“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live” (Romans 1:17). Faith’ in Paul’s Letter, To The Romans.
Arriving now at one of Paul’s most passionate themes of Gospel proclamation as well as his Christology— ‘righteousness’, qualified: ‘of God’. At the very heart of all that Paul sought to transmit in his fervent quest to deliver this ‘new faith’ to the generations is what I believe to be his most oppressed teaching: ‘the righteousness of God’— revealed through faith for faith! This will take some time, not only because it is a major theme of this Letter-Book, but also because misunderstandings, and ‘dis’understandings have so permeated the historicity of Christianity; Christian Churches; Christian Nations; that exhumation must occur.
This word ‘righteousness’ is so crucial that it has to be seen in the language of the text— ‘dikaiosune’. To be sure, we have seen the theme before in the five week column discussion on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 23:23 known as “The Woes Against The Pharisees”. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees (lawmakers), hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”
First, then, at the root of ‘righteousness’ is ‘dike’ (where the ‘e’ is the letter ‘eta’ and has pronunciation)— ‘law’. So strong is the influence of ‘law’ upon biblical faith that it is thought of as the basis, the pillar, the very foundation of Old Testament belief system. With so many words for law in the ‘legalistic’ faith tradition of Judaism, ‘dike’ translates as the ‘law posited by God’— ‘bound by justice’. It is ‘Right Law’. God is Lord of Right Law. He is both Ruler and Judge of what is Right. This ‘right-law’ of God is an order of life that cannot be challenged or changed. It is a ‘given’ in creation which determines assurance of life as well as judgement. It is never to be twisted with the laws that are made by (hu)man.
For the Greek, Dike is the god(dess) and personification of justice. She is the daughter of gods Nomos-‘law’ and Themis-‘divine law’. Dike is known as the enemy of all that is falsehood and is said to sit in lamentation at Zeus’ throne whenever a judge violates justice. She pierces the heart of the unjust, punishes injustice and rewards virtue.
It is the judgement side of ‘dike’ that makes it’s way into New Testament thought. With only 4 occurrences of this word in the entire New Testament, Paul uses it only once, in II Thess 1:9. It is used of him in Acts 28:4 when after his ship wrecked on Malta, the natives looked at the snake bite as ‘Dike’ demanding justice.
I suspect that somewhere in this discussion lies the questions of how and why the ‘justice’ theme that so heavily dominates the God of Old Testament faith, is lost on the God of New Testament faith. Why we have become so preoccupied with the ‘laws of man’ and not the ‘laws of God’.
I keep listening for the voice of ‘dike’ justice in our world. I have seen the commitment that the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to the divine justice theme. Having the pulpit attention of thousands, his quest was to go beyond the judicial systems of his local and state levels to speak to injustices in the judicial system of the national life. I see where thousands give attention to pulpit ministries, but I don’t hear the cry from the pulpit to let justice roll down…
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