Romans 1:16-17 (excerpted), ESV:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith . . .


Οὐ γὰρ ἐπαισχύνομαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον . . .δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν . . .

The English provided here seems to convey most of the possible nuances of the Greek genitive. Indeed, most English translations except the most interpretive/paraphrastic, choose this phrase "righteousness of God." Is this intended to indicate the righteousness which characterizes God, the righteousness imparted by God to believers, the justification performed by God, a combination of these, or something else? 1

1. The NET footnotes provide language to label these options within the framework of Wallace's grammar. If I understand correctly, the options I provided correspond roughly to, respectively: possessive genitive, genitive of source, and subjective genitive. I don't mean to limit answers to this paradigm and would prefer answers be intelligible to those not familiar with it, so please feel free to use or to break out from that as you see fit.

  • This is the justice/righteousness debate brought on by the Reformer's insistence on "Salvation by faith alone, apart from the law". Whereas "dikaiosunE" means righteousness, it can also mean justice(18. Plato used the word in this sense, therefore, dikaiosune meant “adjustment to the law,” and that is the sense in which “righteousness” is a correct translation, but “justice” is equally accurate.) The word used in Greek had legal ramifications, and the Vulgate translated it iustitia enim Dei, keeping the legal sense.
    – Tau
    Jul 26, 2014 at 3:45
  • An excellent rendition of "dikaiosune" can be found here wenstrom.org/downloads/written/word_studies/greek/…
    – Tau
    Jul 26, 2014 at 3:48
  • Thanks! Here I'm mostly interested in learning about the relationship between δικαιοσύνη and θεοῦ rather than the nuances of the word itself, but this is an interesting link.
    – Susan
    Jul 26, 2014 at 3:52
  • (And I agree with you that the way we understand the word in light of the options your provide does have bearing on this question.)
    – Susan
    Jul 26, 2014 at 3:57
  • Susan, your phrase is also a crux in Rom 3:21. You might look at Douglas Campbell's monograph, The Rhetoric of Righteousness, for one detailed treatment. This review will give you a quick summary.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 28, 2014 at 19:01

5 Answers 5


Fantastic question! Although I don't have time to craft a thorough answer, I'd like to offer some observations. (Note: I am narrowing my discussion to the two principal alternatives you suggested: possessive or subjective genitive -- i.e., God's righteousness, or believers'.)

First, I would suggest that Paul's own commentary on this particular phrase is provided just two chapters later in 3:20-26. There he uses the same words (and related phrases) to expand and expound upon this theme.

20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

As I read this passage, both interpretations of the phrase have merit:

  1. The righteousness of believers (imparted by God). This use seems clearly intended by v. 22 "the righteousness of God through faith" (because obviously God's own righteousness does not depend upon faith). This interpretation is supported by Paul's use of the verb form of the word (δικαιόω) in verses 20 & 22, which clearly points to God's action of "justifying" us (i.e., "granting us righteousness").

  2. God's own righteous character. This sense seems to be what Paul had in mind when he used the companion phrase "His righteousness" (δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ; vv. 25 & 26), which, Paul explains, is "demonstrated" (or "proved") by the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus. Likewise, perhaps it was "God's righteous character" which was "witnessed by the Law and the Prophets" (v. 21). Stronger evidence for this interpretation can be found elsewhere in the epistle. For example, 3:5 points out that it is the people's unrighteousness which "demonstrates the righteousness of God" (which clearly refers to God's own righteous character in contradistinction to the unrighteousness of the readers. See 10:3 for a similar idea).

So my answer seems to be equivocating. I see evidence for both interpretations in this passage. Which one did Paul have in mind? Well, in my opinion, it seems apparent that Paul himself has both senses in mind. He is intentionally overlaying both of these ideas and coallescing them together into one new notion. Indeed, that is precisely the point of the final phrase of v. 26: that God is "just (δίκαιος) and the justifier (δικαιοῦντα)" -- the righteous One and the righteousness giver. One might even go so far as to affirm that this is Paul's grand theme in the entire epistle: that God's own righteousness has become the righteousness of the believer (cf. 1 Cor 5:21), so that these two virtuous treasures are now, astoundingly, one and the same.


