NT scholar Robert Stein comments on the piety of Joseph of Arimathea in his commentary on Luke, noting how Luke’s description parallels earlier descriptions of faithful Jewish believers:
Luke used the present tradition to provide a model of Christian behavior for his readers. This is why “Luke likes to emphasize moral and spiritual qualities.” He combined the character and actions of Joseph of Arimathea and the women for this purpose. Joseph is described as good and upright (Luke 23:50) like Simeon (2:25), Zechariah and Elizabeth (1:6), and Cornelius (Acts 10:22). A similar description is given to Barnabas (11:24). Joseph is also described, like Simeon (Luke 2:25) and Anna (2:38), as one who was waiting for God’s kingdom. As for the women, they continued to keep the Commandment(s), like Zechariah and Elizabeth did (1:6). For Luke the ethical character prescribed before Jesus’ coming is the same as God prescribed now (see comments on 1:6). Whatever God’s activity in salvation history, the ethical character God approves and seeks has not changed. For Luke’s readers this meant that although they may call themselves “Christians” (Acts 11:26), they follow in the steps of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the saints of the OT, who were good and upright, looking for the kingdom, and keeping the Commandments. Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, p. 601). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
It’s important that we note that there’s such a thing as a “righteous” Jew, one who’s pleasing in God’s eyes because of covenant faithfulness and adherence to the law. Are all perfect? — Of course not! But the Bible has no problems speaking of faithful Jews as “righteous” and so should we. Believing in spiritual depravity doesn’t require we opt out of biblical language where it refers to certain saints as “righteous” — not just by way of declaration but also in piety.
Incidentally, Dr. Michael Brown has a helpful little post where he corrects Mark Driscoll — who’s also representative of many New Calvinists — where Driscoll relativizes the righteous piety of Noah.
© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.