Archives For Righteousness of God

John Piper speaks on behalf of a myriad of traditionalists when he defines the biblical concept of “the righteousness of God” in terms of God’s general character or goodness. Thus when he writes against N.T. Wrights teaching that, for Paul and the other biblical writers, the phrase “the righteousness of God” has the specialized meaning of “God’s covenant faithfulness”, Piper says:

“There is something far deeper in God than covenant faithfulness. God was not unrighteous before there was a covenant. He was righteous before there was any covenant to keep. ‘The LORD is righteous in all his ways’ (Ps. 145:17), not just in keeping the covenant.”

But what Piper fails to take into account is that words don’t just float about detached from their context so that all that really matters is that one keep a dictionary of it’s basic meaning on hand.

Yes righteousness means “the quality of being morally right” in the dictionary. Yes if we speak of the “righteousness of God” as a standalone phrase it would mean “God’s quality of being morally right”. But when words and phrases are not plucked from their context to float about in an abstract manner, in other words when their context is allowed to help determine their meaning, an element of precision becomes important for understanding the message which is being communicated. And the phrase “the righteousness of God” (and it’s variations) is a case in point.

Throughout the scriptures the Hebrew word “tsedaqah” and its Greek equivalent “dikaiosyne” have specialized meaning important for the “exegesis” of a text. Regarding its Old Testament usage, J.I. Packer writes:

“The reason why these texts call God’s vindication of his oppressed people his ‘righteousness’ is that it is an act of faithfulness to his covenant promise to them.”

Here Packer confesses – in the Old Testament at least – that God’s ‘righteousness’ (in particular in the Psalms and Isaiah, but elsewhere too) is a specific reference to God’s covenant faithfulness, not an abstract reference to God’s general moral character.

When we come to Paul it is patently obvious to anyone who attempts an exegesis of the text even on a surface level, that his discussion of the righteousness of God in Romans (and elsewhere) is rooted repeatedly and at almost every point in Old Testament passages. Then, for the astute reader in search of Paul’s own message, and not a message deduced from sixteenth century polemics, they will quickly discover that in every case where the phrase and it’s variants are employed Paul is talking in covenant terms, covenant contexts, covenant promises and covenant faithfulness even where the word “covenant” is not employed (not least by quoting or alluding to Genesis 15, Deuteronomy 27-30, the Psalms and so on).

God is a good God, yes! He is righteous in the general sense that he is morally right, yes! But the question Paul is addressing in Romans is very specialized: will God be faithful to his covenant promise to Abraham that through him and his descendants all of the nations of the earth will be blessed? It had looked to the Jews in Rome as if God had abandoned his covenant people and had begun a new project without them (i.e. they were a precursory variation to modern Dispensationalism.) . In other words, God’s commitment or faithfulness to his covenant was being called into question. So Paul begins his letter with a declaration that God’s faithfulness to his covenant, God’s righteousness in other words, has been revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17).

He spends the next eight chapters unpacking that passage – note all of the talk of Abraham and so on – and then concludes his argument in Romans 9-11, particularly with phrases like “not all Israel are Israel” and “all Israel will be saved.”

So while yes, Piper is right in a minimalist sense that to speak of God’s righteousness in a detached, abstract way is to speak of God’s moral rightness, his holiness and goodness, in doing so he commits the uber exegetical fallacy of actually committing eisegesis. When Paul says something very specific in a context that determines it’s meaning and which has serious repercussions for understanding everything that follows, and then when what Paul means is blissfully overlooked or ignored and replaced with something else more general and abstract, all of Romans becomes lost.

Is it any wonder that a friend of mine, of Calvinist leanings no less, was reading a recent commentary on Romans by R.C. Sproul when he quipped in disappointment that “it seems every passage is about predestination.” That is what we call an exercise in missing the point, and for a book as important as Romans, that is a terrible mistake for someone as influential as Sproul or Piper.

The irony here is that Piper claims that his interpretation of the righteousness of God is “remarkably illuminating exegetically.” It is exactly the opposite of that. Few things can darken Paul’s letter to the Romans more than Piper’s attempt to exegesis “the righteousness of God.”

[This article was edited to remove offensive and obstructive language.]

