The Demonstration of the Righteousness of God in Romans 3:25,26

Published in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2 (7): 2-32.



The concept of the righteousness of God which provides the most natural and coherent interpretation of Romans 3:25, 26 and which takes full account of the term’s Old Testament background as well as the immediate context is not “covenant faithfulness” or “faithfulness to creation,” but rather God’s unwavering commitment always to act for his own names’ sake. The so-called “satisfaction theory” of the atonement may be more “Hebraic-biblical” than is often thought.

1. The Problem and the Thesis

This study rose out of a dissatisfaction with the widely accepted assumption in contemporary Pauline studies that the righteousness of God consists most basically not in any sort of “distributive justice,” but rather in God’s saving “covenant faithfulness”1 or (more universally with Käsemann’s school) “the faithfulness of the creator to his creation.”2

I have come to the conclusion that these one-sided views (which focus wholly on iustitia salutfera 3) do not provide the key for interpreting some of the texts where Paul refers to God’s righteousness (e.g. Romans 9:14ff, 3:5; 3:25ff; 2 Thessalonians 1:5, 6). This essay is an attempt to demonstrate that Paul’s view of the righteousness of God should be differently conceived in Romans 3:25, 26. All the exegetical problems in these two verses will not be considered, but only those which weigh heavily on our investigation of the reality behind δικαιοσυνης αυτου in verses 25, 26 and δικαιον in verse 26.

Romans 3:21-26 is “the center of the heart”4 of the Book of Romans. Accordingly, “the central concept of Pauline theology,”5 the righteousness of God, is used here in a unique concentration (verses 21, 22, 25, 26). But “the concept of God’s righteousness in Romans 3:25, 26 carries a new and special accent as over against verses 21, 22.”6

It is not to be equated with the gift of God received by the believer in justification, nor is it merely God’s power laying rightful claim on his creature. Instead, I would like to argue that the righteousness of God in Romans 3:25-26 refers to God’s nature or the unswerving inclination of his will (see note 89) which precedes and grounds all his acts and gifts. It is his inviolable allegiance to act always for his own name’s sake—to maintain and display his own divine glory. This is my general thesis which I will try to support and explain. I will use the following subdivision of verses:

(3:21a) But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested (21b) being attested by the law and the prophets, (22a) that is, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (22b) For there is no distinction, (23a) for all sinned (23b) and lack the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (25a) whom God put forth as a propitiation through faith, in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness (25b-26a) on account of the passing over of sins done beforehand in the forbearance of God; (26b) for the demonstration, I say, of his righteousness in the present time, (26c) in order that he might be righteous even in justifying the man who believes in Jesus.

2. The Use of Tradition in Romans 3:24-26

Since the rise of form-criticism we have been much more sensitive to the so-called “deep dimension of Scripture,”7 that is, the traditions out of which the Scriptures grew. It is generally recognized that Paul’s disclaimer in Galatians 1:12 does not mean that he rejected all tradition. On the contrary, he preserved, handed on, and adapted much early Christian tradition in various forms (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3; 11:2, 23; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6)8

The form-critical judgment that in Romans 3:24-26a Paul is using a “traditional statement which perhaps can be traced back to the earliest church” begins with Rudolf Bultmann. He reckons the following to the pre-Pauline (with Pauline additions in parentheses):

(24) … justified (by his grace as a gift) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25a) whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood (to be received by faith); (25b) this was to show God’s righteousness, because he passed over former sins (26a) in his divine forbearance.

His arguments for this judgment are that 1) the designation of Christ as the ιλαστηριον occurs only here in Paul; 2) it is not Paul’s habit elsewhere (except Romans 5:9 and the traditional passages, 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:25, 27 [if one rejects Ephesians 1:7; 2:13; 6:12; Colossians 1:20 as non-Pauline]), to speak of “the blood” of Christ but rather of the cross; 3) “the idea found here of the divine righteousness demanding expiation for former sins is otherwise foreign to him.”9

It was Ernst Käsemann’s development of Bultmann’s position in a 1951 article entitled “Zum Verständnis von Römer 3:25-26”10 which caused this form-critical judgment to prevail in German scholarship. Here and in his recent commentary he supplements Bultmann’s arguments with the following:

  1. The participial construction in verse 24 is such a “harsh breaking off” from the syntax of verse 23 that “it can be explained only by assuming Paul is now quoting a hymnic fragment.”11

  2. This assumption accounts for the piling up of terminology which is not characteristic of Paul: παρεσις, προγεγονοτα, αμαρτηματα, προτιθεσθαι in the sense of manifesting, δικαιοσυνη as a divine attribute (verse 25), and απολυτρωσις as a designation for an accomplished redemption (Romans 8:23 refers to the future, and 1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 1:14 are traditional).12

  3. The “overladen style of the verses with their genitive constructions and prepositional connection … is the characteristic of hymnic, liturgical tradition.”13

  4. In verse 25 δια πιστεως interrupts the flow of the sentence and reveals itself as a Pauline insertion.14

  5. The fifth argument to support a traditional formula in Romans 3:24-26a is, for Käsemann, decisive: a different conception of the righteousness of God is found in this unit than we have in verse 26b, where Paul, through the parallel construction beginning with προς την ενδειξιν, “corrects” the tradition.

    In the tradition “one sees himself standing in continuity with the old people of God, holding to the history of Israel as one’s own, and counting the new covenant as the restitution of the old one.”15 Thus the righteousness of God is here (verse 25) God’s faithfulness to his covenant. But this is precisely what moves Paul to add his “correction,” since “for him the righteousness of God is not primarily, if at all, the restitution of the old covenant….”

    The present καιρος (verse 26b) is not viewed in relation to the redemptive history begun by Moses but rather over against the fallen world which is under God’s wrath….Since he is thinking universalistically and no longer in terms of the covenant people, he speaks immediately at the end of verse 26 of the individual believer.”16 In this way Paul gives his own interpretation to the “righteousness of God”: “it becomes God’s faithfulness to his whole creation and the execution of his rightful claim over it.”17

It is precisely this fifth argument of Käsemann that makes the whole form-critical issue relevant for my specific question concerning the righteousness of God. If Käsemann is right, then verses 25-26a cannot be used, as they have been traditionally, to interpret Paul’s own understanding of the demonstration of God’s righteousness, since Paul’s own view is given in a “korrigierenden Zusatz” in verse 26b. So we turn now to an assessment of this form-critical position.

First, the inclusion of verse 24 in the traditional unit has been widely rejected. Eduard Lohse pointed out that not only the words δωρεαν τη αυτου χαριτι were from Paul (which Käsemann recognizes) but also the designation Χριστω Ιησου, “since this phrase is not found prior to Paul.”18

Gerhard Delling argues further that δικαιουμενοι is a good Pauline word and need not come from the tradition.19 That leaves only the un-Pauline character of απολυτρωσεως and the awkward syntactical connection with verse 23 as arguments for including verse 24 with the tradition.

But Klaus Wengst, in explicit opposition to Käsemann, argues that the coordination of participles with finite verbs (as in verses 23 and 24) is something Paul “loves” to do.20 Heinrich Schlier, in support of this, gives 2 Corinthians 5:6; 7:5; and 8:18 as examples.21

Finally, Wengst argues that απολυτρωσις is not so unusual for Paul (Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7, 14; 4:30; Colossians 1:14) that it can definitely be ascribed to the tradition; nor has Käsemann proven that Paul’s use of it in 1 Corinthians 1:30 is a “geprägte Formel.22 I regard these arguments as weighing heavily in favor of not counting verse 24 as part of the early Christian “traditional formulation.”

But the traditional character of Romans 3:25-26a has been much more widely accepted,23 though not universally. While sporadic voices try to solve the syntactical unevenness and parallel structure of these verses by reference to later glosses or interpolations,24 a number of scholars have seen good reasons for reckoning all of Romans 3:24-26 as Paul’s own work.

