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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Justifying One's Self

JUSTIFYING ONE’S SELF.—When our Lord told the lawyer that loving God with all the heart and one’s neighbour as one’s self was the way to inherit eternal life, the man, ‘willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?’ (Luke 10:29). And on a later occasion, in opposition to the Pharisees who derided Him, our Lord said to them, ‘Ye are they which justify yourselves before men’ (Luke 16:15). The English word ‘justify’ always means ‘to show to be just,’ and in the different passages the idea of the Greek also is that of showing one’s self to be just or righteous. In the first case the lawyer wished to justify either his past neglect of the command to love his neighbour, or else his having asked the question, by seeking to be told to whom the term ‘neighbour’ was to be applied. He would thereby suggest the impossibility of fulfilling the command until he knew for certain to whom the term was rightly applicable. In the case of the Pharisees in the latter passage, the emphasis is clearly laid upon the fact that they were endeavouring (with apparent success) to show themselves to be righteous persons in the judgment of men, though God’s idea of them was entirely different. With reference to the lawyer’s question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ the precise form of the inquiry is noteworthy. Just as if a man could pick and choose after being told who and what constitutes a neighbour. The question really comes from a self-centred man who meant, ‘Who is neighbour to me?’ Bishop Lightfoot once preached a sermon on this subject, in which he pointed out that the true question is, ‘Who my neighbour is,’ that is, ‘What is he like? what are his characteristics?’ It does not call attention to this or that person as a possible neighbour, but concentrates thought on my getting to know all about the man who is ‘nigh’ me, my neighbour in every sense. Thus by his very question the man, so far from justifying himself, that is, showing himself to be just, really condemned himself. The character of the question reveals a selfish man whose one thought was about some one being neighbour to him instead of inquiring as to whom he could be a neighbour. Our Lord’s parable of the Good Samaritan and its application, ‘Which of these was neighbour unto him?’ revealed the true aspect and attitude. This is but one instance of the great law that no man can justify himself before God. ‘By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified’ (Romans 3:20).

W. H. Griffith Thomas.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Justifying One's Self'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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