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Righteousness of God
Posted By Eric Sammons On January 30, 2009 @ 4:51 pm In Books,Scripture | Comments Disabled
I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s What Paul Really Said  and I just got to a section that really blew me away. Wright is discussing what Paul means by the “Righteousness of God.” The traditional debate is that this “Righteousness” is either imputed to us (the standard Protestant position) or we actually become righteous (the standard Catholic position). Wright, however, says that Paul meant neither of these.
According to Wright, Paul would have understood the Righteousness of God in the standard 1st century Jewish sense, which is best explained by the legal metaphor. In a court proceeding, you have three actors: the judge, the plaintiff and the defendant. The righteousness of the judge was his ability to judge the case fairly and morally. The righteousness of the plaintiff and defendant was dependent on whether the case was found in their favor, regardless whether they were morally upright or not. In this scenario, it makes no sense to speak of the judge giving his “righteousness” to either the plaintiff or defendant; their respective righteousness’ are apples and oranges.
Thus, Wright argues, Paul would never have suggested that the Righteousness of God (the judge) could be given in any fashion to His followers, thus making meaningless a key debate of the past 500 years. It is an interesting argument, and I’m not sure if I agree with it fully, but clearly Wright has a strong case based on a deeper understanding of 1st century Judaism than was available before the 20th century.
The main point in which I find fault is his interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Wright posits that this verse simply refers to apostles and how they incarnate the righteousness of God in their ministry. I wish he delved into this specific passage more in the book, because I think this passage is the strongest argument against his theory.
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