God's Perfect Righteousness

Described

God’s righteousness refers to the fact His nature, thoughts, feelings and actions are always right or correct. God’s righteousness means He Himself is the final absolute or perfect standard of what is right and just. What He is by nature is right. What He has decided is right is right and just is just. What is contrary to His nature is wrong. What He has determined is wrong is wrong and unjust is unjust. No one decided for God what is right and wrong, just and unjust.

God’s righteousness also refers to the fact all His commands, rewards and punishments are absolutely just and right and involve no favouritism towards anyone. (As we will see later in Chapter "Rewards 1", some of God’s rewards are based to some degree on His unmerited grace also.)

God is absolutely righteous in the sense there is nothing in His nature, thoughts or actions which is contrary to His own perfectly right standards. God is also perfectly righteous in the relative sense that He never treats any human, angel or demon in an incorrect or unjust manner.

Explained

God’s righteousness was not given to Him by someone else. He always has been and will be perfectly right in everything He is, thinks, feels or does. His righteousness had no beginning. God’s righteousness is His own total consistency with His own nature and being. Harris, Archer and Waltke describe the standard of God’s righteousness "being His own will and nature as the Supreme Being". God is inherently right by nature.

In Psalm 89:14, we observe one of the foundations of God’s throne is righteousness or justice: "Justice and judgement are the habitation of thy throne…" (King James Version). Psalm 97:2 speaks similarly. Psalm 33:5 shows God loves righteousness and associated perfect judgement: "He loveth righteousness and judgement…" (King James Version). Psalm 11:7 says similar things.

Psalm 19:8-9 states that whatever God commands or judges is right or just: "The statues of the Lord are right…The judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." Isaiah 45:19 shows whatever He says is right: "…I, the Lord, speak righteousness. I declare things that are right."

God’s righteousness is linked to His holiness

God’s righteousness is closely linked to His holiness. His absolute holiness expresses itself in:

  • the establishment of right commands or standards for humans and angels.

  • the rewarding of those who follow His right commands.

  • the punishment of those who reject His right commands (see Genesis 2:17, Romans 1:32 and Hebrews 2:2). The holiness of God demands that evildoers be justly judged and punished (see Revelation 6:10).

Isaiah 5:16 shows God’s holiness expresses itself in His perfectly right nature, thoughts, decisions and actions: "…God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness."

His righteousness is His justice and some other key things

Everything about God’s nature and acts is righteous or right. His nature and acts include His justice, faithfulness to His covenants, His saving grace, mercy, love, redemption of believers, reconciliation of believers to Himself, judgements, supreme rule and so on. So each of these are expressions of His righteousness. Therefore in a broad sense, God’s righteousness includes far more than His justice.

But note in many contexts in the Old Testament, God’s righteousness means solely His justice. God’s justice is an expression of His twin roles as Supreme Ruler and Judge. When God dispenses His justice, He does this not merely like a judge in a court. His Throne-room and Court-room are combined. Psalm 9:4 refers to God sitting "on the throne judging in righteousness."

In Psalm 98:9, the Hebrew words "sedeq" and "mishpat" are used together in relation to God’s righteous judgements. "Sedeq" means "righteousness" and "mishpat" means "judgement, justice". Psalm 98:9 states: "for He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world…"

In Psalm 9:4, 9:8, 98:9 and Jeremiah 11:20, the Hebrew words "sedeq" and "shaphat" are linked together in reference to God’s righteous judgements. "Shaphat" means "judge, govern; act as law giver, judge or governor; decide controversy; execute judgement: vindicating, condemning and punishing". Psalm 98:9 states: "for he is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity." Psalm 9:7-8 declares: "But the Lord shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgement. He shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgement for the peoples in uprightness."

