Jun 05 2017

Announcement: PhD Prep – Master of Divinity

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Decisions: After much deliberation, and if my coursework goes well this summer, I will be submitting my application for the PhD Prep – Master of Divinity in Christian Apologetics program at Liberty University / Rawlings School of Divinity. Classes will begin in the spring of 2018:

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Jun 05 2017

Paul’s Letter

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Final Essay on Paul’s letter to the Romans: Submitted 05/2017

Justification by Faith

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the apostle uses the root ‘dikai‘ to make his case for the unmerited imputation of the righteousness and justification of God upon man based on faith ‘pistis’ in Christ alone. The third chapter of Romans in particular brings to a climax the case which Paul has been building in support of this premise and reaches a pinnacle in Romans 3:27-28 where Paul states, “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith (πίστις – pistis). For we maintain that a man is justified (δικαιόω – dikaioō) by faith (πίστις – pistis) apart from observing the law” (NIV). According to Barnes’ commentary on verse 27, the referenced law of faith is an “arrangement which proclaims that we have no merit; that we are lost sinners; and that we are to be justified only by faith.” [1] In agreement with this contextual analysis, MaGee, in considering verse 28, states that “In parallel with 3:21, Paul uses the preposition χωρίς to show that God accomplishes justification independently from the law (3:21) or works of the law (3:28).” [2]

Though the defining of certain words and their subsequent Greek translations in Paul’s letter to the Romans is both desirable and necessary for purposes of reference, simply defining words and terms does not necessarily provide the reader with sufficient information as to how Paul is using them within a particular context. It is, therefore, crucial to make the argument for the apostle’s intent only after a careful exegesis of relevant passages has been explored. To this end, and subsequent to the defining of terms, a number of other items are worthy of consideration. These would include the basis of justification, the means by which one is justified, whether justification is a gradual or spontaneous process, the results and or fruits associated with justification, and what assurance one has based on exegetical study.


Since it is not too early to begin inserting context into the narrative, Moo’s examination of “dikaiosyne theou, literally, righteousness of God,” [3] is both detailed and commendable. In “The Epistle to the Romans,” Moo, in reference to three variations of the root, posits that “No set of words is more important for a correct understanding of Paul’s message to the Romans than those that share the [Greek] root dik-, especially ‘justify,’ ‘righteousness,’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘righteous.’” [4] Available information on ‘dikaiosyne (righteousness) indicates that the term is fairly common throughout the Septuagint and occurs several hundred times. [5] In contrast, ‘dikaiosyne theou’ is used sparingly throughout Paul’s letters and occurs “only eight times in Romans.” [6] Its potential impact, however, should not be discounted based on the limited usage. In considering this, Moo provides several popular interpretations for ‘dikaiosyne theou’ before making his own argument as to the correct exegesis.

The three variations of the meaning of the term are posited as “an attribute of God,” a “status given by God,” and “an activity of God. [7] The first offering, once popular in the church, understood ‘dikaiosyne theou’ to be the equivalent of God’s “distributive justice,” [8] which may have some merit in several of its usages. The second proposal Moo explores is one that interprets the term as a “status given by God [9] and was held by Martin Luther. Howbeit, Luther, according to Moo, believed the status to be a “matter of judicial standing… and not of internal renewal or moral transformation.” [10] The third option defines the term as “an activity of God. [11] In the context of passages such as Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God ‘dikaiosyne theou’ is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith ‘pistis from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (NIV), Moo argues that “if Paul is using this “biblical” meaning of the word, then his point here would be that the gospel manifests “the saving action of God.” [12]

Though all three of the opinions cited are accurate in their own sense, and each shares enough valid scriptural support to argue their premise, Moo concludes, as does the writer, that the third definition enjoys the most merit overall; that it is “God’s “righteousness” in this sense – a saving, vindicating intervention of God – that the prophets say will characterize the eschatological deliverance of God’s people.” [13]


The third chapter of Romans is an excellent resource for the reader to consider the basis, or grounds, upon which justification is established. One of the primary reasons for this is that Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome takes the time to first explain the basis upon which one ‘cannot’ be viewed as righteous in God’s sight; that is, by trying to obey the Mosaic law. Before returning to Moo’s assessment of this matter, an assessment of which the writer adamantly agrees, consideration is first given to the aforementioned statement of what is not a foundational basis for justification.

