Saturday Series: 1 John 2:28-3:10 (continued)

1 John 2:28-3:10, continued

This is a continuation of last week’s study (on 1 John 2:28-3:10). If you have not already done so, I would urge you to read through the discussion last week before proceeding. As previously noted, the passage is comprised of two parallel sections; indeed, the parallelism of the instruction is precise, as each section has the same general outline:

    • Initial exhortation, with the opening address “(my dear) offspring” (2:28; 3:7a)
    • Statement characterizing (true) believers as those who are just, and act justly (2:29; 3:7bc)
    • Statement regarding the opposite—i.e. those who sin (3:4, 8a)
    • Statement regarding the purpose for Jesus coming to earth (as a human being) (3:5, 8b)
    • Statement to the effect that the (true) believer does/can not sin, and why (3:6a, 9)
    • Statement of the opposite—that the one sinning cannot be a true believer (3:6b, 10)

The core of this teaching is actually made up of a pair of dual-statements, with a Christological declaration in between:

    • Statement 1: True believers act justly, while those who sin do not (and are thus not true believers) [2:27-3:4 / 3:7-8a]
    • Christological declaration regarding Jesus’ appearance on earth [3:5 / 3:8b]
    • Statement 2: The true believer cannot sin and the one who sins cannot be a true believer [3:6 / 3:9-10]

We have already noted how Christology is at the center of the instruction, and, in many ways, is the key to a correct interpretation of the passage as a whole. The first three components were examined in the study last week; now, building on those results, we shall proceed to consider the final three.

1 John 3:5 / 3:8B

    • “And you have seen [i.e. known] that this (one) was made to shine forth (so) that he would take away sins, and sin is not in him.” (3:5)
    • “Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth, (so) that he would loose [i.e. dissolve] the works of the Diábolos” (3:8b)

Both statements use the verb form ephanerœ¡th¢, literally “he was made to shine forth”. This verb (phaneróœ) is rather frequent in the Johannine Writings—9 times in the Gospel and 9 in the First Letter—as part of the key (dualistic) imagery of light vs. darkness. It often has the generic meaning of “appear”, but the Johannine context makes preserving the etymological connection with light especially important. Jesus as the Light of God (Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9f; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5, 7; 2:8-10) shines for human beings on earth, and the Elect ones (believers) recognize and come to the light. Thus the motif of “shining” relates to the appearance of Jesus on earth—that is, as a human being (i.e. the incarnation), and, in particular, the work that he performed during his earthly life. The purpose of his work and life is made clear in these verses, with the concluding hína-clauses (“so that…”):

    • “he would take away [ár¢] sins” [some manuscripts read “…our sins”]
    • “he would loose [lýs¢] the works of the Diábolos

These are parallel statements which should be understood as generally synonymous—that is to say, “taking away” sins is essentially the same as “loosing” the works of the Devil. The verb lýœ (“loose[n]”), often has the meaning “dissolve”, i.e. “destroy”. The reference to the Diábolos (literally “one throwing over [accusations/insults]” or “one casting [evil] throughout”) continues the thought of the previous statement (v. 8a, discussed in last week’s study), where by the ones “doing the sin” are identified as belonging to (or born of) the Devil (ek tou diabólou), i.e. they are children of the Devil rather than children of God.

This echoes several passages in the Gospel where sin is closely connected with the Evil One. The most notable example comes from chapter 8 of the great Feast of Tabernacles discourse. The statement by Jesus in verse 19 connects acceptance of him with knowledge of God the Father. The dialogue that follows builds on this idea, using dualistic language to identify those who do not accept the Son (Jesus) as belonging to a different Father—children of the Devil, rather than being children of God (vv. 42-47). Their sin is that of unbelief, which reflects their identity as belonging to the Devil, and it is from this sin that others spring out (including hatred, violence, and murder).

In Jn 16:8-11 (also discussed last week), sin is also defined there as failing to trust in Jesus. The context of these verses has to do with the work of the Spirit/Paraclete who makes known the truth to the world—that is, the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. Failing to trust in Jesus means that the person belongs not to God, but to the Devil; and, as verse 11 makes clear, the Devil (here called the Chief/Ruler of the world) has already been judged. It was the life and work of Jesus, culminating in his death and resurrection, which judged both the world (i.e. the current world-order of darkness) and the Devil. All who commit the ultimate sin of unbelief are judged along with their ‘Father’ the Devil.

Sin (and sins) are referred to here as “the works of the Devil”. In Pauline terms, this would be described as the power of sin that held humankind in bondage, with Sin (and Death) personified as a kind of world-ruler generally identified with the figure of the Satan/Devil. Jesus’ sacrificial death (and resurrection) freed humankind, making it possible to escape from this bondage through trust in him. However, the Johannine imagery relates more to the essential identity of human beings—believers belong to God and Christ, while all others (non-believers, i.e. those who sin) belong to the Devil. Believers do the works of God and Christ, non-believers do the works of the Devil.

An important point in the first Christological statement above (v. 5) is that there is no sin in Jesus (“sin is not in him”). Here the singular hamartía (without the definite article) refers to sin in the general sense, and is a declaration of the sinlessness of Jesus. This may be seen as relating to the declaration by Jesus in Jn 14:30 that the Chief of the world “holds nothing on me”. Any sense of the sinlessness of believers, as expressed in 1 John, must be understood in terms of the sinlessness of Jesus.

1 John 3:6a / 3:9

    • “Every one remaining in him does not sin;” (3:6a)
    • “Every one having come to be (born) out of God does not do the sin, (in) that [i.e. because] His seed remains in him; and he is not able to sin, (in) that [i.e. because] he has come to be (born) out of God.” (3:9)

These statements are similar in meaning (and parallel) to those in 2:29 and 3:7bc (discussed last week). Clearly “doing justice” is related to “not doing sin”; these are flip sides of the same coin. Here we have a more precise formulation in terms of religious identity (“every one…”). Believers—true believers, that is—are described with a pair of participles, so that there is a sense of dynamic (verbal) action that characterizes their essential identity:

    • “the (one) remaining [ménœn] in him”
    • “the (one) coming to be (born) [gegenn¢ménos] out of God”

Both verbs—ménœ (“remain”) and gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”)—are key terms in the Johannine writings. More than half of the occurrences of ménœ in the New Testament are in the Gospel (40) and Letters (27) of John. It is a common verb, but virtually everywhere it is used in the Johannine writings it carries the special theological and spiritual meaning of the union believers share with the Son (Jesus) and the Father. It is reciprocal: Jesus remains in believers, and believers remain in Jesus. The verb gennᜠdefines this identity in a different way, according to the image of being born of God, i.e. as children of God, even as Jesus is the Son. It is our union with the Son (and the Father), through the presence and power of the Spirit, that makes this “birth” possible (see esp. John 3:3-8). The verb occurs 18 times in the Gospel, and 10 in the First Letter; the substantive verbal noun (participle with the definite article) is especially distinctive of 1 John (see also Jn 3:6, 8). Thus, insofar as believers “do not sin”, this is predicated upon two things: (1) being born out of God (as His offspring), and (2) remaining in Jesus.

However, the author explains this a bit further in verse 9b, when he adds the detail that, for the person born out of God, the seed (spérma) of God also remains in him/her. A careful study of the language and thought of Johannine writings leaves little doubt that this “seed” is to be identified with the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we come to be born of God, and it is thus the life-producing seed. What needs to be pointed out, is that this same seed remains in us. The Spirit of God the Father is also the Spirit of the Son, and represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers.

The statements regarding sin in these verses are essentially two:

    • “every one remaining in him does not sin [ouch hamartánei]”
      “every one coming to be born out of God does not do (the) sin [hamartían ou poieí]”
    • “…and he is not able to sin [ou dýnatai hamartánein], (in) that he has come to be born out of God”

Are the differing forms of the first statement saying the same thing? The expression “do the sin” was used in verse 4, with the definite article (literally “the sin” (h¢ hamartía). I argued that this use of the singular referred to the fundamental Johannine definition of sin (in Jn 16:9, etc) as unbelief—failing or refusing to trust in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. At the same time, the singular (without the definite article) in v. 5b seems to mean sin in a general sense. There would appear to be three levels of meaning to the noun hamartía and the concept of “sin”:

    1. “the sin” (singular with definite article)—the fundamental sin of unbelief
    2. “sin” (singular without the definite article)—sin in the general or collective sense, and
    3. “sins” (plural)—individual sins committed by human beings

The verb hamartánœ relates to all three of these meanings, but here especially to the first two.

1 John 3:6b / 3:10

    • “every one sinning has not seen him and has not known him” (3:6b)
    • “…every one not doing justice is not (born) out of God, and (this is) the (one) not loving his brother” (3:10)

Again we see the close connection between sin and justice (dikaiosýn¢, or “just-ness, right-ness”). Previously we had the equation doing justice = not sinning; similarly, here we have the reverse of this: sinning = not doing justice. Recall above that the use of the substantive verbal noun (participle with definite article) indicated the essential identity and character of a believer; now the same syntax is used to refer to the non-believer (or false believer). That this characterizes the non-believer is clear from the phrases “has…seen/known him” and “out of God [i.e. belonging to God, born of God]”. This typical Johannine language, used throughout the Gospel and First Letter. Thus the “one sinning” clearly is not (and cannot be) a true believer in Christ.

But is this “sinning” meant in the general sense, or does it have a particular meaning in its context here? The final phrase of verse 10 (and of the passage) confirms that the intended meaning is quite specific, by the identification of the “one sinning / not doing justice” as “the one not loving his brother”. There can be little doubt that the use of “brother” in context means one’s fellow believer. Love (agáp¢) between believers is a fundamental mark of the Christian identity, and central to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of John. It is part of the great command—the only command—under which believers are bound. Actually, the great command is a two-fold command, presented succinctly in 3:23:

“And this is His entol¢¡ [i.e. command]: that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and (that) we should love each other, even as he [i.e. Jesus] gave us the entol¢¡.”

Thus the essential definition of sin must be expanded to include a failure to love one another. That this is primarily in mind for the author is clear enough by the section which follows our passage (3:11-24). Beginning with a statement of the love-command (v. 11), and the key illustration in v. 12 from the story of Cain and Abel, the author’s instruction turns entirely to the demonstration of love as the mark of the true believer. Remember that the issue of those ‘false’ believers who separated from the Community is at the heart of the letter, and informs this section on love, even as it does the prior section on sin. We may thus summarize the teaching regarding sin as follows:

There are four levels of meaning to hamartía and the concept of sin (compare with the list of three above):

    1. “sins” (plural) = individual sins committed by human beings
    2. “sin” (singular, without the definite article) = sin in the general sense
    3. “sin” (singular, with the article) = the fundamental sin of unbelief
    4. “sinning” (verb hamartánœ) = principally, violations of the two-fold command

The main point at issue in 1 John, especially here in 2:28-3:10, is not the first two levels of meaning (as the casual reader might assume), but specifically the last two. For the true believer, it is impossible to sin in the sense of (3.) and (4.); indeed, sin, in either of these senses, marks the distinction between the true and false believer. To see this clearly, let us cite the concluding statement of verse 10 in full:

“In this it is shining [i.e. clear/apparent] (who are) the offspring of God and the offspring of the Diábolos: every one not doing justice [i.e. sinning] is not (born) out of God, and (this is) the one not loving his brother.”

What then of meanings (1.) and (2.) above? The work of Jesus, his sacrificial death and resurrection, frees believers from sin in the general sense (1:7; 2:2), as is indicated in the pair of Christological statements of vv. 5, 8b (see above). This leaves meaning #1, which, I would argue, is the only sense of sin that applies to the true believer in Christ. Believers will (or may) occasionally commit sins, as the author makes quite clear in 1:8-2:2 and 5:16ff. The same power that frees us from sin in the general sense, also cleanses us from individual sins we commit. In that way, believers do take part in the sinlessness of Jesus, and the power that he has over sin.

We will touch on this question of sin (as it relates to the believer) again in these studies on 1 John. Hold on to these past studies, meditating on the line of interpretation I have presented, as there will be occasion to develop it further. However, for next week, I wish to move ahead in the letter, looking at 4:1-6 in detail. In so doing, we will survey again the preceding instruction (on love) in 3:11-24, taking great care in considering how 4:1-6 fits into the overall structure and argument of the letter. I hope to see you here for this study…next Saturday.

