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Justice

Note of the Day – October 27

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This is a continuation of the previous day’s note on Rom 3:21 and the expression “the justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=). Verse 21 represents the start of a long declaration (vv. 21-26) which opens the section 3:21-5:21; it will be useful to analyze this complex sentence, in which “justice/righteousness of God” effectively appears four times (vv. 21, 22, and 25-26). The best approach, I think, is to attempt to follow-through the syntactical (and thematic) development step by step, in outline form. The links in the chain of phrases and clauses will be indicated by the words in bold below (picked up in italics).

Romans 3:21-26

V. 21: “And now, separate/apart from (the) Law, (the) justice/righteousness of God has been made to shine forth, being witnessed under [i.e. by] the Law and the Foretellers {Prophets}”

V. 22: “and (the) justice/righteousness of God (is) through trust of Yeshua (the) Anointed unto all the (one)s trusting—for (there) is no setting-apart [i.e. no distinction]—”

V. 23: “for all (have) sinned and are last [i.e. lacking, coming short] of the esteem [i.e. glory/honor] of God”

V. 24: “(the ones) being made right [dikaiou/menoi] by His favor, through the loosing from (bondage) th(at takes place) in (the) Anointed Yeshua

V. 25a: “whom God set before (Himself) (as a) conciliatory gift [i(lasth/rion]”

V. 25b: “through [the] trust in his blood”

V. 25c: “unto a showing (forth) of His justice/righteousness

V. 25d-e: “through the sending along [i.e. remission] of the sins (which) had come to be before
in the (time of) God’s holding up [i.e. putting up with them]”

V. 26: “toward a showing (forth) of His justice/righteousness

in th(is) time now

unto His being just/right [ei@nai di/kaio$]

and (His) making just/right [dikaiou=nta]

the (one)s (who are) out of trust of [i.e. trusting in] Yeshua”

Obviously, these verses are much easier to read in conventional English, broken up into numerous shorter sentences; however, it is important to look at the structure and flow of Paul’s language here in something corresponding to the actual Greek syntax. One might also study the thematic development in a chiastic outline:

  • The justice/righteousness of God
    • Which is shown to those (all people) who are sinners, yet are made/declared right
      • Through the redemption that takes place in Christ
    • Which shows forth, through the passing over (remission) of all previous sins
  • His justice/righteousness (to those who trust in Christ)

While justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) is definitely an attribute or characteristic of God Himself, it is expressed here through action, focused in the person and work of Christ—in particular, his sacrificial and atoning death (“through trust in his blood“, v. 25). We can see these two aspects in tandem within the subordinate prepositional (purpose/result) clause in verse 26. It begins “toward [pro$] a showing forth of His justice righteousness…”, then follows the preposition ei)$, “unto”, but primarily indicating purpose (and/or result), which has to be rendered in conventional English as “so that…”, or something similar. The preposition governs the clause, which contains two parallel verbal phrases—ei)$ (“unto”) His…

  • being just/right (ei@nai di/kaion), and
  • making just/right (dikaiou=nta)

—the first phrase refers to God’s person, the second to his work; and yet, both are governed by action (“showing forth”). This word (e&ndeici$) derives from the verb e)ndei/knumi, which means to show (or demonstrate, manifest) something in (e)n) something else. God shows (demonstrates) his justice/righteousness in (that is, through, or in connection with) the person and work of Christ (his Son, and the one whom he sent). I have retained the fundamental meaning of the verb dikaio/w (“make right”) in translation; however, many commentators and translators, especially in Protestant circles, have preferred to understand this in the legal/judicial sense of “declaring (a person to be) just/right”. While this forensic meaning is not invalid, it is only partly correct, especially if thought of in terms of announcing innocence or acquittal from guilt (which Paul rarely discusses). This “making right” should be understood in several aspects:

  • The general sense of making the situation right, i.e. doing justice
  • The specific legal sense of fulfilling the Law, which takes place (only) in the person (and work) of Christ, and is applied to the believer through trust in Christ—human beings cannot truly fulfill the Law, being held in bondage to the Law (under the power of sin)
  • The dynamic spiritual sense of the power and presence of Christ, through the Spirit, in the believer, as the living embodiment of Gods justice and righteousness

The second of these properly defines the theological term justification, the third defines what is usually called sanctification. I have discussed the background and semantic range of the dikaio- word-group in the article on “Justification“. For a good, concise summary of how the phrase “justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=) has been understood and interpreted historically by commentators and translators, see J. A. Fitzmyer, Romans, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 33 [1993], pp. 257-63.

