Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reading Ben Witherington's Commentary on Romans, installment 3

There is so much in this commentary that I can't comment on, because I am not nearly at Dr. W's level of education. He is obviously an amazing man.

I did not have much of a problem with 3.21-31. There is a discussion about "forensic justification". He does not like these terms, but his clarifications seem good to me:

"...we should not immediately read a phrase like "the righteousness of God" in early Jewish or Jewish Christian sources through the lens of forensic categories. Occasionally the phrase does have a forensic sense, but this must be determined from the context. More often it refers to the character of God, which he actively expresses in his salvific work or sometimes in judgment. It is for this reason that I have avoided the traditional language of "justification" and "justify" and have preferred instead some form of usage that includes "right" or "righteous" in it. Romans 4 will discuss the matter of being reckoned as righteous, bit dikaisoyne means more that just this to Paul. It is not just about a declaration or forensic pronouncement, and the phrase "legal fiction" hardly does justice to this profound idea. God does not simply consider the sinner righteous as a result of the finished work of Christ. Through that salvific work of Christ a person has been set right--which means not only set back into a right relationship with God, or reckoned as righteous, but also set in the right moral direction as well." (p.105)

Most of the chapter seems to me to make helpful analysis and explanations. Several misunderstandings of different writers and periods are addressed.

At the very end of the chapter he does set up the idea of the new set of laws for the new covenant, which seems to me is a misunderstanding of such phrases as the law of Christ and the law of faith.

"Indeed, his promises to Israel are to be gathered up and fulfilled in Jesus in the context of the new covenant, not the continuation of the old one. So both Israel and Gentiles find themselves on a new footing with God as a result of the Christ-event. God is not keeping two contracts and two sets of laws with humankind at the same time."

Below, there is a video of Lee Strobel with Ben Witherington.


Bror Erickson said...

Reformed like to talk about covenant. Too bad, it is a Testament the New Testament talks about. Diatheke, is not syntheke. You could make an argument that a Testament is a Covenant of sorts, and therefore Covenant is a permissable translation. However, Testament is a very specifice type of covenant, and not exactly the same thing. Therefore it ought to be translated Testament the way we do in the words of institution. Covenant is too loose a translation and opens up the idea of contract. "We have to do our part, and God does his. God reckons us righteous because he has put us on the correct moral path." The reformed just cannot let the Gospel be the Gospel, or God be God.

Brigitte said...

Thank you very much. Maybe we all have to learn some more Greek.

W is constantly going to the Greek. Of course, I have no idea when he is right or wrong, or slightly off.

Nemo said...


Are you asserting that every time Diatheke is used in the NT that it should be translated “testament” as opposed to “covenant”? Is this distinguished from the OT use of “covenant” (i.e. the term in the NT means something different than the term in the OT)? I am specifically asking in the context of Acts 3:25 & 7:8; 2 Corinthians 3:14; Galations 4:24; and Hebrews 8:9.


I found a helpful article on this topic at,+redeemer+lutheran+church&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us (the actual page has been taken down—that is the link to the google cached article) It is Appendix 2 to the GWN, a self-proclaimed “distinctively Lutheran” translation (I haven’t seen the bible itself, but the appendix looks good).

I also found some background on the work Diatheke at

Brigitte said...

I've not heard of anyone promoting a distinctively luth. Bible. Of course, I have the benefit of reading Luther's translation in German, when I feel like it. Knowing Greek would certainly be better.

My opinion would be to distinguish the New Testament as different from other biblical covenants. It would be consistent with the Bible itself, that here we have something brand-new and very different in character.

Nemo said...


I understand that is your opionion. Are you going to let your opinion determine the truth, or are you going to let the Word determine your opionion?

Brigitte said...

Oh, dear Nemo: which shall I chose?

The question is occupying me in the background. Last night I was reading about the "third use of the law" at the end of the Book of Concord (Solid declaration) and came upon article 9, re: the descent into hell. It says: "we simply believe that after the burial the entire person, God and man, descended into hell, conquered the devil, destroyed hell's power, and took from the devil all his might."

My thought was immediately, aha, not only do we have in the New Testament everything happening with the blood of the Lord and the resurrection--all of which are powerful and new things, we also have this conquering of the devil.

The other thing that pops into one's mind immediately is the pouring out of the Spirit, which was promised and which changes everything.

While reading last night, I also came across a "law of Christ" and "law of the mind" phrase, which fits into our discussions.

"But when a person is born anew by the Spirit of God and is liberated from the law (that is, when he is free from this driver and is driven by the Spirit of Christ), he lives according to the immutable will of God as it is comprehended in the law and, in so far as he is born anew, he does everything from a free and merry spirit. These works are, strictly speaking, not works of the law but works and fruits of the Spirit, or, as St. Paul calls them, the law of the mind and the law of Christ. According to St. Paul, such people are no longer under law but under grace. (Thus far Steven Martin is correct, but there are other points).

This is how the new testament is not just another covenant. The "law of Christ" is this fruit of the Spirit.

How am I doing?