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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Justice (2)


In the Authorized Version of NT the word ‘justice’ does not occur, δἰκαιοσύνη being always translated ‘righteousness.’ For the adj. δικαιος we have ‘just’ and ‘righteous’ used interchangeably. God is just (1 John 1:9, Revelation 15:3), righteous (John 17:25, 2 Timothy 4:8); Christ is the Just One (Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52), and righteous (1 John 2:1). Men, both as individuals and collectively, are just or righteous (Matthew 1:9; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 10:41; Matthew 13:43, Acts 10:22; Acts 24:15). In John 5:30 we have just, and in Revelation 16:7 righteous judgment. In Colossians 4:1 τὸ δίκαιον refers to what is due by masters to their slaves; and in Matthew 20:4 to a money payment for work done. This haphazard rendering of δίκαιος is partially rectified in the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885. In classical Greek the noun and the adj. are sometimes used in the wider sense of moral rectitude in general; but under the influence of the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy its later usage inclines to the narrower sense of political and social justice. Aristotle (Nic. Ethiopic v. 1. 15) qualifies the general idea by making it refer to what is due to one’s neighbour; and Plato (Republic, Bks. i. ii. iv.) deals with δἰκαιοσύνη at great length but almost exclusively in the sense of political and individual justice, though he does attempt to give the idea a wider scope by connecting it with that of the Absolute Good. In Biblical Greek, both in the LXX Septuagint and the NT, the wider meaning is restored, and is the common one. In Luke 1:6 Zacharias and Elisabeth are said to be δίκαιοι; and this is explained, if not defined, by the words τορευόυενοι ἐν τασκις ταις ἐντολαῖς καὶ δικαιώμασι τοῦ Κυρίου ἀμεμττοι. This is the general idea of righteousness; but our word ‘justice’ must be taken as signifying the recognition and fulfilment of what is due from one to another, righteous dealing between persons, each rendering to others what is their right and due. See also art. Righteous.

1. The justice of God.—The justice of God is an aspect of His righteousness, and belongs, therefore, to His essential nature. It may be shown to have significance for the Divine life, even apart from His relation to others. God’s attributes are not all of co-ordinate worth. His omnipotence, e.g., is subordinate to His ethical attributes; it does not use them as a means to accomplish its ends, but they use it. Omnipotence is not a power to do what it wills, but to do what God wills; and as His will is holy, it can be only ethically determined. If in God’s nature mere power were supreme, and holiness and love subordinate, this would be as contrary to justice as when, in a kingdom, the rule of right has been overturned by irresponsible violence. As in the State, justice is the controlling principle which preserves the body politic for the discharge of its several functions, so, in the Divine justice, we have the regulative principle of order in the Divine nature and life.

(1) God’s justice in His relations with men.—He shows favour to the righteous. He could not withhold His approval of that in them which is the object of complacency and delight in Himself. This does not mean that they have a claim on God for a happy earthly lot, and exemption from earthly troubles. This doctrine of recompense was the prevalent one during the early and non-reflective stage of Israel’s religious progress; but it did not bear the strain put on it by the national calamities. In the teaching of Christ it is repudiated: Matthew 5:45; Matthew 13:28-29, Luke 16:25; Luke 18:1-5, John 9:2-3; and in Romans 8:18; Romans 8:39 and Hebrews 12:11 an explanation of the sufferings of the righteous is given which goes far to remove their seeming variance with the justice of God. They are part of His fatherly discipline by which His children are prepared for their heavenly inheritance (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, Hebrews 5:8). Even here they have their great reward in the favour and friendship of God (Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Peter 2:19-20; 1Pe_3:12; 1Pe_3:14).

(2) God’s justice in relation to sin.—God is just, and will therefore punish sin. This is one of the Christian certainties (Galatians 6:7). Different views, however, have been held as to the nature of the punishment and its object. Some think (and this is Ritschl’s opinion) that the true punishment of sin consists in the sense of guilt and alienation from God which a persuasion of the Divine displeasure awakens; and that the outward evils which are regarded as punishments are really due to natural causes that have no relation to human guilt (Ritschl, Justification and Reconciliation, 47 ff., 257 ff.). Now, the sense of God’s displeasure must always be a most important part of punishment, and might almost stand for the whole of it, if we could suppose the sinner as responsive to it as he ought to be, as, e.g., a saint made perfect in holiness would be. To such a saint the sense of alienation from God would be harder to bear than the most untoward outward calamity. But sin increasingly blunts the sinner’s susceptibility to suffering from this source; and if no effective provision has been made to bring God’s displeasure home to him, he would at last work out his term of punishment. There may be no link of causation between our sin and most of the outward evils of life. Maeterlinck may be right in saying that nature knows nothing of justice; but in that case we should have to believe with him that neither can nature be regarded as the creation of a Being in whom ethical attributes are supreme (Maeterlinck, Buried Temple, Essay on the ‘Mystery of Justice’).

