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dikaiosynē theou

dikaiosynē theou has been a contested phrase,1 and the word dikaiosynē has multiple resonances of meaning.  The commentary focuses on two meanings in particular, “God’s own ‘righteousness’” and “Covenant membership: the particular person and his people.”

God’s own ‘righteousness’

Within the context Paul and the Faithfulness of God, NTW provides a summary statement of the meaning of dikaiosynē theou, often translated ‘the righteousness of God’ (Wright, 2013, p. 841).  See the Appendix, NTW’s definition of dikaiosynē theou.

NTW emphasizes God’s own ‘righteousness’, God’s own covenant faithfulness, God’s faithfulness to the covenant promise to bless the nations through Israel, and God’s faithfulness to creation.

I consider NTW’s definition to be critical for understanding what it means to say that Jesus is the embodiment of dikaiosynē theou.

Covenant membership: the particular person and his people

dikaiosynē also means ‘covenant membership.’  In his New Dictionary of Theology entry on “Righteousness”, NTW discusses dikaiosynē (but not dikaiosynē theou in particular): “According to the NT, the people of God do indeed have ‘righteousness’.  This is not, strictly speaking, God’s own righteousness (though cf. 2 Cor. 5:21), but that which is proper to the person in whose favour the court has found; within the covenant context, it is the right standing of a member of the people of God.  ‘Righteousness’ thus comes to mean, more or less, ‘covenant membership’, with all the overtones of appropriate behaviour (e.g. Phil. 1:11).”  (Wright, 1988).

I think Paul’s use of dikaiosynē theou – of God – emphasizes the particular person and his people, of Jesus and the church (comprising believing Jews and Greeks…) as dikaiosynē – as covenant members, and thus the people of God.  And, post Jesus’ cross and resurrection, the Jewish people apart from Christ are not dikaiosynē.  So, “of God,” has the effect of designation of one group of people and not the other.


Within the wider context of his tome Paul and the Faithfulness of God, theologian N.T. Wright provides a summary statement of the meaning of dikaiosynē theou, often translated ‘the righteousness of God’:

“I suggest that we are bound, in the light of all that has gone before, in the light of all the biblical texts which Paul is implicitly evoking (which I explored in chapter 2 above), and in the light of the climax and conclusion of Paul’s present argument (4.1-25), to understand dikaiosynē theou:

  1. as God’s own ‘righteousness’ (rather than a status of ‘righteousness’ granted, imputed or otherwise given to humans);
  2. as God’s own ‘righteousness’ with the focus, very specifically, on his covenant faithfulness in the sense of ‘doing what he promised to Abraham, in Deuteronomy, in the Psalms, and through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel’;
  3. as God’s own ‘righteousness’ in the sense of his faithfulness to the covenant promise to bless the nations through Israel.  Out beyond this again – though without skipping stages, still less cancelling them out! – there is the sense
  4. that the divine faithfulness to the covenant is the appointed means of the divine faithfulness to the creation.”

(Wright, N.T., 2013, p. 841)


  1. See for example, the introduction to James Hardy Ropes 1903 article, “Righteousness” and “The Righteousness of God” in the Old Testament and in St. Paul: “Of all the chief theological terms used by the Apostle Paul the one in regard to the meaning of which there is least agreement among competent scholars is perhaps ‘the righteousness of God.’” (Ropes, J., 1903).




Wright, N. T. (Nicholas Thomas) (2013).  Paul and the faithfulness of God.  Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London


Theologian N.T. Wright defines the word ‘transphysical’ in his tome on the Resurrection:

“The ‘trans’ is intended as a shortening of ‘transformed.’  ‘Transphysical’ is not meant to describe in detail what sort of a body it was that the early Christians supposed Jesus already had, and believed that they themselves would eventually have.  Nor indeed does it claim to explain how such a thing can come to be.  It merely, but I hope usefully, puts a label on the demonstrable fact that the early Christians envisaged a body which was still robustly physical but also significantly different from the present one.  If anything – since the main difference they seem to have envisaged is that the new body will not be corruptible – we might say not that it will be less physical, as though it were some kind of ghost or apparition, but more.  ‘Not unclothed, but more fully clothed.'” (Wright, N.T., 2003, pp. 477-478)


Wright, N. T. (Nicholas Thomas) (2003).  The resurrection of the son of God.  Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London

Story-within-the-story lens for the Bible story

Theologian N.T. Wright’s tome, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2013), expounds the story-within-the-story lens for the Bible story.

