Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Justification and Justice

A good point that Mark Seifrid makes in his various works on "righteousness" language in the OT/NT is that the biblical authors are not concerned with abstract ideas of right, righteousness, or justice, but with the actual enactment of justice. In other words, righteousness is not simply about declarations, states, and position, it must ultimately be tied to an execution of justice by the Lord. A good example that lines up with Seifrid's point is of course the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. A text that speaks to a similar idea is the Joseph Apocryphon in the DSS (4Q372) which in frag. 1 says: "He said, 'My Father and my God, do not abandon me to the hands of the nations. Execute judgement for me so that the humble and poor may not perish'." I don't know what the Hebrew word is here (sedaq or misphat), but the idea resonates precisely with what Seifrid is talking about; what is more executing judgement is bound up with the idea of salvation.


Paul J said...

I have heard many praises of Mark Seifrid's work and have wanted to listen to his take on the righteousness/justification debate. Which of Seifrid's books do you recommend as a starting point to understanding his position?

jgb said...

Do you think that Seifrid's logic here supports Wright's notion that God's righteousness is his covenant faithfulness (since the covenant ostensibly holds promises of concrete justice and vindication)?

Nick Mackison said...

Paul J, I recommend Christ Our Righteousness and also his essays in the second volume of Justification and Variegated Nomism: The Paradoxes of Paul.

John Thomson said...

Seifrid believes it is broader than covenant faithfulness. At the very least it is creation-faithfulness.

Carson's footnote in Vindication of imputation is similar to Seifrid.

Among the many observations that Seifrid offers is the fact that in the Hebrew Bible the terms tyrb
(“covenant”) and qdc (“righteousness”), despite their very high frequency, almost never occur in
close proximity. In general, “one does not ‘act righteously or unrighteously’ with respect to a covenant.
Rather, one ‘keeps,’ ‘remembers,’ ‘establishes’ a covenant or the like. Or, conversely, one ‘breaks,’
‘transgresses,’ ‘forsakes,’ ‘despises,’ forgets’ or ‘profanes’ it” (p. 424). Righteousness language is commonly
found in parallel with terms for rightness or rectitude over against evil. Moreover, the attempt
to link “being righteous” with “being in the covenant” or with Israel’s “covenant status” does not
fare much better in Qumran and rabbinic literature. Pace N. T. Wright, “Romans and the Theology
of Paul,” in Pauline Theology, Volume III: Romans, ed. David M. Hay and E. Elizabeth Johnson (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1995), pp. 38-39, who claims that “righteousness” means covenant faithfulness,
and therefore that this “righteousness” is “not a quality of substance that can be passed or
transferred from the judge to the defendant” (p. 39). Cf. further D. A. Carson, “Why Trust a Cross?
Reflections on Romans 3:21-26,” in the forthcoming festschrift for Roger Nicole, The Glory of the
Atonement, ed. Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
It is no answer to insist that God’s saving act of righteousness, by which we are declared righteous
before him, fulfills his covenantal promises. Doubtless that is true, but it entirely misses the point.
The question is whether the term dikaiosu/nh refers to the fulfillment of or faithfulness of God’s
covenantal promises, or refers to God’s vindication of both himself and his people

Paul J said...

John T:
In the Psalms, righteousness, justice, vindication, steadfast love occur together. It all flows from the covenant promises. It sounds a bit overly precise to say that righteousness has nothing to do with the covenant. Words or ideas mentioned in parallel, in the same paragraph, are grouped together in some way, even if the "=" is not present.

John Thomson said...

Paul J

I was simply quoting Carson re Seifrid.

I have not yet bottomed out on what I personally believe is meant by 'the righteousness of God'. Nor am I completely sure what 'covenant faithfulness' means. Does it mean God's righteousness is God keeping his promise/his word? Or does it mean that the content of the fulfilled promise is God's righteousness.

Certainly in the OT God will work his salvation/righteousness.
He will do this by judging his enemies and delivering his people.

In concrete NT Romans/gospel terms the 'righteousness of God is Roms 3:21-25. That is, it is not the promise per se but that to which the covenantal promise (Law and the prophets)witnessed. In this sense God's righteousness is in continuity with the covenant; it is the fulfilment of it.

In another sense it is in contrast to the covenant, or at least to law as a covenant of works. It is righteousness of god revealed apart from the Law. Paul's contrast is Law, works, human righteousness VS Gospel or Grace, faith, divine righteousness. The only righteousness God will allow is his righteousness. His righteousness will be exalted and magnified not man's. He will allow no human boasting.

Thus in the gospel God's righteousness is revealed. He is right: in overlooking previous sin; in judging sin in Jesus the propitiation; in declaring sinners righteous who believe in Jesus(justifying the ungodly); in raising Christ and all those in him to new creation life thus vindicating them. All of this is the unexpected fulfilment of OT apocalyptic righteousness in the 'already'. In all this God is vindicated or seen to be righteous and man with whom he is in contention is seen to be unrighteous. In the 'not yet' God's righteousness will be consummated and fully vindicated. God will destroy the wicked and will be vindicated as righteous in doing so. God will display Christ the righteous One and his people as those declared righteous in Christ and will himself be vindicated as righteous in blessing them.
He will create a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. All this seems to me to be involved in the phrase 'the righteousness of God'.

