Old Testament Background to Biblical Righteousness and Justice


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A little over a month ago I wrote a thread on Twitter that argued that you can’t bifurcate the ideas of “righteousness” and “justice” in the New Testament. Here’s the first tweet, which served as an introduction to the (short) discussion:

I won’t reproduce the entire argument here, but to summarize: where in English justice and righteousness are two distinct concepts, Koine Greek has one word that can be used for both: δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosune).

English translates dikaiosune as both righteousness and justice. However, Latin, Spanish, and German (for starters) translate dikaiosune as iustitia, justicia, and Gerechtigkeit, respectively. Look up each of these words and what is the primary definition? Justice.

You simply cannot read Luther’s translation of the New Testament, the Vulgate, or any other version in these languages and be led to the conclusion, “I should separate the categories of righteousness and justice in my head.”

My big takeaways for the thread were 1) When you see ‘righteousness’ in an English Bible, that doesn’t automatically exclude the idea of ‘justice’ and 2) reading Scripture in more than one language can help us avoid blind spots in our understanding of the text.

Now why do I bring this up? Because an aspect of this conversation that I neglected to address in the Twitter thread is the relationship between righteousness and justice in the Old Testament. Paul, Matthew, James, Luke and the other authors of the New Testament were intimately familiar with the language of the Old Testament and it deeply formed the ways they thought about concepts like righteousness and justice as well as the ways they wrote about them and even the vocabulary that they used to do it.

I was finishing Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage a few days ago and came across a discussion of this very issue that I want to quote and briefly discuss in order to give further context to this idea:

Almost half the time you see the word justice in the Old Testament the word righteousness is next to it, as when the psalmist said to God, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Ps. 89:14). The two words together are what grammarians call a hendiadystwo words connected by an “and” that explain each other and together mean something bigger, like nice and cozy. The biblical ideas of justice and righteousness are locked together and are mutually defining, even when they don’t appear together.

How The Nations Rage, 211-212

It’s not just a New Testament phenomenon: throughout the entirety of the Bible, we are meant to have mentions of ‘righteousness’ lead us to think immediately of ‘justice’ and to be unable to envision an instance of justice that is not rooted in God’s righteousness. This is the way that the Old Testament treated the concepts and it’s the foundation that the authors of the New Testament drew on when theyunder the divine inspiration of the Spiritauthored the books of the New Testament.

If it is truly biblical, our righteousness should not and cannot be divorced from doing justice in this world. And we as believers should find it impossible to act justly without the righteousness that comes from God in Christ. May our righteousness lead to our lights shining before others so they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16) and may our good works flow from the saving and transforming grace that is the free, unmerited gift of a righteous God (Ephesians 2:8-10).

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Review: Ministry in the New Marriage Culture


mithmc“Same-sex marriage is here. So what do pastors and church leaders do now?”

So reads the first lines emblazoned on the back cover of this book, the latest offering from Jeff Iorg, the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (which, disclaimer, is also where I am studying to complete my MDiv). Dr. Iorg is the editor of this book and has assembled 15 of the leading minds either from or affiliated with the seminary in order to address both this large question and many of the other related questions that follow.

Following the Introduction (chapter 1), the book is divided into three sections: Biblical Foundations for Ministry (chapters 2 & 3), Theological Foundations for Ministry (chapters 4-6), and Models and Methods for Ministry (chapters 7-15).

The first section, Biblical Foundations, is a brief overview of some of the biblical teachings and principles from the Old and New Testaments on marriage and sexual ethics. The book’s point of view on the issues is the historic (or non-affirming) teaching of the church on sexual ethics in general and homosexuality in particular. These two chapters are valuable for anyone who has not done an extensive study of the subject themselves but are also not the point of the book. Those looking for exhaustive treatments will want to look elsewhere, though these chapters serve as an appropriate starting point.

The Theological Foundations section covers Gospel Confidence, Ecclesiology, and Sexual Ethics. Of the three, the chapter on Ecclesiology by Rodrick Durst is a standout: it does an excellent job of bringing historical situations in the history of the church to bear on the current circumstances, is filled with encouragements to the reader, offers case studies of potential church issues, suggests practices that will be of benefit in resolving these issues, AND goes further than most of the other chapters by addressing trans* issues (a step not all of the authors take).

The Models and Methods section is the bread and butter of the book and will most likely be the most helpful of all the sections to pastors and other church leaders. In particular, the Preaching chapter by Tony Merida and the Legal Challenges chapter by Jim Wilson are incredibly valuable resources. I feel the chapter on legal challenges, while not for everyone, would be worth the price of the book all by itself to church leaders for its practical advice and suggestions on ways to preemptively protect churches from possible litigation and liability.

Answering Objections:

But wait, some might ask: why do we need another book by fifteen cisgender, evangelical, conservative authors (who are almost all white to boot)? What could they add that is possibly worth listening to? Don’t we need more voices who don’t represent this point of view?

The first part of the answer to that question is YES! We need more diversity in the conversation. I will not argue on that point. However, this book is diverse in its own way.

This is a book that is not directly arguing the abstract and/or theological question of same-sex marriage. It is instead focused on the practicals–what to do–in light of the legal realities that the churches maintaining the historic teaching are faced with and is mainly addressed to those who already agree with its theological perspective. For the book’s audience, this is a necessary book. There are few resources out there (to my admittedly limited knowledge!) that perform the function this book sets out to accomplish.

Is it a perfect book? No. Some chapters fall flat or come across as tone-deaf. Few will agree with every suggestion that every author makes (at least I don’t). And the book falls far short of answering every possible answer to the problems and opportunities churches will face in this arena. But while it doesn’t provide all the answers, it at least is beginning to ask the right questions and inviting the reader to answer them for themselves.

5 stars out of 5


Jeff Iorg, ed. Ministry in the New Marriage Culture. Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2015. 264 pp. Paperback. $14.99.