Saturday Series: 1 John 2:28-3:10

This week, in our studies on the Johannine Letters, we turn to a theological problem in 1 John which has challenged commentators for centuries—the apparent contradictory statements indicating that a Christian does and does not sin, or, indeed, can and cannot sin. The difficulty is obviously more pointed in the latter instance, which may be illustrated by comparing the following two statements:

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him [i.e. God] (to be) false…” (1:10)
“Everyone coming to be (born) out of God…is not able to sin.” (3:9)

The main passage making it clear that Christians do (and can) sin is 1:7-10; the statements that they do not (and cannot) are primarily found in the current passage under discussion. There are two (or three) such statements in our passage (vv. 6, 9), with another in 5:18:

    • “Every (one) remaining in him does not sin [ouch hamartánei]…” (3:6)
    • “Every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not do sin [hamartían ou poieí]…” (3:9a)
      “…and is not able to sin [ou dýnatai hamartánein], (in) that he has come to be (born) out of God” (3:9b)
    • “…every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin [ouch hamartánei]…” (5:18)

The statement in 5:18 is actually a conflation of those in 3:6 and 3:9a. One popular way of explaining the apparent contradiction is the idea that the use of the present tense in these four statements refers to habitual sin, or a lifestyle characterized by sinful behavior, rather than occasional sins. Some English versions circumvent the problem for the average reader by building this interpretation into the translation. However, far too much is made of this supposed grammatical difference. For example, in 1:8 the present tense is used when it is essentially stated that believers do sin: “if we say that we do not hold/have sin, we lead ourselves astray”. Also the perfect tense, used in 1:10, would generally indicate a past action or condition that continues into the present: “if we say that we have not sinned [i.e., = do not sin], we make Him (to be) false”.

Beyond this, the author’s statements, especially in 3:6ff, are fundamental to his overall theology, and should not be made to hinge on a subtle grammatical distinction. There have, indeed, been many other attempts at explanation. A proper solution is to be derived from careful study of the Johannine thought-world, beginning with 1 John, then widening to consider the Gospel along with the other two letters. One should avoid importing solutions or doctrinal issues that are foreign to these writings. I offer here three possibilities for consideration:

    • The statements in 3:6 etc. represent the ideal, while those in 1:7-10 etc. reflect the practical reality for believers. To frame this more in accordance with Johannine thought, we might say that the fundamental identity of believers is sinless, based on our union with the sinless Christ. However, this sinlessness is maintained for believers through confession (of sin) and forgiveness (through the intercession of Jesus). According to Luther’s famous expression, the nature of believers is two-fold: simul iustus et peccator (“at once righteous and sinner”).
    • Christians are sinless only so far as we remain in Christ. This idea of “remaining”, using the verb ménœ, is central to Johannine theology, in both the Gospel and letters (the verb occurs 40 times in the Gospel and 27 in the letters—more than half of all NT occurrences [118]). This is expressed most famously by the Vine illustration in Jesus’ Last Discourse (15:1-11). To use this illustration, if one remains in the Vine, the believer is unable to sin; only when one fails to remain in, through neglect, etc, does the believer sin. Through confession/forgiveness, the believer is ‘grafted’ back into the Vine and once again remains/abides.
    • In 3:6, etc, the author is not referring to sin (hamartía, vb hamartánœ) in the general ethical-religious sense; rather, here it specifically means violation of the two-fold command (3:23f), which no true believer can violate. In this regard, sin is identified as “lawlessness” (anomía) in a very specific sense.

Before any determination can be made on the viability of these (or any other) solution, it is necessary to examine the context and setting of the statements in 3:6 and 9. New Testament theology, which ultimately serves as the basis for Christian theology, must be derived from careful exegesis and critical analysis of the key passages in question. From the standpoint of Biblical Criticism, this falls generally under the heading of literary criticism—the vocabulary, style, structure, literary/rhetorical devices, etc, used by the author.

In last week’s study (on 2:18-27), we saw how the thrust of the letter, up to that point, related to a conflict and division within the Johannine congregations. Certain members, characterized as false believers, who, according to the author, held a view of Jesus considered to be contrary to the Johannine Gospel (and called antichrist, “against the Anointed”), had apparently separated from the Community. The author clearly felt a real danger that these “separatists” could lead astray others in the congregations, and so is writing to warn and persuade his readers against the views (and actions) of these ‘false’ believers. We must keep this in mind as we study the portion that follows (2:28-3:10).

In terms of its structure, our passage follows the basic pattern of 2:18ff, begun earlier in vv. 12ff, of paraenesis (i.e. instruction, exhortation), whereby the author addresses his fellow believers as “(my) children”, using either the diminutive teknía or paidía. The latter term (used at 2:18) literally means “little children”, while the former (teknía, here and in v. 12) is harder to translate, something like “(my dear) offspring“. 2:28-3:10 is comprised of two parallel instructions, each beginning with teknía. The parallelism is precise, a fact which may be obscured by the digression in 3:1-3; if we temporarily omit those verses, then there are six components, or statements, in each section:

    • Initial exhortation, with the opening address “(my dear) offspring” (2:28; 3:7a)
    • Statement characterizing (true) believers as those who are just, and act justly (2:29; 3:7bc)
    • Statement regarding the opposite—i.e. those who sin (3:4, 8a)
    • Statement regarding the purpose for Jesus coming to earth (as a human being) (3:5, 8b)
    • Statement to the effect that the (true) believer does/can not sin, and why (3:6a, 9)
    • Statement of the opposite—that the one sinning cannot be a true believer (3:6b, 10)

The core of this teaching is actually made up of a pair of dual-statements, with a Christological declaration in between:

    • Statement 1: True believers act justly, while those who sin do not (and are thus not true believers) [2:27-3:4 / 3:7-8a]
    • Christological declaration regarding Jesus’ appearance on earth [3:5 / 3:8b]
    • Statement 2: The true believer cannot sin and the one who sins cannot be a true believer [3:6 / 3:9-10]

Christology is thus at the heart of the instruction, and the parallel declarations in 3:5, 8b must kept clearly in mind as we study the statements in 2:27-3:4, 6, 7-8a, 9-10. Let us now examine carefully each of the six parallel components.

1 John 2:28 / 3:7a

    • “And now, (my dear) offspring, you must remain in him…” (2:28)
    • “(My dear) offspring, no one must lead you astray” (3:7a)

The idea of remaining (vb ménœ) in Christ (“in him” en autœ¡) is parallel to not being “led astray” (vb planáœ), the implication being that the one who is led astray no longer remains in Christ. In light of Jesus’ words of warning in John 15:4-7, this must be taken most seriously. The influence and views of those who have separated from the Community is certainly in mind here as that which could lead believers astray (see the discussion on 2:18-27). The exhortation in 2:28 is set within an eschatological context (as is that in 2:18ff): “…you must remain in him, (so) that, if [i.e. when] he should be made to shine forth (to us), you would hold an outspoken (confidence) and not feel shame from him in his coming to be alongside (us) [parousía]”. The return of Jesus to earth, believed by the author to be imminent (2:18), and marking the moment of the final Judgment, is a key part of the urgency of this exhortation. We must keep this eschatological dimension in mind throughout our study as well.

1 John 2:29 / 3:7bc

    • “If you have seen [i.e. known] that he is just, (then) you know that also every (one) doing justice has come to be (born) [gegénn¢tai] out of him.” (2:29)
    • “every (one) doing justice is just, even as that (one) [i.e. Jesus] is just” (3:7bc)

This statement expresses a fundamental (two-fold) principle of Johannine theology: (1) as Jesus is just/righteous [díkaios], so his true followers (believers) will be as well; and (2) the just-ness [dikaiosýn¢] of believers comes from that of Jesus himself, through our union with him. Here we also have the basic problem of how to translate the dikaio- word group, whether by “just/justice” or “right[eous]/righteousness”. Either way, we must, I think, here avoid the tendency of understanding dikaios[yn¢] in terms of conventional ethical-religious behavior. The author certainly would have taken for granted that true believers would think and act in a moral and upright manner; I doubt that is really at issue here, since, presumably, those who separated from the Community were quite moral (in the conventional sense) as well. Many commentators assume that they were licentious, but I find not the slightest hint of that in the letters. Moreover, it is worth noting that, throughout Church history, separatist groups and supposed ‘heretics’ have tended toward an ideal of ascetic purity much more so than toward flagrant immorality.

How, then, should we understand díkaios and dikaoisýn¢ here? We must look to the evidence of how these words are used elsewhere in the Johannine writings. They occur infrequently in the Gospel, but there is one key passage, 16:8-11, in the great Last Discourse, where Jesus is speaking of the work that the Spirit/Paraclete will do after his departure back to the Father. As it happens, sin (hamartía) and justice/righteousness are juxtaposed in that passage, much as they are in 1 John 2:28-3:10:

“and, (at his) coming, that one [i.e. the Spirit/Paraclete] will expose (to) the world (the truth) about sin and about justice and about judgment:
(on the one hand) about sin, (in) that they do not trust in me;
(on the other) about justice, (in) that I go back to the Father and you (can) look at me no longer…”

Here sin is defined as failing (or refusing) to believe in Jesus; and, I would say, that justice is similarly to be understood as the truth of who Jesus is. The work of the Spirit is described with the verb eléngchœ, which has the basic judicial meaning of exposing the guilt, etc, of someone—more precisely here, that of exposing the truth of the matter. Indeed, the Spirit is closely identified with Truth in the Johannine writings, being called “the Spirit of truth” in verse 13 (also 14:17; 15:26; and see 1 John 4:6; 5:6). The truth of Jesus’ identity is defined here by two phrases:

    • “I go back to the Father” — i.e., the raised/exalted Jesus’ return to the Father, confirming his identity as the Son.
    • “you see me no longer” — this is a shorthand way of referring to the time after his departure, in which the disciples will “see” Jesus only through the (invisible) presence of the Spirit. The abiding presence of the Spirit confirms the reality of who Jesus is, and marks the true believer.

Thus “sin” and “justice” (dikaiosýn¢) here have a very specific and distinct meaning. The terms are not being used in the ordinary ethical-religious sense, but in a decidedly theological and Christological sense. What of the dikaio- word group elsewhere in the Johannine letters? The noun occurs only in our passage (2:29; 3:7, 10), but the adjective (díkaios) three other times in 1 John:

    • In 1:9 and 2:1, it is used as a title/attribute of Jesus, specifically in the context of his relation to the Father (as Son), with the power to cleanse/forgive sin. This is an importance point of emphasis which we will be exploring further.
    • In 3:12, immediately following our passage, it characterizes Abel in contrast to the evil of Cain. The two are brothers, and, as such, the illustration represents the contrast between true and false believers—another important point for our passage.

As in the earlier statement in 2:28, that in v. 29 is followed by an exposition with an eschatological emphasis, only much more extensive (3:1-3). It is beyond the scope of our study to examine these verses in detail, but the following brief points should be noted:

    • Believers are identified as “the offspring (i.e. children) of God”, using the same noun (teknía) as in the opening exhortations (2:28a; 3:7a). This expounds the important Johannine verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”), used repeatedly as a way of identifying (true) believers as those who are born from God. This essential identity is in complete contrast to that of “the world [kósmos]”.
    • The identity of believers will not be realized fully until the end-time appearance of Jesus; currently, they/we experience him through the Spirit, but ultimately the union will be even more complete.

1 John 3:4 / 3:8a

    • “Every (one) doing the sin also does the lawless (thing), and (indeed) the sin is the lawless (thing).” (3:4)
    • “Every (one) doing the sin is out of the Diábolos, (in) that from the beginning the Diábolos sins.” (3:8a)

Here, being “out of [ek] the Diábolos” is a precise contrast to coming to be born “out of [ek] God” (or “out of Christ”). The word diábolos literally signifies one who “throws over” accusations, insults, etc, but it came to be used in a technical sense for the Evil One opposed to God (= “the Satan” of Old Testament tradition). We might, perhaps, translate the term literally as “the one casting (evil) throughout”. In any case, here the Diábolos (“Devil”) is part of a dualistic contrast with God and Christ, in much the same way the term kósmos (“world-order, world”) is used in the Johannine writings. In John 16:11 (see above), we find the title “the chief of this world” (ho árchœn tou kósmou toútou, also in 14:30), a title more or less synonymous with diábolos.

In the first statement (3:4), sin (hamartía) is identified with anomía, a term literally meaning something “without law” (ánomos), i.e. “lawless (thing)”, “lawlessness”. This noun does not occur elsewhere in the Johannine writings, and, indeed, is relatively rare in the New Testament (13 other occurrences). How are we to understand its use here, which would seem to be quite important for a correct understanding of “sin” in our passage? In a Jewish (or Jewish Christian) context, anomía and ánomos could refer to the Old Testament Law (Torah), and to non-Jews (Gentiles) and non-observant Jews as being “without the Law”. Paul occasionally uses the term this way, but more frequently it signifies “lawlessness” in the general sense of wickedness and opposition to God. However, there are two distinct connotations for anomía among Christians in the first century, either (or both) of which are likely significant in regard to its use here:

    • The term came to be used in an eschatological context, as a way to describe the wickedness and social/moral upheaval of the current Age, especially as it comes to a close at the end-time. It occurs in the Matthean version of the Eschatological Discourse (Matt 24:12; cf. also 13:41), and again, more prominently, in 2 Thess 2:3, 7 (see the upcoming article on 2 Thess 2:1-12 in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”). The author of 1 John clearly believed he and his readers were living in the “last hour” right before the end (2:18), so his use of anomía here likely has an eschatological emphasis.
    • The word anomía (also anóm¢ma) was occasionally used to translate the Hebrew b®liyya±al, a term of uncertain derivation but tending to be associated with death, or more generally to the idea of hostility, chaos, and confusion (i.e. disorder). The frequent expression “son/man of Beliyya’al” essentially refers to a person who violates and disrupts the order of things—either in a specific social or religious setting, or within society at large. This may well serve as the basis for Paul’s expression “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2:3. In 2 Cor 6:14, anomía is parallel to Belíar, a transliteration in Greek (with variant spelling) of b®liyya±al. Belial/Beliar came to be used as a title of the Evil One (equivalent to “the Satan”, “Devil”) in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D., and frequently occurs in an apocalyptic/eschatological context. For more on 2 Cor 6:14ff, see the recent Saturday series studies on that passage.

