The Righteousness of God, Paul and Justification

The Righteousness of God, Paul and Justification

Membership in the one Abrahamic family of God

By: Joshua McClintock

Understanding the righteousness [tsĕdaqah/dikaiosynē] of God is crucial to understanding how Paul uses this concept throughout his writings.  Much of this paper is a regurgitation of N.T. Wright’s (Justification, 2008) and his full commentary on Romans (The New Interpreters Bible, a commentary in twelve volumes, vol. X); however I’d like to think I have had a few insights.  J.I. Packer has said, “The reason why these texts (Isaiah and the Psalms) call God’s vindication of his oppressed people his ‘righteousness’ is that it is an act of faithfulness to his covenant promise to them.”  In a broader sense, “God’s righteousness is, not least, his faithfulness to, and his powerful commitment to rescue, creation itself.”[1]  God’s righteousness is his faithful commitment to the covenants he makes;  through the family of Abraham, God would cover sin, overcome death and restore what was lost due to Adam’s failure.  Those who belong to the family of Abraham are those in whom God through his Spirit is using to restore his creation.  Jesus the Messiah is the outworking of God’s righteousness and his “resurrection … is, for Paul, the beginning of the entire new creation.  When God raised Jesus from the dead, that event was the divine declaration that he really had been his Son all along … The resurrection was the “vindication” [cf. Isaiah 50, Rom. 1:4, 1 Tim. 3:16] of Jesus, his “justification” after the apparent condemnation of the court that sent him to his death.”[2]

“But the resurrection is, for Paul, far more than an event which conveys truth concerning Jesus.  It is the beginning of God’s promised new age, which now awaits fulfillment when victory is won over all enemies, including death itself, so that God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28), when creation itself is set free from its slavery to corruption and decay, and comes to share the liberty of the glory of God’s children (Romans 8:18-26).  The death and resurrection of the Messiah are, for Paul, the turning-point of history–Israel’s history, the world’s history, even (if we can speak like this, not least in the light of the incarnation of Jesus) God’s history.  The gospel message, the proclamation of Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord, summons men, women and children—and, in a manner, the whole creation (see Colossians 1:23)!—to discover in Jesus, and in his messianic death for sins and new life to launch God’s new creation, the fulfillment of the single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world, the purpose through which, as a single act with a single meaning, sins are forgiven and people of every race are called into God’s single family.”[3] 

Israel viewing itself through the lens of Genesis 15, Deuteronomy 27-30 and Daniel 9, was finding itself in a seemingly unending loop of freedom and oppression according to the terms of the Mosaic covenant, they looked forward to the revealing of God’s righteousness according to the terms of the Abrahamic covenant.  “[M]any first-century Jews thought of themselves as living in a continuing narrative stretching from earliest times, through ancient prophecies, and on toward a climactic moment of deliverance which might come at any moment.[4]  When God did at last unveil his righteousness, it gave birth to a new covenant people.  Shortly following this event of events, a great issue arose among the new members of this believing community.  Those previously considered outside the family, now through the Spirit, were being accepted by God through their obedience of faith to the gospel message (cf. Acts 15).  “Who is a member of the family of God and what marks them out as such? Isn’t it the observances of Torah?”  “God has made a plan to save the world; Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful.  What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite.  That is what God has now provided.”[5]

What has left me unsatisfied with much of Western Theology is that it doesn’t account for, nor does it understand Israel in God’s single-plan-of-salvation-through-Israel-to-save-the-world.  The typical plan of salvation in the Western mind goes as follows:  It begins with The Creation, moves to The Fall and then to The Cross.  The largest part of the Bible (story of Israel) is then left out as largely irrelevant, strewn about the theologian’s cutting room floor, only to be thought of as, “Oh, yea…right. I guess I should say something about that.”  If we’re going to talk about salvation history, we ought to understand how Israel fits into all of it.  

Also neglected is the resurrection.  The cross is incomplete without the resurrection, the two are inseparable.  When the gospel is preached the focus is typically put on proving to the listener that he is a sinner of which the cross is the answer, only to leave out the new life found in the new birth.  Paul on more than one occasion emphasizes the resurrection in contrast to the cross and it’s importance to the status of the believer's faith and life.  In Romans 5:10, Paul actually links salvation to the resurrection and in 1 Cor 15:17, he actually states that if Messiah be not risen, you are still dead in your sins, thus linking the resurrection with expiation.  Even the basic Christian confession of faith bears the marks of both the cross and the resurrection, “… because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved Romans 10:8 ESV.” I’m not suggesting that we ignore the cross, I am suggesting that we start better integrating the resurrection into the gospel message because it is essential.  The point will be made later in this paper that the resurrection is actually the vindicated ground on which the believer stands in Him. Because Messiah was ‘found righteous,’ the believer shares in this vindicated status.

To telegraph the controversy a bit, the response to the new perspectives notions about Paul, in short, go like this.  “If justification in Paul’s language is about church membership, then you’ve elevated ecclesiology over soteriology!  Just the opposite of what the Reformers had accomplished against the Catholic Church.”  Is justification for Paul about membership as opposed to salvation?  Wright responds, “This is precisely the either–or we have to avoid, because the membership question–is the membership in the family of Abraham; and the purpose of Abraham’s family was to undo the sin of Adam.  Once you put that in the middle, everything becomes clear.  Why do you want to belong to the family of Abraham for goodness sake? Answer: because they are the people in whom the Adamic entail of sin has been dealt with!”[6]  In other words, unless you’re a son of Abraham, you’re still in your sin.  

This is exactly the reason why salvation history must be told in light of and indeed cannot exist without it’s Israel dimension.  “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:7 ESV).  Do you see the connection?  How can you be a son if you’re not a member of the family?  Faith justifies you into the family of Abraham, “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Gal. 3:9 ESV).  This is why being adopted into the family occupies much of Paul’s time.  Adoption connotes being accepted into a family.  Why does this matter so much?  Because if Paul can’t get you into the family of Abraham (if I can speak this way), then you’re lost. The opposite question the new perspectives will ask back is, “If justification is only about salvation, what is the purpose of being in the family of Abraham?  Why does that matter so much to Paul?”  The answer is because the blessing only comes to those in that family and no other.  What Paul will spend much of his time doing is defining for us what membership in that family means and how one enters it.


The classical works-righteousness-ladder-to-heaven scheme has mischaracterized the Jew of the First Century and continues to do so today.  I firmly believe that we must get Paul’s theology concerning God’s righteousness correct; this then will pave the way for us to properly understand justification which will in turn help us to understand Judaism not as a moral-works-righteousness religion, but rather as one which sought to uphold and maintain the relationship they had with their God, who by his grace had given them his Torah and covenanted with their (and our spiritual) forefathers.  “One of the great gains of the last quarter of a century in Pauline scholarship has been to recognize that Paul’s contemporaries–and Paul himself prior to his conversion–were not “legalists,” if by that we mean that they were attempting to earn favor with God, to earn grace as it were, by the performance of law-prescribed works. … They were, rather, responding out of gratitude to the God who had chosen and called Israel to be the covenant people and who had given Israel the law both as the sign of that covenant membership and as the means of making it real.”[7]  E.P. Sanders massive work drew attention to the Reformation’s incorrect assumption that Israel was attempting to gain God’s grace through it’s ‘works of the law’.[8]  Even if Sanders with this new perspective has overplayed the finding, D. A. Carson holding to the old perspective admits that he has a point.[9]  The Reformers were giving answers to the wrong questions.  The Black Death was sweeping across Europe which caused great concern about the afterlife, “How do I know I’m saved?”,  “Can’t I be granted an indulgence by the Pope through a fee and be sure of my entrance into Heaven?” These questions were not the great concern of second-temple period Judaism, nor was Paul writing against the Pope and his practices.  

Having taken on the role of Copernicus, the new perspective has viewed God’s righteousness over and against the older geocentric model which places imputed righteousness[10] at the time of justification[11] at the center of the heavenly bodies.  This system seems to have developed due to a couple (admittedly, this is an oversimplification) of faulty assumptions.  Firstly, following Luther’s overreaction with the Catholic Church’s use of distributive justice, he erred the other direction by placing too much emphasis on the individual and removing much of the importance around covenant faithfulness.[12]  Secondly, by assuming that Israel’s problem was that of trying to work it’s way to heaven through it’s own moral-merit works-based righteousness, which by and large is what he found so displeasing about his own attempts to find a gracious father through his own ritualistic life and mortification of the flesh,[13] Luther then read his own situation with the Catholic Church’s teachings backward into Paul’s writings.  In contrast to Luther’s anti-nomistic view which made Moses a villain, Calvin’s view, while viewing Moses more positively, still made Israel’s law-keeping out to be a demoralizing and depressing scheme which pointed the clear a path to the grace of Jesus; which isn’t bad, but it still assumes that Israel was trying to earn merit in God’s eyes.

