Biblical Studies Biblical Theology Paul Preview

What is the ‘Righteousness of God’?

16For 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. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

After explaining how eager he is to preach the gospel of the resurrected Jesus Christ in Rome, Paul tells the church in Rome that he is not ashamed of the gospel (Rom 1.16). Why? It is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe it. In the upcoming second edition of his Romans (BECNT) commentary, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 as, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63).

But just what is the ‘righteousness of God’? This is an important question to ask because “in the bulk of the letter, Paul fills in the content of this gospel so that the Romans will understand why he is so desirous to preach the gospel in Rome and Spain. The letter as a whole focuses on the content of the gospel because the gospel gives Paul boldness to preach in places where Christ is not named (Rom 15:20–21)” (63).

Yet many commentators understand God’s righteousness differently. In a series of posts, I will look at three different understandings of the righteousness of God from Schreiner’s new commentary. Commentators understand God’s righteousness as: 

  1.  Covenantal faithfulness
    1. God’s faithfulness toward Israel is due to his covenant with them and is seen in his saving activity—that is, it is seen when he saves Israel from their enemies.

    2. N.T. Wright says, “The ‘righteousness of God’ is the divine covenant faithfulness, which is both a quality upon which God’s people may rely and something visible in action in the great covenant-fulfilling actions of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit” (Pauline Perspectives74-75). 

    3. Proponents: James Dunn, Robert JewettN.T. Wright, etc.
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  2. Transformative
    1. On this view Schreiner says, “God’s forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners now live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)” (69). In his first edition he says that God’s declaration of righteousness is a gift that “is an effective declaration, so that those who are pronounced righteous are also transformed by God’s grace” (67).

    2. Romans 5.19, “For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

    3. Proponents: Ernst Käsemann, Eberhard Jüngel, Adolf Schlatter, Tom Schreiner 1.0 (he advocated for both the forensic and transformative meaning in his first volume). 
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  3. Forensic
    1. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight.

    2. Philippians 3.8b-9, “so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.

    3. Proponents: Martin Luther, John Calvin, C.E.B. Cranfield, Doug Moo, Tom Schreiner 2.0 (he now advocates for only the forensic understanding).

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