We should consider here also the specific wording in these statements, especially the phrase ho poiœ¡n t¢n hamartían. The verb poiéœ (“do, make”) occurs 13 times in 1 John, always in the present tense—either an indicative or an articular participle. In both instances, the verb serves to summarize the fundamental character and identity of a person, but particularly so with the participle (“the [one] doing”); the active behavior of a person indicates his/her identity. But what does it mean to “do sin”? Is this simply a matter of committing sins, i.e. moral/religious failings or transgressions, or is something more involved? Much depends on whether or not there is specific force intended in the definite article preceding hamartían: is it “the one doing sin” or “the one doing the sin”? In all other instances with the definite article (1:9; 2:2, 12; 3:5; 4:10); the noun is plural, indicating the sins a person commits—i.e., committing sin in the conventional sense. In my view, the articular use of the singular here means something different and quite specific: the sin. And what is the sin? I would maintain that is best understood in light of John 16:8ff (see above), where sin—ultimately, the sin that is judged—is failing/refusing to trust in Jesus, i.e. to accept the truth of who he is. This sin is a fundamental transgression of the two-fold command (3:23), the only “law” which is binding for believers. As such, this sin of unbelief is “lawlessness” (anomía), quite apart from the general wickedness that may be associated with unbelief.

For those accustomed to reading 2:28-3:10 with the assumption that religious-ethical behavior is in view, the line of interpretation developed thus far in our study may seem somewhat surprising, even disconcerting. However, that it is generally on the right track, can, I believe, be shown by a careful examination of the rhetorical thrust of 1:1-2:27 (see the prior two studies). Throughout the letter, the emphasis has been on need for Christians to preserve the message about Jesus—the truth of who he is and what he has done—that is contained, specifically, in the Johannine Gospel. Certain people, whom the author characterizes as false believers, have left the Community, and hold/express a view of Jesus that is considered to be contrary to this Gospel (antichrist, “against the Anointed”). We will see this emphasis come more clearly into view in our passage as we proceed, beginning with the Christological declarations in 3:5 and 8b. I hope you will join me next Saturday for the continuation of this important study.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 7

Psalm 7

This composition in the Psalter is unique in the use of the word /oyG`v! (šigg¹yôn) in the heading to describe it, a musical (or poetic) term whose meaning is unknown to us. It may be related to a primitive root gv (ggv, hgv) which has the basic meaning “stray, go astray”; others would connect it with ugv (Akkad. šegû) which refers to a kind of howling like that of animals, and could possibly indicate some sort of lament. Also uncertain is the significance of the notice “upon the words of Kûš the ‘son of the right-hand’ [i.e. Benjaminite]”; possibly this refers to an accusation made against David (cf. on vv. 4-6 [3-5] below), relating to a tradition otherwise unknown to us.

This Psalm is the longest and most complex of those we have encountered thus far. Not surprisingly, it has a mixed meter with a number of apparent half-lines (cola) which make coordinating the meter and structure difficult; the closing section (vv. 14-18) is more consistent with a strict 3-beat (3+3) bicolon format. Most of the metrical difficulties are in the first half of the Psalm (vv. 2-9). Tentatively, I offer the following outline:

    • The Psalmist’s petition to YHWH—vv. 2-3 [1-2]
    • An oath concerning his innocence—vv. 4-6 [3-5]
    • Call for YHWH to make vindication and deliver justice—vv. 7-17 [6-16], in three strophes:
      • vv. 7-10—Call for YHWH to act as Judge
      • vv. 11-14—Precatory description of YHWH in His ancient role as victor/vindicator
      • vv. 15-17—Precatory description of the judgment that comes upon the wicked
    • Closing statement of thanks to YHWH (anticipating his justice)—v. 18 [17]

Verses 2-3 [1-2]

The Psalmist’s opening petition—the Psalm itself functioning largely as a prayer—is delivered with a pair of bicola (i.e. 4 lines) that generally utilizes the common 3+3 metrical format, though the first bicolon is actually 4+3 (ever so slightly), due perhaps to the inclusion of the divine name YHWH in the initial line. The presence of the divine name often creates metrical tension in ancient Hebrew poetry, and could, at times, be a sign of secondary adaptation. Here are the lines:

YHWH, my Mighty One, with you I have sought protection—
save me from all (the one)s pursuing me and rescue me,
lest he rip (at) my soul like a lion,
tearing (it) apart (with) no one (to) rescue!

Each bicolon ends with a form of the verb lx^n` (“take/snatch away”) in the Hiphil, emphasizing the need for deliverance, for YHWH to rescue the Psalmist in his time of trouble (a frequent motif in the Psalms, as we have seen). The second occurrence is verbal noun (participle) form which I have rendered like an infinitive in an attempt to preserve the rhythmic sense of the line. The shift from plural (“the ones pursuing”) to singular (“lest he rip…”) is not all that uncommon, especially when dealing with opponents of the protagonist in the Psalms; they can be described as many or as one, collectively or individually—the description can be quite fluid. In part, I think, this is meant to reflect the lack of firmness and integrity in the wicked, in contrast to the Psalmist, who remains firm (and unified) in his loyalty to YHWH.

Verses 4-6 [3-5]

The petition gives way to an oath in these lines, drawing upon the ancient Near Eastern covenant format. The force of such binding agreements was magical-religious, and involved an oath. First, the parties of the agreement would call upon God (or the gods) as witness; second, this meant that, by way of certain ritual formula, divine judgment would be brought down upon one who violated the agreement. The idea of the covenant between YHWH and the people Israel was unique in this regard, since God was not a witness, but a participant in the agreement—as the superior (suzerain) to whom Israel and its rulers were the subordinate (vassal). In agreeing to the terms of the covenant, Israel took an oath to uphold it, including the curse/punishment which would come upon them if/when it was ever violated. Here the oath is more generalized, in terms of common morality and the normal functioning of society, but it still reflects the righteousness and covenant loyalty of the Psalmist.

He approaches YHWH, his sovereign, confirming his innocence by way of an oath. It begins as a 4+3 bicolon precisely parallel to the opening of the petition (v. 2): “YHWH, my Mighty One…”. He has sought protection (vb hs^j*) with YHWH as his Lord and protector (under the covenant); the oath is taken in this very context. According to the text as we have it, the first line reads: “YHWH, my Mighty One, if I have done this [taz)]”. It is not clear what “this” is, which has led some commentators to emend the text. Dahood (p. 42) suggests that here taz) is a substantive meaning something like “insult”, but whose etymology “is not immediately evident”; he cites other such examples in Ps 44:18[17]; 74:18[17], and Job 2:11. While this is a convenient solution, the basis for it seems extremely slight. Some would relate “this” to the “words of Kuš” in the superscription, i.e. presumably as an accusation made against the Psalmist (David), of which we do not know the precise content, though it may be implied in the lines that follow. Indeed, more properly the pronoun (“this”) refers to the following two “if”-statements. This conditional statement (protasis, “if…”) of the oath, taken together, in vv. 4-5 is:

YHWH, my Mighty One, if I have done this,
if there really is guilt in my palm(s),
if I have dealt (in) evil (with) my sound (ally),
and pulled away (in) empty (word)s (to make him) my foe,

The last line is difficult to translate, but there is a clear contrast (and formal parallel) between ym!l=ov and yr!r=ox, as also between ur* and <q*yr@. The words in the first pair are themselves difficult to translate, though the sense is clear enough. Both are verbal noun (participle) forms with a first person singular suffix (“my…”). The first verb is <l^v* from the root <lv and denominative of the noun <olv* in the sense of a (covenant) agreement that establishes peace, security, and friendship between two parties. The second verb, rr^x* indicates just the opposite—hostility, rivalry, opposition. By acting with evil (ur*) toward one who was supposed to be a firm ally, it would render their bond as merely “empty [words]” (<q*yr@), creating hostility when there should have been peace. This would seem to be the substance of the accusation against the Psalmist—an act of treachery and disloyalty. Verse 6 provides the result for the condition (apodosis, “…then”) of the oath—it is a three-fold declaration, comprised of three lines (tricolon):

(then) let (the) enemy pursue and reach my soul,
and let him trample my life to (the) earth,
and make my (very) weight dwell in (the) dust!

Three comprehensive terms are used to represent the (whole) person of the Psalmist in its deepest sense:

    • vp#n#—refers to the life-breath or essence of the person, usually rendered as “soul” (here yv!p=n~, “my soul”)
    • <yY]j^—a plural noun referring to the physical life, span of life, etc., of a person (here yY`j^, “my life”)
    • dobK*—”weight”, often in the basic sense of “worth, value”, figuratively as “honor”, etc (here yd!obk=, “my weight/worth”)
      [some commentators read ydbk here as yd!b@k=, “my liver”, in the sense of “my inner(most) organ(s)”]

The purpose of this oath is to confirm—by magical-ritual means—the Psalmist’s innocence; from the religious standpoint of the Psalm, it is meant to demonstrate his loyalty to YHWH. He declares, indeed, that he has remained loyal, and would not have acted in such a disloyal way as he is accused of doing. That he is willing to take on the curse of the oath is an implicit proof that he is innocent. This oath section ends with a hl*s# (Selah) mark, frequent in the Psalms, and the exact significance of which remains uncertain. Here it can be used a structural indicator, marking a break before the next major section.

Verses 7-10 [6-9]

As indicated in the outline above, verses 7-17 are to be divided into three sections, or strophes. They make up a call to YHWH, for him to act as judge and declare justice for the Psalmist, vindicating him in the accusation against him. The call proper is contained in vv. 7-10, structurally (metrically) one of the most difficult portions of the Psalm. It is a challenge to divide this portion accurately into lines and couplets. As with verse 6, it seems most natural to view vv. 7-9a as utilizing a tricolon (three-line) format. The first tricolon (v. 7) is:

Stand up, YHWH with your (flaring) nostrils [i.e. in anger],
lift (yourself) up on (the) passing (slander)s of my foes,
rouse (yourself) my Mighty One—you have charge of judgment!

The three imperatives are intended to stir YHWH to action, which is the emphasis of these lines. The last verb (hwx, perfect form t*yW]x!) is a bit difficult to render; I take it as a precative perfect, reflecting the expectation of the Psalmist, in the sense that YHWH has the power to command (i.e. make) judgment and deliver justice. In the second tricolon (vv. 8-9a), He is seen as acting, and the imagery shifts to the assembling of the tribunal:

(May) the appointed (gathering) of tribes [<yM!a%] surround you,
and you seated at the high(est) place over it,
YHWH you act as judge (for all the) peoples [<yM!u^]!

This triad marvelously moves from the congregation of Israel (line 1) to an image of all the peoples [of the world] (line 3); in between is the comprehensive, unifying motif of YHWH seated high above on His throne (line 2). The verb form hb*Wv in the second line is best understood as deriving from bvy (“sit, dwell”) rather than bwv (“turn, return”). In the following lines, vv. 9b-10, this triadic structure expands to include a set of three bicola (6 lines), it seems, following a 3+2 meter. With the tribunal in place, the Psalmist now asks YHWH to make judgment on his behalf:

Judge me, YHWH, according to my just (loyalty),
and according to my completeness, (decide) over me.
Make an end of the evil of (the) wicked (one)s,
and establish (the one who is) just—
(indeed, the One) examining hearts and kidneys,
(you the) Mightiest (are) Just!

The initial verb (fp^v*, “judge”) is different from that in the prior line (/yD!, “[act as] judge”), and connotes the establishment of justice in the case at hand. The root qdx plays an important role in these lines, with the noun qd#x# in v. 9b (line 1), and the adjective qyd!x* twice in v. 10 (parallel lines 4 and 6). This key root is central to the idea of the covenant, and, as a consequence, to Israelite religious thought and theology as a whole. It has a relatively wide semantic range, but fundamentally refers to something that is right, straight, and according to a standard (measure). The noun qd#x# is often translated “righteousness” or “justice”, much as the similar noun dikaiosu/nh in Greek (indeed, the diakaio- word-group is close in meaning to Hebrew qdx); perhaps “right-ness” or “just-ness” would capture the meaning better, but there is no such corresponding word in English. In the context of the ancient binding agreement (covenant), it also denotes faithfulness and loyalty. In a judicial setting, the idea certainly is that of determining justice, making things right—and, of course, whether a person (and his/her behavior, cause, etc) is just and right. The loyal servant of YHWH possesses a “right-ness/just-ness” that mirrors that of God Himself (note the clear parallel in lines 4 & 6).

