From Ancient Justice to Modern Rights: The Christian Theory of Justice in the "Epistle to the Romans"

Dissertation, Duke University (1997)

Although political philosophers since the time of Plato share a common interest in understanding justice, they offer different accounts of justice. One of the most striking differences appears in accounts presented by ancient political philosophers as contrasted with accounts offered by early modern liberal political philosophers . Ancient political philosophers understand justice in terms of virtue while early modern liberal philosophers understand justice in terms of individual rights. The understanding of justice is thoroughly transformed in the period between the ancients and the moderns. ;In this dissertation, I argue that we can explain this transformation through reference to Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Paul's argument about justice in Romans is rooted in Platonic/Aristotelian and Judaic claims about the priority and standard of justice. Furthermore, Paul retains the ancient and Jewish understanding of justice in terms of virtue. Paul, however, departs from his predecessors by asserting a human equality and freedom which are foreign to Plato, Aristotle, and the Jews. In doing so, Paul opens a door to early modern liberal understandings of justice in terms of individual rights. Although Paul introduces the equality and freedom which are essential to liberalism, he is not himself an early modern liberal. He retains notions of divine sovereignty, positive liberty, and spiritual transformation which are not part of early modern liberalism. Nevertheless, Paul makes a significant contribution to the transformation of justice which is essential for early modern liberal accounts of individual rights. ;This project consists of theoretic and historical background followed by a close textual examination of Paul's argument about justice in the Epistle to the Romans. Although Romans is not intended to be a work of political philosophy, Paul's account of justice has significant implications for the historical understanding of justice. We approach this text looking for these implications. In the conclusion, we posit some links between Romans and early modern liberalism. We also offer some suggestions for future research into Paul's contribution to the significant transformation in the understanding of justice
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