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Those -oo Verbs

August 13, 2012

In his commentary on The Thought of St. Paul, Roman Catholic scholar William Most makes an etymological argument against the traditional Protestant understanding that the verb dikaioo has a strictly declarative meaning that God pronounces a person innocent:

Protestants like to point to the verb dikaioo and to say in ordinary Greek it means only “declare just” — for a human court could not do more. . . . But God is not so limited, He can make one just, not in the sense of making it true that the man never sinned, but in eradicating the effect of sin. Sin leaves a soul incapable of the vision of God in the next life; justification, as we saw above, makes one capable, gives him a participation in the divine nature. This is a radical interior transformation, not just something legalistic and extrinsic. (As to that verb dikaioo, other verbs that have the -oo ending mean to make one to be what the root indicates. E.g., leukos is white, leukoo means to make white; delos is clear, deloo means to make clear. So it is only that no human can make one just that causes the shift from the usual meaning of -oo verbs in the case of dikaioo.) — p35, emphasis mine

What do you think? Is this a reasonable argument?

17 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2012 9:18 pm

    It sounds a little too pat for me. I also don’t understand the word ‘next’ in the phrase ‘next life’. That sounds speculative. I do have an inkling of ‘present’ and what it means to face holiness both with repentance and joy. As someone said – it is the Lord, let him do what he will. As for reading words as if they were doing the work, that’s more than I can handle grammatically. All the words can do is point one to the Lord who does the work.

  2. August 14, 2012 7:09 am

    Is this a reasonable argument?

    If you’re asking about the premise as given here in the block quote (i.e., “Protestants like to point to the verb dikaioo and to say in ordinary Greek it means only ‘declare just'”), then No. It may be fallacious. This begs the question (and overgeneralizes), and it is a red herring (using either Ad hominem or “straw man” or both). Perhaps William Most identifies which of [all] Protestants he’s referring to and offers when/where these “like to point to” and also “to say” such and such allegedly God-“limited” things about “ordinary” Greek. But the context here does not make this clear.

    As for the etymology question, I think we have to ask another one first: Weren’t Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott both Protestants? Other questions: Hasn’t their A Greek-English Lexicon influenced the way many (including various Protestants) get at contextualized meanings and uses of ordinary Greek? Does Liddell’s and Scott’s entry on the ordinary Greek verb in question really justify Most’s argument? Here it is:

    δι^και-όω , Ion. impf.

    A. “ἐδικαίευν” Hdt.1.100: fut. -ώσω Orac. ap. eund.5.92.β́, Th.5.26; “-ώσομαι” Id.3.40:aor. “ἐδικαίωσα” Id.2.71:—Pass., fut. “-ωθήσομαι” LXX Si.18.2: aor. “ἐδικαιώθην” A.Ag. 393 (lyr.): pf. “δεδικαίωμαι” LXX Ez.21.13(18).

    I. set right, “νόμος . . δικαιῶν τὸ βιαιότατον” Pi.Fr.169.3; “δικαιωθείς” proved, tested, A. l. c.

    II. hold or deem right, claim or demand as a right, c. inf., Hdt.1.89, 133, Hp.Fract.31; “δεινά με δικαιοῖ δρᾶν” S.OT640, cf. 575; “δικαιοῦντες μὴ ἀφαιρεθῆναι αὐτήν” Th.2.41: with inf. omitted, οὕτω δ. (sc. γενέσθαι) Hdt.9.42; δίκας δ. (sc. γενέσθαι) ib.93; “ὅποι ποτὲ θεὸς δικαιοῖ” S.Ph.781; “οὐκ ὀρθῶς δ.” Th.5.26; pronounce judgement, Id.2.71: c. inf., “ἐδικαίωσεν ἀποδοῦναι ἡμᾶς τὸ κεφάλαιον” PRyl.119.14 (i A. D.); consent, “δουλεύειν” Hdt.2.172, cf. 6.86; οὐκ ἐδικαίου οὐδένα οἱ ἐσαγγεῖλαι he would not allow . . Id.3.118:—Pass., “τὸ δικαιωθὲν ὑπό τινος” that which is ordained, D.H.10.1.