Romans 3:20 states that, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous ‘dikaioō’ in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (NIV). Here, the Strong’s Greek & Hebrew Dictionary defines ‘dikaioō’ as “to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent :- free, justify (-ier), be righteous” (Strong’s). This inability to be regarded by God as “just or innocent” based on human effort to obey the very law that God himself had instituted through Moses can be viewed as either a blessing or as an insult; a blessing for those who are willing to accept Christ’s propitiation, or as an insult for those who believe, whether Jew or Gentile, that human endeavor should be sufficient to secure righteous standing. Commenting on this, Constable notes that “The purpose of the law was not to provide people with a series of steps that would lead them to heaven. It was to expose their inability to merit heaven.” [14] In comparing the precariousness of obedience to the law as that of a chain, Constable also adds that “If someone breaks even one link, the chain cannot save. If someone wants to earn God’s commendation of being perfectly righteous, he or she must obey God’s Law perfectly.” [15]

In considering the “Works of the Law” (RSV) of verse 20, Maston and Sherwood agree that “Paul does not appear to have any particular commandments in mind, so it is probably best to view the works of the law broadly as any act of obedience to the Torah.” [16] An important item of note here, according to the authors, is that even though the Jews may have believed that righteousness had already been ascribed to them by God via the covenant relationship, “Paul presents God as declaring righteous those who are outside the covenant.” [17]

This act of declaring a person as righteous, without merit or benefit of an instituted covenant, brings the narrative back to Moo’s analysis of exactly what justification is founded upon. Though the means by which justification is made possible is explored in the next section, the simplicity of Paul’s message is that the righteousness of God ‘dikaiosyne theou’ is a gift; unmerited, undeserved, and unearned. Supporting this position, Moo argues that “righteousness is used most often in Romans to denote the “gift of righteousness” (5:17) – a righteous status that God bestows on the one who believes.” [18]


Building off the premise that ‘dikaiosyne theou’ is a gift which cannot be obtained through human effort, and is, in fact, an intentional act of God upon man, the question then arises as to how this gift of God’s righteousness is received. What is the ‘means’ by which it is applied to humanity? Is this scenario one in which no response is needed or expected on the part of man; that is, a kind of universal application to address the sin of the world? The answer is both yes and no; yes in the sense that Christ’s propitiation is more than sufficient for the sin of mankind, and no in the sense that man has nothing to do with receiving God’s gift.

According to exegetical study, the required response of man towards God concerning the imputation of the righteousness of God ‘dikaiosyne theou’ upon his life is that of faith ‘pistis. To support this premise, a closer examination of the third chapter of Romans is both desirable and necessary. Though much of the second half of Romans 3 addresses the ‘means’ (v.21-31) of justification, a consideration of verses 21-22 are in order; “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…” (NIV). Turning once again to Strong’s for reference, ‘pistisπίστις is defined as a “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation” (Strong’s). With the definition established, additional scholarly analysis and support for the argument is now offered.

In reference to Romans 3:21-22, Moo comments that it is here that “Paul reveals the very heart of the good news: God’s righteousness is available to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.” [19] In addition, concerning 3:24, that all “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV), Moo argues that “Paul has emphasized that God’s justifying work is available through faith. Now he adds two further points: We are justified by means of God’s grace and on the basis of his redemptive work in Jesus Christ.” [20]

In Maier’s article, “Paul’s Concept of Justification, and Some Recent Interpretations of Romans 3:21-31”, the author comments on the attachment that verses 3:21-22 have with Romans 1:17 and shares that “the dikaiosunë theou (in 1:17; 3:21-22) is also obtained apart from law, from obedience to legal precepts, from all works done in the effort to gain the divine approbation.” [21] Referencing Schrenk, Maier argues against the idea that justification results from some sort of “infusion of moral qualities,” [22] and, like Moo, holds it to be an “action of God”; [23] one that has been accomplished through Christ’s resurrection.