Note of the Day – October 26

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Romans 3:21

Today’s note is on Romans 3:21, and, in particular, the expression “(the) justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=). In the New Testament, this expression is virtually unique to the Pauline letters, with a close parallel in 2 Pet 1:1 (cf. also Matt 6:33, and James 1:20; 1 Jn 3:10). Nor does it appear in the Greek version [LXX] of the Old Testament, though God’s “righteousness” [usually Hebrew qdx/hqdx] is referred to in the Psalms (Ps 35:24; 40:10; 50:6; 71:16, 19; 72:1, also 45:7) and in the Prophets (Isa 46:13; 51:5-8; 56:1; 61:10, also 5:16; 61:11; Zech 8:8, etc), and may be inferred throughout much of the Scriptures. Paul first uses the expression in Rom 1:17, which, because of its close formal and thematic parallel, will be discussed along with 3:21 below.

The genitival relationship in this phrase (“of God”) may be understood in three ways:

  1. As a subjective genitive, i.e., where God is the subject and “justice/righteousness” is an attribute or quality which he possesses, or which characterizes his action, etc.
  2. As a genitive of origin or source—i.e., “justice/righteousness” that comes from God. This is clearly what Paul describes in Phil 3:9, where he uses the preposition e)k: “the justice/righteousness (which is) from [lit. out of] God [e)k qeou=]” (cf. also Phil 1:11).
  3. As an objective genitive—where “justice/righteousness” is a divine quality or power possessed by others (i.e. believers), or realized in them, i.e. as a gift from God. This would seem to be close to the sense of the expression in 2 Cor 5:21, where  it is stated that we (believers) become the “justice/righteousness of God” in Christ.

In addition to Rom 1:17; 3:21, and 2 Cor 5:21 (mentioned above), Paul uses the specific expression only in the 3rd chapter of Romans (Rom 3:5, 22, 25) and again in Rom 10:3. All of these instances in Romans are best understood primarily according to sense #1 above, a quality or characteristic of God’s own person and action. This is indicated both by the immediate context as well as the Old Testament background of the expression. Consider, in particular, the verbs used in Rom 1:17 and 3:21—a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover, reveal”) and fanero/w (“shine forth, manifest”), especially in relation to Rom 1:18-32, which emphasizes the character and nature of God evident in creation. Yet, the parallel in 1:18, the “passion/anger of God” (o)rgh\ qeou=), also suggests action—God is about to judge the world; he has also acted on behalf of human beings in the person and work of Christ.

I have already discussed the background and semantic range of the dikaio- word-group in Greek (see the article “Justification“), and the challenges involved in translation. The verb dikaio/w carries the relatively straightforward meaning “make right”, though it can be difficult to capture the various legal-judicial and religious-ethical nuances, which are perhaps better rendered by the term “just” in English (i.e., make [or declare] just). The situation is even more problematic with regard to the noun dikaiosu/nh, usually translated either as “righteousness” or “justice”—both of these renderings are generally valid, but neither fits entirely. Something like “just-ness” or “right-ness” would be better, but these do not really exist in English; “uprightness” is perhaps closer, but still awkward and archaic sounding, and a bit misleading as well. For Jews and early Christians, the usage was also influenced by the corresponding Hebrew words derived from the root qdx, which, more than the dikaio- word-group in Greek, carries the idea of faithfulness and loyalty—especially in terms of God as one who fulfills his promises and covenant obligations.

The main occurrences of the expression dikaiosu/nh qeou= are in Romans 1:17 and 3:21; it will be helpful to examine these together:

Rom 1:17

“for in it [i.e. the Gospel]

(the) justice/righteousness of God

is (being) uncovered…”

Rom 3:21

“now apart from (the) Law

(the) justice/righteousness of God

has been made manifest [lit. made to shine forth]…”

The parallels are clear and precise; Rom 3:21 is virtually a restatement of 1:17 (part of the main proposition [propositio] of Romans in 1:16-17). There can be no doubt, either, that Rom 3:21ff must also be understood in relation to the theme of God’s judgment in Rom 1:18-3:20; note again the parallel:

Rom 1:18

“the passion/anger of God [o)rgh/ qeou=]

is (being) uncovered

upon all lack of fear (of God) and injustice/unrighteousness of men…”

Rom 3:21

“the justice/righteousness of God [dikaiosu/nh qeou=]

has been made to shine forth [i.e. made manifest]…

unto all the (one)s trusting (in Christ)… (v. 22)”

According to this comparison, the “justice/righteousness of God” is practically a reversal of the judgment/anger; similarly, the lack of (godly) fear, which leads to injustice/unrighteousness (1:18ff), corresponds to the trust that believers have in God (in Christ).

