By Keith Thompson
In my debate on justification by faith alone with the Sedevacantist Peter Dimond, he was unable to demonstrate the verb dikaioō meant “make righteous” as the council of Trent defined it or that it is by works and not faith alone. I proved in the relevant texts it instead means “declare righteous” and is by faith alone with overwhelming lexical, academic and biblical evidence which went unrefuted. However, to get around this, Dimond chose to try to twist the meaning of the noun form dikaiosune claiming wrongly in all the texts he cited which use it, that the word always referred to God’s act of justification. Thus, if a text referred to perusing dikaiosune by works, Dimond would say that means pursue “justification” by works. However, in the debate I noted this noun form of the word means general “righteousness” or “holiness,” not necessarily God’s act of justification. Indeed, it can mean both depending on context.
In this essay I will prove, since I didn’t have time in the debate, that when Dimond cites texts with this noun form of word in order to claim God’s act of justification is in view, such texts actually just refer to pursuing general righteousness or holiness by works, and not pursuing God’s act of justification (i.e., becoming right with God). Thus, Dimond’s main argument for justification being by works will be destroyed.
To prove the noun form of the word can refer to both God’s act of justification or general righteousness or holiness depending on the context, and not just the former as Dimond claimed in our debate, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words notes the various different meanings dikaiosune can have depending on context: “dikaiosune . . . can mean ‘righteousness, innocence, justice, justification” (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, [Zondervan, 2006], p. 374). Notice the flexibility of the word. I will now argue in the texts Dimond cited, the word refers to general righteousness or holiness and not God’s act of justification of the sinner which, according to the New Testament, is a legal verdict received by faith alone. This will prove there is no biblical basis for saying justification is perused by works but that general holiness, righteousness, or right living can be pursued by works - big difference.
In our debate Dimond stated,
“Obedience which leads to justification, Romans 6:16”
The problem is no translation, not even Catholic ones, translate dikaiosunēn here as “justification.” It’s almost always rendered “righteousness” but never “justification.” Thus, Dimond, changed God’s Word. Moreover, Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Ginchrich’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines Romans 6:13, 16’s use of dikaiosune not as God’s act of “justification,” but as “serving God faithfully” under the heading of “juridical [or law] correctness” (BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [University of Chicago Press, 2000], p. 247), and “the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness, righteousness” (BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [University of Chicago Press, 2000], p. 248 brackets mine). This is the standard in lexical works. Thus, it is clear, he is wrong in saying Romans 6:16 refers to obedience leading to God’s act of justification since it’s actually just saying obedience leads to general righteousness or holy living. This is why the NLT translation actually translates the verse as “. . .choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” not “justification.” Thayer’s lexicon does not define Romans 6:16’s use of dikaiosune as “justification” or as even relating to it, but as general “integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness. . .” (Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], p. 149). This is exactly what I said in our debate but which Dimond denied. Lastly, v. 13 is parallel to and explains v. 16. Verse 13 says, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Clearly this text which supplies the context isn’t talking about presenting your body members to God as instruments for justification, but simply as instruments for general holiness or righteousness. In sum, Dimond is totally wrong and deceives people when he misuses Romans 6:16. It does not refute justification by faith alone.
Dimond also said,
“In 2 Timothy 2:22 we read ‘flee youthful desires and peruse justification.’ And we find there in the Greek the technical term for justification. This annihi8liates the Protestant view. You can not pursue justification in their system, much less could justified believers pursue justification it, as if it can be increased or reconfirmed. For, according to them it’s a legal status that is supposedly given once for all time by faith alone. Their position is false and contrary to Scripture’s teaching on dikaiosune.”
Here again Dimond renders 2 Timothy 2:22’s use of dikaiosune in a way no actual translation, Protestant or Catholic, does. The translations render it as a general “righteousness” in the sense of “right conduct,” not God’s act of “justification.” In fact the NLT translates it as “righteous living,” not “justification.” Even the Catholic NJB translation renders it as “uprightness” not “justification,” even though in other texts which actually do refer to justification that translation will use the word “justification” (e.g. Romans 4:25). It could not be clearer that 2 Timothy 2:22 has nothing to do with justification. Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Ginchrich’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines 2 Timothy 2:22’s use of dikaiosune, not as God’s act of “justification,” but as “the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness, righteousness,” with the stress to “seek to attain/achieve upr,” (BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [University of Chicago Press, 2000], p. 248). Serious lexical materials are clear justification is not in view here. Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament does not define 2 Timothy 2:22’s use of dikaiosune as “justification” or even relating to it, but as general “integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness. . .” (Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], p. 149). Here again, because Dimond can’t show dikaioō (i.e., justify) means “make righteousness” or it being earned by works, he has to twist dikaiosune even though in the texts he cites, and in most circumstances, God’s act of justification is not even in view but instead general uprightness or righteousness in behavior being achieved through works is.
