LentBlog Day 11: Righteousness and justification. AKA The English Language Fails Again.

Romans 5:6-11.

I guess I’ve been thinking about the topic of this post for a while now. Since I’ve started reading and blogging about Romans, I’m almost continually reminded of the course at Nazarene Seminary I had with Dr. Alex Deasley.

I’ll never forget how many times he said something like, “and here again the NRSV gets it wrong” with his thick, slow, articulate London-ish accent. He taught us a ton in that course right before he retired. One of the things I remember, in addition to several hilarious one-liners, was his treatment of the word for “righteous” or “righteousness.”righteousness

It turns out the same Greek root word is elsewhere translated “justice” or “justification.” Insert Deasley’s words here: “here again the NRSV gets it wrong” along with most other English translations. The problem here is that when it’s used in the verbal form, there’s not really an English word for what Paul is saying here. So Dr. Deasley created one: instead of “justification” or “justified,” he used the words “rightification” and “rightified.”

And while that may seem like a small translation nuance, it was a biggie for me.  I’m conditioned by my native tongue, I guess, but “justice” and “justification” bring to mind courtrooms, penalties, and our old friend Substitutionary Atonement.

Problem is, the words are better translated as variations of “righteous.” Being made righteous or “rightified” is a whole different ballgame than “justified” for me. What would it mean (to badly misquote Luther here, but it’s late, I’m exhausted, and these are devotional reflections, not scholarly research) for the justice of God not to be some standard by which we are judged. What if God’s “justice” is really God’s righteousness that he wants to work in us through the faith of Jesus? Being justified sounds static, final, and stoic to me. Being made righteous, especially when coupled with the reconciliation language Paul uses here and elsewhere, sounds a lot more relational, dynamic, and real-time.

Man, sometimes I wish the English language had better words.

Blessings all. Have a great week!


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