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Righteousness (also called rectitude) is a theological concept in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. 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.

William Tyndale (Bible translator into English in 1526) 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 δίκαιος (dikaios), which appears more than two hundred times in the New Testament.


Righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct (for example, Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:1; Psalm 1:6; Proverbs 8:20). In the Book of Job the title character is introduced to us as a person who is perfect in righteousness.


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. William Lane Craig argues that we should think of God as the paradigm, the locus, the source of all righteousness.[1] Matthew's gospel contains the most utterances of the word. In Matthew's account of the baptism encounter Jesus tells the prophet "it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" as Jesus requests that John perform the rite for him. The Sermon of the Mount contains the memorable commandment "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness". The Greek word dikaiosune also means justice[2] and the sole translation using this rendering for Matthew 6:33 is the New English Bible.

Jesus asserts the importance of righteousness by saying in Matthew 5:20, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus also re-affirms the Laws of Moses by saying in Matthew 5:19, "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

However, Paul the Apostle speaks of two ways, at least in theory, to achieve righteousness: through the Law of Moses (or Torah); and through faith in the atonement made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3-13). Some interpret that he repeatedly emphasizes that faith is the only effective way. Reference (Romans 4:5). (Romans 3:21-24). For example, just a few verses earlier, he states 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). Paul writes to the Romans that righteousness comes by faith: "...a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" (Romans 1:17)

In II Cor. 9:9 the New Revised Standard Version has a footnote that the original word has the meaning of 'benevolence' and the Messianic Jewish commentary of David Stern affirms the Jewish practice of 'doing tzedakah' as charity in referring to the Matt. 6 and II Cor. 9 passages.[3]

James 2:14-26 speaks of the relationship between works of righteousness and faith, 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).

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

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: Harrowing of Hell).


Righteousness is mentioned several times in the Qur'an.[4] The Qur'an says that a life of righteousness is the only way to go to Heaven.

We will give the home of the Hereafter to those who do not want arrogance or mischief on earth; and the end is best for the righteous.

— Qur’an, Sura 28 (Al-Qasas) Verse 83

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

— Qur'an Surah 49: Verse 13

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the east and the west [in prayer]. But righteous is the one who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Scripture and the Prophets; who gives his wealth in spite of love for it to kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the wayfarer, to those who ask and to set slaves free. And (righteous are) those who pray, pay alms, honor their agreements, and are patient in (times of) poverty, ailment and during conflict. Such are the people of truth. And they are the God-Fearing.

— Al-Quran Surah 2:Verse 177(Al-Baqarah)

See also


  1. Craig, William Lane. "Doctrine of God (part 19)". Reasonable Faith. Retrieved 27 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Young, Robert. (May 2011) Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible. p. 819. ISBN 978-1-56563-810-5
  3. Stern, David H. (1992) Jewish New Testament Commentary: A companion volume to the 'Jewish New Testament'. p. 30 and p. 512. ISBN 965-359-008-1
  4. http://www.wefound.org/texts/Islam_files/IslamRighteousness.htm