Continuing on in my devotional reading of St. Luke's gospel we read these introductory passages on the larger pericope concerning the birth and events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist,
"In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly." (Luke 1:5-6, RSVCE)1
To the observant eye an important question comes to mind. What is the righteousness spoken about here in context? That this passage sounds foreign and alien to modern "Evangelical" ear is evident. For when is the last time in a Protestant funeral have you heard the pastor exclaim, "Bob was an excellent Christian, righteous before the Lord. He walked always in good works, his life is a testament of his faith, he was righteous because he followed all the commandments of God always." Yet here in Holy Scripture and in the New Testament no less we find this very concept.
Protestant commentaries uneasy with this understanding of the text are quick to point out that this δίκαιοι here in Luke refers not to our current righteousness before God through the death of Jesus the Messiah but to some nebulous outdated Old Testament form of righteousness which has been now overridden by Jesus.2 However, a clear unbiased reading of the Lukan text teaches that Zechariah and Elizabeth were δίκαιοι because of their walking (πορευόμενοι) in all of His commandments blamelessly (ἄμεμπτοι).
Surely the motif is drawn from the Old Testament but the soteriological conception is one and the same, the saints of the Old Testament were deemed righteous just as the saints of the New and the saints of today. There are not multitudinous ways to be counted δίκαιοι but rather only one way that when rightly considered is monolithic throughout redemptive history. A cursory glance at Old Testament texts such as Gen 18:19 (where the way of the Lord is described as doing righteousness), Deut 6:25 (where again righteousness is described as being gained by closely following God's commandments) makes this clear enough.
In the mind of St. Luke (who is mirroring the larger view of the early Church, v. 1:3) God's law is Holy and when powered by the Holy Spirit (who applies faith to it) is able to justify (Cf. Luke 2:25, 23:50).3 What is "new" of the righteousness of Christ via the gospels is His bringing back into focus the original spiritual meaning of the righteousness of the law. The Jews have lost the original meaning being transfixed on the outward ceremonial aspects of the law, they have failed to see the true intent of the law and the prophets. When the law and the prophets are properly understood this manifests itself properly in one's life. This was the teaching of Jesus' parables, the law and the prophets not done away with but now revealed in their fullest sense through the teaching and life of Jesus Christ.
1. The Greek text reads, "ἦσαν δὲ δίκαιοι ἀμφότεροι ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ, πορευόμενοι ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐντολαῖς καὶ δικαιώμασιν τοῦ κυρίου ἄμεμπτοι."
2. Some Protestant circles called "Dispensationalists" go so far as to claim that there was multiple ways of attaining righteousness/saving justification, namely the 'dispensation' of the Old Testament saints which included a neo-works righteous system and then other 'dispensations' after the time of Christ which involve righteousness purely by faith alone with absolutely not a single work involved whasoever.
3. Cf. A. Plummer (St. Luke:ICC. 9-10) who argues that δίκαιοι here when combined with ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ is a Hebraism which gives righteousness here it's full soteriological import. Bovon agrees, "In the same biblical tone, Luke describes (v. 6) the righteousness of both parents (Bovon then cites the LXX Num 36:13, Deut 4:40, Gen 26:5) as imagery in the Lukan passage) for Luke, God works togather with those who love him." (Luke 1: Hermeneia. 33).