Bible Words: A “Righteous” Cover Up

2011/01/judge_weird.jpg Photo ©Copyright/Courtesty of JoyStickDivision

Back by popular demand…more fun with Bible words.

Way back in the 4th and 5th century, a lot of Christianity was being reformulated and redefined by the Church of the West—the Roman Catholic Church. I say the “Church of the West” because there was also the “Church of the East,” in places like Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, and Alexandria. Now remember that in language and practice in the earliest days, “church” actually meant an assembling together of called-out people, not a building or institution like we think of today. Subtle but important difference.

So in this time of redefining Christianity in the Western Church—American Christianity’s roots—a theme of “be good or else” emerged as an attempt to control the masses (kudos to naturally occurring puns), largely spearheaded by two iconic fellows named Jerome and Augustine. These two men are known for popularizing heavy works-based teachings (including compulsory tithing and purgatory) into Church doctrine. I think this is likely where many of our Bible words and themes today became masked or twisted from their original meanings.

We have looked at various words such as, church, soul, satan, and christ, and today we are going to consider the word, “righteous.” As it stands in most modern translations, major emphasis is placed on righteousness, especially in the New Testament (NT). In other words, “Be good or else!” Now, I’m not watering down the Bible’s clear teaching of the need to be a “good” person, but what I’m contending here is that, by the misconstrued nature of this particular word, we have placed over-importance on an erroneous concept and missed an important teaching of Jesus (and the OT).

The word often translated as “righteous” or “righteousness” is actually the Greek word “dikaios,” and is better translated as “just” (adjective) or “justice” (noun). From the online etymology dictionary: “Gk. dikaios ‘just’ (in the moral and legal sense).”

Also, note that the Greek word for “judgment” (in the sense of arbitration) is “dikazo,” and the word for “judge” is dikastes.” So you can see clearly the development of a sense of justice and fairness, especially in administering Law.

In many places, translators left this word with its proper translation:

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just (dikaios) for the unjust (adikaios), so that He might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18, KJV).

“Masters, grant to your slaves justice (dikaios) and equality…” (Col. 4:1).

But in most other places, you will see them translate the word as “righteous.”

“…unless your righteousness (dikaios) surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

This verse has always been a stumper, especially since the Pharisees appeared to be very righteous in their outward adherence to the Law. Did that mean the rest of us have to be perfect? Well, had translators translated it correctly, the verse (and Bible for that matter) would make more sense. If you go to Matthew 23 and read Jesus’ vehement slams against the Pharisees, it’s all in the context of their injustice as administers of the Law. They were practically faultless in following rules, but they had no application or intent of restoring justice to those who were oppressed and who relied on their leadership.

So what’s the point? A major theme throughout the Bible is of a coming Kingdom on earth of JUSTICE, fairness, and uncorrupted rule. This is the intent throughout the Bible—restoring justice to the poor, needy, orphans, widows, and oppressed. Though this world is corrupt in its administration of “justice,” someday the tables will turn and those who were the humble underdogs will be ruling the Pharisees and hypocrites, setting things right (the first will be last and the last, first). This is a major teaching of Jesus, and it’s not just about being a good person.

Let me demonstrate through one last concept in the OT. If you look all the way back in Genesis 18 in the Greek Septuagint, you will find Abraham asking God if He will spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there are any “JUST” people in the cities, not “righteous” as most translations render:

“And Abraham approaching said, ‘You would not destroy together the just with the impious, and the just will be as the impious? If there be fifty just in the city, will you destroy them’” (Gen. 18:23)?

If you look ahead to Ezekiel 16:49, once again this passage brings illumination. Ezekiel declares exactly why S&G were destroyed:

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”

Attending to the needs of the poor and defending the rights of the oppressed (orphans and widows) is taught consistently throughout Scriptures as the way to administer Divine Justice. So this is the theme of the Scriptures—restoring justice to ALL through a just people ruling and governing in the future Kingdom of God.

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  • TedB

    Part I


    I hope you are well! I just realized that I told you that I'd get back to you on something but can't remember what that was. Sorry. Do you recall what that was about? My busyness has gotten the better of me lately.

    The Ezekial quote doesn't seem right to me. The word 'but' is my issue (which appears in the ESV but not others). I believe that it was a combination of things that led to the destruction of S&G.

    • TedB

      Part II

      NIV “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

      KJV 49Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

      Even if the word 'but' is intended, I should think that it would be as more of a compliment to having wealth (i.e. had abundant food BUT would not care for the poor and needy).

      Also, I'm of the belief that the underlying message of scripture is that 'Christ is Lord'. Am I incorrect here?


      • jferwerd

        Hey Ted, no worries on what you were going to get back to me about.

        As to your comments…not sure where we differ on the EZ passage. Arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, and not helping the poor and needy are all ways of being "unjust" in the way we deal with others. And the passage says, "Now this was the sin of Sodom…Behold this was the iniquity of Sodom…" Regardless of whether the "but" occurs (I'm a little fuzzy on your point there), EZ is defining what is the sin of Sodom. Feel free to re-explain your position if I'm not getting you.

        • TedB

          It appeared to me that the 'but' was a central pivot point in that verse based on the point you were making, because of the bold & underline.

          If I'm not being clear than I blame it on the fall that I took this morning while shoveling. My head is still ringing a bit. :-)

          • jferwerd

            Ah ha! That explains a lot! Take two aspirin and comment in the morning. :D

  • Brian

    Love the Picture you choose. You sure hit another home run with this one. It all comes down to doing what is right for God, caring for those he has instructed us to. Sad part is most people today are lead to think if they give to the church it is going to help those people. Truth is most of it goes to support a greed over material things of this world to those whos desires are lest than "JUST". The old me first attuditude.

  • Brian

    Part 2;
    It never stops amazing me how most Church’s can give a large Salaries to a Pastor. The real kicker is when they try to comfort you when you are in financial destitute. Then they try to be compassionate and tell you how much they understand what you are going through.

    Well my response to a Pastor and good friend, how do you even have a clue. You have a house to live in (No Rent, No Bills to pay most everything is paid) plus you get a Salary that more then covers anything the Church doesn’t pay for.
    So my question is and was always how in the Hell do you even have any idea what I am going through?

    This is my example of how “UNJUST” the world around us still is in God’s eyes.

    • jferwerd

      That is a fantastic point Brian. And it's not just pastors. Many of us came from relatively luxurious homes on Sunday morning and ignored the needs of the poor. Guilty as charged. I'm so grateful that God is building a new me to be more attuned and helpful to the poor, but I'm sure I still have a long way to go.

    • When a member of a church goes into debt, it's called irresponsible, but when a church takes a loan out for millions to build a new building and facilities, it's called faith. :-)

  • Brian

    Part 3
    I recently found out that the High Priest during the time of Jesus was not appointed as directed in Torah, he was appointed by the Roman Governor, so I beg the question what makes us so different then the Jew’s in the time of Jesus. Man is appointing our Pastors and Priests to tend to God’s flocks with the process of Ordainment.

    So a question I would like and answer to is who’s blessing are you really getting at your Ordination, Man’s or God’s?

    Sorry I will come down off my high horse now.

    • jferwerd

      I couldn't agree with your assessment more! I have often thought this, even in years past while sitting in church!

  • Brian

    Ok make me pull out the Hebrew translation, LOL

    Ezekiel 16:49 New JPS ( JEWISH Publication Society) published 1988 "Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom:arrogance! She and her daughter had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquillity; yet she did not support the poor and the needy.

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