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(Updated 05/25/2015)

This word, with its cognates, presents one of the central concepts of the good news as given by Paul.  But do we understand it, or is it just another word on our lips that slips through our minds without comprehension?  Different brands of "Christianity" tend to see this concept from different perspectives, and probably to each of us it means something slightly different.  It was part of the contention between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers of the 16th century.  For many years it was to me just another "Scripture word" associated with our salvation.  I remember being offended when I heard one jazz musician call another's musical performance "righteous."  I didn't know how ignorant I was.

Then, it was also part of God's character, and I can still hear the reverence in the voice of R. C. Sproul when he would speak of "a righteous and holy God."  The words can be awe-inspiring.  But what do they mean?  How does this apply to us?

In my old age, I have decided to not wait until I understand things perfectly before I enter into dialogue with the Body of Christ about important subjects.  So I invite you into this dialogue.  I want to share with you an understanding that has come to me.

William D. Chamberlain, in An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament (The MACMILLAN Company, 1958. p 10), states the following regarding the history and development of the root of our word, "righteousness."  He says,

            "... a root as dik-, [has] in the Sanskrit the primary idea 'to show.'.... From dik-, 'to show,' 'point out,' we get dik-ē, 'the way pointed out,' i. e., 'the thing which is right,' 'justice.'”

The Analytical Greek Lexicon gives the following definition of our word "righteousness," which in the Greek is dikaiosunē: fair and equitable dealing; justice; righteousness.  An English word that has fallen out of use, but which Rudolf Bultmann (Theology of the New Testament) suggested as a proper definition is “rightwisedness,” which means "the quality and situation of being turned in the right direction."

E. W. Bullinger, in A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament (Kregel Publications, 1908), gives the following meaning:

            the doing or being what is just and right.... it signifies the sum total of all that God commands and approves.  As such it is not only what God demands, but what He gives to man, and which is appropriated by faith; and hence it is a state called forth by God's act of justification, viz. by judicial deliverance from all that stands in the way of being dikaioV [just; righteous; in accord with the way pointed out] (p. 648; italics, his; brackets, mine).

Liddell and Scott say that the classical thought behind the concept of "righteous" (dikaios) was "observant of custom and social rule, well-ordered, civilized; decent; observant of right; fitting; well-balanced; just."

I recall William Barclay stating that righteousness, especially in a social setting, has the sense of being "in right relationship."

Kenneth E. Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, IVP, 2008, p 78) discusses the Hebrew word for “righteousness/justice” as often referring to “mighty acts of God to save.”

Douglas A. Campbell presents compelling arguments (based primarily upon OT usage (LXX), and Paul’s uses in Rom. and Gal.) for the meaning of dikaiosunē as being “eschatological liberation or deliverance” (The Deliverance of God; An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, Wm B. Eerdmans Pub Co, 2009, pp 677-711).

There is definitely a forensic use of this word-group, and they can have legal connotations in secular society.  Both Augustine and Luther had legal training, and it is my suspicion that their personal bent in this direction led to the legal flavor of these words in church dogma and tradition.  But here is where context must play a decisive role.  Yet, often, the context could be considered abstract, as Paul does not always relate his context to a specific social or religious setting.  So the tendency is to put our own concepts into the text, based upon what we think the word means.  "With Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313, both grace and forgiveness became basically politicized and controlled by formula and technique.  They became juridical concepts instead of spiritual realizations" (Richard Rohr, Things Hidden, Scripture as Spirituality, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2008, p 161; emphasis original).  This set the stage for dikaiosunē also being viewed as a legal transaction or determination within the institutionalized church.

Using etymology (viewing word meanings based upon the roots and components of how they are made up) in translating has come under attack in recent linguistic trends which favor the concept of semantic domains (which gives the greatest weight to the context for determining the "meaning" of the word but results in a very broad range of semantic meanings for any word, and thus allows for translating a passage according to what we "think" it means).  So, my views here are a bit out-of-step with current trends, but they are based upon centuries of linguistic theory and practice.  I also lean toward a concordant concept of translating.  With all this in mind, I proceed to share my understanding of "righteousness" with you.

In my translations, I have given this expanded meaning: that which is in accord with the way pointed out; well-ordered dealings with fairness and equity in rightwised relationships; justice; righteousness; pointed in the right direction.

If we consider that Christ is "the Way [pointed out], the Truth [of justice, fairness and equity] and the Life [in right relationship with God and mankind]," as I have indicated in brackets, I think that we can best understand this concept of "righteousness, justice, etc."

Looking at the verb form, we see that by being placed into Christ we have been declared righteous (which results from being a part of the Christ through our being buried and raised with Him – Rom 6:10-11) – the forensic view, but we have also been placed, and so now are, in "the Way pointed out" – the fair, equitable and just way of living.  Furthermore, we have been set, and so now are, in right relationship with both God and mankind.  We have been "turned in the right direction" – toward Christ, and our Father.  My wife, Lynda, called to mind Mal. 4:6 where the promise was given, "And he will turn (restore; bring back) the hearts of the fathers to the sons, and the hearts of the sons to their fathers..."

This kind of reconciliation – in families – is the basic element of the goal of the Way that Jesus embodied.  He brought our Father to us, and us to our Father, that we would be One in them (John 17).  The way pointed out is also a life in and by the faith and trust that have been implanted in us,

            "being folks having been born again (been regenerated; been given birth back up again), not from out of a corruptible (or: perishable) seed that was sown, but rather of an incorruptible (imperishable; undecayable) one: through God's continually living and permanently remaining Word (or: through a message or expressed thought of [the] continuously living and constantly abiding God; or: through means of a living and dwelling Thought, Idea and Logically laid out Expression and Communication, which is God)" – 1 Pet. 1:23.

This is all due to the act of obedience that the One Man (Rom. 5:9-21) – the Last Adam – did, and to His gracious gift to us.

A meaning which can be derived from Paul's use of this word in his letters signifies "covenant inclusion" or "covenant membership."  For example, he associates this word with the Promise made to Abraham and his sons in Gal. 3:5-9.  There, in vs. 5, it is shown to be in the realm of,

            "... continuously furnishing and supplying to (or: for; in) you folks the Spirit (or: the    spirit; the breath; or: = attitude and vitality), and constantly and effectively energizing,             being active, working and producing abilities and powers within you people."

Then, we see the verb form (dikaioō) in vs. 8, along with a quote of the Promise:

8.  Now the Scripture – seeing before [as a picture] that God is now progressively liberating the nations into rightwised relationship (delivering the ethnic groups of non-Jews into the Way pointed out and freeing them from guilt) from out of faithfulness – announced to (or: for) Abraham beforehand the message of goodness, ease and well-being

(or: And further – the Scripture perceiving in advance and making provision that He is presently making the multitudes fair and equitable {or: = including the Gentiles in the covenant} from faith, trust, conviction and loyalty – God brought-before in Abraham the glad tidings of goodness {a gospel; an evangel}), namely that,

"All the nations, ethnic groups and multitudes will continuously and progressively be inwardly blessed (receive the inner Word of wellness; participate within the Good Word) in a union with you (or: within you; in you; or: = in relation to you; or: = as in your case)." [Gen. 12:3; 22:18]

            9.  So then, those from out of faith (or: = folks who are derived from trust and   confidence and who come from a place of loyal allegiance) are being constantly blessed (repeatedly given the Word of wellness; continuously made to participate in the Good Word) together with the full-of-faith Abraham (or: the trusting, believing, convinced and loyal Abraham).

This blessing is people being included in the covenant made to Abraham.  What it looks like is "putting the nations in rightwised relationship (etc.)" and "making the multitudes fair and equitable," as well as placing them in the Way pointed out.  Another presentation of this argument is seen in Rom. 4:13-17.  In practice it equates to being "in Christ" in a living and relational way – or as Jesus said, "abiding in the Vine" (John 15).

We read in Gal. 3:11,

            "the fair and equitable man (the dikaios person; the one in right relationship within the Way pointed out; the just one) will live from out of faith (or: the one [who is] just from out of faith, trust, and conviction, will live)," [Hab. 2:4] – cf also Rom. 1:17

As you see, the central idea is the way in which a life is lived – not some fictitious courtroom action.  When we live from the source of Christ's faith and faithfulness, we are considered to be, and are, dikaios: turned in the right direction; one put in right relationship with all, made fair and equitable, created just – all of which is "the Way (Christ) pointed out," or, the new covenant in Christ.  This is our new existence that has been created by the risen Christ having taken us into Himself.  It is a description of who the new humanity is, and where we reside: in Christ.

