Romans 2.25-29; True Circumcision

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Romans 2.25-29, “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”

The flow of Romans 2 so far:

vv. 1-5: *Unrepentant Jews criticize gentiles for their sins while committing those same sins.

vv. 6-11: The impartial God “will repay each person according to his or her works” (Schreiner’s translation, 121).

v. 12: All will be judged by a certain standard: gentiles by moral norms and Jews by the law.

v. 13: The doers of the law will be justified.

vv. 14-16: Who exemplifies doing the law? Not the sinful, *unrepentant Jews, but the Christian gentiles. They have the law written on their heart (and they fulfill the law by having God’s Spirit; Rom 8.5)

vv. 17-24: Paul tells the Jews that their sins against God take away any advantages they have over the gentiles by having God’s law. What’s the use in having the law if you don’t keep it?

In Romans 2.25-29, Paul argues that circumcision depends on keeping the law, something that (most of) the Jews (see Rom 9.1-6) don’t do, but the Christian Gentiles do!

Which Jews is Paul Talking About?

First, I have to reiterate which Jews Paul is rebuking. Paul wrote to the church in Rome which was made up of Christian Jews and gentiles. Paul presents his gospel to them in the form of a debate as if he were speaking to unbelieving Jews (arguing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills Scripture). So the Jews Paul speaks of in Romans 2 are *unrepentant Jews (2.5) who not only transgress God’s law without repentance, they disregard Christ as the Messiah.

Flow of Thought

Pagan gentiles will experience God’s wrath (Rom 1.18-32). Even some of the physically circumcised will experience God’s wrath unless they keep the law (25a). If a physically circumcised Jew does not keep the law, they will experience God’s wrath too. They may as well be a pagan gentile (25b). So the uncircumcised gentile who keeps God’s law will be counted as circumcised before God and will become a part of God’s people (26). But how can this be? It is so because “Jewishness and true circumcision are not outward matters,” as was seen in the Old Testament (145).

Deuteronomy 10:16: Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

Deuteronomy 30:6: And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (see Jeremiah 4.4).

Even circumcised Jews could be stubborn (Gal 5.2). One’s heart must be circumcised. So even though the Jews possess the law and all its advantages, if they transgress the law and do not repent there will be judgment. The Christian gentile, on the other hand, obeys. His obedience comes from his faith in Christ, and his obedience means his “uncircumcision” is “counted as circumcision” (149). Schreiner says, “To be considered as circumcised means that the gentile who keeps the commandments is part of God’s people, the redeemed community” (149).

Flipping the Script

Paul says that it is not enough to be a circumcised, law-possessing Jew because the law needed to be kept (and the Jews to whom he refers break the law). What it really means to be a Jew is to be one “inwardly,” that is, to have a circumcised heart. Paul says that even the gentiles who have faith in Christ have the required circumcised hearts that makes them covenant members and sons of Abraham (Rom 9.7-8; Gal 3.29). Their hearts are circumcised by the Spirit (Jer 31.31-34), not by the letter.

Ezekiel 36.26-27 says something similar to the Jeremiah 31 and Deuteronomy 30.6 texts:

26 [God] will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.

Schreiner says, “Although the law is glorious [2 Cor 3.7-11], it does not provide any ability to obey it. Thus both the ‘letter’ and circumcision’ are benefits for the Jews; the problem is that without the Spirit these gifts do not produce righteousness” (151). Through the Christ’s death, resurrection, and inauguration of the new covenant, those who believe in Christ come into the new covenant and receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us hearts of flesh, circumcises them, and causes us to obey God’s commands. We won’t obey perfectly until the end, but we are forgiven in Christ.

No one will be justified by the works of the law?

But doesn’t Paul say in Romans 3.20 that “no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law”? Yes, but Paul isn’t arguing that one can enter into a relationship with God by keeping the whole law. No one can keep the whole law perfectly. Only Christ could do that, and so those who believe in Christ are in union with him. Because they receive his Spirit, they fulfill the law by being in Christ. This is true for the Jew as much as it is for the gentile.

