Monday, March 12, 2007

The Meaning of Dikaioo: Part 2

Following up from Part 1.

Westerholm writes, “to be dikaiosified is, in effect, to be given the treatment appropriate to one who is dikaios; in a legal context it means to be declared innocent of wrongdoing, or acquitted" (Perspectives on Paul, 272-73). Westerholm’s definition here includes two basic components: a declarative component (i.e., what is said about the defendant) and an executive component (i.e., how the defendant is treated). Whether or not Westerholm is correct that this is Paul’s primary meaning of dikaioo, it is clear that the word is frequently used with this sense in the LXX and beyond. Westerholm—along with most other Protestant theologians (including Wright)—press the “declarative” aspect of dikaioo. What I haven’t seen however, is someone who teases out the implications of the executive aspect of Westerholm’s definition. Westerholm certainly doesn’t; as can be seen in the definition he provides above, Westerholm intentionally drops the executive aspect of dikaioo when the term is used in a legal context. But need we do so?

Certainly many legal disputes in biblical times involved more than mere acquittal (it was more than simply “Mrs. White did not kill Col. Mustard in the study with the wrench”). Many legal judgments often involved rewarding one party over against another. Land disputes, livestock disputes, etc., required that the judge not only declare one party to be right, but that he actually bring about justice on behalf of the one declared to be in the right. Thus the judge’s justification of an individual involved both a judicial declaration of who was right, as well as an executive action whereby the injured party was rewarded restitution. In short, the forensic notion of justification that we see in the LXX—the notion that Paul is working from—involves both a declaration and an executive action on the part of the judge. This is seen quite clearly in 1 Kings 8:31-32 (c.f. the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 6:23):
If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath, and he comes and takes an oath before Thine altar in this house, then hear Thou in heaven and act and judge Thy servants, condemning the wicked by bringing his way on his own head and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness.
Implicit within this passage is both the declarative and executive nature of dikaioo. Solomon’s conception of justification involves God actually “giving” to a person according to his righteousness. This dual nature of justification—with both its declarative and executive sense—can be easily read into the other forensic dikaioo passages as well.

So what does this mean for Paul? If Paul views dikaioo as having both a declarative sense and an executive sense, what, pray tell, is the executive sense in his understanding of justification? The executive sense, I would suggest, involves God rewarding the righteousness of faith with the blessings of the New Covenant promise. Tom Wright helpfully argues that Paul’s soteriology is covenentally focused (see his Climax of the Covenant). By this he means that Paul views the death and resurrection of Christ as opening the way for God's people to receive the long anticipated provisions of the New Covenant. Wright’s contention here makes a great deal of sense. Granting this as a basic starting point (which apparently many do not), I would suggest that the executive aspect of justification is seen in the sinner being rewarded with the new creation/circumcision of the heart (Galatians 6:15, Romans 2:29, etc.)—a central facet of the New Covenant promise (Jeremiah 31:31, Ezekiel 11:19, etc.). Paul’s basic understanding of justification would run thus:

We are sinners and cut off from the eschatological blessing that God intends to bring upon the world. Yet in his mercy, God has sent Christ to open the way for sinners to be reconciled to him, counting our faith in him as our righteousness. Based upon this righteousness of faith, God then justifies us. This justification is not merely the divine declaration that we are now in right standing before God; it also necessarily involves his actual giving to us the reward of a righteous individual, namely the promised spiritual regeneration of the New Covenant (of course, such a claim requires scriptural substantiation that is not provide here).

Thus ontological renewal is not ancillary to justification, but is in fact an essential (pun intended) element of justification. For Paul, the executive nature of justification does not look only to the resurrection of the body and the final reward of eternal life. We do not need to wait until we die to be “rewarded as righteous.” Paul very much views the present spiritual regeneration afforded through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the in-breaking of this coming eschatological resurrection. So much so, that he can speak of us as having already been justified in the present—declared righteous and rewarded as righteous (i.e., spiritually regenerated).

So in coming full circle, the Augustinian notion that justification involves ontological renewal is correct. God not only declares us to be righteous based upon our faith, but then actually treats us as righteous, making us recipients of the New Covenant and thus its promise of spiritual regeneration. To speak of justification without speaking at the same time of spiritual regeneration is to miss the whole point of Paul’s soteriology.


Pontificator said...

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Anonymous said...

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RevK said...

This post starts out strong! It is in keeping with the Westminster Catechism's discussion on the two-fold aspects of justification. It is especially insightful when one considers that Satan is the "accuser of the brethren." The righteous will be vindicated! PTL!

"...counting our faith in him as our righteousness. Based upon this righteousness of faith, God then justifies us. This justification is not merely the divine declaration that we are now in right standing before God; it also necessarily involves his actual giving to us the reward of a righteous individual, namely the promised spiritual regeneration of the New Covenant (of course, such a claim requires scriptural substantiation that is not provide here)." This sounds very much like the promises made to Abraham who was counted as righteous in his belief -- of course, as a result of God's electing grace. Abraham was righteous and rewarded in God's sight (mercifully). Thank God that the work He begins, He is faithful to complete -- in all who believe in Him who created and sustains everything.

Luke said...

So what of the sinner who chooses faith, then, after being awarded the kingdom, returns to sinful ways, thus loosing all executively awarded to him? Is he still justified like the son of the prodigal father, or is their a continuation to this story?

I think the ontological step rests in the declaritive power of God's word instead. For example, God's declarations, unlike those of a judge on earth, have immediate and moving power. He declairs us righteous and we are made so, not only in reputation, but also our hearts are moved upon by his power. We are then given a heart capable of, perhaps even "re-bent" toward knowing and re-choosing Him. It is not the guarantee of eschatalogical reward that we get, as with a judge to a person declaired righteous in a court, but rather the award of this new heart that gives us the possibility of this reward. (Like a businessman who's name is cleared and can then practice business again with a renewed reputation, he is not guaranteed success, but his heart is hopeful with the renewed possibility of success.) This is the beginning of the possibility of the eschatological reward, but not the certianty of it. Only those who continue in faith until the end are granted this reward. This takes the work of continually conforming the will and regularly re-presencinng the possibility once hoped in.

Personally, I revel in the re-choosing of faith on a regular basis. It leaves the ontological aspect dynamically open rather than statically fixed, as my expereince of Him suggests is appropriate, given His allotment to us of free will.

Anonymous said...

partly very good...

how does the justification of the ungodly fit into the picture? in your view it seems God justifies the righteous, not the unrighteous (cf Rom 4:5)...

Gerald said...


In my view here, God justifies the ungodly based on faith. Faith in Romans 4 (and throughout Paul) is (at least) the recognition that the problem can't be solved through human effort. The example of Abraham is instructive here. Abraham was as good as dead, yet believed in hope against hope and received the thing promised. The parallel Paul has in mind seems obvious. We too are as good as dead spiritually and can do nothing to resurrect ourselves. When we "do not work but believe in him who justifies the ungodly" God gives to us what he gave to Abraham--new life.