Having assumed this, they constructed a scheme whereby “the righteousness of God”[14] was a moral attribute imputed to the believer at the time of a person's confession of faith in Messiah Jesus.  This new attribute now gives them a basis (to stand before an all holy God) and assures the believer that upon death and on the last day, they will be considered righteous because they now possess an attribute, which formerly only God could possess.  This righteousness they now possess only came by grace through faith and was not attained through any moral effort they could have mustered and certainly not through the works of the law.

Wright’s heliocentric new perspective[15] on God’s righteousness, having incorporated much more of the evidence into account, has rearranged the heavenly bodies to now show that “God’s righteousness,”[16] his faithful commitment to the promises he makes, is the principle around which all of Paul’s theology orbits.  The outworking of this righteousness was the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, the perfect Israelite, Messiah Jesus who through his faithful obedience, even unto death, was vindicated by God who raised him from the dead.  This righteous status rendered by the judge is now available to the believer who through their confession of faith–justifies them into the one family of God–bringing the future unknown verdict of the last day (which specific works of the law sought to mark out) into the present–which will then be reaffirmed at the final accounting (in which God will render to every man according to his works).  This verdict when rendered, will be ‘righteous’ or ‘found in the right’ for all of those in the one Abrahamic family of Jews and Gentiles who are now in Him.

The old perspective, throwing it’s hands up, exclaims; ‘“Isn’t this “ecclesiology” as opposed to “soteriology”? [to which Wright’s new perspective responds] Of course not.  It is ecclesiology (membership in God’s people) as the advance sign of soteriology (being saved on the last day).[17]

Why does all of this matter?  When we subscribe to the old perspective, we have (perhaps) unwittingly accepted a view of Paul which doesn’t make complete sense of him.  Instead we’ve replaced him with a “fictitious character of our own invention, cobbled together from such Pauline jigsaw-pieces as we already know and like, forced together with the power of self-assured dogma, and stuck in place with the glue of piety and pastoral concern”;[18] the result of all of this, not the least of which is an incorrect reading of scripture, is the implicit slander of Jews both then and now.

Judaism then, is viewed as, the wrong kind of religion, it’s adherents are now the bad guys which sermon after sermon loves to hate.  To set a boundary in the other direction.  While to be politically correct and subscribe to a theology which would exempt all Jews from confessing Jesus as Lord is certainly appealing, it simply cannot co-exist with Pauline thought.  That said, let’s be fair about how we characterize Jews and Judaism.  Jews do not view their own relationship with God in terms of works-of-the-law moral-merit-self-righteousness; they instead view Torah as God’s gracious gift; “what great nation is there, that hath a god so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is whensoever we call upon him … what great nation is there, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law … ? (Deut 4:7-8 ESV)”  Because of this, having been born into this covenant relationship, they respond out of gratitude to the law giver, maintaining the covenant he made with them.  They observe the Mosaic law with the attitude of simcha shel mitzvah (“joy of mitzvah performance”).[19] If we continue to misunderstand Paul, we further estrange our closest faith-based friends and cause others to do so as well.  Our mission is to them and the world (cf. Acts 1:8).

The great issue for Paul when discussing justification is not a war between legalistic observances of the law vs. grace through faith to obtain salvation; rather it is the re-assigning of Israel’s belief that Torah observances are what define membership in the family of God.  

One has to ask the question, “If God gave the law to Israel through Moses and asked them to keep (shâmar – to exercise great care over[20]) it –and I might add this is said over and over and over again (34 times just in Deuteronomy), how is it this doesn’t equate to legalism way back then?”  Is it just that Moses is a long way from Paul, therefore, as long as it’s a thousand or so years, then it’s not legalism, but when Paul comes along, all of a sudden Israel is now guilty?  Highly doubtful; this makes it seem as though God thought he’d try out the law first to see how it would work; then seeing that Israel wasn’t wholly faithful, he then decides to send his own son to get the right result.  What we’re encountering here in Paul’s writings are enormous amounts of friction caused by Gentiles entering the family of God alongside the existing Jewish believers who for a millennia had been a part of Israel which viewed themselves as separate from the ‘sinners’ or Gentiles (cf. Gal. 2:15); a people set aside for God.  We see this very phenomena in Paul’s disapproval of Peter’s actions which he calls him out on (cf. Gal. 2:11-21).  

If indeed Israel was attempting to work it’s way to heaven, at what point did Israel move from proper observance to legalism?  Depending on your understanding of salvation by grace through faith, is there even such a thing as proper observance?  Are Moses and the rest of Israel doomed from the start?  I suggest that the root of this confusion is the misunderstanding of how righteousness is understood both in the Old and New Testaments.

When we read righteousness in the OT and understand it to mean a ‘moral-quality-imputed-to-the-believer’ the result is confusion.  If however, you understand righteousness as a ‘status-in-the-eyes-of-the-court,’ then I believe we can make better sense of it.

Let us consider the story of Judah and Tamar.  The average reader (when using the imputation model) will assume that Judah is saying that Tamar has more moral righteousness than he does.  Why this comes off as really confusing is the fact that Tamar dressed up as a prostitute to get Judah to sleep with her to produce offspring.  Why we’re confused about Judah’s statement (cf. Gen 38:26) is the fact that we believe what is in view is moral righteousness, when it simply is not.  Judah isn’t saying that Tamar is morally more righteous than he is, he is saying that according to the terms of the law of the Levirate Marriage (cf. Deut 25:5-6, this was not only an Israelite custom, hence in effect prior to be codified in the law) and more to the present situation, his own words to Tamar about giving her his son (cf. Gen 38:11); Tamar through her actions proved to be found right in the eyes of the court, since Judah failed to provide his last son Shelah to Tamar; Tamar ends up causing the law to be fulfilled where Judah had broken it.  Therefore, in Judah’s own words, “She has been more righteous than I.”  Not morally more righteous, but rather, in the eyes of the law more righteous.  Righteousness is seen or made real when the terms of a covenant are enforced or adhered to (e.g. that judge rules in righteousness because he upholds the law whereas that judge destroys the law by his unrighteous ruling).  Daniel 9 reflects this exact same sentiment and will be discussed later.

Following on the heels of the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5), Moses the Servant of God, proceeds to define for us what righteousness is.  When you read righteousness here, try to plug in ‘self-righteousness’ or ‘moral-righteousness.’  Then read it again and plug in ‘lawfully-righteous’ or ‘our right standing in view of the covenant agreement’.  Which one makes natural sense of the passage?

“And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness (tsĕdaqah) for us, if we are careful (shâmar) to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us (Deut. 6:24-25 ESV).”

Saul laments his own pursuit of unrighteousness concerning the persecution of David, “You are more righteous than I,” says Saul to David (cf. 1 Sam. 24).  Previously, David had said, “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? … May the Lord be our judge and decide between us.  May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”  Clearly the righteousness here is the right standing David has before the judge contrasted with the lesser standing Saul has.  Again, this isn’t a contest of moral worthiness that David hangs his hat on.  It’s the status David will have when the judge justifies him due to his keeping of Torah.  David expects that the righteous judge will rule justly according to the standard and render a positive verdict for him.  That is, for God to deliver him.  David has been found righteous and Saul unrighteous.

Nehemiah helps us here as well, “You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous (Neh. 9:7-8 ESV italics mine).”

The difference between self-righteousness and lawfully-righteous is that the first one says “I am the standard,” the second says, “I’m meeting the standard.”  A judge is considered righteous if they rule according to the law, without partiality and taking no bribe.  In it’s basic sense, righteousness, “connotes conformity to an ethical or moral standard.”[21]  To be righteous in this sense isn’t about doing something to gain moral superiority as if to bank-up tokens of good deeds to spend on entry into heaven (how many would be needed?); it is doing the thing which meets the standard.  One is considered to be righteous or just in the eyes of the court if one is found to be meeting the standard; just as one is found to be unrighteous if they are found guilty of violating that same standard.  Israel wasn’t trying to work it’s way to heaven–in fact they would argue the opposite is true– ‘“All Israel has a share in the world to come. As it reads [Is. LX. 21]: "And thy people-they will all be righteous, for ever shall they possess the land, the sprout of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may glorify myself."  The following have no share in the world to come: He who says that there is no allusion in the Torah concerning resurrection, and he who says that the Torah was not given by Heaven, and a follower of Epicurus.”’[22]

Based on Isaiah 60:21, the Pharisees of the first century arrived at this conclusion, and the accusation made against those who don’t believe in the supernatural strongly allude to the sect of the Sadducees.  This disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees parallels what we find in Acts 23:8 “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. (ESV)”  So in their own view, they did not believe that they (at least the Pharisees) needed to work for God’s grace; his grace was already shown to them by his covenant with Abraham and the giving of the Torah through Moses which they loved and cherished.  They obeyed the covenant because they said they would (cf. Ex. 24:3), and because they properly considered God’s righteousness, that is, he would bless or curse based on their keeping (shâmar) of his commandments, but were always looking forward to how God would reveal his righteousness (commitment to his promise) concerning the covenantal promise to Abraham.