At the heart of the Christian doctrine of Justification is a trustworthy God (worthy is where we get the word worship from). The two places where the Apostle Paul anchors this doctrine are clear enough. In Galatians we are told that God justifies those who have faith in Jesus by means of the faithfulness of Jesus. In other words, those who have faith in Jesus are declared members of God’s one family because of what Jesus did for them in his obedience to the Father on the cross. In Romans this point is developed and made patently clear straight from the get-go.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

The gospel is the ‘power of God’, it is the means that allows or enables God to save people, in particular those who believe. The gospel, the good news, Paul writes elsewhere, is that Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised from the dead and ascended to the lofty throne of God.

And Paul said – back to Romans where we just were – that this narrative, the story of Jesus – from his mission climaxing in the bloody crucifixion all the way to his final exaltation – is the ‘righteousness of God’. The gospel is how God has proved himself to be righteous, just, faithful.

Remember back in Genesis God made a promise to the age-old Abram:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessings. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and by you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

“Leave your family and everything you know,” God tells Abram, “and I will bless your family and everything there is.” Leave your world that I may bless the world. Blessing is a covenant term. It means to make things right by putting creation back together in the way it was meant to be. God and creation reconciled.

And God is a person of his Word, pun intended.

The only question that remained unclear was precisely how he was to accomplish this imposing goal. It seemed clear enough that God would begin by creating a new family – Abram’s family (keeping in mind that Sarai was barren, Abram’s family with Sarai was literally a creative miraculous work of God). And that God’s family would martyr themselves to the world in hopes that the rest would join in.

But the precise opposite happened. Rather than martyr themselves to the world, they laid down before it. They rode the beast without a concern in the world for the world. And no matter how often or how loud YHWH called them back to himself, no matter what the consequences were, they continued to prostitute themselves to every local cult and pagan deity that came down the pike.

It appeared that YWHW’s plan had crashed and burned. The plan all along was to restore the universal order of things. And the chief players are the Lord who made all things, and humans who were made responsible to all things under God. So the plan was to restore that relationship – God and humans – by making all of humanity into one universal family with God. But the place where that family was to begin and grow out of – Abram’s family – was not going so well.

To make matters worse, it wasn’t as though God could just brush things off as another failed project – as he did in the flood, for example – and start again. This time, this covenant was different. This time God made the fateful move of staking his own life on the line.

In Genesis 15 God instructs Abram to create a covenantal ditch filled with the blood of animals that have been diced in two and placed on either side of the hill for their blood to drain down; a custom not uncommon in the Ancient Near East. Normally two chieftain’s would walk the ditch ankle high in blood to ratify an agreement. The act symbolized a pledge to the death. Both parties were essentially saying to each other, “if what I promise does not come to pass, then may what happened to these animals happen to me.”

But God does something radically, dreadfully, and infinitely gracefully unexpected. He makes his promise to Abram and then HeGod alone! – passes between the dead animals. God himself places his own life on the line. So you see, he can’t just shrug off Israel’s unfaithfulness and start again.

So then, the ultimate dilemma emerges. By definition God cannot keep his promise unilaterally. He cannot. That is because God’s promise involved a partner. “Through you” God promises Abram, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So when God passes through the bloody ditch, in effecting saying, “if what I promise does not come to pass, may what happen to these animals happen to me,” we find later in the scriptures that that is exactly what happened, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” records the prophet.

All of the threads that we’ve talked about so far, and many more still, converge upon the cross as the climax of God’s covenant. That God himself would be born into the human race and more specifically, into the family of good ol’ Abraham. That he, Jesus – which means savior, would succeed where everyone else failed. That he, the second Adam, would be faithful to God where the first Adam and all of his descendants remained unfaithful. And then he, ‘my God and my King’ as one faithful disciple testified, would die the bloody death of those sliced and diced carcasses back in Genesis 15.

And there was Silence.

Three long and breathless Jewish days of silence.

Did the plan fail?

Silence. (Day 1)

Did God fail?

Silence. (Day 2)

Was God, as fear grips us and tears stream down our face, was God unfaithful?

Day 3…………….

“But Christ HAS in fact been raised from the dead,” declares the Apostle, “the firstfruits of a new creation.” A new creation. WOW! The plan accomplished. The evidence, the cross. The meaning: God is righteous!

