In this post, with God's help, I shall share notes on how to interpret the words justify, justifies, and justified in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans in the New Revised Standard Version from a Lutheran perspective. I have chosen Romans because that epistle contains more teaching on the doctrine of justification than any other Pauline epistle. As well, I have chosen to use the NRSV translation of the Bible because it is the one used in my denomination. I hope that those of you who are Lutheran readers of the NRSV will find this post helpful and beneficial.
The Meaning of Justify
In our common parlance, we often use the word justify with the meaning of, "to provide an acceptable explanation for;" e.g., "I can justify having invested our $1,000,000 into the Hershey Company." As well, we often use it with the meaning of, "to give grounds for;" e.g., "My latest transaction in the stock market does not justify you making me sleep on the couch tonight." We probably never use the word justify the way the Bible does, especially in the epistles of the apostle St. Paul where he writes about the doctrine of justification.
According to Article III of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, one of our Lutheran confessions, the meaning of justify is twofold: (1) to absolve a sinner from all sins without any worthiness on their part, and (2) to account that person righteous because the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to that person; all of this is done by God, not us. As Paul uses the word when writing about the doctrine of justification, he uses it to mean those two things in different verses and passages. As Lutherans we should interpret the word justify that way in passages about justification, and the same rule applies to interpreting justifies and justified.
- In Romans 2:13 justified means, "vindicated" because the passage is about the judgment.
- In Romans 3:4 justified means, "vindicated" because the passage is about God's judgment being right.
- In Romans 3:20 justified means, "accounted righteous."
- In Romans 3:24 justified means, "absolved."
- In Romans 3:26 justifies means, "accounts righteous."
- In Romans 3:28 justified means, "accounted righteous."
- In Romans 3:30 justify means, "account righteous."
- In Romans 8:30 justified means, "accounted righteous."
- In Romans 8:33 justifies means, "vindicates" because the passage is about vindication.
- In Romans 10:10 justified means, "accounted righteous."
If anything in this post is inaccurate, Kyrie eleison. I appreciate feedback from knowledgeable Lutherans. God bless!