First of all, Heinrich Schlier argues that the relative clause which begins verse 25 could (as in Romans 4:25; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1;3) signal a traditional unit, but that one ought not draw this conclusion in the absence of clear stylistic and rhythmic features which set the unit off from Paul’s own way of writing. This corroborating evidence is missing here.25 The quotation is too short to reveal any rhythm and the grouping of prepositional phrases is not so distinctive as to argue strongly against Pauline origin.

Secondly, with regard to the argument from non-Pauline terminology, since παρεσιν and προγεγονοτων are hapax legomena in the New Testament and ιλαστηριον occurs only here and in Hebrews 9:5, it is an argument from silence that they belonged to the earliest Christian tradition.

Moreover, other important terms in these verses are not foreign to Paul. Delling points out that the key term ενδειξις is found in the New Testament only in Paul (Romans 3:25, 26; 2 Corinthians 8:24; Philippians 1:29) and with a sense similar to the one here.26 The word ανοχη is found only here (verse 26a) and in Romans 2:4. Αμαρτημα is genuinely Pauline in 1 Corinthians 6:18, and, while προεθετο has a meaning in verse 25 different from its use in Romans 1:13 and Ephesians 1:9, this is also true of προγραφω in Galatians 3:1 (in contrast to Romans 15:4; Ephesians 3:3) which no one denies to be Paul’s.

In short, the argument from non-Pauline terminology is not as strong as some have thought. Word statistics are too ambiguous to settle the issue.27 And even if we grant the presence of traditional terms that are not uniquely Pauline, this would not betray the quotation of a pre-Pauline formulation, but only the adoption of familiar traditional terminology.28

Thirdly, and most decisive in my judgment, Otto Kuss and C. E. B. Cranfield have objected that it is highly unlikely that in this “vital and central paragraph” Paul would have proceeded in the Käsemann suggests. Cranfield argues that

To accept Käsemann’s account of these verses requires a very great deal of credulity. In the construction of a paragraph as vital and central to his whole argument as this paragraph is, Paul is scarcely likely to have gone to work in the way Käsemann would have us envisage. It is very much more probably that these verses are Paul’s own independent and careful composition, reflecting his own preaching and thinking (cf. Cambier, L’Evangile de Dieu, 784) and that the overladen style is the result, not of the incorporation of a Vorlage and the need to provide it with connectives, but of the intrinsic difficulty of interpreting the Cross at all adequately and perhaps also, in part, of the natural tendency to fall into a more or less liturgical style when speaking of so solemn a matter.29

Otto Kuss shows even more precisely why Käsemann’s “purely hypothetical construction” is to be rejected. “Absolutely nothing in the context points up an intention in verse 26b to correct verses 25-26a.”30 How are we to imagine that Paul intended his Roman readers (lacking contemporary form-critical tools, like concordances and other New Testament documents for comparison) to discover that Romans 3:25-26a is corrected in verse 26b?

The issue at stake in these verses (the ground of justification) is simply too important that Paul should omit some kind of adversative particle in verse 26b if he intended his readers to contrast it with verses 25-26a. As it stands, it is far more probable that εις ενδειξιν της δικαιοσυνης αυτου δια την παρεσιν των προγεγονοτων αμαρτηματων εν τη ανοχη του θεου (verses 25-26a) gives the reason in the past why such a demonstration was necessary and verse 26b (προς την ενδειξιν…) gives the present purpose for the demonstration.

There is no need to assume that Paul is correcting a limited Jewish-Christian view of righteousness. Therefore, I conclude with Kuss and others that even if Paul was using tradition here “doubtless in this central text he presents theological sentences which to an especially high degree he has made his own.”31

Accordingly, in the rest of this essay I will not assume that the righteousness of God in Romans 3:25 has a different meaning from the same term in verse 26b. I am no longer interested in distinguishing between “faithfulness to the covenant” and “faithfulness to creation.” For my purposes these may be taken together since they both define the righteousness of God as an unswervingly saving action or gift, and rule out the concept of vindicatory righteousness. This, however, is what I am challenging.

3. Critique of the Prevailing View

There are two fundamentally different views of the demonstration of God’s righteousness in Romans 3:25-26. The one is associated with Anselm’s satisfaction view of the atonement (Cur Deus Homo?). It distinguishes between the righteousness of God in verses 21 and 22 and the righteousness of God in verses 25 and 26. The latter is an attribute of God’s nature usually equated with his strict distributive justice; the former is the imputed, divine righteousness appropriated by the believer in the event of justification or the action of God in justifying.

For the other view, which rejects any identification with Anselm and claims to have more biblical, Hebraic presuppositions than he, the demonstration of the righteousness of God is his eschatological saving action in accomplishing redemption through the death of Jesus.

While this second view has, to be sure, gained the ascendancy in recent decades,32 the dispute is by no means at an end. By way of example: Hermann Ridderbos argues in his book on Paul that the righteousness of God in Romans 3:25ff refers to “the vindicatory righteousness of God.”33 And, on the other side, Peter Stuhlmacher takes him to task for “brushing aside not only any attempt at an analysis of the tradition, but also the whole newer discussion of the Semitic background of the expression ‘Righteousness of God.’”34

My aim is not to defend Ridderbos, even though I think his view is not as wrong as Stuhlmacher does. But, while avoiding the criticisms leveled against Ridderbos, I do want to argue for an alternative to the prevalent view of the righteousness of God in Romans 3:25-26.

One of the most seminal studies of Romans 25-26 which interprets God’s righteousness as his saving action in justification is W. G. Kümmel’s “Παρεσις und ενδειξις, ein Beitrag zum Verständnis der paulinischen Rechtfertigungslehre” (1952).35 Subsequent studies regard this work as foundational; therefore, I will examine Kümmel’s arguments in some detail and allow my alternative position to emerge if the evidence points in that direction.

Kümmel’s interpretation may be summed up as follows: The demonstration of the righteousness of God in Romans 3:25-26 is “an exact exposition” of the manifestation of God’s righteousness in verses 21 and 22 (160). The twofold ενδειξις of verses 25-26, which refers to an active showing (Erweis) rather than to a factual proof (Beweis), corresponds exactly to the active manifestation (πεφανερωται) of God’s righteousness in verses 21 and 22 and to the justification (δικαιουμενοι) of verse 24 (160ff).

Consistently with this view the prepositional phrase, δια την παρεσιν… is rendered not as a causal clause, (“on account of the passing over of sins done beforehand”) but rather as an instrumental clause (“through the pardon of sins done beforehand”).

Therefore, we are not to think that the passing over of sins calls God’s righteousness into question so that he now must prove himself righteousness by punishing sin in the death of Jesus; on the contrary, God’s righteousness is shown forth precisely in the pardon (Erlass) of those sins.36 Accordingly, the righteousness of God in verses 25ff refers not to a quality or attribute of God which must be preserved, but rather to the saving action of God which justifies sinners. “Therefore the satisfaction theory of Anselm does not even have a starting point in Paul’s teaching” (166).37

Now let us examine Kümmel’s key arguments in support of this interpretation. After doing a lexical study of the key words παρεσις and ενδειξις outside Romans 3:21-26 Kümmel concludes with regard to both words that “only the context can decide” which of the possible meanings Paul intends here (158ff). Thus all his arguments are based on grammatical and theological considerations of the immediate and wider Pauline context.

Kümmel’s first and main argument is that up to this point in Romans, and most importantly in the near context of 3:21-22, the righteousness of God has referred to the action of God in justifying sinners – to “Gottes rechtfertigendes, Gerechtigkeit schaffendes, den Menschen gerect sprechendes Handeln” (161). Therefore, to construe the righteousness of God in 3:25-26 as an attribute of God would be “contrary to the preceding usage” (161).