Now consider what Paul said of this in Gal. 2 as it is contrasted to the old covenant:

21.  I make it no habit to displace (shove aside; upset; thus: reject; thwart; repudiate; nullify) God's grace and favor!  For if rightwising deliverance into justice, equity and freedom from guilt with right relationships within the Way pointed out (= transforming-inclusion into the new covenant) [is] through Law (= by legalism or religious works), then as a consequence Christ died as a mere gratuity (= for nothing; to no purpose).

The old covenant and the Mosaic Law was inserted,

            "to the end that the effect of the fall to the side (or: so that the result of the offense and the stumbling aside) would increase to be more than enough (should greatly abound and become more intense)" – Rom. 5:20a.

That was the purpose of the old covenant: to be a dark backdrop to the Light that was to come in the new covenant.  So we see with the new that,

            "... where the Sin (the failure; the divergence and missing of the target) increases (or: abounded to be more than enough; becomes more intense) THE GRACE ("the act producing happiness, which is granted as a favor" – Jim Coram) at once super-exceeds (or: hyper-exceeded) over and above, surrounding to excessive abundance and overflow" – Rom. 5:20b.

Returning to Paul's arguments in Gal. 3:6, we see that he went to the period before the Law entered Israel's history and accessed Abraham's story and his relationship with God:

            "just as Abraham, "trusts in God (or: believed by God; experienced confidence with God), and he is/was at once logically considered by Him [that he had come] into a right relationship (or: and it was counted for him into a rightwised [covenantal] relationship with freedom from guilt, equity and justice which comprise the Way pointed out)" [Gen. 15:6]

You may have noticed that here, and in Gal. 2:21, I added the concept of "freedom from guilt" to the expanded definition of dikaiosunē.  The reason for this is the consideration of the human predicament before the coming of the Messiah.  All in Adam (all humanity) suffered from Adam's guilt.  We see the fact of this from psychologists having studied the human condition.  Legalistic cultures propagated this view so that from childhood most folks grow up with a sense of guilt or failure that is often buried deep within the psyche.

God's grand epic drama of humanity proceeded from the grace of choosing to bless Abraham with a Promise to the interim of establishing a covenant nation, Israel, which was arranged under the Law.  This made the rest of the ethnic multitudes as "strangers and foreigners" – people that were outside this special covenant.  But with the fulfillment of this covenant and its termination through the execution of the Messiah, God makes a new creation in the resurrected Messiah – a new arrangement with humanity, and not just with Israel.  In Rom. 11:17-28 Paul describes this human drama as an olive tree (the tree that produced the oil for anointing) that grows through the ages, and as a tree into which the ethnic multitudes have been engrafted.

In chapter 2 of Paul's letter, entitled Ephesians, we see another picture of this unfolding story:

            11.  On which account (or: Wherefore) you must continuously call to mind (or: keep in mind; remember) that once you, the nations (multitudes; ethnic groups; Gentiles; non-Israelites) in flesh (= in your physical beings and cultural heritages) the ones habitually termed (spoken of as; called; said to be) "uncircumcision" by the one (or: that) habitually being termed "circumcision," in flesh (= in body and culture/religion): made by hand,

            12.  that (or: because) you were, and continued on being for that season (or: in that appointed situation), apart from Christ ([the] Anointed One; = [the] Messiah): people having been alienated from the state of being a citizen (or: estranged from citizenship in the commonwealth) of Israel and [being] strangers pertaining to the arrangements of (or: foreigners from covenants and testamentary dispositions whose origin is) The Promise (or the assurance), continually having no expectation (or: hope), and [were] folks without God (or: godless; atheists) within the ordered System (world of culture, religion and governments).

            13.  But now, within and in union with Christ Jesus, you – the folks once being (continuously existing) far off (or: at a distance) – came to be (were birthed; are generated; are suddenly become) near, immersed within and in union with the blood of the Christ (the Anointed One).