“Torah thus functioned, implicitly at least, within not only a covenantal framework but also a broadly eschatological one.  The “age to come” would see Israel vindicated at last.  But the way to tell, in the present, who would thus be vindicated in the future was to see who was keeping Torah (in some sense at least) in the present.  The debates within Judaism at the time, which were often extremely fierce, tended then to turn on the question: what exactly does it mean to keep Torah in the present?”[23]  Or in Paul’s own words, what does it meant to be “blameless under the law.”

‘“For Saul the Pharisaic codification of Torah gave the indication of what Israel’s God wanted from his people.  He performed the “works of Torah,” attaining a standard that he had regarded as “blameless.”  No doubt this included regular repentance for unintentional sins, and regular offering of sacrifice; “blameless under the law” is not the same as “sinless,” and the remarkable ascription of the latter to Jesus in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is not something we can imagine even Saul of Tarsus saying of himself.  These “works of Torah” were neither an attempt to earn the covenant membership he already had by God’s grace, nor an attempt to add his own merit to the grace he had been given.  They were an attempt, he would have said, to do, out of love and obedience to Israel’s God, the works which would function as a sign in the present that he was part of the people who would be vindicated in the future, on the last day, when God would act in his long-promised judgement and mercy.”’[24]

This issue is witnessed to in 4QMMT which is the only extant manuscript outside of the NT which contains the phrase, “some of the precepts of the torah”[25] along with the phrase “shall be reckoned to you as in justice”[26] in the context of Deut. 30 (the covenant renewal).  This text was found in the mid 1950’s among the Dead Sea Scrolls and published in 1994.  Since this time, it has given rise to an enormous amount of speculation since it gives us a sectarian perspective and context regarding the use of these two phrases which occur in the NT (cf. Romans 3 and 4 and Gal 3)   The writer of the letter states, ‘“These are the specific works … which will show in the present that you are the people who will be vindicated in the future.” …  And this is set … within an exposition of the same passage in Deuteronomy 30 that Paul expounds in Romans 10, and for exactly the same reason.  Deuteronomy 30 is the point where the Torah itself points to the renewal of the covenant, which Qumran believed God had put into effect in their community, and Paul believed had been put into effect through Jesus the Messiah."[27] Contrary to Qumran sectarian belief, Paul reasons that “[i]f God justifies people in the present, ahead of the final judgement, faith must be the characteristic of those thus justified.”[28]  Qumran had supposed that through it’s particular and specific prescriptions concerning aspects of the law, that they had marked themselves out as the true family of God.  These specific works (precepts) of the law (as opposed to sabbath, circumcision, etc which were all assumed) served to show in the present that they would be vindicated in the last day.  

The Qumran community or sons of light would receive new members who would prove they were all along predestined to be such by selling all of their possessions and giving the proceeds to the community.  Having developed a theology of double predestination[29] this community saw itself prevailing in the last day.  The sons of light as the united twelve tribes of Israel, would eventually clash and finally prevail over the sons of darkness in two sets of wars.  The first of which would pit Israel against it’s immediate oppressors (the kittim); both sides are aided by supernatural forces in six confrontations of which both sides achieve three victories.  In the seventh and final battle, God tips the scales by his own hand causing the sons of light to prevail, thus vindicating their position.

The point is that Qumran believes ‘“(a) the covenant exile is over, and God is at last inaugurating the new covenant; (b) you are members of God’s renewed covenant people; but (c) you need to keep these regulations (not simply “Torah”) as in the Mosaic law, but these specific post-biblical regulations, interpreting Torah for the new situation; and (d) this will demonstrate in the present time that you are the people who will be vindicated in the future, on that last day; thus (e) “it will be reckoned to you as righteousness.”’[30]

Israel’s (and I think is more proper to say, the various sectarian groups within Judaism, as variegated as it was) belief that specific observances of Torah (what is likely their Oral Torah/Tradition) were what marked out those considered to be members of the family of God is what Paul is taking issue with.  Paul not only must refute this claim among his fellow Jews who would subscribe to a particular tradition, but also as Gentiles begin to enter the body of Messiah, some of the original Jewish members we’re getting upset about their non-observance of the historical bedrock identifiers of the ‘people of God’: sabbath, circumcision, etc.

The proper contrast then is: works-of-the-law vs. faith-in-God’s-ability-to-bring-about-his-promises for what justifies a person into in the family of God.  In Paul’s theology, Torah observance has revealed to us (Jews) that we’re transgressors, we’re not able to successfully keep it all; Torah has also erected a barrier between us and the gentile, preventing the one family of God that was promised.  Torah also seems to be preventing God’s promises to Abraham from coming to pass; Israel appears to be in a no win situation and will perpetually be stuck in a place where it cannot move forward; however in God’s paradoxical answer to the problem, that promise which looked as though it was being choked by Torah, deliverance, found it’s answer in Torah all along in the follow sense:

“When deliverance comes, it will be seen to be by God’s grace alone.  Secondly, sin itself needed to be dealt with, not merely ignored;  Torah was right to draw attention to it.”[31]  It took a descendant of David which Torah had foreseen, through whom Israel would find itself summed up, to offer a perfect offering of obedience through complete faithfulness, even unto death.  This perfect offering by Jesus the Messiah was accepted by God who then rendered the verdict, righteous, by raising him from the dead.  We then who are in Him will have the same verdict rendered to us, though, we don’t need to wait for the final judgement, by our obedience of faith (confession with our mouth Jesus is Lord and belief in our heart that God raised him from the dead–the basic Christian confession), we instantly move that previously unknown verdict into the present and we know that the verdict will be ‘righteous’, ‘found in the right’, ‘just in the eyes of the court’.

Paul must move Israel’s belief that what makes someone a member of the family of God from the works-of-the-law to faith-in-God’s-ability-to-bring-about-his-promises (or now that Messiah has come faith-in-Messiah-Jesus-who-is-the-fulfilment-of-God’s-promise), this is the wider circle (at least in terms of it hinging on a concept which predated the Mosaic Law) which would include both Jews and Gentiles, this then is what marks out the true circumcision–true, in the sense of we are the circumcision.  The basic argument is as follows: “Israel, yes, Torah, Circumcision, Sabbath, etc, were all given to us, which set us apart from the nations.  The purpose of this was to produce a people who would take God’s Torah and live it out before all nations as a witness to them, we were to be a light to the world (Isaiah 9), a city set on a hill (Isaiah 2).  Ultimately though, Torah has revealed our sin.  We squandered the ‘oracles of God’ given to us, the divine message entrusted to us with the purpose of sharing it.  We may not hide behind Torah and say that its observances are what make us members of the people of God.  We are in the same condition as the obviously sinful Gentiles.  We belong in the dock alongside the accused pagans; what is now needed is a solution to the sin problem that we both share.  The answer is: the perfect Israelite.  This is exactly what God has provided, his righteousness has now produced one!”

Imputation of righteousness seems to only makes sense if we understand that Israel was trying to ‘work-up-the-ladder-to-heaven’ by it’s own boot straps.  If indeed that were true, it does seem to follow that they would then need the ‘perfect moral quality’ imputed to them to be made acceptable or have a proper basis to stand before a perfect God.

Wright argues that our status as righteous is not imputed to us.  He provides us the example of the courtroom where God sits as judge.  What the prevailing party needs is a positive ruling, to be found righteous toward the law.  When does a judge impute their own ‘status as just’ to the plaintiff or defendant they are presiding in a case over?  In fact, if we were to observe this or were privy to some prior agreement between them, we might very well expect that afterward they would go out and grab a drink together–to be certain this would raise eyebrows—did the prevailing party pay off the judge?  ‘“John Piper insists that God requires a moral righteousness of us, and that since we have none of our own God must reckon or impute such a moral righteousness from somewhere else–obviously within his scheme, from the “righteousness” of Jesus Christ.  I [Wright] can see how that works.  But “righteousness,” within the very precise language of the courtroom which Paul is clearly evoking, most obviously in Romans 3 [it’s also important to understand that in this Hebrew court, there are no attorneys, just the plaintiff and defendant.[32]], is not “moral righteousness.”  It is the status of the person whom the court has vindicated.  And, yes, God has vindicated Jesus himself, by raising him from the dead, as is said explicitly in 1 Timothy 3:16 but indicated also in Romans 1:4.  And, yes, that vindication is indeed the context within which the vindication of the believer is to be understood.”’[33]  Since Jesus dealt with our sin, we are now able to share in this vindicated status.  Had Jesus died and not rose from the dead, we don’t have a vindicated status to stand in.  Even if our sin was placed on him, we have no hope of resurrection.  On the flip side, if he died without taking on our sin, and had been resurrected, we could not share in that vindicated status, because our sin was not dealt with.

