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Righteousness in Romans (G.G.)

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This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.

By Graham Grove, May 2008 (prepared as a practice theology exam answer asking about righteousness in Romans)


The word dikaisune (righteousness - δικαιοσυνη) is used many times in the letter of Romans. It is one of the key words of the letter. It is used 8 times in the phrase dikaiosune theou (righteousness of God). Paul only uses this exact phrase once in his other writings (in 2 Corinthians) and in Romans he uses it in passages that are generally considered key passage within the letter. The word righteousness is related to other words with the same root dik-. These words include righteous or just (dikaios) and the verb to justify (dikaioo). These 3 words occur over 50 times in Romans.


Righteousness in Romans is sometimes described as a quality that God reckons (logizomai) to a person. This concept is particularly prominent in chapter 4 wher God credits Abraham as righteous (4:3). In this sense it isn't a quality that Paul tends to talk about as being intrinsic to a person apart from God.

Furthermore as a quality reckoned by God, it is something that Paul talks about as a gift (dorea), and not something that is earned. Given that Paul describes in chapter 3:23 how all sinned he thus explains that there is not one who is righteous and no one can boast to have earned righteousness. In this sense he explains that righteousness is a gift from God in 3:24 and 5:17.

This righteousness, Paul explains in Romans, is via faith (pisteos) as the instrument. Abraham's righteousness in chatper 4 was credited to him because he believed God. Paul explains in chapters 3 and 4 that faith is required to receive this righteousness. For example, Romans 3:25 and 4:9 state that righteousness is by faith. 1:17 states the huge importance of this faith. This is often contrasted to the futile attempt to attain righteousness through the law (4:11)

Paul uses the word righteousness in a number of ways. Although none are righteous, we are reckoned as righteous as a gift from God through faith. Furthermore Paul exhorts believers to live in obedience that leads to righteousness in chapter 6, showing a link between obedience and righteousness. Thus being declared righteous as a gift through faith does not excuse the believer from obedience, rather Paul teaches obedience to be a characteristic of believers (6:16)

Righteouesness of God

The righteousness of God (dikaiosune tou theou) is a more specific phrase that occurs 8 times in Romans, occurring at key passages in the book. When using this term, Paul was likely drawing from Old Testament images of the righteousness of God. In the LXX the phrase dikaiosune theou is used especially in the prophets and Psalms. It is used in a number of ways. The most frequent way it is used is to describe God's saving action of his covenant people Israel. At other times it is used to describe the inherent qualities of God of both justice and faithfulness. It is also sometimes used to describe the righteous status of God being declared on his people. In Romans there is some debate about how Paul is using the term, and all 3 uses are proposed by various scholars. Many understand Paul to be using the term in 2 or 3 ways simultaneously.

The term may be understand in the simple possessive genitive sense to mean the righteousness that belongs to God. This has been especially a common view through Church history with Augustine and others taking this as their view. This has often been taken in the judgemental sense of God's right justice; this was the common understanding in the early church and this reflects Hellenestic ideas. More recently though it has increasingly been understood in terms of God's faithfulness, which reflects Old Testament ideas. For example, Romans 3:5 is often understood in this way.

The term also can be understood in the subjective genitive sense to mean the saving activity of God. This is the predominant use of the term in the LXX and so is a reasonable way to understand the phrase in Romans. Certainly Romans 1:17 (one of the key verses in the book) is often cited as a example of this understanding of God's saving intervention in the Gospel which is the fulfillment of Old Testament covenantal promises. It conveys a more relational understanding of righteousness of God than the judicial sense described below. In relational terms then the saving activity of God brings the faithful into a right relationship with him.

The objective genitive sense is a further way to understand the meaning of the righteousness of God. This is the traditional Protestant forensic view where the righteousness of God refers to the status of righteousness being declared or conferred upon the faithful. Romans 3:21-22 is sometimes seen in this way.

Righteousnes and the righteousness of God are important themes in the book of Romans....

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