The last word in line 2 (MT yl*u*) has caused some difficulty, leading commentators occasionally to emend (or repoint) the text. Dahood (p. 45) suggests that it should be read as yl!u@, as a divine name, i.e. “(YHWH the) Most High”. However, the parallelism in the bicolon is perhaps better preserved by the (Masoretic) pointing—as the preposition lu^ with first person singular suffix—marking an absent, but implied, verb. Note:

    • judge me [yn]f@p=v*]
      • according to my right-ness [yq!d=x!K=], and
      • according to my completeness [yM!t%K=]
    • (decide) over me [yl*u*]

The parallelism in the second bicolon is antithetic, marking the precise contrast—between righteous and wicked, loyal and disloyal—that lies at the heart of the judgment scene. God is able to make a proper determination, since he is the one “examining [vb /j^B*] hearts and kidneys”—both of these inner organs were use to represent (and locate) the mind (thoughts, intention, desire, etc) of a person; in our idiom we would say “examining hearts and minds”. The significance of the characterization of YHWH as “just” (qyd!x*, cf. above) is two-fold: (a) it means that he is able to establish true and proper justice, and (b) it marks the “just” person as one who is, and remains, loyal to YHWH.

[The remainder of the Psalm (vv. 11-18 [10-17]) will be discussed in the next study.]

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 5

Psalm 5

The superscription to this Psalm follows the same pattern as that of Psalm 4, suggesting that the word hl*yj!n+ refers to a musical instrument, possibly a pipe (flute) or reed instrument, based on the root llj (cf. 1 Kings 1:40; 1 Sam 10:5, etc); unfortunately, as the word occurs only here in the Old Testament, there is no way to be certain. The Psalm tends to follow a 3+2 bicolon format; however, this is not consistent throughout (at least in the text as it has come down to us), and there are metrical questions in vv. 3b-4 and 5, in particular. Scholars have different opinions as to the legitimacy of textual emendation aimed at achieving/restoring a consistent meter.

Verses 2-4 [1-3]

The first two bicola (vv. 2-3a) are straightforward, and establish a prayer-setting for the Psalm, similar in many ways to that of Psalm 4 (see the previous study):

“Give ear to my words, YHWH,
l(isten) close to my utterance;
attend to my cry (for help),
my King and Mighty One!

By any account, the lines in vv. 3b-4 seem to use a different meter, and commentators divide them in different ways; perhaps the most consistent result is that suggested by Dahood (pp. 28-29), requiring no real emendation, but only the slight modification of reading YHWH at the end of v. 3 rather than the beginning of v. 4. This yields two 3 beat (3+3) lines followed by two 2 beat (2+2) lines:

“For to you I make (my) petition, YHWH,
(that by) daybreak you would hear my voice–
(by) daybreak I will arrange (it),
to you I look for (an answer)!”

Conceptually and formally, these represent parallel sections (or strophes), in spite of the metrical differences. The idea seems to be of a nighttime vigil or session of prayer, with the protagonist speaking (and crying) out to God. In the morning, literally at the ‘crack’ of dawn, the Psalmist anticipates a response from YHWH. It is likely that the terse statements in v. 4b make use of the verbs Er^u* and hp*x* in something of a technical sense. The first verb (Er^u*) carries the basic idea of putting things in order, arranging them; Dahood suggests a legal/judicial context of setting forth one’s case (or defense), i.e. before God as Judge (cf. Psalm 50:21; Job 33:5; 37:19). The second verb (hp*x*, root hpx I) has the basic meaning of looking for something, keeping watch, etc; the context here very much indicates the idea of looking/waiting for a response from YHWH, even though there are few such examples of the verb being used this way.

Verses 5-7 [4-6]

The thematic focus in these lines shifts to a contrast between righteous and wicked, pure and impure, such as we have already seen in the previous Psalms (3 and 4). There is perhaps less of an emphasis here on the idea of covenant loyalty to YHWH, but wickedness defined by worship of false/pagan deities (other than YHWH) remains clearly in view. The text as we have it would seem to be comprised of two 3+3 bicola alternating with 3+2 bicola, though some commentators have suggested emendation (e.g., omitting the word la@ from verse 5) to make the meter consistent. There are various sorts of parallelism in these lines, as one can see in the translation:

“For no Mighty One delights (in) wickedness,
(and) alongside you evil does not stay.
(Those) shouting cannot stand up
in front of your eyes.
You hate all (the one)s making trouble,
(and) you shall destroy (the one)s speaking a lie!
A man of blood(y deed)s and corruption
YHWH treats with disgust!”

The holiness of God (la@, Mighty [One]) is set against the wickedness (uv^r#) and evil (ur^) of much of humankind. In Psalm 4, the wickedness of certain segments of the society—prominent men—was in view; here the scope seems to have widened and become more general. Nor is the worship of false deities the primary target, though it would still seem to be a strong point of emphasis. The very expression la@ aý (“no Mighty [One]”, i.e. “no God”) is an allusion to false religion and idolatry, which, according to the covenantal theology and standards of Israelite monotheism, leads to greater wickedness. For this negating expression, describing other ‘deities’ as “no God”, cf. the key references in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:17, 21; also Jer 5:7); similarly, evil can be referred to as “no good” (bof aý, Ps 36:5; cp. Isa 16:6; Prov 15:7, Dahood, p. 30). Moreover, words such as “lie” (bz*K*) and “corruption” (hm*r=m!) can serve as euphemisms for false religion and idolatry. Dahood goes so far to suggest that here <ym!D* is not the common plural of <D* (“blood”), but a plural noun derived from hm*D* (“be like, resemble”), meaning “images, likenesses” (cp. the noun /y)m=D! in Psalm 17:12). I do not find this especially convincing, though a certain wordplay between <D* and hm*D* is certainly possible, perhaps even likely. Idolatry and acts of violence were seen as marks of extreme wickedness, and would often be mentioned together; a particularly relevant example is Psalm 26:9-10. The expression “man/men of blood” is also found in Psalm 139:19-20. The plural <ym!D* (lit. “bloods”) in such instances presumably means “(act)s of blood(shed)”, i.e. acts of violence, which would not necessarily involve the actual shedding of blood.

The point of all this in the Psalm is that YHWH, the true Mighty One, is holy and detests such wickedness. By calling on YHWH to act in His holiness to destroy those who act wickedly, the Psalmist demonstrates his loyalty and aligns himself on the side of the true God. Most likely, this is to be understood as part of what the Psalmist is setting before YHWH (v. 4), as evidence of his loyalty; as such, it is part of the prayer offered in vv. 2-4, with the expectation that YHWH will answer it.

Verses 8-9 [7-8]

Based on the Psalmist’s demonstration of loyalty, aligning himself with the holiness of YHWH, he now proclaims that he is deserving of entering into God’s holy place—i.e. the place of His Presence, described two ways: (1) from the ritual standpoint of the Temple precincts and sanctuary, and (2) figuratively as a land/place embodying Divine justice and righteousness (hq*d*x=). Apparent metrical inconsistency has led some commentators to suggest that something is missing at the end of verse 9; this may be resolved, in part, if hwhy (YHWH) is read at the end of v. 8 rather than the beginning of v. 9 (Dahood, p. 33, and see on v. 3-4 above). For the sake of my translation, I have tentatively adopted this division:

“And I, in the vast(ness) of your kindness,
I (will) come into your House—
I will bow down to(ward) your holy Palace,
in (the) fear of you, YHWH.
Lead me in(to) your righteous (land),
in answer to (those) watching me,
(and) make straight your paths before me.”

A pair of terms characterizes the two aspects of the place of YHWH’s Presence mentioned above:

    • The Ritual aspect:
      (1) tyB@, “house” (“your House”), i.e. the Temple as the “house of God”; here, probably, the Temple precincts are meant
      (2) lk^yh@, “palace”, in the expression “palace of your holiness”, i.e. “your holy Palace”; most likely this refers to the actual Sanctuary (Holy Place)
    • The Figurative (religious/ethical) aspect:
      (1) ds#j#, “goodness, kindness”, which can also connote “loyalty”, etc.; in connection, the noun br) (“many, multitude”) should be understood in the sense of “vastness”, i.e. a vast domain.
      (2) hq*d*x=, “justice, righteousness”, also with connotations of faithfulness, loyalty; as indicated above, this should be read in the figurative sense of “righteous land”, a straight and level place, i.e. vast and open.

Most commentators assume that the participle rr@ov, “watching” should be taken in a hostile sense, as of enemies or adversaries. Given the general context of these Davidic Psalms, with their frequent references to surrounding adversaries, this seems likely; what follows in vv. 10ff gives added support to the idea.

Verses 10-13 [9-12]

The Psalm concludes with two strophes contrasting the fate of the wicked and righteous. As noted previously, many Psalms, in the form they have come down to us, were influenced by Wisdom language and traditions, such as are embodied in the introductory Psalm 1. We have already seen how several of these royal/Davidic Psalms (cf. the studies on Pss 2 and 3) close on a Wisdom-themed note. Here, in Psalm 5, we have a strong echo of Psalm 1 with its juxtaposition of the fate of the righteous and the wicked. The wicked are described in vv. 10-11, the righteous in vv. 12-13; in both instances, the prayer context is retained, so that the descriptions are precatory, reflecting the wishes of the Psalmist. The contrasting imagery here is striking: the fate of the wicked is the devouring open mouth of death and the grave, while for the righteous it is a place of safety and refuge surrounded by YHWH Himself. Let us consider first the wicked in vv. 10-11 (four 3+2 bicola):

“For there is no firmness in his mouth,
his insides (are) a yawning (ruin);
a grave (wide) open (is) their throat,
their tongue makes (everything) slippery.
Make them perish, Mightiest, may they fall
from their (own wicked) plans;
in their many terrible (deed)s drive them away,
for they rebelled a(gainst) you!”

The shift from third person singular (“his”) to plural (“their”) may seem odd, but it can be found relatively frequently in the Old Testament, as well as other Near Eastern (Semitic) literature, especially in poetry. Adding to the possible confusion is the preservation in poetry of a final mem (<) as an enclitic particle, which, at times, can be mistaken for a 3rd person plural suffix (“their, them”). Such mem-enclitics, insofar as they exist in Old Testament poetry, probably were preserved purely as a way to extend words and fill out the meter. Here I tentatively follow Dahood in reading the < in the word <B*r=q! as a possible enclitic, which would allow a reading of “his insides” rather than “their insides” and keep the pronoun shift consistent in v. 10a and 10b.

The lines of verse 10 draw upon ancient Canaanite imagery regarding death (twm, personified as a powerful being, Môt); the image of death (and the grave) as possessing an enormous devouring mouth (and a ravenous appetite) is well attested in Ugaritic texts, and is also preserved, to some extent, in the Old Testament (Isa 5:14; Hab 2:5; Prov 30:15f). Consider the pair of specific images the Psalmist uses:

    • Mouth—no firmness
      • Insides [i.e. inside the mouth]—a yawning, gaping ruin
      • Throat—a wide open grave [i.e. place of death]
    • Tongue—slippery

In addition, there seems to be a rich wordplay at work here, which is virtually impossible to capture in translation:

    • br#q# (qereb, “inner, inside[s]”)—rb#q# (qeber, “burial, grave”)
    • br#q#—there is a separate root brq with the basic meaning “be/come near, approach”, and this could allude to the idea that the destruction for the wicked is “coming near”
    • ql^j* (µ¹laq)—this verb means “be/make smooth, slippery”, appropriate in connection with the tongue to indicate deceit, etc; however, there is a separate root (Ugar. —lq) denoting “die, perish”, a meaning which may be attested in Hebrew as well (cf. Ps 36:3; 73:18; Job 31:17; Hos 10:2; Dahood, p. 35). The ability of the tongue to bring destruction is stated famously in James 3:5ff.

An interesting aspect of the fate of the wicked is that, just as they resemble the grave, so they themselves will wind up in the pit of death. For a similar example of such grim irony, cf. Psalm 7:16-17 [15-16].

By contrast, the righteous—i.e. those loyal to YHWH, including the Psalmist—will experience an entirely different fate: instead of being engulfed by death, they will be surrounded by the protecting (life-giving and preserving) Presence of YHWH:

“But they will find joy, all (the one)s trusting in you,
(in)to (the) distant (future) they ring (out);
and you give cover over them,
and they rejoice in you, (the one)s loving your Name.
For you will bless the (one who is) just, YHWH,
like a protective (cove)r you surround him (with) favor.”

Several interlocking strands of motifs are present here, each expressed with multiple terms:

    • rejoicing—verbs jm^x* (have joy, pleasure), /n~r* (cry out [for joy], ring out), and Jl^u* (rejoice, exult)
    • cover/protection—verbs Ek^s* (cover over, overshadow), rf^u* (surround); noun hN`x! (protective [cover])
    • characteristic of the righteous—as the ones “trusting” (vb hs*j*, “seek shelter, refuge”) in YHWH, and “loving” (vb bh@a*) His Name

These function in a positive way, similar to the negative motifs relating to the fate of the wicked in vv. 10-11.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 16 (1965).

August 1: Romans 8:3-4

This is the second of two notes on 2 Cor 5:21 and Rom 8:3-4; the passage in 2 Corinthians was discussed in the previous day’s note.

Romans 8:3-4

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.”

