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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Righteousness

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RIGHTEOUSNESS

I. In OT.

‘Righteousness,’ ‘righteous’ (except in a few passages) stand in EV [Note: English Version.] for some offshoot of the Semitic root tsdq which is met with as early as the Tell el-Amarna letters in the sense of ‘to be innocent.’ The Heb. derivatives are the adjective tsaddîq and the nouns tsedeq and tsĕdâqâh (which seem to be practically indistinguishable in meaning), and the verbal forms tsâdaq, hitsdîq , etc. This group of words is represented in EV [Note: English Version.] in about 400 passages by ‘righteousness,’ ‘righteous,’ etc.; in the remainder, about one-fifth of the whole, by ‘just,’ ‘justice,’ ‘justify,’ ‘right.’ Whether the primary notion was ‘straightness’ or ‘hardness’ is uncertain, and quite immaterial for the present inquiry.

The material can be conveniently arranged under two heads: (1) righteousness in common speech; (2) righteousness in religious terminology. The order is not without significance. It has been justly remarked that the development of the idea of righteousness in OT moves in the opposite direction to that traversed by the idea of holiness. Whilst the latter starts from the Divine and comes down to the human, the former begins with the human and ascends to the Divine.

1. Righteousness in common speech . ( a ) It is perhaps safest to begin with the forensic or juristic application, The plaintiff or defendant in a legal case who was in the right was ‘righteous’ ( Deuteronomy 25:1 , Isaiah 5:23 ); and his claim resting on his good behaviour was ‘righteousness’ ( 1 Kings 8:32 ). A judge who decided in favour of such a person gave ‘righteous judgment,’ lit. ‘judgment of righteousness’ ( Deuteronomy 16:18 ), judged ‘righteously’ ( Deuteronomy 1:16 ). The Messianic King, who would be the ideal judge, would he ‘swift to do righteousness’ ( Isaiah 16:5 ), would ‘judge the poor with righteousness’ ( Isaiah 11:4 ), and would have ‘righteousness for the girdle of his loins’ ( Isaiah 11:5 ). A court of justice was, in theory, ‘the place of righteousness’ ( Ecclesiastes 3:16 ). The purified Jerusalem would be ‘a city of righteousness’ ( Isaiah 1:26 ). On the other hand, corrupt judges ‘cast down righteousness to the earth’ ( Amos 5:7 ), and ‘take away the righteousness of the righteous from him’ ( Isaiah 5:23 ). ( b ) From the forensic use is readily developed the general meaning ‘what is right,’ ‘what ought to be’ [some scholars invert the order of a and b , starting with the idea of ‘rightness’]. In Proverbs 16:8 we read: ‘Better is a little with righteousness ( i.e. , a little got by right conduct) than great revenues with injustice.’ Balances, weights, and measures which came up to the required standard were ‘just balances,’ etc., lit. ‘balances of righteousness’ ( Leviticus 19:36 ), whilst their converse were ‘wicked balances,’ lit. ‘balances of wickedness’ ( Micah 6:11 ) or ‘balances of deceit’ ( Amos 8:5 ). ( c ) Righteous speech also, i.e. truthful speech, came under the category of ‘righteousness.’ ‘Righteous lips,’ lit. ‘lips of righteousness,’ ‘are the delight of kings’ ( Proverbs 16:13 ).