A serious flaw in this argument is Kümmel’s omission of any reference to the meaning of God’s righteousness in Romans 3:5 and his consequent assumption that the term δικαιοσυνη Θεου has a uniform meaning throughout. Bultmann38 and others39 have warned against the contemporary tendency to limit this term to only one meaning—a tendency especially prevalent in the Käsemann school (notably P. Stuhlmacher’s dissertation40).

More specifically, Bultmann points out what is commonly accepted (though not by Käsemann and Stuhlmacher41)—namely, that the meaning of the righteousness of God in Romans 3:5 does not refer to God’s gracious saving action, but rather to God’s attribute of strict distributive justice.42 While it is probably not accurate to equate God’s righteousness in Romans 3:5 precisely with distributive justice (see note 80), yet I do think that Bultmann, with most exegetes, is correct at least in denying that the righteousness of God in Romans 3:5 can refer (with 1:17 and 3:21ff) to the action of God in justifying sinners, since there it is the wrath of God which Paul is claiming to be just.

Therefore, Kümmel’s argument from the uniformity of the meaning of God’s righteousness in Romans 1 through 3 is weak, since the meaning of the term in 3:25 may be more similar to the meaning in 3:5 than it is to the meaning in 3:21ff.

The rest of Kümmel’s arguments are attempts to show the error of the alternative “Anselmsche” interpretation. But I question whether the precise form of that interpretation which he defeats is really his strongest opponent. He argues that the interpretation of XXX as “proof” (Beweis) is untenable “because it is not at all clearly expressed to whom God should want to prove his righteousness” (161). Moreover, “in view of Romans 9:19ff, it is foreign to Paul’s theology that any man could put God’s action into doubt and that God could see himself obligated to prove that such doubt is unfounded” (162ff).

Here he is arguing against the view which says, in the words of John Murray, that “the forbearance exercised in past ages [3:25b-26a] tended to obscure in the apprehension of men the inviolability of God’s justice” and this “passing over” of sin “made it necessary for [God] to demonstrate his inherent justice” by punishing sin in the death of Jesus.43

In response to Kümmel one could argue, in view of Romans 2:24, where Paul picks up the Old Testament theme of how God’s name is held in derision among the nations (cf. Ezekiel 36:20; 22:16; Isaiah 52:5), that it would accord perfectly with God’s holy zeal for his own name if he should act to clear his name and prove that such derision is folly. This would not contradict Pauline theology at all.

But such an argument is unnecessary because the alternative to Kümmel’s interpretation does not necessarily involve the concept of proof which he chides. One could translate ενδειξις as “a showing forth” or “an expression” and not lose anything essential to the “satisfaction theory” which he is opposing.44 One would simply argue that what was showing itself in the death of Christ is God’s exacting demand of a recompense for sin. Therefore, Kümmel does not strengthen his view by trying (unsuccessfully, I think) to eliminate the idea of “proof” from the term in Romans 3:25ff.

Perhaps the best response to Kümmel’s argument comes from C.E. B. Cranfield, who draws attention to the very important grammatical fact that the ultimate object of God’s “showing” his righteousness is given with the words “in order that he himself be righteousness” (3:25c). Cranfield argues that “The words εις το ειναι αυτον δικαιον mean not ‘in order that he might show that he is righteous’ [contra Barrett45], but ‘in order that he might be righteous….Paul recognizes that what was at stake was not just God’s being seen to be righteous, but God’s being righteous.”46

If the purpose of God in the ενδειξις of his righteousness is that he might be righteous then the ενδειξις is not a mere “proof” or a mere “showing” but an establishment of righteousness. Without the death of Christ as a propitiation47 for sins, the problem would not have been the false accusations of men but the real unrighteousness of God. More on this later.

The next argument which has to do with the meaning of παρεσις (verse 25b) seems also to miss the target. He rejects the meaning “passing over” or “letting go” (Hingehenlassen) or “overlooking” (Übersehen) and opts for “pardon” or “forgiveness” (Erlass)—a forgiveness granted in the death of Christ for the sins of old.

He argues, “It is in no way the opinion of Paul that during the time of God’s ανοχη [verse 26a] he overlooked sins” (163). Rather, from Romans 1:24; 2:4; 6:23; and 7:13 he concludes, “The ανοχη of God in the period before the sending of Christ consisted not in an overlooking (Übersehen) of sins, but in the punishment which did not destroy but aimed to bring about repentance (Romans 2:4)…” (163).

With this criticism Kümmel does not weaken his opponent at all. For these reasons, Kümmel’s and Käsemann’s48 insistence that Paul views the time before Christ not as a time of leniency but as a time of wrath (1:18-3:20) is an oversimplification of Pauline theology.

To be sure, in Romans 2:4-5 (the only other use of ανοχη in the New Testament) men are storing up wrath for themselves in the patience of God, but Paul still calls this period a period of the “kindness of God” (χρηστον του Θεου 2:4). Kümmel himself refers to the sins of this period as “not completely punished” (nicht engültig gestraft). This concession is all that is required to validate the interpretation he is opposing.

For the scholars who hold to a “satisfaction theory” do not claim that the period of God’s ανοχη was all leniency and that sins were ignored. What is argued, in the words of Leon Morris, is that “God had not always punished sin with full severity in the past.”49 The ‘kindness” of withholding full judgment (not to mention the blessings given, cf. Acts 14:16; 17:30; Matthew 5:45) was not deserved by sinful man and precisely this provides the basis of the satisfaction theory which claims that God’s apparent injustice must be rectified.

But even more can be said to show the weakness of Kümmel’s argument. Suppose παρεσις does mean “pardon” or “forgiveness” in verse 25. Even this does not contradict, but accords with, the satisfaction theory. The Old Testament is replete with the mercies of God “who forgives iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:7) and, for example, angers his prophet Jonah with his mercy toward Nineveh.

It may well be the justifying forgiveness shown to the Old Testament saints which constitutes the παρεσις of 3:25. Paul certainly thought that men of faith like David (Romans 4:6-8) and Abraham (Romans 4:9) had received forgiveness before Christ. But this remitting of sins creates the same problem for justice that leniency of punishment does.

Therefore, the “satisfaction theory” cannot be refuted by showing that παρεσις means pardon. One would have to go further and demonstrate that δια την παρεσιν does not have its usual causal force (“on account of [past] pardon”) but rather has a rare instrumental force (“through the [present] pardon [in Christ]”). I will discuss this problem further on.

The basic reason why Kümmel and others view the righteousness of God in Romans 3:25-26 as God’s saving action is not any exegetical detail or contextual clue. The factor that weighs most heavily in their exegesis is the conviction that has been growing ever since Hermann Cremer enunciated it in his book Die Paulinische Rechtfertigungslehre (1899), namely, that the righteousness of God in the Old Testament is not his conformity to an ideal ethical norm (like strict retributive justice) but is his faithfulness within the dictates of a given relationship, especially his covenant with Israel.50

This view has been supported by most Old Testament scholars.51 Together with the conviction that “the Pauline doctrine of righteousness can be understood only against an Old Testament background,”52 this conviction has exerted tremendous power in the interpretation of the righteousness of God in Paul. Accordingly, Anselm and all his contemporary followers are accused of importing Greek53 or Germanic54 concepts of law into the Hebraic-biblical view of God’s righteousness.

