The Righteousness of God in Paul's Epistle to the Romans
Peter J. Blackburn, New Testament B, 1962
"Now faith such as I described is 'righteousness,' and is called the righteousness of God, or the righteousness that is valid in God's sight, because he bestows it and counts it for righteousness for the sake of Christ, our Mediator." So wrote the great Reformer, Martin Luther, in his Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.
The term "the righteousness of God" is key to one's understanding of Paul's Epistle. However, its precise significance in each case has been the subject of much discussion. Firstly, dikaiosunh itself, while used in the context of its Graeco-Hebraic background, is evidently used by Paul in a particular, almost "technical", sense. Secondly, it appears to be used in the Epistle in both "usual" and "technical" senses. Thirdly, qeou, though sometimes plainly a possessive genitive, is not always so, but often rather approximates a genitive of cause or origin. Fourthly, the whole phrase dikaisunh qeou in some contexts seems to be equivalent to dikaiosunh ek pistewV.
Parallel to this theme is the concern of the Epistle, which is with people's justification or acquittal before God. People are not just (and cannot be justified) by their own goodness which continually falls short of God's requirement. They can only be acquitted by the act of a merciful God. But how can God acquit sinful people and still be dikaioV by his own nature (cf. 3.26)? This was the point of difficulty.
In approaching this subject, then, it is essential to appreciate the background of Paul's use of the term dikaiosunh, both in contemporary Greek and in the Old Testament, but to remember that this is only background and that in each case the precise meaning is to be determined by context. This study has indicated that "God's righteousness" in the sense of his righteous character is a foundation principle in terms of which his judgment and his righteousness in the "technical" sense of saving activity must be regarded.
2. Background to Paul's use of the term "Righteousness"
In non-biblical Greek, dikaioV was related to social duties and legal requirements. Moulton and Milligan1 give examples where the neuter is used largely in the sense of "duty", "rights" or "claims", leading to the meaning of "right" or "justice" which figures in the concluding formula of numerous petitions. The word dikaiosunh itself "is rare in the papyri, though it occurs very frequently in the inscriptions."2 The word signifies that quality of the person which accords with a particular acknowledged standard. Dodd3 notes that it was "the ordinary term for 'righteousness' ('the whole of virtue as it related to one's fellow-man,' as Aristotle defined it), or 'justice' ('the science of giving every man his due,' as the Stoics defined it)." This forensic significance was also present in the verb, dikaiow, "to think or deem right."
DikaioV and its cognates occur hundreds of times in the LXX. In the vast majority of these instances (except in the use of dikaiwma), they translate some form of the Hebrew root tsdq. Apparently this originally conveyed an idea of stiffness or straightness. This was extended to signify what is right, just or normal, and to include rightness in an ethical, as well as practical, sense. It also signified vindicated righteousness and is the source of an Old Testament concept of "justification" whereby one who is unjustly accused is vindicated. Used with regard to God, it seems to indicate his attribute as sovereign, the constancy of his will and the impartiality of his justice seen in vindicating his people unjustly treated, but also in the certainty of his wrath upon evil.
While the strong emphasis seems to be on the righteousness of God in vindication and judgment, there is another element acknowledging human righteousness to be inadequate before God, and coming to an awareness of God's righteousness in his redemptive acts. This aspect of the tsdq word-group is emphasised by the evident mis-translation in the LXX in some ten instances (chiefly tsedaqah) by elehmosunh, "mercy, pity." The righteousness of the law was especially manifested in mercy. After all, was this not an integral part of the Lord's dealings with them? In Num. 14.19, Moses pleaded for the rebellious people of Israel, "Pardon, I pray thee, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of thy chesed (LXX [to mega] eleoV, Vg. misericordia, AV "mercy", RSV "steadfast love") and according tas thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now."
It is in the light of God's chesed that his tsedeq and tsedaqah are to be understood. "I will not justify ('atsdiq, RSV 'acquit') the wicked" (Ex. 23.7), the Lord had said, and this principle of divine action was laid down as an example to be imitated by the earthly judge in Dt. 25.1, "Then shall they justify the righteous (hitsdiqu eth-hatstsaddiq) and condemn the wicked."