Since God’s righteousness is not a ‘moral quality’ and rather is ‘covenant faithfulness’ then we cannot read ‘God’s righteousness’ as something which he imputes to the believer.  Based on this then, we understand that Israel was not trying to ‘work-up-the-ladder-to-heaven,’ but rather responding to God’s grace by maintaining their status in the covenant, imputation in it’s current form, no longer has a place; however what is now needed is a righteous standing before the court, seeing that Torah has revealed transgressions.  The old perspective has developed it’s theology based on what look to be faulty premises and this theological bias unfortunately is promulgated in some of our more popular translations.

The NIV and NRSV by translating “the righteousness of God” attempt to draw attention to the fact that this status comes from God (as opposed to a status which would arise from human effort); Romans 10:3, “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness (NIV).”[34]

  1. The first occurrence of righteousness means a ‘moral quality’ God gives to his people

  1. The second occurrence of righteousness means a ‘moral quality’ Israel had sought to achieve by their works of the law (classical legalism).

Wright’s new perspective in his commentary on Romans suggests this should be understood differently based on righteousness meaning “the entire sweep of covenantally loyal actions God has undertaken from Abraham to the Messiah.”[35]  Instead, in Wright’s translation, “God’s righteousness” gives the impression of a righteousness belonging-to-God indicating his attribute of covenant faithfulness.  With this in mind, he has suggested the following; Romans 10:3, “For, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish a righteousness of their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”[36]

  1. The first occurrence of righteousness means the ‘covenant faithfulness’ of God (which Paul argues is realized in Messiah Jesus, this is the outworking of God’s righteousness, his commitment to fulfill the Abrahamic promise), they are ignorant of what God was up to all along, that God had finally made good on his promise to Abraham in this strange Messiah-shaped fulfilment.

  1. The second occurrence of righteousness means a ‘status of covenant membership in which the principle of [Romans] 9:6-29 would be quietly set aside; this would be a status for all Jews, and only for Jews.  No pruning down to a remnant; no admission of Gentiles (except by becoming full Jews through proselyte initiation).  This is the “righteousness” they sought to establish: a status that would be “their own.”[37]

  1. The third occurrence of righteousness, is the same as the first, again meaning ‘covenant faithfulness’ of God (which Paul argues is realized in Messiah Jesus, this is the outworking of God’s righteousness, his commitment to fulfill the Abrahamic promise).

It’s difficult to see how classical imputation fits if righteousness here means ‘God’s moral quality’, “they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”  Isn’t imputation a gift which should be received?  Wright’s understanding makes more natural sense of this verse, God’s righteousness (the-outworking-of-his-plan) is that which Israel is ‘ignorant’ of and because they attempted to set aside for themselves a status of family membership which would include only Jews, they did not submit to God’s plan of a justification (family membership) which would include both Jews and Gentiles through faith.  It’s important to understand that Jews of Paul’s day were concerned about knowing in the present who would be considered members of the family of God on the day of judgement, because that membership guaranteed salvation.  This is why competition among various sects of Judaism argued with each other about who was properly keeping the law according to their interpretation; based on this, one would know if they were a child of Abraham.

What the family of Abraham including Israel, and indeed all of humanity needed was a wholly faithful and perfect exponent of God’s Torah who would render unto God that which Israel had historically denied.  We are simply seen as ones who are ‘in the right’ because we are summed up in Messiah Jesus (cf. 2 Chr. 10:16,  2 Sam. 20:1– Israel saw itself as being summed up in David, the son of Jesse – this is why it’s important that Paul lays out that the gospel is connected to the Davidic dynasty in Rom. 1:3 cf. 2 Sam. 7:1-29, 1 Chr. 28:4-7).  What can be said of the perfect Israelite, Jesus, can be said of his people, the family of God, those who through their obedience of faith are now ‘in Him’ (in Messiah).  Again, imputation is replaced by vindication-in-Messiah as Wright says, “vindication is indeed the context within which the vindication of the believer is to be understood” as stated earlier.

Imputation may better be understood in terms of sharing in the resurrection, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5 ESV).”  Since we share in the resurrection, we share in that same vindication, that status of being found right in the eyes of the court.  We who are now united with him, being buried and raised to new life through baptism, our lives should reflect this in that, ‘“those who are “in the Messiah” now stand, and must walk, on resurrection ground. … [T]he baptized are in one sense already raised, and must behave accordingly, while in another sense they are still to be raised in the future”’[38] on that great day.


I think it's more true to say that when God looks at Jesus he sees you, than to say, when God looks at you he sees Jesus.  I think this sums up one of the more significant differences between Wright's view vis-a-vis Piper's regarding Justification.  Classically in the imputation scheme, each believer stands before the judge and Jesus is said to be their defense attorney, however, I think this muddies the waters.  Jesus is the one making intercession before the father, standing before him as the high priest would do for Israel on the Day of Atonement representing all the people.  Because we are in Him, we are there with him today, “seated in heavenly places.”

If Abraham’s faith is just an example of how imputation comes by faith, then why does Paul make a point about being a member of Abraham’s family or what constitutes membership (cf. Gal 3:7, Romans 4:16, 9:6-8) in that family, let alone the fact that Paul states that Abraham and his family would be heir to the world (Romans 4:13)?  Because it’s the family of Abraham in whom the entire Adamic entail of sin has been dealt with.[39]  This is why the language of adoption and sonship is important to Paul.

Paul compares Torah to the pedagogues, which was a tutor, hired in the Roman days to look after a child prior to their being ‘adopted as a son’.  The tutor’s responsibility was to look after the child, keep them from harm as well as provide a strict hand of punishment when it was appropriate.  The child, even though being a son, was not able to exercise any of the authority of the estate of which their parents owned until such time as they reached the appropriate age and were officially ‘adopted’.  

Paul makes the point that the son’s position prior to being adopted is no better than that of a slave in the house.  Just as the slave isn’t vested with any authority, neither is the un-adopted son.  Paul compares Israel to the child and Torah to the pedagogues; he stresses now that we’ve been ‘adopted as sons’ that we mature, exercise our authority by our obedience of faith which marks out our place in the family of God.  So “know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:7).”  ‘“I, through the Torah, died to the Torah, that I might live to God;  I have been crucified with the Messiah, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but the Messiah lives within me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live in the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  What has happened not just to Paul, not just to Peter, but to all those Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah.  The Messiah’s death and resurrection reconstitutes the people of God, in a way which means that they come out from under the rule of Torah and into the new world which God himself is making. … [W]e discover what dikaiosynē really is.  It denotes a status, not a moral quality.  It means “membership in God’s true family.”  Peter had supposed, for a moment at least, that this “righteousness” was to be defined by Torah.  That was why, suddenly feeling guilty when James’s men arrived, he quickly “rebuilt the wall of Torah” he had formerly torn down, separating himself from table-fellowship with Gentiles.”’[40]

To revert back to believing that the ‘works of the law’ make us members of the family of God is absurd;  But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor (Gal. 2:17-18 ESV). 

What Paul is saying is this, “My argument is this: in Messiah, the partition of Torah separating both Jews and Gentiles has been torn down.  We being Jews, who through this endeavor to be justified in Messiah have now been found alongside the Gentiles as sinners (does this mean Messiah promotes sin, no it doesn’t, it just means that contrary to popular belief, we are in the same condition as the Gentiles), because Torah revealed this to us putting both of us on the same side–however–through Messiah we both then overcome the sin problem.  If I rebuild this partition (saying that Torah observances are what constitute membership in the family of God), all I’ve done is erected a sign which says to us Jews, ‘You’re a transgressor’ and on the other side to the Gentiles, ‘You need not apply (except by proselytization).’  We’re right back to where we started.  I then build up again that which I’ve already argued has been torn down through the Messiah.”  “Either you stay in the Jew-plus-Gentile family of the Messiah, or you erect again the wall of Torah between them.”[41]

A great deal of Galatians is about what marks out our membership in the family of God.  In the ‘imputation’ scheme, how can one ‘endeavor to be justified’?  If one understands justification in the ‘what-marks-someone-out-as-a-member-of-the-family-of-God’ scheme, it fits perfectly.  The endeavor is the argument Paul has been building and is now trying to convince his reader with which states that Torah puts Jews alongside the Gentiles in the dock of the courtroom; in this endeavor to be justified, ‘we (Jews as opposed to Gentiles) too were found to be sinners’.  Our status as members of the family of God is marked out by our confession of faith.  So then, the hope was that this obedience of faith would unite both Jew and Greek in Messiah.

