Both Hank and Chris have asked questions about experiencing the Spirit.  I will do my best to explain what “experiences” can be attributed to the Spirit.  Notice that I said “can be.”  As I’ve mentioned earlier, scientific certainty here does not fit my mental categories about the Spirit.  So these thoughts are offered as a reflection upon the Bible’s description of the Experience of the Spirit, not necessarily as something about which I have concrete descriptive events to put forward.

Paul takes a different route in defining a Christian than I would have taken.  In Romans 8:14, Paul writes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  I would have said “sons of God are led by the Spirit.”  Also, in Romans 8:9 Paul says “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”  I would have said “those who belong to Christ also have the Spirit of Christ.”  My definition is an epistemological one; truth therefore experience.  Paul’s is an experiential one; experience therefore truth.  Herein is the difference between me and Paul.  For me, everything is so cerebral (and you will see that in this post), but Paul was not scared of speaking of the experience of God just as much as the fact and truth of God.  This is why it is so tough for me to speak of something as an experience.  Yet, through hindsight, I do believe that I can now speak of somethings as actual experiences (though not in the sense of altered states or consciousnesses).  And those experiences are informed by scripture.

I see a sort of spectrum of experiences of the Spirit as outlined in the New Testament, ranging from the visible and dramatic, to the internal and subtle.  I will explain them in a kind of descending order, commenting on one which I no longer believe transpires.

Charismatic Phenomena

1 Corinthians details the charismatic gifts of the Spirit as experienced by individual Christians.  This is obviously the most dramatic, visible and verifiable experience of the Spirit.  Out of the 5 or so experiences I am going to list, this is the only one which I do not currently believe transpires today.  This will not come as a surprise to many of you.  However, what may come as a surprise is that my disbelief in such is not textually or exegetically based, but rather simply that I have never seen or experienced such.  What I mean is that the typical verses used to say that people no longer speak prophetically, for example, are not necessarily appropriate.  I will say more if someone requests so.  I have just never seen or experieced such nor do I know any people who have.  What do I make of this situation.  It could be that I just don’t get out much.  But I doubt that because I am surrounded by lots of Christians.  It could be that I and the Christians I know are simply turned off to the idea and thus not even susceptible to such.  But again I doubt that because, just speaking for myself, I would fully welcome any one of the charismatic gifts.  What I’m left with is some broadly based theological rationale as to why they are no longer necessary.  I must content myself with this until I have some evidence to move me in the other direction.  Chris (a commenter on my blog) has spoken of such things.  Maybe I should take his word for it.  Maybe I should ask for a video or some medical transcripts documenting the healing.  Then again, am I a sign seeker?  So for Chris (and this isn’t sarcasm), if you wouldn’t mind driving to Peoria and taking care of my eight year bout with intense stomach issues, please know that I am more than open to the offer of healing. 

You see, my skepticism about others performing miracles is not to be equated with a belief that God doesn’t or can’t.  I am fully convinced that God can and does do wonderful things which nature cannot explain.  I just question whether or not his people can still raise the dead and restore missing limbs.


Strong Emotional Experiences

Moving along the spectrum, it appears to me that there some strong emotional experiences which can be attribtued to the Spirit.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)

You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit (1 Thes. 1:6)

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:15-16)

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[a] Father.” (Gal. 4:6)

Love, joy and the intense cry of Father all seem to be strong emotional experiences directly related to the Spirit.


Deep Conviction

because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake (1 Thes. 1:5)


Intellectual Illumination

 12Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. 14But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Co. 3:12-16)

Really the whole chapter should be studied for some information about the ministry of the Spirit.  The point being made here is that because of the Spirit and Christ, new understandings are made possible.

17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Eph. 1:17)

14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom his whole family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:14-20).


Moral Energy

9Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Co. 6:9-11)


This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but it is a good sampling of the types of experiences which can be attributed to the Spirit.  Also, I have essentially let the passages stand on there own without much comment.  I can say more about each if anyone desires.