Jeremiah 12:1 and Zephaniah 3:5 link the Hebrew words "saddiq" and "mishpat". Brown, Driver and Briggs say in these two verses, "saddiq" means "just, righteous in government". Zephaniah 3:5 says: "The Lord is righteous, He is in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He never fails, but the unjust knows no shame." In Jeremiah 12:1, Jeremiah questioned God about His earthly judgements of the wicked: "Righteous are You, O Lord, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You about Your judgements. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?"

Psalm 7:11 refers to God’s role as just or righteous judge: "God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day."

Psalm 72:1-2 uses the Hebrew words "sedeqah" and "mishpat" (verse 1) and "sedeq" and "din" (verse 2) together in relation to the Messiah judging His people righteously. "Sedeqah" means "righteousness". In the context of this verse, the word "din’ means "act as a judge, minister judgement". Harris, Archer and Waltke say "din’ "represents God’s government as both among his people (Israel) and among all peoples" and relates to the "whole range of activities of government". "Mishpat" and "sedeq" were previously defined.

Psalm 96:10 and 13 say: "Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns; the world also is firmly established, it shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously’…For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth." In Hebrew in verse 10, the word "reigns" is "malak", "judge" is "din" and "righteously" is "meshar". "Malak" means "be king…reign". "Din" was previously defined in relation to acting as a judge and ruler. Brown, Driver and Briggs say that in the context of Psalm 96:10, "meshar" means "in (an) ethical sense, uprightness of government". In Hebrew in verse 13, "shaphat" is used twice and "sedeq" once. As stated earlier, "shaphat" relates to judging and governing. So "sedeq" or righteousness" is used in the context of Psalm 96:10 and 13 in relation to God judging and governing justly or rightly.

This section proves righteousness in many contexts in the Old Testament can solely refer to justice.

Righteousness connected to court cases before judges

Jeremiah 11:20 states: " But, O Lord of hosts, You who judge righteously, testing the mind and the heart, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have revealed my cause." In the context of God judging righteously, Jeremiah revealed his cause or case to Him. In Hebrew, the word "cause" here is "rib". In this verse, "rib" means "dispute".

The Hebrew word "rib’ is used in Exodus 23:2, 23:3, 23:6, Deuteronomy 17:8, 19:17, 25:1, 2 Samuel 15:2, 15:4, Proverbs 18:17, 25:8, Jeremiah 20:12, Ezekiel 14:24, Hosea 4:1, 12:2 and Micah 7:9 in relation to court cases before judges. Deuteronomy 25:1 says: "If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked."

In Job 31:35, the word "rib" is used by Job to refer to God as his "prosecutor". The Book of Job does not refer specifically to God’s covenants. Instead this Book has a strong emphasis on God’s judgements in a combined throne-room and court-of-law sense.

Micah 7:9 states: "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me; He will bring me forth to the light, and I will see His righteousness." In Hebrew, the word "case" here is "rib", "justice" is "mishpat" and "righteousness" is "sedaqah". Here once again, God’s righteousness is in the context of a court case and His associated judgements or "mishpat" as Supreme Ruler and Judge.

God’s right nature demands He punishes sin

God’s righteousness demands that all sinners must be punished severely (see Hebrews 2:2). Nahum 1:2-3 states: "God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; the Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies; The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked…" Note God says here He "will not at all acquit the wicked" (N.K.J.V.) or "will not leave the guilty unpunished" (N.A.S.B.).

The set punishment for sin is physical death and eternal separation from God – also called spiritual death (see Isaiah 59:2 and Romans 6:23). God cannot establish commands and penalties for breaking these commands, and then not sooner or later punish those who disobey them. If He did not punish, He would be unjust.

God’s justice is not coldly clinical

One false view of God’s justice sees it as being coldly clinical like that of a totally just human judge who has no emotional feelings towards the accused. The truth, however, is God is the Creator, loving Father, Supreme Ruler and Judge combined, and not just a Judge alone. As Creator and Loving Father, He has deep love and other emotional feelings towards humans accused of sin.