Since Kümmel’s 1952 article, in which he treated this relational view of God’s righteousness as a “presupposition” (Voraussetzung, 162) for the interpretation of Romans 3:25-26, Käsemann has provided the foremost illustration of how strongly the findings of history-of-religions research influence the interpretation of Paul. He has stressed that late Jewish apocalyptic literature had a profound influence on Paul. It is the “mother of Christian theology”55 and it is “the driving element of Pauline theology and practice.”56

The specific concept of righteousness out of which Romans 3:25ff grew, he claims, is summarized in two key texts. The first is from Qumran (1 QS 11:12-15):

And if I stagger, God’s mercies are my salvation forever; and if I stumble because of the sin of the flesh, my justification is in the righteousness of God (משפטי בצדקת אל) which exists forever… He has caused me to approach by his mercy. And by His favors He will bring my justification (יטפשמ). He has justified me by His true justice (בצדקת אמתו שפטני) and by His immense goodness he will pardon all my iniquities. And by his justice (ובצדקתו) He will cleanse me from the defilement of man and of the sins of the sons of men, that I may acknowledge His righteousness (צדקו) unto God and His majesty unto the Most High.57

The second text providing a summary statement of the Jewish-apocalyptic background of Paul’s understanding of God’s righteousness is 4 Ezra 8:31-36:

For we and our fathers have passed our lives in ways that bring death; but thou, because of us sinners, art called compassionate. For if thou hast a desire to compassionate us who have no works of righteousness then shalt thou be called “the gracious One.” For the righteous who have many works laid up with thee, shall out of their own deeds receive their reward. But what is man that thou shouldest be wroth with him? Or what is a corruptible race that thou canst be so bitter towards it? For in truth there is none of the earth-born who has not dealt wickedly, and among those who exist who has not sinned. For in this, O Lord, shalt thy righteousness and goodness be declared, if thou wilt compassionate them that have no wealth of good works.58

It is fairly obvious from these texts as well as many in the Old Testament59 that the righteousness of God in Jewish literature does not always mean strict retributive justice: it embraces mercy. This view of righteousness as iustitia salutifera has come to be seen as the peculiarly Jewish-biblical view and thus functions for many scholars as an assumption in dealing with Pauline texts.

More than a few scholars, however, have seen the hermeneutical pitfalls of such a use of the history of a concept. Käsemann and Stuhlmacher especially have come in for methodological criticism on this point. In reaction to the Käsemann-Stuhlmacher interpretation of God’s righteousness, Hans Conzelmann and Günther Klein have both stressed “the priority of interpretation over any deductions from history-of-religions research or history-of-tradition research…. Decisive is not the history of a concept but the Pauline context.”60

“The evidence in Paul should be assessed on the basis of his own usage.”61 Because of his doubt that the righteousness of God is a technical term in the late Jewish literature (as Stuhlmacher maintains62 and because he is alert to a peculiar, Pauline usage of the term, Conzelmann admits that in Romans 3:25ff the righteousness of God “can (as in the Jewish usage) mean the covenant faithfulness of God. But that is not certain. It can also be understood as iustitia distributiva.”63

Thus the interpretation of God’s righteousness in Romans 3:25-25 which Kümmel and others espouse is, in my judgment, based mainly on the assumption that Paul stands in the stream of the Old Testament-Jewish tradition and that the Old Testament-Jewish view of God’s righteousness, as a relational term embracing mercy, rules out the satisfaction theory of atonement in which God’s righteousness demands punishment for sins.

The implicit danger here of minimizing Paul’s originality64 has already been mentioned. But now a greater objection must be registered: The relational, saving aspect of God’s righteousness may not go to the heart of the Old Testament concept of divine righteousness and may not be the aspect that Paul picks up and applies in his interpretation of Christ.

4. The Righteousness of God in the Old Testament

At the risk of great presumption I must here distill my work on the righteousness of God in the Old Testament into a few pages in order to suggest a corrective to the current relational understanding of God’s righteousness as iustitia salutifera.

First, we must admit, I think, that it is inadequate to define God’s righteousness in the Old Testament as his conformity to the norm of distributive justice. One need only to read Psalm 143:1-2 to see the deficiency of such a definition:

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
Give ear to my supplications!
Answer me in thy faithfulness, in thy righteousness;
And do not enter into judgment with thy servant,
For in thy sight no man living is righteous.

This petition would make no sense if God’s righteousness referred to his rendering strictly to each man his due. Clearly from this text and many others (see note 59) the righteousness of God must be so defined as to include the dimension of mercy. It cannot be simply opposed to mercy. It is common, therefore, to speak of God’s righteousness as his “covenant faithfulness” and to eliminate from the concept any punitive or vindicatory idea (see note 3).

But several problems have emerged with this definition. First, Klaus Koch65 and Frank Crüsemann66 have pointed out how seldom the concept of God’s righteousness is found in context with the term “covenant.”

Second, Koch has called attention to the occasional reference to God’s righteousness in the context of creation prior to any covenant with Israel: “The arrival of צדק on the earth had happened first in the event of creation without and pre-conditions (Psalm 33:4-6; 89:11-17).”67

Third, and most important, von Rad’s claim that “no references to the concept of a punitive צדקה can be adduced—that would be a contradictio in adiecto” (note 3) cannot hold up.

The detailed support for this thesis cannot be developed here. There is only room for the barest outline of the argument. Frank Crüsemann68 (who agrees with von Rad) and Hans Schmid69 have recently come to opposite conclusions on the question of a punitive divine righteousness. Some of the texts on which there is disagreement, but which, in my view, support a punitive righteousness include Lamentations 1:18; Nehemiah 9:33; 2 Chronicles 12:6; Isaiah 5:16; 10:22; Daniel 9:13-19.

Von Rad acknowledges that such texts are problematical for his view, but he does not do them justice.70 Peter Schumacher, who wants to preserve a “basically positive” sense for צדקה as “saving might” (heilschaffende Macht), nevertheless admits that “according to the present wording the character of צדקה in Isaiah 5:16 and 10:22, namely, as dividing judgment, can scarcely be disputed.”71 I would say that same conclusion applies also to the other texts cited above.

Therefore, the question to be raised is, how can divine righteousness refer both to merciful acts of salvation and to acts of punishment upon unbelieving Israel? To put it another way, what aspect of God’s righteousness provides the explanation for how this one concept can refer both to acts of mercy and to acts of punishment and still be a unified concept?

At one level the answer to this question may simply be that righteousness still means “loyalty to a covenant,” but that, since the covenant was conditional upon Israel’s faithfulness, this loyalty could be expressed in punishment as well as salvation. Whether this is an acceptable answer will depend in part on one’s view of the covenant’s conditionality.

But, rather than taking up that problem here, I want to suggest that the concept of God’s righteousness finds its ultimate unity and its main link with Romans 3:25-26 not in God’s loyalty to an historical covenant, but in his loyalty to his own name; to the preservation of his honor and the display of his glory.72

To be sure, God’s commitment to the covenant is the central manifestation of God’s commitment to act always for his own name’s sake. But the former is penultimate; the latter is ultimate. Covenant loyalty is grounded in a deeper loyalty, and my argument is that this deeper loyalty is the most fundamental aspect of the righteousness of God in the Old Testament, or, at least, that this deeper loyalty is so intimately connected with God’s righteousness that they legitimately come to be regarded (by Paul) as overlapping concepts.73

Briefly in support of this thesis several texts should be cited. In Psalm 1443:1-2 the psalmist prayed,

Answer me in thy faithfulness, in thy righteousness;
And do not enter into judgment with thy servant,
For in thy sight no man living is righteous.

To what is the psalmist really appealing—to God’s allegiance to Israel? Verse 11 suggests, I think, how the psalmist conceived of God’s righteousness in delivering the unrighteous:

For the sake of thy name, O Lord, revive me;
In thy righteousness
bring my soul out of trouble.

The parallelism here suggests that for the psalmist an appeal to God’s righteousness was most basically (or at least included) an appeal to God’s allegiance to his own name. God’s commitment to revive his servant (verse 12) who trusts in him (verse 8) is a penultimate commitment and is grounded in the ultimate commitment to his name.

It is precisely with this commitment that the psalmist aligns God’s righteousness (verse 11). “If God cared nothing for His name…we might have doubts of His salvation.”74 For a similar use of “righteousness” compare Psalm 31:1 and 3.