As indicated, above, dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) is a fairly wide-ranging term; there are a number of relevant aspects which should be considered here:

  • Retributive justice—in the sense that God judges sin and punishes guilt. This very much characterizes the overall theme of judgment on human wickedness in Romans 1:18-3:20 (esp. 1:18-32).
  • Distributive justice—God judges each person (and/or nation) as he/she/it deserves. This is very much the emphasis in Romans 2 (see esp. 2:6-10), that all people (Jews and Gentiles) will be judged by their deeds, according to the Law (of God).
  • Fairness and equanimity (lack of partiality)—stated of God specifically in Rom 2:11; this relates to the principal theme throughout chapters 2-3, that Jews and Gentiles are equal before God.
  • Faithfulness and loyalty—as indicated above, this is more appropriate to qdx/hqdx in Hebrew than the corresponding dikaio- wordgroup in Greek. It characterizes particularly God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promises and covenant obligations—an important theme in the Scriptural argument (involving the blessing/promise to Abraham) in Rom 4:1-25.
  • Fulfilling the Law—an important part of justice is the correct and proper observance and application (fulfillment) of the Law, by all persons and parties involved. Paul makes a long and challenging argument in Romans (also touched on in Galatians) that true fulfillment of the Law (the Torah and “Law of God”) only takes place in the person and work of Christ; as such, the justice/righteousness of God is ultimately manifest in Christ, as stated decisively in Rom 10:3-4.
  • Freedom and acquittal—this is another aspect of justice/righteousness (“making right”), especially in terms of exercising fairness and mercy on behalf of those charged under the law. This applies primarily to the person judging, as well the legal advocate/representative. It especially relates to God’s work in the death/sacrifice of Christ on behalf of sinners, as described by Paul in Rom 5:1-11, and is a theme throughout chapters 5-7.
  • Reconciliation—the related idea of opposing parties (“enemies”) being reconciled is likewise an important aspect of justice/righteousness (cf. Matt 5:9, 21-26, 38ff), and it is another theme expressed by Paul in Romans 5.
  • Uprightness/rectitude—that is, right or proper moral (and religious) behavior (including the underlying attitude and motivation). This signifies “righteousness” in its traditional, conventional meaning (cf. Jesus’ usage of dikaiosu/nh in Matt 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33); and it may also be said to reflect the “righteousness of God”. Typically, however, God’s righteousness may be defined by what it is not—contrasted with human wickedness and faithlessness, and so forth. See Rom 1:18-32; 2:1-10ff; 3:10-18, etc.
  • Holiness—the justice/righteousness of God ultimately is tied conceptually to his holiness or “wholeness” (i.e. what is perfect, complete), cf. Matt 5:48. Interestingly, Paul makes relatively little mention of (God’s) holiness in Romans (Rom 1:4; 7:12; 11:16; 12:1), as he tends to concentrate it in the presence and work of the Spirit. “Righteousness” for believers is very much realized in Christ, through the power and presence of the Spirit (Rom 14:17; Gal 5:16-26, etc).

The next daily note will look at Rom 3:21 more closely, within context and structure of vv. 21-26ff.

Justification

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The terms “justification” and “justification by faith” cover a wide area—from linguistics, biblical theology, systematic theology, and the history of doctrine. It will not be possible to offer anything like a thorough treatment in one brief article. My purpose here is to present a summary of the basic meaning of the Greek words involved (especially the dikaio- wordgroup), and to explore the ancient background of the concepts and terminology, as utilized by Paul.

