Friday, August 10, 2007

Dikaio-, not so forensic

The Dikaio- words [dikaiosune (righteousness), dikaios (righteous), dikaioo (justify, set/do/make/become right), dikaiosis (justification, process of setting/making/becoming righteous), dikaioma (righteous acts)] are fairly important in biblical exegesis and theology.

Sometimes people talk about how the Dikaio- word group can be used in a "forensic" sense (ie legal, law-court language). Certainly this word group was sometimes used in law courts in the ancient world. There's nothing wrong with observing that. But, I was reminded with a shock recently while browsing the internet that some people actually think that the Greek word group itself has to do with law-courts and takes its meaning from a law-court setting and paradigm. In other words, they think that wherever we see a sentence containing a word from this group we ought to start thinking about a law-court setting. As these people read the bible wherever they see a Dikaio- word a law-court pops up in their minds.

The main trouble with this notion of the Dikaio- group as an "intrinsically forensic" word is that it is just utter crap. The vast majority of the uses of the word in both classical literature and the bible have nothing to do with law-courts. The Dikaio- word group is about morality. So it comes in useful sometimes in law-court discussions because law-courts generally try to discriminate the those who have done right from those who have done wrong and then do something about it.

In English, for example, we can talk about "guilty" and "innocent" people. Law courts use these moral terms precisely because they are interested in investigating the pre-existing moral status of individuals and subsequently announcing their findings. People do not become guilty of their crimes just because the court announces them guilty - rather they were already guilty or innocent prior to being tried and it is the court's job to search out and ascertain the truth. It is utter nonsense to talk of a judge making a person morally innocent by declaring them innocent. If the court gives the wrong verdict, the we would say "the judge got it wrong". In other words, the moral meaning of these English words is the primary one and the law-court usage is secondary and contingent on that moral meaning.

It is the same in Greek. "Dikaiosune" refers to morality / righteousness / virtue / goodness, and the "dikaios" are the good/virtuous/moral/righteous people, and so forth for the rest of the Dikaio- group. While such language can be useful in legal discussions, it is getting the cart before the horse to think that such language makes it a legal discussion. Use of such language makes it a discussion of morality and ethics. Moral language can be used in a judicial context of course, but the use of morality-related language doesn't make the context a judicial one. I shudder to think the sort of havoc screwing up the meaning of such a basic, central, and simple word makes to their exegesis and theology. But sadly, the linguistic nonsense of Dikaio- as intrinsically forensic terminology seems to propagate itself precisely because people like the theology it results it - ie the claim seems to be made for theological reasons rather than due to actual evidence for the view.

Pointless historical speculation: As far as I can tell, know or guess, the idea that Dikaio- is intrinsically forensic is a hangover from when the Latin Vulgate crossbreed with the origins of the modern judicial system half a millennia ago. The coincidence that the then-millennium-old Vulgate's Latin terminology happened to match with the then-current Latin judicial terminology was at the time projected back onto the underlying Greek.

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Blogger Peter Kirk said...

the "dikaios" are the good/virtuous/moral/righteous people

And so what does dikaioo mean? "Make good/virtuous/moral/righteous" or "declare good/virtuous/moral/righteous"? The former would be more consistent with the regular meaning of verbs ending in -oo (the second "o" of course being omega). But can the verb be used of someone being declared good/virtuous/moral/righteous by a judge, i.e. being acquitted?

Blogger Andrew said...

Dikaioo is by far the most complicated of the set. I think the Liddell-Scott captures the meaning perfectly with:
1. To set right
2. To hold or deem right
3. To do a man right; to judge:
(a) to condemn
(b) to deem righteous

So the word Dikaioo itself can mean both of the traditional Catholic and Protestant notions of making righteous and declaring righteous.

Unfortunately such a definition, because it encompasses such a wide range of ideas, doesn't get us very far toward determining what Paul actually means by the word. However keeping in mind the correct meanings of the other dikaio- words is generally helpful.

Blogger BrokenButNotDead said...

The best of New Testament Greek scholarship supports the idea that the New Testament teaching on justification is a legal term, which means to declare one righteous, not to make one righteous as the Orthodox claim. See "The Apostolic Preaching on the Cross," by Morris, pp. 259-263, 283-287; "Paul, Missionary and Theologian, by Reymond, pp. 434-437. High level Catholic scholars now admit the forensic nature of justification in the Bible. See "Romans," by Fitzmyer, pp. 117-118; "Matthew," by Meyer, p. 136. The lexical sources also prove this. See "The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament," pp. 211-215; "A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament," p. 249; "Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testaments Words," p. 339; "Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament," p. 150; "Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words,"by Mounces, p. 374. The respected New Testament scholar, D.A. Carson observes, "It is now widely granted that Dikaio, influenced by the OT background, means 'to declare [someone] righteous," not 'to make [someone] righteous." (D.A. Carson, Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament, JETS 40/4 [December, 1997], p. 594).


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