This is a succinct summary of the exegesis from Galatians regarding Justification (Wright Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 121-2):

  1. “Righteousness” denotes the status enjoyed by God’s true family, now composed of both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus the Messiah.  The lawcourt metaphor behind the language of justification, and of the status “righteous” which someone has when the court has found in their favor, has given way to the clear sense of “membership in God’s people.”
  2. “Justification,” as in the verbs of Galatians 2:16-17, two positive and two negative, denotes the verdict of God himself as to who really is a member of his people.  The criterion on which the verdict is based, for the negative verdict, sin:  Israel under Torah cannot be declared to be God’s people, because the Torah merely points to sin.  For the positive verdict, the criterion is the Messiah:  the Messiah and his faithfulness unto death, the death to which he gave himself to “set us free from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4, echoed in the “giving of himself” in 2:20), are the basis on which God makes the declaration “Here are my people.”
  3. The people over whom that verdict (“righteous,” “members of God’s family”) is issued are those who are “in the Messiah” (Galatians 2:17), who have died and risen with him (Galatians 2:19-20), who believe in him (Galatians 2:16, 20).

I think it’s important to deal with the striking language in Romans 10:3-4 which is too often trotted out to prove the Jew’s supposed works-righteousness-moral-merit scheme.  The following quote will be somewhat lengthy, but I think it’s important to understand Romans 10:3-4 as these verses are too often allowed by both preachers and scholars to stand almost by themselves; to prove some works-righteousness-ladder-to-heaven on the part of Israel.  This in fact is about Israel trying to set up for themselves a membership based on Torah observance, which would be theirs and theirs alone, excluding all others, except through proselytization.  Again, the point is that Torah observance never was the true marker for membership in the family of God, but rather, that marker is faith.

“The main theme of the passage [Rom. 10:1-13] is the covenant renewal, and covenant redefinition, that has taken place in the Messiah.  God has done what he always promised; and what he had promised, in the crucial Deuteronomy 30, was that after the punishment of exile he would restore Israel, enabling it to keep the law in a new way [the law of faith].  The Israel of Paul’s day, his kinsfolk according to the flesh, did not understand this; they did not, in other words, understand the dikaiosynē theou, the righteousness of God.  They did not understand either how God had been true to the covenant all along, or how he was now doing exactly what he had promised in renewing that covenant and bringing Gentiles into membership, by faith, alongside believing Jews.  But the covenant renewal that has taken place in and through Jesus the Messiah, the world’s true Lord, is—so Paul argues—the renewal spoken of in Deuteronomy 30.  

At its heart is faith: faith in this Jesus, faith that is open to all, faith by which all may be saved. … [In 10:3] Paul now explains … what it is they are ignorant of, and what they have been doing as a result.  Unfortunately, his meaning has remained obscure because of the different ways in which the phrase dikaiosynē theou and its variants have been understood … The NRSV (following the RSV) and the NIV assume that the first occurrence of the phrase denotes the status that God’s people have, a status now bestowed upon faith; and that calling this “the righteousness of God” draws attention to the fact that this status comes from God (as opposed, say, to arising from human effort).  The assumption is then that the second occurrence refers to the kind of status people attempt to set up for themselves, which in much traditional interpretation has been the status of a “works-righteousness” resulting from keeping the law, or a more general moral effort.  … I propose a different way of reading the verse, which makes more detailed sense in itself and in its relation to the wider context.  The most natural way of taking the first and third occurrences of … dikaiosynē in the verse are to refer to God’s own “righteousness”—the quality of equitable covenant faithfulness that has been the main theme of Romans in general and of 9:6-29 in particular.  The second use (… tēn idian dikaiosynēn) refers to the covenant status that Israel according to the flesh had thought to set up for itself.  The verse should then be understood, I suggest, as follows:  

“For, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish a righteousness of their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”  

There is no need, in fact, for each occurrence of “righteousness” to refer to the same thing.  On the contrary, the sense is much clearer if they do not.  It is true that the status of “righteousness” that believers enjoy is a gift from God; but this is not, here or elsewhere, what the phrase “the righteousness of God” indicates.  The final use in the verse is telling: “they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”  This is difficult to square with the idea of “a status that comes from God”; one would “receive” this, not “submit” to it.

How then does the verse, read this way, fit into the larger sequence of thought?  As in 1:17 and 3:21-6, God’s righteousness is God’s own equitable covenant faithfulness, God’s utterly reliable loyalty to the promises to Abraham.  And the whole point of 9:6-33 is that this is what it has meant for God to be utterly reliable and loyal to his promise to Abraham.  This is what “God’s righteousness” looks like in practice.  It is not as though the word of God has failed.  The problem is that Israel according to the flesh never realized this, never understood what God was doing, in fulfilment of the promise and through the strange Messiah-shaped purpose.  “God’s righteousness” is a shorthand, here, for the entire sweep of covenantally loyal actions God has undertaken from Abraham to the Messiah.  Paul’s kinsfolk, like his own earlier self, have remained ignorant of it all, unaware that this is what God was up to and that it was what God has said all along.

As a result, they have not submitted to this covenant history.  They have resisted it, like the wicked tenants in Jesus’ parable (Mark 12:1-12 and par., culminating in the rejection–and vindication–of the “stone” the builders refused), hoping to claim the inheritance for their own.  They have attempted, in other words, to setup a status of covenant membership in which the principle of 9:6-29 would be quietly set aside; this would be a status for all Jews, and only for Jews.  No pruning down to a remnant; no admission of Gentiles (except by becoming full Jews through proselyte initiation).  This is the “righteousness” they sought to establish: a status that would be “their own.”  This does not refer to a status they might have achieved by moral effort, by climbing up a ladder called “works,” but to a status that would be theirs and theirs only.”[42]

So then, how is one actually made a member of the family of God?  It’s an individual’s obedience of faith.  Paul shows us that this is the proper and only response to the ‘revealing of the righteousness of God’.  To confess with one’s mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in ones heart that God raised him from the dead.  This is the obedience of faith.  

Packed into this statement we find a reference to shema (cf. Deut 6:4-5).  Obedience is translated from the greek word hypakoe which is a compound from the verb akouo meaning “hear.”  Regularly in the LXX (hypakoe) translates שמע (shema – “to hear”).[43]  Suffice to say, there are overtones to Paul’s language here that go deep into the very citadel of Jewish monotheism and which should be explored as a prerequisite to understanding the kingdom of God and how it developed.  Firstly, by receiving the kingdom in Jewish thought, entering or coming into the kingdom in Jesus’ halakhah (an extension of this same Jewish thought) and Pauline thought concerning inheriting the kingdom through this most revered affirmation[44] which Paul calls, “the word of faith” in Romans 10:6-8.  After quoting from Deut. 30:11-14,  Paul suggests or more likely intends a fresh reading of this venerable scripture which would be the appropriate way to understand God’s historical covenantal outworking of his plan.  Paul in effect is saying, “the covenant has been renewed, following the devastation of exile, through the Messiah’s coming from God and his resurrection from the dead.  This has meant that God has brought his ‘word’ near to you, placing it on your lips as you confess Jesus as Lord, writing it on your heart as you believe that he was raised from the dead.”[45] The righteousness of God is revealed in his Messiah, Jesus.  Therefore God ‘is righteous’ because he fulfilled the promises that he made to Abraham beginning in Genesis 12 with his call, unconditionally covenanted in Genesis 15, and culminating in Genesis 22 when God declares to him that “through your seed all the nations of the world would be blessed.”

It’s assumed by the old perspective that Paul is reinforcing his point (cf. Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11) about those who are justified are done so through faith and quotes from Hab 2:4.  Which is correct, however, when righteousness and faith(fulness) are understood properly, the would be bolster to the imputation scheme disappears and is replaced.  Within context, “Habakkuk speaks of a time when the cosmos seems to be shaking, and God’s people are called to be faithful while they await the revelation of God’s covenant justice and faithfulness.  God promised Abraham certain things which encompassed the entire single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world, and the proper response to a promise–particularly a promise from God!—is to believe it. … If God justifies people in the present, ahead of the final judgement, faith must be the characteristic of those thus justified.”[46]  Faith and faithfulness are characteristics of those of the family of Abraham, the righteous person in context here is the one who holds firmly to the promise, even though it looks as though God is not living up to his obligations.  We can benefit from taking a closer look at this verse.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith (fn. or his faithfulness) ESV.”  