            14.  For He Himself is our Peace (or: continuously exists being our harmony [= Shalom]) – the One making (forming; constructing) The Both [to be] one, and within His flesh (= His physical being which experienced death on the cross) is instantly destroying (unbinding; unfastening; loosing; causing to collapse) the middle wall of the fenced enclosure (or: the partition or barrier wall): the enmity (cause of hate, alienation, discord and hostility; characteristics of an enemy),

            15.  rendering useless (nullifying; rendering down in accord with inactivity and unemployment) the Law (or: the custom; = the Torah) of the implanted goal (impartation of the finished product within; inward directive) consisting in decrees (or: prescribed ordinances), to the end that He may frame (create; found and settle from a state of wildness and disorder) The Two into One New [p46 & others: common] Humanity within the midst of, and in union with, Himself, continuously making (progressively creating) Peace and Harmony (= shalom);

            16.  and then should fully transfer from a certain state to another which is quite different (or: make completely other while moving away from what existed; or: fully reconcile) The Both within One Body – by God through the cross (or: in, to and for God, through the execution stake) – within Himself killing the enmity (or: discordant hatred; characteristics of an enemy). 

            17.  And so upon coming, He brings goodness and proclaims as good news (or: as a message of ease and wellbeing), Peace (harmony; lack of discord; [= shalom]) to you, the folks far off, and Peace (harmony; = shalom) to the people nearby,

            18.  that (or: because) through Him we, The Both, continuously have (hold and possess) the procurement of access (conduct toward the presence; admission, being led), within one Spirit (or: in union with one Breath-effect and Attitude), to (or: toward; face to face with) the Father.

            19.  Consequently then (or: Thereupon), you folks no longer continuously exist being strangers (foreigners) and sojourners (temporary residents in a foreign land), but continually exist being fellow-citizens (ones residing together in a City) of those set apart: even God's family (members of God's household),

            20.  being fully built as a house upon the foundation of the sent-forth representatives (or: emissaries) and prophets (folks who had light ahead of time), Jesus Christ continuously being a corner-foundation [stone] of it (or: there being an extreme point of the corner, or, capstone: Jesus Christ Himself),

            21.  within and in union with Whom all the home-building (all the construction of the   house; or: = every house that is constructed, or, the entire building), being continuously fitted [and] progressively framed together (closely and harmoniously joined together; made a common joint by a word), is continuously and progressively growing into a set-apart temple (or: separate, different and holy inner sanctuary) within [the] Lord [= Christ, or, Yahweh]:

            22.  within the midst of (or: in union with) Whom you folks, also, are continuously and progressively being formed a constituent part of the structure (or: being built together into a house) – into God's down-home place (place of settling down to dwell; abode; permanent dwelling) within [the] Spirit (or: in spirit; or: in the midst of a Breath-effect and an attitude).

This passage has presented us with many details of the situation that has resulted from the work of Christ.  All of this is God's dikaiosunē – His justification, His justice, His fairness and equity, His eschatological deliverance which puts humanity in rightwised covenant relationships: the Way that He has pointed out to us, and His turning us into the Way in which we are to live our lives.  Dikaiosunē is simply life in Christ: knowing the Father and the Son (John 17:3), by the Spirit.  It is inclusion in the new covenant.  Paul spoke of a dikaiosunē theou in Rom. 3:21, 22, and I have given a number of potential renderings of this phrase in these verses:

21.  Yet now, apart from Law (or: custom; habitual practice; ordinance made by authority; or: = Torah), a righteousness of God (God’s just action of eschatological deliverance; God’s solidarity, with moral integrity in fair and equitable dealings; a turning in the right direction that comes from God; God’s covenantal faithfulness, justice and pointing out of the Way; a rightwisedness and right relationship, which is God) has been manifested and remains displayed in clear light – being continuously attested in witness by means of (or: under) the Law (= Torah) and the Prophets –

22.  yet a righteousness of God (or: a right relationship and solidarity with and which is God; justice from God; God’s fair and equitable dealings in accord with the Way pointed out; a rightwised condition effected by God; God’ eschatological deliverance which brings covenant inclusion/participation) through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness (or: trust-faith; convinced loyalty) unto all humanity – as well as upon and unto all those presently believing (or: habitually trusting [in God]), for you see, there exists no distinction (no difference; no divided arrangement)!

