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Righteousness (also called rectitude) is an important theological concept in Judaism and Christianity. It is an attribute that implies that a person's actions are justified, and can have the connotation that the person has been "judged" or "reckoned" as leading a life that is pleasing to God. Righteousness is also used as an attribute for God. Psalm 2 speaks of one being shielded by God and receiving favor because of righteousness.


The English word righteous was coined by William Tyndale, who remodelled the word after an earlier word rihtwis, which would have yielded Modern English *rightwise or *rightways. He used it to translate the Hebrew root צדקים (TzDYQ), tzedek, which appears more than five hundred times in the Hebrew Bible, and the Greek word δικαιος (dikaios), which appears more than two hundred times in the New Testament.

Righteousness in the Hebrew Bible

Righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct. (E.g., Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:1; Psalm 1:6; Proverbs 8:20) It is used in a legal sense; while the guilty are judged, the guiltless are deemed righteous. God's faithfulness to His covenant is also a large part of His righteousness. (Nehemiah 9:7-8)

Righteousness also relates to God's role as saviour; God is a "righteous saviour"; (Isaiah 61) and a deliverer. (Isaiah 46:12-13) The righteous are those who trust that they will be vindicated by the Lord God. (Psalm 37:12-13).

Hebrew Definition of Righteousness


The Hebrew word for righteousness is tseh'-dek, tzedek, Gesenius's Strong's Concordance:6664—righteous, integrity, equity, justice, straightness. The root of tseh'-dek is tsaw-dak', Gesenius's Strong:6663—upright, just, straight, innocent, true, sincere. It is best understood as the product of upright, moral action in accordance with some form of divine plan.

In the Book of Job the title character is introduced to us as a person who is "perfect" in righteousness. This does not mean that he is sinless."Perfect" in this sense means that his righteousness permeates every relationship of his life as his working principle. After all, righteousness is a matter of relationships - with God, with things, and with other people. The biblical definition of righteousness involves the inherent quality of God. God is right because He is righteous, therefore God can only act righteously. In one instance the word means being right; in another it is used to mean doing right; in still another case it means putting right. Job qualifies as a righteous person on each of these counts, so much so that he is commended by God as "wholly righteous" or, translated into our terms, "perfect."

Righteousness as it is understood in the Old Testament is a thoroughly Hebraic concept at variance with the common understanding of the term. The failure to comprehend its meaning is perhaps the most responsible for the view of the Old Testament religion as legalistic and as far removed from the graciousness of the New Testament. See also supersessionism, Biblical law in Christianity, and Christian-Jewish reconciliation.

Righteousness in the New Testament

The New Testament continues the Hebrew Bible's tradition of the ethical (1 Thessalonians 2:10) and legal (1 Corinthians 4:4) aspects of righteousness, but adds the element that Jesus embodies righteousness, (Acts 3:14). According to the New Testament, Jesus came to the world to address the needs, not of "the righteous", but of "sinners," (Mark 2:17). Righteousness, like the Kingdom of Heaven, is God's gift through grace, (Matthew 5:6, Matthew 6:33).

Paul of Tarsus speaks of two ways, at least in theory, to achieve righteousness: through the Torah, the law of Moses; and through faith in the atonement made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, (Romans 10:3-13). He repeatedly emphasizes that faith is the only effective way. For example, just a few verses earlier, he says the Jews did not attain the law of righteousness, because they sought it not by faith, but by works (Romans 9:30-33). The New Testament speaks of a salvation founded on God's righteousness, as exemplified throughout the history of salvation narrated in the Old Testament, (Romans 9-11).

The apostle James speaks of the relationship between works of righteousness and faith (James 2:14-26), saying that "faith without works is dead." Righteous acts according to James include works of charity (James 2:15-16) as well as avoiding sins against the law of Moses (James 2:11-12).

See also the discussion at Sola fide.

Saint Peter describes Lot as a righteous man in 2 Peter 2:7-8.

Type of saint

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, "Righteous" is a type of saint who is regarded as a holy person under the Old Covenant (Old Testament Israel) but also sometimes used for married saints of the New Covenant (the Church). According to Orthodox theology, the Righteous saints of the Old Covenant were not able to enter into heaven until after the death of Jesus on the cross (Hebrews 11:40), but had to await salvation in the Bosom of Abraham.

See also

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