Righteousness

A word study

The word - righteousness

The word "righteousness" dikaiosunh takes on different meanings in the scriptures, depending on the context:

A moral sense is often present, of "being right", "uprightness", Fitzmyer/Goodspeed.

A dynamic sense is also at times present, of "doing right", "performing righteously."

A forensic (legal, courtroom) sense is at times present, when used of God's people, expressing "justification", of "being judged right", "approved before God", "counted as righteous", Barrett, "judged in the right with God", Dumbrell.

A covenantal sense is at all times present where being right in the eyes of God entails a person's compliant covenant standing and therefore, by implication, their right to access the covenant blessing of God; "a righteousness defined by the covenant", Dunn, "counted as covenant compliant (a compliance that maintains membership of the covenant)", Dumbrell = "right standing in the sight of God."

A spacial sense is evident, particularly in Paul's letter to the Romans. Here a state of being is in mind, of existence under the righteous reign of God, of life within the domain of righteousness. Paul's law-bound opponents sought to reinforce / advance this state for blessing, but this state is only ever retained, as it is gained, by grace through faith. See Issue [i] in Romans 6:15-23, and Issue [ii] in 9:30-10:4.

 
The phrase - the righteousness of God

The phrase, "the righteousness of God", thn tou qeou dikaiosunhn, appears 8 times in Romans: 1:17, 3;5, 21, 25, 26, and twice in 10:3, it appears once in 2Cor.5:21, and once in Philippians 3:9, "the righteousness from God", thn ek qeou dikaiosunhn, and should be considered with Romans 5:17, "the righteousness given by God", hJ dwrea thV dikaiosunhV, along with a number of singular references in Paul's letters.

The phrase, "righteousness of God", is usually resolved in the following terms:

i] The righteousness of God as a "gift of God", which leads to the reformed idea of "an ethical quality transferred from God to mankind" (imputed righteousness). "That status of being right with God which comes as his gift", O'Brien. This approach often leads to "righteousness of God" taken as a technical term for "justification" where the forensic sense is dominant.

ii] The righteousness of God as a dynamic attribute, namely, "God's salvation-creating power", Kasemann, "God's loving faithfulness to his people in terms of the covenant", Fee, where a relational sense is dominant.

Although the interpretation of this phrase is anything but settled, these notes on Romans take "the righteousness of God" to mean the righteous rule of God, his setting all things right - the vindication of the righteous, Ps.9:3-4; the defence of his people, Deut.33:21, 1Sam.12:7, Mic.6:5; the punishment of the wicked, Ps.9:3-4. God's righteousness, his righteous rule, his setting all things right, his "activity in the process of global transformation", Jewett, his restoration of the whole creation, is primarily relational, it expresses his "dynamic fidelity to his covenant promises / covenant faithfulness", Dumbrell.

 
The genitive - of God

The genitive in New Testament Greek primarily limits/restricts. It may limit by taking an adjectival sense, describing or defining a substantive (Under Aramaic influence a genitive is often used where an adjective would be more appropriate), it may limit verbally (the objective and subjective genitives), and it may limit by expressing separation (The Latin ablative case. In NT Greek, prepositions were beginning to be used to express separation, eg., ek + gen. "out of, away from"). What is the function of the genitive, "of God", in "the righteousness of God"?

However we define this genitive "of God", the primary function of the genitive is to limit "righteousness", identifying a particular type/kind of righteousness, namely, the "God" kind of righteousness. Our problem comes when we try to define the workings of God's kind of righteousness. The options are as follows:

i] The genitive "of God" may be ablative/partitive expressing: a) Separation from, a righteousness that comes away from God. This is usually expressed in the terms of a gift; "the righteous status which is given by God", Cranfield; "the right standing which God gives", Morris. b) Origin, a righteousness that originates with God. c) Author, a God-designed and revealed righteousness that stands apart from one of our own design (our own = law-obedience for covenant compliance).

ii] The genitive "of God" may be possessive expressing the ownership of the righteousness, identifying a divine quality or attribute, God's own righteousness, the uprightness of God, "God 'e spik em alrite", Pidgin English.

iii] The genitive "of God" may be a subjective genitive where the genitive "of God" is identified as the subject of the verbal noun "righteousness", expressing in dynamic terms, the "righteous activity / the power of God ... ushering in the time of salvation ... restoring the whole creation", Jewett, "God's salvation-creating power", Kasemann; "God's saving righteousness", Schreiner; "the saving activity of God", Talbert; "his fidelity to his pledged intentions for the world", Dumbrell; or in new perspective terms, his "covenant faithfulness", Dunn, "God's dynamic fidelity to his covenant promises", Dumbrell, so also Fitzmyer (the reader will understand how the present debate over The New Perspective on Paul relates to an interpretation of "the righteousness of God" as "God's covenant fidelity").

iv] The genitive "of God" may be an objective genitive where the righteousness, in this case a claim on, or imputation of, Christ's obedience appropriated through faith, is tended before God's judgment seat as full payment for a verdict of innocence (forensic justification). The righteousness of God "is, in a word, the sinners justification of which the apostle is speaking, whereby our trespasses are reckoned to Christ and the absolute and spotless perfection of his righteousness is reckoned to us with the consequence that 'there is now no condemnation'", Hughes.

Some commentators try to blend the subjective/objective approach to the genitive with the righteousness of God defined as "the act by which God brings people into a right relationship with himself", Moo. Some go so far as to interpret "righteousness of God" in Romans differently to its uses in Second Corinthians and Philippians. Even in the various uses in Romans itself, some commentators see differences, eg. Cranfield, who thinks most references are objective, concedes that Romans 3:5 is subjective. Also, the word "righteousness" is sometimes treated as if it had little relationship with the phrase "righteousness of God". We probably should expect there to be a strong linkage in meaning. So then, what are we left with?

Although the matter is anything but settled the genitive "of God" is probably possessive / subjective. Our righteousness / covenant compliance rests on God's own righteous reign, his setting all things right, his "covenant faithfulness", "fidelity to his covenant promises", Dumbrell, his saving activity ("the saving activity of God", Talbert).

 

Romans Introduction.

 

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