    III. do a man right or justice: hence,
    1. chastise, punish, Hdt.1.100:—Pass., Id.3.29, Pl.Lg.934b, D.C.Fr.57.47; pass sentence on, “ὑμᾶς αὐτοὺς δικαιώσεσθε” Th.3.40.
    2. Pass., also, have right done one, opp. ἀδικεῖσθαι, Arist. EN1136a18.
    3. pronounce and treat as righteous, justify, vindicate, LXX Ex.23.7, Je.3.11; “ἑαυτούς” Ev. Luc.16.15, etc.:—freq. in Pass., ib.7.35, etc.

  3. August 14, 2012 9:33 am

    In general, Most is engaging in polemic against “Lutheranism” in what I’ve read of this book. But, to be fair, the material on the “Traditional Reformed” position on justification that I read this summer (for instance, in Justification: Five Views) do heavily emphasize exactly this point: that dikaioo means to declare just, and does not mean to make just. This also remained a delicate point in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. So although “Protestants” is far too broad a brush, I believe it is a fair characterization of the Traditional Reformed position, and to some extent the Lutheran position as well.

    So, what I meant to ask was, is the etymological argument a reasonable argument against that position?

    It’s interesting that the Liddell & Scott lexicon places “set right” (analogous to “make just”) ahead of “pronounce right”, and thus seems to be closer to Most’s position than to the position he is opposing as “Protestant.” Of course, it was first compiled three centuries after the Reformation.

  4. August 14, 2012 10:57 am

    I have thought about your question for a few days now – and reflected that if present action by the one who believes this definition is impacted in the Spirit, then the definition is useful and gives direction. I expect it set me on a path 40+ years ago. But I may have cut my way deeper into the forest first. These thoughts make me understand ‘next’ a little better as well.

  5. John Radcliffe permalink
    August 15, 2012 8:19 am

    Well, I think the answer to your question, “is the etymological argument a reasonable argument against that position?” is clearly, No.

    While a word’s derivation can be useful for newly-coined words (where it and context may be all we have to work with), and it may be interesting if we want to see how a word’s usage has developed, I find the alarm bells start ringing when people refer to a word’s derivation to determine what it “really means”. As I see it, in any given context, a word means what the person using it means it to mean (even if they are misusing it, although I’m not saying Paul does that).

    So the question becomes: What does Paul mean by the verb? I doubt it’s “make righteous”. That certainly isn’t what it means in Romans 3:4 – and although there Paul is quoting from Psalm 51, it does at least show that the word doesn’t always or necessarily mean “make righteous” (even if it does anywhere else, which I doubt), but that it can mean “show to be righteous (or ‘in the right’)”. (Nor is “make righteous” what the gospel writers use the verb to mean in places such as Matt 11:19; 12:37; Luke 7:29, 35.)

    But to look at the matter from a different angle – if the word is all about “setting right” or “putting (someone) in the right” (rather than declaring or making “righteous”), then a case can be made for Paul envisaging God as actually DOING something rather than just declaring something. I’m working my way through Romans at the moment, and looking back I see that I’ve rendered the verb “declare ‘in the right’” (with quotes around “in the right”) (except in 3:4 and 6:7). On reflection, though, I think an argument could be made for rendering it “put ‘in the right’” instead.

    However, I don’t think a good argument can be made for “make righteous”. For one thing, that idea doesn’t line up with reality as I (and others) experience it. If I have already been “made righteous”, how come I go on doing “non-right” things (a.k.a. “sinning”), and why did Paul need to write the parts of Romans that deal with how to live right? So from where I stand, I simply can’t imagine how Most can “justify” such an understanding (if you’ll excuse the pun).

    So basically I think Paul uses the verb to refer to how a person’ status before God is actually changed (i.e. it has to do with changing how God looks at a person from his perspective, not from that of other people), rather than a change in the person’s character.

  6. Dana Ames permalink
    August 15, 2012 11:58 am

    I can’t speak to the etymological question, as I do not know Greek (but I am hoping to begin receiving tutoring in Greek this fall – hooray!). However, I am a big fan of N.T. Wright, whose view is pretty close to “set right” as in the lexicon. Beyond that, though, because of Wright’s framework that I’ve “imbibed” over the years, I have taken an extra step of reading all those dik- words as variants of the idea of “faithful,” as in W’s “covenant faithfulness”- although for me, the idea of “covenant” is close to being too legalistic, so I’ve moved away from that. I read the pist- words as “trusting loyalty” and the dik- words as “faithful”.