But how was Ps. 14 to be interpreted? "There is none that does good ('ein 'oseh-tov which Paul renders ouk estin dikaioV), no, not one" (vv. 1,3). This refers not merely to the fool who denied the existence of God, but to all the "children of men (benei-'adam)" (v. 2). Whatever author and date be accepted for Is. 64.6 (5), the universal implications of unrighteousness are there apparent. God's wrath is seen to rest on his chosen people also, for, although he meets the one who joyfully works tsedeq (v. 5), "all our righteousnesses (tsidqoth; LXX has sing. RSV 'righteous deeds') are as filthy rags (beged 'iddim, lit. 'rag of menstruations", cf. Vg. pannus menstruatae, and thus implying ritual as well as physical uncleanness, i.e. the totality of uncleanness it is possible to attribute to an inanimate object)."
It was with this kind of acknowledgement that it became possible to realise more fully God's righteousness in dealing with his people's sin. By his nature of tsdq it would be unjust for him in forgiving to pass by their sin even when they had turned from it. However, one interprets the "suffering Servant" passages of Isaiah, it is the servant of the Lord who suffers - the saving act is essentially God's (see especially Is. 53.4,6,10).
Much of this was in undeveloped form. From the view-point of those living after Christ it seems clearly to lead on to New Testament doctrine. However, the Jews tended to develop the other elements in Old Testament doctrine, viewing people as capable of achieving the moral requirements of God and viewing God therefore as dispenser of legal justice without much of that "mercy" and forgiveness able to raise the fallen, which are key features of the concept in Paul's thought.
3. The Righteousness of God as Character
It is evident that the term dikaiosunh largely indicated, when applied to people, that state which is acceptable to God, and, when applied to God, the constancy of his will and his eternal self-consistency4. Now, while it is plain that this is not Paul's outstanding use of dikaiosunh qeou in the epistle to the Romans, yet it is present and forms the basis of the other considerations. Both God's judgment and his justification stem from his character of dikaiosunh.
This is especially clear in Paul's assertions at the beginning of chapter 3. "The faithfulness of God" (thn pistin tou qeou, v. 3), "the justice of God" (qeou dikaiosunhn, v. 5), and "the truthfulness of God" (h alhqeia tou qeou, v. 7) are presented as roughly analogous. In each case, they are set out in contrast to human sinfulness and inconstancy.
The Jew, he argues, had an advantage over the Gentile (speaking here apart from the coming of Christ), because the Scriptures, "the oracles of God" (ta logia tou qeou) were entrusted to them. "If some disbelieved (or, 'were faithless to their trust'), will their disbelief (or, 'faithlessness') nullify the faithfulness of God?" No matter which way apistia is interpreted, the significance is the same - the Jews were unfaithful to their trust since they did not believe in the Old Testament promises as fulfilled in Christ.5 Paul sets out the faithfulness of God in contrast to this. His promises6 stand sure even though they be disbelieved by those to whose charge they are given. It is to make an affirmation quite contrary to God's nature to suggest that he is not true7 who is the Judge of all.
Paul goes on to make a parallel statement that "our (i.e. the Jews') unrighteousness (adikia) commends God's righteousness (dikaiosunh)." Adikia is more general than (yet includes apistia; so also is dikaiosunh in relation to pistiV in this context.8 It is his faithfulness to his promises in spite of people's unfaithfulness - that necessity of his nature by which he must be true to himself - that provokes the question of the justice of his wrath orgh towards us. This is also his dikaiosunh as vindicated,9 and that against the unfaithfulness of people. Here is seen the reason for using the more general term. God's faithfulness to his promises springs from his righteousness, but so does his wrath. The mistake that leads to the question lies in the assumption that God's faithfulness extends only to his promises. To want him merely true to his promises is to limit him to our own desires. Essentially he is true to himself. The constancy of his will and his eternal self-consistency are not to be limited to his promises. It is a contradiction of terms to call him adikoV whose essential nature is dikaiosunh, both in fulfilling promises in the covenant relationship, and in judging the world.
Paul then gives a third parallel - viz. That "God's truth by means of (en) my falsehood (unfaithfulness)10 abounded to his glory" (v. 7). This plainly refers back to v. 4. The truthfulness of God in making his promises11 is seen in contrast to the falsehood of the Jews12 in denying their fulfilment. It is acknowledged that God is to judge the world, yet why should the Jew be judged a sinner, since his falsehood means an abounding of God's truthfulness to his glory? But this is clearly untenable as leading inevitably to antinomianism. The condemnation of such an act on this principle is just. Again, the truthfulness of God in making his promises, and as magnified by the Jews' falsehood, can in no way be used as an argument to escape God's judgment.
