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ropes: righteousness and the righteousness of GOD. 211 

" Righteousness " and " The Righteousness 
of God " in the Old Testament and in 
St. Paul. 



OF all the chief theological terms used by the Apostle Paul the 
one in regard to the meaning of which there is least agree- 
ment among competent scholars is perhaps " the righteousness of 
God." A glance at any conspectus of the views held by interpreters 
shows a bewildering variety, allowing, indeed, of a certain classification 
into groups, but presenting, even at this late stage of the discussion, 
scarcely any approximation to agreement. 1 And when the interpre- 
tations are examined in detail they prove unsatisfactory. Some of 
them can be applied only to a part of the passages, leaving other 

1 The views of the term " righteousness of God " held by many different com- 
mentators will be found summarized and classified in James Morison, Critical 
Exposition of the Third Chapter of Romans, 1866, pp. 314-323, and Th. Haring, 
AiKaioo-tfj'i) 0eoO bei Paulus, 1896. The conclusions to which the present study 
leads are not unlike the view suggested by some older writers, and advocated, 
though without the necessary proof that the interpretation is a possible one, by 
Ritschl, Rechtfertigung und Versohnung, ii., pp. 103 ff., I 1 3 ff. A similar view is 
elaborately but unsatisfactorily argued in Haring's monograph. 

The unconvincing outcome of any discussion in which the history of the idea 
is not fully treated may be seen in H. Holtzmann's interesting review of Haring in 
Theol. Liter aturzeitung, 1896, cols. 645 f., in which Holtzmann shows that he is 
shaken in his earlier view, but does not find himself in the clear. Similarly 
Archibald Robertson, in an article on " The Righteousness of God " in The 
Thinker, November, 1893, vol. iv., pp. 429-438, presents an acute and generally 
sound discussion of the Pauline passages, and refers to the Old Testament idea 
of righteousness, but seems to confess (p. 437) that he has not succeeded in 
finding the " vital link " between the " heterogeneous " elements which are found 
in this " composite idea." He says, " It is easier to formulate St. Paul's position 
in words than to explain the synthesis of ideas which underlies his language." 

In the discussion in Cremer's Worterbuch der neutestamentlichen Gr'dcitafl, 
1902, will be found references to the literature, a complete assemblage of the 
material, and, buried under much obscurity, a hint of the true solution. For 
other literature see the references given below. 


cases of the term in the same immediate context to be differently 
explained. Others are an evident combination of two or more diver- 
gent, if not contradictory, interpretations, and break down of their 
own weight. Still others, which closely agree with the view that has 
commended itself to the present writer, have been presented with 
no adequate explanation of those particular circumstances connected 
with the history of the idea and phrase which alone make this view 
possible. These more correct interpretations have therefore been 
exposed to the same objections as many of the others, namely, that 
they are psychologically impossible, since, so far as is made to appear, 
no rational mind could so use the term " righteousness of God." 2 

The lack of certainty in the interpretation of the terms " righteous- 
ness " and " righteousness of God," is in marked contrast to the 
firm march of investigation and general agreement in the case of the 
kindred word " justify." That, as is now almost universally perceived 
by Protestant scholars, meant " acquit." In the case of " righteous- 
ness " scholars have failed to agree because they have confined them- 
selves too closely to the analysis of the Pauline context, and have 
neglected the suggestions of older usage. 3 When that is understood 

2 The latest essay at the solution of this problem is contained in the articles by 
Professor James Drummond, in the Hibbert Journal for October, 1902, and Janu- 
ary, 1903. Dr. Drummond's view is that Paul's great antithesis between the 
righteousness of works and the righteousness of faith is to be understood as 
between an external " conformity of our conduct to a righteous law " and an 
inward conformity of the will, in which the purposes of the heart have been 
so transformed that the man stands " on the side of God, with the divine life 
working in and through him, and yielding with the spontaneous ease of love the 
righteous acts which formerly were wrung from an unfilial heart." This latter 
state of man is called " the righteousness of God," and is at the same time " an 
attribute or predicate of God." The possibility of this combination of a state of 
man and an attribute of God is explained by a general appeal to " the example 
of Philo." 