Next we consider the instructive passage in Daniel 9:7, 13-19 where Daniel confesses the sins of Israel, ascribes righteousness to God, and appeals to him for his anger to turn away from the exiles and from his holy city:

(7) Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You ... (13) As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. (14) Therefore the Lord has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice. (15) And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have been wicked. (16) O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. (17) So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. (18) O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of our righteousness, but on account of Your great compassion. (19) O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.

Concerning the meaning of God’s righteousness in this text, Hans Schmid writes, “Yahweh is in the right; what he has wrought upon Israel is deserved. The nation is not צדיק; it has no צדקה. The connection here with judicial ideas is clear…. What is remarkable is that in the same context, after Yahweh’s צדקה designates his ‘right’ [Recht] in verse 7 [cf. v. 14], it refers to ‘divine mercy’ in verse 16 and is used parallel to רחם in verse 18b.”75

In other words, here we have in a single prayer a capsule of the contrast we saw earlier between a punitive and a merciful righteousness. But Daniel does not apparently feel any tension. One could argue that the tension is resolved in the concept of covenant loyalty, if God’s punishment is seen as an expression of his loyalty to the conditionality of the covenant, and his future mercy is seen as an expression of his loyalty to the promise to forgive the repentant.

But in fact, when Daniel asks that God’s anger be turned away “in accordance with your righteous acts” his explicit and repeated ground for this is that the honor of God’s name is in jeopardy (verses 15, 17, 18, 19). Therefore, we are led to believe that a fundamental aspect of God’s righteousness is his commitment to preserve and display the honor of his glorious name.

This aspect of God’s righteousness provides a unity between its punitive and merciful manifestations. By punishing Israel he magnified his glory by showing that idolatry is a dreadful evil worthy of destruction.

On the other hand, since Jerusalem and Israel are “called by your name” (verses 18, 19), to save them and restore their prosperity after a time of punishment will magnify God’s name and remove the reproach into which it has fallen among the nations (verse 16). Thus “the Lord is righteous in all his deeds” (verse 14): he has never swerved from acting for his own name’s sake, even when his people have acted as if his name were worthless.

Finally, we may take a brief look at the righteousness of God in Isaiah 40 through 66. It is generally recognized that here the righteousness of God signifies his “predicted new and eschatological saving act.”76 God’s righteousness and his coming salvation are almost interchangeable:

I bring near my righteousness, it is not far off;
And my salvation will not delay (46:13a).
My righteousness is near,
My salvation has gone forth
And my arms will judge the peoples (51:5).
Do not fear the reproach of man…
For the moth will eat them like a garment…
But my righteousness shall be forever
And my salvation to all generations (51:7b, 8).

On what grounds may Israel expect to benefit from this salvific righteousness? Hermann Cremer argued rightly that it is grounded in the divine election: “Not the fulfilling of God’s commandments is the final ground that God upholds his election (Isaiah 14:1), but rather only the election itself. For its sake God forgives his people at the decisive hour, Isaiah 43:20-44:2…”77

Cremer’s insight is valuable because it points us behind the covenant to God’s freedom in election—in establishing the covenant. It thus leads us to ask whether the ground of the covenant should be considered in defining what God’s allegiance to the covenant (righteousness) involves.

Cremer says that God’s election of Israel is itself the only reason God upholds this election. But more can be said about the ground of this election. God declares to his dispersed people in Isaiah 43:6, 7:

I will say to the north, Give them up!
And to the south, Do not hold them back!
Bring my sons from afar,
And my daughters from the ends of the earth:
Everyone who is called by my name and whom I have created for my glory
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.

Similarly, Isaiah 49:13:

And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel,
In whom I will show my glory.

According to these texts and others (Isaiah 43:21; 44:23; 46:13, etc.) the ground of Israel’s creation, i.e., election, is God’s will to act for his own glory. Moreover, the ground of God’s initiating his relation with Israel is also the ground of its continuation. It is a distortion of large portions of the Old Testament when the impression is given that the ground of God’s saving action and the touchstone of his righteousness is his faithfulness to Israel’s welfare. Note the different focus in the following texts:

For the sake of my name I delay my wrath
And for my praise I restrain it for you
In order not to cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake I will act;
For how can (my name) be profaned?
And my glory I will not give to another (Isaiah 48:9-11).
I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake,
And I will not remember your sins (Isaiah 43:25).

Since, as we have seen, Israel’s salvation is an expression of God’s righteousness (Isaiah 46:13; 51:5, 7, 8), and since the ground of this salvation is traced back not explicitly to a covenant loyalty, but to a deeper loyalty of God to his own name, therefore there is a clear implication that the righteousness of God is at least closely coordinated with God’s unwavering commitment to act for his own name’s sake.78

One could argue that a loose coordination of these concepts is all we have in the Old Testament. But on the basis of the texts assembled from the Psalms, Daniel and Isaiah (which could be greatly supplemented), I am inclined to see these two concepts as essentially related such that the most fundamental aspect of God’s righteousness in the Old Testament is his loyalty to his own name.

The righteousness of God does not consist in a strict distributive justice according to which each person must receive his due, nor does it consist merely in a saving commitment to Israel. Both of these may be the outworkings of God’s righteousness, but they are so only as they give expression to (and find their unity in) God’s inviolable allegiance to maintaining his honor, displaying his glory, and always acting for his own name’s sake.

Even if one should cautiously say that in the Old Testament there are only seeds for such an understanding of God’s righteousness, nevertheless, the possibility would still be open that this understanding was pursued in Jewish apocalyptic79 teaching and found expression also in Paul. In either case, we would expect to find some clues that Paul shares this conception of divine righteousness and we may ask if such a conception might help us grasp Paul’s meaning in Romans 3:25-26.

I can only mention in passing that I think such clues are present in Paul: 1) Romans 3:5, 7, where “God’s righteousness and glory are interchanged”80; 2) in Romans 3:8, where God’s judgment upon unbelieving Israel is “just” (το κριμα ενδικον εστιν); 3) in Romans 2:6 where the “righteous judgment of God” (δικαιοκρισιας του Θεου) renders to those who disobey the truth—to the Jew first and also to the Greek—wrath and fury; 4) in 2 Thessalonians 1:6 where it is δικαιον παρα Θεω ανταποδουναι τοις Θλιβουσιν υμας Θλιψιν and where the persecutors very probably included Jews (cf. Acts 17:5).

These clues all support (Romans 3:1-8 can even be developed into a full-scale demonstration) that “covenant faithfulness” or “faithfulness to creation” is not an adequate conception of the righteousness of God in Paul. But now we must return to Romans 3:25 to 26.

5. An Alternative Interpretation of Romans 3:25-26

There are two pivotal clauses in Romans 3:25-26 which receive their most coherent and least strained interpretation against the Old Testament background I have developed. The first is δια την παρεσιν των προγεγονοτων αμαρτηματων: “on account of (or through) the passing over (or pardon) of sins done before.” One can at least say from this clause that man’s sins have created the need for God to put Christ forth as propitiation by his blood.

What is the essential character of these sins? Romans 1:21-23 together with 3:23 give the best answer to this question. “All sinned and are lacking the glory of God” (3:23). Most recent commentators are probably right that this loss of glory reflects the Jewish tradition81 in which Adam was divested of his glory when he sinned.

But how Paul conceives of this loss is seen in Romans 1:21-23. “Although they knew God they did not glorify him as God or thank him…they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of the image of corruptible man and birds and four-footed beasts and reptiles.”

One can hear an echo of Jeremiah 2:11, ‘Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit” (cf. Psalm 106:20).

Not to glorify him as God and thank him is the primal sin; the esteeming of the creature above the creator and the consequent belittling of the creator’s glory. This “foolish” exchange results, as 1:24ff show, in a swell of dishonorable and demeaning attitudes and acts. Thus, according to Romans 1:24ff, all sins are an expression of dishonor to God, stemming as they do from the evil inclination of man’s heart to value anything above the glory of God.