Sorry for being away from the blog; things have been hectic.  My family has been sick for about a month.  I went first with the nastiest flu bug I’ve had in a long time.  My wife followed suit with something similar, but with more stomach issues.  My youngest, Corinnne, decided to decorate my van (and other places) with her lunch.  While in Indiana for Lads, Catarina became sick and threw up about 20 times in a three day stretch.  She was a zombie.  Now my son Colin appears to be showing signs of something brewing.  Who knows what the morrow may bring, right?  Anyway, I’ll begin posting some things very soon.

As I’ve mentioned before, one common conception of the Holy Spirit among some churches of Christ is that His role was to help people perform miracles in the first century, confirm the deity of Jesus and then give us the New Testament before retiring to heaven for a sabbatical (except maybe to serve as an occasional prayer partner).  You’ll notice that this description of the Spirit’s role is primarily past tense.  However, many have become increasingly suspicious of this understanding of the Spirit.  I’m not sure about anyone else, but my move away from this understanding was prompted by the Bible’s use of present and future tense words to describe the Spirit’s role.  Recall the crucial and fundamental role the Spirit would play in the Messianic Age.  The N.T. declares that age to be a present reality awaiting a final consummation.  This is the dominant framework in which the Holy Spirit must be understood.  Any discussion that focuses primarily on personal piety or on past activity misses the eschatological nature of His role.  To borrow a couple words from Gordon Fee, the Spirit was conceived of in the New Testament as the certain evidence that new creation had been inaugurated and the absolute guarantee of its final consummation.  Thus, the “already/not yet” language of so many eschatological terms (salvation, redemption, adoption, inheritance, etc.).  A quick examination of three of Paul’s unique metaphors for the Spirit bears this out. 


Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Co. 1:21-22).

Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Co. 5:5).

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a depositguaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:13-14).

The word translated “deposit” is the Greek arrabon.  This metaphor only occurs three times in the N.T., all in Paul and all in reference to the Holy Spirit.  It is a technical term for the first installment of a total amount due (as attested by the Greek commercial papyri).  So you buy something in the agora or obtain hired services from someone and the funds used to secure the sale or service are referred to as the arrabon.  When the deposit serves in this capacity it establishes a contract and also guarantees its future fulfillment.  This is precisely the role the Spirit plays in the life of the believer.  The Spirit is the fundamental reason that Christians have assurance.  Yet we would miss the totality of the metaphor if we failed to emphasize that the party receiving the “down payment” is also under obligation to fulfill his part of the agreement.  I believe in Paul’s thought world the human end of the bargain would be described as “faith” or “loyal allegiance.”  In other words, the continual willingness to be led by that same Spirit which guarantees the future. 


We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23).

Perhaps no other passage in Paul is as explicit as this one when it comes to his “already/not yet” understanding of eschatology.  Any good farmer knows that the firstfruit of the crop serves to guarantee the rest of the harvest.  Paul’s understanding is that the Spirit is just that; the firstfruit–the guarantee of what is to come.  But how can Paul speak of awaiting adoption?  He has just previously in the same chapter spoken of believers as “sons” having received adoption.  Again, the Spirit solves the dilemma.  We have in some sense received the adoption and have become heirs through the Spirit; yet we await the consummation and total inheritance which also involves the Spirit (1 Co. 15–the whole chapter).

Paul uses very similar language to refer to Jesus as the “firstfruit” of the eventual harvest; namely, the resurrection.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Co. 15:20-23).

Very similar ideas emerge.  Jesus’ resurrection guarantees yours and mine.  Thus, Paul can speaking of “having been raised with Christ” and then turn around in the next breath and speak of the hope of being raised. 


