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Hebrews 2:14-18 – NT

02.15.2011

Romans 3:21-26

This passage from Romans is one of the weightier and more heavily debated passages in Scripture.  I’ll touch on the areas of debate below, but it’d first be useful to outline what the passage is saying.

21-22 | God’s righteousness has been demonstrated.

23-25a | All men have sinned and are justified and redeemed by Christ’s death, which atones for the sin of man.

25b-26 | That is how God’s righteousness has been demonstrated.

The first term that gives theologians fits is this ‘righteousness of God.’  What does this mean?  In what way is God righteous?*  Some, like John Piper,† argue that the righteousness of God is His observance of core traits, such as love and grace and sinlesness. 

Others, like NT Wright, counter that this view of God is tautological, that it says, ‘A is true because it’s A, and A is true.’  If we define righteousness by what God is, then there’s no conceivable alternative; He cannot be other than what He is.  Futhermore, if we define righteousness as conforming to a criteria that exists outside of God, then it violates Anselm’s conception of God as ‘a being than whom nothing greater can be conceived.’  So Wright instead focuses on the covenant between God and His people, saying that the righteousness of God is the degree to which He is faithful to the covenant.

If I may delusionally wade into this debate between titans, I think that Wright’s critique of Piper is correct but that his alternative of covenant-based righteousness is too small.  I like the idea, though, of God’s righteousness being a function of His faithfulness, considering both what a significant role faith plays in the Gospel and the vehemence with which Christ denounced hypocrisy. 

Building off of the idea that we’ve explored here before of sin being a corruption or reversal of God’s natural order, of good over bad, I think that we can, without falling into tautology, think of God’s righteousness as His faithfulness or consistency to the order of His creation.  This in no way binds God to the laws of nature, because I’m not talking about the physical order of things but the metaphysical.  As we discussed in Hebrews last week (and will again on Thursday), it is fitting and right for God to sacrifice His Son for the propitiation of sins.  That is, it is in accordance with the moral order of creation that springs from God Himself. 

The second theological sticking point is the issue of faith as mentioned in v. 22.  The ESV has chosen to translate this as ‘faith in’ Jesus.  This means that God’s righteousness is displayed by, and our salvation is received through our faith in Jesus Christ.  But there are many that argue that the correct translation from the Greek is ‘faith of’ Jesus.  This would mean, then, that God’s righteousness is not displayed in our faith, but in Jesus’ faithful obedience unto death, and that our salvation is a product of Jesus’ faithfulness (again, His consistency and, therefore, His righteousness) rather than of our response to this faithfulness.

Lots of food for thought here, but it’s a heavy meal.  As always, I appreciate any questions or thoughts, particularly if anyone is more educated on these debates and wants to add something to the limited undsterstanding that I’ve put forth in this post.

————

* For more on this debate, see these great posts by Daniel Kirk (1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4).

† Home-boyyyy!!

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