Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Anyone in OT ever righteous since Jesus was not yet manifest then?

In Romans 3:10-12, we read these written by the Apostle Paul concerning the subject of righteousness.

10As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Rom 3:10-12, KJV).

10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:10-12, NIV)

The Greek word used for “righteous” here was “dikaios” (G1342). In context, the closest meaning to be assigned for G1342 should be this: “(state) of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life”.

In other words, Paul was saying that since The Fall of Man, there was no one, not even one, righteous. Only the first man, Adam, before The Fall was righteous. After The Fall, (apart from Jesus) there was no one, meaning not even the (Jew) patriarchs, if this Romans 3:10 is to hold true.

One might think that such a belief came into the picture only in New Testament (NT) time. But it is not true; these verses of Paul could actually be traced back to the Old Testament (OT); they came from Ps 14:1-3, Ps 53:1-3 and Eccl 7:20. Particularly, v10 came from Eccl 7:20 which read, in KJV as follows:

For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Eccl 7:20, KJV).

The Hebrew word used in Eccl 7:20 for “just” was “tsaddiyq” (H6662), the same word used for “righteous” in OT Genesis 7:1 when Noah was mentioned as being righteous, and was also the same word used Gen 6:9 where Noah was labeled as being a “just” man:

And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation (Gen 7:1, KJV).
These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God (Gen 6:9, KJV).

The meaning of righteous or just, for the case of Noah, has to be of the same class as that of righteous, as mentioned by Paul, for when Noah was being labeled as righteous, this was spoken of that time:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5, KJV).

The situation was so bad then, like what it was depicted in Romans 3:11-12, they understood not God, sought not God, turned away, altogether worthless, doing nothing good, and God had to bring on The Flood to wipe them out.

But we have stated “righteous”, like in Rom 3:10, was referring to the state of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting, is wholly conformed to the will of God {which is NEVER evil or wicked}, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life, how do we reconcile the truth of Rom 3:10 that none (since The Fall of Man) is righteous, and Noah (subsequent to The Fall) being labeled as righteous. In fact, there are other characters in OT in the like of Noah; for example, before Noah, there was Enoch who walked with God and was “translated” (did not die!). Also, righteousness was said to be counted to Abraham on various occasions. So, the question is, was there or was there not anyone, ever righteous (apart from pre-Fall Adam and Jesus)?

The gospel as I was led to understand and still understand so, till today, is that Rom 3:10, and as well as Rom 3:23’s “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” were verses telling on our belief that everyone is born a sinner. In fact, it is unmistakable that the Apostle Paul believed such, for these words of Paul clearly indicated so:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.(Rom 5:12-14). 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22).

As far as OT support is concerned, this verse of King David stood up:

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps 51:5).

Some speculate that David was saying that his mother did something wrong and conceived him, but I personally think that such speculation is not warranted. Rather, it could very well be that David had had revelation of such (that everyone was born a sinner), from God. I am one of those who believe that David had had revelation from the LORD concerning the Lord, Jesus, who, relative to his (David’s) time, would be coming to deliver him (David) OUT of death, for he (David) too was a sinner (born a sinner). For an understanding of this, you can read my separate article – Psalm 16 – David’s confession of faith.

My belief was and is that, through that first sin (Original Sin) committed by Adam, Man lost the righteousness (Original Righteousness) God created him with. Man’s state of righteousness with God was lost at that Fall; everyone after that, is unrighteous, even at birth.

If we are talking about such a concept of righteousness, how come such men as Enoch and Noah can be said to be righteous?

One possibility is this: That in OT time, without Jesus being manifest (the Law and Prophets only testified {Rom 3:21}), the consequence of the Original Sin, the damned STATUS of Man, was relegated by God to one side, awaiting its cure, so to speak. It is not that God did not have a plan to address the unrighteous STATE of Man, for upon the happening of The Fall, God spoke concerning the son of woman (referring to Jesus) crushing the head of the Serpent (Satan) {Gen 3:15}; it was just that, it was to be in the future relative to that time (after The Fall). In His grace, love and mercy, God continued to have Man populate the land, and He continued to deal with Man, despite there was an “offence” (even a “legal” offence that had yet to be satisfied) against His holiness. My view is that the “standard” of righteousness expected of the OT people in earthly life, in that interim period, taking into account of The Fall (fallen nature of Man) was different from that before The Fall (and from that, after the 1st coming of Jesus), but it was nevertheless God’s standard, and it was possibly the highest possible for the fallen condition of Man. My view is anchored upon the understanding that God does not expect the impossible from Man, His creation whom He knows the limit. Is there support for such an understanding you may ask? Yes, 1 Cor 10:13; although it does not exactly say such, it nevertheless is picturing to us that God does not exact what is not possible from us, although of course, we are responsible for the exercise of our free-will:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Cor 10:13).

Also, through the mouth of His prophet, Ezekiel, in Eze 18, God spoke about who He would regard as righteous, in those days (Eze 18:5-9).

