18 February 2010

The Significance of Psalm 98 for Understanding the Righteousness of God in Romans 1:17

Paul understood that the gospel brings salvation (Rom 1:16) because it is a revelation of the righteousness of God (Rom 1:17). Paul’s understanding of the righteousness of God is explicated in greater detail in Rom 3:24–26, where he identifies how God’s righteous character is revealed in two particular ways: the death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice reveals God’s righteousness character in punishing sin (3:25), and it also allows God to justify justly those who believe (3:26).

But it is also important to keep in mind the Old Testament background to the use of the phrase the righteousness of God, for the Old Testament is the source of Paul’s knowledge of this concept.

The key Old Testament passage underlying Paul’s usage of the righteousness of God is Ps 98:1–3:
Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
In Ps 98 the righteousness of God is the eschatological salvation event that God would accomplish in the future to save his people (vv. 1, 3), to liberate all creation (vv. 4–8), and to judge the whole world (v. 9), all in faithfulness to his covenant promises to Israel (v. 3), which event would be revealed in the sight of all the nations (v. 2).

Paul understood that this prophetic expectation had been fulfilled in Jesus, and that the gospel (as the message proclaiming this event) was now revealing this salvation/judgment to all the nations of the world. The righteousness of God is God’s saving action in Jesus which reveals God’s righteous character in that he has brought vindication to his people and his world, and judgment against his enemies, all in faithfulness to what he has promised.

I suggest that the content of Ps 98:1–3 was clearly in Paul’s mind when he dictated Rom 1:16–17 to Tertius. Paul mentions power in Rom 1:16 under the influence of the phrase his right hand in Ps 98:1b. God’s right hand is a classic Old Testament symbol of God's power (e.g., Exod 15:6; Ps 20:6; 89:13). Paul also mentions salvation in Rom 1:16 under the influence of Ps 98:1b-2a where the root ישע (conveying the idea of salvation) appears twice. His mention of to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek is an exposition of the phrase in the sight of the nations, which occurs first in the clause in Ps 98:2b. This then leads naturally into his reference to the righteousness of God in Rom 1:17, which comes straight from the wording he has revealed his righteousness in Ps 98:2b.

The intertextuality evident between Rom 1:16–17 and Ps 98:1–3 strongly suggests that Ps 98 was a key psalm for Paul in terms of making sense of the Christ event from a biblical perspective.


John Thomson said...

Good blog Steven

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, John. I've noticed that you've been quite busy on your blog!

John Thomson said...

Yeh I have been trying to explore some of the issues our own dialogue has raised, and NPP in a more general sense.

Feel free to drop in and disagree.

Anonymous said...

Ditto to what John said, good post!