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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Justification, Justify

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JUSTIFICATION, JUSTIFY

Verb and noun originate in Christian Latin (the Vulgate); Lat. analogy affords some excuse for the Romanist reading of ‘justify’ as ‘ make just,’ by which sanctification is included under justification. Neither the Heb. nor the Greek original allows of any other definition of ‘justify’ than ‘ count just’; it is a term of ethical relationship, not ethical quality, and signifies the footing on which one is set towards another, not the character imparted to one. The Heb. verb (abstract noun wanting) deviates from the above sense only in the late Heb. of Daniel 12:3 (rendered in EV [Note: English Version.] ‘turn … to righteousness’). The Greek equivalent had a wide range of meaning denoting (1) to set right , correct a wrong thing done; (2) to deem right , claim, approve, consent to anything; (3) to do right by any one, either in vindication or in punishment (so ‘justify’ in Scottish law = ‘execute’).

The usage of the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] and NT, applying the word to persons, comes under (3) above, but only as taken in bonam partem; in other words, justification in Biblical speech imports the vindication or clearing from charge of the justified person, never his chastisement. Justification is essentially the act of a judge (whether in the official or the ethical sense), effected on just grounds and in foro ( Dei, conscientiæ , or reipublicœ , as the case may he). It must be borne in mind that the character of Father and the office of Judge in God consist together in NT thought. We have to distinguish (1) the general use of the word as a term of moral judgment, in which there is no difference between OT and NT writers; (2) its specific Pauline use , esp. characteristic of Rom. and Galatians.

1. In common parlance, one is ‘justified’ when pronounced just on trial, when cleared of blame or aspersion. So God is ‘justified,’ where His character or doings have borne the appearance of injustice and have been, or might be, arraigned before the human conscience; see Job 8:3 , Psalms 51:4 ( Romans 3:4 ) 97:2, Matthew 11:19 , Luke 7:29; Luke 7:35 , also 1 Timothy 3:16 . Similarly God’s servants may be ‘justified’ against the misjudgments and wrongful accusations of the world ( Psalms 37:6; cf. Exodus 23:7 , Job 23:3-11; Job 42:7-9 , Psalms 7:8-10; Psalms 35:19-24; Psalms 43:1; Psalms 97:8-12 etc.; and in the NT, Matthew 13:43 , Romans 2:5-7 , 1Pe 2:23; cf. 1 Timothy 3:16 , Revelation 11:18 ). Even the wicked may be, relatively, ‘justified’ by comparison with the more wicked ( Jeremiah 3:11 , Ezekiel 16:51 f.; cf. Matthew 12:41 f.).

But OT thought on this subject arrived at a moral impasse , a contradiction that seemingly admitted of no escape. In the days of judgment on the nation Israel felt that she was ‘more righteous’ than the heathen oppressors ( Habakkuk 1:13 ) and that, at a certain point, she had ‘received of J″ [Note: Jahweh.]  ’s hand double for all her sins’ ( Jeremiah 10:24 , Isaiah 40:2 ); and J″ [Note: Jahweh.]  ’s covenant pledged Him to her reinstatement ( Isaiah 54:5-10 ). In this situation, towards the end of the Exile, the Second Isaiah writes, ‘My justifier is at hand!… my lord J″ [Note: Jahweh.] will help me … who is he that counts me wicked?’ ( Isaiah 50:8 f.; cf. Romans 8:31-34 ). For the people of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] a grand vindication is coming: more than this, ‘J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’s righteous servant’ either the ideal Israel collectively, or some single representative in whom its character and sufferings are ideally embodied is to ‘justify many ’ in ‘bearing their iniquities,’ this vicarious office accounting for the shameful death inflicted on him (Is 53a); his meek obedience to J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’s will in the endurance of humiliation and anguish will redound to the benefit of sinful humanity (cf. Isaiah 53:11 f. with Isaiah 52:13 f.). While the spiritual Israel is thus represented as perfected through sufferings and made the instrument of J″ [Note: Jahweh.]  ’s grace towards mankind, the deepened consciousness of individual sin prompted such expressions as those of Jeremiah 17:9 , Psalms 51:5; Psalms 130:3; Psalms 143:2 ( Romans 3:23 ), and raised the problem of Job 25:4 , ‘How can a man be righteous with God?’ Micah 6:6-8 reveals with perfect clearness the way of justification by merit; Micah 7:1-6 shows how completely it was missed; and Micah 7:18-20 points to the one direction in which hope lay, the covenant grace of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] . ‘The seed of Israel’ is to be ‘justified in J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’ and ‘saved with an everlasting salvation’ ( Isaiah 45:17; Isaiah 45:22-25 ); the actual Israel is radically vicious and stands self-condemned ( Isaiah 59:12 ff., Isaiah 64:6 f. etc.). Such is the final verdict of prophecy.

