Monthly Archives: September 2006

Riddlebarger on Romans 1.17 / Third Post


In his post (and pdf file) A righteousness from God, Kim Riddlebarger states (p. 9, 10):

While there are a number of arguments raised in favor of this view, the main reason we are told that this reading should be adopted is because Paul supposedly uses the phrase in Romans exactly the way in which it was used throughout Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism. Indeed, a number of Old Testament passages connect the righteousness of God and his faithfulness to the covenant as well to his creation (see Psalm 98:1-2; Isaiah 46:13; 51:5-8; 56:1; 62:1).

Indeed they do–and perhaps there are many others that do so as well. Here is my series of posts on the righteousness of God which begins with the OT passages:


However, this is not the only line of evidence that Paul, in Romans 3, is referring to God’s own righteousness. Rather, the evidence comes from the immediate context.

Consider Romans 1.17-18:

For in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

So in the Gospel the righeousness of God is revealed and also (in the Gospel?–Romans 2.16) the wrath of God is revealed. Does the wrath here refer to God’s own character or to a legal status of being wrathful imputed to people?

Consider also I think it is quite traditional (and pretty obvious) to see Romans 3.21-26 as a reference back to Romans 1.17. Rut Romans 21-26 hearkens back to Romans 3.1ff. I wrote about these passages last April:


So how is Paul thinking of “the righteousness of God” in his epistle to the Romans? Romans 3.1-6:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words,/ And mightest prevail when Thou art judged.” But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world? (emphasis added).

Notice that, as in the Psalms, “the faithfulness of God” and “the righteousness of God” are virtually synonymous expressions. In any case, this is certainly talking of God’s own character, not a status that he gives to us.

(Let there be no confusion: I am not denying that sinners who are to be saved from the Wrath of God must and do receive a verdict from Him which entails a righteous status. I am not denying that this is God’s verdict on Christ reckoned to his people. I am siimply saying that “the righteousness of God” is not how Paul is teaching us those great and essential truths. He has other concerns in this passage.)

Given Paul’s use of the phrase in Romans 3.1-6, we have every reason to expect the meaning to remain consistent with this passage just a little later on in Romans 3.21-26:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just [righteous] and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Again, we see here that “the righteousness of God” is his own character, his faithfulness, demonstrated in his work of salvation for his people–displaying Christ publicly as a propitiation in his blood. It is really violently discontextual to claim that “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” refers to imputed righteousness. I have come to (provisionally) agree with Wright and Richard Hayes that the phrase “faith in Jesus Christ” ought to be translated as “the faith of Jesus Christ.” Paul is speaking of Christ’s obedience rather than our trust by which we receive Christ and his righteousness. But that really doesn’t matter. The traditional translation still demands that “the righteousness of God through faith” be seen as parallel with “Christ Jesus whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” The propitiatory work of Chist is a manifestation of God’s righteousness–his faithfulness to his people to save them from their sins.

Romans 1.16-18a:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…

Remember Isaiah 56.1b: “For My salvation is about to come / And My righteousness to be revealed.” The Gospel declares the death and resurrection of Jesus and in doing so reveals God’s righteousness. Notice Paul’s parallelism between “the righteousness of God is revealed” and “the wrath of God is revealed.” Obviously, “the wrath of God” is not something imputed to sinners so that they are reckoned as being wrathful with God’s own wrath. Rather, it is God’s character manifested toward them. That is yet another contextual cue demanding that we understand “the righteousness of God” to refer to his own character which compelled him to act on behalf of his people.

Finally, one needs to remember that the close proximity of references to God’s righteousness and those to justification are perfectly understandable without any notion of a transfer of “righteousness” from God to the sinner. (To repeat yet again: I am not denying that Jesus’ righteous status is shared with His people. It most certainly is. I am simply denying that Paul is speaking of such imputation in these specific passages.) Consider Psalm 35.24: “Judge me, O LORD, according to Thy righteousness.” Though two different word groups are used, the Psalmist is plainly asking for justification and believes it will be given to him on the basis of God’s righteousness. But there is no transfer imagined here. The point is that God’s character and integrity guarrantee that he will vindicate those who belong to him. Likewise, in Isaiah 45.24, 25, the righteousness of God means he can be trusted to fulfill his promise so that “all the offspring of Israel” will be “justified.”