The relevant portion parallel to 2 Cor 5:21 is indicated by italics above; here it is extracted out, along with the Greek text:

“…sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us”
pe/mya$ e)n o(moiw/mati sarko\$ a(marti/a$ kai\ peri\ a(marti/a$ kate/krinen th\n a(marti/an e)n th=| sarki/, i%na to\ dikai/wma tou= no/mou plhrwqh=| e)n h(mi=n

Here are 2 Cor 5:21 and Rom 8:3b-4a in translation side-by-side:

2 Cor 5:21

“the (one) not knowing sin, He [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. for our sake], (so) that we might come to be (the) justice/righteousness of God in him”

Rom 8:3b-4a

“…sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, … (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us”

I feel it is best to proceed here by comparing the key words and phrases between the two passages:

“the one not knowing sin”
(to\ mh\ gno/nta a(marti/an)
“his own Son”
(to\n e(autou= ui(o/n)

It is interesting to consider these expressions as complementary: in Corinthians, the emphasis is on Jesus’ lack of familiarity with sin; in Romans, it is on Christ as the (beloved) son and heir (cf. Rom 4:13ff; 5:10; 8:12-17), highlighting the importance and preciousness of the sacrifice God makes. Based on Rom 4:13ff (cf. also throughout Gal 3-4), there is probably here an allusion to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, which may already have been present in Christian thought prior to Paul.

“He made (to be) sin”
(a(marti/an e)poi/hsen)
“sending in the likeness of flesh of sin”
(pe/mya$ e)n o(moiw/mati sarko\$ a(marti/a$)

Does Romans here explain the phrase in Corinthians? This is certainly possible, though it raises some interesting questions regarding the traditional view of Christ’s sinlessness. Was sin dwelling in his flesh just as it is for other human beings (cf. Rom 7:13-20)? In order for the expression to have its full significance, this would seem to be the case. It certainly could be affirmed without admitting that Christ committed any sin. On the other hand, the expression “in the likeness of flesh of sin” could be taken to mean that it was not actually “flesh of sin”; but, then, in what way was it like sinful human flesh? If all that Paul meant to say was that Jesus had a “human nature”, without sin, this is a curious way to state it. Needless to say, the entire matter is extremely sensitive from an orthodox Christological standpoint.

“over us” (u(pe\r h(mw=n) “about sin” (peri\ a(marti/a$)

The preposition u(pe/r fundamentally means “over”, while peri/ means “around, about”; however, both can be understood as “on behalf of, for the sake of, because of”, depending on the context. In Corinthians, Paul uses traditional early Christian language for the atoning, sacrificial work of Christ, which takes place “over us”, that is, for our sake. In Romans, the focus is more what is done about (and to) sin—i.e. the power of Sin, especially that which dwells (“houses”) in the flesh (Rom 7:17-18, 20). This is clear from the clause which follows: “he (God, through Christ) judged against sin in the flesh”. Does this mean Christ himself took on sinful flesh—that sin dwelt in his flesh, in common with humankind? There would seem to be three main possibilities:

    • There was no sin in his flesh; he was human, but it was not “flesh of sin”. To say that God “judged against sin in the flesh” means that it was judged through the suffering (and death) of the sinless flesh of Christ.
    • The “curse” or effect of sin was in his flesh, but not the power of sin itself. God judged against what sin had done to human beings in the flesh.
    • Sin did “dwell” in his flesh, and it was this that God judged against. Christ himself knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21) in the sense that: (a) he did not commit sin, and (b) was not enslaved by the power of sin; however God made him to be sin, in order to deal with sin.

The first of these accords with orthodox Christology, especially the blunt declaration in 1 John 3:5; however, the last of these, in my view, seems closer to Paul’s thought in Romans, though perhaps not without further qualification. Ultimately, the most important point is that the power of sin was destroyed and made inactive through the death (and resurrection) of Christ, allowing believers to be set free from bondage to sin and death (Rom 6:6-11).

“so that we…” (i%na h(mei=$) “so that… in us” (i%nae)n h(mi=n)

Both passages conclude with a i%na purpose-/result-clause (“so that…”), indicating primarily the purpose, but also the result, of God’s work in Christ. The difference of focus or location in terms of the believer (“we/us”) is relatively slight, and complementary—in Corinthians, the emphasis is on what happens to us, in Romans, on what takes place in us.

“we might come to be”
(genw/meqa)
“might be (ful)filled (in us)”
(plhrwqh=|)

Both verbs are aorist subjunctive forms, indicating the possibility or potential of what God can (and) will accomplish in the person of the believer, based on what he has already done (past action). The aorist subjunctive often carries an imperitival force, i.e., “we should/shall become…” In Corinthians, indeed, it is a matter of what the believer will become; in Romans, on the other hand, something is completed or fulfilled (“filled [up]”) in (and among) believers.

“(the) justice/righteousness of God”
(dikaiosu/nh qeou=)
“the just/right (thing) of the Law”
(to\ dikai/wma tou= no/mou)

These expressions reflect what it is that we as believers will become, or what will be fulfilled in us, respectively. In 2 Corinthians, it is the “justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God”, an expression which Paul uses in Romans (Rom 1:17; 3:5, 21-22; 10:3, cf. also 3:25-26; 6:13). It is best, I think, to consider this as an attribute of God Himself (subjective genitive), which he demonstrates primarily and fundamentally in the person and work of Jesus Christ. An important emphasis in Romans is that this justice/righteousness has been manifested in Christ altogether separate and apart from the Old Testament Law (cf.  Rom 3:21ff, etc), so it is interesting that the parallel passage in 2 Cor 5:21 specifically mentions the Law (no/mo$). The fact is, that Romans very much builds upon the idea, already discussed in Galatians, that Christ, by his sacrificial death, fulfills the Law for human beings. In Gal 3:10-13, this takes place by Jesus becoming the curse of the Law himself (par. to the idea of being “made sin”). The curse came into effect (pronounced as judgment) when the Law, representing the terms of the covenant between God and his people, was violated. According to Paul’s view, human beings, held in bondage under the power of sin, are incapable of fulfilling the Law (i.e. the Law of God, as expressed in the Torah). In Rom 8:3-4, God judges against sin itself in the flesh, removing its enslaving power over those who trust in Christ.

What about the specific expression in 2 Cor 5:21? how exactly do believers “become” or “come to be” the justice/righteousness of God. According to what Paul teaching and relates in his letters (especially in Galatians and Romans), I would suggest three aspects of this process:

    1. Justification—this is essentially what is described in Rom 8:3-4: (a) Christ is made sin and, through his death, becomes the curse, (b) this sacrificial acts fulfills and completes the requirement of the Law, (c) through Christ God judges sin itself, removing its enslaving power, (d) believers in Christ are thus made right before God, and (e) now have the freedom and ability to fulfill the Law, through the Spirit, no longer by observing the Torah itself.
    2. Union with Christ (“in Christ”)—believers are united with Christ, and thus participate in the very justice/righteousness of God which he himself manifests and embodies. It is communicated in the believer through the power of the Spirit, which is also the Spirit of Christ.
    3. Resurrection/Glorification—Experience of God’s justice/righteousness is also eschatological, with the completion of salvation in the end-time judgment. Ultimately it is the body (“flesh” in the strict sense) which remains to be redeemed and loosed from bondage. Paul never loses sight of this future aspect of salvation.

July 31: 2 Corinthians 5:21

In today’s note I will be looking at Romans 8:3-4 in comparison with 2 Corinthians 5:21. These two passages connect the incarnation of Christ with God’s work of salvation for humankind. From the beginning, Christians understood the sacrificial and salvific character of Jesus’ death, and that he was God’s unique representative; but here, in these two letters, perhaps for the first time, we find a developed doctrine blending soteriology with Christology. As 2 Corinthians was likely written before Romans, I will begin with 2 Cor 5:21.

2 Corinthians 5:21

“the (one) not knowing sin, He [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. for our sake], (so) that we might come to be (the) justice/righteousness of God in him”

The context of this passage (2 Cor 5:11-21) is similar to that of Phil 2:1-11—an appeal for peace and unity among believers is connected with the example of God’s sacrificial and saving work in Christ. Here in 2 Corinthians, the emphasis is on reconciliationkatallagh/, vb. katalla/ssw, to make things different, mutually, between two parties. In vv. 18-19, Paul makes two statements:

    • God is “the (One) making (things) different [katalla/canto$] (for) us with Himself through [dia/] (the) Anointed” (v. 18)
    • God “was [h@n] in [e)n] (the) Anointed, making (things) different [katalla/sswn] (for the) world with Himself” (v. 19)

In both instances, a participial form of the verb is used: the first in the aorist (indicating a past action), the second in the present. In verse 18, it is “us” (believers) for whom the situation has been changed with God; in verse 19, it is the entire world. This particular work of reconciliation is glossed and interpreted by Paul as “not counting for them (the instances of) their falling alongside [paraptw/mata]”, i.e., not reckoning their sins and failures, understood as violations/transgressions of the Law, especially in its moral/ethical aspect. We also see, in each statement regarding God’s work of reconciliation in/through Christ, a corresponding declaration of the work of reconciliation God intends for believers (focused primarily in the apostolic ministry):

    • “…and (also) giving to us the service [diakoni/a] of making (things) different [i.e. reconciliation, katallagh/]” (v. 18)
    • “…and (also) placing in us the word/account [lo/go$] of making (things) different [i.e. reconciliation]” (v. 19)

It may be helpful to examine each element of verse 21:

to\n mh\ gno/nta (“the [one] not knowing”)—i.e. Jesus Christ; here the verb know (ginw/skw) probably should be understood in the sense of familiarity.

a(marti/an (“sin”)—The expression mh\ gno/nta a(marti/an is sometimes translated as “knowing no sin“; but the negative particle relates primarily to the verb, and thus the emphasis is on “not knowing sin”. Paul doubtless would affirm something corresponding to the later orthodox belief regarding the sinlessness of Christ; however, when referring to specific sins or misdeeds, he typically uses the words para/ptwma (cf. in v. 19), para/basi$, or a(marti/a in the plural. The use of the singular here could indicate the idea of sin in the more general, abstract sense; or, as often in Romans especially, of sin as a power. To describe Jesus as “the one not knowing sin” probably means, for Paul, that he was the only person who was not enslaved under the power of sin, i.e. did not know Sin has his master. The word a(marti/a fundamentally means a failure—in the conventional Israelite/Jewish religious sense, this would be a failure to observe the commands and regulations of the Law (Torah), and, in particular, moral failure. In English, the word is normally rendered as “sin”; it is generally synonymous with the corresponding afj in Hebrew.

u(pe\r u(ma=$ (“over us”)—The preposition u(pe/r literally means “over”, but often in the metaphorical sense of “on behalf of, for the sake of”, etc. What God did through Christ was done “over us”, covering us, and it was done for our sake.

e)poi/hsen (“he made”)—God is the implied subject, with “the one not knowing sin” (Christ) as the object, i.e. God made Christ to be (like/as) sin. How should we understand this “making”? I have previously suggested three possibilities:

    • he was made into the form of (sinful) human “flesh” (Rom 8:3, cf. below); the idea of incarnation, cf. Gal 4:4; Phil 2:7
    • he was made like unto the (enslaving) power of sin, in order to conquer and destroy it (cf. Rom 8:2-3; Gal 3:13-14)
    • he was made into a sin-offering; note the similar double meaning of afj in Hebrew, which can be used both for sin and the offering made on behalf of sin

i%na (“that”)—the particle here introduces a final clause, indicating either purpose or result (or both), i.e. “so that…”

genw/meqa (“we might come to be”)—the common existential verb indicating becoming, i.e. the purpose and result of God’s work is that we (believers) will come to be something new. The aorist subjunctive form could here could also be rendered: “that we should come to be…”

dikaiosu/nh qeou= (“[the] justice/righteousness of God”)—Paul’s use of this expression is familiar from Romans, where it appears numerous times (Rom 1:17; 3:5, 21-22; 10:3, also 3:25-26; 6:13, etc). More than half of the instances of the noun dikaiosu/nh come from the undisputed Pauline letters (34 times in Romans). I have discussed dikaiosu/nh (and the dikaio- word-group) extensively in the articles on “Paul’s View of the Law” (note also the article on Justification). Where this particular expression is used in Romans, it should be taken fundamentally as a characteristic or attribute of God Himself, but which is expressed primarily in the person and work of Christ.

e)n au)tw=| (“in him”)—that is, “in Christ”, e)n Xristw=| being a favorite Pauline expression, indicating the union (and unity) of believers with Christ (and with God through Christ). Here it should also be understood as the focus of our becoming the “justice/righteousness of God”—it takes place in Christ. Elsewhere, Paul refers to Jesus as the very embodiment of justice/righteousness. The parallel in 1 Cor 1:30 is especially noteworthy:

1 Cor 1:30: he came to be the justice/righteousness from God for us
2 Cor 5:21: we come to be the justice/righteousness of God in him

The interplay reflected in these two verses is fascinating indeed!

What does it mean precisely, that believers should “become” or “come to be” the justice/righteousness of God? I will leave this question until I have discussed Romans 8:3-4, which I will do in the next daily note.