Why the Emphasis on Christian Gentiles?

Why does Paul emphasize that gentiles believe, are circumcised, are in the covenant, and are doers of the law? He’s trying to provoke the Jews to jealousy! Schreiner points out that Paul is foreshadowing his argument in Romans 11.11, 14:

11 I ask, then, have they stumbled so as to fall? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous12 Now if their transgression brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness bring!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Insofar as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if I might somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them.

“Paul hopes to provoke the Jews to jealousy and bring them within the blessings of the new covenant” (154).


*What if a Jew transgresses the law and repents? Schreiner says that “those who submit to circumcision to enter the covenant are under obligation to keep the rest of the law to gain salvation” (147).

Galatians 5.2-3:

Take note! I, Paul, am telling you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.
Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to do the entire law.

This doesn’t mean Old Testament saints had to keep the law perfectly. Sacrifices were provided when sin occurred. But after Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, there is no more provision for sin under the old covenant. Christ’s sacrifice annulled the old covenant and its sacrifices. For those who remain under the old covenant and thus apart from Christ, to be righteous means they must keep the whole law. But that is simply impossible. “The old covenant… does and cannot save” (147). Only by having the Spirit can one fulfill the law (Rom 8.4; 13.8, 10; Gal 5.14; 6.2).

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Romans 2.14-15; Christian Gentiles Who Do the Law

Romans 2.14-16, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

In my previous post I looked at Tom Schreiner’s interpretation of Romans 2.13, which reflects what Paul says in 2:6 that God “will render to each one according to his works.” Schreiner, saying that verse 13 reiterates the essence of verse 6, says, “Those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

Hypothetical

Paul could be speaking hypothetically about “doers of the law.” The Jews (though not the Jewish Christians hearing the letter being read) thought they were acceptable before God because they had his Torah. Paul could be saying, “Look, those who keep the law perfectly will be justified by God. The gentiles sure don’t keep it, but neither do you. Thankfully, there is Christ’s sacrifice.”

General Gentiles

Could verses 14-16 be speaking of general gentiles? Schreiner understood it that way in his first edition. Here, gentiles have the work of God’s law on their hearts so that they know and keep aspects his law, though they don’t realize that their morality reflects upon God’s handiwork. They will be judged based on whether they obeyed those “norms” pressed upon them by their conscience. If so, Paul would be saying that both the Jews and gentiles will be judged for not keeping the law, as all know the law (or at least aspects of it): The Jews through the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament and the gentiles though “natural law,” that is, they are born naturally knowing that certain moral actions are correct to do. 

Christian Gentiles

However, Schreiner now believes Paul to be speaking of Christian gentiles. The flow of thought could be represented like this: 

Those who only hear the law will not be righteous before God,

but those who do the law will be justified.

How do we know this?

For the Christian gentiles who do what the law requires show that the law is written on their hearts, fulfilling what Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31.31-34 about what God would do for those who are in the new covenant.

So these gentiles are in the new covenant. Jeremiah 31.31-34 says,

31 “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. 

33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration.
“I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.

Israel was given God’s Torah in Exodus 20-23. The gentiles were. Gentiles who converted to Judaism took on the task of following the law, but gentiles all across the world weren’t given God’s law. Israel, at Mt. Sinai, received God’s law. So how do these gentiles, who do not have the law, do what the law requires?

They do it by nature. They have a new nature. They are new creations, and they have God’s Spirit working in them. Paul brings up this same idea in Romans 8.3b-4 when he says, “[God] condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” 

I didn’t include verse 16 here because I’m still trying to figure it out. In my final post, I’ll look at what Paul says about Jews and true circumcision and how that relates to Christian Gentiles.


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Romans 2.13; ‘Doers of the Law will be Justified’

tom schreiner romans 2

Romans 2.13, For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

In Romans 2.1-16, Paul’s flow of thought goes something like this:

2.1-5: Unrepentant Jews criticize gentiles for their sins while committing those same sins.