For God to condone or ignore the dishonor heaped upon him by the sins of men would be tantamount to giving credence to the value judgment men have made in esteeming God more lowly than his creation. It is not so much that he would be saying sins do not matter or justice does not matter; more basically, he would be saying that he does not matter.

But for God thus to deny the infinite value of his glory, to act persistently as if the disgrace of his holy name were a matter of indifference to him—this is the heart of unrighteousness. Thus, if God is to be righteous, he must repair the dishonor done to his name by the sins of those whom he blesses. He must magnify the glory men thought to deny him.82

It is pointless to object here that God never is trapped in a situation where he must do something. This is pointless because the only necessity unworthy of God is the necessity imposed on him from causes not originating in himself. To say that God must be who he is, that he must value what is of infinite value and delight in his infinite beauty, this is no dishonor to God. On the contrary, what would dishonor God is to deny that he has any necessary identity at all and that his acts emerge willy-nilly from no essential and constant nature.

Nor is it a legitimate objection here to say that “Greek” or “Germanic” ideas of justice are being brought in (see notes 53 and 54) and that the Semitic background is being ignored. The point is not that God is somehow forced to conform to an ideal ethical norm. The point—in good Old Testament fashion—is simply that God must be God and will brook no belittling of his glorious name.

In view of the nature of sin as dishonor to the glorious name of God and in view of the most basic Old Testament aspect of God’s righteousness as his unswerving faithfulness to act always for his own name’s sake in preserving and displaying his glory, there is no reason whatever to construe the prepositional phrase beginning with δια (verse 25b) any way but in its usual causal sense.83

Given this perfectly Jewish thought connection, we need not follow Kümmel84 and Käsemann85 in the unlikely view that here δια with the accusative is instrumental and means “through.” Thus the sense of the prepositional phrase is that since God has not required from all individual sinners a loss of glory commensurate with their debasement of God’s glory, therefore, to preserve and display the infinite value of his own glory, God set forth Christ as a propitiation whose death for sinners so glorified God (Romans 15:7-9) that God’s righteousness was preserved and made known.

The second pivotal clause in Romans 3:25ff is verse 26c εις το ειναι αυτον δικαιον και δικαιουντα τον εκ πιστεως Ιησου. The interpretation by Käsemann86, following C. Blackman87, to the effect that the και here is explicative (or intensive) and that God is δικαιος precisely as he is ο δικαιων, is very awkward in view of what precedes.

The awkwardness of this interpretation stems from its failure to distinguish clearly 1) the demonstration (ενδειξις verse 26b) of God’s righteousness, 2) his being (ειναι verse 26c) righteous, and 3) his justifying believers (verse 26c).

According to Käsemann, the first and third of these—the demonstration of God’s righteousness at the present time and the justification of the one who trusts Jesus—refer to the same thing: “the eschatological saving action” of God. But Käsemann does not say how we are to understand God’s being righteous in distinction from this active demonstration.88

It may be that he sees no distinction, but that would involve not taking Paul’s purpose construction (εις το plus the infinitive ειναι) seriously. For Paul, the demonstration of God’s righteousness and God’s being righteous are not the same; the latter is the outcome and purpose of the former. But this means that the action of God in justifying believers (verse 26c) is also not interchangeable with God’s being righteous. Therefore, the XXX is not intensive and one should not construe verse 26c to mean that God is “just” insofar as he is “justifier” or that his righteousness consists in justifying.

If we grant full force to the purpose construction (εις το ειναι) and thus to the distinction between demonstrating and being, a coherent interpretation emerges against the backdrop of the Old Testament view of divine righteousness sketched above. In putting Christ forth as a propitiation, God acts for the sake of his glory, i.e., he actively demonstrates inviolable allegiance to the honor of his name in order that his inexorable love of his own glory may not be weakened, i.e., in order that he might remain and be righteous.89

In this context, the justification of sinners through faith (verse 26c) and the passing over (or pardoning) of former sins (verse 25b) both seem to imply that God is disregarding his glory (and would indeed imply this if it were not for God’s setting Christ forth as a propitiation by his blood). “Therefore the και [of verse 26c] must be understood…as an adversative and is to be translated ‘it was to prove at the present time that he himself is just and yet the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.’”90

Or, as Cranfield translates it, “that God might be righteous even in justifying.”91 Understood in this way this pivotal purpose clause at the end of verse 26 is a fitting and perfectly clear climax to verses 25 and 26a. God has accomplished his twofold purpose of sending Christ: He has manifested and preserved his own righteousness and yet92 has justified the ungodly merely through faith. The glorification of God and the salvation of his people are accomplished together.

In conclusion, therefore, I find confirmed that in Romans 3:25-26 the concept of God’s righteousness as his absolute faithfulness always to act for his own name’s sake and for the preservation and display of his glory provides the key which unlocks the most natural and coherent interpretation of this text. That this interpretation takes full account of Paul’s Hebraic milieu and yet supports a traditional “satisfaction theory” of the atonement should be of keen interest for dogmatics.



1 Leonhard Goppelt, Theologie des Neuen Testaments, vol. 2 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprect, 1976) 468.

2 Wolfgang Schrage, “Römer 3:21-26 und die Bedeuteung des Todes Jesu Christi bei Paulus” in: Das Kreuz Jesu ed., Paul Rieger, (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprect, 1969) 86. Also Ernst Käsemann, An die Römer, (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohor (Paul Siebeck) 1974) 74, 78; Peter Stuhlmacher, Gerechtigkeit Gottes bei Paulus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprect, 1966); Christian Müller, Gottes Gerechtigkeit und Vol Gottes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprect, 1964) 111. For an excellent survey of the Käsemann- Müller- Stuhlmacher direction see Manfred T. Brauch, “Perspectives on ‘God’s Righteousness’ in Recent German Discussion” in: E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977) 523-542.

3 This one-sidedness is based mainly on recent interpretations of God’s righteousness in the Old Testament (see note 51): “In short, Yahweh’s righteous judgments are saving judgments.” E. Achtemeier, “Righteousness in the Old Testament” IDB, vol. 4, 83. This צדקה (righteousness) bestowed on Israel is always a saving gift. It is inconceivable that it should ever menace Israel. No references to the concept of a punitive צדקה can be adduced. That would be a contradictio in adiecto.” Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1 (New York: Harper and Row, 1962) 377.

4 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Ltd., 1975) 199. Schrage, “Römer 3:21-26,” 65.

5 E. Käsemann, Römer, 307.

6 Otto Kuss, Der Römerbrief (Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1957) 117.

7 “Die Tradition, aus der Shcrift erwachsen ist, ist die Teifdimension der Schrift.” Leonhard Goppelt, “Tradition nach Paulus,” Kerygma und Dogma, 4 (1958) 232.

8 For a recent summary in English see Ralph Martin, New Testament Foundations, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978) 248-275.

9 Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951) 46.

10 ZNW, 43 (1950/51) 150-54. Now in Exegetische Versuche und Besinnungen, vol. 1 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960) 96-100.

11 An die Römer, 88; “Römer 3;24-26,” 96.

12 “Römer 3:24-26,” 96.

13 Ibid.

14 An die Römer, 90ff.

15 “Römer 3:24-26,” 99.

16 “Römer 3:24-26,” 100.

17 An die Römer, 94. Günther Klein, “Gottes Gerechtigkeit als Thema der neuesten Paulus Forschung” in Rekonstruktion und Interpretation (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1969) 230, goes even further when he says that Paul was critical of the tradition “nicht nur im Sinne einer Ausweitung des Motivs der Bundestreue zu dem der Schöpfungstreue…Die Korrektur ist vielmehr qualitativ: aus einem Seinsbegriff (εις το ειναι αυτον δικαιον) wird ein forensischer (και δικαιουντα).” See note 31 for an alternative view.

