I was recently on the Knowing Faith podcast with Jen Wilkin, J.T. English, and Kyle Worley. We had a great time focusing on some of my favorite verses in the Bible, Romans 3:21-26. Martin Luther called those verses, “The chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.”
This wonderful passage begins with a key line, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (v.21). As I noted in the podcast, this phrase “righteousness of God” has occasioned much debate in the modern day. Is this a reference to God’s righteousness (subjective genitive)? Or a reference to righteousness from God (genitive of source)?
Put differently, does this phrase refer to God’s action or activity, or a righteous status bestowed upon humans as a gift from God?
To be sure, Romans uses the term in both ways at different points. But, generally speaking, a case can be made that genitive of source fits Paul’s argument rather well. Just a few quick considerations:
1. This righteousness is something that comes by faith: “the righteousness of God through faith.” Indeed, this is a repeated concept throughout the epistle (cf. 1:17). If this righteousness comes by faith, then it is more naturally taken as something humans receive from God.
2. This righteousness comes apart from law-keeping. Paul starts this section by making it clear that the righteousness he is describing “has been manifested apart from the law” (v.21). If so, then this suggests again that the righteous status of humans is in view, rather than the actions/activity of God.
3. Romans 10:3 contrasts the “righteousness of God” with a person’s attempt to establish “their own [righteousness].” Again, this most naturally suggests that this righteousness of God is a righteous status received from God, apart from works. Moreover, this fits with Paul’s statements elsewhere; e.g., in Phil 3:9, Paul contrasts the “righteousness of my own” with the “righteousness from God that depends of faith.” The latter, therefore, must be something humans receive from God.
To be clear again, I recognize that not every instance of “righteousness of God” in Romans should be taken as a genitive of source. In fact, just a few verses later, I think Paul uses the subjective genitive: “To show God’s righteousness” (v. 25). So, the two work in tandem.
But, the core of Paul’s argument, that we are reckoned righteous because of our faith, suggests genitive of source is the dominant way to take the term “righteousness of God.”
For this reason, I was reminded on the podcast why I liked the 1984 New International Version (NIV). I grew up in the 1980’s when this was the dominant translation, so I already have fond memories of it. But, when it comes to the book of Romans, it translates the phrase “righteousness of God” as “righteousness from God.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean translations that use “righteousness of God” are in error. Those translations have chosen to leave the phrase in the generic form and let the reader figure out what it means. Fair enough.
But the NIV’s dynamic equivalence philosophy led them to make the phrase more plain for the reader. And, in this case, I think they got it right.
As a final thought: I wish Zondervan would bring back the 1984 NIV!
[Note: the picture in this post is my own worn-out 1984 NIV. It has lost so many pages that (sadly) it’s even lost the entire book of Romans!]
Jake Jacobi says
The 1984 NIV was the first Bible I bought and I still have it (and is is worn quite a bit also)
Trevor R Allin says
Yes, I thought in the 80s/90s that the NIV was very good, but in this century I began to notice some weaknesses. In Acts 2:15 it translates “the third hour” in the Greek to “It’s only nine in the morning”, which is correct. However, a different person apparently translated John 1 and vs 39 says “It was about the tenth hour”. This of course means about 4.00 p.m. and with sundown at about 6.00 p.m. for a large part of the year in Israel, it is not surprising that they spent the rest of the day with Jesus – about 2 hours. I heard one passionately-delivered sermon from a preacher who believed that it was 10.00 a.m. and expanded on Christ spending so many hours with them.
Then there is the unintentional (or institutionalised) sexism of the NIV of 1984. Thus Acts 2:7 says, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?” The Greek does not limit the coming of the Holy Spirit only to the men who were present and does not say “men” in this verse and of course Acts 1:14 refers to “the women” who were present.
The NIV revision of 2011 corrects these errors.
Even in 1984, the NIV was much better than the RSV of 1947, and also more accurate in many key places, for instance, in Romans 9:5. The NRSV of 1989 corrects such errors, but it is very rarely seen in the U.K.
Paul Hughes says
FYI you can get the whole thing here:
I value it also.
You’re welcome. 🙂
Has the 1984 NIV
You could have your Bible re-bound! (Or someone could pay for that as a gift. 🙂 )
I have the “righteousness from God” NIV also…clumps of chapters loose, pages taped, parts of Matthew, Romans, and Hebrews in a drawer waiting to be repaired. I have newer Bibles but this is the one I use for church and study. It is treasured and will be passed down. BTW, these are the verses we discussed in our senior Bible Study yesterday, in our study of Romans.
I love my NIV 1984. I hope mine lasts the rest of my days.I do see them for sale occasionally in thrift stores so it would be an option to purchase a few spares.I wish someone would reprint it.
Mark Seeley says
My 1984 NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible is my favorite. But my pages, especially the back pages from Revelation, the concordances and the catechisms were falling out. Not as bad as Mike’s; I hadn’t lost any pages. For those of you who experience this and want to restore your Bible, I highly recommend Norris Bookbinding Company in Greenwood, Mississippi:
I’ve had two Bibles fixed. One was a 1975 NASV resewed with a whole new genuine leather cover. The above mentioned NIV was just recased, resewed and rebound using the same original leather cover. They do wonderful work.
Guymon Hall says
“As a final thought: I wish Zondervan would bring back the 1984 NIV!”
“So let it be said, so let it be done.” – Yul Brynner