2.6-11: God is not partial; he will bless those who do good and judge those who do evil. He “will repay each person according to his or her works” (Schreiner’s translation, 121).

2.12-16: Schreiner observes, “Jews can scarcely use the Torah as a talisman, for anyone (whether Jew or gentile) who observes the law will be vindicated before God on the day of Jesus Christ” (126). Jews will be judged by the law, and gentiles will be judged by a “fair standard” (126).

Is Paul really saying that people will be judged according to their works? In Romans 3 Paul argues that no one is righteous (3:10) and all have sinned (3:23). The knowledge of sin comes through the law (3:20). How could any law-doer ever hope to be justified if “no one will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law” (3:20)?

Yet even Solomon, David, and Jeremiah all speak of God repaying one according to their works.

Proverbs 24:12: If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’
won’t he who weighs hearts consider it?
Won’t he who protects your life know?
Won’t he repay a person according to his work?

Psalm 62:12: and faithful love belongs to you, Lord.
For you repay each according to his works.

Jeremiah 32:19: the one great in counsel and powerful in action. Your eyes are on all the ways of the children of men in order to reward each person according to his ways and as the result of his actions. (see Jer 17.10; 25.14; Job 34.11; Psalm 28.4).

So, at least looking at what we have so far, if someone keeps the law, he (or she) will be declared righteous by God (Rom 2.13). Paul says in Romans 2:6 that God “will repay each person according to his or her works” (121). Schreiner says that verse 13 above reiterates the essence of verse 6: “those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

It was not enough for the Jews to own the law and only hear it; they also had to keep it. They wouldn’t get away with condemning gentiles for their sins only to turn around and commit the same sins against God’s kindness without repentance (2.4-5). But how could Paul say that those who do the law will be justified? Schreiner says that Paul did accept the idea that “those who perform the required works will be rewarded” (128).

Tom schreiner romans second edition

So is Paul speaking hypothetically? Is he saying, “If someone could keep the law, then, yes, that one would be justified before God, (but, in reality, all sin and no one can keep the law)”? Or does he mean that “gentiles know the law in their hearts, [but] they are condemned since they don’t keep it perfectly” (129)? Or does he mean that gentile Christians show that they have God’s Spirit in them by obeying the law?

In the next post I’ll look at how Paul’s argument continues in Romans 2.14-16.

(There are more interpretations on what Romans 2.13 means. You can read more on the different interpretations on this blog). 


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Review Books: Winter 2018

As I am finishing up school, I like to think I’ll have a lot of time to read. And so I ask for books. All of them. Why do I do this to myself? Because I enjoy reading, and reviewing forces me to finish books.

Received Books 

A Hermeneutic of Wisdom – J. de Waal Dryden

As Kelly Kapic notes in her endorsement, “Dryden believe the Bible is primarily meant for spiritual formation, shaping us so that we might faithfully commune with God and neighbor.” The Bible wasn’t written so we could fill our heads with technical doctrines and talking about PhD topics with one another. It was to fill us with wisdom and love for living in God’s world, worshiping our Savior and Creator, and loving our neighbor. The Bible forms us spiritually, which means it shapes our whole selves. The Bible brings together meaning, ethics, application, and doctrine. His central thesis: “The Bible is a wisdom text” (xvi).  

Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed. – John Walton

John Walton has studied the ancient Near East for over thirty years, and has updated his book on how the Old Testament fits into the ANE culture. People from different countries think very differently from you. Thirty years ago, people from your own state would think different about most things in life than you do today. 3,000 years ago, people on the other side of the world thought about pretty much everything differently than you do today. Walton has tried to understand their world and has written numerous books to reveal how an OT Israelite thought about life. Covering topics such as gods, cosmic geography, cosmology, kingship, law, wisdom, life after death, and more, this will help you to understand you OT better by understanding the ways in which Israel thought like everyone else and the ways their theology differed from everyone else’s. 

