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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Upright, Uprightness

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"Upright" is the English equivalent most often used for the Hebrew yasar [ Genesis 37:7 ; Exodus 36:20 ) or horizontally level or smooth (Isaiah 26:7 ). It also means straight (Isaiah 40:3 ) or evenly distributed (1 Kings 6:35 ). Application in theological settings brings to mind the notions of unchanging standards, correctness, genuineness, and forthrightness. From the beginning of the relationship between Israel and God, his nature is reflected as truthful and faithful. Uprightness is a further moral aspect to Israel's perception of God's holy character. Note the coinciding themes in Moses' summary hymn of praise: "He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he" (Deuteronomy 32:4 ). To find a straightforward deity was uncommon in antiquity. God possessed rock-solid, upfront integrity that his people never saw waver.

Only a God who was good and upright in character could require the pleasure of total loyalty and close genuine attention to the straight way of the law (Psalm 11:7 ; 119:7 ; cf. Nehemiah 9:13 ). What pleased Yahweh ethically and morally was that in which Israel was to find its true pleasure. Friendship with God was to walk in an upright way guided by his upright word through the sincerity of an upright heart (Psalm 25:8 ; 33:4 ; Hosea 14:9 ).

Wholeness or integrity of heart is a close counterpart to uprightness. Doing right must find resonance in the very center of one's being. Thus, the kings of Israel and Judah are assessed carefully according to their sincere uprightness in applying the whole law personally and socially (1 Kings 3:6 ; 9:4 ; 2 Kings 22:2 ). The Wisdom books underscore the relation among the goodness of Yahweh, his words, and the reflection of his own character in the heart of the righteous. Purity, honesty, obedience, goodness, and blamelessness are key indications of uprightness. Job's integrity and uprightness (1:1,8; 2:3) in the midst of dire circumstances bring into bold relief the fear of God that shuns evil in the upright. Crookedness or perversity of heart is the opposite of the character and intentions of the "upright One" (Proverbs 3:32 ; 21:8 ; 28:10 ).

Isaiah makes use of the contrast between crooked and straight to illuminate the uprightness of Yahweh, his prophets, and the Messiah (26:7; 40:3-4; cf. Jeremiah 31:9 ). The kingdom of God is revealed through unbending moral principles, honor, and rectitude. Yet these are most clearly seen in individual lives, particularly that of the one who was the Branch on whom the Spirit rested.

The Hebrew mind made little distinction between uprightness and righteousness (sedeq, which literally means to be right: Psalm 11:7 ; 32:11 ; 33:1 ; Isaiah 26:7 ). Ethical expressions of justice and truth are expressions of the faith of those who are in right relationship with God (Psalm 17:1-6,15 ; 145:17 ). The upright walk a straight road, one that is focused on divine standards and the application of livingkindness to all persons.

Perhaps the greatest good offered to the upright was the clear trustworthiness of the relationships for which they were created. Uprightness is reflected in a genuine openness or humility that does not harbor calculated reservations. Created upright, fallen men consistently choose "schemes" (Ecclesiastes 7:29 ). This may account for the usage of upright in the much debated verse in Habakkuk regarding the upright who "live by faith" (2:4). Though the ethical elements of yasar [ שָׁרָה , יָשַׁר ] are intended, the deeper moral content cannot be missed. Pride, the essence of sin, resides and swells in the human heart as it flaunts its lack of dependence on God. In contradistinction, the righteous who "live by faith, " that is, in continued faithfulness, do so not by volition or external action but by an internal transformation of their desires. Biblical faith, then, is radical openness to full trust in an upright and holy God. Relational faith must be expressed in upright desires. Moral content always informs total abandonment to God.

The translation of the Hebrew terms for upright into Greek include convenient, equity, just, meet, pleasing, and righteous. The Septuagint translates the terms related to upright as arestos [ ἀρεστός ] (pleasing), dikaios [ δίκαιος ] (just), euthus [ εὐθύσ  , εὐθύσ  ] (straight). The concepts that fund the Old Testament concept of uprightness appear in the New Testament as well. The concept of righteousness is incomplete without this Old Testament concept. Wholeness, blamelessness, and integrity are found in the few passages where upright is in focus.

Although it is difficult to distinguish between righteous and upright (both are found as dikaios [ Matthew 1:19 ); Zechariah and Elizabeth are both upright (Luke 1:6 ), as is Simeon (Luke 2:25 ). Apparently they were blameless according to the law of God; they revered God and their yieldedness was the context of their witnessing God do extraordinary new things. When it came to the revelation of God himself, it was the upright that he sought to introduce him.

Cornelius, the god-fearing centurion, and Joseph of Arimathea are upright (Luke 23:50 ; Acts 10:22 ). In the Pastoral Epistles, the overseers are to be blameless in their character, "upright, holy and disciplined" (Titus 1:8 ). A similar triad is commanded of all believers. This is the most marked difference between Old Testament and New Testament views of uprightness. No longer an exception, the common Christian will exemplify whole-hearted commitment to God that shows itself in a blameless character. A self-controlled person will express a solid trustworthiness and thereby live "upright and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:12 ).

M. William Ury

See also Righteousness

Bibliography . N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament .


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 'Upright, Uprightness'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bed/u/upright-uprightness.html. 1996.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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