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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Justice

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(Heb. sedeq [ Isaiah 40:14 ). He evenhandedly rewards good, and he does not ignore the sins of any (Psalm 33:5 ; 37:6,28 ; 97:2 ; 99:4 ). Human judges do well to remember God in their courts. God does not take bribes (Deuteronomy 10:17 ) or pervert justice in any way (Genesis 18:25 ; 2 Chronicles 19:7 ).

At the same time, God rarely delivers instant justice. The world does not seem fair while evil still abounds, and so the oppressed petition God to intervene on their behalf (Psalm 7:9 ; Proverbs 29:26 ). Their prayers may even take the form of a complaint (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ), although people must not challenge God's essential justice (Job 40:8 ; Malachi 2:17 ). That God will decisively intervene in the future is the biblical hope.

This philosophical issue of theodicy underlies the story of Job. On the one hand is his friends' false assumption that Job's trouble must fit his crimes (8:3-7), whereas on his part, Job claims to be the victim of an injustice, and demands that God remedy the situation (19:7; 27:2; 29:14; 34:5-6).

The justice of God is reaffirmed in the New Testament (Romans 3:5-6 ; 9:14 ; 1 John 1:9 ; Revelation 16:5-7 ; 19:11 ). Because he is just, God never shows partiality or favoritism (Matthew 5:45 ; Acts 10:34-35 ; Romans 2:6,11 ; Ephesians 6:9 ; 1 Peter 1:17 ).

Human Justice Based on God's Law . Just law is law that reflects God's standards (Genesis 9:5-6 ; Deuteronomy 1:17 ), and not mere human reasoning (Habakkuk 1:7 ). According to the Sinai covenant, judges are to uphold the Mosaic law by acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. A breach of justice consists of a verdict that runs contrary to the law or that does not accord with the known facts (Exodus 23:1-9 ; Deuteronomy 25:1-3 ).

In a culture where judges, not juries, render a verdict, false accusations, bribery, and influence peddling are the favored devices of injustice (Deuteronomy 16:18-20 ; 1 Samuel 8:3 ; Proverbs 17:23 ; 19:28 ; Isaiah 5:23 ; Jeremiah 5:28 ; Ezekiel 22:29 ; Amos 2:6-7 ; Zechariah 7:9-10 ). The victims are disproportionately from the poor, among whom are the fatherless, the widow, and the resident alien (Deuteronomy 27:19 ; Psalm 82 ). The righteous judge must never show partiality to the rich (Deuteronomy 24:17 ), nor for that matter to the poor (Leviticus 19:15 ); he must render true judgment at all times.

Under the monarchy, the king is the final arbiter of justice (2 Samuel 8:15 ; 15:3-4 ; 1 Kings 10:9 ; Proverbs 20:8 ). Kings are warned about injustice (Proverbs 16:10 ; Jeremiah 21:12 ; 22:2-3 ; Micah 3:1-3,9-11 ). Solomon's wisdom makes him a just king (1 Kings 3:11-12,28 ; 2 Chronicles 9:8 ).

At the same time, justice is not a virtue for judges and kings alone; all Israel is to follow in the "paths of justice" (Genesis 18:19 ; Psalm 106:3 ; Proverbs 21:15 ; Isaiah 1:17,59 ). Pursuing justice in life is of greater worth than religious ritual (Proverbs 21:3 ; Micah 6:8 ; cf. Matthew 23:23 ). Justice must lead to honesty, even in mundane business transactions (Leviticus 19:35-36 ; Hosea 12:7 ).

In the New Testament, the love of justice is a virtue (2Col 7:11; Philippians 4:8 ), yet Christians may not take justice into their own hands (1 Thessalonians 4:6 ). At times it is better to suffer injustice than to bring the gospel into disrepute by taking a brother to court (1 Corinthians 6:7-8 ).

Divine Justice and the Justification of the Wicked . The gospel promises escape from God's just wrath against sin (Romans 1:32 ). Before human judges the Savior was unjustly tried and executed (Isaiah 53:8 ; John 7:24 ; Acts 3:14 ). From the divine perspective, however, Jesus' death satisfied God's justice (Romans 3:26 ). Thus God remains a righteous judge even as he justifies those sinners who believe in Christ (Luke 18:14 ; Galatians 3:11-13 ).

Justice and the Kingdom of God . The Old Testament looks forward to the time when God will exercise absolute justice over all creation (Psalm 98:9 ; Ecclesiastes 3:16 ; Isaiah 28:5-6 ; 29:19-21 ). The New Testament emphasizes the approach of final judgment, when all people will be evaluated according to their works (Romans 2:5 ; 3:5-6 ; Revelation 20:13 ).

Psalm 72 is a prayer for a king who would protect the poor, a psalm that looks beyond Solomon to an ideal just king. The Old Testament goes on to predict that the Messiah will execute justice on God's behalf ( Isaiah 9:7 ; 11:3-4 ; 16:4b-5 ; 28:17 ). In the New Testament, Jesus already begins to carry out the Father's justice while on earth (Matthew 12:18-21 ; John 5:28-30 ), but it is in the future that he will execute God's will over all (Acts 17:31 ; Revelation 19:11 ).

Gary Steven Shogren

See also Justification ; Righteousness

Bibliography . F. B chel and V. Herntrich, TDNT, 3:921-54; R. D. Culver, TWOT, 2:948-49; C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:416-27; G. Quell and G. Schrenk, TDNT, 2:174-225.


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Justice'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bed/j/justice.html. 1996.

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Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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