Raith offers additional support in his comparative analysis of Calvin versus Aquinas’ position on justification; the former holding to an “imputational model” [24] while the latter proposing a “transformational model.” [25] What this means is that, in opposition to the findings of the Council of Trent, Calvin believed that works held no place in the justification process. Convinced that Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome supported the imputation of righteousness via faith alone, Calvin held what Raith would refer to as a “”forensic” or “dispositional” justification that comes sola fide and thus without the consideration of any works.” [26] In support of this premise, Raith draws attention to the fourth chapter of Romans which centers on Abraham’s justification. To that end, several passages are worth noting. Though the entire chapter is centered on ‘pistis’ as being the ‘means’ of justification, several verses may suffice. These would include 4:1-3, 13-16. In particular, verse 13 reads, “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness ‘δικαιοσύνη – dikaiosynē’ that comes by faith ‘pistis’” (NIV). The definition of dikaiosynē is given as “equity (of character or act); specially (Christian) justification :- righteousness” (Strong’s).

One more offering on the ‘means’ should suffice for this narrative before examining other items. Santmire’s commentary on “Justification in Calvin’s 1540” makes the following observation:

The doctrine of justification as Calvin delineates it in his Romans commentary is the story of the Creator’s restoration of the unrighteous and condemned creature to fullness of life in righteousness. Out of his goodness God causes his promise of life to the elect to be fulfilled without compromising his righteous rejection of man. He does this, he justifies the sinner, by one act which has several constituents. [27]

Time Factors:

Concerning the time factor associated with justification, arguments as to whether it is an instantaneous or gradual process have continued since the early church era. The short answer is that there is a marked difference between justification and sanctification (and this difference will be examined shortly), but justification is, in fact, an instantaneous process that is both initiated and completed by the Lord. When considering past division, however, Moo provides some helpful information. In his commentary regarding the wicked being justified, the author shares that prior to the Reformation period it was commonly accepted that “justification included both acceptance with God and a transformation of our very being.” [28] Howbeit, the idea that potential converts would, in some way, need to “”prepare” themselves to receive God’s gift” [29] did not resonate with Reformers like Calvin.

In contrast, the Reformers “systematically separated “justification” from “regeneration” and “sanctification” and argued that a person could do nothing to prepare himself or herself for God’s justifying work.” [30] In citing Romans 4:5, “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (NIV), a valid argument is presented that is troublesome to counter. In essence, it is not those who have already made attempts at “cleaning up their acts” that receive justification, it is by God’s “creative, “synthetic,” act by which he accounts a person righteous in his sight—a person who is really not, in himself or herself, righteous.” [31]

Detractors of the Reformers stance on the matter responded with the argument that this violated God’s previously stated position in the Old Testament. In referencing passages from Proverbs, Isaiah, and Exodus 23:7 which reads, “Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty” (NIV), the opposition believed the Reformers were making contradictory claims.

There is, however, another plausible reason as to why the meritless imputation of God’s righteousness upon the ungodly has frequently met with such fierce resistance. In his narrative, Moo shares that one of the commonly held convictions of various theologians is that the Reformers position is “perceived as letting Christians “off the hook” in their own pursuit of holiness. If Christ’s righteousness is credited to us and he fulfills the law in our place, then we might conclude it is unimportant whether we actually please God or not.” [32] Obviously, the primary concern in this assessment is one of motivation. Is there a viable reason for the justified to press on in Christ now that the confines of the Mosaic law have been eliminated? Why even try? Admittedly, the writer has also considered this question at length and he is not altogether convinced that it is completely without merit.

The answer, however, seems simple enough. If the ungodly have been declared clean in the sight of God, and are now a new creation in Christ, why would one not want to pursue an intimacy with Christ and allow the Holy Spirit room to produce desirable fruit? This premise, of course, could quickly lead away from the task at hand. The complex subject of free will is best suited for another narrative. Even so, one of the best indications that justification has taken place, and that lives have been transformed by the power of God, can be seen in the spiritual fruit that is produced in the lives of Christ’s followers.

Results / Fruits:

Question: How is sanctification measured, and how can it be determined that it is actually taking place in the Christian’s life? Or, as Moo asks, “Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?” [33] The answer Moo provides is that even though these two are intertwined they are different in the sense that “God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued.” [34] Building off of the previous topic, and its associated opposition, Moo takes a fairly strong position concerning the process of sanctification and argues for its continued necessity after justification has been established.