Dr. Drummond's description of Paul's doctrine presents it in a form easily 
acceptable to the modern mind. For practical purposes some such modification 
of Paul is probably necessary and salutary. But Dr. Drummond's statement 
will hardly be deemed a satisfactory account of exactly what Paul himself meant. 
His interpretation is too much concerned with psychological intelligibility under 
our modern conceptions to do full justice to the particular turn which Paul's 
thought took. He does not lay a sufficiently broad basis of dispassionate inquiry 
into the history of the idea and term in question, and consequently does not 
reach the ancient point of view from which the idea was a clear, if not a simple, 
one, and the term was appropriately chosen for its expression. 

3 The useful discussion of the term in G. B. Stevens's New Testament Theology, 
or the treatment in his article, " Righteousness in the New Testament," in 


and brought into relation with Paul's language, his use of the term 
becomes perfectly natural and clear. The result is not at all revolu- 
tionary ; it is, indeed, to my mind recommended by the fact that it 
has been from time to time suggested and maintained, and that it is 
wholly in accord with the doctrines of Paul as generally understood. 
But it seems to me that the grounds for it have not hitherto been 
adequately presented. It certainly throws welcome light on several 

The proper method and order in such an investigation is surely first 
to become familiar with the use of the term in the Old Testament 
and other pre-Christian Jewish writings, and then to observe how far 
this usage explains the usage of the New Testament writers, and 
how far they have introduced new elements, whether from secular 
Greek thought and usage or through their own Christian conceptions. 
In the investigation we must take pains to avoid the error of Dr. 
Hatch j we must not say, as he does, that a word uniformly used in 
the LXX. as the translation of a Hebrew word " must be held to have 
in" the New Testament "the same meaning as that Hebrew word." 4 
That is sometimes, but by no means necessarily, the case. 

Without delaying to defend this method of approach further than 
to remark Paul's own statement (Rom. 3 21 ) that the righteousness of 
God has been " witnessed by the law and the prophets," I turn at 
once to the group of words which in the Old Testament associate 
themselves with righteousness. The root is pllt (sdq)? That its 

Hastings's Dictionary of the Bible, may be referred to as illustrating such an 
unaccountable omission to consider the Old Testament roots of Paul's thought. 
The commentators usually refer to some Old Testament parallels, but most of 
them draw nothing from these passages for their understanding of Paul. Yet 
some of the older commentators, e.g. Calvin, Hammond, Koppe, Rosenmuller, 
did not overlook the significance of the Old Testament analogies ; their treat- 
ment, however, was commonly unmethodical. 

4 Essays in Biblical Greek, p. 35. 

5 The review of the Hebrew usage in the following pages contains nothing 
that is not familiar to students of the Old Testament. The best account of this 
group of words is that given in James Skinner's article, " Righteousness in Old 
Testament," in Hastings's Dictionary of the Bible, 1902. An important mono- 
graph is that of E. Kautzsch, Ueber die Derivate des Slammes piJt im alttest. 
Sprachgebrauch, 1881. For the literature see Skinner's article, Cremer's Worter- 
Imch*, 1902, and W. E. Addis's article, "Righteousness," in the Encyclopaedia 
Biblica, 1903. A brilliant and illuminative exposition of the usage in Isaiah 
40-66 will be found in G. A. Smith, " The Book of Isaiah " (in the Expositor's 
Bible), ii., chap. 14. For some valuable suggestions I am indebted to Professor 
G. F. Moore. 


derivation is unknown is no hindrance to the understanding of its 
meaning in actual usage. It will be best to look first at the verb 
" to be righteous " (sddaq), and the adjective " righteous " (saddiq), 
and later at the nouns meaning " righteousness " (sedeq, sedaqah) . 