God’s righteousness and His Kingdom

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus revealed the close relationship between God’s Kingdom and His righteousness: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." An exact literal translation of the Greek original of part of this verse is "the kingdom and righteousness of him". God’s Kingdom involves Him being the Supreme Ruler and Judge.

As King of kings, God rules through His combined Throne and Court of divine law. His judgements, rewards and punishments are expressions of His reign as King. In Psalm 10:16-18 and 98:6-9, we see the close relationships between God’s role as King and His judgements and righteousness. Psalm 72:1-4 and Isaiah 9:6-7 prophesy the Messiah’s rule as King, His judgements done in righteousness and His justice.

But note God’s Kingdom also relates to His salvation by His unmerited grace and mercy. The Gospel is called "the gospel of your salvation" (see Ephesians 1:13), "the gospel of the grace of God" (see Acts 20:24) and "the gospel of the kingdom" (see Matthew 4:23, 9:35, Luke 4:43 and Acts 8:12). Many New Testament verses refer to sick people asking Christ on David’s Throne as King to show mercy to them (see Matthew 9:27, 15:22, 20:30-31, Mark 10:47-48 and Luke 18:38-39). They understood the concept of kings showing mercy to their subjects.

Psalm 20:9, 24:5-10, 74:12, 95:1-3, Isaiah 33:22 and Zechariah 9:9 refer to the relationship between God being King and His salvation of His people. Psalm 74:12 says: "For God is my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." Isaiah 33:22 states: "For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us." Therefore when His righteousness and Kingdom are related together, His righteousness refers to:

  • His perfect justice.

  • His salvation through His grace and mercy.

  • and His faithfulness to His covenant promises to save by His grace. His covenants are expressions of His rule as Supreme King. As King, He is faithful to fulfil His promises to show undeserved mercy and grace to believers.

God’s righteousness manifested through His Covenants

One but not the only expression of God’s righteousness is the ways in which He deals rightly within a covenantal relationship with humans and/or His natural creation. God has established various covenants through which He acts rightly always (see Nehemiah 9:7-8). God’s covenants are also expressions of His holiness, love, grace and mercy – character attributes which are right or righteous in themselves.

One humanistic modern view sees God’s covenants only in relation to His roles as Creator and Father and in reference to His love, mercy and grace. The supporters of this view have no Holy Spirit-given revelation of the fact God’s covenants are also expressions of His roles as righteous Supreme Ruler and Judge. As a result, they, for example, regard His punishments as only ever the remedial discipline of a Father. But note eternal punishment in hell is not the remedial discipline of a Father, but is the deserved judgement of a righteous Ruler and Judge.

All of God’s covenants are manifestations of His combined nature as Creator, Father, righteous Supreme Ruler and Judge. Unless we understand covenants in relation to all these features of Him, we will be putting God in a limited "little theological box". Too many people try to describe God in terms which fit current worldly philosophies, instead of the full revelation of the written Word.

God’s righteousness expressed in His faithfulness

Psalm 143:1 and Romans 3:3-5 show God’s faithfulness is one expression of His righteousness. Everything God does is right or righteous. So obviously His faithfulness is one aspect of His righteous nature.

In the original Hebrew of Psalm 143:1, there is no "and" between the words about God’s faithfulness and those about His righteousness. This either suggests in some contexts, God’s righteousness can equal His faithfulness or there is at least some overlap between the two concepts on those occasions.

God is perfectly faithful to His people, creation and covenants. In the past, this aspect of His righteousness has been neglected.

But sadly, many modern writers are now going from one previous extreme of seeing God’s righteousness only in terms of Him as a holy Supreme Ruler and Judge to a new unbiblical extreme of regarding His righteousness almost solely in terms of His faithfulness to His people, creation and covenants. Evidence of this trend can be seen in the sections on "Paul and his interpreters" and "Righteousness, Righteousness of God" in the "Dictionary of Paul and His Letters". One of the tragedies of the present time is a lack of Biblically balanced teaching on God’s righteousness and justice.

