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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Unrighteousness

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(ἀδικία, subs, corresponding to ἀδικεῖν = to be ἄδικος, i.e. out of harmony with δίκη, ‘established usage,’ ‘what is right and fit’)

In the NT, where men are described as ἄδικοι (e.g. 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Peter 3:18), the interchangeable English Versions equivalents are ‘unrighteous,’ ‘unjust.’ Where the verb ἀδικέω occurs, the versions vary between ‘do wrong,’ ‘be an offender (wrong-doer),’ ‘be unjust (unrighteous)’; see Acts 7:26; Acts 25:10 (trans.) and Acts 25:11, Revelation 22:11 (intrans.). As for ἀδικία itself, the usual equivalent in the English Versions is ‘unrighteousness’ (see Romans, passim). ‘Iniquity’ occurs as an alternative: but only once the Revised Version prefers the variant ‘wrong-doing’ (2 Peter 2:13). ‘Iniquity’ as = ‘unrighteousness’ springs from a kindred primitive conception-the uneven surface as compared with the crooked line. The ἄδικος may be represented indifferently as being ‘out of the level’ or ‘out of the straight’ (see both ideas in parallel use in Isaiah 40:3-5). There is a simple adequacy in these primitive modes of describing human character and action that no development of ethical doctrine can outgrow.

1. In the vocabulary of the Apostolic Church ‘righteousness’ and ‘unrighteousness’ form an antithetic pair in correspondence with others, such as ‘light’ and ‘darkness.’ An ethical dichotomy this, which has its rice in far-off early days, gains new force in the teaching of Jesus (the broad and narrow ways), and lives on with undiminished vigour. Interesting parallels are furnished in the Shepherd of Hermas (Mand, vi. 2): ‘There are two angels with a man-one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity.… It is good to follow the angel of righteousness, but to bid farewell to the angel of iniquity’ (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, vol. i., ‘Apostolic Fathers,’ Edinburgh, 1867, p. 359 f.); in the Epistle of Barnabas (chs. 18-20), where both the two ways and the two angels occur in association: ‘There are two ways of doctrine and authority, the one of light, and the other of darkness … over one are stationed the light-bringing angels of God, but over the other the angels of Satan.’ Cf. also the Two Ways (of Life and of Death) in the Didache. One unfaltering demand is made of the Christian in the primitive Church-he must ‘depart from iniquity’ (2 Timothy 2:19).

2. In St. Paul’s doctrine of justification ‘unrighteousness’ appears as the salient, universal characteristic of man as such, and figures as a necessary pre-supposition. He cannot, however, be legitimately claimed as supporting the view that this unrighteousness is the sequel of a lapse from an ‘original righteousness’ in which the ‘first parents’ of mankind were created (cf. A. Ritschl, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1900, p. 330). The righteousness, moreover, which the ἄδικος may attain through faith (‘righteousness-of-God,’ ‘righteousness-by-faith’) is not a mere matter of imputation (iustitia imputata of a past theology): for St. Paul’s emphasis on ‘Christ in us’ must not be overlooked. His robust ethical quality also appears in his vigorous rejection of the plea that might be suggested in excuse for man’s unrighteousness, viz. that it serves as a foil against which the righteousness of God shows more splendidly (Romans 3:5). Note further a conspicuous use of ‘truth’ as the antithesis of ‘unrighteousness’ (Romans 2:8, 1 Corinthians 13:6, 2 Thessalonians 2:12). ‘Injustice is falsehood in deed’ (B. F. Westcott, Gospel according to St. John , 2 vols., London, 1908, i. 268).

3. A brief dictum in the Johannine teaching deserves notice: ‘All unrighteousness is sin’ (1 John 5:17), with which may be compared the valid converse of the proposition in 3:4: ‘Lawlessness is sin.’ Thus sententiously all distinction between various forms of deliberate transgression is abolished. Wrong as from man to man is also wrong as from man to God. Due thought of God’s perfect righteousness, together with man’s relation to Him, demands this heightening of the conception of unrighteousness. Similarly, the claim that there is ‘no unrighteousness’ in God’s perfect Messenger (John 7:18) rests on the fact that He is sent by God in whom no unrighteousness dwells (cf. Plato, Theaet. 176 C: ‘In God is no unrighteousness at all; He is altogether righteous’).

J. S. Clemens.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Unrighteousness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/u/unrighteousness.html. 1906-1918.

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Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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