If you want to investigate the righteousness of God the best reference I've found is Iustitia Dei by Alister McGrath which is available online. It is a very long document - over 400 pages - but if you just take the first 30 you will start to understand the issue. He starts with the Old Testatment (which after all was the basis of Paul's world view even if radically modified by meeting Jesus) and follows the concept right through into the New. One thing you will come to appreciate is the meaning of a word is inextricably tied to its use within a culture and community. I have come to think that Paul would probably have preferred to use Hebrew in his teaching since Sedaqa [Hebrew] was surely what he meant but none of his Greek-speaking audience would have understood. He used dikaiosyne [Greek] which was eventually translated into Latin as iustitia. Both in the Old Testament and the New, in English translations, these words and their derivatives are sometimes rendered right/righteous/righteousness and at other times just/justice. I believe that in the Romance languages of Spanish, French and Italian they have only the one Latin-based word.

It seems to me the only way to really understand the language and words in the Old Testament is to immerse yourself in its life and times - by reading it thoroughly and repeatedly (sorry, no easy answers here) - and thereby to get some insight into where Paul was coming from. (As I sometimes say, if you want to really learn Parisian French then go and live in Paris! There is no substitute.) I wish you well - you will find it very rewarding.


This phrase "Righteousness of God." Is intended to indicate all three perspectives: The righteousness which characterizes God, the righteousness imparted by God to believers, and the justification performed by God. So the effort will be to show exegesis for each perspective.

The righteousness stabilized two misunderstood foundations

Foundation 1: Righteousness by faith instead of eating the fruits of the knowledge of good and evil

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. (Romans 7:5 NKJV)

For the Law is built off of wisdom, and wisdom from knowing good and evil.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6 NKJV)

Therefore faith seems foolish to those that are wise.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. (1 Corinthians 1:27 NKJV)

Foundation 2: Righteousness through the communication process

You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3 NKJV)

Although this translation is accurate, it fails to portray the full meaning behind this statement. For God is the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 NKJV)

What does it mean to have no other Gods before the Word?

But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NKJV)

There are many teachings that Jesus did specifically to help in the understanding of the first set of Ten Commandments, so to avoid getting to far of track.

Perspective 1: The Righteousness which Characterizes God

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. (Romans 5:12-15 NKJV)

Before the event of the Fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil Their where two that had no sin. God and also Adam. The Character of Adam before the fruits was in God's image. So before the fruits there were two that walked the perfect way. Once Adam ate of the fruits, Only God walked the perfect way. Therefore the description of God's Righteousness Characterizes God. Because God is the example to follow.

Perspective 2: The righteousness imparted by God to believers

Because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:15 NKJV)

If one does not consider a situation to be in dysfunction, then function is no longer necessary to develop. Likewise, when function is in process, another function may serve that purpose. Or the function itself could be considered dysfunctional. From a certain point of view. Since the Sin is to eat the fruits of deciphering function and dysfunction. Faith in God is the answer to this dilemma. For when a dysfunctional situation is handed to God. God then delivers. So since the work is done By God it is imparted by God to believers.

Perspective 3: The justification performed by God

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NKJV)

A penalty is only given to those that transgress a law. For those that no longer transgress the law. Mercy is a gift. This mercy is an action by God so the justification performed by God


It is clear, from the context, since Paul has mentioned the word "Christ" 5 times and "gospel" 6 times, all before verse 17, "the righteousness of God" must mean Jesus Christ, or the salvation from Jesus Christ.

One can slice and dice all the Greeks, Latin, or Hebrews, but the reality is that the audience was heavily Hellenize, whom Paul wanted to elucidate the Hebrew Messiah being simply Jesus Christ.


According to Faithlife Study Bible, righteousness of God present in Romans 1:17 can mean

  1. "Righteousness that comes from God—that is, the righteous status or right standing that God grants to those who have faith in Jesus Christ"
  2. "God’s own righteousness and His saving work"
  3. "Combine these possibilities: Righteousness is an attribute of God that is manifested in His provision of salvation"

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