Righteous vs. good in Rom. 5:7
Rom. 5:7 is worded fairly much the same in Bible versions, regardless of whether they are literal or more idiomatic, as can be seen by comparing the ESV (essentially literal) and more idiomatic GW (God's Word) translations:
It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. (ESV)It has never made sense to me that someone might be more willing to die for a good person than for a righteous person. To me, it would seem that a righteous person would be more highly valued than a good person. Of course, this begs some questions, one of which is: In whose estimation is the comparison made between a righteous and a good person? Is it from the viewpoint of God or the viewpoint of people, who often have distorted views of the value of others?
Finding someone who would die for a godly person is rare. Maybe someone would have the courage to die for a good person. (GW)
Obviously, the most important question which needs to be asked is: What is Paul's intended meaning in this verse for the Greek words dikaios and agathos? The first word, dikaios, has traditionally been translated as "righteous" (KJV, RSV, NRSV, NASB, NET, NIV, TNIV, TEV, ISV). It has also been translated as "just" (REB, HCSB, ESV). I like the word "just" here since I think it might key us in to a Torah definition of dikaios even better than the word "righteous." To my mind, a person can be just but not righteous.
From the reading I have done to prepare for this post, I get the idea that a dikaois person is someone who follows God's laws. It is quite possible that Paul was thinking of a person who is Torah observant. Paul was dikaios before he became a follower of Jesus. He spelled out his dikaios pedigree:
If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. (Phil. 3:4b-6 NET)The Greek word translated here as "righteousness" is dikaiosune, which is simply the nominalized form of the adjective dikaios.
Although the word "good" sounds weaker than "righteous" to us in English, there must have been something about being agathos 'good' that brought greater respect and admiration from others. My mind has gone back to Jesus' interaction with the young ruler in Luke 18:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Perhaps the Lukan young ruler, like Saul who became Paul, was dikaios but not agathos. He followed the rules, but was not truly good.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ (Luke 18:18-20 NIV, TNIV)
In a study of Romans 5:1-11, Greg Herrick says of verse 7:
The overall point of verse seven is clear even though the precise significance of its parts is debated. Its presentation of faulty human love stands as a marked contrast to the love which God himself demonstrated in Christ. But what does Paul mean by the contrast between a righteous (dikaios) man and a good (agathos) man? Some scholars argue that there is no contrast in the Greek text and the terms mean essentially the same thing. But a contrast seems to be the point of what Paul is saying and there is evidence that the two terms were contrasted by the Gnostics who held that that the God of OT was dikaios while the God of the NT was agathos (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 1. 27.1). The point, then, as it applies to men, is that a person will rarely (if ever) die for a purely righteous person, though for a person who was good, that is, benevolent and generous, a person might dare to die.If in God's estimation an agathos person is truly better than a dikaios person, then Romans 5:7 makes sense to me. It becomes coherent.
One Bible version has stood out to me as having a coherent translation of Rom. 5:7:
Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. (NLT)We would regard a righteous person as being good. But a person who not only follows God's laws, but also reflects God's character, would be "especially good."
What do you think? Might there be some other way for Rom. 5:7 to make sense in translation?