Angels – Michael Heiser

After writing The Unseen Realm and Supernatural, Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern scholar Michael Heiser has written a book about the Bible’s commonly misunderstood heavenly host. He looks at the terms the Bible uses for God’s heavenly host. the different capacities in which they serve God, important angels, how the heavenly host is understood in the Second Temple Period and in the New Testament. Heiser also answers important questions and long-held myths about angels. Not many books are written on angels by biblical scholars, so this is an important book. Heiser, like Walton, has studied the Old Testament and its ANE context for a long time, and he wants Christians’ understanding of God’s heavenly host to be shaped by the Bible instead of culture.

Biblical Eschatology, 2nd ed. – Jonathan Menn

I reviewed Jonathan Menn’s first edition a few years ago, having read it from cover to cover during one summer. It was fascinating. He looks at prophecy, apocalyptic literature, eschatology and the Bible’s structure, the significance of christ’s second coming, the millennium, the “rapture,” the “antichrist,” Revelation, the importance of eschatology, and ends his book with seven appendices. Regarding the importance of the “end times,” Menn says, “By understanding eschatology, we can have a well-integrated theology that enables us to live authentic Christian lives with confidence and hope. Such lives will demonstrate the present reality of the kingdom while we look forward to the final consummation in all its glory” (351).

Discovering the New Testament (Vol. I: The Gospels and Acts) – Mark Keown

Having just released a massive two-volume commentary on Philippians, Mark Keown, NT professor in New Zealand, is releasing a three-volume introduction to the New Testament. With Christ at the center, the New Testament letters “show us how to live the ‘in Christ’ life” (1). Keown represents the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, has two chapters on critical methodologies and how scholars have understood the way in which  the four Gospels were written, and then looks at the content and theology of all four of those Gospel and Acts. He ends with looking at the kingdom of God, miracles, and parables. 

The Elder Testament: Canon, Theology, and Trinity – Christopher Seitz

This book is a “commentary on critical method,” looking at various interpretations of the Old Testament, such as canonical and theological interpretations (4). The “Elder Testament” is made up of 39 books which all tell the story of Israel serving the one true God. The ordering of the OT is important, even though it differs between the Hebrew (MT) and Greek (LXX) texts (think Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty or Goswell/Lau’s Unceasing Kindness). All the Scriptures, both old and new, both “elder” and younger, speak of Christ. Here Seitz draws together old and new and examines the Trinity, wisdom, time and creation, Christ’s “speaking” in the letter to the Hebrews, and theophany. The Old Testament is not old and outdated, but it is older than the New Testament. Yet this “Elder Testament” still speaks of Christian theology about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the New Testament authors drew upon it. 

Romans, 2nd ed. (BECNT) – Thomas Schreiner

The Baker Exegetical Commentary series aims to be both readable while paying careful attention to important Greek exegetical matters. Each volume is written with pastors and teachers in mind so they can teach God’s uniquely inspired word. Tom Schreiner’s first volume was published in 1998, and has been a massive help for many who have studied, taught, and preached through Romans. Schreiner’s commentary is attuned to understanding Paul’s flow of thought, which is very important to understand anything Paul says in the letter. No verse is an island, and each reflects an aspect of Paul’s theology as shown throughout the full letter. Twenty years later, Schreiner has reworked his commentary, changing his mind on a few bigger issues and on numerous smaller issues. Schreiner has been a NT and Pauline scholar for almost 40 years now, so be sure to pick this one up. I’ve written more about Tom’s commentary here on my blog

Suffering – Paul David Tripp

Paul Tripp is a pastor, author, and biblical counselor. Not wanting to admit it, we have idols, and they live in our hearts. Suffering reveals to us what our idols are: in what do we put our focus, attention, and trust? What are our ordered loves? Is God actually first? Tripp tells of a few years where he had multiple surgeries and treatments for his failing kidneys, which caused him to cut back on his productive ministry. He thought his productive life was from his own hand, forgetting that any success or productivity we have comes from God. There’s more to the book than that, but Tripp shows that we can trust in our loving and faithful Father, who uses our hardships to shape us into the very image of the perfect Christ.