The whole question of the Jewish rejection of Christ is considered by Paul in detail in chapters 9 to 11. There is no injustice (adikia) on God's part (9.14). The promise was a promise for faith, and the righteousness was a righteousness by faith (ek pistewV, v. 30). The promise was for the chosen seed and therefore for the descendants of Abraham by faith rather than according to the flesh. The rejection of Israel is not a breach of God's righteousness with regard to the covenant. It is rather connected with Israel's unbelief and their rejection of Christ.
This is the same principle involved in people's salvation is shown in 3.25. The putting forth Christ as a propitiation (ilasthrion) for sin was to show God's righteousness (dikaiosunhV autou) on account of (dia with accusative) the passing over (thn paresin),13 in God's forbearance, of the previously committed sins - i.e. those sins committed before the death of Christ; further, it was to show his righteousness (dikaiosunhV autou) at the present time (en tw nun kairw) with respect to (eiV) his being just (dikaioV) and the justifier (dikaiounta) of the one who has faith in Jesus.14 This clearly refers to the declaration of God's nature of dikaiosunh in so far as this could have been challenged on the grounds of the forbearance he has shown in the past (cf. 2.4) and as this nature is expressed in the means of justification now provided for people. This interpretation of dikaiosunh at this place differs from the views of C.H. Dodd and A. Nygren.
Nygren15 interprets ilasthrion as "mercy-seat", following its general meaning in the LXX.16 Christ is thus the place of atonement rather than the propitiatory sacrifice. The dikaiosunh referred to, therefore, cannot be the justice of God since God had showed himself able to pass by sins even in the Old Testament times, but is rather that dikaiosunh which is "the same righteousness which is affirmed throughout the epistle." The difficulties with this view are several. It tends to minimise the importance of the orgh qeou which, as Nygren acknowledges, is to Paul "a terrifying reality".17 Paul evidently has the propitiatory offering in mind, since he makes explicit mention of "the blood", calling it "his blood", i.e. the blood of Christ. Even if ilasthrion be considered as "mercy-seat", it is more than a place of intercession and reconciliation, for Christ himself is the propitiatory sacrifice and his blood is sprinkled on the mercy-seat for the sins of the world. Since the word was not frequent in the LXX and in spite of its technical use there,18 it is unjust to press that Paul would not use it here in its primary sense, for primarily ilasthrion signifies the means of appeasement and only by transference the place where this comes about. Alford19 argues against this which was the "ordinary interpretation" of his time on the grounds that it does not agree with eiV endeixin k. t. l. which require an expiatory victim (as being a public manifestation rather than that in the Holy of holies), and that it confuses the ideas since, as seen above, Christ must be both victim and mercy-seat. Since ilasthrion is "propitiatory offering", it follows naturally that dikaiosunh is "judicial righteousness, justice", and "this interpretation alone suits the requirements of the sense." Thus, the Death of Christ proves not only God's love and grace, but also his justice which requires punishment and expiation.
C.H. Dodd concurs with this view of ilasthrion, but says concerning dikaiosunh, "The justice of God in verse 26 is the same thing as the righteousness of God in verses 21-22."20 He categorically asserts, "There is no suggestion that a device has been found by which the justice of God can be satisfied (by the vicarious punishment of sin, for example), while at the same time his mercy is exerted to save the sinner. No such antithesis was in Paul's mind." Part of the problem here is that orgh qeou is seen as some kind of impersonal Nemesis21 rather than as an expression of God's nature. There is thus the idea of a "divine intervention" to save man from something that is not directly God's. But Dodd rightly claims that Paul saw "no antithesis between justice and mercy." It is the consistency of these two attributes that is shown in the death of Christ. Paul knows no mercy but that which is consistent with the same dikaiosunh as is expressed in the wrath of God against sin. Thus Knox says, "God's apparent ignoring of man's previous sinning would have been impossible (because morally inadmissible) if it had not been that the death of Christ was present in the purpose and foreknowledge of God."22
It appears, then, that at the source of all God's dealings with humanity is his character of dikaiosunh, in the sense of the constancy of his will, and his eternal self-consistency. This is the basis of God's truthfulness in the making of his promises and of his faithfulness in fulfilling them, as well as of that justice which brings his orgh on sinners, Jew and Gentile alike. In particular, it is the basis of his mercy and of the means of justifying sinners which stems from his mercy.
