“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17.
As we shared in our last article, the Gospel of Christ is the “power of God to salvation” for all the families of the world: Jew and Greek (Gentile). The Holy Spirit called out Paul and Barnabas from their local church ministry in Antioch, Syria to take the “gospel of Christ” to Jews and Gentiles and establish new local churches in many nations of the world (Acts 13:1-4).
We move now to the next part of Paul’s powerful statement about the “power” of the Gospel of Christ.
The Righteousness of God
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith …”
δικαιοσυνη γαρ θεου εν αυτω αποκαλυπτεται εκ πιστεως εις πιστιν
A literal translation could be – “a righteousness for of God in it is revealed from faith to faith.”
Let’s begin with the word for “righteousness” – δικαιοσυνη. It comes from δίκαιος, which comes from δίκη. In ancient Greek, the word δίκη was a judicial decision. It carried the idea of a legal decision that was “right, just.” The Jewish translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (Septuagint) used δίκη to translate the Hebrew word rî (lawsuit). The meaning of δίκαιος is “righteous, just,” and δικαιοσύνη (the word Paul used in Romans 1:17) means “justice, righteousness.” It carried the idea and weight of a judicial verdict, approval. A judge heard evidence and ruled “rightly, righteously, justly.”
The first time we see the word “righteousness” in the Bible is Genesis 15:5-6 where God spoke with Abram – “Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” The Hebrew word translated “righteousness” in Genesis 15 is צְדָקָֽה׃ (tsedaqah) and carried the idea of that which is “true, honest, ethically right, legally right, just.”
In the context of Paul’s writing to the Romans, δικαιοσυνη γαρ θεου means the “judicial verdict, approval, of God.” God’s approval, His judicial verdict, is far higher and nobler than even the best human judgment. What was it that met God’s approval, His judicial verdict of “righteousness”? εν αυτω – “in it”. What is “it”? The “gospel of Christ.”
Think about that for a moment. The Jews had their concept of what was “right, just” even as did the Greeks, but what Paul is saying is that “in” the Gospel of Christ “the righteousness of God is revealed.” God’s “righteousness” is a part of who He is according to His eternal nature. How is it revealed to human beings? In the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The full story of who Jesus is and what He did for humanity “reveals” the “righteousness” of God. When did that “gospel of Christ” begin? Immediately after the head of the human race fell from right standing with God. God spoke first to the serpent (Satan) who deceived Eve.
“So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:14-15
God announced the heart of the Gospel of Christ – Jesus would conquer Satan through His death and restore the right standing of human beings with God again forever.
The Jews believed their righteousness came from their position as God’s chosen people and their interpretation, understanding and practice of God’s Law. Jesus took on the Jews concept of what was “right” according to the Law of Moses and said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old … But I say to you …” Jesus, who is God, explained that the “righteousness of God” is far above the interpretation and understanding of Jews and their religious leaders. He also explained that it had consequences.
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
Imagine the impact that statement had on the crowds of people listening to Jesus (including the scribes and Pharisees!). Jews were taught that the religious leaders understood and modeled “righteousness” because of their relationship to Yahweh and knowledge of the Mosaic Law, so how could Jews possibly “exceed” the righteousness of their religious leaders? And did Jesus mean that no one, not even the scribes and Pharisees, could enter the kingdom of heaven?
Paul also addressed the Greek concept of “righteousness,” which pagans saw as coming down to them from the gods and/or through social customs and expectations (e.g. ethics, morality). Greek philosophers (e.g. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) taught and debated much about justice and ethics. Paul had a powerful understanding of what Greeks believed and spoke directly to Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens. We learn something about ancient Greek beliefs concerning righteousness from what Paul said to them.
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: ‘God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:22-31
Each of Paul’s comments directly refuted an aspect of Greek philosophy and demonstrated the superiority of Christianity – from the origin of the universe, to fate, to pleasure, to God’s personal involvement with His creatures, to life after death.
Paul also quoted from Greek philosophers in his Athens speech (e.g. Epimenides, Aratus), further demonstrating his understanding of Greek philosophy and ability to explain the Truth of the Gospel in a pagan culture.
The Apostle Paul addressed Jewish and Gentile concepts and concerns about righteousness in his letter to the Romans. Paul used the words “righteous” and “righteousness” almost 40 times in Romans, more than twice as many times as any other New Testament letter. “Righteousness” is a primary theme in Romans, so we’ll see it many times during this study series.
The word “revealed” is αποκαλυπτεται. The word means “to uncover, bring to light, reveal that which was hidden, make known what was unknown.” It comes from combining ἀπό (away from) and καλύπτω (hide, conceal, covered over, kept secret).
Is there anything about God that we could or would know unless God revealed it to us? Anything? We might have questions about life and the universe around us, but what would we “know” unless God revealed the answers to us? Very little. We have the answers to life’s most challenging questions because the Creator of life has revealed the answers to us through His Word.
Some of life’s toughest questions are about why life is hard .. why people suffer .. why people die .. is there anything after death .. is there something beyond this world .. is there a higher intelligence in the universe? How would we know the truth about any of these vital issues unless God revealed them to us? We wouldn’t .. we would just be guessing, making assumptions, hoping without assurance.
That’s what Jews and Gentiles were doing in the 1st century AD about the important issue of “being right” before God or the gods. They were making assumptions based on their personal thoughts and opinions. That’s much like people in the 21st century who express their opinions about what is true, what is right and wrong. However, having an opinion about what is true does not mean they “know” what is true. Having an opinion about what is right does not mean they “know” what is right. When we grasp the concept of the existence of an Almighty God, we find ourselves at the entrance to truth .. truth that is “revealed” to us by Almighty God.
Paul is writing about the “power” of the Gospel of Christ. That POWER is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” As we saw in an earlier study “salvation” is necessary because people are lost and in need of rescue. That “power” came from a “revelation” from God concerning “right and wrong.” As it turns out, God is “right” and the human race is “wrong.” We will discover that very soon as we continue our study of Romans. God is RIGHT (righteous) and Jews and Gentiles are WRONG (unrighteous).
From Faith to Faith
Paul told the Romans that the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith.” What does that mean?
We will look at that closely in the next part of our series on Romans – The Gospel of God.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.