The most concrete, and therefore in all probability the relatively 
primary, meaning of the verb is " to be in the right," " to have a 
righteous cause," as if in a law-case before a judge. This is properly 
called a forensic, as distinguished from the broader ethical, meaning, 
but it does not necessarily imply that the case is actually brought to 
trial. With respect to any act of any person the question may arise 
whether it is according to the conventions of customary law ; if it is 
so, he is pronounced to be in the right by any one who has occasion 
to refer to the act. Examples of this fundamental meaning are 
abundant. Thus in Gen. 38 26 , Judah says of Tamar, " She is more 
righteous than I," and he refers, not exactly to what we should call 
righteousness in the proper ethical sense, but rather to the strength 
of her case in defence of her unusual conduct ; " she is in the right 
as against me." So in the direction forjudges, Ex. 2$, "The inno- 
cent and righteous slay thou not," and vs. 8 , " A bribe . . . perverteth 
the words of the righteous." Again in Ex. o 27 , after the earlier plagues, 
Pharaoh confesses himself beaten, and says, " I have sinned this 
time: Jahveh is righteous {i.e. in the right), and I and my people 
are wicked (i.e. in the wrong)." 6 In these cases the meaning is not 
the God-fearing or the morally excellent, but the party in court 
which has a good case ; not probus, but rectus in curia. 

In accordance with this meaning of the simple verb is the develop- 
ment of meaning in the other stems. The causative (hiph'il) stem 
(hisdiq) means " to put in the right," " to vindicate," " to acquit," 
" to decide in one's favor." 7 Deut. 25 1 is the stock example of this, 
" If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judg- 
ment, and the judges judge them ; then they shall justify (hisdiqu) 
the righteous, and condemn (hirshtu) the wicked." 8 Similarly the 

6 For the as yet not perfectly elucidated connection here exemplified between 
righteousness and victory (cf. Aram. zeM), see F. Schwally, Der heilige Krieg im 
alien Israel, 1901, p. 8, and Wildeboer, in Zeitschr. fur alttest. Wissenschaft, 1902, 
pp. 167-169. Ps. 51 6 (50 s ), where LXX. (perhaps under Aramaic influence) repre- 
sents the parallel terms (tisdaq, tizkeh), by St-Kaiad^, viKi<rrfi, is of course a chief 
instance in this inquiry. 7 For this the LXX. has 5i K aibw, the Vulgate justifico. 

8 The opposite of saddiq is rasha , meaning the party in the wrong. This root 
has had a development in many ways parallel to that of piX. The hiph'il stem 
of the verb means " to decide against one," " to condemn " ; on the other hand 
the root came to have the general ethical sense of " wicked." 


2I 5 

pi'el stem (siddeq) has the active transitive signification " to put 
another in the right," " to give him the advantage," with no refer- 
ence to positive righteousness of character or conduct. Thus in 
Ezek. 16 51 the prophet says to one of several sisters, all outrageously 
wicked, " Thou has multiplied thine abominations more than they, 
and hast justified (fesaddeqi) thy sisters by all thine abominations 
which thou hast done." Now it is evident that my sins cannot 
make you good, but they can give you the advantage and make your 
case a good one when it comes to a comparison between us. So also 
the nipKal stem (nisdaq) is the passive of the hipK'il, and means " to 
be put in the right," " to be acquitted," " to receive a favorable ver- 
dict " ; cf. Dan. 8 14 . 

With a people, however, whose law and morality were inextricably 
intertwined, the development from the limited signification " Tight- 
ness of one's case " in a particular controversy to " righteousness " 
in general was inevitable. So the verb and adjective are both used 
in a full ethical sense of the man whose conduct and character con- 
form to the will of God and the current principles of morality. Ex- 
amples of this are among the most familiar passages of the Old 
Testament. Ps. i 6 , " The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous," 
is one case out of scores. 9 

In accordance with the meanings seen in the verb and adjective 
are the meanings of the noun " righteousness," for which the Hebrew 
language possesses two synonyms (sedeq, sedaqah), bearing essentially 
the same signification. Righteousness means, first, " the attribute of 
being in the right," secondly, " the attribute of being righteous." 
The relation of these meanings to each other should be clear from 
our study of the verb and adjective without further co'mment. Both 
the meanings concern us, and require discussion. 