Books on the Way

1 Corinthians – Tom Schreiner
1-3 John – Marianne Meye Thompson
A New Testament Theology – Craig Blomberg
An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. – David deSilva
Conformed to the Image of His Son – Haley Jacob
Romans (ZECNT) – Frank Thielman

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Three Troubles in Romans 2

When I think of difficult passages in Romans, I think of Romans 5.12-21, 7.7-25, and all of 9-11. It wasn’t until I sat in on Lindsay Kennedy’s Romans class at CCBCY that I found out that many scholars think Romans 2 is the most difficult chapter in the letter. Why is this? There are three sections in Romans 2 that can be understood in a few different ways.

1. Romans 2.13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

2. Romans 2.14-16, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

3. Romans 2.29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”

In the first point, is Paul saying that those who do the law are justified? Doesn’t he say that we are released from the law (7.6) and so we can now serve in the way of the Spirit? In the second point, who are these Gentiles? They don’t have the law, but they show that the work of the law is written on their heart. Does the pagan Polynesian show that somehow he ‘knows’ God’s commands? Or are these Gentiles Christians who, fulfilling Jeremiah 31.31-34, have God’s law written on their hearts? And thirdly, in perhaps the most well-known verse on the list, does Paul mean to say that Christian Gentiles are true Jews? How would that work?

This series will continue looking at Tom Schreiner’s revised Romans (BECNT) commentary because Schreiner has changed his interpretation of 2.14-16 since writing his first edition, and his understanding of the other two sections is helpful. I may write up separate posts on each text because that will make them shorter and more ‘bite-size.’


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God’s Righteousness as Forensic

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

This series has given some snapshots of Tom Schreiner’s arguments over “the righteousness of God” in his revised Romans (BECNT) commentary. Again, he summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). I’ve looked at the arguments that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness to his covenant people, and the argument that his righteousness is transformative. In his first edition, Schreiner understood God’s righteousness as being both forensic and transformative, with one aspect being emphasized more than the other in certain verses. Now he understands it as entirely forensic. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight. Though they are sinners, they stand not guilty before him.

He gives nine arguments for understanding God’s righteousness as being forensic, but I put a few together here.

Forensic Righteousness

1. Righteousness, Faith, and Believing

“Righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) is placed near to the words “faith” or “believing.”

Romans 4.11, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,”

Romans 10.3-4, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Galatians 5.5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”

The one who believes by faith stands not guilty in God’s presence. They are declared righteous, but that righteousness won’t be seen by all until the day of resurrection.

2. To be Counted

Those who believe by faith are not “made” righteous but are “counted” righteous.

Romans 4.3, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (see Rom 4.5, 6, 9, 11).

3. A Gift from God

This righteousness is a gift divinely granted to people.

Romans 5.17, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

God is the origin of righteousness, and he gives that status to the ungodly (see again Rom 4.3, 5, 6, 9, 11) .

1 Corinthians 1.30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Here, Jesus is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God. Paul’s comment in Philippians 3.9 refers to righteousness as a gift from God. So in Romans 1.17 and 3.21-22 “God’s saving righteousness is given as a gift to those who believe” (70).

Philippians 3.9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

So “God’s righteousness may be both an attribute of God and a gift of God, but it doesn’t follow logically that it is also transformative” (70). Philippians 3.1-9 can be paralleled with Romans 10.1-5. Just as Paul couldn’t have a righteousness of his own from the law, Israel as a whole has tried to establish their own righteousness from the law. Paul received God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel must do the same. It is not about keeping the law; it is about trusting in Jesus.

4. Second Corinthians 5

In 2 Corinthians 5.21, Paul writes that Jesus who had no sin became sin so that we could “became the righteousness of God.” God was not “counting their trespasses against them,” meaning he forgave those who put their faith in Christ. Christ died on the cross, and those who put their faith in him, though they are sinners, take on God’s righteousness.