God’s righteousness expressed to those not under a covenant

In Romans 1:28-32, Paul states God has a righteous decree which says those who participate in sexual immorality, greed, envy, murder, deceit, pride and all other types of wickedness and wrong deserve a punishment of death. Romans 1:18-32 is referring to Gentiles or non-Israelites who were not under the Abrahamic, Mosaic or New Covenants. Here we see that by His righteousness, God judges even those who are not under a specific covenant which sets out His righteous moral standards for them. Genesis 20:1-18, Amos 1:3-2:3, and the Books of Obadiah, Jonah and Nahum are Old Testament examples of God holding non-Israelites, who were not under the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, accountable for their sins.

God’s righteousness is frequently paired with His judgements

The Bible teachers who claim God’s righteousness in the Old Testament is solely His faithfulness to His covenants because the two concepts are paired in Psalm 143:1, are very one-sided. This is because they ignore the fact that in the Old Testament, God’s righteousness is far more frequently paired with His judgements as Supreme Ruler and Judge. The Hebrew words "sedaqah" and "sedeq" meaning "righteousness" are matched continually with the Hebrew word "mishpat" which as stated previously means "judgement, justice". This latter pairing occurs in Genesis 18:19, 2 Samuel 8:15 and 1 Chronicles 18:14 (in relation to King David), 1 Kings 10:9 and 2 Chronicles 9:8 (in relation to King Solomon), Psalm 33:5, 72:2, 89:14, 94:15, 97:2, 99:4, 119:121, Proverbs 1:3, 2:9, 21:3, 21:15, Ecclesiastes 5:8, Isaiah 1:21, 1:27, 5:7, 5:16, 9:7, 16:5, 28:16-18, 32:16, 33:5, 51:4-5, 56:1, 59:9, 59:14, Jeremiah 4:2, 9:24, 22:3, 22:15, 23:5, 33:15-16, Ezekiel 45:9, Hosea 2:19-20, Amos 5:7, 5:24, 6:12 and Micah 7:9. Also note "mishpat" is paired with "saddiq" meaning "just or righteous" in Zephaniah 3:5.

These pairings of the Hebrew words for God’s righteousness and His governmental-legal judgement are far more easily identified than the looser pairings of the Hebrew words for God’s righteousness and His faithfulness in Psalm 40:10, 88:11-12, 119:138, Isaiah 11:5 and Hosea 2:19-20.

Note "seqadah" or "righteousness" and "mishpat" or "judgement" are paired in relation to David as King (see 2 Samuel 8:15, 1 Kings 10:9, 1 Chronicles 18:14 and 2 Chronicles 9:8), Josiah as King (see Jeremiah 22:15), the Messiah as Ruler and Judge (see Isaiah 9:6-7, Psalm 72:1-4, Jeremiah 23:5 and 33:15) and God as Ruler and Judge (see Job 37:23 and Psalm 99:4). 2 Samuel 8:15 records: "So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered judgement and justice to all his people."

Those who argue that God’s righteousness relates only to His faithfulness to His covenants and has no relation to His role as Supreme Ruler and Judge need to read Acts 17:31: "because He has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained…" and Revelation 19:11: "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war." In the above two verses, God and Christ's role as Judge is linked to His righteousness. Similarly, in John 5:30, Christ said: "…As I hear, I judge; and My judgement is righteous…"

Based on faithfulness to His nature, character and Name

Also note God’s faithfulness to His covenants is based on His faithfulness to His own righteous nature, character and Name. Psalm 89:33-35 links God’s faithfulness to His covenant or Word to His swearing by His own being and character. Amos 4:2 says "…The Lord God has sworn by His holiness." God’s covenants are one manifestation of His holy righteous character and nature or being. So when He is faithful to His covenants, this is an expression of His faithfulness to acting in conformity with His own righteous character and nature. God’s Name represents His righteous, holy character and nature.

