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The state of being in the right or being vindicated. In the OT, “righteousness” is used of God (Ps 119:137-38; Ps 119:144; Isa 24:16), the king (Ps 45:4; Ps 45:7; Ps 72:1-7), the people (Ps 32:11; Ps 92:11), and individuals (Ezek 18:5-9) like Noah (Gen 6:9; 2Pet 2:5). Some interpreters stress righteousness as conforming to a norm, the law, or “what is right” (Deut 16:20). Others see it as relational, fitting the situation (Gen 38:26; 1Sam 24:17). Often a law-court setting is involved: the guilty are condemned, the innocent acquitted (Deut 25:1; Isa 5:23; Deut 16:18). This forensic (i.e., legal) use extends to God’s judgment too (Ps 7:7-11; Jer 2:4-13; Jer 12:1; Mic 6:1-8). God’s loyalty to (covenant) promises is likewise part of God’s righteousness (Neh 9:7-8; Neh 9:33; Dan 9:14-16). There is a strong ethical component of “upright conduct” throughout the OT (Ps 1:6; Ps 23:3; Prov 8:20; Prov 13:6; Prov 16:13; Prov 21:3; Lev 19:36). Righteousness also refers to God’s saving actions, to God’s “vindication” (Isa 62:1-2), “deliverance” (Isa 46:12-13; Isa 51:5; Isa 51:6; Isa 51:8) or “victory” (Isa 41:2), or “triumphs” (Judg 5:11). “The Lord is our righteousness” refers to God as savior (Jer 23:6). God is “justified” (Ps 51:4) in judging and as “righteous . . . Savior” (Isa 45:21). Hence the “righteous” become those who trust in God’s vindication (Ps 37:12-13; Jer 20:12). In the NT, Jesus seeks “sinners,” not the “righteous” of the day (Mark 2:17). Still, he calls for righteousness (Matt 5:20), but also speaks of it, like the kingdom, as God’s gift (Matt 5:6; Matt 6:33). After Easter, OT “righteousness” language was employed to express the meaning of Jesus’s death. Jesus is the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52) whose suffering and resurrection bring the unrighteous to God (1Pet 3:18; Rom 4:25). This saving righteousness means forgiveness (Rom 3:24-26), justification, sanctification, “washing” from sins (1Cor 6:11; 1Cor 1:30; 2Cor 5:21). Paul develops the forensic (1Cor 4:4) and ethical aspects (1Thess 2:10) of this when speaking of salvation (2Cor 3:9). Righteousness comes by faith, not “works of the law” (Gal 3:5). Paul appeals to the OT (Hab 2:4) and Abraham (Gen 15:6); God’s promise, fulfilled in Christ, is received by faith (Gal 3:6-18). These two ways to righteousness—one’s own based on the law, and that from God through faith in Christ—are contrasted in (Phil 3:9-11 and Rom 10:3-13). The saving righteousness of God becomes the theme of Romans (Rom 1:16-17), a righteousness received through Christ’s cross (Rom 3:21-31) and exemplified by Abraham (Rom 4). Its meaning is freedom (Gal 5:1; Gal 5:13) and life in the Spirit (Rom 5-8; esp. Rom 5:16-21).

  • Powell, Mark Allan, ed. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Abridged Edition. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.