Justice, Justification and the Problem of Translating Paul

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I have just taken a closer look at Michael Gorman's excellent article in the first issue of the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters: 'Justification and Justice in Paul, with Special Reference to the Corinthians' (Volume 1 (2011), 23–40.

I guess anyone who has tried to teach Paul knows that many students are unaware that significant terms from their English translations (justification, righteousness, making righteous, just, justice etc) are all related at the semantic level, and thus, so the argument goes, at the level of Paul's convictions. I have long used a little table in E. P. Sanders' short Paul volume to convey the point.  In the past I have always preferred a solution that maintains the link by translating δικαιόω as 'make righteous' thus preserving some connection with δικαιοσύνη, 'righteousness'. I think, however, that Gorman has now convinced me that the better option is to consistently translate δικαιοσύνη as 'justice' (understood primarily in restorative rather than retributive terms).

However my reason for taking this step is the diametric opposite of Gorman's. He argues (p.28) that it is necessary in order to counter the commonly found 'privatistic interpretation of Paul'. This is a well made argument especially in relation to certain forms of Protestant evangelicalism where Paul's language is too narrowly read to refer to the relationship between the individual and God.

However, the argument works with equal force when directed towards certain Christian traditions in which an emphasis on the divine mandate for social justice is in danger of being detached from what are, in my view, theologically necessary accounts of divine action, the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ that is revealed in the gospel. In other words, for my students who state that they are Christian because they believe in social justice, to translate δικαιοσύνη as 'justice' and to make explicit the connection to 'justification' serves to remind them that their commitment is itself predicated on a particular narrative of salvation, centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that cannot be stepped around without distorting the motivation for and practice of justice in the social sphere.

The next step is to think again about what we do with πίστις language in Paul. I think that the language of faith needs to be preserved in English translations across the range of the Greek. But that is for another time.

Oh, and finally, if you are planning to attend the important conference at King's College London on Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God in December (unfortunately we leave Italy for the UK that weekend, so I am unable to be there) or if you want to know what all the fuss is about in relation to that book, then the three articles by Chris Tilling, Michael Gorman again, and Douglas Campbell himself, are essential reading. Get hold of a copy of JSPL, or better, take out a subscription – its really cheap, especially in the light of this end of year offer that came through just as I finished writing this post.