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Reexamining "and the justifier" in Rom 3:26

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Romans 3:26 in the NET Bible says, “This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.”

The Greek reads as follows: ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ θεοῦ, πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ. The NET Bible rightly takes ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ θεοῦ as going with verse 25 (because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed). What concerns us here is how the adjective δίκαιον is joined to the participle δικαιοῦντα.

It is our conviction that the main theme that Paul is stressing in Romans is the vindication of God’s righteousness/holiness in relation to Paul’s gospel. Judaizers had plagued Paul every step of the way as he traveled throughout the Mediterranean world. He would preach a gospel that did not place Gentiles under the Old Testament Law, and Judaizers would try to disrupt his proclamation and win his converts to another gospel. The apostle wants to communicate clearly that he is not soft on sin, that his ‘free grace’ gospel does not lower God’s standards one iota but, in fact, shows that only in the cross of Christ is God’s righteousness finally established. At bottom, Paul was concerned to show that God’s holiness could only be upheld if all the marbles were on Christ, rather than Christ + Christian’s obedience of the Law. Romans 3:21–26 is the key text for this view. Every verse focuses on God’s righteousness in some way. ‘The righteousness of God’ is mentioned twice, ‘his righteousness’ is mentioned twice, for example. The lone verse that says nothing explicitly about righteousness is 3:23, yet even here it is strongly implied: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The ‘glory of God’ is his glorious presence (cf. 5:2), but this can only be accessed if one’s sins are not part of the baggage that the person brings with him.

The conclusion to this passage is verse 26. And here Paul declares either that God “is just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness” or God “is just even while justifying the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.” I am becoming increasingly convinced that the second alternative is probably what Paul meant.

At issue is the conjunction and participle καὶ δικαιοῦντα. It is either substantival or adverbial. If substantival, the force would be “and the justifier.” If adverbial, the idea would be “even while justifying.” The adverbial notion presents a very satisfying theological sense: Christ’s death is so final and it so completely satisfies God’s wrath that Paul can now declare that God ‘is just even while justifying’ the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness. As attractive as the adverbial participle view is theologically, it faces a grammatical hurdle: it seems more natural, grammatically speaking, to regard the καί as indicating a simple connection with the adjective δίκαιον and participle δικαιοῦντα as fulfilling similar roles. However, upon closer inspection the grammatical argument actually seems to be on the side of an adverbial δικαιοῦντα.

An adverbial δικαιοῦντα has three things going for it. First, as we have said, it makes the best theological sense in the text. If it is true that Paul’s point in Rom 3:21–26 is to show how his gospel vindicates God’s righteousness, then to conclude this pericope with an adverbial δικαιοῦντα fits perfectly with that interpretation. (The substantival participle does not hurt this view, nor argue for any other view, but it concludes the pericope without an emphatic statement that we might otherwise expect after seeing such lofty ideas expressed in the passage.) Second, a simple connective καί normally connects two like elements: adjective + adjective, noun + noun, clause + clause, etc. In this instance, however, a connective καί would be connecting an adjective and a substantival participle. That is not altogether common. Third, an ascensive καί (‘even’) can join two elements when the second one would make an emphatic point or would occasion some surprise; it can occur with like elements or disparate elements. That seems to be the case here.1 Consequently, the preferred translation, though still somewhat tentative, is “that he would be just even while justifying the one who lives because of the faithfulness of Jesus.”

The point is that God’s righteousness is intact even while he accepts sinners into his presence. In verse 25 we see the principle that all the OT sacrifices point to and that Jesus fulfills: death of an innocent victim is required as a substitute if sinners are to have life with God. In other words, there is no life without death. And all the OT sacrifices only pointed to Christ; they were repeated because none of them could be the final sacrifice. As the author of Hebrews says, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4). But with the death of Christ comes the final sacrifice. And precisely because God’s righteous requirements are satisfied in Christ and are applied to all who believe, God can be just even while justifying the one who lives because of the faithfulness of Jesus.