18 Martyrer und Gottesknecht (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprect, 1955) 149 note 4. Also Werner Kramer, Christos Kyrios Gottessohn (Zurich: Zwingli Verlag, 1963) 140 note 509.

19 Der Kreuzestod Jesu in der urchiristlichen Verkündigung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprect, 1972) 12.

20 Christologische Formeln und Lieder des Urchristentums (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1972) 87.

21 Der Römerbrief (HTKNT 6; Freiburg: Herder, 1977) 107.

22 Christologische Formeln, 87.

23 Recently Peter Stuhlmacher,“Zur neueren Exegese von Röm. 3:24-26” in Jesus und Paulus, eds., E. E. Ellis and Eric Grässer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1975) 316, Georg Eichholz, Die Theologie des Paulus im Umriss (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1972) 191 (who still includes verse 24); Klaus Wengst (note 20); Hartwig Thyen, Studien zur Sündenvergebung (FRLANT 96; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,, 1970) 164; Wolfgang Schrage, Römer 3:21-26,” 86; Dieter Zeller, “Sühne und Langmut. Zur Traditionsgeschichte vonRöm 3:24-26” Theologie und Philosophie, 43 (1968) 51ff; Eduard Lohse, Martyrer, 140; Christian Müller, Gottes Gerechtigkeit, 110ff.

24 Gotfriend Fitzer, “Der Ort der Versöhnung nach Paulus” ThZ, 22 (1966) 161-83. Charles Talbert, “A Non-Pauline Fragment at Romans 3:24-26?” JBL, 85 (1966) 287-96.

25 Römerbrief, 109.

26 Der Kreuzestod Jesu, 13

27 H. Schlier, Römerbrief, 107, note 8: “Methodischgrundsätzlich: Muss das Auftauchen eines von Paulus sonst nict oder selten gebrauchten Begriffs auf Übernahme einer Tradition weisen?”

28 So Schlier, 109.

29 The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975) 200, note 1.

30 Römerbrief, 161.

31 Römerbrief, 160. E. Lohse, “Die Gerechtigkeit Gottes in der paulinischen Theologie” in Die Einheit des Neuen Testaments (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973) 222: “Paulus nimmt dieses Bekenntnes mit voller Zustimmung auf, gibt ihm aber eine Auslegung, die seine Aussage mit ungleich grösserem Nachdruck hervortreten lässt.” P. Stuhlmacher “Römer 3:24-26,” 331 concludes that Paul’s interpretation of the tradition must be understood “nicht einfach als Kritik, geschweige denn als qualitative Korrektur, sondern mit Lohse als konsequente Weiterführung und Aufweitung.” Walter Maier, “Paul’s Concept of Justification and Some recent Interpretations of Romans 3:21-23, “ Springfielder 37 (1974), 254 concludes that Romans 3:24-26 is not a pre-Pauline formulation.

32 The following representatives do not necessarily agree in all exegetical details: A Schlatter, Gottes Gerechtigkeit (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1935) 148ff.; A. Nygren, Commentary on Romans (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1949) 365; O. Michel, Der Brief an die Römer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966) 107; J. A. Ziesler, The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul (SNTS, 20; Cambridge: University Press, 1972) 194; L. Goppelt Theologie, 194.


33 Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1975) 167, 189: “In Christ’s death the righteousness of God thus reveals itself in the demanding and vindicatory sense of the word. His blood as atoning blood covers the sin which God until now had passed over, when as yet he kept back the judgment. All that men wish to detract from the real character of Christ’s propitiatory death signifies a devaluation of the language of Romans 3:35-26, which is unmistakable in its clarity.”

34 “Römer 3:24-26,” 317.

35 ZThK, 49 (1952) 154-67. The page numbers in the text refer to this essay.

36 In his own words the phrase means “dass Gott seine den Sünden rettende Gerechtigkeit sich auswirken lassen wollte dadurch, dass er die nicht endgültig bestraften Sünden der Zeit vor der Sendung Christi vergab” (“Παρεσις,” 165).

37 Goppelt (Theologie Vol. 2, 424) and Stuhlmacher (Gerechtigkeit, 88) also make explicit their rejection of Anselm’s view.

38 “ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΥΝΗ ΘΕΟΥ,” JBL, 83 (1964) 12ff.

39 For example, E. Lohse, “Die Gerechtigkeit Gottes in der paulinischen Theologie,” 223. See also Cranfield, Romans, 97.

40 For a critique of Stuhlmacher’s Gerechtigkeit Gottes bei Paulus which brings this out see Karl Kertelge, Rechtfertigung bei Paulus (Münster: Verlag Aschendorf, 1967) 307-0. See also G. Klein “Gottesgerechtigkeit als Thema der neusten Paulus Forschung.” But it is only fair to note that Stuhlmacher recognized this weakness and has expressed his “Präzisierung und Selbstrkorrektur” in “Das Ende des Gesetzes” ZThK, 67 (1970) 26 note 28, and 31 note 39, and in “Römer 3:24-26” 331 note 62.

41 On the righteousness of God in Romans 3:5 Stuhlmacher (Gerechtigkeit, 86) says, "δικαιοσυνη Θεου ist an unserer Stelle als keineswegs, wie fast allgemein angenommen wird Gottes richterliche iustitia distributiva ... sondern seine bisher über Israel waltende, fortan Israels Hoffnung begründende Treue zu dem von ihm einmal verkündeten (und in Christus verifizierten) Bundesrecht und Bund." Similarly Käsemann, Römer, 73f.


43 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, (NIC, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1959) 119ff.

44 “Ob man hier von einem ‘Beweis’ oder einem ‘Erweis’ spricht, tut nicht viel zur Sache,” O. Kuss,” Römerbrief, 158.

45 C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (HNTC; New York: Harper & Row, 1957) 80.

46 Romans, 213.

47 It is not necessary for my present purpose to enter the debate over the precise meaning of ιλατηριον. The older controversy between Roger Nicole (“C. H. Dodd and the Doctrine of Propitiation,” Westminster Theological Journal, 17 (1955) 117-57) and C. H. Dodd (“ΙΛΑΣΚΕΣΘΑΙ, its Cognates, Derivatives and Synonyms in the Septuagint,” JTS, 32 (1931) 352-360) has recently been revived: see R. Nicole “Hilaskesthai Revisited,” Evangelical Quarterly, 49/3 (1977) 173-177. For a recent and thorough examination of whether the Old Testament Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) or the atoning death of Jewish Martyrs (4 Maccabees 17:21ff) provides the history-of-religions background for Paul, see P. Stuhlmacher, “Römer 3:24-26.” I find Barrett’s view very sound: “’Propitiation’ is not adequate, for this means that the offender does something to appease the person he has offended, whereas Paul says that God himself put forward Christ. Propitiation is truly there, however, for, through the sacrifice of Christ, God’s wrath is turned away; but behind the propitiation lies the fact that God actually wiped out (expiated) our sin, and made us right with himself.” Reading through Romans (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977) 16.

48 Römer, 92 “1:18-3:20 haben die Vergangenheit nicht unter das Thema der Nachsict übenden Geduld, sondern der Zornesoffenbarung gestellt…”

49 The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1965) 278.

50 W. Schrage (“Rom 3:21-26,” 74) represents a host of scholars when he comments on the righteousness of God in our text: “Gerechtigkeit ist im Alten Testament gerade nict die Respektierung einer ideellen ethischen bzw. Rechtilichen Norm oder eine sittlichen Qualität, sondern im strengen Sinn ein Relationsbegriff, konkret: das dem Bund entsprechende, durch den Bund bestimmte Verhalten…Inhaltlich heisst dass: seine Gerechtigkeit ist sein heilschaffendes rettendes Eingreifen zugunsten seines Bundespartners.”

