Tag Archives: Righteousness of God

God’s Righteousness as Forensic

16 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. 17 For 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)

This series has given some snapshots of Tom Schreiner’s arguments over “the righteousness of God” in his revised Romans (BECNT) commentary. Again, he summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). I’ve looked at the arguments that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness to his covenant people, and the argument that his righteousness is transformative. In his first edition, Schreiner understood God’s righteousness as being both forensic and transformative, with one aspect being emphasized more than the other in certain verses. Now he understands it as entirely forensic. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight. Though they are sinners, they stand not guilty before him.

He gives nine arguments for understanding God’s righteousness as being forensic, but I put a few together here.

Forensic Righteousness

1. Righteousness, Faith, and Believing

“Righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) is placed near to the words “faith” or “believing.”

Romans 4.11, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,”

Romans 10.3-4, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Galatians 5.5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”

The one who believes by faith stands not guilty in God’s presence. They are declared righteous, but that righteousness won’t be seen by all until the day of resurrection.

2. To be Counted

Those who believe by faith are not “made” righteous but are “counted” righteous.

Romans 4.3, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (see Rom 4.5, 6, 9, 11).

3. A Gift from God

This righteousness is a gift divinely granted to people.

Romans 5.17, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

God is the origin of righteousness, and he gives that status to the ungodly (see again Rom 4.3, 5, 6, 9, 11) .

1 Corinthians 1.30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Here, Jesus is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God. Paul’s comment in Philippians 3.9 refers to righteousness as a gift from God. So in Romans 1.17 and 3.21-22 “God’s saving righteousness is given as a gift to those who believe” (70).

Philippians 3.9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

So “God’s righteousness may be both an attribute of God and a gift of God, but it doesn’t follow logically that it is also transformative” (70). Philippians 3.1-9 can be paralleled with Romans 10.1-5. Just as Paul couldn’t have a righteousness of his own from the law, Israel as a whole has tried to establish their own righteousness from the law. Paul received God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel must do the same. It is not about keeping the law; it is about trusting in Jesus.

4. Second Corinthians 5

In 2 Corinthians 5.21, Paul writes that Jesus who had no sin became sin so that we could “became the righteousness of God.” God was not “counting their trespasses against them,” meaning he forgave those who put their faith in Christ. Christ died on the cross, and those who put their faith in him, though they are sinners, take on God’s righteousness.

5. Romans 3.21-26

If all have sinned, how can anyone be righteous? Schreiner observes, “Paul argues… that a right relation with God is not obtained by keeping the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. All people who trust in Christ are justified by God because of the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus (3:24)” (71).

6. Lawcourts

Romans 8.33 says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Schreiner writes, “The lawcourt background here is unmistakable. Paul followed the usage of the LXX… and other Jewish Second Temple literature… in assigning a forensic meaning to δικαίουν [‘to justify’].”

2 Samuel 15.4, “Then Absalom would say, ‘Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.'”

1 Kings 8.32, “then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.”

Judges didn’t make anyone wicked or righteous. They made declarations about the wicked and the righteous. God declares us righteous, and he will transform us at the resurrection.

Proverbs 17.15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Schreiner: “Paul… does not think God violates any standards of justice, since Christ bears the curse that sinners deserve” (72).

7. Righteousness and Forgiveness

Romans 4.7-8 quotes Ps 32.1-2. David’s sins are forgiven and he stands “in the right before God” (73). David is not transformed, but forgiven.

Conclusion

Honestly, with some of these points (#3) I do wonder why God’s righteousness being a ‘gift’ ‘from God’ means his righteousness is to be understood forensically. We can’t transform ourselves to be righteous. We need another (2 Cor 5.21). So whether it is forensic or transformative (or both), it is still from God. However, do to other points (#6) and parts of Scripture, I can still see how God’s righteousness is purely forensic.

God justifies sinners when they believe the human Christ Jesus died and was resurrected. He is currently ruling over all things, and he is the King. We are justified in the eyes of God. We stand “in the right” or “not guilty” before him because we are “in Christ.” Being justified in and of itself doesn’t transform Christians, but other aspects of the order of salvation that occur immediately (e.g., the reception of the Spirit) and other parts will occur over time (e.g., sanctification) will cause us to be transformed. God conforms us to the image of his Son by working in us through his Spirit. Through that, we are transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3.18), awaiting our final transformation at the day of resurrection (1 Cor 15.49, 51-53). Christians are sinners who are declared righteous now and will be made righteous in the future.


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1 Schreiner, 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, 111.

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God’s Righteousness as Transformative?

16 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. 17 For 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)

In my previous post I noted that in his revised BECNT commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). Commentators have come to different interpretations as to what God’s righteousness is. Schreiner explains three of the different interpretations in his commentary.

