Friday, March 31, 2006

God's Righteousness as Covenant Faithfulness

In continuing my research on justification I've been reading a bit of the history of the topic and stumbled upon an interesting find. I think I have found the earliest reference to dikaiosyne theou ("righteousness of God") being understood as "God's faithfulness" in the writings of the little known English reformer George Joye (d. 1553), who wrote:

“The righteousness which is allowed before God that cometh of faith is sometimes in scripture called His mercy or favour towards us and in us, whereby He is moved for Christ’s blood sake to promise us forgiveness and sometimes is taken for His truth and faithfulness in the performing of His promise and of this He is called just, righteous, faithful and true.”

Cited in D.B. Knox, The Doctrine of Faith in the reign of Henry VIII [London: James Clark & Co., 1961], 56.


Celucien joseph said...

This post calls my attention to Habbakuk 2:4, might be a reference to "God's faithfulness" although the text states that "The just shall live by faith". I take it to me that God will be faithful to his covenant people; thus the just shall hope in his (Yahweh's)faithfulness or the just will be preserved through his (own) faithfulness to God or the
just will be preserved through God's faithfulness to them?

I'm probably wrong on that one. Again, my intention here is not to undermine "obedience" required by the terms of the covenant (Yahweh's covenant with his people). Any suggestions?

Celucien joseph said...

One more comment about Joye's statement. It is powerfully stated and expressed a central truth of Scripture ; that is "union with Christ" (because of his sacrificial work) is the backdrop of our (right) standing before God.

Nick said...

Michael, a couple of thoughts.

First, I believe Alister McGrath notes in Iustitia Dei that the 4th century Ambrosiaster (a contemporary of Augustine's, I believe)held a view of God's righteousness that in many ways is remarkbably similar to the view of 'covenant faithfulness' that many hold today (Sorry, I don't have the page reference on hand).

Second, would you define righteousness of God as covenant faithfulness? Not to say that it doesn't include this (it does!), but it seems in Scripture to be so much bigger. First, as Seifrid has argued forcefully, it tends to overlook the vast creational categories that are often given to God's righteousness in Scripture. And second, it seems to downplay God's punitive action against all human sin, whether that of the pagan nations or His own people Israel. Although I am guessing you would hold these things, in light of the definition you gave in your JETS essay on "Incorporated Righteousness": "it [ROG] denotes God's saving activity across the breadth of redemptive history in both its creational and covenantal contexts and results in a righteous status for believers before God. Concurrently, it also connotes God's punitive judgment against sin." Well put!

Lastly, sometimes I feel that in our attempts to define ROG, we are in danger of minimizing the redemptive-historical aspects of it in the NT. Such as to say, for Paul there was a time before the ROG showed up (Romans 1:16-17, 3:21-26, 10:3, etc.), and clearly he is referring to the cross--to an event. So perhaps we also need to be more adept at continually bringing this discussion back to the cross, where God both vindicates Himself against a world of rebels and saves His people (as promised), in one act.

Anyway, looking forward to your future work on "righteousness", and can't wait to see the "riddle of righteousness" essay you earlier alluded to. Grace and peace.