The Cruciform God: Righteousness and Faith, Part 1

We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.

The material in this post isn’t in the book. But it occurred to me while reading the book, and it’s built on and, I think, consistent with what’s written in the book. It’s about righteousness.

Now, to many of us, “righteousness” means doing right, means obeying God’s commands. That’s not a terrible definition. But it’s not the way Paul uses the term — not quite.

(Rom 3:21 NIV)  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

(Rom 3:21 ESV) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—

The NIV, like many translations, translates dikaisune theou “righteousness from God,” when the most natural translation is “righteousness of God.” Stick an “ou” ending on a Greek noun and you normally get “of” that noun. The KJV and many other translations agree with the ESV and disagree with the NIV. But “righteousness of God” sounds odd to us, because God can’t obey his own commands. How can God be righteous in the same way we are righteous?

Therefore, the NIV ignores the grammar and interprets the text as speaking of imputed righteousness. But, of course, in the theology of imputed righteousness, we aren’t really credited with God’s righteousness — it’s Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus is the one who obeyed God. So the NIV simply trades one riddle for another. Let’s consider what scholars are increasingly concluding is the right riddle.

The same phrase appears in —

(Rom 1:17 ESV) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

(Rom 3:5 ESV) But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? ( I speak in a human way.)

(Rom 10:3-4 ESV) For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Now, Rom 3:5 is particularly interesting. Paul points out that God’s forgiveness of our unrighteousness shows the righteousness of God. By contrast? That seems unlikely. Rather, God shows his righteousness by being righteous. Todd McClure explains

The phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ occurs eight times in Paul’s letters, seven of which are in the letter to the Romans. [N. T.] Wright feels that the meaning of this phrase has been greatly obscured in various translations. Wright states that it is pretty obvious to readers of the Greek version of the Jewish scriptures that ‘the righteousness of God’ would have one meaning: God’s own faithfulness to His promises, to the covenant (Isaiah 40-55; Daniel 9).7 “God has made promises; Israel can trust those promises. God’s righteousness is thus cognate to his trustworthiness on the one hand, and Israel’s salvation on the other. And at the heart of that picture in Isaiah there stands, of course, the strange figure of the suffering servant through whom God’s righteous purpose is finally accomplished.”8

7 N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 96

8 N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 96

Now, let’s ponder this one a bit. Here’s some of what Daniel 9 says on the subject —

(Dan 9:4-27)  I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. …

7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame–the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. …

12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him. …

16 O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

According to Daniel, the “righteousness” of God is that he keeps his covenant — both to punish and to forgive. And this fits well with —

(Rom 3:25-26)  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

In Greek, the same word is translated “righteousness” and “justice.” The translators, not surprisingly, sometimes disagree as to the sense. But thanks to the Reformation, we tend to think that Jesus died so that God could be just. However, try “righteous” instead —

(Rom 3:25-26)  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his [righteousness], because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — 26 he did it to demonstrate his [righteousness] at the present time, so as to be [righteous] and the one who [declares righteous] those who have faith in Jesus.

Now, translated this way, the passage parallels Daniel 9 exactly. God is righteous because he keeps his promises — both the punish the wicked and to reward the faithful. You should also recall that “justifies” is a law court term meaning to declare righteous — so it all fits.

Now, the covenant Paul has particularly in mind in Romans is not the Mosaic covenant, but the covenant wiith Abraham —

(Rom 4:2-3)  If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Righteousness. Abraham was credited with righteousness. What is righteousness? Oh, yeah, it’s covenant faithfulness. Abraham is credited with being faithful to the covenant even though he wasn’t completely faithful. But he did have faith.

(Rom 4:16-17 ESV) That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring — not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

I could quote the entire chapter, because Paul spends the chapter explaining how God is honoring his covenant with Abraham through Jesus.

Now, I said all that to say this. Paul uses “righteous” and “righteousness” to refer both to God and to the justified, that is, those made righteous. We are credited with faithfulness to the covenant because God is faithful to the covenant to credit faith (= pistis = faithfulness) as righteousness (= faithfulness to the covenant). We are made righteousness because God is righteous. God is faithful to his promises and so he deems us faithful to our promises.

Now, Abraham’s end of the covenant was —

(Gen 18:19 ESV)  For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

(Gen 26:5)  “because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”

and

(Gen 17:9-12)  Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner–those who are not your offspring.

In Gen 18:19, God declares that his goal regarding Abraham is that Abraham would do righteousness and justice — the very two words repeatedly used throughout the Old Testament to describe God. God’s goal was to make Abraham like God — to restore him to God’s image. And as we’ve considered elsewhere, this is God’s goal in the New Testament, too.

Through faith, we are credited both with obedience and with circumcision. And this explains why Paul says we cannot insist on circumcision as a test of salvation in Galatians, but it would also mean that we can’t insist on perfect obedience as a test of salvation. Do you see how it all fits together?

(Gal 3:18)  For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

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8 Responses

  1. Jay,

    Sorry off topic–but when i get your posts in my email, it’s full of weird symbols, typically where you have punctuation marks. Any idea what causes this? Am i stuck with all the circumflex-capital-A’s and trademark signs?

    –Guy

  2. Very good post Jay – great summary of an important concept.

  3. Guy,

    You’re beyond my computer knowledge.

    You can now subscribe either by Feedburner or the native WordPress feature — both available in the upper righthand column. You might try whichever one you’re not using now.

  4. Mick,

    The more I investigate the Abrahamic covenant and its connection to Christianity, to more sense Paul makes to me.

    I’ll be posting a brief series in April showing how this fits in with worship and, yes, the whole 5 Acts theory.

  5. Jay,

    God’s faithfulness, in Christ, to his Abrahamic promises, is absolutely a key to getting Paul.

    Three years ago I wrote a study guide based on the 6 Acts theory (yes, 6 🙂 ) – I really think it might interest you. The URL is here.

  6. Mick,

    I thought SURE that “6 Acts” referred to the scriptural 5 acts + announcements. 😉

    (Your lesson notes look just excellent.)

  7. Guy / Jay — it’s a matter of character encoding. I can’t give specific advice without knowing more about what programs Uncle Jay is using to send and Guy is using to read, but it’s sort of like the message is in cursive, and your email program only really knows printed letters. Well, not quite that bad, but I can’t think of a better analogy. Different versions of Morse code? American vs. British Sign Language? Anyway, they’re mostly the same, so it mostly shows up, but there’s a mismatch around the edges.

    Guy, look around in the menus for your mail reader, and see if you can find an option called something like “Character Encoding”. Remember what it’s set to, so you can put it back, then try some of the different option — Unicode, Western (2 or 3 possible versions here), and Latin-1 and the most likely options. Hopefully, one of them will work for you.

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