The dikaio- wordgroup

We must begin with the wider d–e—ik- wordgroup and the basic noun di/kh (dík¢), which fundamentally refers to that which is established as right, proper or customary. It can be used in terms of a specific law or ruling, tradition, a principle, even a (divine) power; it covers some of the same ground as the word no/mo$ (usually translated “law”). We might render di/kh simply, and fairly accurately, as “what is right”. In English, the terms “right” and “just” overlap; we can also refer to di/kh as “what is just”. There is a longstanding question: whether it is better to translate the dikaio- wordgroup with “right, righteous, righteousness” or “just, justice”, etc. The primary corresponding word(group) in Hebrew is qdx (ƒdq), which also carries the sense of loyal(ty). Partially overlapping in meaning is fpv (šp‰), the primary wordgroup referring to judging, judgment, justice, etc.

di/kaio$ (díkaios)—The adjective is usually rendered “right” or “just”, both of which are preferable to “righteous”, which carries a distinctively religious connotation in English. The wider meaning in Greek refers to that which is “according to custom”, i.e. a person who fulfills his/her duties and obligations, follows the established customs or traditions, obeys the laws, and so forth. A person who may be so characterized is “just” and “right(eous)”. The corresponding adjective in Hebrew is qyD!x^ (ƒadîq). The adverb dikaiw/$ (dikaiœ¡s) carries a similar range of meaning as the adjective, “rightly, justly”, etc.

dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosy¡n¢)—This is a more abstract noun, signifying the proper observance of law and custom, the fulfillment of duty and obligation, etc. It ought to be rendered something like “right-ness” or “just-ness”, but as there are no such terms in English, it is usually translated “justice” or “righteousness”, neither of which fits precisely—one relates more to the law and society, the other more properly to religion and morality. However, “justice” probably better represents the basic range of meaning in Greek thought, covering both social/religious virtue and proper observance/administration of law and custom. The corresponding Hebrew words qd#x# (ƒedeq) and hq*d*x= (ƒ®d¹qâ) might fit “righteousness” more closely, especially with the connotation of “truthfulness, loyalty”, etc.

dikaio/w (dikaióœ)—This verb fundamentally means “make right”, or to “establish as right/just” (i.e. establish justice). The primary context is that of the realm of law and the courts (the administration of law), but it can also apply to personal life and conduct (i.e. generally, make a situation right, treat/regard something fairly, etc). In a legal/judicial sense, it can refer to judgment in terms of “passing sentence” (declaring innocence or guilt), “securing justice” for someone (i.e. respresenting them in court), “validating” or confirming the law, and so forth. In Hebrew, the corresponding verb is the denominative qd@x* (ƒ¹d¢q), in the Hiphil/causative stem; as indicated above, fp^v* (š¹pa‰) is the primary verb indicating judging and judgment.

Paul uses this verb (indeed the dikaio- wordgroup as a whole) in a very distinct, specialized sense, an understanding of which requires some familiarity with the ancient religious and cultural background related to these words.

The ancient background of “Justification”

Paul’s use of the dikaio- wordgroup (and, in particular, the verb dikaio/w) draws upon the ancient concept of judgment after death. Upon death, human beings were seen as having to stand before a divine tribunal to be judged—according to what they had done in their lifetime (including their intention/motivation)—before being allowed to enter into the divine/heavenly blessedness. This explains the traditional connection between justice/righteousness and the Beatitude saying-form (cf. Matt 5:3-12, 20 and my notes on the Beatitudes). Only the person whose life reflects the purity and “righteousness” of the gods (or God, cf. Matt 5:48) may enter into the divine realm, becoming like the gods (or God). Jewish thought preserved much of this idea, but with several important differences:

  1. Monotheistic belief changed the religious dynamic of the judgment scene—rather than being localized in the “underworld”, or presided over by specific deities (associated with death, law and order, etc), it takes place in the court of YHWH (on this, see my earlier note on Psalm 1, associated with the Beatitudes).
  2. The idea of the covenant established between YHWH and Israel meant that Israelites (and Jews) were, as a result of God’s gracious choosing, assumed to be righteous from the beginning. This status was preserved and confirmed by observing the commands and regulations of the Torah, which effectively provided the terms of the covenant (cf. Deut 27-28). Transgression of the Torah meant violation of the covenant, and only the wicked would do so willfully and unrepentantly. The person who has lived according to God’s Law (as expressed in the Torah) will stand and pass the judgment.
  3. Jewish eschatology ultimately shifted the judgment scene from taking place after death (for each person) to a final (end-time) judgment, in which all people would be judged. This was either connected with (1) the concept of the resurrection from the dead (en masse), or with (2) the “day of YHWH”, during which God would appear in glory and judge the nations upon earth. Both motifs are found in Jewish writings, all the way back to the Old Testament Prophets in the mid-1st millennium B.C.

