Book Review: Romans, 2nd ed. (BECNT), Tom Schreiner

Tom Schreiner Romans second edition book review

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

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 is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of NT Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology (1997) and the Associate Dean of the School of Theology at SBTS. Schreiner has been a NT and Pauline scholar for almost 40 years now. His 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 any of his letters. No verse is an island, and each reflects an aspect of Paul’s theology 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. 

Key Issues

As stated above, Schreiner has changed his view on a few key issues.

  • Romans 1.16-17, formerly he understood God’s righteousness as being both transformative and forensic; now he understands it as purely forensic.
  • Romans 2.14–16: The “doers of the law” are Christian Gentiles who fulfill the law by having the Spirit (Rom 8.5).
  • Romans 5.12: Romans 5.12-19 supports original sin and original death, but “it is established on different grounds than those defended by Augustine” (278). Rather than all people sinning because they enter the world spiritually dead (Romans 1.0), Schreiner understands the second half of Romans 5.12 to mean that all people die because they sin “individually and personally” (282). They sin and die because of Adam’s sin and their own. 
  • Romans 7.7–21: Schreiner previously interpreted this passage as the Christian Paul looking back at his pre-Christian experience, then, after being convinced by Will Timmins’ interpretation, he now understands Paul to be speaking about the Christian’s experience.

Smaller Interpretations

But, besides these, Schreiner has changed his interpretations on much smaller points too. In Romans 6.5, he once took ἐσόμεθα as a genuine (or “predictive”) future (“we shall be united in the likeness of his resurrection”), but now takes it as a logical future (“we are united in the likeness of his resurrection”). The first sees Paul telling the Roman believers to live holy lives because they have been and shall be united with Christ in his resurrection life. The latter understands Paul’s command to be based in the fact that Christ’s death and resurrection presently affects our lives. Schreiner says, “Those who are baptized (i.e., converted) experience the impact of christ’s death and resurrection in their present existence” (314). Ultimately, Schreiner’s argument in both commentaries revolves around the now-and-not-yet concept of God’s salvation, but this new edition bears the fruit of twenty years of thinking on Paul.

More briefly, in his first edition Schreiner understood “law” in Romans 7.21 and 23 to refer to the Mosaic law (376), but he now understands it to mean something akin to “principle” (375).

Revamped and Reworked

Bibliography

Being written twenty years later means that Schreiner’s bibliography has been revamped. It is now 76 pages long and has been updated to 2016, with the exception of Timmins’ work (2017), Peterson’s Romans commentary (2017), and Thielman’s forthcoming Romans commentary (2018). In some places that means that Schreiner’s arguments are updated; in other places it means that Schreiner’s arguments remain the same but notes with whom he does or does not agree. That means that if you’ve read Thiessen’s Paul and the Gentiles, you can see that Schreiner disagrees with Thiessen’s view that Paul in Romans 2.17 is speaking of Gentiles who see themselves as Jews. He agrees with Caneday (2.15), who is partially the reason for Schreiner’s change of view on this passage. He disagrees with Jipp on Romans 1.17 (70n20), but agrees with him that we are sons who are comparable to the Son in 8.15. I could go on, but basically—Schreiner has reworked his commentary, updated much… and has read a lot.

Footnotes

Of course, and I don’t want the head to deceive you, but much is still the same. It’s not as if every paragraph has been reworded. But things have been changed, even if only in a minor way.

In a footnote on Romans 8.10, In Romans 1.0 Schreiner said, “Fee… doubts that the Spirit is ever the agent of the resurrection, but I have suggested that this is the most natural reading of Rom. 8:10” and notes James Scott’s Adoption as Sons (1994). In this edition, he says, “Fee… doubts that the Spirit is ever the agent of the resurrection, but Rom. 8:10 suggests otherwise” noting that he agrees with Scott and now also Greg Beale in his A New Testament Biblical Theology (2011). At the end of his footnote Schreiner directs the reader to Yates’ The Spirit and Creation in Paul (2008) “for further criticisms of Fee’s view.” The main argument remains the same, but there has been some fine-tuning throughout all of the commentary.

Margins and Additional Notes

The section on Romans 8.5–11 has also been expanded, and verse headings have been added in the margins. In the same section in Romans 1.0, there were no verse headings in the margins. If you were looking specifically for Romans 8.9, you would have to search through all of the paragraphs in that section. Now it is much easier to find the discussion on that verse. Only a few sections are like this (cf. Rom 1.1-5; 8.35–39). Margin verse headings are left behind in those smaller sections (1.1-5; 11.26-27) so that Schreiner can better group his discussions together, but this is rare. 