    So for the question, I would say that God has made faithful/recognized as faithful those who trust and are loyal to Jesus, just as human beings were supposed to have been toward God from the beginning. We got off track; God has set it right again. Try reading those words with those meanings; for me, that’s how some knotty passages of Paul’s writing make sense, and lead to a vision of a “bigger” God. I could go on, but too much for a comment. EOrthodox theology also comes into play for me, in terms of Jesus being The True Human Being, the One in whose image Adam was formed…

    “If you get the message, you might refuse it – but if you get the meaning, hey, don’t ever lose it, if you get the meaning oh of it all…” – Noel Paul Stookey, “One Thing”


  7. August 16, 2012 12:11 am

    Thanks, all, for your comments!

    @bob – Sounds like you have come to rest on “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rm 8:28) 😉

    @John – I take your point about etymology versus context. I confess that I have a weakness for etymological arguments myself! but more as poetic/metaphorical, secondary evidence. I’m interested in your “in the right” translation, as it sounds more relational, which makes sense to me. And if one holds to a relational ontology, then God changing God’s relationship with the person does change the person in that sense.

    @Dana – Thanks for your interesting take on this! I’ve tended to read the pist- words (normally translated as faith) as fidelity and trust — also very relational. Reading the dik-words as “faithful” seems odd to me; reading them “part of the covenant” (which is in-group rather than legalistic language, to my ear) goes with the “new perspective”, I think.

  8. John Radcliffe permalink
    August 16, 2012 8:18 am

    In case anyone is interested, I list below how Tom Wright renders the verb in his “The New Testament for Everyone” (SPCK, 2011; the American edition is entitled, “The Kingdom New Testament”, HarperOne).

    The verb is used 27 times in Paul’s letters (according to Nestle Aland, 27th ed): 15 times in Romans; 8 in Galatians; and once each in 1Cor; 1Tim and Titus.

    Wright renders it in a variety of ways:

    declare to be in the right (Rom 2:13; 3:20, 24, 26, 28; 4:5; 5:9)
    declare in the right (Rom 8:33)
    declare “in the right” (Rom 5:1)
    make the declaration “in the right” (Rom 3:30)
    reckon to be “in the right” (Rom 4:2)
    declare “righteous” (Gal 2:16a/b/c, 17)
    be found in the right (Rom 3:4)
    put back to rights (1Cor 6:11)
    justify (Rom 8:30a/b; Gal 3:8, 11; 5:4; Titus 3:7)
    vindicate (1Cor 4:4; 1Tim 3:16)
    be given covenant membership (Gal 3:24)
    “… from sin” = declare free from all charges of sin (Rom 6:7)

    Wright’s NT is a compilation of those in his “For Everyone” commentary series (although I have noticed a few changes in Romans), so the variation in rendering may reflect a movement in his opinion on how best to translate the verb (“Galatians for Everyone” was published in 2002, the Pastorals in 2003, and Romans in 2006). However, that he renders it “justify” in Rom 8:30 may cast doubt on that explanation.

  9. John Radcliffe permalink
    August 16, 2012 8:59 am

    “I confess that I have a weakness for etymological arguments myself!”

    So do I – which is why I’m so wary of them.

    “I’m interested in your ‘in the right’ translation, as it sounds more relational, which makes sense to me. And if one holds to a relational ontology, then God changing God’s relationship with the person does change the person in that sense.”

    Well, I’m not sure what “a relational ontology” is, but I certainly believe that, at its core, “it” (life, the universe and everything) is all about relationships (between people, people and God, and, indeed, “within” God).

    But, whether or not it’s by reading Wright (or just reading right), I do think that the “in the right” (rather than “righteous”) idea is headed in the right (but not necessarily Wright) direction. So perhaps Most is only partly (rather than mostly) wrong – perhaps he’s right about the verb’s ending meaning “to make one to be what the root indicates”, but wrong (or at least not Wright) about what the root indicates – being “in the right” rather than “righteous” (or “just”, as he puts it).

    But Romans is still a work-in-progress for me. Perhaps I’ll have a chance to reassess it all once I get to the end.

    (As for Wright and his “new perspective”, I admit to being frequently mystified by what I read. For someone who at times explains or illustrates things so clearly, there seems to so much of his “new perspective” that, to me at least, is simply opaque.)

  10. August 16, 2012 11:25 pm

    Thanks John – very interesting compilation of Wright’s translation (and charming wordplay about it all 🙂 ). I’m with you on the importance of relationship to “it” all.