God’s righteousness, grace, mercy, salvation and forgiveness

God’s righteousness is often expressed in His grace and mercy towards people. But note when God the righteous Supreme Ruler and Judge makes right judgements and acts righteously on the basis of His grace and mercy, He does this on the foundation of Jesus’ eternally planned death fulfilling those aspects of His justice which relate to evil being punished.

Psalm 31:1-2 relates God’s righteousness to His merciful deliverance or salvation: "In You, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to me, deliver me speedily; be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me." Psalms 51:14, 65:5 and 71:2 also link God’s gracious deliverance to His righteousness. In Isaiah 46:13, 51:5-8 and 63:1, God links His righteousness to His salvation. In Isaiah 63:1, God says: "…I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save."

The above verses do not mean God’s righteousness is only His gracious salvation. Instead these verses show His salvation is one aspect of His righteousness.

Many Christians wrongly think when God forgives someone of their sin, this act of undeserved grace and mercy is not based on perfect justice. But this is seen to be wrong in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Here we see God is also acting with total justice when He graciously forgives our sins and cleanses us from unrighteousness. He is acting justly in the sense Jesus Christ substituted for us, taking the just punishment we all deserved and thereby providing the just legal grounds on which God the Supreme Ruler and Judge could in undeserved grace forgive others.

In Psalm 24:3-6, David teaches that God’s people will receive His righteousness as a gift of His saving activity. Verse 5 says: "He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." Isaiah 1:27 relates God’s gracious redemption to His righteousness.

God’s righteousness in Paul’s letters

In Romans 1:17, 3:5, 3:21, 3:22, 3:25, 3:26, 10:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Philippians 3:9, Paul uses various Greek expressions which are usually translated "righteousness of God", "His righteousness" or "God’s righteousness". The meanings of these expressions have been highly debated in recent decades.

In some of the above-mentioned verses, these expressions mean different things. For example, in the context of Romans 1:16-18, "the righteousness of God" refers to God’s gracious powerful saving activity towards those who receive the Gospel by faith – this including Him declaring believers righteous by His grace and to Him saving believers from His righteous anger or wrath. He is angry towards all those who refuse to receive the Gospel and turn from unrighteousness and ungodliness. Verse 16 comments on salvation and the Gospel and verses 16-17 refer to faith. Verse 18 mentions God’s wrath against all unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is the opposite of the absolute perfection of God’s righteousness. The Gospel includes mentions of Jesus’ death for believers (see 1 Corinthians 15:3) and that His death has justified believers and freed them from His great anger against all guilty sinners (see Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 and 5:9).

In the context of Romans 3:3-7, verse 5 uses the expression "the righteousness of God" to mean God’s faithfulness to His promises to inflict His wrath and associated punishment on the unrighteous Jews and to deal rightly with believing Jews. God’s wrath is mentioned in the Mosaic and New Covenants. But His wrath is not just a covenantal reality. This is because behind God’s covenants are His perfect holiness and justice which are the source of His great anger against sinners and their sins.

In the context of Romans 3:21-24, the twice-used phrase "the righteousness of God" refers to God’s merciful, gracious saving activity for all Jews and non-Jews who believe, to His faithfulness to His promises found in the Law and the Prophets (see verse 21) and to being declared righteous by God’s grace (see verse 24).

But in the context of Romans 3:25 and 26, the phrase "His righteousness" refers primarily to God’s justice, but may also include elements of His faithfulness to His gracious merciful promises of salvation and of His powerful saving activity.

In Philippians 3:9, Paul refers to the righteousness of God as being God’s unmerited gift of righteousness to those with faith in Jesus Christ. In this verse, Paul compares this wonderful gift of God to him trying to maintain his right standing before God as a Jew through obeying the Mosaic Law. Under the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, God gave all Jews by His unmerited grace and mercy a right standing before Him from the time they were born and/or circumcised in the case of boys.