The narratives are of:

  • God and the world
  • God and humans
  • God and Israel

Of the single narrative of God and Israel, within the single narrative of God and humans, within the single narrative of God and the world.

Refer Part II: The Mindset of the Apostle, Chapter 7, The Plot, the Plan and the Storied Worldview (Wright, N.T., 2013, pp. 456-537).


Wright, N. T. (Nicholas Thomas) (2013).  Paul and the faithfulness of God.  Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London

Five-act lens for the Bible story

As described within at least three books (referenced below), theologian N.T. Wright has proposed the five-act lens for the Bible story.

The five acts are as follows:

  • Act I
  • Act II
    “the fall”
  • Act III
  • Act IV
  • Act V
    the church


Wright, N.T. (1992). The New Testament and the people of God, Christian origins and the question of God, vol. 1. London: Fortress Press

Wright, N.T. (2005). Paul: fresh perspectives. London: SPCK

Wright, N.T. (2005b). Scripture and the authority of God. London: SPCK

Through death

A crucified Messiah means a crucified Israel.  Yes, and a resurrected Messiah means a completely renewed Israel.”  (Wright, N.T., 2013, p. 408)


Wright, N. T. (Nicholas Thomas) (2013). Paul and the faithfulness of God. London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

Representative Messiahship

Jesus “was Israel’s representative Messiah, who summed up the life and story of the people in himself, brought Israel’s history to its appointed if shocking and unexpected climax, and formed in himself the nucleus of the ‘people’ who, called now from all nations, were to inherit the promises and take forward the purposes of the one God.”  (Wright, N.T., 2013, p. 405)


Wright, N. T. (Nicholas Thomas) (2013). Paul and the faithfulness of God. London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge


Quotes from N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God (Wright, 1992), Part II: Tools for the Task

“Worldviews have to do with the presuppositional, pre-cognitive stage of a culture or society.  Wherever we find the ultimate concerns of human beings, we find worldviews.” (p. 122)

“‘Worldview’, in fact, embraces all deep-level human perceptions of reality, including the question of whether or not a god or gods exist, and if so what he, she, it or they is or are like, and how such a being, or such beings, might relate to the world.” (p. 123)

“There are four things which worldviews characteristically do, in each of which the entire worldview can be glimpsed.  First, as we have seen throughout this Part of the book, worldviews provide the stories through which human beings view reality… Second, from these stories one can in principle discover how to answer the basic questions that determine human existence: who are we, where are we, what is wrong, and what is the solution?… Third, the stories that express the worldview, and the answers which it provides to the questions of identity, environment, evil and eschatology, are expressed (as we saw in the previous chapter) in cultural symbols… Fourth, worldviews include a praxis, a way-of-being-in-the-world.  The implied eschatology of the fourth question (‘what is the solution?’) necessarily entails action.”  (pp. 123-24) [Italics original]

“Worldviews are thus the basic stuff of human existence, the lens through which the world is seen, the blueprint for how one should live in it, and above all the sense of identity and place which enables human beings to be what they are.” (p. 124)

“Worldviews, as I said earlier, are like the foundations of a house: vital, but invisible.  They are that through which, not at which, a society or an individual normally looks; they form the grid according to which humans organise reality, not bits of reality that offer themselves for organisation.  They are not usually called up to consciousness or discussion unless they are challenged or flouted fairly explicitly, and when this happens it is usually felt to be an event of worryingly large significance.  They can, however, be challenged; they can, if necessary, be discussed, and their truth-value called into question.” (p. 124)

“But worldviews normally come into sight, on a more day to-day-basis, in sets of beliefs and aims which emerge into the open, which are more regularly discussed, and which in principle could be revised somewhat without revising the worldview itself.” (p. 124)

“These basic beliefs and aims, which serve to express and perhaps safeguard the worldview, give rise in turn to consequent beliefs and intentions, about the world, oneself, one’s society, one’s god.” (p. 125)

Quotes from N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Wright, 2013), Part I

