This is part 2 of my critique of the new Emergent “translation” of the Bible entitled The Voice.
I apologize for the delays in publishing this second installment. However, on this section of scripture I wanted to insure that my scholarship dug a little deeper than my first installment because the passage of scripture what I will be reviewing touches on the very heart of the Gospel message itself.
The passage we will be reviewing is Romans 3:21-26. As a Lutheran this passage has very significant historical and theological meaning. It is this passage of Scripture that the Holy Spirit used with Martin Luther in order to open his eyes to Biblical doctrine of Salvation by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone by Christ’s Work Alone. This passage of scripture is literally ground zero for the Protestant Reformation and is one of the central passages of scripture that clearly teaches ‘forensic justification’ (the teaching that sinners are declared righteous by God not because of their good works and law keeping but purely as a gift for the sake of Jesus Christ.) Mangling or manipulating this text is tantamount to obscuring and changing the Gospel Message itself. Unfortunately, that is precisely what The Voice does.
I’ve reproduced a side by side comparison of The Voice, The ESV and the Greek New Testament. Yellow highlights indicate highly problematic phrasing in The Voice and red highlights indicate extremely problematic phrasing in The Voice.
The Voice begins this passage by claiming it is announcing the ‘good news’. This is a highly charged Biblical phrase and as a theologian that phrasing causes me to pay very careful attention to what follows because it claims to be The Gospel. Therefore, the question I will want to answer is whether or not the ‘good news’ offered in this section of The Voice is the true Biblical gospel or ‘another gospel that is no gospel at all’ (Gal 1:6-9)?
Immediately we run into a significant problem. The translators of The Voice have translated the greek phrase ‘diakaiosune theou’ as ‘restorative justice’. This phrasing is very foreign and is fraught with lexical problems.
Let's first look at what that phrase really means. BDAG in wrestling with the phrase ‘diakaiosune theou’ states:
quality or state of juridical correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness. Equitableness is esp. associated w. God and in our lit. freq. in connection w. exercise of executive privilege in conferring a benefit. Hence God’s diakaiosune can be the opposite of condemnation 2 Cor 3:9 ; in it God is revealed as judge Rom 3:5—in contrast to human wrath, which beclouds judgment—displaying judicial integrity ... In Pauline thought the intimate association of God’s interest in retaining a reputation for justice that rewards goodness and requites evil, while at the same time working out a plan of salvation for all humanity, complicates classification of his use of diakaiosune. On the one hand, God’s diakaiosune is pardoning action, and on the other a way of sharing God’s character with believers, who then exhibit righteousness in the moral sense. God achieves this objective through exercise of executive privilege in dispensing justice equitably without reference to nomos by making salvation available to all humanity (which shares a common problem of liability to wrath by being unanimously in revolt against God Ro 3:9–18, 23) through faith in God’s action in Jesus Christ. The genitival constr. diakaiosune theou accents the uniqueness of this diakaiosune.: Ro 1:17; 3:21f, 25, 26; 10:3, and diakaiosune. alone 5:21; 9:30 (3 times); 2 Cor 3:9 ...All these refer to righteousness bestowed by God...
In other words, the correct way of understanding the greek phrase “ diakaiosune theou” is to understand that this is a righteousness that is BESTOWED by God. As you will see in later verses this interpretation of 'diakaiosune theou' dovetails perfectly with the greek verb dikaioo (to pronounce or declare righteous) that is found in Romans 3:24.
The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (ALGNT) confirms BDAG’s understanding of this phrase. The ALGNT states:
in Pauline thought of the divine action by which God puts a person right with himself and which then becomes a dynamic power in the believer’s life making right(eous); state of having been made righteous.
