The Righteousness of God and the NT context

So more from here:

The second plenary address—delivered by Frank Thielman, Presbyterian professor of divinity at Beeson Divnity School—focused on Romans 1:16-17. Thielman offered a mediating position that suggested several intended meanings from Paul for the contested and consequential phrase “righteousness of God.” Original hearers, Thielman said, would have understand this phrase to refer to the saving activity and gift of acquittal from God on the basis of faith. They also would have understood that God is fair, even-handed, and equitable in the way he distributes salvation.

Thielman cited the first commentary on Romans, written by Origen, who spoke and wrote the same Greek language as Paul. Origen understood the apostle to teach that the “righteousness of God” means all, whether Jew or Gentile, may find salvation in the gospel. Thielman illustrated his point by citing several coins used in the Roman Empire. Nero, emperor during the end of Paul’s ministry, appeared on one coin with the word dikaiosune, which we translate in Scripture as “righteousness.” It would seem, Thielman said, that Nero seeks to portray himself not so much as just but equitable in how he distributes grain harvested in Egypt.

Is it really likely, though, that Paul would use one phrase and intend several meanings? Thielman said this practice was common in ancient writing. So Paul did in fact reveal in this famous passage that God counts believers acquitted, as Martin Luther realized. But the inspired apostle also taught that God is fair, and he powerfully rescues his people.

I find it interesting that this blog entry presents no evidence whatever for Luther’s interpretation but only for the one that has come to be identified with N. T. Wright for rather slight reasons.  Thielman’s “mediating position,” as far as what is communicated to us, doesn’t seem that mediating to me. Thielman seems to be of much closer to the opinion as Sinclair Ferguson’s:

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 (Sinclair Ferguson, Daniel (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988; b0ldface added).

For those who are interested, here‘s my biblical study on the righteousness of God.

1 thought on “The Righteousness of God and the NT context

  1. TimG

    I still sez: in Romans 3, which is where the really big cluster of “righteousness of God” occurrences appears, Paul quotes and cites a whole whack of OT texts, and almost all of them have the phrase “Your righteousness” or equivalent in the context – and in the overwhelming majority of cases, it is contextually clear that it is God’s faithfulness to save and help that is to the fore. It sure seems to me that at the very least that OT usage has to be the predominant meaning for Paul.

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