Justice And Righteousness

What does Biblical Justice and Righteousness Really Look Like?

A second look at two old terms that flow through the best selling book of all time.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”~ Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Have you ever come across a word so many times you no longer “hear” it because the definition has been cemented in your mind long ago? For years I have blown past two such words in the Bible because I “knew” what they meant… or at least I thought I did. 

Justice & Righteousness.

When you hear these two words what comes to mind? I’m betting I’m not the only one who has a fuzzy understanding at best. For many of us, (including my younger self), the term “justice” was defined by a gazillion action movies. Justice usually happened in the last scene when the antagonist met a painful end, (one that we hoped was loooong and drawn-out).

The term “righteousness”, it seems, is much fuzzier. Probably because it’s one of those toss-around words no one ever uses unless it’s in a sermon or a public prayer. For me, having grown up in the era of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority”, the word seemed like a perfect fit for SNL’s holier-than-thou “Church Lady”.

Back to the Original Language and a Richer Meaning.

So it was a stellar gift to hear a bigger view of these two words from the gents over at The Bible Project. Time and time again, Tim Mackie and Jon Collins help me reframe my understanding by going deep into the original language and making it relevant. In a geek-out, four-episode podcast, they unpack a deeper, richer, and more actionable understanding for these two terms. From this series, they then condensed the nuggets into this challenging, and convicting, six-minute summary video. Here’s the definition of both terms from the video:

“We are constantly redefining good and evil to our own advantage, while at the expense of others. Yeah, self-preservation. And the weaker somebody is the easier it is to take advantage of them. So in the biblical story, we see this happen on a personal level, but also in families, and then in communities, and then whole civilizations that create injustice, especially towards the vulnerable.”

  • Righteousness (Tzedakah)An ethical standard that emphasizes right relationships between people. It refers to a state of moral good in which you treat those around you with decency and fairness, recognizing that all of them are made in the image of God just like you.
  • Justice (Mishpat) – While justice can be used to talk about retributive justice in which a person is punished for their wrongdoings, most of the time the Bible uses the word justice to refer to restorative justice, in which those who are unrightfully hurt or wronged are restored and given back what was taken from them. It means taking steps to advocate for the vulnerable and changing social structures to prevent injustice.

Here are the links to the four podcasts that helped them process the ideas for the video.

Podcast Episode Title Podcast Episode Date
Episode 1 - October 9, 2017
Episode 2 - October 17, 2017
Episode 3 - October 23, 2017
Episode 4 - December 20, 2017

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Rick Kennedy

Rick Kennedy

When I’m not outside - preferably on a bike, skinny skis, or a hiking trail with family or friends - I’m inside trying to learn and practice what’s essential in life. My work hours are focused on helping clients with user-friendly, purposeful website development. In my other hours, I’m absorbing anything related to history, politics, macro-economics, relationships, or the way of Jesus.

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