Under the legal régime dominating ‘Judaism’ from the age of Ezra onwards, the principle of which was expressed by Paul in Galatians 3:12 (‘He that doeth those things shall live in them’), this problem took another and most acute form. The personal favour of God, and the attainment by Israel of the Messianic salvation for herself and the world, were staked on the exact fulfilment of the Mosaic Law, and circumcision was accepted as the seal, stamped upon the body of every male Jew, of the covenant based on this understanding (see Galatians 5:3 ). Romans 7:7-25 shows how utterly this theory had failed for the individual, and Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:3 asserts its national failure.

2. St. Paul’s doctrine of Justification is explained negatively by his recoil from the Judaism just described. In the cross of Christ there had been revealed to him, after his abortive struggles, God’s way of justifying men ( Romans 7:24; Romans 7:8; Romans 7:4 ). This was in reality the old way, trodden by Abraham ( Romans 4:1-25 ), ‘witnessed to by the law and the prophets’ by the Mosaic sacrifices and the Isaianic promises. Paul takes up again the threads that dropped from the hands of the later Isaiah. He sees in ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ the mysterious figure of Isaiah 53 an identification already made by John the Baptist and by the Lord Himself; cf. Romans 5:18-21 with Isaiah 53:11 . Upon this view the death of the Messiah on Calvary, which so terribly affronted Saul the Pharisee, is perfectly explained; ‘the scandal of the cross’ is changed to glory ( 1 Corinthians 1:23-31 , Galatians 2:20 f., Genesis 3:13; Genesis 6:14 , 2 Corinthians 5:21 ). The ‘sacrifice for sin’ made in the death of Jesus vindicates and reinstates mankind before God. ‘Justification’ is, in Pauline language, synonymous with ‘reconciliation’ (atonement) see Romans 3:23 ff; Romans 5:11; Romans 5:15-21 , esp. 2 Corinthians 5:19 , where God is said to be ‘reconciling the world to himself’ in ‘not imputing to them their trespasses’; the same act which is a reconciliation as it concerns the disposition and attitude of the parties affected, is a justification as it concerns their ethical footing, their relations in the order of moral law. The ground of the Christian justification lies in the grace, concurrent with the righteousness, of God the Father, which offers a pardon wholly gratuitous as regards the offender’s deserts ( Romans 3:23 f., Romans 4:4 f., Romans 5:6; Romans 5:8; Romans 5:21; Romans 6:23 etc., Hebrews 2:9 ). The means is the vicarious expiatory death of Jesus Christ, ordained by God for this very end ( Romans 3:24 f., Romans 4:25; Romans 5:6; Romans 5:9 , 2 Corinthians 5:14; 2 Corinthians 5:18; cf. Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28 , Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:23; Hebrews 10:18 , 1Pe 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18 , 1 John 1:7; 1Jn 4:10; 1 John 4:14 , Revelation 1:5 etc.). The sole condition is faith, with baptism for its outward sign, repentance being of course implicit in both ( Romans 6:3 f., Galatians 3:26 f.; Romans 6:2; Romans 6:21 , 1 Corinthians 6:11 , Acts 20:21; Acts 22:16; Acts 26:18 etc.); i.e. the trustful acceptance by the sin-convicted man of God’s grace meeting him in Christ ( Romans 4:25; Romans 5:1 , Galatians 2:20 f. etc.); the clause ‘through faith in Jesus Christ’ of Romans 3:22 is the subjective counterpart (man meeting God) of the objective expression ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (God meeting man) in Romans 3:24 .

