The Metahistory of Δίκη and Πίστις: A Greco-Roman Reading of Paul’s “Justification by Faith” Axiom

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The message of the apostle Paul that “all are now justified through faith” has resulted in diverse interpretations over the centuries. Questions have been raised concerning the negative evaluation of the law, the importance of works, and the nature of faith in Paul’s letters. The traditional Lutheran interpretation, which focuses on the individual sinner being declared righteous for free, has been heavily challenged by the so-called New Perspective that emphasizes the universal application of this justice. Philosopher Alain Badiou has recently chipped in by labeling Paul “an antiphilosophical theoretician of universality.” This article contributes to the debate by viewing “justification by faith,” or rather δικ- and πιστ-language, against Greco-Roman discourses, concepts and semantics of the time. It will be shown that precisely Paul’s philosophical contemporaries offer proof for such a universalistic agenda. Greco-Roman “metahistorical,” grand narratives show a widespread belief in an initial golden age of divine rule, followed by a period of retreat of virtues and moral decline, and sometimes including utopian, universalistic visions of a return of the days of faith and justice. A similar metahistorical discourse can be discerned in Romans, where Paul announces the renewed disclosure of divine justice against the background of the gentiles’ collective godforsakenness and unrighteousness. At the same time, semantic research confirms the proximity of justice and faith as virtues of high regard in Greco-Roman sources. This ethical approach to justice is further developed by the platonic concept of an internal law, identified as a divinely given “mind” or “measure.” In Romans, these findings resonate with the moral reform of the mind according to the “measure of faith.” Hence, Pauline justice is argued to be deeply universal, ethical and participational in nature.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSaint Paul and Philosophy
Subtitle of host publicationThe Consonance of Ancient and Modern Thought
EditorsGert-Jan van der Heiden, George Henry van Kooten, Antonio Cimino
Place of PublicationBerlin [etc.]
Publisherde Gruyter
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783110548051
ISBN (Print)9783110543148
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Pistis
  • Dike
  • Faith
  • Justice
  • Romans (teksten)
  • Saint Paul
  • Paul of Tarsus
  • Golden Age stories

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