It is also no mistake – if I may oscillate back to Corinth for a moment – that when Paul defines the gospel for us, he does so in the context of laying the groundwork for an exposition of the resurrection.

“If the resurrection of Jesus – the physical body, not some ghostly ‘spirituality’ nor some type of metaphorical mysticism, but the actual physical body – did not occur, then Christianity is an absurdity. We are of all people, Paul writes, most to be pitied.

“But in fact” Paul goes on to assure us with the confidence of his own witness, “Christ has been raised from the dead.” And with that it means that we can expect to be raised too, he goes on to explain.

Bursting forth on day three the power of God was made known. The faithful Human, the faithful Son of David – an Israelite! – was vindicated. And he was raised, not just from the dead but all the way up to the right hand of the Father in a marvelous act of Kingship, and from that throne he sits, and governs, and makes war until the all of the enemies have been defeated, the last of which being death itself…

… which, by the way, has already lost it’s sting.

In Justification: 5 Views, Michael Horton, while explaining and defending the Reformed view of Justification, says:

“Justification is a verdict that declares sinners to be righteous even while they are inherently unrighteous, simply on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed to them” p.85

I would like to contend that Justification does not come on the “basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed on them”. Rather Justification comes on the basis of Christ’s faithfulness. Period.

And here’s why… Continue Reading…

Thomas Schreiner

As I said in part 1, the word on the street was that Thomas Schreiner had got Tom Wright to change his mind during their debate on Justification (a greatly exaggerated word to be sure). At best Wright opted to use a different phrasology on a particular (and by comparision, a rather minor) point in order to clarify himself, but nothing of substance has changed.

When I came across Schreiner’s article, Wright is Wrong on Imputation, I had assumed that perhaps Schreiner got Wright to admit he was wrong on this central issue within the Justification debate. Nothing could be further from the truth. But not knowing that, I read Schreiner’s article expecting to read something convincing and devastating to Wright’s theology of the doctrine of Justification. This was not to be the case. It was in fact a rehashing of the same old (and unconvincing) points. I suppose the article was written to reaffirm “Imputation” among those who already hold to it, for surely it could not have been written to convince those who have been persuaded by Wright’s arguments!

Schreiner is Wrong on Imputation

In the article Schreiner summarizes Wright’s views and then launches on the offensive claiming “Wright’s interpretation is wrong and confusing on several levels”. I hear this all the time from Wright’s critics; that his interpretation is “confusing”. Well yeah, it would be to you because you disagree with him. But his view’s are not confusing to me because 1) I understand what he is saying and 2) I see it’s biblical foundation.

In any case, let’s look at Schreiner’s main points of contention one at a time:

1. Justification is a Legal Declaration

Schreiner writes:

Wright leads us astray when he says that justification is a legal declaration and hence it is not based on one’s moral character.

First Schreiner admits Wright’s point that justification is not based on our moral character quoting Romans 4:5 which says

To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

But Schreiner believes that because Wright separates “moral character” entirely from the court-room metaphor, he fails to see the “role that Christ’s righteousness plays in imputation.” He quotes Deuteronomy 25:1 to back up (what he believes to be) the fact that in the Old Testament law court a judge rendered a verdict based on a persons moral character, otherwise the judge would be unjust (since he would be acquitting a guilty person). But the passage in Deuteronomy does not say that a person is acquited because he is morally righteous, but because he has been found “innocent” by the judge. This is an important distinction to be made because to be found “innocent” in a particular trial and having a righteous character are not the same thing.

For example, if a person is on trial for murder and the judge has found that person “innocent” or “not guity” it does not mean that the person on trial is righteous in his moral character in every aspect of his life. It only means that when all of the evidence is brought in, the judge has weighed it and has declared the man justified on that basis of that evidence in that particular case. The man may be found innocent of murder which the trial was about, but that does not mean the man is not a liar or a thief; it does not mean that the man – in order to be declared innocent in the murder trial – is a perfect and righteous man. It only means that the evidence found that he did not murder. The judge does not judge based on the man’s moral character, but on whether or not he committed the crime. And this brings me to my first contention to what I believe is missing in Schreiner’s interpretation of Justification:

The evidence that the Righteous Judge is looking for in the divine law court is not that a person has a righteous moral character, but that the person has faith in Jesus the Messiah.

