One of Douglas Campbell’s essays in Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul deals the dikaio- language of Paul, both as a noun (righteousness, dikaiosune) and as a verb (“justify,” dikaioo). Addressing the latter, Campbell rightly highlights the importance of Romans 6:7: “whoever has died is justified from sin.”

Citing Robin Scroggs, he argues that “the one who has died” is Christ Himself, and therefore that He is in the first instance the one who has been liberated from sin. Campbell explains, “we must translate the verb dikaioo here with fundamentally and univocally liberative sense such as ‘set free,’ ‘liberated,’ or ‘delivered.’ Indeed, this reading is unavoidable. Christ has not been ‘justified,’ or ‘pronounced righteous,’ or even ‘vindicated.’ As the context makes clear, his resurrection delivered him from death and from a state preceding death oppressed by the evil force of Sin” (207-8).

Campbell overstates the contrast here. There is no reason to set “pronounced righteous” over against “liberate.” Jesus did in fact need to be justified; He had died a condemned man, and that verdict, and the sentence of death, needed both to be overturned. The resurrection is thus both a verdict and a liberation; it is a verdict passed in the form of liberation.

But Campbell is right that this is “a three-figure drama,” in which God is delivering us in Christ from an opposing power, here Sin” (208). It is not simply a two-figure drama, “in which God presides as judge over a transgressing individual, sin being an act of the individual and death an act of God” (208).

Campbell argues more generally that Paul uses “the verb dikaioo in an overtly liberative and even resurrecting sense” (208). Romans 6:7 is not an anomaly in Paul’s usage, Campbell believes. It highlights the performative heart of Paul’s doctrine of justification. 

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

Loading...