51 The literature is almost endless, but several recent works provide good overviews of the history of the investigation: Frank Crüsemann, “Jahwes Gerechtigkeit (צדקה/צדק)” EvTh, 36/5 (1976) 427-50 (See especially his note 2); Klaus Koch, Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, vol. 2 (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1975) col. 507-530; Rafael Gyllenberg, Reichtfertigung und Altes Testament bei Paulus (Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1973); Hans Schmid, Gerechtigkeit als Weltordnung (BHT 40; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck, 1958); Gerhard von Rad, Theology, vol. 1, 370-383; David Hill, Greek Words & Hebrew Meanings (SNTS 5; Cambridge: University Press, 1966) 82ff.

52 George Ladd, “Righteousness in Romans” Southwestern Journal of Theology, 19/1 (Fall, 1976) 6.

53 P. Stuhlmacher, Gerechtigkeit, 88 note 6.

54 L. Goppelt, Theologie, vol. 2, 424.

55 E. Käsemann, “On the Subject of Primitive Christian Apocalyptic” in New Testament Questions Today(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 137.

56 E. Käsemann, Römer, 294.

57 The translation comes for A. Dupont-Sommer, The Essene Writings from Qumran (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1961) 102ff. The Hebrew text comes from E. Lohse, ed., Die Texte aus Qumran (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1971) 40.

58 The translation is from R. A. Charles, Pseudepigrapha.

59 E.g. 1 Samuel 24:17; Psalm 51:14; 143:1ff; 69:27. See the word associations in Psalm 33:4; 36:5, 6, 18; 40:10; 88:11, 12; 116:5; 145:17; Hosea 2:19.

60 G. Klein, “Gottesgerechtigkeit” 227.

61 H. Conzelmann, An Outline of the Theology of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1969) 218.

62 Gerechtigkeit, 175.

63 “Die Rechtfertigungslehre des Paulus: Theologie oder Anthropologie?” in Theologie als Schriftauslegung (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1974) 198 note 39. Also in EvTh, 28, (1968) 396. Similarly Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, vol. 1, 46.

64 C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans, p. 97, “While it is, of course, true that the righteousness language of the Old Testament and of late Judaism is the background against which Paul’s expression δικαιοσυνη Θεου must be understood, there is no reason to assume that he must have used the language he took over just precisely as it had been used. We must allow for the possibility of his having used what he took over with freedom and originality.

65 THAT, vol. 2, 516.

66 “Jahwes Gerechtigkeit,” 430. He can only cite five texts: Psalm 50:5/5,16; 89:15, 17/4,29,35,40; 11:3/5,9; 132:9/12; 103:6/17,18.

67 THAT, vol. 2, 520.

68 “Jahwes Gerechtigkeit,” 448ff. See the secondary literature here.

69 Gerechtigkeit als Weltordnung (note 51). See the chapter “Is there a ‘punitive righteousness’ in the Old Testament?” and the literature there.

70 Theology, vol. 1 (note 3) 377, note 17.

71 Gerechtigkeit Gottes (note 2) 135 note 8; cf. 131 note 7.

72 See THAT, vol. 2, 958 for the righteousness between the name and glory of God.

73 Genesis (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961) 208ff. Surprisingly, von Rad’s penetrating discussion of Genesis 18:25 (“Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”) leads me in this direction. His point is that since righteousness “is always defined by a communal relationship,” therefore “Yahweh has a communal relationship with Sodom too” (p. 208). But what is this relationship which God has even with those outside of Israel? It must be a universal relationship which God has with creation. But what are the terms of this relationship? Could it not be shown from Genesis 1 and elsewhere (e.g. Isaiah 43:7) that the terms of God’s relationship with humanity are that they image forth his glory and honor his name by faithful obedience? And would this not imply that the righteousness of God has as its root God’s allegiance to his own name?

74 Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (TOTC; Inter-Varsity Press, 1975) 476ff.

75 Gerechtigkeit als Weltordnung, 143.

76 F. Crüsemann “Jahwes Gerechtigkeit,” 444; D. Hill, Greek Words; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol. 1, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961) 245; G. von Rad, Theology, vol. 1, 372.

77 Die Paulinische Rechtfertigungslehre (Gütersloh: Verlas von C. Bertelsmann, 1899) 80.

78 Commenting on God’s righteousness in Isaiah 40-66, W. Eichrodt gives expression to a needed emphasis: “The close connection between God’s righteousness and his holiness, of which the righteousness is a revelation, anchors Yahweh’s intervention for the restoration of the covenant people firmly in the nature (Wesen) of God as Lord of the Universe. In this way Yahweh’s [righteous] intervention is freed from all egoistic limitations of national self-interest and is given its proper place within the world-wide purposes of the divine sovereignty (Walten).” Theologie des Alten Testaments, Teil 1, (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1948) 117. My translation. Contrast Theology vol. 1, 245.

79 A case could be made that the conception of God’s righteousness I have developed has left traces in the apocalyptic literature which Käsemann sees as the background of Paul’s conception. 1 QS 1:26 reflects a punitive divine righteousness which has to be correlated somehow with the saving righteousness in 1 QS 10:11, 12; 11:3, 5, 10, 12-15. The key may lie in the parallel between glory/majesty and righteousness (1 QS 11:6, 7, 15). When 4 Ezra says, “For this, O Lord, shall thy righteousness be declared, if thou wilt compassionate them that have no wealth of good works,” the next verses picture God refusing to do all that Ezra asks: he will rejoice only over the righteous (8:39). And who are they? “Them that have always put their trust in thy glory” (8:30). “Them who…search out the glory” (8:51). But not those who “have themselves defiled the Name of him that made them.”

80 Käsemann, Römer, 78. But I disagree strongly with the way he handles the quote form Psalm 51:4 in Romans 3:4. I agree that the righteousness of God in 3:5 cannot refer to íustitia distributiva” but I am dissatisfied with the definition: “jene Mact, welche ihr Recht auf das Geschöpf durchsetzt” (p. 78) since I was not able to decipher the place of punishment in this execution of power.

81 A Schlier, Römerbrief, 107; C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans, vol. 1, 204; E. Käsemann, Römer, 88. Cf. Apocalypse of Moses, 20; Greek Apocalypse of Baruch 4:16; Genesis Rabbah 12:5 (on 2:4).

82 That this complex of ideas so closely echoes the teaching of Anselm is not due to any vested interest in have in defending him. It is due, I suppose, to the fact that his insights are more biblical than many of his critics (who seldom show specific errors) think. See Saint Anselm, Basic Writings trans. By S. N. Deane (La Salle, IL: Open Court Pub. Co., 1962), especially pp. 201-210.

83 Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek vol. III, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963) 263. C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: University Press, 1959) 54.

84 “Παρεσις,” 164.

85 Römer, 92.

86 Römer, 93.

87 “Romans 3:26b: A Question of Translation,” JBL 87 (1968) 203ff.

88 He comments innocuously, “Finale Deutung ist der Konsekutivan vorzuziehen, weil mit εις το ειναι auf das Motiv der ενδειξις zurückgegriffen wird” (Römer, 93). But in what sense are the εις το ειναι and the ενδειξις related? How are they different, if they are? He does not say.

89 It should be noted that when I speak of God’s being righteous I am not referring to metaphysical substances but to conditions of will. God’s being righteous is properly described in terms of faithfulness, allegiance, commitment, devotion, loyalty, etc. He is righteous in that his inclination or will is inexorably committed always to preserve and display his glory. This eternal and unswerving inclination precedes and grounds all his acts of demonstration.

90 George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974) 432.

91 Romans, (note 29) 213.

92 This “yet” must not be construed to mean that the mercy of justification is contrary or adverse to the righteousness of God. What the adversative signifies is the apparent conflict between letting sins go unpunished and God’s commitment always to preserve and display his glory. The putting Christ forth as a propitiation reveals how in fact there is no conflict: God is just and (with no tension at all) justifier of the one who trusts Jesus.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: