Patrick Schreiner

Tom Schreiner’s Response to Frank Thielman

In Scripture, Theology on 11/23/2010 at 12:08 PM

Last weeks ETS meeting was highlighted with sessions on the issue of justification.  The papers will be published in JETS.  However, my dad sent me his response to Thielman and Wright (and allowed me to post it).  These were presented during the panel discussion

Here is his response to Thielman, later I will post his response to Wright.

Let me begin by commenting on Frank Thielman’s paper. The depth and clarity of Frank’s scholarship are on display in his essay, as he shows his considerable knowledge not only of the scriptures but of the Greco-Roman world. His appeal to Roman coinage in defense of his view is particularly interesting, so that we see his creativity in proposing another dimension to the phrase dikaisune theou. Frank concludes that the phrase refers in Rom. 1:17 to God’s saving righteousness, the gift of righteousness granted to sinners, and to God’s fairness and equity in offering salvation to all people equally.

I have read widely in Frank’s work, and I have learned much from him and resonate and agree with almost everything he says. Furthermore, we are, if I understand him correctly, on the same page theologically when it comes to justification. But the question before us today is Frank’s assessment of God’s righteousness in Rom. 1:17. First, let’s assume for a moment that Frank is correct in saying righteousness has the idea of fairness. Is this really a new idea? I take it that the equal distribution of grain is righteous because people deserve to have the food given to them. Such equal distribution of food is the right thing to do. It conforms to the norm of what is right.

Second, I have my doubts (maybe I will be convinced in our discussion) that God’s righteousness includes the notion of his fairness in Rom. 1:17. I think it is more likely that Paul limits himself to the saving righteousness of God in 1:17, and explains in 3:21-26 how the saving and judging righteousness of God meet in the cross. Frank is correct in saying words may be ambiguous and contain more than one shade of meaning. And yet it seems as if Frank’s reading is too disjunctive, too jarring to be likely. For on his reading righteousness in Rom. 1:17 means both offering salvation and the giving of salvation, both the possibility of salvation and the creating of salvation. I agree with Frank that Paul refers to the righteousness of God that grants and creates salvation, and that this saving righteousness of God places people in the right before him. But then it seems unlikely that Paul also refers to the mere possibility of salvation. It demands quite a bit from the reader to see both the creation of and the possibility of salvation in the same phrase. It isn’t that there can’t be ambiguity; it is that the two ideas are dramatically different, one focusing on an accomplished the reality and the other only a potential reality. That God’s saving righteousness needs to be received and that it is available to all people is communicated by other words in the context, not by dikaisune theou. Yes, Paul emphasizes that God’s saving righteousness is offered to all, but it doesn’t follow from this that the definition of righteousness has the idea of an equal offer to all.

Frank points out that the righteousness of God is prominent in 1:18-3:5 and says that this supports the idea that he is impartial. I think this is slightly off kilter. God’s righteousness in 1:18-3:5 focuses, as Frank acknowledges, on his righteousness in judging the ungodly. They are judged because they do not conform to his righteous and just character, because they violate his moral standards. The notion that God’s righteousness consists in the equal offer of salvation is absent in these verses. Instead, the focus is on God’s distributive justice—precisely the idea that Frank rejects in Rom. 1:17.

Frank’s exploration of the meaning of the term in its Greco-Roman context is quite helpful. Paul would most likely be aware of how a term was used in the Greco-Roman world. Still, the fundamental background for deciphering the meaning of God’s righteousness is the OT. It has often been pointed out that the language of righteousness and justification comes to the forefront in letters where the membership of Gentiles in the people of God is disputed. The debate centered on how one interpreted the OT in light of the Christ event. Furthermore, OT citations and allusions dominate the epistle to the Romans, and therefore the OT must be the primary datum in investigating Pauline theology. At one point Frank says that the meaning of righteousness of God must be found in part in the Greco-Roman world, for “Paul is unlikely to have written a letter that he knew would be unintelligible to most of his audience.”[1] Perhaps I misunderstand Frank here, but he seems to be suggesting that the letter could not be understood if Paul were simply and only referring to the OT. I think this is doubtful. Paul engages constantly with the OT in Romans, apparently assuming that his readers could follow his scriptural argumentation. Furthermore, many scholars think that the Gentiles in Romans were God-fearers, and if this is the case, they would have been quite familiar with the OT. We can introduce Galatians as an analogy at this point. The Galatians were Gentiles, and yet the question that was disputed came from the OT, “Should the recent Gentile converts be circumcised?” Paul ransacked the OT to defend his argument in Galatians, and it seems that he does something quite similar in Romans.

I don’t want to close on a negative note. I am not convinced by Frank’s proposal, but perhaps upon further scrutiny it will win the day. We should certainly be open to new light being shed upon the scriptures from all sources, and Frank defends his interpretation with clarity, grace, and an impressive array of evidence.


[1] P. 5.

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  1. Your dad’s a beast, dude.

  2. [...] to Robbie Sagers for pointing out these links from Patrick (Son of Thomas) Schreiner: Schreiner’s response to Thielman’s paper and Schreiner’s response to Wright’s paper. To my knowledge these are the only [...]

  3. Thanks for posting that!

  4. [...] presentations and summaries see Gospel coalition, Tom Schreiner’s response to Thielman on Patrick Schreiner’s blog (Tom’s son), Caneday’s discussion on Wright at Biblia Theologica, etc. The ETS plenary sessions [...]

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