In Romans 6:1-5, Paul also strikes at this potential problem with succinctness. Specifically, verses 1-4 make it clear that continuing to live in sin after having died to it is not an option. Concerning Romans 6:2, Moo’s thoughts are that “This question may be turned into a statement: We who are Christians no longer live under the domination of sin. We cannot, therefore, go on living in sin the way we used to.” [35] This position does not support the idea that temptation is no longer a threat, or that the justified person should seek to obey the law in order to keep their standing secure. The righteous do not obey the law in order to be justified, they follow after Christ because they are justified.


The fifth and eight chapters of Romans provide for the assurance of those who enjoy the righteousness of Christ through faith. This theme “dominates the first (5:1-11) and last (8:18-39) paragraphs in these chapters” [36] and assures the Christian that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2, NIV). In similar fashion, Romans 5:1-2 reminds Paul’s audience that “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (NIV). A final assurance can be found in Romans 8:9-11 which explains that the Holy Spirit has been given as a guarantor to those who have received the righteousness of God ‘dikaiosyne theou’.


Barnes, Albert. “Commentary on Romans 3:4”. “Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament”, http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/romans-3.html (Accessed April 6, 2017).

Blackwell, Ben C., John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston. Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism; Ed. by Ben C. Blackwell. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.

Constable, Thomas L. “Commentary on Romans 3:4”. “Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable”, http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/romans-3.html (Accessed April 6, 2017).

Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on Romans.” Sonic Light – Bible Study Resources for Christians, http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/romans.pdf. (Accessed April 6, 2017).

MaGee, Gregory S. “Paul’s Gospel, The Law, and God’s Universal Reign in Romans 3:31.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 57, no. 2 (June 2014): 341-350. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 09, 2017).

Maier, Walter A. “Paul’s Concept of Justification, and Some Recent Interpretations of Romans 3:21-31.” Springfielder 37, no. 4 (March 1974): 248-264. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 09, 2017).

Moo, Douglas J. Romans. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996.

Raith, Charles D II. “Abraham and the Reformation: Romans 4 and the Theological Interpretation of Aquinas and Calvin.” Journal Of Theological Interpretation 5, no. 2 (September 2011): 283-300. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 09, 2017).

Santmire, H Paul. “Justification in Calvin’s 1540 Romans Commentary.” Church History 33, no. 3 (September 1964): 294-313. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 09, 2017).

[1] Albert Barnes, “Romans 7 Commentary – Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible.” https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/romans-7.html (Accessed April 21, 2017)

[2] Gregory MaGee, “Paul’s Gospel, The Law, and God’s Universal Reign in Romans 3:31.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 57, no. 2 (June 2014): 344, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost. (Accessed April 9, 2017)

[3] Douglas J. Moo, Romans. NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 51.

[4] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996), 78.

[5] Ibid., 79.

[6] Ibid., 69.

[7] Ibid., 69-70.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 70.

[10] Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 70.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 73.

[14] Thomas L. Constable, “Commentary on Romans 3:4”. “Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable.” http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/romans-3.html (Accessed April 21, 2017)

[15] Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Romans.” Sonic Light – Bible Study Resources for Christians, http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/romans.pdf. (Accessed April 21, 2017), 51.

[16] Jason Maston, Aaron Sherwood, “4QMMT and Romans 3:1-20,” in Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism; Ed. by Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston,. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 50.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 72-73.

[19] Moo, Romans, 126.

[20] Ibid., 127.

[21] Walter A. Maier, “Paul’s Concept of Justification, and Some Recent Interpretations of Romans 3:21-31.” Springfielder 37, no. 4 (March 1974): 249, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost. (Accessed April 9, 2017).

[22] Ibid., 248.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Charles D. Raith, “Abraham and the Reformation: Romans 4 and the Theological Interpretation of Aquinas and Calvin” Journal Of Theological Interpretation 5, no. 2 (September 2011): 283, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 09, 2017).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Raith, Abraham and the Reformation, 284.

[27] Paul H. Santmire, “Justification in Calvin’s 1540 Romans Commentary.” Church History 33, no. 3 (September 1964): 297, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 09, 2017).

[28] Moo, Romans, 149.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Moo, Romans, 149.

[33] Ibid., 194.

[34] Moo, Romans, 194.

[35] Ibid., 195.

[36] Ibid., 168.

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