There underlies this whole doctrine the assumption of the solidarity of mankind with Jesus Christ: He did not interfere from the outside, to make Himself a substitute for man the ethical objection to Paullnism based on this presumption is irrelevant but ‘offered himself unblemished to God’ from within humanity, being ‘the one man’ willing and able to perform ‘the one justificatory act,’ to render ‘the obedience’ which availed ‘for all men unto a life-giving justification’ ( Romans 5:15; Romans 5:21 ). Hence Paul is careful to refer the justification of mankind to the ‘grace of the one man Jesus Christ,’ in whom the race recognizes its highest self, side by side with the ‘grace of God ’ conveyed by Him and lodged in Him, the Son of God ( Romans 5:15 ). All great boons are won and achievements realized by individual leaders, ‘captains of salvation’ for their fellows. Moreover, the propitiatory ‘offering’ was not the mere negative satisfaction of repentance , a vicarious apology on Christ’s part for the rest of us; it was rendered by His positive ‘obedience unto death, yea the death of the cross,’ by His meek acceptance of the penalties of transgression falling on Him the undeserving, by His voluntary submission to the law that binds death to sin and that ‘numbered’ Him ‘with the transgressors,’ since He had cast in His lot with them ( Isaiah 53:12 , Luke 22:37; cf. Galatians 4:5 , Romans 8:2-4 ); this is what was meant by saying that He ‘became sin became a curse for us, that we might become a righteousness of God in him’ ( 2 Corinthians 5:21 , Galatians 3:13 ). Our Representative was ‘delivered up’ to the execution of Calvary ‘because of our trespasses’; He ‘was raised’ from the dead, released from the prison-house, ‘because of our justification’ effected by His sacrifice ( Romans 4:25 ) or, as the latter clause is often understood, ‘raised to effect our’ individual ‘justification.’ Fundamentally then, justification is the sentence of acquittal passed by God upon the race of mankind in accepting Christ’s expiation made on its behalf, the reinstatement of the world in the Divine grace which embraces ‘all men’ in its scope ( Romans 5:18 ): experimentally, it takes effect in those who hear the good news and believe; by these the universal amnesty is personally enjoyed ( Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22; Romans 5:1 , 1 Corinthians 6:11 etc.).

Justification is realized in ( a ) ‘the forgiveness of sins,’ and ( b ) ‘adoption’ into the family of God, whereof ‘the Spirit of God’s Son,’ poured into the heart, is the witness and seal ( Romans 8:15 f., 2 Corinthians 1:22 , Galatians 4:6 , Ephesians 1:13 f., That personal justification, according to St. Paul’s idea, embraces sonship along with pardon is evident from the comparison of Galatians 3:13 f. and Genesis 4:5 with 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 1:7 : on the one hand ‘adoption’ and ‘the promise of the Spirit,’ on the other hand ‘forgiveness’ or the ‘non-imputation of trespasses,’ are immediately derived from ‘redemption in Christ’s blood’ and the ‘reconciling of the world to God’; they are alike conditioned upon faith in Jesus. The two are the negative and positive parts of man’s restoration to right relationship with God.

St. James’ teaching on Justification in James 2:14-26 of his Ep., is concerned only with its condition with the nature of justifying faith . He insists that this is a practical faith such as shows itself alive and genuine by its ‘works,’ and not the theroetical belief in God which a ‘demon’ may have as truly as a saint. On this point Paul and James were in substance agreed (see 1 Thessalonians 1:3 , 2 Thessalonians 1:11 , Galatians 5:6 ); the ‘works of faith’ which James demands, and the ‘works of the law’ which Paul rejects, are quite different things. The opposition between the two writers is at the bottom merely verbal, and was probably unconscious on the part of both.

G. G. Findlay.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Justification, Justify'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/j/justification-justify.html. 1909.

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