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The Standard of Righteousness

Where do we look?

Jeffrey. Niehaus, “Righteousness and the Created Order: Appreciation and Critique of a Novel Idea,” JETS, Vol. 63.2, June, 2020.

Is creation, properly ordered, the standard of righteousness? Yes, according to some theologians; but no – and rightly so – according to Dr. Niehaus. He takes on H. H. Scmid and his view that creation, in proper order, provides the standard of true righteousness, based on his studies of such thinking among ancient near East culture.

Dr. Niehaus insists that God is the only proper standard for righteousness, and His communicable attributes are the righteousness toward which we strive. “Righteousness in the Bible is defined as conformity to God’s Being and doing.” We are righteous when we are true to God, conforming to His attributes, and not those of a well-ordered world. Only God can accomplish this righteousness in us, which He does through faith in Jesus Christ, according to His Word.

The created order can reflect the righteousness of God, but the reflection must always point us back to the Source. It is always a matter of common grace, and thus ought to point us to God, rather than to itself as anything like a final standard.

The approach Dr. Niehaus critiques and rejects derives from a faulty hermeneutic. H. H. Schmid has taken the historical ANE as his hermeneutical key, using ANE texts on law, wisdom, kingship and other categories to guide his interpretation of Scripture. But this approach violates both the analogy of Scripture and the analogy of faith, and is therefore not to be trusted.

That Schmid makes many excellent points about ANE and similarities between it and Scripture is not to be denied. But using these observations as his hermeneutical key is where he goes wrong.

Jesus is the perfect standard of righteousness, and we must look to Him and trust in Him if we would be righteous.

This is a most helpful article in that it reminds us how easy it is to foist on Scripture, as the key to interpretation, standards that derive from sources outside the Word of God. Many evangelicals today have fallen into a similar practice – whether wittingly or unwittingly – of using practices of contemporary culture as hermeneutical keys, thus compromising Scripture’s true meaning in many ways. 

A careful reading of this article can refresh us as to the proper approach to Scripture and how to derive our standards from the God Who has graciously given us His Word.

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