I find it astounding that Schreiner (Piper, Sproul and the others) would miss the key role that faith plays in the Justification debate. All are guilty, no one is righteous (“no, not one!” – Romans 3:10). God’s not looking for righteous people because there are no righteous people. God is looking for unrighteous people (the only kind of people there is) who have faith in Jesus the Messiah, as Schreiner pointed out:

To the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. – Romans 4:5

The evidence which the Righteous Judge is looking for is faith.

2. The Unrighteous Are Clothed, Not Imputed

Next Schreiner correctly points out the rub of the issue: how God can declare sinners to be righteous? Wouldn’t that make God an unjust Judge?:

So how can God be righteous in declaring the wicked to be righteous? The answer of Scripture is that the Father, because of His great love, sent His Son, who willingly and gladly gave Himself for sinners, so that the wrath that sinners deserved was poured out upon the Son (Rom 3:24-26).

For Schreiner, it is clear that a persons moral character plays a “vital role in Justification”. So far so good because now we have come – at least in part – to the purpose of the sacrifice of Christ. But we need to remember that we have rejected Schreiner’s previous premise. God’s not looking for a righteous person, he’s looking for an unrighteous person who’ll have faith in the righteous Messiah. Christ paid the price for humanity (beyond a scriptural doubt) and God the Righteous Judge is looking for the evidence of “faith” by which he can declare a person justified or guilty. We should remember then that the vital point in the passage of Romans 3:24-26 is the role which faith plays in Justification, as the text makes abundantly clear: “As to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus”. God is just not by justifying the wicked or by justifying the righteous but by justifying those who have faith in the faithful Messiah.

The point Schreiner is drawing out is the substitutionary death of Jesus by quoting 2 Corinthians 5:21:

God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

And again in Philippians 3:9:

[That I may gain Christ] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Now let’s put these two verses in the context of Schreiner’s overall argument. Schreiner opens up his post by stating that Wright believes that the doctrine of

imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer [is] an artificial construct, an idea from systematic theology that does not truly come from the Bible.

The entire article has been written to prove that the doctrine of imputation of Christ’s righteousness does in fact truly come from the Bible. Now we have come to the end of the article and I am still asking, Schreiner, where is it? Schreiner has assumed that if God declares a person righteous who is wicked that he must impute Christ’s righteousness on to that person, but that is an assumption, an “artificial construct, an idea from systematic theology”, but where is it in the Bible?

Schreiner rests his case on the two passages just listed, 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Philippians 3:9. And this brings me to my second contention to what I believe is missing in Schreiner’s interpretation of Justification:

Those who are declared righteous are done so because they are found “in Christ” by faith. When a person has faith they “clothe” themselves with Christ or “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27; Romans 13:14; Colossians 3:3) so that when God sees them, he sees not them, but his righteous Son. It is not by “imputation” but by “participation”.

Again I find it absolutly astonishing that such revered biblical scholars as Schreiner, Sproul and Piper would cling so desperately to the theological construct of “imputation” rather then to reach for the precise biblical categories which Paul himself reaches for: the doctrine of “in Christ”.

In case you have any doubt, read 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Philippians 3:9 again. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes that God made him who knew no sin to be sin so that “in Him” he might become the righteousness of God. In case you missed in: “IN HIM“. It’s that little phrase which all of Wright’s critics just keep on ignoring as they continue to reach for the sub-biblical category of “imputation”. In other words, Paul only becomes the righteousness of God when he is in Christ, the Righteous One. When Paul is in Christ God does not see Paul, He sees Christ because Paul has put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).

I’m afraid Philippians 3:9 fairs no better for Schreiner, Sproul or Piper because that nagging little biblical category is found there too: Paul writes that he might gain Christ and “be found in him” not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

If Schreiner, Sproul, Piper and others in the Reformed tradition would begin to put the Scriptures first and reach for biblical categories rather then theological constructs of their tradition; if they would understand the vital role faith and participation share in the doctrine of Justification, they just may begin to get things right.