From the former, or forensic, signification, " the attribute of being 
in the right," we get a series of uses in Hebrew which are foreign to 
our ordinary use of the term " righteousness " and are of importance 

9 The hiph'il and nipKal are scarcely ever used in this general moral sense for 
the obvious reason that, while it is natural to speak of putting a man in the right 
(i.e. deciding in his favor) and of being put in the right (i.e. gaining one's case), 
the idea of making a man righteous in the sense of transforming his moral char- 
acter is one that seldom needed expression in ancient times, and on that account 
had usually to be expressed by more explicit terms or phrases, such as those used 
by Ezekiel (^-^ when he speaks of God's making men clean, of his giving a 
new heart, and putting a new spirit in men whereby men shall be caused to walk 
in his statutes and keep his ordinances. The solitary clear case of hisdiq in this 
sense is Dan. I2 3 , "They that turn many to righteousness " (cf. also Is. 53"). 


for the solution of our problem. From meaning the attribute or 
property of being in the right or of having a righteous cause, the 
word came to mean the righteous cause itself, " one's right." In 
this sense it is used in 2 Sam. it) 29 , "What further claim {sedaqah, 
righteousness) have I to cry to the king?" Neh. 2 20 "Ye have no 
portion, nor right {sedaqah), nor memorial, in Jerusalem." Compare 
also the instructive passages, 1 Kings 8 32 and Dan. g 7 . Further, 
righteousness {sedeq) can mean the status of the man whose righteous 
cause is actually recognized by the judge as righteous, who not only 
is in the right, but has gained his rights, so far as the judge can give 
them to him. This seems to be the meaning in Is. 5 s (Woe unto 
them), "that justify the wicked for a bribe and take away the 
righteousness of the righteous from him " (cf. also dm, Is. io 2 ) ; of 
this development of the meaning we shall hear more later. 

Of the other, or ethical, signification, " the attribute of being 
righteous," that is, righteousness in our modern sense, one very im- 
portant application is to be noticed in particular. The words " right- 
eous " and " righteousness " are used in the Old Testament with special 
frequency of the upright judge himself. And righteousness not only 
means the quality of righteousness or justice pertaining to the judge 
and to his decision, but also denotes the act itself in which this quality 
is embodied. The judge is just, and in his just decision he does justice, 
i.e. an act of justice. Of many examples, 2 Sam. 8 15 Ps. <f may be 
mentioned. Now the righteousness of the judge was most commonly 
thought of by Hebrews with reference to his acquittal or vindication 
of the righteous, rather than with reference to his justice in sending 
retribution upon the wicked. It was not so much the justice of the 
judge rendering strictly to each party according to his deserts which 
impressed the mind of the Israelites, as rather the disposition of the 
judge to do justice to the righteous and downtrodden humble man. 
As the poor man has no influence by which he can impress the 
judge, any consideration shown him must be from righteousness 
alone. Hence righteousness and mercy came to be associated. 
The Israelite habitually looked at the justice of a judge from the 
point of view, not of a disinterested outsider, but of an innocent and 
defenceless suitor for protection. 10 An excellent illustration of this 
habit of mind is Is. i 17 , where "judge the fatherless" and "plead 
for the widow" are parallel. See also Is. n 4 Jer. 22 wl6 Deut. 24 17 
Ps. io 18 82 s . 

Thus the quality called sedeq corresponded, indeed, in some 

10 Cf. Wellhausen, Geschichte Israels, i., p. 432, note. 

ropes: righteousness and the righteousness of god. 217 

respects to our righteousness, which is the best translation for it ; 
but it came to differ widely in its chief practical associations, and so 
in the development of its less concrete senses, from the Roman 
justitia, the constans et perpetua voluntas jus suum cuique tribuendi, 
upon which the modern notion of justice or judicial righteousness has 
been erected. 

This tendency of the term " righteousness," which, as applied to a 
judge, is here seen to verge toward the sense " mercy," was doubtless 
reenforced by a parallel tendency in the same direction, due to another 
cause. In later Israel almsgiving and mercy (with fasting and prayer) 
became more and more prominent in the ideal of righteousness, and 
so the word " righteousness," in the sense of general moral excellence, 
tended to mean especially almsgiving and mercy. Some of the cases 
in which the LXX. translates sedeq, sedaqah, by lAeos, eAo^oo-wij, 
may be due to this tendency ; and it is clearly seen in the variant 
reading in Matt. 6 1 , where the more specific tkeqixoavvr) has been 
substituted in many manuscripts for Stxatoo-wi;. The two tendencies 
cooperated to produce an extraordinary development of meaning in 
later Hebrew. There righteousness has even come to mean mere 
leniency on the part of a judge toward the poor and pitiable suitor. 
In one famous passage a judge is said out of "righteousness," i.e. 
mercy, to have paid out of his own pocket the debt which his 
" justice " had compelled him to declare due. 11 Righteousness {i.e. 
mercy) is repeatedly contrasted with strict justice. 

Now many of the senses of righteousness which we have reviewed 
are naturally applied to God. Thus not only in the general sense of 
moral excellence or perfection was the righteousness of God frequently 
referred to by the Jews, but especially in the sense of the judge's 
merciful righteousness, the righteousness of God, who is the supreme 
ruler and judge, came to be a common expression. Sometimes, 
indeed, Israelites attributed their punishment to the motive of God's 
righteousness (as Neh. 9 s3 Dan. 9", etc.), but more frequently they 
appealed to his righteousness (as we should to his goodness or mercy) 
when they wished deliverance from their enemies, or from any need. 12 
Religious men thought of the nation as a plaintiff with a righteous 

11 Bab. Sanh. 6 s . For abundant examples of the usage in late Hebrew, see 
G. Dalman, Die richterliche Gerechtigkeit im Alien Testament, 1 897; also Diestel 
in Jahrbucher fur deutsche Theologie, i860, p. 238, note I, with references to 
older literature; and Skinner's article, "Righteousness in Old Testament," in 
Hastings's Dictionary of the Bible, iv., p. 281. 

12 Cf. Dillmann, Alttestamentliche Theologie, 1895, pp. 273 f. 


cause. Similarly " the righteous acts of the Lord " which Samuel 
recounts to the people (i Sam. 12 7 ) are not, as we might expect, 
manifestations of his justice and uprightness, distributing to all 
according to their deserts, but examples of his gracious and unde- 
served goodness to Israel in spite of repeated apostasy and rebellion 
on the nation's part. 

We see, then, that among the various senses of the term " righteous- 
ness" which we have thus far found in the Old Testament, (1) the 
general sense of moral excellence is predicable both of man and of 
God as a simple property or attribute. (2) In addition to this 
meaning, in which the term corresponds fully to our English use, 
there are two special uses which are significant for our present pur- 
pose : (a) For a man who possesses a righteous cause in a special 
matter, righteousness may mean his status when this righteous cause 
has been recognized and vindicated; while (b) for God, as for the 
human judge, moral excellence came naturally to be thought of as 
the attribute and the act whereby he vindicates those who have a 
righteous cause, or (what is to Hebrew apprehension the same thing) 
shows mercy to his oppressed people. In this last use of our term 
it may be denned as meaning God's " vindicative righteousness." 1S 
It is evident that these two special uses, though of wholly different 
origin, curiously complement each other. God's vindication of man 
can be described either as the righteousness of man or the righteous- 
ness of God. It belongs to man as a state into which he is, or 
hopes to be, put ; it belongs to God as an attribute, and as the act 
in which that attribute is exercised. Naturally no single English word 
perfectly expresses all these senses of the Hebrew " righteousness." 

In Is. 40-66 and in the Psalms the use of our group of words in 
this sense of " vindicative righteousness " and " vindicated state " 
had a great development. No one coming fresh from the study of 
the epistles of Paul can read Second Isaiah in the LXX. without being 
struck by the way in which BiKaiocrvvrj and oWioowj; Oeov are used, as 
well as by the frequency of these expressions and the cognate words. 
Righteousness is used in the sense of moral excellence on the part 
of man in Is. 51 7 58 2 , and in certain passages (e.g. Is. 45 19 ) it may 

13 I have used the word " vindicative " to express this meaning because I know 
of no better term. This sense, in which it refers to the vindication of a plaintiff's 
righteous cause, is of course the exact opposite of the sense in which the terms 
" vindicative justice " and " vindictive justice " have sometimes been used, viz. 
to mean avenging or punitive righteousness. Cf. James Morison, Critical Ex- 
position of the Third Chapter of Romans, p. 321. 

ropes: righteousness and the righteousness of god. 219 

perhaps be taken to mean general moral excellence in God. But the 
most striking and abundant cases are those in which righteousness 
is used as both man's and God's in the special sense of God's vindi- 
cation of Israel. Israel is in durance, his enemies are triumphing 
over him, but his God is the supreme judge and ruler of the universe, 
and Israel's claim will be honored, Israel will be given his rights; 
Israel's righteousness will be manifested before the world, he will be 
vindicated by the interposition of his God. As one example may be 
cited Is. 54 17 : " No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper ; 
and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt 
condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their 
righteousness which is of me, saith the Lord." Here it is the 
righteousness of Israel that is referred to. More abundant are the 
cases where the righteousness or vindication of (i.e. on the part of) 
God is spoken of, which, as we have seen, is a manifestation of one 
form of God's moral perfection. A good case is Is. 41 10 , "Be not 
dismayed, for I am thy God ; . . . yea, I will uphold thee with the 
right hand of my righteousness." An extremely clear case is Ps. 69®, 
where the psalmist prays against his enemies, "Add iniquity unto 
their iniquity ■ let them not come into thy righteousness." Abundant 
examples of this sense from Isaiah, the Psalms, Job, and other books 
will occur to every student of the Old Testament. 

Before we proceed to speak of Paul it is important to ask, What is 
the right, or righteousness, which Israel has, and which is to be vin- 
dicated by the act of God? In the Psalms it is doubtless in many 
cases the conscious piety and moral excellence of the worshipper 
of the Lord. In the profounder view of Isaiah this is not the case. 
There is no pretence that Israel possesses inner ethical righteousness. 
The nation's sins are not overlooked, and the deliverance is not usually 
made to depend on repentance and moral improvement. Nor is the 
expiation of Israel's sins which resides in the sufferings through which 
the nation has passed (Is. 40*- -) by itself sufficient to put Israel in 
the right so that she would deserve Jahveh's favorable sentence. No 
amount of suffering by heathen nations, although heroically endured, 
would have caused Jahveh to reveal his righteousness in their behalf. 
To the prophet's mind the motive lies rather in Jahveh himself, who, 
for his own sake, for the glory of his own name, has redeemed his 
Servant, whom he knew, chose, and loved. The prophet does not 
say that the relation is due to Jahveh's covenant with his people, 14 

14 This is often assumed, probably in consequence of the authority of Kautzsch 
(cf. also Diestel, Jahrbiicher fur deulscke Tkeologie, i860, pp. looff., 199, 251), 


although that would be germane to his thought. He seems to think 
of it rather as that of a patron to a client, a master to a " servant." 
God justifies his own people because they are his own. It is the 
gift of grace, for his name's sake, because the calling of God is not 
repented of. 