2. Righteousness in religious terminology . ( a ) For the ancient Hebrew, ‘righteousness’ was especially correspondence with the Divine will . The thought of God, indeed, was perhaps never wholly absent from his mind when he used the word. Note, for this conception of righteousness, Ezekiel 18:5-9 , where ‘doing what is lawful and right ( tsĕdâqâh )’ is illustrated by a number of concrete examples followed up by the general statement, ‘hath walked in my statutes and kept my judgments to deal truly,’ The man who thus acts, adds the prophet, is ‘just,’ rather ‘righteous’ ( tsaddîq ). The Book of Ezekiel has many references to righteousness thus understood. ( b ) As the Divine will was revealed in the Law, ‘righteousness’ was thought of as obedience to its rules ( Deuteronomy 6:25 ). Note also the description of a righteous man in Psalms 1:1-6 (cf. v. Psalms 1:1 f. with Psalms 1:5 b and Psalms 1:6 a). The expression was also used of obedience in a single instance. Restoring a pledge at sun-down was ‘righteousness’ ( Deuteronomy 24:13 ). The avenging deed of Phinehas was ‘counted to him for righteousness’ ( Psalms 106:31 ). So we find the word in the plural: ‘The Lord is righteous: he loveth righteous deeds’ ( Psalms 11:7 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). ( c ) In most of the passages quoted, and in many places in Ezk., Job, Prov., and Eccles., the righteousness of the individual is referred to; but in others Israel ( Psalms 14:5 ; Psalms 97:11 ; Psalms 118:20 etc., Isaiah 41:8-11 , and other parts of Deutero-Isaiah, Habakkuk 1:13 etc.), or a portion of Israel ( Isaiah 51:1 ; Isaiah 51:7 etc.), is represented as ‘righteous.’ ( d ) Since righteousness is conformity to the Divine will, and the Law which reveals that will is righteous in the whole and its parts ( Psalms 119:7 ; Psalms 119:62 ; Psalms 119:75 ; Psalms 119:172 etc.), God Himself is naturally thought of as essentially righteous ( Deuteronomy 32:4 where ‘just’ = ‘righteous’; Jeremiah 12:1 , Isaiah 42:21 , Psalms 7:9 (10) 11 (12), His throne is founded on righteousness and judgment ( Psalms 89:14 , (15)), and all His ways exhibit righteousness ( Psalms 145:17 ). As, however, Israel was often unrighteous, the righteousness of Jehovah could then be revealed to it only in judgment ( Isaiah 1:27 ; Isaiah 5:18 ; Isaiah 10:22 ). In later times it was revealed in judgment on their heathen oppressors ( Psalms 40:9 f., Psalms 98:2 etc.). ( e ) So in a number of passages, especially in Isaiah 40:1-31 ; Isaiah 41:1-29 ; Isaiah 42:1-25 ; Isaiah 43:1-28 ; Isaiah 44:1-28 ; Isaiah 45:1-25 ; Isaiah 46:1-13 ; Isaiah 47:1-15 ; Isaiah 48:1-22 ; Isaiah 49:1-26 ; Isaiah 50:1-11 ; Isaiah 51:1-23 ; Isaiah 52:1-15 ; Isaiah 53:1-12 ; Isaiah 54:1-17 ; Isaiah 55:1-13 ; Isaiah 56:1-12 ; Isaiah 57:1-21 ; Isaiah 58:1-14 ; Isaiah 59:1-21 ; Isaiah 60:1-22 ; Isaiah 61:1-11 ; Isaiah 62:1-12 ; Isaiah 63:1-19 ; Isaiah 64:1-12 ; Isaiah 65:1-25 ; Isaiah 66:1-24 , ‘righteousness’ is almost synonymous with justification, salvation ( Isaiah 45:8 ; Isaiah 46:13 ; Isaiah 51:6 f., Isaiah 58:6 ; Isaiah 59:9 ; Isaiah 61:11 ; Isaiah 62:1 ; many passages in Psalms [ Psalms 22:31 (32) Psalms 24:5 etc.], Malachi 4:2 [ Hebrews 3:19 ]). For more on this subject cf. art. Justification.

II. In NT.

The Greek equivalents of tsaddîq, tsedeq , etc., are dikaios (81 times), ‘righteous,’ ‘just’; dikaiôs (5 t.), ‘justly,’ ‘righteously’; dikaiosynç (92 t.), ‘righteousness’; dikaioô (39 t.), ‘justify’; dikaiôma (10 t.). ‘righteousness’ (4t. [AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ] ‘righteous act,’ ‘judgment,’ ‘ordinance,’ ‘justification’]); dikaiôsis (2 t.), justification’; dikaiokrisia , ‘righteous judgment’ ( Romans 2:5 ).

In the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 5:6 ; Matthew 5:10 ; Matthew 5:20 ; Matthew 6:1 ; Matthew 6:33 ; Matthew 21:32 , John 16:8 ; John 16:10 ), and in NT generally, ‘righteousness’ means, as in OT, conformity to the Divine will, but with the thought greatly deepened and spiritualized. In the Sermon on the Mount righteousness clearly includes right feeling and motive as well as right action. In Matthew 6:1 (where dikaiosynç is unquestionably the true reading) there may be an echo of the later meaning acquired by tsĕdâqâh , its Aramaic equivalent, the beginnings of which can be traced in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ( Deuteronomy 6:25 ; Deuteronomy 6:8 other passages) and the Heb. Sirach about b.c. 200 ( Sir 3:14 ; Sir 40:17 ) ‘benevolence,’ ‘ almsgiving .’ If, as cannot be reasonably doubted, the Sermon on the Mount was originally in Aramaic, the word for ‘righteousness’ can hardly have been used in such a connexion without a side glance at a common popular application of it. Still, it is not safe to find more than a hint or echo.

In Matthew 3:15 , Zahn has observed, dikaiosynç seems to be used in the sense of dikaiôma , ‘ordinance.’ In the Pauline Epistles, where dikaiosynç and dikaioô are most frequently used (85 times out of 131), the former in a considerable number of cases describes not the righteousness required by God, but the righteousness bestowed by God and accepted by faith in Christ ( Romans 1:17 etc.).

For fuller treatment cf. art. Justification.

W. Taylor Smith.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Righteousness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/r/righteousness.html. 1909.

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