Last time I wrote about those who think that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness. This time I present Schreiner’s arguments for (and against) God’s righteousness being transformative.

Arguments For

1. Revealed

God’s righteousness being revealed refers to God’s eschatological (end-time) activity that has invaded history. It makes sense that God’s righteousness here means his saving activity if we ask the question ‘What is being revealed?’—a new status (forensic) or divine action (transformation)?

In fact, both God’s righteousness (v. 17) and his wrath (v. 18) are revealed.

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

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

God’s wrath is actively poured out against human sin, and so it fits the parallel that his righteousness would also refer to a divine activity. Schreiner notes, “Since verses 16–17 are connected with a γὰρ (gar, for), we can conclude that the saving power of God is intertwined with the righteousness of God” (68).

So as Paul writes, the gospel is God’s power for salvation to all who believe for in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed. The gospel is God’s salvation-bringing power. It is a divine activity, and his righteousness is actively revealed in it.

2. Old Testament Usage

Many of the uses of righteousness in the OT refer to God’s saving action.

Psalm 98.1–3

‘Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.

The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.’

After God brought Israel through the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army, Israel praised Yahweh as a ‘man of war’ (Exod 15.3) whose ‘right hand’ is ‘glorious in power’ and ‘shatters the enemy’ (v. 6). He stretched out his right hand that the earth would swallow up the army (v. 12). He led his people safely through the waters in his ‘steadfast love’ (v. 13; Ps 98.2). God’s salvation is an active salvation that rescues his people from their enemies. See also Isaiah 45.8; Micah 6.5 and 7.9.

3. Made righteous

Later in Romans 6 Paul says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died has been freed (δεδικαίωται) from sin” (6.7). Schreiner writes, “The use of the verb ‘to justify’ [translated as ‘freed’]… demonstrates that God’s declaration of righteousness really frees people from sin” (69). In Romans 5.19, many in Adam were made sinners; in Christ, they are made righteous. “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).

Pushback

As Schreiner explains in his commentary, there are a few problems here. I won’t list every rebuttal; you can find that in his commentary. But I will present a few of them. 

Problem 1: Revealed

God’s righteousness (1.17) is the grounds for God’s power (1.16). The two terms are not synonymous. Simply because God’s righteousness in Christ is apocalyptic does not mean that his righteousness is transformative. “God’s declaration about sinners is an end-time verdict that has been announced before the end has arrived” (73). Referring to Linebaugh, Schreiner says, “Justification… is the final verdict, which is pronounced now” before the end has come (73).

Believers, in union with Christ, stand in the right before God, but that does not mean they are automatically transformed because of that verdict. Rather, Christians are transformed through the reception of the Holy Spirit, becoming new creations, being sanctified—conformed to the image of Christ—and ultimately by being glorified. At the resurrection we will truly be transformed. It is then that we will be like Christ—righteous and perfect.

Problem 2: Old Testament Usage

Simply because the words righteous and salvation are in parallel (as in Psalm 98.1-3) does not mean they are equivalent. Schreiner says, “Words may overlap in meaning, but it doesn’t follow from this that they have an identical meaning. The righteousness of God, then, denotes the ‘rightness’ and justice of God’s salvation in Psalms and Isaiah” (73).

Problem 3: Made righteous

“Virtually all scholars agree that in the vast majority of cases the verb ‘to justify’ (δικαιόυν) is forensic” (74). Most English Bibles translate δεδικαίωται as “freed.” Even if δεδικαίωται here held a transformative connotation, it does not mean that every use of ‘justify’ or ‘righteousness’ holds that same connotation.

Schreiner observes, “God’s declaration that sinners are in the right before him is the foundation for a changed life” (74). Because believers are justified, are in union with Christ, and are given the Holy Spirit who works in us to image Christ. We are transformed not because of our ‘not-guilty’ verdict, but because God’s Spirit works within us.

As for Romans 5.19 and people being made sinners or made righteous, 2 Corinthians 3.9 points to a forensic use of righteousness. There, righteousness is contrasted with condemnation, “a declarative term” (74). When God condemns someone, he doesn’t make them wicked. They don’t turn into wicked people. They already are wicked. Similarly, God’s declaration that someone is righteous doesn’t mean he turns him into a righteous person. “The declaration that Jesus,” vindicated in his resurrection, “stands in the right is granted to all those who belong to him, to all those who are united to him by faith” (75).

Conclusion

One of the major differences between Schreiner’s first and second editions is his move toward God’s righteousness indicating a forensic status instead of both a forensic status and transformative state. Think about this scenario. Harry and Marv rob a bank. They have committed a crime. They are bandits. They are criminals. A judge declares Harry and Marv to be guilty of their crime. The judge’s sentence does not transform them into criminals; they became criminals when they robbed the bank.