July 28 (2): Romans 3:21-26

This is a continuation of the previous note on Rom 3:21 and the expression “the justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=). Verse 21 represents the start of a long declaration (vv. 21-26) which opens the section 3:21-5:21; it will be useful to analyze this complex sentence, in which “justice/righteousness of God” effectively appears four times (vv. 21, 22, and 25-26). The best approach, I think, is to attempt to follow-through the syntactical (and thematic) development step by step, in outline form. The links in the chain of phrases and clauses will be indicated by the words in bold below (picked up in italics).

Romans 3:21-26

V. 21: “And now, separate/apart from (the) Law, (the) justice/righteousness of God has been made to shine forth, being witnessed under [i.e. by] the Law and the Foretellers {Prophets}”

V. 22: “and (the) justice/righteousness of God (is) through trust of Yeshua (the) Anointed unto all the (one)s trusting—for (there) is no setting-apart [i.e. no distinction]—”

V. 23: “for all (have) sinned and are last [i.e. lacking, coming short] of the esteem [i.e. glory/honor] of God”

V. 24: “(the ones) being made right [dikaiou/menoi] by His favor, through the loosing from (bondage) th(at takes place) in (the) Anointed Yeshua

V. 25a: “whom God set before (Himself) (as a) conciliatory gift [i(lasth/rion]”

V. 25b: “through [the] trust in his blood”

V. 25c: “unto a showing (forth) of His justice/righteousness

V. 25d-e: “through the sending along [i.e. remission] of the sins (which) had come to be before
in the (time of) God’s holding up [i.e. putting up with them]”

V. 26: “toward a showing (forth) of His justice/righteousness

in th(is) time now

unto His being just/right [ei@nai di/kaio$]

and (His) making just/right [dikaiou=nta]

the (one)s (who are) out of trust of [i.e. trusting in] Yeshua”

Obviously, these verses are much easier to read in conventional English, broken up into numerous shorter sentences; however, it is important to look at the structure and flow of Paul’s language here in something corresponding to the actual Greek syntax. One might also study the thematic development in a chiastic outline:

    • The justice/righteousness of God
      • Which is shown to those (all people) who are sinners, yet are made/declared right
        • Through the redemption that takes place in Christ
      • Which shows forth, through the passing over (remission) of all previous sins
    • His justice/righteousness (to those who trust in Christ)

While justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) is definitely an attribute or characteristic of God Himself, it is expressed here through action, focused in the person and work of Christ—in particular, his sacrificial and atoning death (“through trust in his blood“, v. 25). We can see these two aspects in tandem within the subordinate prepositional (purpose/result) clause in verse 26. It begins “toward [pro$] a showing forth of His justice righteousness…”, then follows the preposition ei)$, “unto”, but primarily indicating purpose (and/or result), which has to be rendered in conventional English as “so that…”, or something similar. The preposition governs the clause, which contains two parallel verbal phrases—ei)$ (“unto”) His…

    • being just/right (ei@nai di/kaion), and
    • making just/right (dikaiou=nta)

—the first phrase refers to God’s person, the second to his work; and yet, both are governed by action (“showing forth”). This word (e&ndeici$) derives from the verb e)ndei/knumi, which means to show (or demonstrate, manifest) something in (e)n) something else. God shows (demonstrates) his justice/righteousness in (that is, through, or in connection with) the person and work of Christ (his Son, and the one whom he sent). I have retained the fundamental meaning of the verb dikaio/w (“make right”) in translation; however, many commentators and translators, especially in Protestant circles, have preferred to understand this in the legal/judicial sense of “declaring (a person to be) just/right”. While this forensic meaning is not invalid, it is only partly correct, especially if thought of in terms of announcing innocence or acquittal from guilt (which Paul rarely discusses). This “making right” should be understood in several aspects:

    • The general sense of making the situation right, i.e. doing justice
    • The specific legal sense of fulfilling the Law, which takes place (only) in the person (and work) of Christ, and is applied to the believer through trust in Christ—human beings cannot truly fulfill the Law, being held in bondage to the Law (under the power of sin)
    • The dynamic spiritual sense of the power and presence of Christ, through the Spirit, in the believer, as the living embodiment of Gods justice and righteousness

The second of these properly defines the theological term justification, the third defines what is usually called sanctification. I have discussed the background and semantic range of the dikaio- word-group in the article on “Justification”. For a good, concise summary of how the phrase “justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=) has been understood and interpreted historically by commentators and translators, see J. A. Fitzmyer, Romans, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 33 [1993], pp. 257-63.

July 28 (1): Romans 3:21

Romans 3:21

Today’s note is on Romans 3:21, and, in particular, the expression “(the) justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=). In the New Testament, this expression is virtually unique to the Pauline letters, with a close parallel in 2 Pet 1:1 (cf. also Matt 6:33, and James 1:20; 1 Jn 3:10). Nor does it appear in the Greek version [LXX] of the Old Testament, though God’s “righteousness” [usually Hebrew qdx/hqdx] is referred to in the Psalms (Ps 35:24; 40:10; 50:6; 71:16, 19; 72:1, also 45:7) and in the Prophets (Isa 46:13; 51:5-8; 56:1; 61:10, also 5:16; 61:11; Zech 8:8, etc), and may be inferred throughout much of the Scriptures. Paul first uses the expression in Rom 1:17, which, because of its close formal and thematic parallel, will be discussed along with 3:21 below.

The genitival relationship in this phrase (“of God”) may be understood in three ways:

    1. As a subjective genitive, i.e., where God is the subject and “justice/righteousness” is an attribute or quality which he possesses, or which characterizes his action, etc.
    2. As a genitive of origin or source—i.e., “justice/righteousness” that comes from God. This is clearly what Paul describes in Phil 3:9, where he uses the preposition e)k: “the justice/righteousness (which is) from [lit. out of] God [e)k qeou=]” (cf. also Phil 1:11).
    3. As an objective genitive—where “justice/righteousness” is a divine quality or power possessed by others (i.e. believers), or realized in them, i.e. as a gift from God. This would seem to be close to the sense of the expression in 2 Cor 5:21, where  it is stated that we (believers) become the “justice/righteousness of God” in Christ.

In addition to Rom 1:17; 3:21, and 2 Cor 5:21 (mentioned above), Paul uses the specific expression only in the 3rd chapter of Romans (Rom 3:5, 22, 25) and again in Rom 10:3. All of these instances in Romans are best understood primarily according to sense #1 above, a quality or characteristic of God’s own person and action. This is indicated both by the immediate context as well as the Old Testament background of the expression. Consider, in particular, the verbs used in Rom 1:17 and 3:21—a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover, reveal”) and fanero/w (“shine forth, [make] manifest”), especially in relation to Rom 1:18-32, which emphasizes the character and nature of God evident in creation. Yet, the parallel in 1:18, the “passion/anger of God” (o)rgh\ qeou=), also suggests action—God is about to judge the world; he has also acted on behalf of human beings in the person and work of Christ.

I have already discussed the background and semantic range of the dikaio- word-group in Greek (see the article “Justification”), and the challenges involved in translation. The verb dikaio/w carries the relatively straightforward meaning “make right”, though it can be difficult to capture the various legal-judicial and religious-ethical nuances, which are perhaps better rendered by the term “just” in English (i.e., make [or declare] just). The situation is even more problematic with regard to the noun dikaiosu/nh, usually translated either as “righteousness” or “justice”—both of these renderings are generally valid, but neither fits entirely. Something like “just-ness” or “right-ness” would be better, but these do not really exist in English; “uprightness” is perhaps closer, but still awkward and archaic sounding, and a bit misleading as well. For Jews and early Christians, the usage was also influenced by the corresponding Hebrew words derived from the root qdx, which, more than the dikaio- word-group in Greek, carries the idea of faithfulness and loyalty—especially in terms of God as one who fulfills his promises and covenant obligations.

The main occurrences of the expression dikaiosu/nh qeou= are in Romans 1:17 and 3:21; it will be helpful to examine these together:

Rom 1:17

“for in it [i.e. the Gospel]

(the) justice/righteousness of God

is (being) uncovered…”

Rom 3:21

“now apart from (the) Law

(the) justice/righteousness of God

has been made manifest [lit. made to shine forth]…”

The parallels are clear and precise; Rom 3:21 is virtually a restatement of 1:17 (part of the main proposition [propositio] of Romans in 1:16-17). There can be no doubt, either, that Rom 3:21ff must also be understood in relation to the theme of God’s judgment in Rom 1:18-3:20; note again the parallel:

Rom 1:18

“the passion/anger of God
[o)rgh/ qeou=]

is (being) uncovered

upon all lack of fear (of God) and injustice/unrighteousness of men…”

Rom 3:21

“the justice/righteousness of God [dikaiosu/nh qeou=]

has been made to shine forth [i.e. made manifest]…

unto all the (one)s trusting (in Christ)… (v. 22)”

According to this comparison, the “justice/righteousness of God” is practically a reversal of the judgment/anger; similarly, the lack of (godly) fear, which leads to injustice/unrighteousness (1:18ff), corresponds to the trust that believers have in God (in Christ).

As indicated, above, dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) is a fairly wide-ranging term; there are a number of relevant aspects which should be considered here:

  • Retributive justice—in the sense that God judges sin and punishes guilt. This very much characterizes the overall theme of judgment on human wickedness in Romans 1:18-3:20 (esp. 1:18-32).
  • Distributive justice—God judges each person (and/or nation) as he/she/it deserves. This is very much the emphasis in Romans 2 (see esp. 2:6-10), that all people (Jews and Gentiles) will be judged by their deeds, according to the Law (of God).
  • Fairness and equanimity (lack of partiality)—stated of God specifically in Rom 2:11; this relates to the principal theme throughout chapters 2-3, that Jews and Gentiles are equal before God.
  • Faithfulness and loyalty—as indicated above, this is more appropriate to qdx/hqdx in Hebrew than the corresponding dikaio- wordgroup in Greek. It characterizes particularly God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promises and covenant obligations—an important theme in the Scriptural argument (involving the blessing/promise to Abraham) in Rom 4:1-25.
  • Fulfilling the Law—an important part of justice is the correct and proper observance and application (fulfillment) of the Law, by all persons and parties involved. Paul makes a long and challenging argument in Romans (also touched on in Galatians) that true fulfillment of the Law (the Torah and “Law of God”) only takes place in the person and work of Christ; as such, the justice/righteousness of God is ultimately manifest in Christ, as stated decisively in Rom 10:3-4.
  • Freedom and acquittal—this is another aspect of justice/righteousness (“making right”), especially in terms of exercising fairness and mercy on behalf of those charged under the law. This applies primarily to the person judging, as well the legal advocate/representative. It especially relates to God’s work in the death/sacrifice of Christ on behalf of sinners, as described by Paul in Rom 5:1-11, and is a theme throughout chapters 5-7.
  • Reconciliation—the related idea of opposing parties (“enemies”) being reconciled is likewise an important aspect of justice/righteousness (cf. Matt 5:9, 21-26, 38ff), and it is another theme expressed by Paul in Romans 5.
  • Uprightness/rectitude—that is, right or proper moral (and religious) behavior (including the underlying attitude and motivation). This signifies “righteousness” in its traditional, conventional meaning (cf. Jesus’ usage of dikaiosu/nh in Matt 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33); and it may also be said to reflect the “righteousness of God”. Typically, however, God’s righteousness may be defined by what it is not—contrasted with human wickedness and faithlessness, and so forth. See Rom 1:18-32; 2:1-10ff; 3:10-18, etc.
  • Holiness—the justice/righteousness of God ultimately is tied conceptually to his holiness or “wholeness” (i.e. what is perfect, complete), cf. Matt 5:48. Interestingly, Paul makes relatively little mention of (God’s) holiness in Romans (Rom 1:4; 7:12; 11:16; 12:1), as he tends to concentrate it in the presence and work of the Spirit. “Righteousness” for believers is very much realized in Christ, through the power and presence of the Spirit (Rom 14:17; Gal 5:16-26, etc).

The next note will look at Rom 3:21 more closely, within context and structure of vv. 21-26ff.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (3:21-5:21, Part 1)

Romans 3:21-5:21

This is the second of the four main sections of the probatio in Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39, cf. the Introduction). The first, on Rom 1:18-3:20 (cf. the previous article), I have summarized as the Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment on humankind, according to the Law (of God). The second, on Rom 3:21-5:21, I describe (and outline) as:

  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    3:21-31: A description of God’s justice and on being made/declared just
    4:1-25: Argument from Scripture: The blessing/promise to Abraham (by trust/faith)
    5:1-11: The effect/result of being made/declared just: salvation from the coming judgment
    5:12-21: Argument/Illustration from Scripture: Sin and Salvation (Adam/Christ)

Two discussions on the twin theme of Justice/Justification (3:21-31; 5:1-11) alternate with expository arguments (or illustrations) from Scripture (4:1-25; 5:12-21). I will be dividing this article into two parts, according to these section-pairs, the first being on Rom 3:21-31 and the argument from Scripture in chapter 4.

Romans 3:21-31

This section can be further divided into two sections, vv. 21-26 and 27-30, followed by a concluding declaration in v. 31.