“… worldview/mindset (the ‘mindset’ being the individual’s particular variation on the parent ‘worldview’ of the community to which he or she belongs)…” (p. 23)

“… to worldviews, building on the exposition in Part II of The New Testament and the People of God.” (p. 24)

“The reason why it is important to study worldviews is that human life is complicated, confusingly multifaceted, and often puzzling – much like Paul’s letters, in fact.” (p. 24)

“Part of the reason for welcoming the much wider socio-cultural investigations of the early Christian movement that have been taking place in recent decades is because they are helping to redress the balance, reminding us that history and theology, though important, do not stand alone.”  (p. 25)

“Worldview-models of various kinds have been tried out.  What counts is not some abstract theoretical sophistication – that would be heavily ironic, here of all places! – but the heuristic effect, seen quite pragmatically and indeed always provisionally: as we map the landscape, are we able to explore and understand it more effectively?” (p. 25)

“If the reason for studying worldviews is the recognition that life is complex, multi-layered, and driven by often hidden energies, the method for such study must be appropriate to that quest.  Those who engage in this work increasingly insist on the centrality of what may be called a ‘symbolic universe,’ a world of artefacts (buildings, coins, clothes, ships) and habitual actions (what I have called ‘praxis’) in which people sense themselves at home and without which they would feel dangerously disorientated.  Worldview-study has also insisted, with strong support from some recent work in linguistics and its sociological, cultural and political implications, on the importance of underlying narratives, the scripts by which people order their lives, the ‘plays’ in which they assume themselves to be actors.  Within this matrix of symbol, praxis and story, worldviews can be brought to expression using the elemental questions which Rudyard Kipling referred to as his ‘six honest serving men’ who ‘taught him all he knew’: What, Why, When, How, Where and Who.  The way I have asked those questions in this project up to now (and it will be as well to stick to this for the sake of continuity) is: Who are we?  Where are we?  What’s wrong?  What’s the solution (= ‘How?’, i.e. “How do we get out of this mess?’), and ‘What time is it?’ (= ‘When?’).”  (p. 26) [Per the footnote: N.T. Wright added ‘What time is it?” in Jesus and the Victory of God.]


Wright, N.T. (1992).  The New Testament and the people of God, Christian origins and the question of God, vol. 1.  London: Fortress Press.

Wright, N.T. (1996).  Jesus and the victory of God, Christian origins and the question of God, vol. 2. London: SPCK.

Wright, N.T. (2013).  Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian origins and the question of God.  London: SPCK.

See also

The Worldviews, the Bible and the Believer course on N.T. Wright online.

On theology as a Christian construct

“Jewish writers have often commented that ‘theology’, as that word is now understood, is largely a Christian construct, and they are right, for just this reason: that a fresh, reflective understanding of God, the world, the human race, and so on grew and developed to fill the vacuum left by the departing symbols of Judaism.”  (Wright, N.T., 2013, p. 403)

“In fact, one of the extraordinary achievements of Paul was to turn ‘theology’ into a different kind of thing from what it had been in the world either of the Jews or of the pagans.  One of the central arguments of the present book is that this was the direct result and corollary of what had happened to Paul’s worldview.  Paul effectively invented ‘Christian theology’ to meet a previously unknown need, to do a job which had not, until then, been necessary.”  (Wright, N.T., 2012, p. 26) [Italics original]


Wright, N. T. (Nicholas Thomas) (2013). Paul and the faithfulness of God. London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

The church has members in many nations.

General statements about “the church” need to be made with consideration of the fact the church has many members in many nations.*  That is, the church is more than the members in one nation or region.

For example, “the church” has many thousands of thousands of members in:

  • European Union,
  • United States,
  • Brazil,
  • Mexico,
  • Russia,
  • Philippines,
  • Nigeria,
  • Democratic Republic of Congo,
  • China, and
  • Ethiopia.

And, there are many thousands of members in:

  • Bermuda,
  • Cambodia,
  • Dominica,
  • Faroe Islands,
  • Greenland,
  • Federated States of Micronesia,
  • Mongolia,
  • San Marino,
  • Seychelles,
  • Tonga, and
  • Turkey.

* Refer Christianity by country, Wikipedia.