The notion of the Spirit as a “seal” has been mentioned in passing above in 2 Co. 1:21-22 and Eph. 1:13.  Fee writes, “When used literally, a ‘seal’ usually referred to a stamped impression in wax, denoting ownership and authenticity, and carrying with it the protection of the owner” (God’s Empowering Presence, 807).  This is the only metaphor of the three which is not inherently future oriented.  It speaks to the present reality of the Christian’s assurance through the Spirit.  But Paul is not shy about making this term serve his future oriented purposes.  Eph. 4:30 speaks of the Spirit “with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  Even here Paul has kept his focus where it always is–The present experience of the believer as a foretaste and shadowing of the future glory to be revealed.


These three metaphors were enough to convince me some time ago that I better not minimize the Spirit’s role lest He minimize my future inheritance!  The New Testament’s (and the old for that matter) witness is decidedly in favor of a present and future task for the Spirit.  Why some are afraid of this I do not understand.  For Paul it is to have the opposite effect–assurance!  Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.

Romans: Anti-Imperial?

augustus1a1augustus1b1I am coming back now to some further discussion of the book of Romans.  I am still dealing with some introductory matters which are important before dealing with the actual text.  I must confess that the following discussion confuses and baffles me more than any other topic related to Romans (which I’ll explain shortly).  In 1997 Richard Horsley released a book which charted a new course in Pauline studies, Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society.  Horsley is the editor, with contributions from such notable scholars as Dieter Georgi, Helmut Koester, Neil Elliott and Elisabeth Shussler Fiorenza.  The studies were not new nor the conclusions novel, but the time was ripe for a wider readership and more cordial reception.  With the new found interest in Paul launched by E.P. Sanders, people were now ready to listen to something fresh.  That is exactly what Horsley and his colleagues have done–given us something fresh to think about.  Again, since Sanders, people have been open to the idea of hearing something other than “Justification by faith” in the book of Romans.  While never excluding that theme, some have found others to be just as prominent (if not more so).  It is the contention of Horsley that Paul intended the book of Romans to be an anti-imperial message subverting the grandiose claims of Caesar.  Here is where I can now explain my confusion.  The arguments in favor of this reading are so compelling that I cannot but think that these scholars are on to something.  BUT…hardly any mainstream scholars or commentators pay it any attention.  J.D.G. Dunn’s (who is one of my favorites) massive The Theology of Paul the Apostle hardly recognizes this theme at all.  In fact, were it not for Wright and Crossan, I probably would not have given it a second hearing (or maybe even a first). 

Is there, then, something in Paul’s letter(s) which DOES bring this to the surface?  The coin shown at the top of this post declares several things by it’s words and imagery.  The words declare Augustus (and subsequent emperors) as the Son of God.  The imagery (the corona civica=oak wreath) declares Caesar as the Savior of the world and the harbinger of peace, prosperity and righteousness.  Does Paul in anyway upstage Caesar with the message of Jesus?  That will have to be determined, but I think you can guess where I’m going.  What I want to do is investigate some of the words and concepts that were regularly ascribed to and associated with Caesar that Paul uses to describe Jesus.  This usage is either one of the greatest examples of coincidence in all of Paul, or one of the clearest instances of Paul’s deliberate, provocative challenge to Caesar and Empire.  Follow along, and you be the judge.

A new project is underway to try and advance dialogue between conservative and progressive members of Churches of Christ.  A new website, Grace Conversation, is hosted by two “progressives” (Todd Deaver and Jay Guin) and two “conservatives” (Phil Sanders and Gred Tidwell).  BTW, I hate labels, but sometimes they are the best way of communicating basic assumed ideas.  This promises (but we’ll see) to be a forum which moves past name calling and speaking past each other, to an arena for cordial dialogue in a Christ-like fashion.  My hopes are high and my prayers often, but cynicism and history are pulling strongly at my realism.  I hope that my hope is not a nope.  This site should be up and running in about a week.  Probably worth checking out.  If you are a reader here and not affiliated with Churches of Christ, you might enjoy the site as a case study in patterns of religion!