The English translation ‘by his faith’ of the Hebrew phrase בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ literally (by-the-faithfullness-of-him) should probably be the secondary reading, one ought to be aware of the theological bias.  The phrase reads:

… but a righteous one (וְצַדִּיק) by the faithfulness belonging to him (בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ) he shall live (יִחְיֶה)

While the Hebrew word order is confusing to us, the meaning of emunah is not as much so.  The middle word, emunah, means firmness, faithfulness, fidelity; “[b]asically, the term applies to God himself (Deut. 32:4).”[47] 

Contrasting the arrogant man whose soul is puffed up and presumably trusts in himself, the righteous will live by his faithfulness (arguably–to the covenant [which isn’t just the conditional covenant, but in the wider scope, suggests his believing that God will fulfill his promise to Abraham in the unconditional covenant]); however “… the complex textual evidence suggests that God’s own ‘righteousness’ or ‘faithfulness’ may have been the more natural subject of Habakkuk in the first place.”[48] What gives weight to this is the fact that the LXX translates this same passage as, ek pisteōs mou which translates ‘on the basis of my faithfulness.’[49]  The answer given in v. 2:4 is likely to the question in 1:3 that the prophet poses to YHWH the judge in the form of a lawsuit[50]:

“Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,

and you cannot look on wrongdoing;

why do you look on the treacherous,

and are silent when the wicked swallow

those more righteous than they?”

This isn’t a contrast of moral worthiness, rather it’s a call for God to make good on his position as the just judge.  With this scenario set before you righteous God, you must find in favor of us, the oppressed and abandoned and clearly not in favor of the wicked and treacherous!  The verdict for them will be negative and the one for us positive (cf. Psalm 101).  The prophet isn’t appealing to God on the basis of self-righteousness, but rather, on the basis of God’s own righteousness, that is, for him to uphold the standard which he has set.  “If and when God acts in covenant faithfulness, then, his people will be vindicated:  the ‘righteousness’ of God will result in the ‘righteousness’ of his people.”[51]

The question of Abraham’s faith (faithfulness) is leveraged by Paul to stake out what actually makes someone a member of the family of God.  The Torah, while perfect, is both a barrier to the Jew because it reveals sin and secondarily has erected a barrier of separation against the Gentiles.[52]  This is why it’s vital to Paul that this fresh revelation and solution take place ‘apart from the law’ (Rom. 3:21a), but equally vital that new the thought is, it is the very thing that God promised beforehand (Rom. 3:21b).  Indeed, a solution which is outside of Torah is good news to both the Jew and Gentile.

God gave the law to Israel to produce a mature and perfect people.  A nation set aside for himself which would minister to him and be a light to the world.  The story of Israel is one of triumph and failure, over and over again.  “Here is the leitmotif of biblical theology.  The Torah gives direction to Israel on how to relate to the Creator, his people, and his world.  Sin ruptures that relationship, but repentance brings forgiveness and restoration to fellowship.”[53]  However, no matter how bad it got, God never gave up on his people because of the unconditional promise made to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Deut 7:7-10).  This promise is what undergirds all of the other covenants; this one is unconditional, Israel cannot nullify it through its malfeasance. “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! … (Rom. 3:3-4 ESV)”.  Ultimately though, Israel would fail to live out the great commission given to them.  To be a city set on a hill, a light to the world and an example for all nations.  

What then is needed is a perfect Israelite, this is why God called Abraham in the first place, because through him and his family and his seed, he would reverse the death Adam and Eve brought into creation through their sin.  This is why a complete view of redemption doesn’t end with humanity, but humanity is summed up in the entire creation; which God has all along intended to restore.

In Genesis 15, God asks Abraham to prepare for a covenant ceremony which in this form meant it was to be taken very seriously.[54]  God is going prove his words which he spoke to Abraham concerning the promise he made him. “How will I know?” asks, Abraham.  What is key and particular about how this ceremony is performed, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is that God performs the ceremony on behalf of Abraham.[55]

After falling into a deep sleep, God visits Abraham in a terrifying vision so he can view what is taking place, but not as a culpable participant; that is to say, Abraham couldn’t through his imperfections or malfeasance somehow give God cause to not have to uphold his end of the arrangement.  Much like infidelity would give the other spouse cause to leave the covenant.  Abraham’s (and his future family Israel) infidelity would not constitute a breaking and subsequent annulment of this covenant.


When the sun goes down, God appears in the form of a smoking oven and flaming torch and passes between the pieces himself![56] Even though the agreement is with Abraham, he is not held responsible for bringing it to pass, only that he ‘believe’ that God can.  This is the foundation on which the righteousness of God will finally be revealed.  Paul is I believe pointing to the fundamental premise that, believing God will bring about what he has promised (that he will be faithful to his covenant), is the same as indicating your intent to participate in the unilateral covenant God through his grace established with Abraham.  

Pointing to Abraham as only an example of faith to somehow prove that works must extend from faith misses Paul's intent.  Paul leverages the passage in Habakkuk 2:4 to emphasize that it's the belief that God's righteousness will in the end produce that which was promised.  The righteous man shall live by his faithfulness (to God's promises–which will mean the deliverance of Israel from it's oppression by the wicked).  If the LXX is in view, the righteous man shall live on the basis of my (God's) faithfulness.  The one who shall live is the one who faithfully anticipates the unveiling of God's righteousness.  Either way, the ultimate hope is in God's right and just outworking of his promise to the unconditional covenant with Abraham (in their day, however that was to be accomplished).  Paul declares to us (in his day) that this has now taken place and has taken the form of Messiah Jesus who is 'the righteousness of God now revealed.'

Abraham by faith in believing that God would make good on his promise was shown to be upholding his end of the covenant.  This was credited to him as righteousness, found right in the eyes of the court.  That is, Abraham by faith showed his intent toward keeping the covenant and God in effect said (paraphrasing Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22), “Yes, by my grace I have covenanted with you and your descendants, by your faith in my ability to bring about what I have promised, you have demonstrated your commitment and intent to uphold the covenant I made with you (this is righteousness–and marks you out as a member of my family), but you are not responsible for bringing it to pass, nor can anything you do nullify my intent to do so.  My blessing I intend to bring to all the nations will occur through your seed Abraham.  I have spoken it, sworn by myself and I will cause it to happen.”

“How then does this faith arise?  Have we not backed ourselves into a corner where “faith” of this sort has become a “work,” a really good, indeed striking and remarkable, “religious” attitude which then commends itself to God?  Not at all.  Paul does not explain the full answer at the present point of Romans, but he has hinted at it.  “The gospel is God’s power for salvation”: the preaching of the gospel, in the power of the Spirit, is the means by which, as an act of sheer grace, God evokes this faith in people from Abraham to the present day and beyond.  It is a mystery, but it is held within the larger mystery of that same overarching divine grace.  “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’” (the basic Christian confession of faith) “except by the Holy Spirit.”[57] 

This covenant God made with Abraham and by extension with all Israel can be compared to the unconditional love a parent has for their child.  This always upholds the basic relationship between them.  Israel whilst a child and continuing to be upheld by the unconditional covenant, was given additional covenants namely, God’s instruction on how to live life to it’s fullest (Torah), mediated by Moses, which was conditional (cf. Deut 27-30).  These would be not just be the you shall not(s), but also just as important the you shall(s)!

That is to say the loving of the LORD your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and loving your neighbor who is like yourself; with reminders along the way from the prophets to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before your God.  These things are associated with a parent who both loves and cares for his child hoping that one day they will become mature and responsible to do what is right and just.  

So God’s single-plan-to-save-the-world-through-Israel moves forward.  But what if Israel is part of the problem?  Due to their repeated disobedience, God brought the curses the covenant demanded.  The child always knows that even under the most horrible consequences of disobedience, the parent still upholds their faithful commitment of love towards them.  Israel realized the oppression they were under was due to their disobedience and because God is righteous, he curses them according to the terms of the covenant.  Their faith in God’s righteousness is what gave them hope; that righteousness which cursed them, is the same righteousness they could access, with a broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51) to bless them according to the covenants’ promises.  Listen to Daniel lean into the character of God as he calls upon his attribute of righteousness.  He confesses Israel’s sin, just punishment and expectation of redemption.

“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep [shâmar] your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances.  We have not listened [shema’] to your servants the prophets … To you, Lord, belongs righteousness [tsĕdaqah] but to us belongs open shame.  

To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him … All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey [shema’] your voice.  So the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against you.  He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers, by bringing upon us a calamity so great … Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us.  We did not entreat the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity ['emeth – same root as faithfulness]. So the LORD kept watch over this calamity until he brought it upon us.  Indeed, the LORD our God is right [tsaddiyq] in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed [shema’] his voice.  

And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and made your name renowned even to this day–we have sinned, we have done wickedly.  O Lord, because of your righteousness [tsĕdaqah], let your anger and wrath … turn away from your city.  