    Catholic theologians often speak for example of the sacraments making an “ontological change” in the person: by this they mean, it’s not just an emotional or psychological change, and it’s not just a ritual marker (now you’re in the church, or something like that): it really makes an objective, substantive change in who-you-are-as-a-person.

    But that’s usually considered in a very individual, autonomous (modern, Western) understanding of what constitutes a person: persons as self-contained atoms of consciousness, incarnate souls or ensouled bodies.

    A relational ontology has a different underlying anthropology, and sees persons as fundamentally “inter-dividual”, to use a neologism I read somewhere and liked. No man or woman is an island: we’re all part of an interconnected social web. Who-you-are-as-a-person is not just conditioned, but partly constituted, by your relationships with other such persons. Thus, if my relationship with someone changes, who-I-am-as-a-person changes.

    As far as the New Perspective goes, the chapter in Justification: Five Views does a pretty good job at describing it. I blogged a little about it here. This also looks like it might be helpful.

  11. John Radcliffe permalink
    August 17, 2012 1:51 pm

    Thank you for the links. I read Mattison’s article about a year ago, but it may be worth a re-read.

    In addition to Wright’s “Romans for Everyone” I have his “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision”, but gave up on the latter, as to me it seems back-to-front. First he outlines his view, and then he examines the supporting Scriptures. I even tried reading the second section first, but that didn’t really work either, as it wasn’t designed to be read that way.

    But perhaps the problem is that I haven’t read a lot of “theology”, and read even less these days – as I find that, all too often, the authors spend a lot of time reading their theology back into Scripture (although they might call it “finding scriptural support”) rather than deriving it from Scripture. Or maybe the problem is that I’m better at analysis (breaking things down into their constituent parts) than I am at synthesis (arranging the resulting parts into a satisfying whole). Having said that, I do believe that one’s final synthesis can only be as good as the initial analysis – get the analysis wrong and the synthesis will be biased at best.

    However, I might give the “Five Views” a go, especially as it is “interactive” – although the value there depends largely on the choice of protagonists, and how good they are at presenting their views. Another issue, of course, is that there aren’t just five views – there are as many views or “sub-views” as the people chosen to present them, and one contributor’s “sub-view” may not be as satisfying or persuasive as another’s might have been. (E.g. the “new perspective” is that of Dunn, not Wright; and I know enough about Wright’s to know that they differ significantly, so Dunn’s view may not adequately represent Wright’s.)

    “persons as self-contained atoms of consciousness, incarnate souls or ensouled bodies”

    I tend to think of the “soul” as what fundamentally identifies the person, although the body is clearly an important element without which a human being is somehow “incomplete” (see e.g. 2Cor 5:1-4). That, however, may be a rather Western view – certainly the Biblical writers seem to see humanity more on corporate lines than we in the West typically do. For example, Paul certainly seems to go with the corporate idea with his “as in Adam … so in Christ” (1Cor 15:22; cp Rom 5:14-21)

    I seem to remember once suggesting to Kurk that human beings may be rather like computers on a network. Consider: (1) how much data we seem to be able to “store” or remember. Can that really all be stored “on board” (in our brains)? I reflected on how something can trigger an apparently insignificant memory from years ago, which makes me wonder if everything is stored away somewhere, just waiting for the right trigger to recall it. And (2) what happens after these bodies die? If the data is stored in our brains it would simply be lost when they decompose.

    So my idea was that after the “terminal” we call our body fatally crashes (a.k.a. physical death), God will give us a new one (with upgraded hardware and software, that will be able to do things the old Human v1.0 never could, even after the v1.5 upgrade believers receive). Then when we log on, we’ll find all that makes or indentifies us as who we are still there, together with all our memories, safely stored on the “server” that we call “God”. (Perhaps before the resurrection, those who have died get to run “virtual machines” on the server.) Thus what we call our “soul”, the thing that makes or indentifies us as who we are, might be roughly equivalent to a user’s “profile”.

    Of course this too highlights the God-individual relationship, but says nothing about corporate relationships.

    Still, I’ve strayed way off topic now, so I’ll better leave it there.

