First, the questions of translation and interpretation.
A. Is “justification” a valid translation of the Hebrew word mishpat?
In beginning our approach to dealing with our discomfort with 1QS XI, the first thing that needs to be addressed is the question of the validity of the translation. Our discomfort is not with the DSS but with the translation thereof. The rendering of mishpat in 1QS XI as “justification” (with the suffix, mishpati, “my justification”) goes back to one of the earliest translations of the DSS, that by Andre Dupont-Sommer, itself translated into English by Geza Vermes. Vermes retained “my justification” in his widely used Penguin edition, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (1962–1995), then The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (1997, rev. 2004). This tradition is continued by the Wise-Abegg-Cook translation that I quoted in my first post and which has now become another standard English translation rivaling and perhaps replacing Vermes.
So in reality, our discomfort is with what Joseph Fitzmyer calls a “tendentious” translation rather than with 1QS XI itself. Although Fitzmyer is a Roman Catholic scholar, he is not far from the kingdom when it comes to his interpretation of Paul’s doctrine of justification; for example, he admits, against the teaching of his own church, that the verb “to justify” (dikaioo) is a forensic declaration not an infusion of righteousness. Fitzmyer is a trustworthy, objective, and respected scholar both of the New Testament and of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He further states: “I am not happy with the Vermes translation of 1QS 11 … it is a bit too ‘Christian’ for my understanding.” He thinks mishpat should be translated simply as “judgment.”
It should not be surprising that Fitzmyer (and he is not alone in this) would question this tendentious translation, because the rendering “judgment” is simply more in line with its usage in the Hebrew Old Testament and even in other parts of the DSS.
In the OT, there are 12 cases where mishpat is used with the suffix “my” (mishpati) in reference to a human being. In these cases, it is never translated “my justification” but typically something along these lines: “my right” (Job 27:2; 34:5-6; Isa 40:27; 49:4), “my just cause” (Ps 9:5), or “my vindication” (Ps 17:2; 35:23) (ESV).
The usage of mishpat in the DSS is in fundamental continuity with the OT usage. The term basically refers to a judgment, decision or verdict. The suffix “my” implies that it is God’s decision/verdict with respect to the suppliant. But what, exactly, is the decision or verdict? Joachim Jeremias thinks mishpat in 1QS XI refers to God’s gracious decision to allow the suppliant to enter the community thereby making possible a life of perfect obedience to the Torah.
Thus, the translation “my justification” is misleading and creates the illusion that 1QS XI is a stronger Pauline parallel than it really is.
[Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Responses to 101 Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Paulist Press, 1992), 127; ibid., “The Biblical Basis of Justification by Faith: Comments on the Essay by Professor Reumann,” in “Righteousness” in the New Testament: “Justification” in the United States Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, by John Reumann (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), 201; Joachim Jeremias, Jesus and the Message of the New Testament (ed. Kenneth Hanson; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 94.]