Continuing the series on Law and Gospel:
3. How should the two occurrences of “righteousness of God” in Romans 10:3 be defined (and translated)?
My paraphrase of Rom. 10:3 is: For because of their inexcusable ignoring of the righteousness which comes from God, and because they are seeking to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to God’s righteousness.
The way in which “their own” is understood is important. For Dunn, the phrase is to be understood corporately and nationally – something belonging peculiarly “to them” (as a race) rather than “to others” (Gentiles). The contrast is not between an individual’s righteousness on the basis of deeds and “God’s righteousness.” Therefore, both occurrences of “righteousness of God”, in this view, refer to the saving power of God extended graciously to man. The Jews, in nationalistic pride, sought to possess God’s righteousness to the exclusion of others.
If this phrase is to be understood in a corporate sense, as “Israel’s own”, then Paul would be referring to Israel’s misunderstanding of righteousness as something that applied to Israel alone (so Dunn). However, the phrase can also be understood in a distributive sense – “each of their own” – referring to the attempt of individual Jews to establish a relationship with God through their own efforts. In the case of the former, Paul is critiquing national righteousness – the attempt to confine membership in God’s covenant people to ethnic Israel, to the exclusion (and detriment) of all other nations. In the case of the latter, Paul is critiquing self-righteousness – the attempt to establish a relationship with God based on one’s own works. In support of the national righteousness view, Paul does elaborate in the larger context on the universal dimensions of God’s righteousness in Christ (Rom. 10:4b and 10:9-13). But the more immediate context shows a sharp contrast between “their own righteousness” and “God’s righteousness.” This suggests a sense of “source” for both contrasting terms. This favors an individualistic rather than a corporate interpretation: “their own righteousness” refers to a “righteousness” that is procured by an individual from that individual’s own efforts. Secondly, seeing 10:3 as a reference to self-righteousness best suits the parallel reference to the pursuit of righteousness in Rom. 9:31. Lastly, the only other time that Paul contrasts “God’s righteousness” and a righteousness of “one’s own” (Phil. 3:9), he clearly connects the former as “based on faith” and the latter as “based on the law.” Moreover, the former is viewed positively and the later negatively.
Another understanding of these phrases is to see them as both referring to “God’s own righteousness as his unswerving commitment to glorify himself by remaining faithful to his own Word (or promises). The Jews were ignorant of the fact that God was manifesting his righteousness by sending Christ to die in fulfillment of his promises and thus sought to establish their own righteous standing by sticking with the old covenant even though the new had arrived, and hence did not submit to God’s righteousness as now being displayed in Christ.” But this notion is at least suggestive that Paul’s critique of the Jews is simply that they failed to recognize the shift in salvation history. And what about their distortion of the law in the Old Testament era? Given the context of Rom. 9:31, it is preferable to take both adverbial participles ἀγνοοῦντες and ζητοῦντες as being causal. The reason the Jews failed to submit to God’s righteousness was not only because they did not recognize God’s righteousness when it arrived in Christ, but also because (prior to Christ’s arrival) they were too narrowly focused on seeking a righteousness in connection with their obedience to the law. Moo helpfully explains that, on the one hand, Israel missed Christ because of a narrow focus on the law. On the other hand, Israel’s failure to embrace Christ as the goal of the law leads her to continue on the “law path” after it had served its purpose.
Getting back to the precise question at hand, I stated above that the first occurrence of “righteousness of God” has a nuance of source. It should be translated “the righteousness that comes from God.” It cannot be translated “the covenant faithfulness” of God because the Jews were surely aware (more than the Gentiles!) of this dimension of God’s character. Rather, the first occurrence of “righteousness of God” refers to a gift of “acquittal” that the sinner receives from God by faith on the basis of the righteousness of Christ being imputed to them. The phrase embraces God’s activity in imparting His righteousness to others. The second occurrence of “righteousness of God” should be translated “God’s own righteousness” – in the sense of an attribute which God possesses and which demands humble subordination (ὑποτάσσω cognate) on the part of man.
In conclusion, I think this is what Rom 10:3 means: (a) ignoring the righteousness that comes from God (the alien righteousness Christ offers) , and (b) seeking to establish their own righteousness (which goal they should have recognized to be futile, because of their sin), they did not submit to God’s righteousness (they stumbled over the stumbling stone).
Note the similarity in thought:
1. They did not pursue what the law pointed to by faith.
2. They pursued the righteousness promised by the law as if sinners could attain it by works, not giving proper acknowledgement to their depravity revealed by the law.
3. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.
1. Ignoring the righteousness that comes from God.
2. Seeking to establish their own righteousness.
3. They did not submit to God’s righteousness.