Romans & “Righteousness”

It is kind of strange that only now am I noticing this (since I preached on Rom 1:16-17 this last Sunday), but I now see something about the word “righteousness” or in Greek dikaiosune (which Paul uses for the first time in 1:17) which I had not seen before.

NTW makes the point that this word for Paul has two aspects in view: justice (defending the oppressed and addressing injustice in the world) and covenant faithfulness (God following through and actually doing what what he promised to Abraham and his family). It is through the latter, however, that God will do the former, thereby fixing the “Adam problem” and “setting the world to rights.”

What I never noticed, however, is that Paul has precisely these two aspects of God’s righteousness in view in the structure of the first major section of the letter (chapters 1 – 4).

After his introductory material (1:1 – 1:17) Paul turns to elaborate on God’s justice, how he absolutely shows no favoritism: every ethnos — including the Jews — are on equal footing before God. This massive critique includes a scathing hermeneutic of suspicion against the Jewish religious authoritative types specifically in 2:17 – 2:29, a critique which shocks me in its vitriolic intensity. (No wonder followers of Christ are always getting into trouble with “the powers that be!” Where did Paul get this kind of boldness?)

Then, however, in chapter 4, Paul goes on to discuss Abraham and God’s promises to him. The point here (among others) is that God in Christ (and in the church?) has done what he promised to do for and with Abraham and his family. And what did God promise? According to chapter 4, he promised to make Abraham the father of many nations (4:17, note that Paul does not say “the father of a great nation,” which would refer to ethnic Israel) which would then inherit not simply now the promised land but in fact “the world” (4:13).

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