The big point is that the universe will gasp at the way God has acted righteously in salvation and judgement and God's righteousness will be his eternal glory. It is so now in the gospel by faith but will be so visibly at the Second Coming.

Covenant faithfulness seems an aenemic description of this kaleidoscope of righteousnes that the bible calls 'the righteousness of God'.

Any comments gratefully accepted. I am not as conversant as I should be (I forget too easily what I read) with the language of discourse on this topic so sort me out where I am misinformed by all means.

Michael F. Bird said...

Fellas, thanks for those comments. Yes, "Christ our Righteousness" and the essays in JVN vol. 1 are the best place to get into Seifrid. In 2000 he also gave an audio lecture at SBTS on justification and works which is available in audio is very good.

I take on board Seifrid's warning against collapsing righteousness language into covenant, that said, Seifrid comes close to driving apart God's righteousness in creation to God's righteousness in his relationship with Israel. Bill Dumbrell makes a similar point in his under used Romans commentary.

God's righteousness is indeed expressed in his covenant relationship with Israel, although not all "righteousness" is covenantal.

Steven Coxhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Coxhead said...

The righteousness of God in the Psalms and Isaiah equates with an eschatological act of salvation. Psalm 98:1-2 is a key passage for understanding Paul’s concept of the righteousness of God. See also Isa 59:16-20.

When God acts to bring salvation and judgment he shows his righteousness in that he has kept his promises and his covenant obligations, but also in that he is showing his character as the King/Judge, who establishes righteousness and justice.

Seifrid makes the point in “Righteousness Language in the Hebrew Scriptures and Early Judaism” that it is putting things backwards to say that righteousness is covenant faithfulness, but he acknowledges that in the context of a covenant relationship “righteousness takes the particular form of love and loyalty” (Justification and Variegated Nomism, 1:416). So covenant faithfulness is righteousness, but righteousness cannot be limited to just covenant faithfulness.

I think that Westerholm has it right: righteousness basically has to do with doing what is right (see Perspectives Old and New on Paul, 265, 287-96). This is also the opinion of the Apostle John: “the one who does righteousness is righteous” ( 1 John 3:7). If you do right, when it comes time for judgment, this rightness will be acknowledged (assuming the judge is righteous), from which follows a status of righteousness before the court.

Erick said...

I personally have not agreed with Mark Seifrid's final conclusions on the phrase "righteousness of God" in the particular book of Romans. I believe he is tying together too much of the old testament's range of meaning into Paul's letter, and it is this which I believe Paul did not have any intention to do.

For instance, when the phrase "righteousnes of God" does appear for the first time in 1:17, Paul finds attestation for this in Hab 2:4 which he utilizes to mean that a righteous individual shall live (whether here or eschatologically) by faith. The revelation of God's righteousness from faith to faith is simply denoting the gift-kind of righteousness which God places to the individual (note Hab 2:4 is speaking about the human) from faith.
To be justified means to be declared righteous. When God justifies sinners, he pronounces them to be free of guilt and innocent in his judgement. This is all accomplished by Christ's death.

This is why "righteousness of God" and Jesus' death are so closely linked together, not least the passages on justification.

John Davies said...

The phrase in the 4Q372 fragment is "do mishpat" but no strong contrast is to be drawn with tsedaqah. Both are used e.g. at Gen. 18:19 "For I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of YHWH by doing tsedaqah and mishpat so that YHWH may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” A wonderful illustration of the way God's salvation operates — through the concrete actions of the beneficiary of God's covenant grace. Or did I just utter a heresy?

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...


"God's righteousness is indeed expressed in his covenant relationship with Israel, although not all "righteousness" is covenantal."

I remember reading in John Piper's book about God being righteous before the covenant and that Wright limits "righteousness" language to faithfulness to the covenant. However, in Justification Wright makes it crystal clear that he believes that the righteous God has chosen to display his righteousness (his faithfulness to creation) by making a covenant with Abraham (as a response to sin and death).

Nick Mackison said...

Steven, that definition of righteousness is a cracker; certainly seems to have Scriptural weight. Very helpful indeed.

Steven Coxhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, Nick.

Of course, when it comes to God, he acts consistently with his own character, and his own standards of what is right. He always enjoys the status of righteousness (in his own court) by virtue of who he is and what he does.

"The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he" (Deut 32:4).

Luke said...

This sounds similar to what John Howard Yoder would say. I quote,

"We could in fact most properly say that the word 'justification'...should be thought of in its roots meaning, as a verbal noun, an action, 'setting things right,' rather than as an abstract noun defining a person's quasi-legal status as a result of a judge's decree. To proclaim divine righteousness means to proclaim that God sets things right; it is characteristic of the God who makes a covenant with us to be a right-setting kind of God." (Yoder, "Politics of Jesus," 224).

Sounds pretty similar to me. God doesn't declare us righteous or give us a status of righteousness, he enacts justice, he sets things right. The verbal idea cannot be overlooked