As Wright correctly points out:

For Paul, “justification” was something that happened “in the Messiah.” The status the Christian possesses is possessed because of that belongingness, that incorporation. This is the great Pauline truth to which the sub-Pauline idea of “the imputation of Christ’s righteousness” is truely pointing. – Justification p.142

[If you liked this article you’ll love N.T. Wright, R.C. Sproul and the Scarecrow]

Thomas Schreiner

Back in November of 2010 N.T. Wright and Tom Schreiner debated the subject of Justification at the Evangelical Theological Society conference. I’ve been too busy to do much hunting on the happenings at the debate and the fallout afterwards.

But I remember a lot of buzz flying around about how Schreiner got Wright to admit he was wrong and change his views. I have since discovered that said buzz was greatly exaggerated. I have not seen official papers from the conference, but the word on the street has it that Wright adopted the phrase “according to our works” rather then “on the basis of our works” when discussion future justification. Fine. But his critics have been so over zealous to cheer victory that they failed to notice that this terminology played so far in the background of the debate as to hardly be recognized in any discussion that had gone before. If anything it testifies to Wright’s humility as I witnessed it first hand at Wheaton after listening to Kevin Vanhoozer give his fantastic talk (watch here).

But again, Wright’s critics ought not cheer too quickly. For as Marc Coretz opens a post titled “NT Wright at ETS (part 1)“:

Free advice: If you ever have the opportunity to debate N.T. Wright, don’t. He’s probably smarter than  you and he’s almost certainly funnier than you.

Marc also observed from the conference (in a comment in the same post):

In case I forget to comment on this later, Wright spoke very highly of the paper Vanhoozer delivered at the Wheaton conference a while back. He basically said that Vanhoozer’s comments were spot on.

I remember watching Wright’s expressions with great intrigue as he took in Vanhoozer’s suggestion of “adopotion” as perhaps the missing link in Wright’s understanding of Justification. I too was blow away by that part Vanhoozer’s paper.

In any case, from reports I’ve read – aside from those anti-Wright bloggers who got themselves hung up on the “according to our works” phrase – nothing significant of Wright’s view of Justification has altered. If anything, with each debate we find Wright better articulating his views; simplifying his terms and explaining their definitions and usage with greater ease.

Perhaps it can be argued (and I think this is absolutely the central issue) that the central issue of the debate is over Wright’s rejection of the theological construct of “Imputation”. It is this – more than anything else – that has caused so many in the Reformed camp (Sproul, Piper, Schreiner et cetera) to rise up and set Wright straight. That was the cause which the ETS conference occasioned.

Is Justification about getting saved or about being saved (soteriology or ecclesiology)? Is it about a persons moral character or a judicial declaration? Are we imputed God’s righteousness (or Christ’s righteousness) or is it through Union with Christ that we are declared Justified?

An article by Thomas Schreiner has come to my attention titled “Wright Is Wrong on Imputation“. In it Schreiner seeks answers these central questions about Justification to show where Wright is wrong. I’ll respond to that article to show were Schreiner is wrong.

I have heard many sermons on the Book of Job, come across many books and sourced many articles over the years. In the following two posts I will be taking an approach to Job which is unique to them all. Most work done on the Book of Job seems to treat it in an abstract way which broadly addresses the question of “Theodicy”: If God is all powerful and all good, how can there be evil in the world? Or why does evil befall the righteous?

But I think a key element to understanding the point(s) of Job are to try and ascertain when it was written, why it was written and to whom it was written. These are big questions which no one agrees on. I have a working hypothesis though which both excites me (for its “Christocentric” possibilities) and discomforts me (because I can’t find any biblical scholars who might make a similar suggestion). For what it’s worth, I’ll pitch it to you – the reader.

Working Thesis: Exile and Restoration

I believe Job was probably a real person who lived in the same era as the patriarchs (but I can’t be sure). Still, I’m inclined to accept the general view among scholars that “the Book of Job” was written sometime during or after the Babylonian exile[1]. If both of these points are true it would account for a few things:

1. The story of Job (found in the prologue and epilogue) was deeply embedded in Israel’s oral tradition so that Ezekiel could simply make passing reference to Job – along with Daniel and Noah – without explanation [Ezekiel 14:14, 20].

