Monday, August 08, 2011

Romans series Week 2

Here are my notes and questions for week 2 of Arlington's eight week series on Romans, "Grace is for Everybody". The passage is Romans 3:21-31.

The term “righteousness” is a major topic for this week’s passage.

Paul seems to be saying that all righteousness begins with God. The Law and the Covenant (not a word used here, but seems to be the subject) are not ends unto themselves, but things that point to a larger reality.

Paul emphasizes that what God has done in Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. In other words, it’s a continuation rather than a reboot.

NT Wright believes that the Greek phrase usually translated “the righteousness of God” (dikaiosyne theou) is not a status that people have before God. Instead, it is a way of describing God’s whole being. The word “dikaiosyne” can also be translated as “justice”, so justice and righteousness are intertwined when one is talking about the nature of God.

Along similar lines (although I imagine Bishop Wright takes issue with him on a number of points), Karl Barth spills quite a bit of ink talking about how the “righteousness of God” is central to Romans. One of Barth’s recurring themes in his work is that everything begins with God’s choice to reveal God’s self to the creation, so this term is the way Paul talks about God’s divine self-disclosure. Barth writes, “the righteousness of God is the meaning of all religion, the answer to every human hope and desire and striving and waiting, and it is especially the answer to all that human activity which is concentrated upon hope.”

Martin Luther, on the other hand, sees righteousness primarily as status before God, almost as coterminous with justification. Luther’s term is “alien righteousness”, meaning that which is clearly not produced of any human effort, bestowed entirely by God’s will. Luther then talks about “our proper righteousness”, which flows from the alien righteousness bestowed to us by God.

Wright makes a very interesting point about v. 22, taking issue with the phrase translated “faith in Jesus”. The Greek word “pistis” (faith) here is not referring to a confessional faith that you or I might have, but instead the faithfulness of Jesus. While changing that one preposition may seem like a small detail, it takes away the likeliness of this verse being used as a proof-text for the type of insider/outsider mentality that Paul strongly opposes in this letter.

Speaking of proof-texts, we find one of the most often yanked-out-of-context verses in this passage, v. 23- “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. In darn near all of the evangelistic tracts I’ve ever seen, this verse is used to “prove” that everyone is completely separated from God, and therefore incapable of doing anything good. The context this statement appears in, though, seems to rebut that idea, since Paul has spoken extensively about God’s righteousness having been revealed, which would be impossible if we were completely separate.

One more thing regarding proof-texts. In v. 25, Paul references the righteousness of God being revealed in the sacrificial death of Jesus, which is often used as “proof” for the “Penal Substitution” atonement theory (the word “atonement” may not be the best translation from the Greek here, but that’s a long discussion and I’m not proficient enough in Greek to articulate it well), where Jesus gets the punishment we deserve. While this understanding certainly has a strong biblical basis, it is not the only way to understand how the suffering and death of Jesus is part of God’s redeeming work for the creation.

OK, this commentary has gone on a lot longer than I expected. Thanks for those who read the whole thing through. Here are some questions:

What comes to mind when you hear the term “righteousness”. Does it have a positive or negative connotation?

How do you conceive of the relationship between God and humanity? How does this relationship get complicated (if at all) by human actions?

We talk a lot about Jesus showing us who God is. How do you understand Jesus revealing God to us (again, if at all)?

Feel free to take on anything not mentioned here. Discuss...


Jessica Miller Kelley said...

Righteousness has a positive connotation to me, as in it is something of God that I strive for, but the negative side can come in the feeling of despair in not making much progress toward that goal.

I think human actions (sin, on the negative side) do affect our relationship with God, but more from our end, through feelings of unworthiness or frustration with ourselves. God is too loving to let human fallibility keep us apart.

Llama Lady said...

and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...

My Paul professor defined "justification" as being made righteous before God, or being made just. This view works for me.