God’s justice in relation to sin is at once retributive, educative, and protective. It is retributive because it punishes sin simply as sin; it is educative or reformatory because the punishment is also intended for the moral improvement of the transgressor; it is protective because by the punishment others are restrained from wrong-doing, and are themselves guarded against the evils which would result from the prevalence of unpunished sin. That the Scripture view of God’s justice implies retribution may be shown from many passages: Matthew 16:27; Matthew 16:24-25, Luke 12:45-48, Romans 2:6; Romans 2:16; Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Colossians 3:25, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 10:27. One could scarcely gather from these passages that God’s sole aim in punishment is the reformation of the offender. Yet this is the popular view with many modern theologians. As a protest against the once prevalent opinion that God, in punishing, desires merely to exact vengeance without any regard to the sinner’s repentance, it has its justification. But, like other reactionary views, it carries us too far in the opposite direction. The whole drift of Biblical teaching is that God punishes sinners because they deserve it. Punishment is the reaction of His holy nature against wrong-doing, and without it the moral order of the world could not be maintained. If sin did not arouse His displeasure, He would not be holy; and if He did not manifest His displeasure objectively by punishment, men could not know that He is holy. But it is said that God is love, and that what love inflicts is chastisement, not punishment in the retributive sense. Holy love, however, cannot accomplish its end unless the sinner is brought to feel that he deserves punishment. How could punishment benefit him if, while undergoing it, he believed that it had not been merited? Retribution does tend to the offender’s improvement, and this is part of God’s purpose in it; but its reformatory influence never takes effect until the sinner acknowledges its justice. His improvement begins only when he is brought into this state of mind and feeling. If, indeed, God’s sole aim were reformation, it would follow that, if rewards carried with them the same benefits as punishments, as in many cases they do, then the offender would deserve them, and this because of his sin. In like manner it would be very difficult to persuade people that it is right that they should be protected from the spread of violence by the punishment of those to whom punishment was not justly due.

God’s justice is also shown in the forgiveness of sins on condition of repentance. Repentance is a sign that the disciplinary purpose which accompanies retribution has not missed its mark; and if now God withheld forgiveness, it would imply a failure of justice. According to 1 John 1:9, ‘God is faithful and just (δίκαιος) to forgive.’ Forgiveness and punishment are alike connected with the justice of God. The justice of forgiveness further appears from this, that the man who repents is a different moral person from the man who had sinned. His relation to his sin has been reversed; for whereas formerly his will was identified with sin, it is now identified with the mind and will of God regarding it. In proportion to the depth and sincerity of his repentance, we feel that he is a changed man, and should no longer be treated as if sin still formed part of the texture of his being. He has separated from, and now unsparingly condemns, his past sinful self; and, having thus come over to the side of righteousness, he is no longer a fit object of the Divine displeasure. Theologians, who first make logical distinctions between the Divine attributes and then reason from these as if they were real distinctions, say that justice cannot, but love alone can, forgive; as if love and justice were two contending powers in God’s nature. In reality, it is holy love that forgives; and this means that love and justice are joined hand in hand in forgiveness as they are in punishment. From a non-moral love gifts would come, but they might not be blessings; and justice without love never could be perfectly just, for love is part of the tribute which justice demands. The OT and NT writers never attempt to reconcile love and justice, because they were not conscious of any contrariety between them (see Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 12:31-32; Matthew 18:15-17; Matthew 18:21-35, Luke 6:37; Luke 7:37-50; Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5; Luke 15:11-32; Luke 17:3-4; Luke 18:10-14; Luke 22:61-62; cf. John 21:15-17, Acts 2:39; Acts 3:19; Acts 5:31; 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 1:9). Of course, imperfection clings to all human repentance, because past sin disqualifies even the sincerest penitent for that godly sorrow for sin ‘which worketh repentance not to be repented of’ (2 Corinthians 7:10). Hence the need for the work of Christ and the regenerating influence of the Spirit, by which imperfect repentance is atoned for and made perfect.

2. Justice in man.—If man has been created in the image of God, we should expect to find reflected in him the same supremacy of the ethical attributes as exists in God. Thus for him also justice or righteousness will be the supreme law of his being, obligatory, not through any human convention, but in virtue of man’s Godlikeness. As supreme, it will be regulative of his whole life, determining his use of his freedom, the outflow of his emotions and thoughts, his activity in all human relations. Justice will regulate his life Godward, for God has definite claims on man for devotion and service; and as in Christ He has made Himself known as a Father and Saviour, these claims are, for the Christian, raised to a higher sphere of obligation. These are duties which man owes to God, and, when they are withheld, justice is violated. God is robbed when that which is His due is not rendered (Malachi 3:8). Hence the just or righteous (δίκαιος) man is represented as walking ‘in all the commandments of the Lord blameless’ (Luke 1:6), and of these the first and greatest is, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart’ (Matthew 22:37). Not until we give God this wholehearted love do we give Him His due. We are then ‘just before God’; and from 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:17; 1 John 4:20-21; 1 John 5:1 we learn that only when man responds to God’s claim can he fulfil the obligations of love and justice to his fellow-men. That man can be just or unjust in relation to God appears also from passages in which sin is spoken of as a state of indebtedness—God being the creditor and man the debtor (Matthew 5:26; Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:23-35, Luke 7:41-43); and from those parables in which God and man are related as Master and servant, or King and subject (Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-41; Matthew 25:14-30; Mark 12:1-12).