2. It would help answer the question of why the book shifts from prose to poetry and back to prose. The “prose” of the book reflects the oral tradition well known and embedded in Israel’s culture.

What might we say about the authority of the book then? Someone in Israel’s scribal elite used the well known (oral tradition) story of Job, wrote it down, and added dialogue in order to address some specific situation which the Israelites found themselves in (the [post] exile?). This is not too dissimilar as to say that Moses wrote Genesis – by divine inspiration, but that a later unknown scribe[s] touched it up (also by divine inspiration?). Thus Job is still divinely inspired in the same way.

If this suggestion is true (big “if” I admit) then perhaps we ought to read Israel’s exile as the backdrop to the Book of Job. And since I believe that Israel’s exile did not end until Christ’s crucifixion (I’m a “Covenantalist”) we might suggest that the “restoration” of Job could have some very Christocentric implications.

If all of this is true then the question(s) to which Job is seeking to answer is not too dissimilar to the question Paul takes up in Romans, namely “How can God be “Righteous” if he has turned his back on his covenant people” (Israel = Job)? The answer Paul gives is straightforward, God has not turned his back because “not all Israel are Israel” meaning true Israel will be vindicated (and for Paul that means whoever is “in Israel” which actually means “in Christ”). In Job, as in Paul, the answer is the same: God has not abandoned Israel, for Israel (Job) will be restored (42:12-17). In this view there is a striking similarity between Job 38:1-5 and Romans 9:19-21.

Of course there are some pretty large problems with my (working) hypothesis of Job. For example, the author presents Job, not as an Israelite but as a non-Israelite from the land of Uz (an Edomite). But this might not be a huge problem because I believe if the exile proved anything, it proved that Israel was (sinking) in the same boat as the rest of humanity. Thus Job could be the embodiment of all of humanity (Israel included) needing a savior. Perhaps this is why he is depicted as proto-Israel (as the story takes place at the time of Abraham before there was any Israelite). But this introduces my second and larger difficulty: Job is presented and emphasized as being “blameless” and “upright”. But this neither describes humanity nor Israel (cf. Romans 3:9-18).

In any case, with a broad stroke, I believe Job is aiming at two things: God’s people must be faithful in the midst of trial (a la Book of Hebrews) and God is Righteous (a la Book of Romans).

Perhaps I totally grossly misrepresented the whole Book of Job. Like I said, my views are quite undetermined and convoluted. But I want to try and understand Job in light of the Narrative of Israel (since it was an Israelite who wrote it, and one has to wonder “why?”).

So over the next two days of reflecting on Job (via my “through the bible in 90 Days” challenge) I’m going to attempt to read Job with Israel’s exile as a backdrop and seek to ask questions like, “why was Job written down at this period?”, “what did the story mean to an Israelite newly restored to their homeland?” and “why is Job depicted as a gentile?”.

If anyone has read or knows of an author who approaches the book from an “exile-restoration” angle, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know so I can see what they have to say.

[1] Katharine J. Dell, Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, p.337

I really struggle with the idea that we Christians have been “MADE” righteous by God through the process of having been “Imputed” Christ’ righteousness. There seems to be loads of confusion swirling around this subject. For example; how do we define “righteous”? Is “righteous” a reference to someone’s moral standing, as in “perfect”? Or should we define “righteous” as someone’s relative moral standing, as in a “righteous character with occasional flaws”? Or is “righteous” a word we use to describe someones temporal moral standing, as in being righteous until one sins and then repenting in order to be righteous again? Or is “righteous” to be understood in a more contextual manner, that someone is righteous regarding a specific thing? Are there various stages to being “righteous” so that it could be said that one person is more righteous then another person?

Next we have to deal with the issue of confusion revolving around the word “justification” as it relates to “righteousness”. Do these two words communicate the same thing? Or is there a notable difference between these two words?

