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The New Testament and Justice PDF Print E-mail
Written by Calvin Fox   
Monday, 14 March 2011 08:55

In the New Testament, the word most often used for “Justice” is Judgment (interestingly, the Greek word often used is “krisis” from which we get “crisis“).  Jesus and Paul emphasize the future- the day of Judgment (krisis) when God shall pronounce a sentence of either  Life or Death for every person who has ever lived.   That will be the ultimate Justice.  The synonym for Justice is “Righteousness“.

The 92 texts using the word “Righteousness” (dikaiosune- dik-ah-yos-oo'-nay) can be separated into two groups.  Evangelical Christians are very familiar with the first group:

“Righteousness” is defined as Being Right, or having Right Standing, before God, through the work of Christ.  It is a variant of the word “Justified”- we are justified (declared righteous) in Christ through faith alone.  Sinners deserve punishment.  In His Justice, God doles out that punishment- upon Himself.  He absorbs His own losses.   The debt owed to Him by transgressors of His Law is cancelled.  Thus Justice is served- God has done the right thing.  His Law has been satisfied.  By virtue of being “in Christ”, sinners are not only forgiven (released from their debt to God), but are seen by God as Justified, i.e.- Righteous.  Sinners can experience the end times Judgment right now and know now how they will fare then.

Romans 1:17 For in [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith

Romans 3:22…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [is] for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes

1 Corinthians 1:30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made … our righteousness

Philippians 3:9 [Paul did not want] a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.


The second group of verses usually defines the word “righteousness” to mean “doing right”.   “Doing right” has had many meanings among Christians through the years.  Generally, it has meant maintaining standards or rules of morality current at the time, eg- temperance, virginity before marriage, no children out of wedlock, no divorce, etc.  It also includes virtues like honesty, industriousness, thrift.

But the Greek word, interpreted as “right standing” or “being right” in the first group of texts, also can mean “doing right”.  (dikaios dik'-ah-yos  81x -righteous, keeping the commands of God).  This is the same as the Old Testament meaning of “righteousness” (tsedeqah).  It may be translated as being “Just”, defined as living, acting, according to the laws and norms that reflect God’s character and will.  This concern to be just personally can not be separated from the need to  extend Justice among others.  Indeed, God’s command to the Government and the Courts to pursue Justice as defined in the Torah can not be ignored by Christians who are committed both to being just and to obeying God.  For Christians to “establish Justice” is to work to the end that God’s Laws and Norms or Principles are honored and practiced in our society, secular and pluralistic though it is.

The word ‘righteousness’ is not usually translated, as “Justice” in English translations of the New Testament and Evangelicals typically (with a few wonderful exceptions (the “Wilberforces“) do not consider “seeking justice” as a Biblical mandate for them.  Evangelicals, generally, have been seriously misled on this topic and the New Testament does, indeed, mandate Justice.   Many today identify God with Love, in the sense of care, compassion, support and acceptance (usually in terms of individuals).  Certainly, God is Love- but the God of Scripture is inseparable from Righteousness and Justice.  The latter are expressions of His love.  To love others requires seeking Justice for them.  Love without Justice as it is defined in the Bible is not love.

Here are verses in the New Testament that may be defined as commands to Christians to “establish Justice’” in Society, as well as being commands to live a just (righteous) life personally-

Matthew 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [JUSTICE]

Matthew 5:10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' [JUSTICE’S] sake, for theirs is the kingdom

Matthew 6:33 …seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness [JUSTICE]

Romans 6:13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness [INJUSTICE], but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness [JUSTICE]. …16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness [JUSTICE]? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness [JUSTICE]. 19 …For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness [JUSTICE] …. 20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness [JUSTICE]

Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness [JUSTICE] and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 9:9 As it is written, ”[God] has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness [JUSTICE] endures forever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness [JUSTICE].

1 Timothy 6:11 …O man of God, …Pursue righteousness [JUSTICE]

Timothy 2:22 …pursue righteousness [JUSTICE]

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness [JUSTICE]

Hebrews 11:33 [our heroes of Faith are those] who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice [RIGHTEOUSNESS] obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions

James 1:20 …for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness [JUSTICE] that God requires.

James 3:18 a harvest of righteousness [JUSTICE] is sown in peace by those who make peace.

1 Peter 3:14 even if you should suffer for righteousness' [JUSTICE’S] sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled

2 Peter 2:5 [God] preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness [JUSTICE]

2 Peter 2:21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness [JUSTICE] than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them

2 Peter 3:13 we are waiting for … a new earth in which righteousness [JUSTICE] dwells.

It is plain to see that there are many verses in the New Testament that admonish Christians to practice a life style of righteousness, doing right, obeying the Law of God and to pursue Justice.  It is not optional.  It is integral to being a Christian.  From God’s perspective, a Christian who does not pursue Justice in society is an anomaly (deviation from the expected, abnormal).  But it is absolutely essential that the Justice pursued be defined according to the Bible.

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