4. The Righteousness of God in Judgment
It has already been noted that the dikaiosunh of God, as this term is applied to God's attributes, bears as strong a relation to God's judgment of sin as to his fulfilment of promises. This was not merely the influence of Paul's Jewish background,23 for the manifestation of God's righteousness in judgment is, in Paul's thought, a necessary correlate of its manifestation in justification.
It is not in terms of human whim and passion, but of God's essential dikaiosunh, that his "wrath" (orgh) is to be understood. The parallelism of 1.17,18 is noteworthy. V. 17 refers to the revelation of God's righteousness (dikaiosunh here is the more technical Pauline sense) in the gospel. The necessity for this revelation is seen to consist in the present revelation of God's wrath against all ungodliness and wickedness of men. The latter revelation is seen in the thrice-repeated "God gave them up" (paredwken autou o qeoV, vv. 24,26,28), the present judgment, and in the divine decree (dikaiwma) of death awaiting future fulfilment (v. 32). There is no excuse for the Gentile, for there have been clear evidences of God's nature in creation, namely his eternal power and divinity" (v. 20). The judgment of God is "according to truth" (kata alhqeian, 2.2) against such sin. Yet the Jew also is without excuse and comes under the same divine judgment. He has had clearer manifestation of God's goodness, but has not allowed this to lead him to repentance (v. 4) Consequently, by his hard and impenitent heart he is storing up for himself "wrath (orgh) in the day of wrath (hmerh orgh) and of the revelation of God's righteous judgment (apokaluyew dikaiokrisia tou qeou)."24
God's dikaiosunh is now revealed (apokaluptetai) in the gospel (1.17). His orgh is now revealed (apokaluptetai) against sin in the delibering up of the heathen to their own lusts (1.18ff). It is also incurred by the Jews and is being stored up against the day of orgh, a day when God's dikaiokrisia will be revealed (2.5), presumably also the day of lfulfilment of the divine decree (dikaiwma) of death (1.32). The original decree of death, the wrath of God in the present and as it will issue in righteous judgment, are all seen as stemming from God's nature of righteousness.
Paul pursued this idea further, for by this dikaiokrisia God will render to each (i.e. to Jew and Gentile alike) according to his works (2.6) - punishing the evil, rewarding the righteous - for "there is no partiality (proswpolhmyia) with God" (v. 11). Here proswpolhmyia, referring to corrupt judgment (by bribery or some other means not regarding the case by its intrinsic merits25), is set in contrast to dikaiokrisia. In all of God's judgment he is just. Who "the just" are Paul does not say here, for, in fact, he goes on to demonstrate that none is dikaioV, that Jew and Gentile alike have sinned and fallen short of God's glory (3.9ff). Rather he seeks to establish clearly here that God's judgment is righteous judgment (cf. 3.5). Were there any who could be dikaioV naturally or by the law, they would thus be acquitted, but he later shows that this acquittal only in fact takes place if one is dikaioV in Christ.26 Having once established this principle of divine judgment, it is significant that he ceases to use this word dikaiokrisia, and writes rather of katakrima (namely, at 5.16,18; 8.1), "damnatory sentence, condemnation,"27 implying in each case its universal extent, apart from the grace of God in Christ.
Essentially, then, apart from the provisions for man's sinfulness which Paul saw in the gospel, the dikaiosunh of God is expressed in wrath (orgh) toward sin and will be revealed in the righteous judgment (dikaiokrisia) of God in the day of wrath which would lead to universal condemnation (katakrima) of man since none is dikaioV, either by means of the works of the law or apart from the law.
5. The Righteousness of God in Justification
So far dikaiosunh has been considered in its "usual" meaning, but consideration must now be given to Paul's particular use of it. To say the least, there is a contrast between histatement that God "justifies the ungodly" (4.5, dikaiounta ton asebh) and the Old Testament statement, "I will not acquit the wicked" (Ex. 23.7. LXX has ou dikaiwsei ton asebh)!
For Paul, dikaiosunh qeou did not merely signify an attribute of God, but his saving activity, that state acceptable to God, provided by God and received by faith. Perhaps this is seen even more unmistakably in a later epistle where it is connected with the idea of being "in Christ" - Paul wants to be found in him, "not having my own righteousness proceeding from the law (emhn dikaiosunhn thn ek nomou) but that which is through faith in Christ,28 the righteousness proceeding from God (thn ek tou qeou dikaiosunhn) on the basis of (epi with dative) faith" (Phil. 3.9). The point that this is not simply an attribute of God is made emphatic there by the assition of the preposition ek, and by the evident statement that this righteousness is designed to become man's on the basis of faith.