Thought I would throw up a link to a recent interview conducted by Ben Witherington with N.T. Wright.  The interview concerns Wright’s Surprised by Hope.  Surprised by Hope is already somewhat of a classic.  It’s a natural sequel to Simply Christian.  Surprised by Hope challenges the common view of “going to heaven when we die” with a resurrection/new creation schema.  If you are new to Wright, these two books (in the right order) would be the best place to start before attempting to work through some of his more scholarly works.  What makes the interview fascinating (at least to me) is that these are two of my favorite theologians and Witherington asks the questions that are on my mind.  Also interesting is the discussion which follows the interview between Ben and a blog visitor named davie.  Here is the link.

In the previous posts in this series I have briefly outlined a basic Jewish understanding of the Spirit’s role in God’s new age. To sum it up, the basic belief was that whenever God poured out His Spirit upon all men, that would indicate that God’s new age had arrived; that the long drought of the Spirit had come to an end, that God had renewed His covenant with His people, that God’s presence was with them in an extraordinary way, and that the Gentiles had finally been included in God’s people. So far so good. What is it that we find when we come to the New Testament? We find an amazing convergence of events and ideas that allow Paul and others to affirm that God’s promises had indeed been fulfilled.


In a passionate sermon to the crowd on Pentecost Peter declared in response to the outpouring of God’s Spirit:

“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
 17” ‘In the last days, God says,
      I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
   Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
      your young men will see visions,
      your old men will dream dreams.
 18Even on my servants, both men and women,
      I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
      and they will prophesy.
 19I will show wonders in the heaven above
      and signs on the earth below,
      blood and fire and billows of smoke.
 20The sun will be turned to darkness
      and the moon to blood
      before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
 21And everyone who calls
      on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Indeed the drought had ended.  Jesus declared during his ministry during the final day of the feast of Tabernacles:

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as[c] the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39  (And John’s addition)By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

This theme resonates throughout the remainder of the New Testament.  Notice all the instances in which Paul echoes this agricultural language in His references to the Holy Spirit:

  • And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)
  • He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5
  • For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Co. 12:13)



The sense of God’s abiding presence which was characteristic of the Wilderness Wandering and Tabernacle period was restored through the presence of God’s Spirit.

  • Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (1 Co. 3:16)
  • Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own (1 Co. 6:19)
  • For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:18-22)



I simply quote the entirety of 2 Corinthians 3 which makes the point quite clearly:

 1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

 4Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.            

7Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, 8will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

 12Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. 14But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.


I plan on now exploring some other important aspects regarding the Holy Spirit in some future posts.  By the way, has anyone else picked up on the idea that the Holy Spirit’s role is a little larger than giving us the Bible?  Just curious.

Sometimes immaturity seeps through, even on a theology blog.  Maybe I’ll do a post on the theology behind flatulence.

godThis will be my best attempt at making a difficult subject easy to understand.  As noted in the previous post on Romans, a basic hermeneutical issue related to the book as a whole centers around the letters theme.  Again, most agree that somewhere in Romans 1:16-17 the main theme emerges. 


16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[a] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”


For I am not (A)ashamed of the gospel, for (B)it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the (C)Jew first and also to (D)the Greek.  17For in it (E)the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “(F)BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

As was indicated previously, a decision is made on the part of the translators in translating dikaisyne theou.  Should it be “a righteousness from God” or “the righteousness of God.”  Let me first begin by saying that both are true and both are taught in Romans.  The Bible teaches that we are declared righteous by God.  The Bible also teaches that God is righteous.  So the issue is not one of heresy vs. orthodoxy, but one of exegesis.  We simply are trying to find out what Paul said in this particular verse.  Having said that, let me move forward by presenting why I believe “the righteousness of God” has the greater probability of being correct.  (I would also quickly note that it is not altogether unlikely for Paul to have both in mind as he pens this.  In fact, it might not be an either/or but a both/and, especially when it is understood that any discussion of God’s righteousness implicitly involves his setting things straight, including humans.  Thus, within this frame of reference it becomes more a question of which is primary and which is secondary). 