We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness [tsĕdaqah] but on the ground of your great mercies.  O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay!  For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!  (Daniel 9:4-19)”[58]

Daniel is appealing to God, not on the basis of the Israel’s righteousness (it’s important I think to distinguish here between self righteousness and unrighteousness, these are two different things which when put onto the text, cause the reader to understand the text one way versus another.  Daniel in his appeal is talking about Israel’s un-righteousness, not Israel’s self-righteousness); which is no righteousness at all, because their failure to uphold the conditional covenant, which is why he can’t appeal to God on this basis.  

Hypothetically speaking, had they been in this same condition but were keeping God’s commandments, then Daniel could appeal to God on the basis of Israel’s righteousness and God would be expected to respond by delivering them according to the terms of the conditional covenant, God must be just, he must be righteous to keep his promises.  This is the essence of the faithful remnant’s confusion and subsequent plea in Habbakuk.

God acted justly and was righteousness when he brought calamity upon them (cf. Deut 28), it was the proper response according to the terms of the agreement he made with them and Daniel tells us this is so, “Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us.  We did not entreat the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity. … Indeed, the LORD our God is right in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed his voice.”  

His fidelity to the covenant was shown to be sure, when he brought the calamity, had they reasoned properly, they would have known that by disobeying, God would be just and would bring calamity upon them.  Pretending God won’t act, all the while, merchandising in sin contrary to the terms of the covenant was delusional.  

Daniel is pleading Israel’s case now that he knows the 70 year sentence has almost been served (cf. Dan. 9:2, Jer. 29:10) and is saying, yes we deserve everything you’ve brought on us; but now, “O Lord, because of your righteousness, let your anger and wrath … turn away from your city.”  Daniel is now appealing to God’s righteousness; which are his great mercies which he gave them in the covenant (Deut. 30).  We are sorry, we are contrite, please hear us!  We’ve asked for forgiveness, you said you would forgive!  Be just!  Let your character be true!  For your own name’s sake, restore your people and your city which bears your name!

Wright commenting on Romans 3:21 illustrates for us the answer Daniel was pleading for, ‘“The righteousness of God is revealed” … in other words, that for which the prophets (particularly Isaiah) and the psalmists longed had come to pass.  God had unveiled the covenant plan, had drawn back the curtain on the grand design; and this had been done, not in the sense merely of communicating information, but in action, as had always been promised. “Revelation” here means more than just the passing on of knowledge, important though that is as well; it means the unveiling of God through a historical event.  Though it would not be strictly accurate, it would not be very great hyperbole to say that, for Paul, “the righteousness of God” was one of the titles of Jesus the Messiah himself.  God’s saving justice walked around Galilee, announced the kingdom, died on a cross, and rose again.  God’s plan of salvation had always required a faithful Israelite to fulfill it.  Now, at last, God had provided one.”

Prior to this In Romans 3:9-20, Paul lays out support for his argument that Israel belongs alongside the Gentiles in the dock with a string of scriptural quotations, which in and of themselves prove that point.  What one discovers however when they actually go to read these quotes in context is that Paul telegraphs the thrust of his next point, but also in his litany of proof texts, is also allowing us to track his overall thought which is that of God’s redemption (in the face of horrible sin) which Paul is building toward.[59]

When the list concludes, Paul, echoing the shift in focus of the plea in Daniel 9, lays out the answer: but now, "apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Messiah Jesus for all who believe."  

While either rendering is possible (“through faith in Jesus” or “through the faithfulness of Jesus”), ‘“the entire argument of the section strongly suggests that it is Jesus’ own faith (pistis) that is spoken of and that the word here means “faithfulness,” not “faith” … This is not to say that Jesus himself was “justified by faith.”  Nor does Paul envisage him, as does Hebrews, as the “pioneer” of Christian faith, the first one to believe in the way that Christians now believe (Heb 12:1-3).  Nor is his “faith” a kind of meritorious work, an “active obedience” to be then accredited to those who belong to him.  To be sure, Paul would have agreed that Jesus believed in the one he called Abba, Father, and that this faith sustained him in total obedience; but this is not the point he is making here.  The point being that Jesus has offered to God, at last, the faithfulness Israel had denied (Rom. 3:2-3).”’[60]  The righteousness here is the perfect Israelite's unwavering and unswerving faithful commitment to the keeping of the conditional covenant even unto death which then leads to the outworking of God's unconditional covenant; the promise to Abraham that his seed would bless the nations has now been realized.

As Israel was baptized through the sea (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1) and then led into the wilderness to then be tested.  So also Jesus was baptized and led into his tests in the wilderness.  Where Israel failed in their tests, the perfect Israelite, Jesus, passes them (cf. Matt. 4:1-11, Deut. 6:4-5, 6:16 and 8:30).  Jesus then proceeds to live the fullest life through his halakhah (his walk or Torah worldview which he would teach his disciples), preaching the kingdom of God (a renewed Exodus) that had arrived in his person, not only raising the bar on current observances which can be heard in his Sermon on the Mount and also in his statement, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees …,”[61] but also in proving his status as son of God by being raised from the dead (Rom. 1:4) which was proof that God had vindicated his life and his purpose.  Should we expect anything less from the perfect Israelite?

Again, the righteousness of God is not his righteousness being ‘imputed’ to you.  Rather, ‘God’s righteousness’ or ‘the righteousness of God’ has always been the ‘outworking’ of his faithfulness to the promises he makes.  All throughout scripture when God judges, he always judges righteously, meaning that unlike us imperfect parents who sometimes dole out too lenient or too harsh a punishment for wrongdoing;  God always blesses and curses in exact proportion to the good or bad behavior according to the conditions of the covenant he made.  According to the unconditional covenant made with Abraham (cf. Gen. 15), God’s personal attribute of always being righteous produced the perfect Israelite (cf. Rom 3:21a), Jesus is God’s righteousness now revealed.  “God has done what he always promised; and what he had promised, in the crucial Deuteronomy 30, was that after the punishment of exile he would restore Israel, enabling it to keep the law in a new way [the law of faith].”

Being in Messiah is what grants us our verdict of ‘just’ or ‘found in the right’ in the eyes of the Son of Man when he comes in glory (cf. Matt. 25:31-33 the cosmic judge).  This status provides (many blessings, see the final sentence for a more complete list, but for the sake of this argument and brevity) the following two things.  Firstly, it brings the future unknown verdict that the Son of Man will render when he comes to judge the world into the present.   Secondly, it assures you that the verdict will be rendered in your favor and that it will read ‘righteous’, ‘found just’, or ‘found in the right’ in the eyes of the court; “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21 ESV).

Jesus the Messiah is the ‘revealing’ and to say again, the ‘outworking’ of that righteousness (God’s unwavering and wholly faithful commitment to the promises he makes).  We then by our obedience of faith (cf. Deut. 30:11-14, Rom 10:8-10), that is to say, our confession with our lips that Jesus is Lord and the belief written in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we are saved (i.e. the verdict is in right now, and it reads — righteous, just, found in the right), not because his righteousness is imputed to us, but rather because we are summed up in Him! (cf. 2 Tim. 1:9, Eph. 1:4, 1:7, 2:6, Rom. 6:23, 8:38-39, 1 Cor. 15:22, 2 Cor. 1:20, 5:21, Gal. 3:26, Phil. 4:7).

[1] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 65

[2] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 106 (Wright notes that within the context of the others things stated above this, that he doesn’t mean that Jesus became Son of God here, but rather from the human perspective and for Paul’s argument, this resurrection proved this status to the doubters)

[3] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 106

[4] ibid 59

[5] N.T. Wright. Justification, God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 68

[6] N.T. Wright. unbelieveable with Justin Brierley: St. Paul and Justification – debate between N.T. Wright and James White 9/2/2013 

[7] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 460

[8] If you accept, at least in theory, that second-temple Judaism believed that one was a Jew by God’s choice, election and covenant, and then must perform the works of the law to maintain and then to inherit the ultimate blessings of membership, how was this further-lawkeeping to be understood theologically?  Isn’t this then the point at which Jewish “legalism” has been exposed?  This is to state it simply, ‘“The key question facing Judaism as whole was not about individual salvation, but about God’s purposes for Israel and the world.  If God was going to be faithful to the covenant, what form would this take, when would it happen, and who would be the beneficiaries when it happened?  The “present age” would give way to the “age to come,” but who would inherit that “age to come”?”’ N.T. Wright. Justification, God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 75-6

[9] N.T. Wright. Justification, God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 74  The work commissioned by Carson et al, entitled Justification and Variegated Nomism to research the same ancient sources Sander did, will not bear the weight put on it to unseat Sander’s primary argument and actually to some extent confirms it; it however does show that Sanders has to some extent overplayed his conclusion in trying to sum up all of Israel’s different sectarian beliefs under one umbrella called Covenantal Nomism, it’s rather a Variegated Nomism, meaning while there is a core of similarity between all of these beliefs, they don’t all agree with each other on the particulars.


