Q. It is interesting how you take issue with the new Perspective on Paul in regard to the righteousness language, and I think you are largely right. The opposite of righteousness is unrighteousness, not unfaithfulness. And God’s righteousness leads to divine activity, but it is not that activity, it is property or character trait of a holy God. Help us unpack further how the righteousness of God relates to the saving activity, but also the judging activity of God. How would you characterize this relationship?
A. I’m glad that you picked up on my criticism of NT scholars who equate God’s righteousness with a sort of activity, which seems to me just a category mistake. God’s righteousness is rather, as you say, a property. It is in virtue of His perfect righteousness, a broad moral notion encompassing moral goodness, that God’s essential nature is both loving and just. In virtue of His essential justice and love, God’s righteousness expresses itself toward sinners by condemning them for their evil deeds and by providing a means of salvation from their just desert by a loving act of supreme Self-sacrifice.
Q. It is interesting how far some new perspective on Paul advocates have strayed from what was taken as normative OT concepts, for instance the concept of redemptive-judgment. Klaus Koch made clear that this concept occurs again and again in the prophets. It meant that while Israel was being vindicated (and also judged for their sins, since judgment begins with the household of God), the very means of redemption was the judgment of Israel’s enemies. The Exodus event is a classic example—the Hebrews were freed, redeemed etc. by means of the judgments that fell on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. You make the salient point that new perspective folks have tried to whittle down God’s righteousness to just his saving activity, and even further his saving activity of just the elect, those that he owes covenant faithfulness to. About this Paul says the opposite! He says, speaking to both Gentiles and Jews who follow Christ— while we were yet enemies of God, while we were yet sinners, while we were yet ungodly… God sent his Son in spite of what we were and deserved. God owes no covenant loyalty to covenant breakers, even if we were just talking about Jewish Christians! Am I tracking well with your critique here?
A. Indeed! I love the way Mark Seifrid puts it, “Retribution remains on the ‘backside’ of divine acts of righteousness.”2 They are two sides of the same coin. Righteousness language in the OT takes on a positive or salvific sense because the biblical writers expect God to intervene to reinstate right order when it is usurped by evil in the world. It takes on a negative or punitive sense because the biblical writers expect reinstatement of right order to involve the punishment of the wicked. (2 Mark A. Seifrid, “Righteousness Language in the Hebrew Scriptures and Early Judaism,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism: A Fresh Appraisal of Paul and Second Temple Judaism, 2 vols., ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid, vol. 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/140 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), p. 44. Or, more accurately, of God’s saving acts of righteousness.)