Note the appositional rendering of Theou: "which is God."  The true dikaiosunē is God Himself and it is this that is implanted within us, and this is the realm into which we have been transferred (Col. 1:13).  Paul describes this realm as, "eschatological deliverance into fair and equitable dealing which brings justice and right relationship in the Way pointed out (being turned in the right direction; rightwisedness; also = covenant inclusion and participation), peace (and: harmony; = shalom) and joy (or: happiness; rejoicing) within set-apart Breath-effect (or: in union with and amidst a dedicated spirit and a sacred attitude; or: in [the] Holy Spirit)," in Rom. 14:17, and the writer of Hebrews compares Christ to the King of Dikaiosunēs in Heb. 7:2.  Observe, above, in Rom. 3:22 that this new "rightwised condition" has been "effected by God."  As to the relational aspect of this word, John Gavazzoni has pointed out that all "right relationship" has its origin in the very essence of God.  It is from God that we have family and right relationships.  Dikaiosunē is the very character of the interpenetrating and mutual inhabiting given to us in picture of the Oneness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – and of the same oneness into which Jesus prayed to the Father for us to be included (John 17:21-23).  This, too, is why Paul refers to the "one new humanity" (Eph. 2:15) and speaks of the "purposed and destined (or: complete; finished; mature; full-grown; perfect; goal-attained)" man which comes from "the state of oneness of (or: the unity belonging to; = lack of division in) the Faith" (Eph. 4:13).  In vs. 20 of this same chapter we see Paul begin a beautiful admonition to live within this new state of being, and then use our word dikaiosunē in vs. 24:

            20.  But you folks did not learn the Christ in this way,

            21.  since, indeed, you heard and listen to Him, and within Him as well as in union with Him, you were and are taught – just as Truth and Reality continuously exist within Jesus –

            22.  to put off from yourselves [as clothing or habits] what accords to the former entangled manner of living (or: twisted up behavior): the old humanity (or: the past, worn-out person) – the one continuously in process of being corrupted (spoiled; ruined) down from and in accord with the passionate desires (the full-covering, swelling emotions) of the deceptions (or: seductive desires)

            23.  and then to be continuously renewed (or: from time to time, or, progressively made young again) by (or: in; with) the spirit (or: attitude; breath-effect) of your mind (or: from the mind which is you),

24.  and to enter within (or: clothe yourselves with) the new humanity (or: the Person that is new and fresh in kind and quality) – the one in accord with and corresponding to God (or: the person at the Divine level) – being formed (framed, built, founded and settled from a state of disorder and wildness; created) within the Way pointed out (or: in union with fair and equitable dealings with rightwised relationships, justice, righteousness and covenant participation; centered in [His] eschatological deliverance) and reverent dedication (or: benign relationship with nature) pertaining to the Truth (or: in intrinsic alignment with reality, which is the Truth).

Titus 3:7 speaks of, "being rightwised, and set in right relationship in the Way of fairness and equity which has been pointed out (also: = being placed in covenant membership) – by and in the grace and favor of That One," while Eph. 2:8 says,

            "For by (or: to; in; for; with) the grace and joyous favor you are (you continuously exist being) folks having been delivered (rescued; kept safe; saved; made whole; restored to your original state and condition) so as to now be enjoying salvation through [some MSS add: the] faith (or: trust; confidence)."

So "by grace" come both "righteousness" and "salvation" (note the semantic range of "delivered").  Through "salvation" we are given entrance into "righteousness."  Cf Rom. 3:24.

The old covenant (or: arrangement) is described in the first half of 2 Cor. 3:9, and the new one in the second half:

"For since (or: if) the attending service and dispensing of the corresponding evaluations and commensurate decisions which follow the pattern (or: separations for condemnation; judgments which are down-decisions against folks) [had] glory, to a much greater degree does the attending service and the dispensing of the eschatological deliverance into fairness and equity in rightwised relationships (or: righteousness from covenantal inclusion: that which corresponds to the Way pointed out, and which turns us in the right direction) progressively surround and continuously exceed in glory (or: habitually overflow with a manifestation which calls forth praise and brings a good reputation)!"

