17 September 2003

'zdq' in isaiah: the new testament

My remarks here shall be brief and preliminary. It is fairly clear, I think, that Pauline talk of the “righteousness of God” and God’s “justification/vindication” of his people are central to his epistles and reflect the kinds of language we have seen in Isaiah, particularly Second Isaiah. The question is precisely how Paul is appropriating this language and applying it to what God has accomplished in Christ.

I certainly cannot take the space to argue here for a particular interpretation of the Pauline corpus, but the following perspective seems on the right track. Paul sees Israel before Christ as still bearing the curse of exile and, insofar as Israel bears the fate of humanity, the human race remains under this curse as well. What happened with Jesus of Nazareth, Paul suggests, is that as the Messiah, he summed up Israel in his own mission and the entire world as well.

The eschatological hope of Israel for vindication by Yahweh has found its fulfillment in Christ. He not only bore the curse of exile upon the cross, but he came out the other side raised up by God, restored and vindicated, experiencing in the middle of history what Israel expected to have at the end. And all those who are in Christ share now, by anticipation, in that verdict and will experience it fully in the eschaton when all is restored. Thus, the righteousness of God is manifest in Christ in that the promises of the covenant are finally and decisively fulfilled in him.

More certainly needs to be said, but, I think, this captures some of what Paul is trying to say when he uses the language of Isaiah.