5 "Suppose there is a righteous man
who does what is just and right.
6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of the house of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor's wife
or lie with a woman during her period.
7 He does not oppress anyone,
but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.
8 He does not lend at usury
or take excessive interest.
He withholds his hand from doing wrong
and judges fairly between man and man.
9 He follows my decrees
and faithfully keeps my laws.
That man is righteous;
he will surely live,
declares the Sovereign LORD. (Eze 18:5-9)

Notice that verse 9b said this: That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign LORD.

So, in the OT, when God said or announced that someone was righteous, that righteousness was the righteousness He had set and expected; and so, He could say or declare someone as having reached that, albeit it was not to the level of the Original Righteousness before The Fall, for it would have been impossible to achieve, given the fallen-ness of Man and world; and of course, it was also not to the level of righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ, for in OT, Jesus had not manifest. The Apostle Paul put it very nicely as:

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, … (Romans 1:17). But NOW a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Romans 3:21). {Phil 3:7-9 also by Paul, also indicated so}.

This is the revelation that my study and meditation thereof, have enabled me to receive on this subject, and if you can accept this viewpoint, it will adjust your lenses of righteousness accordingly, when you read the OT, relative to your more firmly established understanding of the subject, from the NT. The study of the relevant Hebrew and Greek words in this case, though helps, does not fully address the issue. There are really levels and dimensions of righteousness revealed in Scripture, in OT and in NT. For example, some of us, because of the constant hearing of “overly grace” messages, think that there was no such thing or acceptable notion of righteousness by law. There is no justification by law (Acts 13:39), but there was righteousness by law in OT. Deu 6:25 clearly said that.

And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us (Deu 6:25, KJV).

The passage from Ezekiel 18, Eze 18:5-9 {we have seen above}, is another support for that.

The wording of Paul {“righteousness, apart from law, has now been made known”} in Romans 3:21 (given above) was his acknowledgement of there was a dimension of righteousness by law. Even Jesus recognized that there is righteousness by law:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 15:17-20).

In the passage above, Jesus recognized there is a level of righteousness by law, but He, in verse 20, emphatically stated that we need a righteousness that surpasses that which can come from the law, to enter the kingdom of heaven or God. This higher righteousness, not possible to the OT people, but is possible to us to have, through faith in Christ Jesus (If you can believe, when Jesus was in Sheol (=Hades) {upon his crucifixion}, dead OT people, generally, decided on whether or not, they would believe in Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus did go to Sheol {but NOT to HELL}). Over-shadowed by grace, although we tended not to talk about righteousness in terms of righteousness by law, there is still a dimension of righteousness that has to do with faith in God’s Word (which, is His laws; God’s words are laws, men!).

So, we come back to the issue of us reading that OT persons being labeled as righteous. The correct way to view the matter is that while OT people did not have the righteousness {righteous state} of Christ Jesus, if they were nevertheless found by God to be of the way of thinking, feeling, and acting in conformity to His will, then {which took into account the fallen nature of men} and therefore, not needing rectification in the heart or life, they could be said by God to be righteous. After all, righteousness is about being right with God, in agreement with Him and flowing with Him; the more righteous we are, implied the more in-sync, we are with God in rightness, in thoughts, in timing, and in actions. Do not get me wrong; I am not saying that God just ignored the consequence of the Original Sin, but that, for the OT people, He had relegated it to one side, awaiting its cure which was and is found only in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection. I believe Jesus after His death, in the 3 days before His resurrection, went to Sheol, even to the people before The Flood, in Sheol, and preached to them (1 Peter 3:18-20a).

Faith ties in nicely, too, with righteousness, for when we know about God and know God more (principally through His Word), our faith grow stronger and stronger. And when we act on our faith, we believe what we are doing coincides with God’s heart and desire, and God is going to count to us righteousness (being right with Him) {Therefore, is there not, a dimension of righteousness through acting according to His Word (which is in fact His laws)?}. In OT, faith might not be in Jesus Christ, but if it was faith in God, it counted too, for then Jesus Christ was not manifest. That must be so, for Scripture said that Abraham’s faith in God was counted to him as righteousness. It might not be God rendering a man as righteous, in STATE, and therefore, OT “justification” might not be the same as that in NT, nevertheless, righteousness counted by God were ACTS of righteousness pointing to the righteousness of the person in question.

Today, under NT era, God still counts to a believer, ACTS of righteousness, for his righteous deeds, although the NT terminology of rendering ACTS as FRUIT is preferred by many, because of Jesus’ parable involving a good TREE producing good FRUIT, and good FRUIT ought to come from a good TREE {if bad FRUIT, TREE cannot be good}. To me, it is the same; for act or fruit, it is the outworking from, and the pointing to, a STATE; and for the NT believer, that is the Jesus imputed righteous STATE which he MUST INTERNALISE AS HIS OWN.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – I believe there is the imputed righteousness of Jesus for the NT believer, and there is still the requirement for him to live his life out in righteousness, producing fruit of righteousness by his active righteousness. What do you think?

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