5. Romans 3.21-26

If all have sinned, how can anyone be righteous? Schreiner observes, “Paul argues… that a right relation with God is not obtained by keeping the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. All people who trust in Christ are justified by God because of the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus (3:24)” (71).

6. Lawcourts

Romans 8.33 says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Schreiner writes, “The lawcourt background here is unmistakable. Paul followed the usage of the LXX… and other Jewish Second Temple literature… in assigning a forensic meaning to δικαίουν [‘to justify’].”

2 Samuel 15.4, “Then Absalom would say, ‘Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.'”

1 Kings 8.32, “then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.”

Judges didn’t make anyone wicked or righteous. They made declarations about the wicked and the righteous. God declares us righteous, and he will transform us at the resurrection.

Proverbs 17.15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Schreiner: “Paul… does not think God violates any standards of justice, since Christ bears the curse that sinners deserve” (72).

7. Righteousness and Forgiveness

Romans 4.7-8 quotes Ps 32.1-2. David’s sins are forgiven and he stands “in the right before God” (73). David is not transformed, but forgiven.

Conclusion

Honestly, with some of these points (#3) I do wonder why God’s righteousness being a ‘gift’ ‘from God’ means his righteousness is to be understood forensically. We can’t transform ourselves to be righteous. We need another (2 Cor 5.21). So whether it is forensic or transformative (or both), it is still from God. However, do to other points (#6) and parts of Scripture, I can still see how God’s righteousness is purely forensic.

God justifies sinners when they believe the human Christ Jesus died and was resurrected. He is currently ruling over all things, and he is the King. We are justified in the eyes of God. We stand “in the right” or “not guilty” before him because we are “in Christ.” Being justified in and of itself doesn’t transform Christians, but other aspects of the order of salvation that occur immediately (e.g., the reception of the Spirit) and other parts will occur over time (e.g., sanctification) will cause us to be transformed. God conforms us to the image of his Son by working in us through his Spirit. Through that, we are transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3.18), awaiting our final transformation at the day of resurrection (1 Cor 15.49, 51-53). Christians are sinners who are declared righteous now and will be made righteous in the future.


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God’s Righteousness as Transformative?

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

In my previous post I noted that in his revised BECNT commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). Commentators have come to different interpretations as to what God’s righteousness is. Schreiner explains three of the different interpretations in his commentary.

Last time I wrote about those who think that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness. This time I present Schreiner’s arguments for (and against) God’s righteousness being transformative.

Arguments For

1. Revealed

God’s righteousness being revealed refers to God’s eschatological (end-time) activity that has invaded history. It makes sense that God’s righteousness here means his saving activity if we ask the question ‘What is being revealed?’—a new status (forensic) or divine action (transformation)?

In fact, both God’s righteousness (v. 17) and his wrath (v. 18) are revealed.

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

God’s wrath is actively poured out against human sin, and so it fits the parallel that his righteousness would also refer to a divine activity. Schreiner notes, “Since verses 16–17 are connected with a γὰρ (gar, for), we can conclude that the saving power of God is intertwined with the righteousness of God” (68).

So as Paul writes, the gospel is God’s power for salvation to all who believe for in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed. The gospel is God’s salvation-bringing power. It is a divine activity, and his righteousness is actively revealed in it.

2. Old Testament Usage

Many of the uses of righteousness in the OT refer to God’s saving action.

Psalm 98.1–3

‘Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm

have worked salvation for him.

The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.’

After God brought Israel through the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army, Israel praised Yahweh as a ‘man of war’ (Exod 15.3) whose ‘right hand’ is ‘glorious in power’ and ‘shatters the enemy’ (v. 6). He stretched out his right hand that the earth would swallow up the army (v. 12). He led his people safely through the waters in his ‘steadfast love’ (v. 13; Ps 98.2). God’s salvation is an active salvation that rescues his people from their enemies. See also Isaiah 45.8; Micah 6.5 and 7.9.

