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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Book Review: “Forgiveness and Justice”


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During seminary, the topic of forgiveness (both divine and interpersonal) was one to which I devoted a lot of time and study. So I was excited to see a new publication treating the subject from Kregel Publications.

In Forgiveness and Justice, Dr. Bryan Maier addresses the subject from the perspective of a professor, minister, and counselor. Of those three areas, the counseling focus and background come through most strongly. While there is engagement with the Biblical text, the book is not primarily academic. While there are clear applications to the use of these ideas in the context of a church body, it is not the main focus of the book. It is the counseling arena that informs the main ideas of the book and that receives the most attention.

Of particular note is Maier’s treatment of how the Imprecatory Psalms impact our idea of forgiveness. For instance, he discusses how and what we ask victims of abuse to do as they consider their situations and whether there can be any forgiveness there.

I found the book to be interesting and yet not what I expected. If I had come to it knowing more about its approach (more counseling than academic or pastoral) I feel that I would have benefited more from it.

Dr. Maier does a good job breaking down the idea of forgiveness, questioning what it is and is not, and forming a detailed definition that will give the reader much to consider. His expertise and experience with the topic are clear, and the book is written clearly and succinctly. I enjoyed it despite it not being exactly what I thought it might be.

3.5 stars out of 5


Dr. Bryan Maier. Forgiveness and Justice. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2017. 230 pp. $16.99.

Thanks to Kregel Publications  for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Confessions and Musings on Matt. 23:23


“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
 
Matthew 23:23 (NIV)
 
I’ve been thinking about this verse for a few days now, as I felt convicted the moment I read it of being much closer to the way of the Pharisees here than the way of Jesus. Am I (and are we, reader?) paying attention to the small and particular matters of our faith while neglecting what Jesus here calls the more important (the “weightier” in the ESV) matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness?
 
To paint with a broad brushstroke, many of our Evangelical (though I hesitate to even use that label anymore) responses to the injustices in this world and—closer to home—the injustices here in our own country look more like the Pharisees’ actions here than they look like Jesus’ response.

Are we responding to cries that #BlackLivesMatter with choruses of #AllLivesMatter without considering how our words can burn and harm and pour salt on open wounds? Are we simply spitting out the latest factoid that we heard on NPR or FOX or our favorite podcast instead of sitting and listening in order to hear and understand? Are we making sure to have our quiet time and perfectly arrange everything so that it will look great in our Snapchat or Instagram story instead of reaching out to those in our lives to see how they are doing?

I don’t have many answers, and the ones that I do have are uncomfortable ones! But I think we the way forward is in listening, not in arguing; in lending our voice to the voiceless, not in parroting the talking heads on the news; in pursuing our own holiness but also in fighting for the wholeness of the downtrodden.  Food for thought (most of all for myself!) as we continue to engage with a hurting and broken world peopled with hurting and broken friends, neighbors, and families.

5 Quotes Worth Sharing from “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee


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In Go Set a Watchman, we return along with Jean Louise “Scout” Finch to Maycomb, Alabama. But we, like Scout, discover all is not as we left it when we last were there.

Mini-review:

Time has changed Maycomb, and Scout isn’t so sure she likes what she finds. The reader, too, will be challenged by the change and forced to wrestle with uncomfortable realities. To Kill A Mockingbird has become our culture’s parable of the evils of systemic racism and the honor, nobility, and goodness of one man’s quixotic stand against that system in the name of justice. But can we and can Scout still love the man who steps out of that parable and into our real, flawed, and broken world?

A heavy, heartbreaking, and raw read that asks us to take a look at ourselves and honestly assess what we see.

4 stars out of 5.

Here are five quotes to give you a taste of Scout’s return to Maycomb.

1. Scout wrestles with doubt

…How can they devoutly believe everything they hear in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up? I thought I was a Christian but I’m not. I’m something else and I don’t know what (167).

2. Blindness as a major theme for Scout.

Blind, that’s what I am. I never opened my eyes. I never thought to look into people’s hearts, I looked only in their faces (181).

3. Scout’s esoteric uncle on the perils of big government.

The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in (198).

4. Atticus and Jean Louise at odds.

JL: Don’t you give me any more double-talk! You’re a nice, sweet, old gentleman, and I’ll never believe a word you say to me again. I despise you and everything you stand for.
A: Well, I love you (253).

5. A man’s conscience is his watchman.

Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience (264-5).