  12. August 18, 2012 9:08 am

    The conversation here is fascinating to me, especially how it has seemed to have strayed from the question of what Most was doing, in contrast to the Protestant view allegedly, with a particular Greek word. The conversation is more now around Justification and views on it. Victoria, I see on page 91 of the book Justification: Five Views, Michael Horton while dealing generally with the “Traditional Reformed View” gets into the same verb that Most is addressing. Horton writes: “Even advocates of the new perspective on Paul recognize that the verb ‘to justify’ (in Hebrew as well as Greek) is a forensic courtroom term.” He goes on (on the next page) to talk about how the Latin translation changed this sense. Would you agree? Would Wm Most? (I wonder about the LXX translation, especially of the Hebrew that’s become “Genesis 15:6” and how the various readers through time read this — all the way to James the brother of Jesus who allegedly writes an epistle and to Paul who quotes the Genesis verse in various places to make his case. The phrase ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην – usually translated as ‘it was counted unto him for righteousness’ – is rather tricky, isn’t it?)

  13. August 18, 2012 12:08 pm

    re justification, I thought that was the subtext behind this conversation. And I think the forensic model is important. But the work of changing the human creature who is declared righteous then begins. This is not a work of legalism but a work of faith developed and developing from an invisible relationship that results in visible obedience, an anointing of mercy that results in mercy, but certainly not without strength or rebuke, the same anointing that is evident in TNK, where sinner (like David) reveals the love in the heart of God, yet finds his story openly revealed in the poetry. David is a sin offering. Or where the story of Israel, redeemed in the waters, speaks to God from the pillar of fire even within the land. (e.g. Samuel in Psalm 99:7). I don’t want justification to seem the end-point, nor of course is it ‘only’ a beginning. The tendency in my early hearing of the imputed righteousness doctrine is to think that there is no work of faith to accomplish. This is of course nonsense and the distortions of our lives prove it – they are analogous to exile even after the experience of ‘salvation’ and installation in the promised land. Restoration proves difficult and complex work and the result seems less than effective compared to the first flush of earlier times – so we live in the hope of a completeness (Psalm 101) that reflects both initial faith and ongoing obedience to ‘the heavenly voice’,

    O bother, Bob – was all this suggested just by ‘oo’. You sound like Joseph Campbell.

  14. August 18, 2012 6:49 pm

    @John – thanks for your comment. I enjoyed your Human 2.0 analogy for the resurrection, especially the virtual machine angle. 🙂

    @Bob – Thanks for this lovely analogy:

    The tendency in my early hearing of the imputed righteousness doctrine is to think that there is no work of faith to accomplish. This is of course nonsense and the distortions of our lives prove it – they are analogous to exile even after the experience of ‘salvation’ and installation in the promised land.

  15. August 18, 2012 6:50 pm

    @Kurk, thanks for that very helpful question about Most’s interpretation of the verb dikaioo. Oddly, he doesn’t seem to have very much to say about it. His glossary entry for “justification, justify” defines these words as “getting right with God”, and directs the reader to the section on Gal 2:15, which spends a few pages polemically engaging with Luther and Luther’s misunderstandings not only of this word but of related concepts. The block quote with which I began this conversation is about all he says about this verb.

    He is more concerned with the noun translated into English as justice or righteousness, for which he has concerns both about the Latin and the Greek as inadequate renderings of the underlying Hebrew verb and noun, which he translates as “covenant righteousness”.

    In the book’s only appendix, “Sedaqah in Jewish/Christian tradition,” he begins with Ps 11:7 and Ps 33:5 to introduce these words:

    [Ps 33:5] says that the earth is full of God’s fidelity to his covenant [hesed]. In spite of the popular belief that “The Greeks always had a word for it,” in this case it seems they did not. That lack resulted in the unfortunate habit of translating hesed as mercy, as the LXX does with its usual eleos, or English loving kindness. Really, hesed means observance of the covenant bond, and says that God observes His part of the covenant relationship.

    He then goes back to Gen 18:19, and draws on the Hebrew Bible, intertestamental writings, New Testament, rabbinic writings, and patristic writings, in the twelve-page appendix.

    He argues that this interpretation resolves the apparent contradiction in the term’s usage in the Bible, such that the same term sometimes seems to mean “God is merciful even to sinners” and sometimes seems to mean “God will wallop those sinners for their evil deeds.”

    I agree that dikaioo is a courtroom analogy. I don’t know enough to venture an opinion as to whether justificare is an adequate or a misleading translation of dikaioo; Horton cites McGrath here and I’d want to see what he said.

    My issue with “justification by faith alone” is that it’s hardly the only analogy Paul uses to explain salvation, and I don’t think it warrants the primacy given to it in many Protestant traditions.


  1. Those -oo Verbs | Gaudete Theology
  2. Those Greek words « BLT

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