3. Made righteous

Later in Romans 6 Paul says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died has been freed (δεδικαίωται) from sin” (6.7). Schreiner writes, “The use of the verb ‘to justify’ [translated as ‘freed’]… demonstrates that God’s declaration of righteousness really frees people from sin” (69). In Romans 5.19, many in Adam were made sinners; in Christ, they are made righteous. “God’s forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners now live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)” (69).

Pushback

As Schreiner explains in his commentary, there are a few problems here. I won’t list every rebuttal; you can find that in his commentary. But I will present a few of them. 

Problem 1: Revealed

God’s righteousness (1.17) is the grounds for God’s power (1.16). The two terms are not synonymous. Simply because God’s righteousness in Christ is apocalyptic does not mean that his righteousness is transformative. “God’s declaration about sinners is an end-time verdict that has been announced before the end has arrived” (73). Referring to Linebaugh, Schreiner says, “Justification… is the final verdict, which is pronounced now” before the end has come (73).

Believers, in union with Christ, stand in the right before God, but that does not mean they are automatically transformed because of that verdict. Rather, Christians are transformed through the reception of the Holy Spirit, becoming new creations, being sanctified—conformed to the image of Christ—and ultimately by being glorified. At the resurrection we will truly be transformed. It is then that we will be like Christ—righteous and perfect.

Problem 2: Old Testament Usage

Simply because the words righteous and salvation are in parallel (as in Psalm 98.1-3) does not mean they are equivalent. Schreiner says, “Words may overlap in meaning, but it doesn’t follow from this that they have an identical meaning. The righteousness of God, then, denotes the ‘rightness’ and justice of God’s salvation in Psalms and Isaiah” (73).

Problem 3: Made righteous

“Virtually all scholars agree that in the vast majority of cases the verb ‘to justify’ (δικαιόυν) is forensic” (74). Most English Bibles translate δεδικαίωται as “freed.” Even if δεδικαίωται here held a transformative connotation, it does not mean that every use of ‘justify’ or ‘righteousness’ holds that same connotation.

Schreiner observes, “God’s declaration that sinners are in the right before him is the foundation for a changed life” (74). Because believers are justified, are in union with Christ, and are given the Holy Spirit who works in us to image Christ. We are transformed not because of our ‘not-guilty’ verdict, but because God’s Spirit works within us.

As for Romans 5.19 and people being made sinners or made righteous, 2 Corinthians 3.9 points to a forensic use of righteousness. There, righteousness is contrasted with condemnation, “a declarative term” (74). When God condemns someone, he doesn’t make them wicked. They don’t turn into wicked people. They already are wicked. Similarly, God’s declaration that someone is righteous doesn’t mean he turns him into a righteous person. “The declaration that Jesus,” vindicated in his resurrection, “stands in the right is granted to all those who belong to him, to all those who are united to him by faith” (75).

Conclusion

One of the major differences between Schreiner’s first and second editions is his move toward God’s righteousness indicating a forensic status instead of both a forensic status and transformative state. Think about this scenario. Harry and Marv rob a bank. They have committed a crime. They are bandits. They are criminals. A judge declares Harry and Marv to be guilty of their crime. The judge’s sentence does not transform them into criminals; they became criminals when they robbed the bank.

We are sinners. Yet those who believe on Jesus Christ are declared to be “in the right” by God. I am still a sinner. I am not a ‘righteous’ person. As I said above, when Christians receive their resurrected bodies, they will be like Christ (1 John 3.2; 1 Cor 15.49, 52-53). They will be righteous, and they will be perfect. God sees what they will be in the future and he declares them to be that now. Christians have the status of righteousness even though they are still presently sinners because we are now in Christ.

In my next and final post I will look at what Schreiner has to say about God’s righteousness being forensic.


Explore Schreiner’s Commentary..

Buy it from Baker Academic or Amazon

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog.