Perhaps one of the greatest single causes of misunderstanding of the Evangel is the unfortunate circumstance that in English most of the key-words derive from the Latin and not from Greek or Anglo-Saxon roots. Justify, sanctify, grace, faith, peace, salvation—all these are based on Latin words, justus, facio, pax, sanctus, gratia, fides, salvo. The inevitable result of this is that each of these words is tied firmly to the Latin theology which at a very early date cut itself adrift from the firm rock of the Greek text of the Scriptures. Although at the Reformation great efforts were made to get back to the foundation truths of Christianity they were very far from successful, as the controversies about "Justification" show all too plainly. Even the Concordant Version, which "proposed to make it possible for any person of ordinary intelligence to discover for himself just what God has said, and to furnish him with facts sufficient to test any interpretation," and professed to a large extent to have accomplished this ideal, failed to shake off the Latin fetters. Of the main words derived from the Greek stem "-dik-" it used as far as possible the Latin stem "-just-" and in only one of its main renderings did it achieve correctness: the word dikaiosunE, "righteousness." To have been consistent in its incorrectness "justness" should have been used; but that was plainly wrong. Nobody has yet explained why the obvious discrepancy did not make itself apparent to the Compiler and set him thinking again about the problem.
On this account, some of the first chapters of our series of Studies in God's Evangel were devoted to straightening out the tangle of the "-dik-" words. Whether the attempt was successful or no is not yet apparent; for, so far, only one correspondent has troubled himself to take any considerable notice of the matter. His remarks have been very interesting and fair, and the points he has made must be examined now.
First, the middle and passive forms of the verb dikaioO. He has pointed out that nowhere in the Greek Scriptures does the same tense of this verb occur in both forms, middle and passive. That point had been overlooked because attention, perhaps too much attention, had been concentrated on the circumstance that more occurrences of the verb in the passive form are found than in the middle (19 to 10), and on an attempt to exhibit the difference as accurately and concordantly as possible. The remarkable thing is that some, at least, of the Lexicons classify as passive, verbs which are indubitably middle in form. It is said that in many cases there is no difference between passive and middle. What, apparently is meant that many verbs have no passive forms in certain tenses, so that the middle has to do duty for it instead; but that is not quite the same thing.
Until it can be shown that the idea is mistaken, we ought to treat verbs which are middle in form as primarily middle in meaning and those which are passive in form as primarily passive in meaning. After all, the Greeks must be supposed to have meant what they said. The usual explanation of the middle is that the action remains with the doer of the act. Possibly, the simplest way to put it is this: in both forms something is done to, for or on behalf of someone; in the middle it is done by or for himself, on his own account; in the passive the doer is someone else. This subject would repay very thorough investigation.
However, all this only touches the surface of the problem, the translation and interpretation of the Greek Scriptures and, at the moment, this particular verb dikaioO. From a purely translational point of view the really crucial problem is in Rom. 3:24 and in Rom. 5:1, 9; Titus 3:7, respectively—dikaioumenoi and dikaiOthentes—both of which are rendered in the C.V. by "being justified"; and in Rom. 3:28 and in Gal. 2:17 respectively—dikaiousthai and dikaiOthEnai— similarly rendered "to be justified." Of the first pair, the Lexicon defines the former as present and the latter as first aorist, and both as passive. Of the second pair the former is similarly defined as present and the latter as aorist, and both as passive. However, the first of each pair is middle in form. We must believe that a difference exists and can be shown in English; but what precisely is it? Until something better is suggested, I propose for the first pair to render the former by becoming righteous and the latter by being made righteous; and in the second pair, the former by to be becoming righteous and the latter by to be made righteous. By these renderings the present and aorist senses are preserved in each pair and something of the middle sense in the former of each pair. It will be noticed that the earlier proposal for generally rendering the middle by achieve righteousness has been dropped here. This is only provisional: it has yet to be settled which English form is best. The essential point is that whatever form is chosen must suggest the middle sense to the ordinary reader. I am told that I am trying to show in English what is impossible, but I do not believe that our tongue is so lame as all that. Anyone who can do better is cordially invited to help over this.
The chief objection to recognizing the middle forms of this verb as actually middle in sense is that "justification cannot be middle. We do not justify ourselves, it is God that justifies us . . . . The doctrine involved introduces an element of works into justification, and so contradicts Rom. 11:6."
It is difficult to avoid a feeling that the real culprit in this matter is the Apostle Paul, and that if the verb dikaioO cannot be middle he ought to have found some way of avoiding the use of middle forms in his expositions—that is, if culprit there be. This is an extremely difficult subject, concerning which even the Grammars give very little help. Until it has been reexamined, and very thoroughly and exhaustively indeed, we ought to refrain from being so dogmatic. Green says:—"As many forms of the Middle and Passive are alike, it is sometimes difficult to decide which is intended. In considering this question, regard must chiefly be had to the usage of the particular verbs, and to the general construction of the sentence." He cites various examples which certainly raise doubts and questionings in the mind; but the greatest of all these is that it should be for us to decide such points. It is suggested that the safest course is to read the primary sense of such verbs according to their grammatical form, and to abandon this attempt only where the result is undoubtedly unsatisfactory.