Many of the additional notes (see that of 5:1) have been expanded; the font has been changed, decreased, and put into bold.

The Spoiled Milk?

There’s really not much to complain about with this volume. Overall, it’s much more pleasing to the eye in terms of font size, style, and layout. No one will agree with all of Schreiner’s interpretations, and there are some matters that I still have questions about, which I’ve noted in my posts below.

Due to his brevity in some places (or because of my own ineptitude) I don’t understand some of Schreiner’s arguments that God’s righteousness is to be understood only forensically (read my third point on it being a gift from God along with my conclusion here). Neither have I quite figured out his interpretation of 2.15 with the “accusing and excusing thoughts” of gentiles believers and how they are two different groups (believing and non-believing gentiles- see here too).

But those are minor issues. The text as a whole is very readable, though academic. And really, no one should rely on one commentary alone but on a few (such as Moo, Longenecker, Jewett) alongside one’s own study.

Recommended?

Certainly scholars will want to pick this up again for Schreiner’s changed positions, his updated nuances, and the additional bibliographic entries. But what about pastors and teachers who already have the first edition? At the risk of being rebuked by Michael Bird, if you have the first edition and you aren’t sure if you should get the second, just sell the first and buy the second (unless your loved one lets you keep both). Arguments are tightened, reworked, and carefully thought through again. The commentary is large, but it is shorter than other Romans commentaries, especially the multi-volumes.

Schreiner’s volume is perfect for examining the flow of thought along with other interpretive and exegetical matters. But for all that allotted space, other matters must be left for other commentators. I may not be given the details of a particular word, but I at least understand how it is used in Paul’s flow of thought. Schreiner has published a plethora of works since his first edition, and as a result he has sharpened his thinking on numerous matters. This comes highly recommended. 

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Author: Thomas R. Schreiner
  • Hardcover: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (October 16, 2018)

Buy it on Amazon

Explore Schreiner’s Commentary

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

My Interview with Tom Schreiner on Romans

As you might have seen from my other posts, Tom Schreiner has recently revised his Romans commentary which just released last month. I had the chance to ask him a few questions about the commentary, the impact of Romans on himself, and about Pauline scholarship.

1. How has the landscape of Romans scholarship changed since your first edition?

Many more commentaries and monographs and articles have been written on Romans since 1998. Plus, the apocalyptic view of Paul has become more popular, and the post-new perspective apocalyptic view of Doug Campbell.

2. In what ways has your understanding of Romans developed or become more nuanced?

I have nuanced my view towards the new perspective, showing where it sees things rightly. The inclusion of the Gentiles was a major issue for Paul and the new perspective sees that correctly. I have made hundreds of small changes in the commentary as well, which reflect, I hope, a more mature reading that the first edition.

3. In the preface to your commentary you write that you’ve changed your interpretation of a few key passages. Aside from those, did anything strike you in a new way when you returned to Romans? 

Nothing that stands out. Romans always challenges, provokes, and encourages. I made many minor changes, but apart from what I said in the preface the 2nd edition remains the fundamentally the same. Still, the changes noted in the preface are quite significant!

4. As you reconsidered Romans, what aspect of the letter has been most influential to you? 

That is a hard question to answer. I am not sure any particular theme stands out. I suppose I was struck, if my reading of the last part of Romans 7 is correct, that we still struggle with sin, despite the remarkable changes in our lives, until the day of redemption.

5. You’ve been teaching and writing for almost forty years. Which scholars have been most influential to you? 

I take it that you are talking about Romans. I would say over the years: John Murray, Cranfield, Moo, and more recently John Barclay.

6. Are there any scholars breaking new ground in Romans or in Pauline studies? (—a very broad question, I know) 

I would say that John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift is a ground-breaking book. He helps us understand grace in terms of the cultural context in which Paul wrote, and he qualifies the understanding of grace proposed by E. P. Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

7. Lastly, are there any books you are working on now?

I am revising my book on the Apostle Paul and my commentary on 1-2 Peter and Jude.


Romans 2.25-29; True Circumcision

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

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).

Explore Schreiner’s Commentary..

Buy it from Baker Academic or Amazon

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.


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. 

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). 


Explore Schreiner’s Commentary..

Tom Schreiner Romans second edition

Buy it from Baker Academic or Amazon

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

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.’


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. 

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.


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.