In 1.17, it is stated that this dikaiosunh qeou is revealed in the gospel ek pistewV eiV pistin - lit. "from faith to faith."29 If dikaiosunh is taken here to mean God's attribute, then pistiV becomes a kind of spectator quality enabling a person to see that God is righteous in the gospel as well as in his wrath. However, this is not Paul's idea of faith (cf. 4.20,21) - in fact, it is extremely doubtful whether this kind of meaning can be advanced even in Heb. 11.1, where a superficial reading might seem to indicate it. Faith is not here an abstract belief but a living trust, as is clearly seen from the quotation from Hab. 2.4 which follows. Whatever connotation the word had in the original,30 its presentcontext indicates a faith which stands in vital relation to the life. This is true whether ek pistewV is taken with o dikaioV or with zhsetai. The sense in the former case would be that the man whose righteousness comes from faith shall live; the latter that the principle of the life of the righteous man is his faith. In both cases the righteous condition is based on faith (in the former as regards its origin, in the latter, its continuance); and in both cases faith is the course of the life (in the former, because it brings about the necessary kind of righteousness, in the latter, directly).
God's righteousness in the judgment of man has already been noted. Here is the other aspect of God's righteousness manifested in mercy and salvation. It is revealed in the gospel31 which, for everyone who has faith, is the power of God aimed at (eiV) salvation (swthrian) - salvation from orgh, the consequences of sin, and salvation from the present power of sin.32 The central Person of this gospel has already been indicated by Paul (v. 3ff) - Jesus Christ our Lord, the human and divine Person33 - though he has not specified what about his Person constitutes the gospel, nor why it should especially reveal the righteousness of God.
The necessity for this revelation of God's righteousness lies in the revelation of God's wrath against sin (v. 18) - as has been seen, this is righteous wrath revealed against the sin which embraces all alike, present wrath which will issue in righteous judgment according to God's righteous decree. This is the theme developed from 1.18 to 3.20.
From 3.21, Paul returns to the theme of 1.17 - "But now apart from (or independently of34) the law God's righteousness has been manifested,35 having witness borne to it by the law36 and the prophets, the righteousness of God by faith in [Jesus] Christ37 to all who believe." Dikaiosunh qeou refers here to that righteousness which God himself provides for men. He has stated (v. 20) that "by works of the law no flesh shall be acquitted (or pronounced righteous - dikaiwqhsetai) in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."38 This righteousness of God, however, is able to achieve quite independently of the law what the law could not do - viz. justify man, pronounce him righteous - and comes by faith in Christ to all who believe simply because there is no distinction beteen men, Jew or Greek (cf. 10.12). All alike have sinned, so he has established, and continue to fall short of the divine image in which they were created.39
There are then two points of reference - the universality of sin and the inability of the law to make men dikaioV before God. The only possible way, then, for men to be justified dwrean (literally, "as a gift", and hence, "freely, gratis") by God's grace mediated through the redemption (apolutrwsewV)40 which is in Christ Jesus. This act of justifying men comes not only from the willingness of God (his cariV) but from an act in Christ whereby man is set free. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Paul implies here that the death of Christ is the lutron, or "ransom-price", by which our release is secured.41 It would otherwise be just a casual addition, having little connection with what precedes, to add concerning Christ, "whom God put forth as a propitiation (ilasthrion)42 by his blood, (to be received) by faith."
This surely is the point of union between the two conceptions of dikaiosunh qeou. God does not justify or acquit men by winking at their sin or by the borbearance of his orgh - rather, a ransom-price, a propitiatory offering, has been made and is the basis of the divine acquittal of man. God's saving activity of dikaiosunh ought not to be set in opposition to his essential character of dikaiosunh, for the ransom-price or equivalent for man's sinfulness has been provided (in fact, by God himself), nor should his cariV and his orgh be considered as incompatible opposites (or the orgh be "depersonalised"), for the propitiatory offering has been set forth by God himself. Thus God's righteous characteris declared (vv. 25, 26 - see earlier).