In Romans, Paul emphasises that when God saves, He does it in ways which are totally right. Paul teaches that God:

  • is right in the fact that He saves fallen humans.

  • is right in the way He saves them.

This rightness is one major aspect of God’s perfect righteousness.

In Romans, God’s righteousness is a more prominent theme than His covenants. In Romans, Paul mentions God’s covenants in Romans 9:4 and 11:27. But in Romans, he referred more often to God’s righteousness.

Paul viewed God’s righteousness as being behind all of the following: His covenants, His saving redeeming activity, His grace and mercy, His reconciling of humans to Himself, His adoption of believers, His declaring believers as being righteous in Christ, His wrath and His judgement of others.

In the Book of Romans, Paul teaches that God’s righteousness is:

  • His perfectly right nature and character,

  • His perfect justice,

  • His faithfulness to His covenantal promises and

  • His right activity expressed in His saving power.

Any teaching which ignores any of these four elements is an unbalanced teaching about God’s righteousness.

The modern humanistic relativistic view of God’s righteousness

Humanism is the philosophy which teaches that humans, their rights, their freedoms, their needs, their happiness, self-fulfilment and self-esteem should be the central focus of everything. Relativism is the philosophy that there is no absolute truths nor absolute rights and wrongs about anything. Multitudes of modern churchgoers have tried to mix these two pagan philosophies with Biblical teaching.

One example of such an adulterous blending of humanism, relativism and Biblical ideas has occurs in relation to those who say God’s righteousness:

  • does not relate to God-determined absolute rights and wrongs.

  • does not refer to His absolute justice.

  • is purely relational – it refers solely to how God personally relates rightly to humans, angels and His creation.

  • is solely or primarily His faithfulness to His covenants, people, creation and promises about salvation.

God’s righteousness does refer to how He personally rightly relates to people, angels and creation. But it is far more than that. In fact, unless we have a clear revelation of His absolute righteousness in nature and character, regardless of His relationships to others, we will have a paganised false view of how He relates to others.

His righteousness does relate partly to His faithfulness. But His righteousness also refers to His absolute justice and to absolute rights and wrongs determined by Him. It is a very human-centred or humanistic view of God’s righteousness to say the latter is only or primarily an expression of His faithfulness to His covenants, covenant promises, people and creation.

Prior to God creating humans, He was perfectly righteous in all aspects of His nature and acts. During that eternal period prior to His creation of humans, He did infinitely more than just planning a few covenants. So most of God’s righteous acts prior to the creation of humans were unrelated to His covenants. Therefore, God’s faithfulness to His covenants, promises, people and creation is only one aspect of His broader righteous character and actions.

God’s faithfulness is only one form of His righteousness. His righteousness is not a form of His faithfulness. God would be perfectly righteous even if He had never made a covenant with anyone and if humans and creation never existed.

The humanistic relativistic view of God’s righteousness suits the humanistic and relativistic age we live in at present. Most unbelievers and many churchgoers do not like to think God has absolute standards of right and wrong by which He judges with perfect justice. Instead they like to think His righteous standards and morals can be changed to suit the sinful standards of human society. They prefer the idea of a God Who is only faithful, loving, gracious and merciful.

The "feel-good" humanistic Biblically unbalanced view of God’s faithfulness concentrates so much on His faithfulness in fulfilling His gracious promises about salvation and redemption, that it almost totally ignores His faithfulness in fulfilling His promises to punish eternally those who do not have saving faith in Him.

Nehemiah 9:8 shows that one aspect of God being righteous is He was faithful to perform His gracious covenant promises or Words to Abraham. But note Nehemiah 9:33-34 and Daniel 9:11-14 reveal that God’s righteousness is also expressed when He is faithful to fulfil His promises to punish unrepentant sinners. In Romans 3:3-5, Paul links God’s faithfulness to the fulfilment of His promises about inflicting His righteous anger or wrath on unrepentant sinners.

