God, Grace, and Righteousness in Wisdom of Solomon and Paul

Written by Jonathan A. Linebaugh Reviewed By Joseph R. Dodson

In God, Grace, and Righteousness, Jonathan A. Linebaugh seeks to discover how a Jew soaked in scripture and schooled in philosophy would react to Paul’s gospel. Therefore, Linebaugh facilitates a contextual conversation between the author of Wisdom and Paul regarding their essential theological structures—especially with respect to (1) the relation of Jews and non-Jews, (2) the meaning and theological ordering of divine justice and grace, and (3) the hermeneutical logic that shapes a rereading of Israel’s scripture (p. 2–20).

To this end, Linebaugh explores Wisdom’s eschatology and its celebration of Sophia, whose operation of the cosmic order shapes the sage’s “comprehensive reading of history and reality.” He finds that Wisdom argues from and for “a consistent theological vision shaped by the rational exercise of divine justice and the predictable patterns of moral order” (p. 28). This theological vision finds a paradigmatic expression in the Exodus event. As seen in Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, the God of both illimitable love and immutable justice saves the righteous by rescuing them from the influence of ungodly nations, who inevitably meet their appropriate destruction (p. 60). As part of his universal love, God shows mercy to the ungodly nations, but in light of his justice, this mercy is by no means salvific. Conversely, because of her righteousness, God always saves Israel (p. 79). Whenever the Pentateuch appears to contradict this principle, Wisdom manipulates the material to maintain his vision (p. 69). Therefore, for Wisdom, the justification of ungodly Gentiles would be “an oxymoronic absurdity” that destabilizes the very moral structure of the world God’s wisdom secures (p. 85).

Linebaugh goes on to compare the authors’ polemics against idolatry and immorality, their understandings of divine justice and grace, and their rereadings of Israel’s scriptures. He argues that, in Romans 1–2, Paul draws from Wisdom 13–14 to reinforce the opposite rhetorical function. Over against Wisdom’s pursuit to underline the distiction between Gentile and Jew, Paul uses the tradition “to establish the essential unity of humanity: homo peccator” (p. 96). Whereas Paul declares there is no distinction between Gentile and Jew, Wisdom considers the distinction clear: Jews worship God, and Gentiles worship idols (p. 105). While both authors are theologians of righteousness and grace, Wisdom locates these terms in the Exodus event and Paul does so in relationship to Christ. Consequently, the sage considers the execution of God’s son as exemplifying the injustice of the gentiles (Wisdom 2), but Paul declares that Christ’s crucifixion demonstrates the righteousness of God. In other words, Paul sees divine justice as established in an instance that Wisdom would consider a double injustice: the murder of the righteous person and the justification of the wicked (p. 124–25).

Although both authors share the same canon, they operate with different hermeneutics. For instance, regarding Wisdom 10–19 and Romans 9–11, the fault-line that divides them is an Exodus-shaped hermeneutic over against a Christ-shaped one. Despite the wide continuity within these chapters, the resonances reveal just how much difference Paul’s hermeneutic makes (p. 181). For example, in contrast to Wisdom’s understanding of divine mercy, Paul sees it not as the restoration of the righteous but the rebirth of the unrighteous (p. 187). Wisdom, who understands God’s election and judgment as predictable and rational, would surely balk at Paul’s reduction of the difference between the objects of mercy and wrath to the inscrutable will of God. Over against the sage, Paul declares that divine election is ultimately inexplicable in human terms: God saves and hardens whomever he so desires. Moreover, according to Paul, God’s grace upon Israel has never been contingent upon their worth. Therefore, in contrast to Wisdom’s construal of righteous Israel awaiting redemption on the day of the Lord, Paul depicts Israel as a disobedient people who nevertheless remain within God’s salvific plan (p. 206).

God, Grace, and Righteousness is masterfully done. Its insights are significant. Linebaugh not only summarizes the previous comparisons from other scholars (e.g., Cheon, McGlynn, Barclay, and Watson) but also further elucidates how Romans and Wisdom stand vis-à-vis each other—especially in relationship to how they read Israel’s scripture and understand salvation history. Linebaugh’s work should become the first stop for anyone interested in the relationship between Wisdom and Romans and will perhaps even be the final word on the matter for many of them. I have only two slight critiques. First, it would have been helpful for Linebaugh to spell out more clearly when he departs from the works of Watson, Barclay, and so on, as well as how exactly he adds to them. Finally, in light of his research, where does Linebaugh suggest scholars go next with respect to the comparison of Wisdom and Romans?

In conclusion, Linebaugh’s research illuminates all the more how some Jews would not be shocked by Paul’s stress on God’s righteousness and mercy but by Paul’s radical redefinition of these terms: “God justly justifies the unjust!” I am thankful for Linebaugh’s contribution and am confident I will return to it often: both for my own understanding of Paul’s gospel as well as for help in explaining to my students what is so incredible about God’s righteousness and so amazing about his grace.

Joseph R. Dodson

Joseph R. Dodson
Ouachita Baptist University
Arkadelphia, Arkansas, USA

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