One characteristic of the NT doctrine of justice, as compared with the views current in the Jewish and classical worlds, is a noteworthy enlargement of its sphere. Justice to man as man was a subject of speculation among the Stoics, but in the popular morality its obligation was ignored and even repudiated. The Jew hated the Samaritan (Luke 9:54) and despised the Gentile, with whom he would not share his privileges (Acts 21:27-30). Why should they show favour to those whom God had not honoured? The Greek was bound by moralties to his fellow-citizens, but between him and the barbarians there was no moral reciprocity; if he was conscious of any obligation, it was an obligation to do them all the injury he could. Then again there was the slave class, who were regarded as incapable of virtue, and, therefore, like the lower animals, outside the ethical sphere. Thus Jew and Gentile alike acknowledged no moral relationship between themselves and the vast majority of the race. It was, therefore, a great step in advance when Christ proclaimed a universal Kingdom of justice and love, and taught that, since God was the Father of all, they were due to all men, on the ground not of citizenship or nationality, but of humanity and of their common relationship to God (Matthew 5:43-48; Matthew 28:19, Luke 10:30-37, John 3:16; John 12:32).

There was also a subjective enlargement of its sphere. Under the influence of Pharisaic teaching and example, the moral law had come to be regarded as merely an external rule of conduct; the inner world of thought and motive and feeling being overlooked or regarded as of only secondary importance. All the virtues had thus suffered deterioration, and justice among them. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ claimed this neglected sphere for the moral law. Its authority was extended so as to cover the entire life of men, for in the spiritual realm of being, thoughts and feelings are accounted as deeds, as acts of the moral self. And this was an infinite extension of the sway of justice. ‘Out of the heart proceed adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts’ (Mark 7:21). Sin is not confined to outward acts; it begins the moment evil thoughts and desires arise in the heart; and a régime of justice is necessary there. To be angry with our brother without cause is to do him wrong (Matthew 5:22); and the man is accounted guilty who, while refraining from actual murder, yet thinks in his heart, ‘I would, if I dared.’ Our neighbour has a claim on us, that we should think and feel justly regarding him; and when this is withheld, we fail to give him his due. Again, the sin of adultery may be begun and completed by simply looking on a woman to lust after her (Matthew 5:28). Before the tribunal of the Kingdom, the man is adjudged to have wronged the woman. The Christian law of justice is embodied in the Golden Rule, ‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them’ (Matthew 7:12); and also in the second of the great commandments, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Mark 12:31). According to the Golden Rule, we are to regard our fellow-man as an alter ego, to put ourselves in his place, and judge his claims or needs and our duties from his point of view (Philippians 2:4-8). Then the commandment tells us positively what our obligation is. ‘Thou shalt love him as thyself,’ not with a non-moral love, which seeks nothing higher than the happiness of its objects. We are to care for him with that holy love which attaches itself to that in him which in ourselves is the legitimate object of our self-love,—the moral self or soul which was created in, and can be restored to, the image of God. It is for His moral perfections that we love God; and the claims of Christian justice are met, only when our love for others has as its aim their restoration to Godlikeness (Matthew 16:26, James 5:20, Hebrews 13:17). The Christian law requires us not merely to refrain from doing our neighbour wrong, but to promote, even at the cost of self-sacrifice, his highest well-being as we would our own. For a Christian man to say, ‘I have done my neighbour justice, and he has no claim on me for more,’ is to prove false to the Christian ideal; for, in the Kingdom of righteousness, benevolence is not something that may be withheld, but is simply justice made perfect.

Literature.—For meaning of δίκαιος and δικαιοσύνη see Grimm-Thayer, Lex.; Cremer, Bib.-Th. Lex.; Westcott, Ep. of Jn. 24 f.; Sanday-Headlam, Rom. [Note: Roman.] 28 ff. See also T. Aquinas, Sum. i., Qu. xxi. ii. 2, Qu. lviii.–lxxxi.; Hodge, Syst. Theol. vol. i.; the Dogmatics of Martensen and Dorner; Ritschl, Justification and Reconciliation; Moberly, Atonement and Personality, esp. i.–iv.; Clarke, Outline of Theol.; Stevens, Chr. Doct. of Salvation; the Christian Ethics of Martensen (Social), Dorner, Newman Smyth; Luthardt. Hist. of Chr. Ethics; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, vol. i.; C. Wagner, Justice; Seeley, Ecce Homo. In the following works on General Ethics, ‘Justice’ is, in the main, treated from the Christian standpoint: Hegel. Phil. [Note: Philistine.] of Right; Bradley, Ethiopic Studies; Green, Proleg. to Ethics, also Principles of Polit. Obligation; M‘Kenzie, Introd. to Social Phil. [Note: Philistine.] ; Seth, Ethical Principles; Maeterlinck, Essay on the ‘Mystery of Justice’ in his Buried Temple [contains some fine thoughts, but Agnostic in tone and tendency].

A. Bisset.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Justice (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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