The argument then proceeds to establish that this dikaiosunh is bestowed on man on the sole grounds of faith. "For we hold that a man is justified by faith (pistei) apart from works of law" (v. 28). The substance of the artument is based on Abraham, of whom it was written, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as (eiV) righteousness" (Gen. 16.543). Works being their due on the basis of merit (4.4), but by this means man can never be justified before God. Acquittal comes by faith in the God who acquits the ungodly (v. 5) - not, indeed, in contradiction of his nature (and hence there is here no contradiction of Ex. 23.7), but by means which demonstrate his essential dikaiosunh. This promise depends on faith since only so could it rest on God's grace. The dikaiosunh which comes from God is reckoned to us - logizesqai, a key word in this chapter, largely a forenzic term - whohave faith in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. This reckoning of righteousness to a person is equivalent to his justification (dikaiwsiV, v. 25). He is justified, or rockoned as having dikaiosunh by his faith in the one who was delivered to death for our trespassed and raised for our justification.44
These points are restated in chapter 5. We are justified by faith (ek pistewV, v. 1), by the death of Christ (ev tw aimati autou, v. 9), a death by which God has shown his love to us (v. 8). On the grounds of the present justification, we shall be saved (swqhsomeqa, presumably at the day of wrath) from his orgh. With regard to the work of Christ, the terms of exchange (katallagh) are used, and this accords with what has already been noted on the essentially righteous nature of God's act. Emphasis is laid on the free gift of righteousness (thV dwreaV thV dik., v. 17), made possible by the obedience of Christ.
Chapters 6 and 7 are concerned with aspects of practical righteousness, but chapter 8 comes back to the central theme again. Paul had stated (5.16) that sin had brought katakrima whereas the free gift had brought dikaiwma.45 Again he emphasises that there is no longer any katakrima to those who are in Christ Jesus (v. 1),46 for God has achieved in the sending of his Son as an offering for sin what the law was unable to do (v. 3), in order that the dikaiwma of the law might be fulfilled in us. Dikaiwma heresignifies "the just requirement (of the law)" (R.S.V.), or even simply "the decree". The decree of death against sin (and of life for righteousness) is fulfilled in us by the death of Christ which has freed us from the principle (apo tou nomou) of sin and death, and by the new life en Cristw, walking according to (kata) the Spirit.
With relation to the rejection of Israel, Paul further develops the theme of the righteousness of God. The Gentiles who were not pursuing righteousness (as by works of the law) have attained it, that is, the righteousness which is by faith (ek pistewV), but Israel who was pursuing a law of righteousness did not measure up to that law (9.30,31). Their error was in not seeking it by faith (ouk ek pistewV) but as if it came by works (all ex ergwn).47 This is the basis of 10.3, "For being ignorant of the righteousness of God (here plainly that which is bestowed by God and acceptable to him) and seeking to establish their own (thn idian), they did not submit to the righteousness of God." What they were seeking was thn idian because it was based on what they did, on the works of the law, which in fact could not make them righteous before God. The righteousness which is valid before God is based on the act of God in Christ. The coming of Christ has put an end to the law48 as a means of attaining righteousness, for everyone is acceptable to God (and justified by him) if he has faith (v. 4). Righteousness is not ek nomou but ek pistewV (v. 5ff) since it is based on God's act.
It has been seen that basic to Paul's use of the term dikaiosunh qeou is the fact of God as righteous by nature, i.e. that his will is constant, and that he always acts consistently with his will and nature. The orgh qeou necessarily results from this. For Paul, to deny God's wrath would be a gross offense to his nature. Though the figure of a human passion must be used, God's wrath is not like human passion which is largely subjective, but is objective and consistent with his character. His decree of death and his judgment are righteous, and a simply by-passing or denial of them is, in effect, a denial of his righteousness.
Quite consistent with this is the emphasis on God's love - a love shown to those who were still sinners and hence under his orgh, love towards all men, none of whom was righteous or could finally be acquitted on his own merit. God has therefore provided the means of man's acquittal in Christ, so that by faith in him, man is counted as having dikaiosunh, i.e. he is in that state which is acceptable to God. This is the righteousness of God because it comes from God, is sustained by the life of God and is finally acceptable to him. It is the righteousness of faith because it is received by faith, is reckoned to a person on the basis of faith, and depends on faith from start to finish.
This saving activity of God is, however, consistent with God's righteous nature since it involves the sacrificial death of Christ viewed as the ransom-price of our release, the propitiation of the divine wrath, the exchange, the sin-offering. This is the focal point of the two basic uses of dikaiosunh qeou in the epistle to the Romans.
1 The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, in loco.
3 p. 10.
4 There can be no other standard by which we describe God. Perhaps we might ascribe to him the attribute of absolute moral perfection, but this he is by virtue of being God, the one by whom our varying moral imperfections are judged.