And finally we need to deal with the word “imputation” itself. What does “impute” mean? Is imputation a “physical or spiritual transfer of something from one person onto another”? Or does it mean to “declare”, “consider” or “reckon” something onto someone? In other words, to put this question in some sort of context, does “impute” mean that every person has actually received or committed Adam’s original sin so that you and I are actually guilty of committing Adam’s sin apart from any sin we might commit? In light of Romans 5, are you and I then “imputed” Christ’s rightesousness in light of his faithful obedience to God on the cross, dying in our place? If this is the case, is “righteous” then defined as a faithful obedience to God in the context of dying on the cross so that it could be said, Christ died on the cross and I received his righteousness in that act so that any sins or disobedient lifestyles I choose to live today are irrevelent? In this way I have been “MADE” (i.e. imputed) righteous, regardless of a sinful lifestyle. Is this what imputated righteousness (i.e. the doctrine of “Imputation”) boils down too?

How can we be “made righteous” (a moral reality) when in actual reality we are not living righteous lives (actual moral reality)?

These and other questions I’ll be exploring over the next few weeks.

Here’s another controversal quote by N.T. Wright. Background: the subject of “the Rightousness of God” or “God’s Rightousness” must be seen as God the Judge who judges rightly. Therefore “God’s Rightousness” is his own, so to speak…

“it makes no sense whatever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Rightousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom.” – What Saint Paul Really Said, p.98

I cannot see where the bible says that we have been “imputed” God’s rightousness. At least that is not the language which is used. I also don’t see anywhere where the bible says that everyone has been “imputed” Adam’s sin.

When it comes to God’s own Righteousness, he does not pass gas.

It is this bloggers opinion that Kevin Vanhoozer was the most entertaining and illuminating lecturer at the Wheaton Conference (aside, perhaps, from Wright himself). It is for this reason, and also because I have received complaints about the lag time it takes to load and watch the videos, that I decided to directly re-post them here.

If you have read Wright at all you will find this video enjoyable and also challenging as Vanhoozer attempts suggest a way for Wright to improve his paradigm and find a middle road between “new perspectives” and “old reformers”.

Kevin Vanhoozer: Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation from Derek Ouellette on Vimeo.

(I was given permission via email from Wheaton College to re-post this video here so long as I link back to Wheaton’s site. To watch the original postings click here. Because of the volume of people watching from Wheaton’s site the lag time to download and watch this may be great.)

I purchased a copy of What Saint Paul Really Said? so that N.T. Wright could autograph it since it was the first book on Paul by him I read.

If memory serves it was Edith Humphrey who brought up and challenged Wright’s interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:21.

For N.T. Wright, if you are discussing Justification using the law-court metaphor (which has been the case since Calvin or before) it makes no sense at all to say that God’s righteousness is “imputed” on the believer. God as judge simply judges justly thus making him a “righteous Judge”. But when putting the subject of the believers Justification aside and asking the question on its own – giving full weight to the Old Testament use of “righteousness” – N.T. Wright believes that the phrase, “Gods Righteousness” is actually short hand for “the covenant faithfulness of God”. In both cases God’s righteousness is his own, it is not something he gives to anyone else.

If his interpretation is correct then what about 2 Corinthians 5:21 in which the text explicitly reads that “we have become the righteousness of God”?

N.T. Wright believes (as he says very clearly in both What Saint Paul Really Said? and in Justification) that this passage is so contextualized that we must read it as Paul talking about his own Apostolic Ministry and not about believers everywhere being imputed God’s righteousness.

Keep in mind that God’s righteousness is a reference to his faithfulness to his covenant, a faithfulness which came to fruition in the “faithful obedience of Jesus Christ on the cross” (Galatians 2:16, Philippians 2:5-11). So if the message of the Gospel – the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-5) is the message of God’s covenant faithfulness then, says Wright, when Paul and the Apostles preached that message they actually embodied that message. In that sense they literally became “the righteousness of God”. This, says Wright, is the whole context of 5:11-20 and even going back to chapter 3 and 4.

But I was not satisfied with this interpretation because it seemed to limit the scope of the biblical text. I tried to dance – ever so delicately – the line between the “old” view and the “new” (i.e. Wright’s) view believing that this passage does teach that believers “take on” God’s righteousness as it were, but through the Union With Christ (“In Him” it says) rather than “imputation”. In short, I leaned toward Edith’s understanding of this passage.

In Wright’s response to Edith Humphrey my anxieties were relieved. Wright, in explaining this text at the conference, seemed to go further with it then I think he does in his books. Keeping all of his premises in tact he expanded his interpretation of this passage to include all believers and their mission.