But it is time for us to turn to Paul. 15 Paul knows and sometimes 
uses the terms " righteousness " and " righteousness of God " in the 
sense of general moral excellence, or perfection, as a Greek or a 
modern might understand it. For cases where the context makes 
this sense plain we may refer to Rom. 6 13, m 19 - " 2 Cor. 6 7, " 1 1 15 Eph. 
4 24 5 9 6 i4 phil 3 6.9 and (« the righteousness of God ") Rom. 3 s . This 
sense requires no comment, but it does not enable us to understand 
most of the cases in which Paul uses StKaioo-wr/. In these cases he 
clearly does not mean moral excellence, and he uses " the righteous- 
ness of God " as a property now of man and now of God. To 
explain these we must look farther ; and we observe that Paul had 
also before him the peculiar senses of " righteousness " and " the 
righteousness of God " which we have seen in Isaiah and the Psalms. 
He was familiar with passages there in which the meaning " God's 
vindication of man " is unmistakable. The word " righteousness " 
was thus given to him with an active, transitive meaning which made 
it possible to think of it as an attribute and activity of God and 
as a state of man resulting therefrom. He has not, however, adopted 
the term unmodified and merely in its correct Isaian sense. For 
the explanation of this we must look at another of Paul's technical 

Besides the word Si/caiooiVjj, " righteousness," he has also the word 
St/caidu), " justify," a word not very common in the Old Testament, but 
made by later Jewish religious usage a standing term of the religious 
vocabulary. This word means " pronounce righteous," or " acquit," 
and it pertains to Paul's fundamental conception of the moral relation 
of God to man. Its meaning, which is foreign to Greek secular 
usage, comes naturally, as we saw, from the general forensic signifi- 
cation of this group of words in Hebrew and the LXX. In the act 
of the judge denoted by it his righteousness (that is, his moral 

and the term " covenant-righteousness " {Bundesgerecktigkeif) is used to denote 
what I have ventured to call "vindicative righteousness." Cf. G. A. Smith, 
Isaiah, ii., p. 224. 

16 The later Jewish writers outside of the Old Testament may be passed by here, 
for they do not at present give any great aid in our investigation. 


excellence, especially his mercy) is exercised, and also righteousness 
(that is, the status of one who has received a favorable verdict) is 
bestowed on the righteous party before him. In the Old Testament 
the act commonly thought of was one of " vindication," in a case 
where a plaintiff sues before a judicial protector for his right and 
for deliverance from his enemies. But the favorable verdict of a 
judge may also be given in a different kind of case ; it may be 
(cf. Matt. 1 2 s7 ) the justification, or acquittal, of a defendant in a 
criminal case. And in that sense (characteristic of the later Jewish 
usage) Paul is familiar with the word "justify." By justification he 
means the favorable verdict which would be granted to a righteous 
man, as defendant, if, when his character and conduct were thoroughly 
examined before the Great Assize of the Last Day, he were found 
innocent. It is evident that this " justification " is a different matter 
from the " vindication " of the patron's client of which Isaiah wrote. 

The solution of the problem of Paul's use seems to lie here. He 
found the word Sik<i<.o<tw»7 used abundantly in the Old Testament to 
denote a transitive act and the resulting state, and thus capable of 
use in connections where the secular Greek, or the English, " righteous- 
ness," as a quality, is wholly meaningless. He, however, understood 
the double sense of this noun, not by the aid of the history of the 
term in its Old Testament use, but in the light of the current use 
of the verb Siraiow, "justify." He put into it all the meaning that 
oWio'io had come to have in his theology. As in the Old Testa- 
ment BtKaioavvT] was the attribute of God from which his willingness 
to vindicate the righteous cause of Israel sprang, so with Paul it is 
the source of God's " justifying " activity, with all that that implies. 
As in the Old Testament it was the promised state of vindication for 
which Israel longed, so with Paul it is the "justification" which has 
already come unto all them that believe in Christ. The meanings 
of the term " righteousness " which are found in Paul could not have 
arisen by any processes of the Greek mind ; the necessary basis for 
them was in the Hebrew word, and came from it through the LXX. 
into the usage of Greek-speaking Jews. Yet Paul's use is not the mere 
perpetuation of the meaning of Isaiah and the Psalms ; it is rather 
that meaning seen from the point of view of the word in which a later 
generation of Jews summed up their hope of salvation. Not so much 
deliverance from their enemies 16 as acquittal before the bar of God 

