul. In Rom 3:21, Paul says that the righteousness of God is testified to by the OT. Isa 51:4-8 expresses eschatological vindication. Isaiah talks about a day to come when God's righteousness will appear. Somehow that righteousness is associated with salvation, for there is a parallel between righteousness and salvation in these verses.

In this light, God's righteousness aligns closest to #2 above of God putting his people "in the right." In the OT, God says in Isaiah to his people in exile that one day God will judge their enemies and vindicate them. God will establish them again "in the right." In Romans, this righteousness is not only for Israel, but for all who believe.

As in Rom 1:17c, Paul tends to put together often the language of "righteous" and "faith." It is not clear if "by faith" is attached to "righteous" or "live." Many scholars would prefer to translate (cf. the NIV) Hab 2:4 as "the one who is righteous by faith shall live."

(Hi Teddy, For your theological musing, as we had briefly touched on:)
The expression "righteousness of God" (Rom. 1:17), which has been discussed exhaustively throughout church history, is not easy to summarize or synthesize. John Stott explains the "righteousness of God" in 3 ways as:
  1. A divine attribute (describes God's character): Our God is a righteous God.
  2. A divine activity (describes God's saving intervention on behalf of his people): God comes to our rescue.
  3. A divine achievement: God bestows on us a righteous status, which:
    • God requires if we are to stand before him,
    • God achieves through the atoning sacrifice of the cross,
    • God reveals in the gospel, and
    • God bestows freely on all who trust in Jesus Christ.
In other words, "the righteousness of God" is at one and the same time
  1. a quality,
  2. an activity and
  3. a gift.
All 3 are true and have been held by different scholars. Stott doesn't see why all 3 should not be combined.