We are sinners. Yet those who believe on Jesus Christ are declared to be “in the right” by God. I am still a sinner. I am not a ‘righteous’ person. As I said above, when Christians receive their resurrected bodies, they will be like Christ (1 John 3.2; 1 Cor 15.49, 52-53). They will be righteous, and they will be perfect. God sees what they will be in the future and he declares them to be that now. Christians have the status of righteousness even though they are still presently sinners because we are now in Christ.

In my next and final post I will look at what Schreiner has to say about God’s righteousness being forensic.


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God’s Righteousness as his Covenant Faithfulness?

16 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. 17 For 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)

In my previous post I noted that in his revised BECNT commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). Commentators have come to different interpretations as to what God’s righteousness is. Schreiner explains three of the different interpretations in his commentary.

Proponents

The first here is the understanding that God’s righteousness refers to his covenantal faithfulness to his people Israel. Those who argue for this position understand God’s righteousness to be “both effective and forensic” (67). His faithfulness toward Israel is due to his covenant with them and it is seen in his saving activity—that is, it is seen when he saves them from their enemies.

In his commentary Romans 1–8, James Dunn says, “God is ‘righteous’ when he fulfills the obligations he took upon himself to be Israel’s God, that is, to rescue Israel and punish Israel’s enemies” (41). God’s righteousness is to be understood as his covenant faithfulness (Rom 3:3–5, 25; 15:8). It is “God’s act to restore his own and to sustain them within the covenant (Ps 31:1; 35:24; 51:14; 65:5; 71:2, 15; 98:2; 143:11; Isa 45:8, 21; 46:13; 51:5, 6, 8; 62:1–2; 63:1, 7)” (41). 

In his book, Pauline Perspectives, N. T. Wright says, “God must be true to his covenant” with Abraham who would be the father of a great nation and who, by following God, would be a blessing to the world. He continues, “Paul [in Romans 4] quotes extensively from Genesis 15 and 17 to prove that covenant membership always depended on grace and faith” (31). Wright notes that “as God ‘redeemed’ his people from Egypt with the covenant blood, so now the blood of Jesus Christ becomes the blood of the new covenant, shed for the worldwide forgiveness of sins, achieving the redemption (3.21) of the true family of Abraham. God has dealt with sin; he has renounced partiality; he is true to his covenant. The Gospel of Jesus Christ reveals that God is in the right (Romans 1.16f.)” (31). Through the death and resurrection of the Son, God has saved Israel, Jew and Gentile—“the true family of Abraham”—from their ultimate enemies: sin and death.

Finally, 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” (74-75).

Old Testament References

Schreiner says, “God’s saving actions are rooted in his faithfulness to the covenant enacted with his people. That the righteousness of God involves his loyalty to the covenant is defended by OT and Second Temple antecedents” (75).

Psalm 36.5–6

“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.”

Psalm 88.11–12

11 “Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”

God’s righteousness is compared to his faithfulness and steadfast love to his people Israel seen through his wondrous works.

Psalm 142.1 (LXX)

In the Septuagint, the psalmist draws a parallel between God’s truth and his righteousness when he says,

“O Lord, hearken to my prayer.
Give ear to my entreaty with your truthfulness.
Hear me in your righteousness.”

God is both truthful and righteous to his covenant people.

Pushback

Yet just because terms such as ‘righteousness,’ ‘truthfulness,’ ‘faithfulness,’ and ‘steadfast’ are paralleled does not mean that they all denote the same thing. Even though the idea the idea of God being faithful to his covenant is present in the broad context of the above psalms, Schreiner points out elsewhere that “God’s salvation of his people is also the right thing to do; he vindicates his people in saving them.”

Israelite judges were to “acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty” (Deut 25.1). Schreiner notes the forensic aspect of their judgments saying, “Judges do not make someone righteous or wicked. They render a forensic declaration based on the reality that is before them.”1

While in Romans 3.1–8 Paul links God’s ‘righteousness’ (3.5) with his ‘faithfulness’ (3.3), ‘reliability’ (3.4), and ‘truth’ (3.7), Schreiner points out that Romans 3.5 speaks of God’s judging righteousness. The Jewish opponents ask if God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on them. God, in his righteousness, judges guilty sinners and pours out his wrath upon them (1.18). God is right and just to judge sinners.

Because God is righteous and doesn’t “pervert the right” (Job 8.3), he faithfully and steadfastly fulfills his OT saving promises and his covenant promises. However, “it is quite another thing to say that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness” (75). Schreiner writes, “The righteousness of God, then, denotes the ‘rightness’ and justice of God’s salvation in Psalms and Isaiah,” which displays itself in his faithfulness to his covenant people (73).


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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.
      .
  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). 
      .
  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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