(Regarding the two different word roots for “judgment” and “justification,” one should note that these are both present in Romans 2 and 3 and thus the forensic meaning of justification is, in part, established by the courtroom language of “judgment” use in those chapters.

Of course, God’s righteousness also demands that sinners be punished. Romans 3.21-26 acknowledges this fact. What makes God’s righteousness a basis for hope for sinners, instead of fear, is that God made a covenant to deal with sin and justify sinners who entrust themselves to him. God’s righteousness demands that He keep His promises as well as punish sin.

More later.

Espenson Station: who knows where it will lead?

Chapter Two’s cover is up at Crimson Dark. Whoever guessed that Espenson Station was named after Jane Espenson was right on the money. David confirms it.

Not only that, but he reveals that Espenson has a blog. And from there I learned that at one time Espenson had a hand in Gilmore Girls, which I always thought was Buffyesque in verbal ways….

See? Reading Comics is good for you. It leads to all sorts of new things you didn’t know before.

A post trying not to inundate the reader with superlatives (even though they would all be strictly merited)

Last year I head of this but simply didn’t have time to get into it. I recently had some downtime to go back and watch this first season.

It is hard to type because the list of superlatives in my brain keeps floating in front of my eyes and obstructing the screen.

“One man against the world” is always a popular fictional theme. But rarely is it done in such a massive way while still managing to seem credible. These writers and producers have done it. They have taken the ultimate underdog, a prison convict, and put him up against global masters. The table-turning in Gladiator is not nearly as far-reaching nor as believable as this. It is every bit as suspenseful as 24, only without the super agent vibe. The protagonist does his work without anyone backing him.

I resist saying anything more because I don’t want to spoil anything.

James Boice on theological language

Great comments here and here.

The question is, to what extent do Reformed pastors have to go through a process of “translation” in order to preach this way? Can it possibly be helpful to add this mental process to a theologian’s task? Why not just do and write theology in this language from the beginning?

Should teaching theology be akin to taking a lecture written in Latin and reading it in English?

Is forgiveness so worthless?

One of the things I hear people accused of when they question or deny the imputation of Christ’s “active obedience” to believers is that they make their own righteousness the basis of their standing before God. This is a serious charge. Why is it made?

One line of reasoning seems to work this way:

  1. No one can stand before God unless he is counted as righteous.
  2. One must either be counted righteous on the basis of his own “active obedience” or another’s must be imputed to him.
  3. Therefore, those who deny it is imputed from another are relying on their own.

But this is fallacious. It completely leaves the forgiveness of sins out of the picture. The people who question or deny the imputation of Christ’s “active obedience” are reasoning in this way:

  1. No one can stand before God unless he is counted as righteous.
  2. One can be counted righteous either by never sinning or by having one’s sins forgiven.
  3. A perfectly holy God cannot simply arbitrarily overlook sin. He must condemn it.
  4. Thus, God forgives sin through the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ imputed to the sinner so that there is no condemnation remaining on his sins.

So what is lacking in this explanation? The objection I hear is that we are not in the position of Adam and Eve who were right with God but in some sort of jeapardy of falling away. Our lack of righteousness doesn’t endanger us of losing our eternal reward because Christ imputes his perfect righteousness to us.


  1. Adam and Eve were right with God and no sin alenated them from him.
  2. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve could destroy this standing they had if they were to fail to be obedient.
  3. Forgiveness puts us right with God the way Adam and Eve were, so that no sin alienates us from him.
  4. But we cannot be disinherited by subsequent failure to obey the way Adam and Eve were.
  5. Thus we have, in addition to forgiveness, the imputed “active” obedience of Christ.
  6. Anyone who says we don’t have the imputed active obedience of Christ does not believe in in the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone through Christ alone but is actually making his own obedience the basis of his standing before God.