5 It may be argued that, by contrast with episteuqhsan (v. 2) and pistin, apistia must here mean "unfaithfulness". For the argument in favour of the meaning "unbelief", see Sanday and Headlam, in loco. The intention of the words is the same in either case.
6 So most commentators, but Denney considers this to refer back to God's judgment (cf. C.H. Dodd). This has in its favour the original context of the quotation from Ps. 51.4, where the reference is to the justice of God in pronouncing judgment on the sinner. Alford, however, sees reference here to the covenant relationship.
7 alhqhV, used here in contrast to yeusthV, seems here closely related in meaning to pistoV. He is alhqhV in making his promises, because he is pistoV in executing them.
8 cf. Sanday and Headlam, in loco.
9 So Alford, referring back to the dikaiwqhV of v. 4.
10 cf. Alford, in loco. Thayer notes under yeusma, "spec. the perfidy by which a man by sinning breaks faith with God."
11 Sanday and Headlam see alhqeia in terms of God's fulfilment of his promises. In a sense this is also true, but I have held alhqeia and pistiV here as intimately related but logically distinct.
12 "St. Paul used the first person from motives of delicacy" (Sanday and Headlam). The reference still seems primarily to the Jews, as throughout all this passage.
13 Several commentators note the difference of meaning between this word and afesiV, "forgiveness, remission."
14 ton ek pistewV Ihsou (cf. Vg. qui est ex fide Jesu Christi) is thus uniformly translated. More strictly, this is "the one whose ruling motive is faith" (Sanday and Headlam) or even "the one the source of whose being is faith..."
15 See p. 156 ff.
16 In twenty out of its 25 occurrences, it translates the Hebrew kapporeth. This is also the plain meaning in Heb. 9.5, the only other occurrence of the word in the N.T., where, however, there is a direct reference to the tabernacle.
17 p. 97.
18 kapporeth is only so translated in the Pentateuch; its other occurrence, 1 Chron. 28.11, is translated by exilasmoV.
19 II, p. 343.
20 p. 59. It is evident from what follows that he does not mean this simply in terms of Moffatt's translation of the words.
21 See Dodd, p. 20ff.
22 in loco.
23 It has already been shown, however, that even the Old Testament idea of righteousness (tsedeq and tsedaqah) included the possibility of, and at times set forth the reality of, mercy (hesed).
24 Sanday and Headlam, in loco, maintain that dikaiokrisia denotes not so much the character of the judgment as the character of the Judge.
25 See Sanday and Headlam, in loco.
26 2.15 may well be an allusion to the "new covenant" of Jer. 31.31ff.
27 Thayer, in loco.
28 Taking (pistewV) Cristou as an objective genitive. The phrase could also presumably be rendered "through the faithfulness of Christ." But even so, epi th pistei evidently refers to man's faith.
29 This could signify: (a) "from (source) God's faithfulness to man's response of faith" (cf. Knox. in loco. It is interesting that this interpretation has been taken by Barclay); (b) "starting from a smaller quantity of faith to produce a larger quantity" (So Sanday and Headlam. Cf. Nygren, V. Taylor); (c) simply an emphasis, "faith from start to finish" (Denny, Dodd, Knox).The issue depends largely on whether the phrase is taken with dikaiosunh or with apokaluptetai.
30 Nygren (p. 81ff) sees Habakkuk's meaning as directly opposite to Paul's. However, C.L. Taylor (Interpreter's Bible, on Hab. 2.4), while stating its meaning of "faithfulness", also seen a reference to faith in God.
31 En autw could presumably be taken as equivalent to a simple dative of instrument. The verb apokaluptetai, however, seems to require the other meaning. The other point of question in the text is whether autw refers to to euaggelion or to tw pisteuonti. It could only refer to the latter by reason of proximity, whereas the other has the precedence as subject of the preceding clause. Both of these points of interpretation have been largely overlooked by commentators.
32 Roughly, these themes can be traced in 3.21-5.21 and 6.1-7.25 respectively, but they obviously overlap and are not confined to these sections. There is sufficient demarcation to indicate these as the important themes in Paul's use of swthria.
33 Space does not permit a full discussion of orisqentoV here. Suffice it to say that proephggeilato... peri tou uiou autou (vv. 2,3) certainly indicates the primacy of his divine Sonship over the statements that follow and may well indicate this as the pre-existent condition, that orisqentoV is set in contrast to genomenou which signifies entry into a new condition, that this interpretation is nefessary for the consistency of Paul's thought in this epistle (cf. e.g. 5.10 and 8.32 where the reference is again primarily to his death, but also appears to have an application to the total act of the incarnation).
