‘I became convinced many years ago, and time and exegesis have confirmed this again and again, that Paul always uses this phrase to denote, not the status which God’s people have from him or in his presence, but the righteousness of God himself. This is not to say that there is no such thing as a righteous status held by believers. There is. It is to deny that this is the referent of Paul’s phrase dikaiosune theou.main argument for taking dikaiosune theou to denote an aspect of the character of God himself is the way in which Paul is summoning up a massive biblical and intertestamental theme, found not least in Isaiah 40-55 which I have argued elsewhere is vital for him. Gods dikaiosune, his tsedaqah, is that aspect of his character because of which, despite Israel’s infidelity and consequent banishment, God will remain true to the covenant with Abraham and rescue her none the less. This righteousness is of course a form of justice; God has bound himself to the covenant, or perhaps we should say God’s covenant is binding upon him, and through this covenant he has promised not only to save Israel but also, thereby, to renew creation itself. The final flourish of Isaiah 55 is not to be forgotten, especially when we come to Romans 8. Righteousness, please note, is not the same thing as salvation; God’s righteousness is the reason why he saves Israel.
‘But this covenant-fidelity, this covenant-justice, is not purely a matter of salvific activity. As Daniel 9 makes clear, it is a matter of God’s severe justice upon covenant-breaking Israel, and only then a matter of Gods merciful rescue of penitent Israel. This is why the gospel the announcement that Jesus Christ is Lord contains within itself, as Paul insists in Rom 2:16, the message of future judgment as well as the news of salvation. What Gods righteousness never becomes, in the Jewish background which Paul is so richly summing up, is an attribute which is passed on to, reckoned to, or imputed to, his people. Nor does Paul treat it in this way. What we find, rather, is that Paul is constantly (especially in Romans, where all but one of the occurrences of the phrase are found) dealing with the themes which from Isaiah to 4 Ezra cluster together with the question of God’s righteousness: how is God to be faithful to Israel, to Abraham, to the world? How will the covenant be fulfilled, and who will be discovered to be Gods covenant people when this happens?
‘This is precisely what Romans 9-11 is about, not as an appendix to the letter but as its proper climax. And this is anticipated in several earlier parts of the letter conveniently screened out by the great tradition in its quest for a non-Jewish soteriology, not least the second half of Romans 2, the first nine verses of Romans 3, and the fact that in Romans 4 Paul is demonstrably arguing about God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant, not simply using Abraham as an example of someone justified by faith.
‘What then can we say about the status of righteousness which, in many Pauline passages, is enjoyed by the people of God in Christ? For Paul, there is a clear distinction. Gods own righteousness is dikaiosune theou. The status of righteous which people enjoy as a result of Gods action in Christ and by the Spirit is, in Php 3:9, he ek theou dikaiosune, the righteous status which is from God. Ignoring this distinction, and translating dikaiosune theou as ‘a righteousness from God’ or something like that, makes nonsense of several passages, most noticebly Rom 3:21-26 (as, for instance, in the appalling and self-contradictory NIV!), where the great theme is the way in which God has been faithful to the covenant, the astonishing way whereby all alike, Jewish sinners and Gentile sinners, are welcomed, redeemed, justified.’