But this seems to overlook a basic benefit of the Gospel, one which Adam and Eve did not have in their original covenant with God: the continual forgiveness of sins. Consider:

  1. Adam and Eve were right with God and no sin alenated them from him.
  2. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve were not promised any forgiveness for sin.
  3. Therefore, Adam and Eve could destroy this standing they had if they were to sin.
  4. Forgiveness puts us right with God the way Adam and Eve were, so that no sin alienates us from him.
  5. And forgiveness is promised for us all our lives (WCF 11.5: “God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified…”)
  6. Thus, no matter how much believers sin, by commission or omission, they will invariably appear before God with all their sins forgiven. No one can accuse them of not having been obedient enough because their failure to obey is covered by the blood of Jesus. They are and will be righteous in God’s sight through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Now, I think there is more to what is going on than this. I think justification does have connotations beyond forgiveness. And I think that being represented by Christ and sharing in the verdict declared over him means we are regarded as possessing his faithfulness.

But I don’t think people who affirm what I have laid out above should be accused of losing or even compromising the Gospel. People who preach

This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

are not some danger to the Reformed ministry who need to be exposed or denied their office. They do not make their own righteousness the basis of their standing before God but confess that the blood of Christ is sufficient to justify them.

Riddlebarger on Romans 1.17 / Second Post


On the “righteousness of God” in Romans 1.17 Riddlebarger writes,

There are a number of reasons why the later interpretation–-that the righteousness of God refers strictly to a divine activity and not a righteous status conferred upon sinners-–fails to do justice to Paul’s overall theology.

There are some exegetical considerations which ought to be considered, but I want to first ask what this sort of proposed opposition is supposed to mean. Is Riddlebarger convinced that Paul’s theology had no place for God’s righteousness? I can hardly believe that. Furthermore, the exact same Greek term is used to denote God’s own righteousness (rather than a righteousness from God: “But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” (Romans 3.5a).

My worry here is that readers will get the impression that there is a theological conflict at stake. But there is not. There is plenty of evidence that Paul was concerned about the justification of sinners so that they could stand before God and there is also plenty of evidence that Paul was concerned about the vindication of God’s own righteousness, “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3.26).

The issue is not over these two theological concerns as if they are in competition with one another, but only which concern Paul happens to be speaking about in Romans 1.17. Indeed, as Romans 3.26 shows, we should not be surprised to see these concerns in close proximity to one another.

But no one is denying that Paul is concerned about how God gives a righteous status to sinners. Paul’s “overall theology” is simply not relevant to this discussion. In other words, neither Dr. Riddlebarger nor Sinclair Ferguson are in error over this point. If Ferguson is wrong, it is not because he is in conflict with “Paul’s overall theology,” and if Dr. Riddlebarger is right, it is not because he is more in line with “Paul’s overal theology.” Deciding on the interpretation of this passage is dependent on other considerations.

More about those considerations later.

Again, here are a series of posts I wrote about the righteousness of God.


Riddlebarger on Romans 1.17 / First Post


In his post (and pdf file) A righteousness from God, Kim Riddlebarger states (p. 9):

In the last fifty-years or so, a growing number of critical Protestant scholars have embraced the idea that the righteousness of God, referred to here by Paul, does not at all refer to a status God bestows upon a sinner. Instead, this has to do with the activity of God, in which God’s sovereignty over all of the world is being revealed eschatologically through Jesus Christ. On this view, then, the phrase, diakiosune theou, should be rendered, “God’s righteousness,” and not a “righteousness from God.” In other words, in the gospel, God demonstrates that he is righteous. When Jesus dies on the cross and rises from the dead, God vindicates his purposes for his people Israel and demonstrates that he will now root out all evil and injustice from all of creation. In other words, God demonstrates his covenant faithfulness and justice.