Because the above false humanistic view either downplays or totally rejects the idea that God’s righteousness includes His justice, it fails to teach that God’s faithfulness to fulfil His promises to punish unrepentant sinners is one manifestation of His justice. His Mosaic and New Covenant promises to punish unrepentant sinners are expressions of His justice. He gives these sinners what they justly deserve or have merited.

How the humanistic view tries to justify itself

To try to justify its own ideas, the humanistic relativistic view argues that the belief God’s righteousness refers partly to the absolute rightness of His nature, character and commands and to His justice, is based on pagan Greek religion and Roman law.

For example, one of the pagan Greek goddesses was called "Dike" meaning "Justice". The pagan Greeks believed that Dike was the daughter of Zeus – the Father of the Greek gods. As Colin Brown says, pagan Greeks taught "Dike" was a cosmic force which was immanent and inherent in the natural sphere and was related to humans living together in society. "Dike" was the goddess of deserved punishments. Acts 28:4 records that pagans in Malta believed the goddess Justice was punishing Paul for his sins when a poisonous snake bit him.

But just because the ancient Greeks had a goddess of justice does not mean the idea of absolute justice and absolute rights and wrongs is pagan in origin. If we applied the same foolish reasoning to other characteristics of God, we would make some other equally ridiculous conclusions. For example, other Greek divinities were Athena – the goddess of wisdom, Aphrodite – the goddess of love and Apollo – the god of light, healing and truth. On the basis of similar poor reasoning, we could argue that love, wisdom, light, healing and truth were unbiblical pagan Greek religious concepts.

Similarly, just because the ancient pagan Greeks and Romans made animal sacrifices to their gods, cannot be used as proof for the idea that Jesus’ death as our substitute on the Cross is a form of pagan religion.

Also note no ancient pagan Greek had a totally Biblical view of divine justice. For example, they believed that the Greek gods "often did evil things like humans". When referring to ancient pagan Greek attitudes, Colin Brown states: "Hence the righteous man (dikaios) was originally one whose behaviour fitted into the framework of society and who fulfilled his rightful obligations towards the gods and his fellow men (Homer, Od. 13,209)". But note this is different from the Biblical view of righteousness which relates to the character and nature of one God as revealed in His written Word. Many Greeks who fitted into the framework of their wicked pagan society were not righteous in God’s eyes.

In addition, the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers taught there were God-given absolute laws of nature. But their "god" was not a Person who was separate from creation but instead was Hindu-like nature-god.

The fact that the ancient Greeks invented a goddess of justice relates to the fact all humans have a God-given conscience (see Romans 2:14-15). Their consciences have God’s standards of justice and absolute rights and wrongs written on them. In their own sinful imaginations, these ancient Greeks corrupted the truths about God’s justice, right and wrong which was found on their conscience, to relate to a non-existent goddess and a Hindu-like Stoic nature-god.

Also just because some early Church writers like Tertullian introduced some false concepts of Roman law into Christian teachings, does not prove a pagan origin for the idea God’s righteousness includes His absolute justice.

His righteousness is not limited to His relationship-restoring love

It is true that one aspect of God’s righteousness is His love expressing itself in restoring the relationships between Himself and fallen humans. But the modern humanistic, relativistic view overemphasises this relation-restoring love aspect of His righteousness and tries to minimise or exclude the justice aspects of His righteousness. This false view follows the error of the German liberal theologian, Albrecht Ritschl.

Ritschl taught that the righteousness of God is "simply the consistency with which His love provides for the good of men". Ritschl’s view subordinates God’s justice to His love to such an extent that the former becomes only an expression of God’s love, mercy, grace and kindness.