‘Hebrews 12:11 says ‘for the moment all discipline seems rather painful but later it yields the peaceful fruit of justification . . . That’s impossible according to Calvinism. For, Calvinism teaches that justification is a one time legal declaration that can not be obtained or increased by our actions”
However, again no translation renders Hebrews 12:11’s use of dikaiosune as “justification,” not even Catholic ones. The majority render is as “righteousness.” In fact, the Catholic NJB translation renders it as “uprightness” even though the same translation will render words as “justification” when they should be rendered as such (e.g. Romans 4:25). The NLT translation renders the word as “right living,” not “justification.” Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Ginchrich’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines Hebrews 12:11’s use of dikaiosune as “uprightness” under the heading “the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness, righteousness,” (BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [University of Chicago Press, 2000], p. 248) and not as “justification.”
Now, after noting dikaiosune can sometimes relate to justification in the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger and Michael David Coogan note in their work The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible: “. . .it has also been maintained that Paul consistently uses ‘justify’ (dikaioo) for the restoration and maintenance of the relationship with God and ‘righteousness’ (dikaiosune) for the consequent life as his people. . .” (The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, Michael David Coogan, [Oxford University Press, 2001], p. 443). This is exactly what I have been saying and what I said in our debate. Justification is a legal verdict by faith alone, and righteousness is, for the most part, a later quality of morality which the Christian is shaped into as he grows in works. Thus when we’re told obedience leads to righteousness, it’s not talking about obedience leading to justification as Dimond falsely claims, but as these scholars and all the other material I have provided shows, obedience leads to general holiness or right living – big difference. Hence, none of the texts Dimond cited refute justification by faith alone or prove justification is by works.
Dimond wrongly thinks every reference to Christians and dikaiosune in the New Testament refers to God’s act of justification. He said,
“You said that Timothy [in reference to 2 Timothy 2:22] is not talking about justification. He uses the same Greek word there for justification. . . dikaiosune”
However, the following instances of the word prove it does not always relate to or mean “justification.” Romans 6:18 says Christians “become slaves of righteousness.” “Slaves of justification” would make no sense. Romans 6:20 says “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” Saying they were “free in regard to justification” would likewise make no sense. 2 Corinthians 6:7 says “truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.” It would be nonsense to speak of “weapons of justification.” 2 Corinthians 11:15 mentions Satan’s minions disguising themselves as “servants of righteousness.” “Servants of justification” would not make sense. In Hebrews 1:9 we read, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” Saying they “have loved justification” while hating wickedness mangles the text. 1 John 2:29 and 3:7 speak about “practicing righteousness.” It would make no sense to speak of “practicing justification.” Finally, Revelation 19:11 says “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.” It would be absurd to say “in justification he judges and makes war.” Therefore, Dimond is deceiving people when he claims just because a text mentions dikaiosune that therefore justification must automatically be in view.
Now yes, in other texts, not the ones Dimond quoted as we have proven, dikaiosune can relate to a status of righteous standing with God (i.e., justification) such as in Romans 4:5 and 9:30-31. But that status of righteous standing with God is said to be by faith in such texts, not works. They state:
“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law” (Romans 9:30-31)
Context, serious scholarship and lexical analysis must determine when the word refers to general holiness (i.e., not God’s act of justification) and when it refers to a righteous standing with God (i.e., God’s act of justification). Due to time limits, this could not all be said in my debate with Dimond even though I wanted to say it. Misusing texts on this issue is very easy for him and does not take much time. On the other hand, it takes lots of time to unpack the truth about such texts – giving them care and respect through proper exegesis.
With that said, I want to challenge Dimond to debate the papacy with me. Before our debate on justification in an email exchange he showed interest in a series of debates and suggested the papacy for our second debate. However, after we completed the first debate he claimed he no longer wanted to debate a second time. So right here I am challenging him to that second debate on if the Bible teaches papal primacy. Hopefully he will not cower and run, but instead debate the texts showing them care and respect through exegesis as opposed to simply shot-gunning hundreds of verses like he did in our first debate. If we do debate he will have to agree not to shotgun hundreds of texts but instead exegete them showing God’s Word care and respect so that meaningful interchange can take place. To end this essay, here is a section of my film Reformed Answers on the Roman Corruption of Christianity proving justification is a legal verdict of acquittal which received by faith and not by works.