Word Study ‘Righteous’ – Part 01 – Introduction

This is the first of a series of posts on the concept of righteousness and justification in the scriptures. I’ve worked through most (here they are) references to right, righteous, righteousness and just, justified and justification in the scriptures to do my own study on what the scriptures say about the concept. See my post on word Searches for some information on the issues involved in performing word searches.

In this post I will give an some examples of the actual Hebrew and Greek words used. I provide a brief introduction into the whole series and an overview of each post.

Righteous, Righteousness and Justified in Hebrew

The most common Hebrew nouns I looked at were;

  • Hebrew  צַדִּיק  Trans. tsaddîq (e.g. Gen 6.9) rendered as ‘righteous’.
  • Hebrew  צָדֵק Trans. tsadeq (e.g. Ps 143.2; Job 32.2) rendered as ‘righteous’ or ‘justified’
  • Hebrew  צֶדֶק Trans. tsedeq  (e.g. Dt 16.18) rendered as ‘righteousness’.
  • Hebrew צְדָקָה Trans, tsedaqah (e.g. Dt 6.25) rendered as ‘righteousness’.

The Hebrew word used in these passages is tsedeq, correctly translated as “rightness” or “righteousness.” A verb was formed from the root of this noun, tsadeq (or tsadoq), meaning “to be just, righteous.” Other similar verbs using the basic root were used: tsadiq meant “righteous or just” and tsedaqh meant “righteousness.” (Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

Righteous, Righteousness and Justified in Greek

  • Greek δικαίου Trans. dikaiou (e.g. Rom 5.7) rendered as ‘righteous person’.
  • Greek δίκαιοι Trans. dikaioi (e.g. 1 Pet 3.12) rendered as ‘the righteous’.
  • Greek δικαιοσύνη Trans. dikaiosynē (e.g. Rom 3.21) rendered as ‘righteousness’.
  • Greek Δικαιωθέντες Trans. dikaiōthentes (e.g. Rom 5.9) rendered as ‘justified’.
  • Greek δικαιοῦται Trans. dikaioutai (e.g. Jas 2.24; Gal 2.16) rendered as ‘justified’.
  • Greek ἐδικαιώθη Trans. edikaiōthē (e.g. Jas 2.21,25; Rom 4.2) rendered as ‘justified’.

There are a large number of cognates. Generally dictionaries list two or three of these.

System of interrelated concepts

Source: Learning English with easypacelearning.com

The concepts associated with righteous, righteousness and justification in the scriptures are interwoven in the Hebrew worldview, understanding of God and his relationships with his creation. To be properly understood they need be seen within the Hebrew worldview. We can’t just rip them out of context and impose other frameworks on them.

If one looks at all the passages which use the words ‘righteous’ and ‘righteousness’ what is clear is that they have been applied to God, individuals and people for at least one thousand four hundred years by the authors of scripture and the communities they were writing for.

What theological understanding drives them to say someone is righteous? What would they expect their audiences to understand when they used the word? Let’s assume people have been behaving in similar ways for most of the time. Do they make sense of their experience in different ways?

Bear in mind sometimes we can assume our experience and perspective of people is the same as the authors of scripture and their communities. If you look at the scriptures, their default and shared understanding was that some people were ‘righteous’. That is why they were called ‘righteous’.

Different people and cultures over time have different perceptions of humanity and how to describe them. Our perception of a person’s character and behaviour is inherently subjective. One person’s perception of reality may differ from another person’s. One culture’s perception of reality may differ from another culture. So when we look at the scriptures we should be wary of imposing our own subjective perception on the text and keep considering the perspectives of the authors who wrote the scripture and the original communities they wrote to.

For more than one thousand years the authors of scripture and the communities they wrote to carried the persistent belief that some people were righteous despite the odd verse to the contrary. The following study will help us to understand what the words mean in the scriptures and why they were applied to people so often.


Part 01 – Introduction

In this post I will give an some examples of the actual Hebrew and Greek words used. I provide a brief introduction into the whole series and an overview of each post.

Part 02 – Kingdom of God

In this post we look at the how righteousness language is applied to the kingdom of God. Today’s post especially applies to God himself. He is the righteous king over all creation.

Part 03 – Covenant

In this post we consider the covenantal connotations with righteousness in the scriptures. God as King makes covenants with his people. Covenants involve members, promises, commands, inheritance, blessings and curses. Covenants describe the relationships between God and his people.

Part 04 – Relationships

In this post I consider the references to individual righteous people and the group of people called ‘the righteous’. This post will go into a fair degree of detail describing the relational nature of righteousness in the scriptures. The relationships between God, the righteous and creation.

Part 05 – Ethical Standard

In this post we consider the ethical nature of righteousness and what it means over various stages in salvation history. The post also looks at rewards for righteous behaviour and if or not the righteous sin.

Part 06 – Law Court

In this post we look at the law court theme associated with righteousness and justification. Most of this has already been covered in the Kingdom of God. Here we cover some more specific passages to do with the divine law court.

Part 07 – Sinless Perfection

In this post we consider a few passages which state no one can be righteous. These are quite rare, but very commonly quoted to support the reformed doctrines of justification.

Part 08 – Justification

In this post I look at justification outside of Paul’s writings. What everyone else says about justification. I use this in part to give an understanding of Paul’s contemporaries. How everyone else used and employed justification language. And then fit Paul within this context.

Part 09 – Paul

In this post we consider Paul’s usage of righteous, righteousness and justification. Sinners become righteous. There are people who are righteous and live righteous lives. The righteous are identified as righteous by some means. What righteousness and blameless before God entails.

Part 10 – Dictionary Articles

In this post I quote some relevant articles from a few dictionaries showing what scholars are saying about righteousness and justification. You can evaluate my findings in their light.

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