Two leading positions have emerged regarding the term “righteousness” in the Scripture, and in Pauline literature specifically. One long-standing view sees this in reference to a moral standard (a “norm concept”), which may be adhered to (i.e. righteousness) or violated (i.e. unrighteousness). Scholars such as Cremer, Ritschl, and von Rad have argued for a second view, seeing the term as referencing a right relationship (a “relational concept”). According to this position, צדקה/ צדק in the Old Testament is always positive (i.e., never denoting punishment), indicating God’s desire for a covenantal relationship. Others, such as N.T. Wright, have applied this to New Testament studies, seeing all references to God’s righteousness as a shorthand for the grand narrative of God’s covenantal, saving activity.

This paper will focus particularly on the phrase δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Romans 3:5 and argue that it cannot be read as a synonym for God’s salvation. Additionally, this paper indirectly gives weight to the moral standard (a “norm concept”) view of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, at least as used in Romans 3:5, by showing some of the essential problems of its only other main alternative—though more direct arguments are beyond the scope of this paper. The paper will present the following points:

The view of scholars such as Cremer and Ritschl (among others), who maintain that righteousness in the Old Testament always refers to God’s saving power, does not withstand critical examination of how these terms are employed. Central to their argument is that the Old Testament often uses צדקה/ צדקin parallel to salvation language. While true, this view ignores the frequent parallel with justice language, often in passages explicitly referring to judgment.

Paul’s quotation of Psalm 51:4 (50:6 LXX) in Rom 3:4 is incompatible with a purely relational concept of righteousness, especially as understood by Cremer and others. David appears to be confessing sin and thus the concept of righteousness in that passage seems to include, rather than exclude, a norming standard that has been violated.

Paul uses ὅπως to introduce a purposive subordinate clause. God’s judgment results in Him prevailing and being proved right. This judgment is further defined in v.5 by the phrase ἐπιφέρων τὴν ὀργήν (“bringing wrath”) due to the unrighteousness illustrated in the wicked acts mentioned in vv. 10-18.

While scholars like Richard Hays view the terms πίστιν and ἀλήθεια as set in parallel to δικαιοσύνη, with the righteous language referring to God’s salvation, such a view artificially limits the scope of the parallelism taking place in Rom 3:3-7. For example, consider the parallel to God’s wrath (ὀργή) in v. 5, which suggests a norming standard is in view.

The relational view doesn’t sufficiently consider the overall theme in Romans 1:18-3:20, i.e. God’s righteous judgment. To view the “righteousness of God” in 3:5 as necessarily and only meaning the salvation that God brings due to His faithfulness to His covenantal promises artificially divorces the term itself from the rest of Paul’s discourse in Romans 1-3 and its rhetorical thrust.

The above points should be weighed not only individually, but also collectively. When their collective weight is considered, the problem with the relational view appears to be even more substantial.

This paper contributes to scholarship by interacting critically with scholars advocating for a ‘relational concept’ of righteousness. While sympathetic to their analysis in part, this paper nevertheless seeks to demonstrate such a concept is inadequate with reference to the use δικαιοσύνη in Romans 3:5.


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