How is this righteousness bestowed on us? Romans 3:24 makes this VERY clear, it says we are justified by God's grace as a gift. What does 'justified' mean? The greek word here couldn't be clearer. The greek word is Dikaioo and it literally means, "to pronounce or declare someone to be righteous". Dikaioo is a legal term that applies to a judge rendering a verdict. In other words, God by His grace as a gift declares sinners to be righteous through Jesus Christ. But, The Voice obscures this amazingly good news by turning the righteousness of God into "God's Restorative Justice".
The question that now needs to be addressed is whether or not the phrase that The Voice employs, “God’s Restorative Justice” correctly conveys this concept of a righteousness that is bestowed and pronounced by God or if it is something else.
On its face, the phrase “God’s Restorative Justice” doesn’t appear to convey a meaning that implies the bestowal of righteousness by God that the greek language conveys. Instead, the phrase “God’s Restorative Justice” seems to be implying some type of ‘restorative process’. In fact, the term “Restorative Justice” is so unique and foreign to the text that it caused me to do further research to see if this phrase already had an established meaning. Through my research I discovered that the term “Restorative Justice” does already have an established meaning among those who are proposing alternative and post-modern approaches to settling legal disputes.
Here is what I found at the Suffolk University website:
Restorative justice is a broad term which encompasses a growing social movement to institutionalize peaceful approaches to harm, problem-solving and violations of legal and human rights.
These range from international peacemaking tribunals such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa to innovations within our criminal justice system, schools, social services and communities.
Rather than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to reestablish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities....
Restorative justice is a value-based approach to conflict and harm. These values are often identified as inclusion, democracy, responsibility, reparation, safety, healing and reintegration. But one value is more essential than any other—Respect.
Restorative Justice is Process
For Victims. Restorative responses empower victims by offering them a voice in the process, an opportunity to ask questions and seek answers, afford them a role in decision-making and avenues for healing, restitution and emotional support.
For Wrongdoers. Restorative responses enable wrongdoers to be accountable for their conduct; affords opportunities to make amends and express remorse; offers constructive ways to repair harm; supports making responsible choices; and creates forums for forgiveness, reconciliation and reintegration.
For Communities. Restorative responses re-invest citizens with the power to contribute meaningfully to the resolution of community problems; allows citizens to articulate and affirm the moral standards of the community; provides a forum for addressing the underlying conditions which generate harm; and contributes towards the building of safe, thriving and peaceful communities.
In other words, my suspicion that the term “God’s Restorative Justice” sounds more like a process than a bestowal of righteousness by God appears to have some merit.
The connection between the The Voice’s use of the term “Restorative Justice” and the already established definition of this term may only be coincidental. However, I do not believe that it is a coincidence. Romans 3:21-26 employs Greek legal language and concepts that one must understand in order to properly translate and interpret the passage. The Voice, by employing the phrase “Restorative Justice” is injecting an alternate and foreign understanding of legal justice into the text that, at best, obscures the forensic nature of justification that is so clearly seen in the Greek text. It is important to also note that forensic justification (i .e ., an act of God as Judge proceeding according to Law, declaring that the sinner is just, i .e ., that the Law no longer condemns him, but acquits and pronounces him to be entitled to eternal life) is intimately tied to the doctrine of Christ’s substitionary atonement which is openly rejected and held in derision by many in the Emergent movement.)
The Voice, translates the greek phrase “dia pisteos Iesuo Christou” in verse 22 as a subjective genitive rather than an objective genitive. This translation is problematic at best but when it is combined with the phrase ‘redeeming justice’ it becomes exceedingly problematic because it undercuts salvation by grace through faith IN Jesus Christ.
In order to explain the difference between the the objective and subjective use of the genitive I’ve reproduced Dana and Mantey’s explanation from their Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament:
The Subjective Genitive. We have the subjective genitive when the noun in the genitive produces the action, being therefore related as subject to the verbal idea of the noun modified.
The Objective Genitive. We have this construction when the noun in the genitive receives the action, being thus related as object to the verbal Idea contained in the noun (Dana and Mantey. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. New York: Macmillan, 1955, pp.78,79).