1 For other examples of an adjective joined to an anarthrous participle (the better parallels to an adverbial δικαιοντα in Rom 3:26 are in bold), cf. Matt 7:14 (στενὴ ἡ πύλη καὶ τεθλιμμένη ἡ ὁδὸς [here the first articular noun takes a predicate adjective and the second, a predicate participle]); Matt 15:31 (κυλλοὺς ὑγιεῖς καὶ χωλοὺς περιπατοῦντας καὶ τυφλοὺς βλέποντας [possibly, ‘the crippled healthy and the lame walking, even the blind seeing’; this may be so here since healing the blind, if they were born blind, never occurred in the OT and only once in the NT (John 9), but since the text does specify that they were born blind, it is doubtful]); Matt 21:5 (πραῢς καὶ ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπὶ ὄνον); Matt 21:16 (ἐκ στόματος νηπίων καὶ θηλαζόντων [possibly ‘out of the mouths of infants even those [still] nursing’]); Acts 5:16 (ἀσθενεῖς καὶ ὀχλουμένους); Acts 10:12 (εὐσεβὴς καὶ φοβούμενος τὸν θεὸν [possibly ‘he was devout even to the point of fearing God’]); Acts 10:22 (ἀνὴρ δίκαιος καὶ φοβούμενος τὸν θεόν [possibly ‘a man who was righteous even to the point of fearing God’]); Acts 19:16 (γυμνοὺς καὶ τετραυματισμένους ἐκφυγεῖν [possibly ‘they fled naked even while wounded]); Phil 2:15 (γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμνης [possibly ‘a crooked even perverse generation’]); Col 1:23 (τεθεμελιωμένοι καὶ ἑδραῖοι); Col 3.12 (ἅγιοι καὶ ἠγαπημένοι); Col 4:12 (τέλειοι καὶ πεπληροφορημένοι); Heb 4:13 (γυμνὰ καὶ τετραχηλισμένα τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐτοῦ [possibly ‘naked even exposed to [God’s] eyes]); Heb 6:19 (ἀσφαλῆ τε καὶ βεβαίαν καὶ εἰσερχομένην εἰς τὸ ἐσώτερον τοῦ καταπετσματος [possibly, ‘sure and steadfast even while reaching in behind the inner curtain’]); Heb 10:20 (ὁδὸν πρόσφατον καὶ ζῶσαν); Heb 10:24 (κρείττονα ὕπαρξιν καὶ μνουσαν); Jas 2:15 (γυμνοὶ ὑπάρχωσιν καὶ λειπόμενοι τῆς ἐφημέρου τροφῆς [possibly, ‘naked even while lacking daily food’]); 1 Pet 1:8 (χαρᾷ ἀνεκλαλήτῳ καὶ δεδοξασμένῃ [possibly ‘indescribable, even glorious joy’]); Rev 16:15 (μακάριος ὁ γρηγορῶν καὶ τηρῶν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ [possibly ‘the one watches is blessed even while keeping his clothes’]);

There are also several constructions joining two anarthrous participles by καί. If the participles are to be taken differently, with καί having the emphatic force of ‘even,’ this would be quite similar to an adverbial δικαιοῦντα in Rom 3:26. Cf. Acts 4:19; Acts 17:5 may be similar to Acts 4:19. Cf. also Matt 8:14; 12:44; 20:20; Mark 1:4 (ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ κηρύσσων [although the first participle is articular (though some MSS lack the article) the καί is very difficult to interpret; either the participle is independent and functioning like an imperfect verb or it has the force of ‘even while preaching’]); Mark 5:26 (πολλὰ παθοῦσα ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἰατρῶν καὶ δαπανήσασα τὰ παρ᾿ αὐτῆς πάντα καὶ μηδὲν ὠφεληθεῖσα [possibly ‘suffering many things under many physicians and spending all she had, and not even benefiting anything’]); Luke 1:53; 2:46 (ἀκούοντα αὐτῶν καὶ ἐπερωτῶντα αὐτούς [possibly ‘listening to them and even asking them questions’]); 8:35; 11:25; 23:2 (κωλύοντα φόρους Καίσαρι διδόναι καὶ λέγοντα ἑαυτὸν χριστὸν βασιλέα εἶναι [possibly ‘forbidding [us] to pay the tribute tax to Caesar and even claiming himself to be Christ, a king’]); Acts 10:38; 17:3; Rom 2:15; 1 Cor 8:12; 2 Cor 5:6; 2 Cor 6:10 (ὡς μηδὲν ἔχοντες καὶ πάντα κατέχοντες [possibly ‘as having nothing even while having everything’]); 2 Cor 13:2; 2 Tim 3:13 (πλανῶντες καὶ πλανώμενοι [possibly ‘deceiving [others] even while being deceived’]); Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 2:20; 3:6; 2 Pet 3:12 (προσδοκῶντας καὶ σπεύδοντας τὴν παρουσίαν τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμέρας [possibly ‘while waiting for and even hastening the coming of the day of God’]); Jude 7 (ἐκπορνεύσασαι καὶ ἀπελθοῦσαι [possibly ‘since they indulged in sexual immorality and even pursued unnatural desire’]); Rev 15:6.

Of course, an adjective joined to another adjective by an emphatic or ascensive καί would also be a sufficient parallel. Some take θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος in 2 Tim 3:16 this way, but this is doubtful. But cf. BDAG for other examples. The examples of an ascensive καί between two adjectives in the NT is approximately one twelfth as frequent as a mere connective καί between two adjectives. But this means that such can indeed occur, if the context warrants. The same, of course, is true of virtually any connection made by καί: it can bear an ascensive force if the second element involves a heightened element or occasions surprise. Cf., e.g., 1 Cor 2:10 (τὸ πνεῦμα πάντα ἐραυνᾷ, καὶ τὰ βάθη τοῦ θεοῦ [‘the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God’]).

Related Topics: Grammar