Irons, Charles Lee. The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe. Volume 386. Tübingen, DE: Mohr Siebeck, 2015. ISBN: 978-3-16-153518-5. Pp. xxiv–444.
Charles Lee Irons has written the book that I did not know that I needed but realized that I did after I read it. He accomplishes two things. First, he uncovers and traces the interpretive history of the New Perspective on Paul’s (NPP) interpretation of the righteousness of God. Having read N. T. Wright who proposes that the righteousness of God is a cipher for God’s covenant faithfulness, Irons’ history of interpretation helps me to read NPP scholarship and understand their interpretive grid.
Second, he exhaustively studies righteousness language in extra-biblical Greek, in the Old Testament (Hebrew and Greek), in Jewish literature, and in the New Testament. His goal is to understand what Paul meant by the phrase “the righteousness of God”. In essence, his conclusion is that the righteousness of God “in seven of its ten occurrences in Paul . . . refers to the gift of the status of righteousness before God, a status received by faith in Christ, on the basis of his righteous life and atoning death” (8).
Irons’ The Righteousness of God is an academic tome full of Greek, Hebrew, German, and Latin words. But Irons does a good job of explaining what these technical terms means. Even if you do not know the above languages, you can still read this work profitably, albeit with difficulty.
Even though The Righteousness of God is a difficult book to read, I recommend it to pastors, church leaders, and interested readers for the following reasons. First, reading The Righteousness of God will help pastors and church leaders in their sermon / teaching preparation. When you read commentators or works of theology, you will know where interpreters are coming from. You will also know the issues better and why it matters whether or not the righteousness of God means “God’s covenant faithfulness” or “God’s gift of righteousness”.
You will also be less likely to accept the statement that God’s righteousness in the Old Testament is a purely positive, saving action on the basis of a covenantal relationship. This does not mean that these concepts do not exist in the Old Testament, but Irons has shown that they are not the exclusive way to understand God’s righteousness.
Second, reading The Righteousness of God will help you to understand what righteousness means in the Bible. The obvious uptake is that you will know how the Bible presents the righteousness of God, which will affect how you preach and how you teach the Bible.
Third, reading The Righteousness of God will give confidence to those who hold to the traditional view of God’s righteousness. It will also provide a well-reasoned argument for the traditional view to those who do not hold to it. It is a win in either case because it advances the conversation around the righteousness of God.
The Righteousness of God is expensive book. If you do not want to purchase it due to its high cost, you can try either finding it in a local theological library or asking your church to invest in it for the church’s library. Given the theological climate of today, Irons’ book provides a necessary balance in the righteousness of God debate.
A review copy was given to me by the publisher, although I was under no obligation to give the book a positive review.