Early Christians inherited the Jewish worldview, though, with further development:

  • The end-time judgment by God was seen as imminent, likely to occur at any moment, and, as such, is more precisely understood as the culmination of history, the end of the present age. Christians connected this end of the old with the beginning of a “new age” in Christ.
  • Judgment would take place through the person of Jesus Christ, as God’s representative; the impending end-time judgment thus was thus thought to coincide with a return of Christ to earth.
  • The strong sense of an imminent, impending judgment defined the early Christian idea of salvation—believers in Christ would be saved from the judgment, the anger/wrath of God, which was about to come.

This provides the essential background for Paul’s use of the dikaio- wordgroup; in particular, the verb dikaio/w, of which more than half (23) of the New Testament instances occur in Romans and Galatians, is an important word for Paul. It is used almost always in the passive, that is, a “divine passive” (passivum divinum) with God as the implied agent. There are, I believe, three aspects to Paul’s usage, which correspond to three basic levels of meaning (and ways of translating the verb, cf. above):

  1. “Make right”—the situation for believers is “made right” by God; this would best be understood in terms of human beings’ bondage under the power of sin, from which we have been freed.
  2. “Declare just”—this corresponds to the primary meaning based on the judicial context and background, i.e. of the end-time judgment before God (cf. above). In a modern legal context, we might say “declare innocent”, but this is not quite the idea in Paul’s writings—in fact, he rarely uses words corresponding to “guilt” or “innocence” in English. It is rather the ancient, Jewish background that informs his language and symbolism. Normally, a person is declared “just” or “right” according to his/her deeds—from the Israelite/Jewish standpoint, this means having properly fulfilled the terms of the covenant by faithfully observing the Law (Torah). Paul’s belief in this regard seems to have been that Christ’s work (his sacrificial death) has effectively fulfilled the Law for believers, and so all who trust in him are automatically “declared (or considered) just/right” in God’s eyes. This should be understood further at two levels:
    (a) believers will pass through the judgment and be “saved” from the wrath (punishment) to come
    (b) believers also realize, and experience the reality of, this status in the present
  3. “Make righteous”—this relates primarily to believers’ experience of salvation/justification in the present, though, more properly, it involves a (transformative) participation in the justice/righteousness of God. This occurs in two respects:
    (a) a spiritual identification with, and participation in, the death and resurrection of Christ, represented symbolically through the ritual of Baptism (and the Lord’s Supper), and effectively by the expression “in Christ”—that is, in the body of Christ
    (b) by the power and presence of the Spirit (of God and Christ) living and working within—through the Spirit, believers also fulfill the Law (of God and Christ)

“Justification by Faith”

While Paul never actually uses anything corresponding to this expression (the noun corr. to “justification” is found only in Rom 4:25; 5:18), it generally summarizes a number of statements he makes in Galatians and Romans (and elsewhere). Due to the polemic of Galatians, he has a more specific and narrow focus in that letter—constrasting faith (trust) in Christ with observance of the Torah commands (“works of the Law”). The main verse is Gal 2:16: “a man is not made/declared just out of works of Law [e)c e&rgwn no/mou], but through trust [dia\ pi/stew$] of Jesus Christ”; later in the verse he states even more decisively, “all flesh will not be made/declared just out of works of Law”. Elsewhere, Paul contrasts “out of works” with the parallel formulation “out of trust/faith” (e)k pi/stew$).

The relevant verses in Galatians are Gal 2:16-17, 21; 3:2, 8, 11, 24; 5:4. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul cites the keynote verse Hab 2:4 [LXX], “the just [di/kaio$] (person) will live out of trust [e)k pi/stew$]” (Gal 3:11; Rom 1:17), and uses/interprets the example of Abraham in Gen 15:6 (Gal 3:6ff; Rom 4:3ff). The main verses of Romans are: Rom 3:13, 19-20, 21-30; 4:2, 5ff; 5:1ff; 8:30, 33; 9:30-32; 10:5-6ff. It is a bit surprising that this theme does not appear more frequently in the other Pauline letters—it is stated rather clearly, but in passing, in Phil 3:9; otherwise, it has to be inferred in passages such as 1 Cor 6:11; Col 2:11-15. If Ephesians is authentically Pauline, then there is also a relatively clear statement in Eph 2:8-9, though the verb dikaio/w does not occur. This latter reference is significant in its use of the word xa/ri$ (“favor, grace”); Paul begins to apply this term and concept (“the favor [of God]”) in the context of “justification” in Romans 3:24, then on throughout chapters 4-7, and again in 11:5-6. These two words—xa/ri$ and pi/sti$—represent the twin aspects of “justification”, that it is: (1) by the favor/grace of God, and (2) through trust/faith in Christ.