I disagree with Dr. Riddlebarger (or at least with the impression I think readers will acuqire from his words) on a couple of points here.

First, there are plenty of scholars who believe that the cross and resurrection of Christ demonstrate that God is righteous because in those events, proclaimed in the Gospel, God actually “put forward” Christ “as a propitiation by his blood” (Romans 3.25) and “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8.3). “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3.26). This does not mean that Dr. Riddlebarger’s own preferred interpretation is incorrect, only that those on the other side of this question are neither skipping over the atonement, nor the justification of sinners so that they can stand before God. I’m not sure what Dr. Riddlebarger believes concerning these things but I’m afraid his description of the view he opposes might lead some to believe that they deny these central and Pauline truths.

Of course, there are Liberals who deny all sorts of doctrines in their scholarship, but that leads us to the other concern I want to address in this post.

Second, Dr. Riddlebarger assigns the position he opposes to “critical Protestant scholars” which, as I understand the expression, means liberal mainliners who Evangelicals must be suspicious of. But this position is also found among conservative Reformed scholars as the fruit of the trajectory set by the development of Biblical Theology. Thus, Sinclair Ferguson writes in his commentary on Daniel:

Elijah had come to God and said, “Lord, You promised. I believe this is Your word. It must be so. Let it be so in answer to my prayers.” Daniel’s praying was of the same order as his appeal to the “righteousness” of God eloquently testifies (vv. 7, 16). The Old Testament term “righteousness” has a specifically covenantal orientation. The young Martin Luther could not see this when he struggled to understand what Paul meant by “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:17). Of course, Luther was not helped by the fact that his Latin Bible translated Paul’s Greek word dikaiosune (righteousness) as justitia (justice). Luther’s mistake has sometimes been repeated by evangelical Christians. Often righteousness has been thought of merely as the equivalent of the just punishment of God. Preachers therefore may often accompany the use of the phrase “the righteousness of God” with the gesticulation of a clenched fist. It is clear even from this passage, however, that this is to reduce the full biblical meaning of God’s righteousness. Daniel sees the righteousness of God both as the basis for God’s judgment of the people (v. 7) and also as the basis for his own prayer for forgiveness (v. 16). How can this be? In Scripture, “righteousness” basically means “integrity.” Sometimes it is defined as “conformity to a norm.” In the case of God, the norm to which He conforms is His own being and character. He is true to Himself, He always acts in character. God has expressed the norm of His relationship to His people by means of a covenant. He will always be true and faithful to His covenant and the promises enshrined in it. Plainly, God’s righteousness is His faithfulness to His covenant relationship (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988; boldface added).

Also, Reggie Kidd, a PCA minister and New Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary has similar thoughts as one can see in this essay under the heading “GOD’S OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

I am concerned about this mainly for the pastoral reason that I think, whatever the correct interpretation of Romans 1.16, lay people ought not be encouraged to believe evil things about their Reformed pastors. To me, it seems like Dr. Riddlebarger frames the debate in such a way as to lead readers who don’t know better to think that only higher critical scholars who have no concern for the essential Pauline teaching on the atonement and on justification could possibly disagree with him regarding Romans 1.17.

I will deal with more concerns I have with Dr. Riddlebarger’s essay when I have time. In the meanwhile, for those who want a see a positive case for how “the righteousness of God” is used in the Bible and Romans, please see my series of posts:


Any comments?

My discussion of Buffy, Whedon, and comic books (and comments) has provoke the Amazon supercomputer (who knows all and mind-probed my past history as a junior-high D&D player from purchases I made at the age of thirty-five that had, by ordinary standards, nothing to do with the role-playing occult catechism) is now throwing up Whedon comic books I knew nothing about into my commercial sellout bar in the side column. I knew Whedon had done some X-men stuff, but I had no idea about this comic book or some of the related things. Any comments one whether any of them are worth the money and time?

I have no idea about who or what this isAnd while I’m talking about this, has anyone heard of the Runaways? Apparently, Joss may be writing for that comic.