34 From the position of cwriV nom. it is seen that Paul is not suggesting an method of obtaining righteousness alternate to the law (this may have been possible if it was after dik. q.), but rather a righteousness which comes in complete independence of the law which is confessedly unable to make men right before God (v. 20).
35 pefanerwtai - Sanday and Headlam (in loco) note, "Contrast the completed fanerwsiV in Christ and the continued apokaluysiV in the Gospel (ch. 1.16)."
36 "The law" here refering to a division of the O.T. Scriptures, there may not be the implied contrast of the R.S.V. rendering "although...".
37 See n. 28 above.
38 By implication, "only" - cf. later in the epistle, e.g. 7.7,8; 8.3.
39 So. V. Taylor, cf. C.H. Dodd, Sanday and Headlam, Nygren, Knox. Alford (in loco) disagrees, and would render, "the praise which comes from God."
40 The construction is similar to that of Eph. 2.8. It seems best here, as there to regard th cariti as a dative of cause or origin, and the dia phrase as indicating means. The means here is connected with the divine gift, there with the human reception of that gift.
41 Cf. Sanday and Headlam, in loco. C.H. Dodd, however, states that apolutrwsiV can be used "without any explicit reference to the payment of money, as a simple equivalent of 'emancipation'." The word, however, is only used some eight times outside the N.T., in each case of which the idea of a ransom-price is expressed or implied. Even in the inscription from Cos cited by Dodd, it is not to be inferred that the meaning of apolutrwsiV is made more general by the description of the same transaction as apeleuqerwsiV, "liberation", but rather the latter is made more specific by the former. Certainly, the manumission of a slave is his liberation, but this only took place after payment of a price. See L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, p. 24ff.
42 See discussion in sect. 3 above.
43 Following the LXX; Heb. has yachshebeah, "he reckoned it (fem. - for 'emeth?)". Otherwise the meaning of chashab corresponds closely to logizomai.
44 The resurrection was seen by the early Church as the vindication of the Person of Christ and the guarantee of his atoning work.
45 Not "decree", as earlier, but, by antithesis to katakrima, the completed act of justification (cf. Sanday and Headlam, in loco).
46 Whatever the precise significance of the union with Christ implied by en Cristw, Paul clearly sees it as resulting from faith.
47 wV does not bear on the genuineness of their quest for righteousness by works, but only on the means by which they hoped to attain it.
48 teloV has been taken by some (notably Alford) to signify "the object aimed at". This sense of Christ as the fulfilment of the law is certainly a N.T. concept, but "the sense required - a sense which the words very naturally yield - is that with Christ in the field, law as a means of attaining righteousness has ceased" (Denney).
Alford, Henry, The Greek Testament (based on the seventh edition of volumes 1 and 2 and the fifth edition of volumes 3 and 4, with revision by E.F. Harrison). Moody, Chicago, 1958.
Denny, James, St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, in The Expositor's Greek Testament (Ed. W.R. Nicoll). Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1904.
Dodd, C.H., The Epistle of Paul to the Romansi. Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1904.
Knox, John, The Epistle to the Romans (introduction and exegesis) in The Interpreter's Bible. Abingdon, Yew York, 1954.
Nygren, Anders (tr. C.C. Rasmussen), Commentary on Romans. S.C.M., London, 1952.
Sanday, W. and Headlam, A.C., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (in the International Critical Commentary). T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1952.
Taylor, Vincent, The Epistle to the Romans (in Epworth Preacher's Commentaries). Epworth Press, London, 1955.
Hatch, Edwin and Redpath, Henry A., A concordance to the Septuagint (reprint of 1897). Akademischen Druck-v. Verlagsantalt, Graz, 1954.
Koehler, Ludwig and Baumgartner, Walter, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros. Brill, Leiden, 1958.
Morris, Leon, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Tyndale, London, 1955.
Moulton, J.H. and Milligan, G., The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1952.
Thayer, Joseph Henry, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1961.
Dictionary of the Apostolic Church (J. Hastings, ed.). T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1961.
Dictionary of the Bible (J. Hastings, ed.). T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1926.
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (J. Hastings, ed.) T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1918.
© Peter J. Blackburn, 1963, 1999
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