[11] ‘“The greatest problem facing the contemporary reader in understanding what Paul means by “a person is justified” is that centuries of usage of the English word “justify,” and of its Latin root and its French and German equivalents, have assumed that “to be justified” meant much the same as “to be converted,” “to be born again,” “to become a Christian.”’ … “the usage of of the term “justification” in Christian theology does not correspond exactly to the more precise Pauline meaning … [this has spoiled] the exegetical endeavors of those theologians who have sought to ground their views in Paul.”’ N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 481

[12] With iustitia distributiva God simply rewards virtue and punishes vice; Luther proposed an alternative which in some ways was equally misleading, for it directed attention away from the biblical notion of God’s covenant faithfulness and instead placed greater emphasis upon the status of the human being.  See article for greater clarification:

[13] Martin Luther: The Reluctant Revolutionary PBS Documentary

[14] This translation of dikaiosynē theou gives the reader the impression that righteousness is something God gives.

[15] The Dodd-Daube-Davies troika led (, in many ways, to the so-called New Perspective on Paul; with Sanders work following in their footsteps.  Wright distances himself in many ways from this; but does use their insight as a launch pad from which he will then advance to set himself apart.

[16] This translation of dikaiosynē theou gives the reader the impression that “God’s righteousness” is an attribute belonging to him.

[17] N.T. Wright. Justification, God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 146-7

[18] N.T. Wright. Justification, God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 36

[19] Solomon Schechter: Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: 148 The Joy of the Law

[20] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (shâmar): 939

[21] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (ṣedeq): 752

[22] Mishnah Tractate Sanhedrin 11.1

[23] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 76

[24] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 147



[27] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 76

[28] ibid 208

[29] See David Flusser’s Judaism of the Second Temple Period: Qumran and Apocalypticism — ‘“God determined who would be righteous and who wicked. “You, you alone have created the just man, and from the womb you determined him for the period of approval to keep your covenant … to open all the narrowness of his soul to eternal salvation and endless peace without want … the wicked you have created … from the womb you have predestined them for the day of slaughter.”’ pg 13

[30] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 145

[31] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 123-4


[33] N.T. Wright. Justification, God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 92

[34] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 654

[35] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 655

[36] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 654 (Note: Several good MSS (including A and B) omit … dikaiosynē in the latter phrase.  It is easier to explain this in terms of scribes tidying up an apparently overly repetitive sentence than it is to explain the addition of what, by the same token, would have seemed to many a redundant occurrence.

[37] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 652-5

[38] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 538

[39] Albeit late, there is some Jewish thought from around the 4th century CE, which understands the call of Abraham as God’s answer to Adam’s failure, “Perhaps in the proper order of things, Abraham should have been the first man created, not Adam. God, however, foresaw the fall of the first man, and if Abraham had been the first man and had fallen, there would have been no one after him to restore righteousness to the world; whereas after Adam's fall came Abraham, who established in the world the knowledge of God. As a builder puts the strongest beam in the centre of the building, so as to support the structure at both ends, so Abraham was the strong beam carrying the burden of the generations that existed before him and that came after him.” Genesis Rabbah

[40] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 120-1

[41] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 119

[42] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 652-5

[43] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 420

[44] See Solomon Schechter’s Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: 66-67 on receiving the kingdom, See Bivin and Tilton LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua on entering the kingdom, See N.T. Wright’s JESUS AND THE IDENTITY OF GOD for greater depth of Paul’s reinterpretation of Deut. 6:4-5 and Deut. 10:17 which forms 1 Cor. 8:6, which I believe connect a pre-Christian stream of Jewish thought to the present confessing ‘affirming’ of Jesus as Lord.  In effect, Paul has reinterpreted shema in terms of affirming Jesus as God.

[45] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 664

[46] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 208

[47] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (‘emûnâ): 116

[48] N.T. Wright. Paul and the Faithfulness of God: 1468

[49] ibid: 1468 italics mine

[50] ibid: 1469, Wright notes that the commentary which Qumran wrote on Habakkuk also includes a law court scenario; albeit a human one instead of the divine.

[51] N.T. Wright. Paul and the Faithfulness of Godas: 1469

[52] N.T. Wright. The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 469

[53] Marvin R. Wilson. Our Father Abraham: 138

[54] This unconditional covenant was made in the fashion of an ancient near east ceremony where the two who were entering into a serious covenant with each other would recite the terms as they passed through the divided pieces of animal carcasses.  This was done with the recognition that if one of the two were to break the terms, that they would end up no better than the carcasses they were passing through.  

[55] Based on Bruce Waltke’s interpretation, “Note that only God walks between the carcasses, signifying that the covenant is not conditioned upon Abraham’s future action, but based on Abraham’s past faithfulness.” Bruce Waltke with Charles Yu. A Old Testament Theology: 319  Also see Jer. 34:18 where this same type of covenant is in view.  This is known from an 8th Century BCE Assyrian text from North Syria which includes the following clause, “This head is not the head of a lamb, it is the head of Mati’lu.  If Mati’lu sins against this treaty, so may, just as the head of this spring lamb is torn off … the head of Mati’lu be torn off, and his son” (J.B. Pritchard, “Treaty between Ashurniari V of Assyria and Mati’lu of Arpad,” Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. J. B. Pritchard, trans. and annotated William F. Albright et al. [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969], 532).

[56] The smoking oven and torch seem to represent God.  The oven could be a reference to an offering being accepted, God accepts a sacrifice by consuming it with fire, leaving charred remains (although, this doesn’t seem to be an offering so much as a ritual).  The torch may simply be the way he’s presented himself, at other times in the burning bush or even the pillar of fire which went before them at night in their wilderness wanderings, the torch may also be seen as Mt. Sinai.  The smoking oven since it’s likely a clay vessel, might also be God’s proxy for Abraham, with himself as the torch.

[57] N.T. Wright. Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 209-10

[58] N.T. Wright.  Justification God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision: 62 italics and [brackets] mine

[59] N.T. Wright.  The New Interpreter's Bible — A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. vol. X: 457-8

[60] ibid 470

[61] In Jewish literature, specifically in Mishna pirke avot 1:1c, the sages say, 'put a fence up around the torah.’  Why do this?  The explanation is to keep the commandments from being broken, as a garden is fenced in to prevent accidental damage.  One of the curses is that God would deliver Israel into the hands of foreign oppressors (cf. Deut. 28:33) if they disobeyed.  By the time we get to Jesus' day, the Jewish nation had a keen awareness of keeping the torah as God had laid out having been trampled by foreign powers and then restored under the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and now the Romans.  Jesus in his sermon on the mount is actually driving at the same goal (the spiritual renewal of Israel).  Jesus puts a fence around the torah.  He drives the point home that we should recognize the condition of the heart which leads to the act which would then break the law.  He says, if you have lusted after a woman in your heart, you're already breaking torah.  The fence Jesus put up circumscribed what even his contemporaries had constructed, hence, if your righteousness doesn't exceed that of the Pharisees, you will in no way likewise enter the kingdom of Heaven (his movement, not salvation as we understand it).  The edge of the fence is set out wider now.  To keep (shamar) the commandments means to check one’s own heart to see if it’s thoughts and intent are pure.  This saying of Jesus is somewhat difficult to swallow. One, because we wrongly associate the kingdom of Heaven with going to Heaven.  Two, because we also don’t understand why Jesus would be advocating acts of righteousness with getting there.  Three, we don’t understand how Jesus is using the term righteousness.  I think David Bivin captures what this phrase is referring to well in his book ‘Understanding the difficult words of Jesus’ pg. 109-110, I think it captures the more important thrust of the saying, but not it’s entirety, I see a kal v’achomer (as I believe Bivin does too) setting Jesus’ halakhah over and against that of his contemporaries.  Righteousness in some Jewish circles had become about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting which is a secondary meaning, Jesus is drawing on the earlier meaning of righteousness in terms of salvation (which I feel is the outworking of God’s plan) and I think Bivin is pointing more to the classic assumption that these Jews were trying to work their way to heaven?  But that may not be what he’s saying exactly.  “Alsmgiving the was the most important of the 3 and became synonymous with righteousness.  In Matthew 5:20 Jesus is playing on these two meanings (“salvation”) and the newer more narrow meaning (“almsgiving”) so in effect, If your tsedakah is not bigger than the tsedakah of the scribes and Pharisees–in other words, if it is the undersized tsedakah of the scribes and Pharisees, and not that mighty tsedakah of which the prophets spoke—then you will not get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”  The next issue is what does Jesus mean by the Kingdom of Heaven.  In summary it is Jesus name for his kingdom movement, his body of disciples, and to enter or come into the Kingdom of Heaven means to become a disciple or believer.  If your righteousness is reduced to almsgiving, Jesus admonished, you will not be in my movement, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Wright notes however that, “Even when two words denote the same thing, they will often connote different things” pg. 71 Justification

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