The very shaky foundations of the new view on God’s righteousness

At the back of E. P. Sanders’ book "Paul and Palestinian Judaism", there is an Appendix by Manfred T. Brauch called "Perspectives on ‘God’s righteousness’ in recent German discussion". In this Appendix, Brauch comments on the debate on justification and righteousness since the 1960’s between various authors such as Kasemann, Bultmann, Stuhlmacher, Conzelmann and so on. But more importantly, Brauch made the following comments about God’s righteousness or in Greek "dikaiosune theou" or in Hebrew "tsedaqah". "A new turning point for the discussion was provided by H. Cremer in that he pointed to the Old Testament as the historical presupposition for Paul’s conception of ‘God’s righteousness’. Cremer demonstrated that ‘dikaiosune theou’ must be understood in terms of ‘tsedaqah’, a ‘relationship concept’ which designates the actions of partners in keeping with the covenant (i.e. covenant-faithfulness)"

In other words, Brauch argues that a crucial change occurred in the understanding of many Bible teachers when H. Cremer’s definition of the Old Testament Hebrew word "tsedaqah" or "sedaqah" meaning "righteousness" was used as a basis for interpreting Paul’s understanding of the righteousness of God.

Since the 1960’s, many Bible teachers have for various reasons accepted Cremer’s very limited definition of the Hebrew word for "righteousness" and have assumed Paul’s concepts of "the righteousness of God" are based on Cremer’s definition.

But as has been shown by me in earlier sections of my present chapter, the Old Testament Hebrew words for "righteousness" mean far more than God’s faithfulness. Read also what the below Hebrew experts say these Hebrew words for "righteousness" mean.

Harris, Archer and Waltke say the root of the Hebrew words "sadeq", "sedeq", "sedaqah" and "saddiq" basically means "conformity to an ethical or moral standard" and "The earliest usages of ‘sedeq’ or ‘sedaqah’ (except Genesis 15:6, 18:19, 30:33…) occur in relation to the functions of judges…" They also say that these Hebrew words are also used: "as a descriptive characteristic of God (Deut. 32:4), as just and righteous, the standard being his own will and nature as the supreme being. ‘Sedaqah’ or ‘sedeq’ when applied to God mean righteousness, his characteristics then becoming the ultimate standard of human conduct". Harris, Archer and Waltke also refer to the covenantal aspect of God’s righteousness when they say, "God is righteous, under the covenant, when he delivers his people from trouble (Psalm 31:1), their enemies (Psalm 5:8), the wicked (Psalm 37:6 and when he is vindicating Israel before her foes or executing vengeance on them (Jeremiah 11:20)".

Note the Hebrew word "sedeq" meaning "righteousness" is used in some contexts "in connexion with weights and measures, indicating conformity to the proper standards (Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:15, Ezekiel 45:10)". Here we see it is nonsense to teach that it is a pagan idea to say righteousness is conformity to proper standards. Vine says: "Sedeq and sedaqah are legal terms signifying justice in conformity with the legal corpus (the Law; Deuteronomy 16:20), the judicial process (Jer. 22:3), the justice of the king as judge (1 Kings 10:9; Psalm 119:121; Proverbs 8:15), and also the source of justice, God Himself: ‘Judge me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me…And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long’ (Psalm 35:24,28). The word ‘righteousness’ also embodies all that God expects of His people". When commenting on the meaning of the Hebrew word "sadaq", Vine says: "It is a legal term which involves the whole process of justice".

Bible Study Questions

1. What does God’s righteousness mean?

2. Explain those aspects of His righteousness which refer to His justice as Supreme Ruler and Judge.

3. Is God’s righteousness solely His faithfulness to His covenants? Or is the latter only one aspect of His righteousness?

4. Explain what is wrong with the false modern humanistic relativistic view of God’s righteousness.

5. Is God’s righteousness solely His relationship-restoring love? What verses prove your answer?

6. What do Hebrews 2:2 and Nahum 1:2-3 teach us about God’s righteousness and His punishment of sin?

 

 


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