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FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
 

FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL

OUR THEME FOR 2010
(Part 7)

JUSTICE VERSUS RIGHTEOUSNESS

Lest you be misled by the title to this paper, there is no conflict or contradiction between justice and righteousness. On the contrary, the two words as found in the scriptures are often interchangeable.

Consider two different translations of the Bible:[1]

Job (from our theme verse)
New American Bible (NAB): “his great justice owes no one an accounting.” (37:23c)
Revised Standard Version (RSV): “and abundant righteousness he will not violate.”

Other places in Job
NAB: “How can a man be just in God’s sight” (25:4a)
RSV: “How then can man be righteous before God?”

NAB: “Is it of advantage to the Almighty if you are just?” (22:3a)
RSV: “Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if your are righteous”

NAB: “and your justice only a fellow human being.” (35:8)
RSV: “and your righteousness a son of man.”

Psalms
NAB: “It is God who governs the world with justice” (Ps 9:9a)
RSV: “and he judges the world with righteousness” (Ps 9:8a).[2]

NAB: “You upheld my right and my cause, seated on your throne, judging justly.” (Ps 9:5).
RSV: “For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment.” (Ps 9:4).

NAB: “Then my tongue shall recount your justice” (Ps 35:28a)
RSV: “Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness”

NAB: “Your justice is like the highest mountains” (Ps 36:7a)
RSV: “Your righteousness is like the mountains of God” (Ps 36:6a)

NAB: “You love justice and hate wrongdoing” (Ps 45:8a)
RSV: “you love righteousness and hate wickedness.” (Ps 45:7a)

NAB: “The heavens proclaim divine justice” (Ps 50:6a)
RSV: “The heavens declare his righteousness”

NAB: “In your justice rescue and deliver me” (Ps 71:2a)
RSV: “In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me”[3]

The prophets
NAB: “They will be called oaks of justice” (Is 61:3)
RSV: “that they may be called oaks of righteousness”

NAB: “This is the name they give him: ‘The Lord our justice.’” (Jer 23:6b)
RSV: “And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

NAB: “Justice is with the Lord, our God” (Bar 1:15a)
RSV: “Righteousness belongs to the Lord our God”

NAB: “Justice, O Lord, is on your side” (Dn 9:7a)
RSV: “To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness”

NAB: “Sow for yourselves justice” (Hos 10:12a)
RSV: “Sow for yourselves righteousness”

NAB: “and the fruit of justice into wormwood” (Am 6:12)
RSV: “and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood”

NAB: “Seek justice, seek humility” (Zep 2:3b)
RSV: “seek righteousness, seek humility”

NAB: “and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice.” (Zec 8:8)
RSV: “and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”

NAB: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice” (Mal 3:20a)
RSV: “But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise” (Mal 4:2a)[4]

New Testament[5]
NAB: “But if our wickedness provides proof of God’s righteousness, what can we say?” (Rom 3:5a).
RSV: “But if our wickedness serves to show the justice of God, what shall we say?”

NAB: “You have loved justice and hated wickedness” (Heb 1:9a)
RSV: “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness”

If one is just, then one acts righteously. If one is righteous, then one will act justly. The two words are thus at times used interchangeably.

However, there are differences in meaning. Righteousness is acting according to the ways of God. Justice is giving to the other person what is his due. That seems clear enough. But if one lives according to God’s ways, then one will give what is due to others. And if one gives what is due to others, then one is living according to God’s ways. Thus again, justice and righteousness intersect and become interchangeable.

Another way of looking at both words is connecting justice with law.[6] To be just then is to live in conformity with the law.[7] But God’s righteousness is connected with the law, that is, His law.[8] To be righteous, then, is to live in obedience to God’s law, that is, moral or divine law. It is to be free from sin and the guilt of sin.

Still another way of differentiating the two words is this: to be righteous is something that we are; to be just is something that we do. But still, if we are righteous, then we are expected to do just acts. And if we do just acts, then we are fulfilling the righteousness of God and thus are right with Him.

The Almighty! Just and righteous is He.

(November 21, 2009)


[1] The New American Bible and the Revised Standard Version (Second Catholic Edition) are two of the most preferred Catholic Bible translations.
[2] The RSV translation of the psalms is a verse number behind the NAB because it does not count the superscription as a verse. The superscription is from pre-Christian Jewish tradition. It may contain a quick description of the setting of the psalm (e.g., see Ps 3:1) or technical liturgical terms (e.g., Ps 9:1; this probably refers to the melodic accompaniment for the psalm).
[3] There are more examples in the psalms, but let these suffice.
[4] RSV has a chapter 4, which is part of chapter 3 for NAB.
[5] The New American Bible itself used “justice” in many parts of its original New Testament translation (1970), and then used “righteousness” in its revised translation (1986). We see this in very many instances. Just to name some: Rom 1:17, 3:21,25,26, 4:3,5,6,9,11,13,22, 6:13,16,18,19,20, 8:10, 9:30,31, 10:3,5,6, 14:17; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 9:9, 11:15; Gal 3:6,21; Eph 4:24, 5:9, 6:14; Phil 1:11, 3:6,9; Heb 7:2, 11:7, 12:11; Jas 1:20, 2:23, 3:18; 1 Pet 3:14; 2 Pet 3:13.
[6] This is the more common way the world understands justice.
[7] Human laws are however not always just. Thus we refer to them as “unjust laws.” Examples would be the legalization of abortion, or the law on hate crimes which penalizes those who speak against homosexuality.
[8] The Ten Commandments. Also, Jesus’ law of love.
ed in original sin.

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