But it ought not to be overlooked that the statement quoted: "We do not justify ourselves" misrepresents the position taken up in these papers. Most certainly we do not make ourselves righteous; but the fact remains that in consequence of a process in which we certainly do take some part, we become righteous. We are not in those circumstances made righteous in the sense that we are made wet when we are caught in a downpour without a raincoat. In other words it is not a matter or a process in which we are wholly passive recipients, whether we like it or not.
How can recognition of this fact introduce an element of works into the transaction? The criticism seems to betray a lack of clear thinking in its author. If a man does not believe God as Abraham does, he cannot become righteous. So, in order to become righteous, one must do something, namely, believe God. But to describe that doing as "an element of works" is to destroy the distinction between faith and works in Rom. 4:2, 3 and 9:32. It is not easy to see what more can be said in amplification of this point, beyond explaining that, though believing is something that a person does, just as works are something that a person does, the faith expressed in believing is explicitly distinguished by Paul from works; so therefore if we lump them together we are departing from Paul.
Moreover, it is very necessary to utter a warning against the all too common error that there is anything evil, or wrong, or even undesirable in works. There is not, and Scripture never hints such a thing. What Paul is warning against is works as a substitute for faith. Becoming righteous by faith does not mean that one does absolutely nothing oneself, but absolutely nothing except believe. When we believe God we do become righteous. This truth comes out very clearly in Acts 13:38, 39. The real problem is not how we can become righteous but how we can be made righteous; and only by clear thinking and precise study can we solve it. Most avoid it by using the conveniently ambiguous word "justify." Let us, then, turn to the purely passive forms of dikaioO in the Greek Scriptures and examine them once more, but from this point of view.
These were discussed in Vol. 14, Nos. 4 and 5 (1952), and a case was made out for rendering the verb in Matt. 11:19, 12:37 and Luke 7:35 by "shown to be righteous," and in Rom. 3:4; 1. Tim. 3:16 by "declared righteous," and in the remaining passages by "made righteous." Attention was drawn to three passages: Acts 13:39; Gal. 2:15-17; James 2:21-25 in which the passive and middle forms occur side by side; but the reason for the contrast was not elucidated. These passages read:—
Acts 13:39. Let it be knowable then, men, brethren, that through this One is being announced to you pardon of sins; and from all which in Moses' Law you could not be made righteous, in this One everyone who is believing is becoming righteous.
Gal. 2:15-17. We, as to nature Jews and not sinners out of Gentiles, having yet perceived that a human being is not becoming righteous out of works of law, if so be not through faith of Christ Jesus; we also believe unto Christ Jesus that we may be made righteous out of faith of Christ and not out of works of law, seeing that out of works of law no flesh shall be made righteous. Now if, seeking to be made righteous in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners; is Christ, consequently, a dispenser of sin?
James 2:21-25. Was not Abraham, our father, made righteous out of works, offering up Isaac his son on the altar? You are observing that the faith worked together with his, works, and out of the works the faith was perfected; and the scripture was fulfilled which is saying, 'Now Abraham believes as to God and it is accounted to him unto righteousness'; and 'Friend of God' he was called. You are seeing that out of works a human being is becoming righteous, and not out of faith only. Now likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also made righteous out of works. . . . ?
The discriminating reader of these passages will perceive that there is a very delicate distinction in them between these forms of the verb, though it is exceedingly difficult to define it. Nevertheless we should not ignore it.
As mentioned above, an argument against me, powerful at first sight, is that nowhere do we find the same tense of this verb in both voices, and therefore that as we have to use a middle to express a passive sense, we should treat them all as passives. But, if so, why not treat them all as middles? The fact that in English the passive is easier to express than the middle is quite irrelevant; for Greek existed long before English was ever thought of, and in it the middle is the easier to express.
How can anyone actually be made righteous? In Acts 13:39 the words are "could not be made righteous" so the problem does not arise. The same applies in a slightly different form to Rom. 3:20; 4:2; Gal. 2:16 (second occurrence) and Gal. 2:17. So we come to the remaining nine passages in the passive. The first is Rom. 2:13; "but the doers of law will be made righteous." This brings our thoughts at once to Heb. 8:8-12, where God will inscribe His Law on His People's hearts. It is that act which will enable them to be doers of law and so in the last analysis make them righteous. In Rom. 5:1, 9 faith, as explained in Romans 3 and 4, has done for us what God's act in Hebrews 8 will do for Israel, so the same applies: it is "Jesus faith" (Rom. 3:26) which is what makes us righteous. God is the active agent too in 1. Cor. 6:11 and Gal. 2:16 (first occurrence), 3:24 and Titus 3:7. James 2:21 and 25 are not so explicit; but even so, no one who has real faith in Christ Jesus will doubt that the faith shown by Abraham and Rahab was by God's direct act and solely His own making.
What it all amounts to, then, is this: when we are made righteous, the thought is primarily centred on. what God has done for us; when we become righteous, on what we have become because of His act, on the righteousness which thus has become ours because it is His. This is not, in any sense whatsoever, to claim any credit for ourselves. That faith which eventuates in our righteousness is God's gift; it is not in any way a work.
R. B. WITHERS Last updated 9.2.2006