Verses 21-26 form one long, complex sentence, beginning with an announcement similar to that in Rom 1:18 (cf. also the propositio in 1:17):

“But now, separate from (the) Law, (the) justice/righteousness of God has been made manifest [lit. made to shine forth], being witnessed under [i.e. by] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]…”

In Rom 1:18, the verb used was a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover”, lit. “remove the cover from”); here, it is fanero/w, “(make) shine forth” (note the use of the related adjective fanero/$, “shining” in 1:19). These two verbs represent twin aspects of revelation—(a) uncovering that which was hidden, and (b) making it known, apparent, as of light “shining forth”. Note the ironic wordplay here: that the righteousness which is separate/apart (xw/ri$) from the Law, is witnessed by the Law—the first use of no/mo$ (“Law”) should be understood specifically of the Torah commands, the second, of Scripture (the Pentateuch, which embodies the Torah). The preposition xw/ri$ implies a separation, in terms of space between two objects (i.e., they are not connected); note the use of the related verb xwri/zw, in an opposite sense, in Rom 8:35ff. The remainder of vv. 22-26 is a tapestry of Pauline phrases and concepts which build upon the opening declaration (italicized words and phrases glossed with the Greek):

V. 22: “and (the) justice/righteousness of God [dikaiosu/nh qeou=] (is) through (the) trust [dia\ pi/stew$] of (the) Anointed Yeshua unto all [pa/nta$] the (one)s trusting [pisteu/onta$]—for there is no setting through [diastolh/ i.e. setting apart, distinction]—”

V. 23: “for all [pa/nte$] (have) sinned and are last of [i.e. behind, lacking] the esteem [i.e. glory] of God”

V. 24:being made right [dikaiou/menoi or, declared just] freely [dwrea\n, without charge] by His favor [xa/riti], through the loosing from (bondage) [a)polutrw/sew$] th(at takes place) in (the) Anointed [e)n Xristw=|] Yeshua”

V. 25: “whom God set before (Himself as) a conciliatory gift [i(lasth/rion], through [the] trust in his blood, unto the showing forth of [i.e. to show forth] His justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] through the sending along [i.e. passing over, remission] of the sins th(at) had come to be before, in God’s holding up [i.e. that God put up with]”

V. 26: “toward the showing forth of His justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] in th(is) time now, unto His being just/right [di/kaio$, i.e. that He might be just] and (the One) making just/right [dikaiou=nta] the (one who is) out of trust [e)k pi/stew$] of Yeshua [i.e. the one who trusts in Jesus]”

The density and complexity of the sentence should be abundantly clear from the extremely literal (glossed) rendering above; in conventional English, and to be readable, vv. 21-26 would be broken up into a number of shorter sentences. Even in Greek, however, the syntax is quite convoluted. Yet, this is one of those classic long sentences in Paul’s letters which deserves to be read and studied carefully, with close attention to the flow of ideas and phrases; they are not strung together randomly, but do form an inspired concatenation, a network of relationships expressing the truth of the Gospel in powerful and unmistakable terms. I offer a possible outline diagram of vv. 21-26 in a separate note, along with a brief discussion of the key phrase in this passage—”the justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=).

Verses 27-30—If verses 21-26 represent the principal declaration regarding the justice/righteousness of God apart from the Law, in verses 27-30 there is a reaffirmation of two basic points Paul has made previously: (1) that human beings are made (or declared) just/right, i.e. “justified” by trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, and not by performing/observing the commands of the Law, and (2) that this applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. These verses can be divided into four shorter statements, according to the following pattern:

    • V. 27—No boasting (for the Jew)—it is the Law of faith/trust, not the written Law
      • V. 28—Statement of “justification by faith”, without works of Law
    • V. 29—Equality of Jew and Gentile before God
      • V. 29—Declaration that Jews and Gentiles are “justified” through faith

Verse 27—All human “boasting” (kau/xhsi$) is excluded (“closed/shut out”); this relates to all natural, “fleshly” aspects of one’s religious-cultural identity—status, attitude (pride, etc), knowledge, pious practice, devotion in ritual or ethical matters, etc.—all of which are bound “under the Law” and the “elements of the world”. The contrast is familiar from Galatians—”works” (e&rga) of the Law vs. faith/trust (pi/sti$); however, here Paul frames the matter differently, referring to the “law of works” (no/mo$ tw=n e&rgwn) as opposed to the “law of faith/trust” (no/mo$ tou= pi/stew$). The “Law” (no/mo$) has been generalized, and the contrast is specifically between “works” (i.e. deeds) and “trust” (in God and Christ). It is the fact that “justification” comes through trust (dia\ pi/stew$) that “boasting” is excluded—i.e., it is not the result of doing anything. There is an attractive vibrancy and buoyancy to the rhetorical question Paul uses to express this point.

Verse 28—”for we count a man to be made right [or, declared just] by trust, separate/apart from works of (the) Law“. Here we have one of Paul’s clearest statement of “justification by faith”. Note each of the underlined expressions above:

    • logizo/meqa (“we count”, i.e. reckon, say/claim)—this is the same verb used in the citation from Gen 15:6 (cf. below): “…it was counted [e)logi/sqh] to him [i.e. Abraham] unto justice/righteousness”.
    • dikaiou=sqai (“to be made right”, “to be declared just/right”)—i.e., a person is made/declared just/right (by God)
    • pi/stei (“by trust”)—i.e., in (God and) Christ; there is no preposition in the Greek, it has to be filled in.
    • xwri/$ (“separate/apart [from]”)—implying a clear separation (i.e., space between)
    • e&rgwn no/mou (“works of [the] Law”)—i.e., deeds, performance/observance of the commands and regulations in the Law (Torah, but also including the wider “Law of God”)

Verse 29—”or is (He) the God of Yehudeans {Jews} only? is (He) not also (God) of (the) nations? yes, also of (the) nations!” The equality of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) before God is an important, and fundamental, principle for Paul (cf. Gal 3:28; Rom 2:9-11, 12ff; 3:9ff, etc). Here it is stated by way of a rhetorical (and real) question, parallel to that in verse 27.

Verse 30—”if indeed (there) is one God [or, God is one], who will make right [or, declare just] circumcision out of trust, and (having) a foreskin through the (same) trust“. As in verse 28, we have here a clear and decisive statement regarding “justification by faith“—that it applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. Paul defines the distinction between Jew and Gentile, again, according to circumcision (cf. 2:25-29), using the terms “circumcision” (peritomh/, lit. “cut around”) and “foreskin” (a)krobusti/a, “closing [over] the extremity”) as a shorthand (and stereotypical) description. Note the underlined words and expressions:

    • ei&per (“if so, if indeed”)—though this is a conditional particle, by implication, it indicates that a proposition or supposition is assumed to be true; in English, this may be expressed according to result (“because, since…”), and, certainly Paul accepts as true both the declaration in v. 29b and that “God is one”.
    • ei!$ o( qeo/$ (“one [is] the God”, or “God is one”)—a fundamental tenet of Israelite/Jewish (and Christian) monotheism (Deut 6:4, etc); however, for Paul, it also is a declaration of unity, i.e. the same God for both Jew and Gentile. Paul frequently emphasized that there is only one—one Gospel, one faith, one Spirit, one body, et al; of many references, see Gal 1:6-9; 3:16, 20, 28; 5:14; Rom 5:12-21; 12:4ff; 1 Cor 1:10-13; 3:8ff; 6:16-17; 8:6; 10:17ff; 12:11, 12ff; 2 Cor 11:2-6; Phil 1:27; 2:2; Col 3:15; Eph 2:11-22; 4:1-7.
    • dikaiw/sei (“he will make right” or, “will declare just”)—Paul typically uses the verb dikaio/w in the passive, as a “divine passive”, with God as the implied agent; here, it is used actively of God (“He will…”).
    • e)k pi/stew$ (“out of trust”)—Paul frequently uses this expression (with e)k, “out of”, i.e. “of, from”) to indicate either: (a) faith/trust as the means by which people are saved/justified, or (b) as the source by which one comes to believe, and to which the believer belongs. The first sense is generally synonymous with the expression dia\ pi/stew$ (“through trust”).
    • dia\ th=$ pi/stew$ (“through the [same] trust”)—almost certainly, there is no real difference of meaning between the use of the prepositions e)k and dia/, as indicated above; the definite article likely implies “the same” faith/trust (in Christ), again emphasizing the unity (and equality) of Jews and Gentiles before God.

Verse 31—In this concluding verse, Paul asks a pointed (and most interesting) rhetorical question:

“Do we then make the Law useless/inactive through th(is) trust? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make the Law stand!”

All through chapters 2 and 3 of Romans, Paul has been arguing that faith in Christ and acceptance by God is completely separate and apart from the Law (esp. the Old Testament/Jewish Law [Torah]). Jews, including many Jewish Christians, doubtless would object to this line of reasoning, and might well claim that Paul was undermining and destroying the Law by his teaching. Paul anticipates such an objection, much as he does in Gal 3:21 (cf. also Gal 2:17, and earlier in Rom 3:3-5). His response says a good deal about his view and understanding of the Law; because of its importance in this regard, this verse will be discussed in a little more detail in a separate daily note.

Romans 4:1-25—Argument from Scripture (Abraham)

This passage is an expansion of the argument in Galatians 3:6-18, centered on the example of Abraham. Here it will be most important to examine the significant differences and points of development, compared with Gal 3:6ff (for a discussion of the verses in Galatians, see my earlier article in this series). The basic outline is:

Rom 4:1-3—The example of Abraham [Gal 3:6]

Paul begins with a (rhetorical) question regarding Abraham: “what then shall we declare Abraham to have found…?”—whom he qualifies with the phrase “…our forefather according to (the) flesh?” Here he uses the expression kata\ sa/rka (“according to [the] flesh”) in the normal physical/material sense; kata\ sa/rka presumably is to be taken with “our forefather” (to\n propa/tora au)tw=n), rather than with the verb eu(rhke/nai, i.e. “to have found according to the flesh”, though possibly there is a bit of wordplay involved. In verse 2, Paul emphasizes the point that Abraham was not considered by God to be right/just (e)dikaiw/qh, “made right/just”) by his works (e)c e&rgwn)—in contrast to the discussion in James 2:21ff. In verse 3, just as in Gal 3:6, there is a citation from Genesis 15:6 [LXX]:

“Abraham trusted [e)pis/teusen] God and it was counted [e)logi/sqh] to/for him unto justice/righteousness [ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn]”
The construction e)logi/sqhei)$ in typical English has to be rendered something like “counted…as“, with the preposition ei)$ (“into, unto”) indicating the intended or effective result.

This clearly was a seminal verse in Paul’s thought, through which he was able to grapple with the relationship between Jewish and Christian religious identity.

Rom 4:4-12—The blessing to (and through) Abraham [Gal 3:7-14]

In Galatians, Paul emphasizes the blessing that comes, through Abraham, to the nations (Gentiles), that it is through trust in God (the same trust demonstrated by Abraham); this is contrasted with the Law (and its curse), which Christ fulfills. In Romans, the emphasis is rather on the nature of the blessing (or blessedness), which is described through a series of explanatory and illustrative statements:

  • Vv. 4-5—it is not a wage [misqo/$] earned by (or, properly, owed to) the one who works [o( e)rgazo/meno$]; instead it is a favor [xa/ri$], or “gift” (i.e. “grace”).
  • Vv. 6-8—it is understood in terms of forgiveness of sins, i.e. of sinful acts [ai( a(marti/ai] and acts of “lawlessness” [ai( a)nomi/ai] or violations of the law, in the general sense of wickedness. This is stated by way of citation of Psalm 31:1-2 in vv. 7-8, and brings out three different aspects of “forgiveness”—sins are:
    • “released” (a)fe/qhsan)—the related noun a&fesi$ is the word usually translated “forgiveness” in English
    • “covered up/over” (e)pekalu/fqhsan)—i.e., a covering is laid over/upon them
    • “not counted” (mh\ logi/shtai)—the double negative ou) mh\ adds emphasis, “not at all, certainly not, by no means,” etc
  • Vv. 9-11a—it was pronounced prior to circumcision (and the Law/Torah); Paul makes the same point in Gal 3:15-18. Even more important in the context of Romans is the equality of Jew and Gentile—this blessedness (justification) comes upon those with “circumcision” (peritomh/) and “a foreskin” (a)krobusti/a) equally (v. 10).
  • Vv. 11b-12—it is for all who trust, apart from circumcision and the Law. The upshot of Paul’s argument is that Abraham trusted God, and was counted as just/righteous, while he was still uncircumcised; by way of application, Gentiles who walk in line (stoixou=sin), following in the tracks (toi=$ i&xnesin) of Abraham (v. 12), i.e. in the same faith and trust, will, like him, be “counted as just/righteous” by God (11b).
Rom 4:13-25—The promise to Abraham (his seed–descendants) [Gal 3:15-18]

As indicated above, the argument in Gal 3:15-18 is effectively repeated by Paul in vv. 9-11; here in vv. 13ff he takes a different approach, which deals more directly with the Abraham narrative in Genesis. The principal statement is in verses 13-15:

  • V. 13—this is the main declaration, which is framed, in familiar fashion, by Paul: “not through (the) Law… but through (the) justice/righteousness of trust”, contrasting the Law with trust (in Christ). In between these contrasting terms, he sets the elements of the Abraham narrative:
    • h( e)paggeli/a (“the message upon”), esp. a declaration or announcement upon (someone or something), which can be taken in the sense of a promise to do something, etc., and so is often applied, as here, in relation to God—His declaration or promise that he will do such-and-such.
    • tw=|  )Abraa\m (“to Abraham”)—of a son (and heir) to Abraham, including the promise of many future descendants; cf. Gen 12:2-3, 7; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-11; 22:16-19; 24:7.
    • h* tw=| spe/rmati au)tou= (“or [rather] to his seed”)—for Paul’s special emphasis on the “seed” [sg.] of Abraham, cf. Gal 3:16.
    • au)to\n ei@nai (“his being”, i.e. “that he would be”)—that Abraham’s child—ultimately, his descendants—would truly be (or become)… .
    • to\ klhrono/monkosmou= (“the [one] receiving the lot [i.e. heir]… of [the] world”)—this touches back on the idea of the blessing which would come to the nations (Gen 12:3), as well as the inheritance of the (promised) land in Canaan (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:7, 18; 26:4; 28:13; 35:11-12; 48:16; Exod 32:13; Num 26:52-56, etc). This land (as “earth”) came to expanded, in subsequent Israelite/Jewish tradition, as “the (whole) world” (cf. Jub 19:21; 2 Baruch 14:13; 51:3, etc). The concept would be spiritualized in early Christianity, or related more properly to the idea of believers “inheriting the kingdom of God”.
  • Vv. 14-15—Paul expounds the statement regarding inheritance according to his familiar contrast between the Law and faith/trust (v. 14). Note the wordplay which characterizes his argument in these verses:
    • V. 14: if inheritance comes by way of the Law (e)k no/mou), then the promise is made inactive (kath/rghtai, kat¢¡rg¢tai)
    • V. 15: when, in fact, the Law actually works out (katerga/zetai, katergázetai), i.e. produces, accomplishes, the passion/anger (o)rgh/, “wrath”, associated with the judgment) of God against sin and wickedness.
      This is followed by the statement that “where there is not (any) Law, there is also no stepping over [i.e. violation/transgression]” (cf. Rom 3:20; Gal 3:19).

Verses 16-17a are transitional, with a point that is two-fold:

    1. That the promise is according to the favor of God (kata\ xa/rin), which qualifies the expression of faith/trust (e)k pi/stew$)
    2. That it is to all the offspring of Abraham (panti\ tw=| spe/rmati), by faith/trust (and not by the Law)

As a result, Abraham is the father of all who believe in Christ, Jews and Gentiles both (“who is the father of all of us“). In vv. 17b-25, Paul returns to the Genesis narrative, and to the specific example of Abraham—that is, of his trust in God. The summary exposition is in vv. 17b-21, culminating with the declaration that Abraham carried fully (plhroforhqei\$) the belief that God was powerful enough to do (poih=sai) that which He had promised (o^ e)ph/ggeltai). The narrative is further interpreted and applied in the concluding verses 22-25. In particular, Gen 15:16 (v. 22) is applied to believers (vv. 23-24a)—those who trust in what God has done in Christ, especially the resurrection (v. 24b, 25b, cf. Rom 10:9), but also his sacrificial death which took place through (dia/, or for/because of) our transgressions (paraptw/mata, “[moment]s of falling along [the way]”).

Justification

The terms “justification” and “justification by faith” cover a wide area—from linguistics, biblical theology, systematic theology, and the history of doctrine. It will not be possible to offer anything like a thorough treatment in one brief article. My purpose here is to present a summary of the basic meaning of the Greek words involved (especially the dikaio- wordgroup), and to explore the ancient background of the concepts and terminology, as utilized by Paul.

The dikaio- wordgroup

We must begin with the wider d–e—ik- wordgroup and the basic noun di/kh (dík¢), which fundamentally refers to that which is established as right, proper or customary. It can be used in terms of a specific law or ruling, tradition, a principle, even a (divine) power; it covers some of the same ground as the word no/mo$ (usually translated “law”). We might render di/kh simply, and fairly accurately, as “what is right”. In English, the terms “right” and “just” overlap; we can also refer to di/kh as “what is just”. There is a longstanding question: whether it is better to translate the dikaio- wordgroup with “right, righteous, righteousness” or “just, justice”, etc. The primary corresponding word(group) in Hebrew is qdx (ƒdq), which also carries the sense of loyal(ty). Partially overlapping in meaning is fpv (šp‰), the primary wordgroup referring to judging, judgment, justice, etc.

di/kaio$ (díkaios)—The adjective is usually rendered “right” or “just”, both of which are preferable to “righteous”, which carries a distinctively religious connotation in English. The wider meaning in Greek refers to that which is “according to custom”, i.e. a person who fulfills his/her duties and obligations, follows the established customs or traditions, obeys the laws, and so forth. A person who may be so characterized is “just” and “right(eous)”. The corresponding adjective in Hebrew is qyD!x^ (ƒadîq). The adverb dikaiw/$ (dikaiœ¡s) carries a similar range of meaning as the adjective, “rightly, justly”, etc.

dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosy¡n¢)—This is a more abstract noun, signifying the proper observance of law and custom, the fulfillment of duty and obligation, etc. It ought to be rendered something like “right-ness” or “just-ness”, but as there are no such terms in English, it is usually translated “justice” or “righteousness”, neither of which fits precisely—one relates more to the law and society, the other more properly to religion and morality. However, “justice” probably better represents the basic range of meaning in Greek thought, covering both social/religious virtue and proper observance/administration of law and custom. The corresponding Hebrew words qd#x# (ƒedeq) and hq*d*x= (ƒ®d¹qâ) might fit “righteousness” more closely, especially with the connotation of “truthfulness, loyalty”, etc.

dikaio/w (dikaióœ)—This verb fundamentally means “make right”, or to “establish as right/just” (i.e. establish justice). The primary context is that of the realm of law and the courts (the administration of law), but it can also apply to personal life and conduct (i.e. generally, make a situation right, treat/regard something fairly, etc). In a legal/judicial sense, it can refer to judgment in terms of “passing sentence” (declaring innocence or guilt), “securing justice” for someone (i.e. respresenting them in court), “validating” or confirming the law, and so forth. In Hebrew, the corresponding verb is the denominative qd@x* (ƒ¹d¢q), in the Hiphil/causative stem; as indicated above, fp^v* (š¹pa‰) is the primary verb indicating judging and judgment.

Paul uses this verb (indeed the dikaio- wordgroup as a whole) in a very distinct, specialized sense, an understanding of which requires some familiarity with the ancient religious and cultural background related to these words.

The ancient background of “Justification”

Paul’s use of the dikaio- wordgroup (and, in particular, the verb dikaio/w) draws upon the ancient concept of judgment after death. Upon death, human beings were seen as having to stand before a divine tribunal to be judged—according to what they had done in their lifetime (including their intention/motivation)—before being allowed to enter into the divine/heavenly blessedness. This explains the traditional connection between justice/righteousness and the Beatitude saying-form (cf. Matt 5:3-12, 20 and my notes on the Beatitudes). Only the person whose life reflects the purity and “righteousness” of the gods (or God, cf. Matt 5:48) may enter into the divine realm, becoming like the gods (or God). Jewish thought preserved much of this idea, but with several important differences:

    1. Monotheistic belief changed the religious dynamic of the judgment scene—rather than being localized in the “underworld”, or presided over by specific deities (associated with death, law and order, etc), it takes place in the court of YHWH (on this, see my earlier study on Psalm 1, associated with the Beatitudes).
    2. The idea of the covenant established between YHWH and Israel meant that Israelites (and Jews) were, as a result of God’s gracious choosing, assumed to be righteous from the beginning. This status was preserved and confirmed by observing the commands and regulations of the Torah, which effectively provided the terms of the covenant (cf. Deut 27-28). Transgression of the Torah meant violation of the covenant, and only the wicked would do so willfully and unrepentantly. The person who has lived according to God’s Law (as expressed in the Torah) will stand and pass the judgment.
    3. Jewish eschatology ultimately shifted the judgment scene from taking place after death (for each person) to a final (end-time) judgment, in which all people would be judged. This was either connected with (1) the concept of the resurrection from the dead (en masse), or with (2) the “day of YHWH”, during which God would appear in glory and judge the nations upon earth. Both motifs are found in Jewish writings, all the way back to the Old Testament Prophets in the mid-1st millennium B.C.

Early Christians inherited the Jewish worldview, though, with further development:

    • The end-time judgment by God was seen as imminent, likely to occur at any moment, and, as such, is more precisely understood as the culmination of history, the end of the present age. Christians connected this end of the old with the beginning of a “new age” in Christ.
    • Judgment would take place through the person of Jesus Christ, as God’s representative; the impending end-time judgment thus was thus thought to coincide with a return of Christ to earth.
    • The strong sense of an imminent, impending judgment defined the early Christian idea of salvation—believers in Christ would be saved from the judgment, the anger/wrath of God, which was about to come.

This provides the essential background for Paul’s use of the dikaio- wordgroup; in particular, the verb dikaio/w, of which more than half (23) of the New Testament instances occur in Romans and Galatians, is an important word for Paul. It is used almost always in the passive, that is, a “divine passive” (passivum divinum) with God as the implied agent. There are, I believe, three aspects to Paul’s usage, which correspond to three basic levels of meaning (and ways of translating the verb, cf. above):

  1. “Make right”—the situation for believers is “made right” by God; this would best be understood in terms of human beings’ bondage under the power of sin, from which we have been freed.
  2. “Declare just”—this corresponds to the primary meaning based on the judicial context and background, i.e. of the end-time judgment before God (cf. above). In a modern legal context, we might say “declare innocent”, but this is not quite the idea in Paul’s writings—in fact, he rarely uses words corresponding to “guilt” or “innocence” in English. It is rather the ancient, Jewish background that informs his language and symbolism. Normally, a person is declared “just” or “right” according to his/her deeds—from the Israelite/Jewish standpoint, this means having properly fulfilled the terms of the covenant by faithfully observing the Law (Torah). Paul’s belief in this regard seems to have been that Christ’s work (his sacrificial death) has effectively fulfilled the Law for believers, and so all who trust in him are automatically “declared (or considered) just/right” in God’s eyes. This should be understood further at two levels:
    (a) believers will pass through the judgment and be “saved” from the wrath (punishment) to come
    (b) believers also realize, and experience the reality of, this status in the present
  3. “Make righteous”—this relates primarily to believers’ experience of salvation/justification in the present, though, more properly, it involves a (transformative) participation in the justice/righteousness of God. This occurs in two respects:
    (a) a spiritual identification with, and participation in, the death and resurrection of Christ, represented symbolically through the ritual of Baptism (and the Lord’s Supper), and effectively by the expression “in Christ”—that is, in the body of Christ
    (b) by the power and presence of the Spirit (of God and Christ) living and working within—through the Spirit, believers also fulfill the Law (of God and Christ)

“Justification by Faith”

While Paul never actually uses anything corresponding to this expression (the noun corr. to “justification” is found only in Rom 4:25; 5:18), it generally summarizes a number of statements he makes in Galatians and Romans (and elsewhere). Due to the polemic of Galatians, he has a more specific and narrow focus in that letter—constrasting faith (trust) in Christ with observance of the Torah commands (“works of the Law”). The main verse is Gal 2:16: “a man is not made/declared just out of works of Law [e)c e&rgwn no/mou], but through trust [dia\ pi/stew$] of Jesus Christ”; later in the verse he states even more decisively, “all flesh will not be made/declared just out of works of Law”. Elsewhere, Paul contrasts “out of works” with the parallel formulation “out of trust/faith” (e)k pi/stew$).

The relevant verses in Galatians are Gal 2:16-17, 21; 3:2, 8, 11, 24; 5:4. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul cites the keynote verse Hab 2:4 [LXX], “the just [di/kaio$] (person) will live out of trust [e)k pi/stew$]” (Gal 3:11; Rom 1:17), and uses/interprets the example of Abraham in Gen 15:6 (Gal 3:6ff; Rom 4:3ff). The main verses of Romans are: Rom 3:13, 19-20, 21-30; 4:2, 5ff; 5:1ff; 8:30, 33; 9:30-32; 10:5-6ff. It is a bit surprising that this theme does not appear more frequently in the other Pauline letters—it is stated rather clearly, but in passing, in Phil 3:9; otherwise, it has to be inferred in passages such as 1 Cor 6:11; Col 2:11-15. If Ephesians is authentically Pauline, then there is also a relatively clear statement in Eph 2:8-9, though the verb dikaio/w does not occur. This latter reference is significant in its use of the word xa/ri$ (“favor, grace”); Paul begins to apply this term and concept (“the favor [of God]”) in the context of “justification” in Romans 3:24, then on throughout chapters 4-7, and again in 11:5-6. These two words—xa/ri$ and pi/sti$—represent the twin aspects of “justification”, that it is: (1) by the favor/grace of God, and (2) through trust/faith in Christ.