It would seem that Paul is casting the Law as a dispenser of condemnation, and is contrasting that to the Good News (the new covenant) – casting this latter as a dispenser of “righteousness” and a servant for folks being turned in the right direction.

Another verse, 2 Cor. 5:21, gives dikaiosunē as the new state of existence in God:

"for you see, He made (or: formed; makes) the One not at any point knowing failure (sin; error; mistake) by intimate experience [to take the place of; to be] failure over us and our [situation] (or: He constructed [as] a sin [offering], for our sake, the Person who was not at that point having an experiential knowledge of missing the target or making a mistake), to the end that we may be birthed (come into an existence being; come to be) God's just and rightwising act of eschatological deliverance (or: righted and liberated relationships of equity, fairness and justice in the Way pointed out, and be participants in the new covenant from God; expressions of the well-ordered living of the way it should be, which is God), within Him and in union with Him."

Take note of the Paul's bringing in an OT use of dikaiosunē in his arguments toward the folks at Corinth fulfilling their pledge to raise funds for the called-out folks in Jerusalem.  In 2 Cor. 9:9 he quotes a verse from the Psalms [LXX]:

"He scattered abroad and widely disperses; He gives to the ones who work hard for their bread, and yet are poor; His fairness and equity (rightwised dealings and relationship which correspond to the Way pointed out; also = covenantal faithfulness) continuously remains and constantly dwells, on into the Age." [Ps. 112:9]

Witherington refers to this verse as being "... where God is the one who gives to the poor and so demonstrates divine righteousness.... For both Paul and the OT, righteousness is not simply an inner quality of purity or a right heart.  It also involves justice and generosity in deeds" (ibid. p 427).  So God's dikaiosunē is here defined as provision for and care of PEOPLE.  This is the Way (the Path to follow; the Road to walk) that defines the called-out, covenant community as it is led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14).

As another consideration for this investigation, ponder the words in 1 Pet. 2:24,

"Who, Himself, bore back up again our failures (our mistakes; our times of falling short or to the side of the target; our sins and errors) [Isa. 53:4, 12] within His body upon the tree (the wood; the stake), to the end that, being folks suddenly coming to be parted away from the failures (mistakes; errors; sins; misses of the target), we can (or: would; may) live in (or: by; for; with) the eschatological deliverance to fairness and equity, in rightwised relationships, in the Path of the Way pointed out (or: = in covenant participation), where ‘you folks are (or: were) healed (or: cured) in the wound (or: by the welt; in the bruise of the blow)." [Isa. 53:5]

Dikaiosunē is the realm of the covenant of the Spirit, in which to live; it is the character and quality of Christ by which we live; it is the goal of rightwised relationships for which we live; and it is the ability of the Spirit with which we live.  The NT's use of this word is primarily organic and relational.  In Eph. 5:9, Paul associates it with goodness/virtue and truth/reality, putting these three in the sphere of the FRUIT of The Light (other MSS read: of the Spirit), and again recall that he relates it to peace and joy "in union with the Holy Spirit" (i.e., in the covenant of the Spirit) as a quality of God's reign/kingdom/sovereign activity (Rom. 14:17).  Dikaiosunē is the Way pointed out, and it is life that is centered in, and in union with, God's Spirit.  It is the Christ life, the Anointed Path.  This is what is meant by the term traditionally called righteousness or justice.

I want to end this study with John Gavazzoni having reminded me that Jesus embodied, lived and demonstrated dikaiosunē; in Acts we see it being dispersed; in the letters we find it explained; and then in Revelation we see it consummated in the picture of a bride (humans) adorned for her husband (God) – which figures the union of marriage (1 Cor. 6:17), which then leads to the establishment of Family – the increase and growth of, and from, God (Col. 2:19).  We see the goal of the narrative about corporate Adam in Rev. 21: a set-apart city, a new Jerusalem that descends from the midst of heaven, from God, and with God dwelling with humanity in a process that progressively is "making all humanity new" (Rev. 21:5; reading panta as masculine) – and we see the ethnic multitudes (the nations) walking "by means of her Light" (Rev. 21:24).

To God be the glory,


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