  1. Paul had at his disposal precise words which could be used to indicate the righteousness that comes from God.  In Phil. 3:9 Paul wrote, “and may be found in Him, not having (A)a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, (B)the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”  Paul uses a different set of Greek words here that unequivocally indicate a righteousness from God.  He uses he ek theou dikaiosyne.  Ek is the key word, meaning out of or from.
  2. The vast majority of the discussions of the righteousness of God in the Old Testament (and the Apocrypha and secondary literature for that matter) center around God’s faithfulness to His promises. 

Moving forward from this, I can elaborate a little bit on the second point.  First, the word “righteousness” is a classic example of a word that owes more to it’s Hebrew background than to it’s Greek.  In the Greek worldview, “righteousness” denoted a standard or ideal against which something or someone could be measured.  Something very much akin to this can be detected in the Bible.  However, in the Hebrew worldview, “righteousness” is much more of a relational term which emphasizes the meeting of obligations that are laid upon someone because of the relationship of which he/she is a part (1 Sam. 24:17).  This explains quite nicely why every time God’s promises seem to be in jeopardy, His people appeal to His righteousness as the solution to the problem.  In this reading, “the righteousness of God” could quite accurately be read as “God’s covenant faithfulness.”  Some further thoughts will bear out the likelihood of this frame of reference.

N.T. Wright does us a favor by highlighting the various strands of thought that were associated with God’s righteousness in Paul’s day and time.  He breaks them down quite nicely into the themes of Covenant, Law court and Apocalyptic.

Covenantal Themes

Wright notes that:

 “The phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ (dikaiosyne theou) summed up sharply and conveniently, for a first-century Jew such as Paul, the expectation that the God of Israel, often referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures by the name YHWH, would be faithful to the promises made to the patriarchs.  Many Jews of Paul’s day saw Israel’s story, including the biblical story but bringing it up to their own day, as a story still in search of a conclusion—a conclusion to be determined by the faithfulness of their God.  As long as Israel remained under the rule of pagans, the great promises made by this God to the patriarchs, and through the prophets, had still not been fulfilled” (Wright, Romans, 398).

Again, repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, God’s righteousness is appealed to as the source of salvation and vindication.  The passages are too numerous to list, but a reading of Isaiah 40-55 would substantiate the point.  Another aspect of this which Wright clues us into is the belief common among Paul and his contemporaries that they were in some sense still in Exile.  This is one of the main thesis of his massive work The New Testament and the People of God.  This belief is thoroughly documented there.  Within this framework, God’s righteousness is very much related to God’s fulfillment of His promises to Israel, including the forgiveness of sins, release from exile and the defeat of paganism.

A quote from the Dead Sea Scrolls will reinforce this common way of appealing to God’s righteousness:

  “As for me, if I stumble, the mercies of God shall be my eternal salvation.  If I stagger because of the sin of the flesh, my justification shall be by the righteousness of God which endures for ever…He will draw me near by his grace, and by his mercy will he bring my justification.  He will judge me in the righteousness of his truth and in the greatness of his goodness he will pardon all my sins.  Through his righteousness he will cleanse me of all the uncleanness of man and of the sins of the children of men.” (1QS 11:11-15)

Law court themes

Bound up very closely to the themes of the covenant God made with Abraham are the images from the law court.  In a Jewish legal case, “righteousness” is the status of the successful party.  “Vindicated” is probably a better term here (Gen. 38:26).  The term not only applied to the accuser or the defendant, but to the judge as well.  Thus, the righteousness of the judge on the one hand, and the righteousness of the parties involved, are clearly distinct.  Yet, they remain closely related.  Within the law court imagery, God’s  righteousness/justice conjures up the notion of God fixing things or setting things right (including, again, humans).  Of all the Psalms, 143 most vividly portrays the desire for God to act purely by grace to vindicate/justify the oppressed by defeating the enemy.  Again, the appeal is directly related to God’s righteousness (or read “God’s faithfulness to His promises”).  I quote in toto for the full force.