If “dia pisteos Iesuo Christou” is translated as an objective genitive we should read it as ‘through faith IN Jesus Christ’ (the genitival form of Jesus Christ is the object of the greek word pistis (faith) which has taken the genitive form because of its connection to the word dia. When dia connects to another word via the genitive it is translated ‘through’ and implies the means by which something happens or is accomplished)
If, on the other hand, we translate it as a subjective genitive we read it as ‘through the faith OF Jesus Christ’ (Then the faith mentioned in this verse IS NO LONGER OUR FAITH but instead is Christ’s faith).
Translating this verse correctly has huge implications regarding salvation and the gospel. And getting this translation correct requires us to look at other passages of scripture to compare similar language and get a correct sense and feel for how the apostolic authors employed these terms. This is known as the hermeneutical principle of scripture interpreting scripture.
Thankfully, the apostolic authors used a variety of phrases that describe faith and its object. This variety of phrases gives us a far better understanding who or what we are to have faith in. One of these synonymous phrases occurs only three verses later in Romans 3:25.
The greek phrase is “dia pisteow en to autou haimarti”
The literal translation of this phrase is “through faith IN his blood”. The use of the dative in describing Jesus blood rules out a translation like “through the faithfulness of His blood” (which would be a very silly translation indeed).
Instead, verse 25 tells us that God put Jesus forward as a propitiation (hilasterion - a blood sacrifice or expiation for sins that turns away God’s wrath) and this propitiation is received through faith IN Jesus’ blood. This is another way of saying “Faith IN Jesus Christ.”
Notice how The Voice obscures the simple meaning of verse 25. It’s translation of 25 is very difficult to understand AND it incorrectly separates Jesus’ blood from the word faith. The Voice takes the word blood and no longer uses it as a something that we have faith in but instead has Jesus’ blood becoming a demonstration of God’s restorative justice. The translators of The Voice are literally trying to smuggle an alternate teaching of the atonement into this passage and obscure the substitionary atonement which is so clearly taught in verse 25.
Let’s take a look at a bunch of other passages that clearly establish the fact that the object of our faith IS Jesus Christ. We Believe IN Him. Our Faith is IN Him.
John 12:11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. - (episteuon eis ton Ieœsoun, the greek word pisteuo is the verb form of the noun pistis [faith]).
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
1John 5:10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
John 9:35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
John 2:11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
John 4:39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”
John 6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
John 7:31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”
John 8:30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
John 10:42 And many believed in him there.
John 11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,
John 10:42 And many believed in him there.
Acts 10:43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Rom. 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
Phil. 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
1Pet. 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
Matt. 18:6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
John 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
John 12:44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
John 16:8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
John 17:20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Acts 9:42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
Acts 11:17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
Acts 16:31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Acts 22:19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you.
1Tim. 1:16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Rom. 9:33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Rom. 10:11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
1John 3:23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ
Acts 13:39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Rom. 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
1Cor. 1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
Acts 20:21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 24:24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.
Acts 26:18 [Jesus is speaking] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Col. 2:5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Philem. 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints,
Over and again, verse after verse after verse after verse from practically every New Testament author (including Paul) demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the object of our faith, belief and trust. The overwhelming weight of this evidence more than provides the necessary proof to support the fact that the objective genitive “faith IN Jesus Christ” is the correct translation of Romans 3:22 AND 3:26.
By mistranslating Rom 3:22, The Voice introduces a theology that is foreign to the text and New Testament Christianity. It undermines the clear teaching of forensic justification and EVEN WORSE in Rom 3:26 The Voice uses it’s mistranslation of this passage to smuggle works-righteousness and a salvation based upon the law keeping by making justification contingent upon trust AND commitment to Jesus. Yet NO WHERE in text does it say that God justifies those who 'commit themselves to Jesus'. This idea cannot be supported from the greek and it outright contradicts the teaching of the passage itself.
I could go on, but I think I've made my points.