The righteousness of God does in fact refer to God’s faithfulness to his covenant expressed fully in the life, death and resurrection of Christ (i.e. the Gospel). Furthermore, Paul in 2 Corinthians is talking – in context – specifically about his own ministry and that of the other Apostles. But – and this I think is the touch Wright adds which he does not make clear in his previous writings – we believers have a job to do in proclaiming the Kingdom Message of the Gospel to the world and when we do that then we too become, i.e. embody, the Righteousness of God.

And that is how N.T. Wright interprets 2 Corinthians 5:21, it is an interpretation I can live with though I myself need to tease it out a bit more.

At the conference one scholar challenged N.T. Wright’s interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:21 which reads, “He became sin who knew no sin that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”.

N.T. Wright maintains a distinction between “God’s righteousness” and “our justification” and we should not confuse the two.

The phrase “God’s righteousness” is God’s own righteousness as the Judge. The Judge is a “just” Judge not because he is morally perfect (though obviously God is), but because He judges Rightly, i.e. He is a righteous Judge. So God’s righteousness is his own ability to judge rightly, and in that sense it would be silly to suggest that the Judge (i.e. God) could impute, impart, bequeath et cetera his own “righteousness” onto the defendant.

The phrase “to be justified” is a declaration from the Righteous Judge (assuming He judges rightly). It is not a declaration that someone is morally perfect (“no one is righteous, no not one”), rather the Judge finds the defendant, based on the case and evidence at hand, to be justified. The evidence in a believer’s case that God looks for is whether or not he/she is a follower of Jesus the Messiah.

So God’s righteousness is His own as Judge and refers to His judging rightly. The defendants “justification” is a declaration made by the just Judge that he is acquitted of the crime of which he is accused of in that particular case. So the Judges “righteousness” is distinguished from the defendants “justification”.

So what about 2 Corinthians 5:21 which Paul distinctly writes that in Christ we become the “righteousness of God”. How can the defendant become the Judges own righteousness?

Cannot and does not this text support the traditional view that the believe becomes (i.e. is imputed) God’s own righteousness? I struggled with Wrights interpretation of this text (see my struggle here and read under the heading, “What About God’s Righteous Judgment”) and my struggle came into focus after Wright was challenged on this point and before he responded. I remember talking with a friend after the challenge was made and we bantered around ideas and wondered how Wright will respond.

It is his answer to that challenge which will be the focus of the next post.


I read a post by another blogger recently titled “Made Righteous in Christ Jesus“. It is a well written post explaining and defending the traditional Reformed doctrine of the imputation of Christ’ righteousness.

But as the post takes flight the blogger focuses all of his energy on being made righteous by having faith in Jesus. In other words, there is subtle move from understanding being justified as a matter of “Incorporation/Participation” (being in Christ) to being imputed righteousness by having faith in Christ (believing in Christ).

I think this shift happens without thought and I think it is a mistake. I believe we are not made righteous by having faith in Jesus (that is how we are saved – Eph 2:8-9). But we are made righteous by Jesus’ own faithfulness!

Consider Romans 3:22:

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. – NIV

Notice the NIV reads, “faith in Jesus Christ”. But the Greek reads, “faith of Jesus Christ” (look it up). And since the Greek word for faith can at the same time be translated “faithfulness”, I think the passage should be rendered, “faithfulness of Jesus Christ”.

Think about it for a moment. The passage makes no sense at all if it says “faith in” because Paul would be exercising his right to redundancy: “Through faith [believing] in Jesus Christ to all who believe” – obviously Paul, why add, “to all who believe” if you already said, “through faith [believing]”?

I think the passage makes better sense this way: “Righteousness of God comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe”. Now doesn’t that make more sense?

When we believe we become participators in Christ, taking on his righteousness, a righteousness he claims by way of his faithfulness to God by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-11).

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God – 2 Corinthians 5:21

The doctrine of imputation is always talked about a part from the doctrine of participation. I think this is a mistake.

The doctrine of imputation should never be talked about a part from the doctrine of participation.

(Note: the article I referenced above is otherwise a great post!)