1Hear my prayer, O LORD,
         (A)Give ear to my supplications!
         Answer me in Your (B)faithfulness, in Your (C)righteousness!
    2And (D)do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
         For in Your sight (E)no man living is righteous.
    3For the enemy has persecuted my soul;
         He has crushed my life (F)to the ground;
         He (G)has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead.
    4Therefore (H)my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
         My heart is [a](I)appalled within me.
    5I (J)remember the days of old;
         I (K)meditate on all Your doings;
         I (L)muse on the work of Your hands.
    6I (M)stretch out my hands to You;
         My (N)soul longs for You, as a parched land. Selah.
    7(O)Answer me quickly, O LORD, my (P)spirit fails;
         (Q)Do not hide Your face from me,
         Or I will become like (R)those who go down to the pit.
    8Let me hear Your (S)lovingkindness (T)in the morning;
         For I trust (U)in You;
         Teach me the (V)way in which I should walk;
         For to You I (W)lift up my soul.
    9(X)Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies;
         I take refuge in You.
    10(Y)Teach me to do Your will,
         For You are my God;
         Let (Z)Your good Spirit (AA)lead me on level ground.
    11(AB)For the sake of Your name, O LORD, (AC)revive me
         (AD)In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.
    12And in Your lovingkindness, (AE)cut off my enemies
         And (AF)destroy all those who afflict my soul,
         For (AG)I am Your servant.

Israel would identify quite nicely with the sentiments of the psalmist.  A basic longing for an Israelite was to be vindicated by God in the presence of the enemy.  However, a second level problem emerges at this point.  Israel was called to be part of the solution to the problem of wickedness.  Does their subsequent unbelief somehow call into question God’s righteousness and put in jeopardy his covenant faithfulness to them?  This is a major theme of the book of 4 Ezra, written after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  So at the turn of the millennium various factions of Jews were clamoring for God to act to vindicate them as the covenant-faithful Jews (for example, the Essenes).


This desire for God to act in His righteousness was classically expressed in apocalyptic terms.  Some hear the word “apocalyptic” and automatically think of the end of the space-time universe.  However, apocalyptic imagery among the Jews served a different purpose.  Wright defines it as not “so much a state of mind or a set of beliefs about the future, but a way of writing that uses highly charged and coded metaphors to invest space-time reality with its cosmic or theological significance” (Romans, 401).  Thus “God’s righteousness will be revealed” was a coded way of saying that God would at last act in history to vindicate Israel.  It is no surprise then that apokalyptetai is used in Romans 1:17.

With all these themes in mind, hopefully you can begin to sense a much deeper and richer reading of Paul’s thematic statement that the gospel reveals God’s righteousness.  Is Paul concerned with how a person “gets saved?”  Sure.  But he has much more in mind than that alone.  Paul wants to show that in the events of the cross God has finally acted within history to demonstrate and reveal His righteousness/faithfulness for all to see.  Paul sees God’s future as brought into the present in the event of the cross.  Herein God displays his faithfulness to His covenant promises He made with Abraham.  Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles only makes sense within this eschatalogical framework; i.e., God’s purposes for Israel have been fulfilled, now it is time for the Gentiles to come in.

In this reading, “justification by faith” is important, but not the main theme.  God seems to be the theme more than me.  In fact, statistically the word “God” appears more frequently in this letter than in any other of Paul’s writings (once every 46 words).  Paul is showing the Romans what God has been up to and where they belong on the map of these purposes (Wright, 404).  I’m undone.

Mediterranean Sundance

Here is another one of my favorite guitar pieces. This eclipses the SRV video in terms of skill (but never passion) and speed. Who said songs need words anyway! Enjoy.