16 The reference often made to Ps. 51 16 , as showing that in the Old Testament, 
too, is found the conception that God's righteousness is exerted to bestow inner 
moral deliverance from sin, is due to the mistaken translation of damim, which 


was what the nobler spirits among them had come to desire ; and, 
after the manner so familiar in all the history of religious thought, 
the old word lent itself readily to the new and loftier sense. At the 
same time Paul's Christian theology of salvation led him away from 
the mere " acquittal " of the Pharisees and back to something more 
like, though not identical with, the " vindication " of Isaiah. Perhaps 
the barbarous expression " vindicational justification " makes the 
meaning tolerably clear. 

Before proceeding to glance at the passages themselves which pre- 
sent the positive evidence that this understanding of Paul's use of 
"righteousness" and the "righteousness of God" is correct, it is 
proper to observe that the other uses of " righteousness " to which 
appeal is ordinarily made are not only unsatisfactory in application, 
but for special reasons are unlikely to have guided Paul's use in this 
phrase. Thus against the method of starting, as many do, from the 
ordinary secular use of SiKuoavvr), signifying moral excellence in 
general and nothing else, 17 stand two facts. First, SiKauxrvvr) is itself 
not a very common word in secular Greek. Plato, for example, 
generally says to Simiov. Hence Paul's own associations with the 
word would be chiefly derived from his reading of the LXX. and 
from the speech of Jews. And secondly, the cognate verb oWo«> 
is admittedly used by Paul in a sense foreign to ordinary Greek 
usage, but common in the LXX. Others start from the Pharisaic 
watchword " righteousness," used as a term for the ideal of human 
character, and representing the system of thought out of which Paul 
had come and against which he directed his attack. But this does 
not give any aid in understanding Paul, at least as respects the 
phrase " righteousness of God," because the prominent features of 
the specific Pharisaic idea of righteousness cannot easily be trans- 
ferred to God. If righteousness means predominantly obedience to 
the law, almsgiving, fasting, and prayer, we shall not be naturally led 
to say much about the righteousness of God. We shall speak rather 
of his holiness or mercy or truth. This is illustrated by the Pharisaic 

means, not "blood-guiltiness" on the part of the psalmist, but the murderous 
attack of his enemies. The righteousness of God is here used in exactly the same 
sense as in Isaiah. 

17 Sanday and Headlam (Comm. on Romans, p. 25) start from this side, and 
reach an idea of "the righteousness of the Divine Will as it were projected and 
enclosing and gathering into itself human wills." This is a mystical conception 
upon which Dr. James Drummond's somewhat similar statement, referred to 
above, is a distinct improvement. 


Psalms of Solomon. They use the phrase " righteousness of God," 
but the specific Pharisaic associations of righteousness are not there. 
On the contrary, they mean by it God's distributive justice, 18 or his 
moral excellence in general, or else are echoing (though with in- 
adequate understanding) the language of Isaiah and the Psalms. 19 

It may further be pointed out as significant that the sense of 
righteous and righteousness which I have attributed to Paul is found 
in 1 John i 9 , " faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins," perhaps 
in John i6 810 17 25 , and certainly in a passage preserved by Jerome 
{Dial. c. Pelagium, ii. 15) from the false conclusion of Mark's 
Gospel (16 14 ), "Therefore now at length reveal thy righteousness " 
(idcirco jam nunc revela justitiam tuam). 

The view here presented of the elements entering into Paul's use 
of righteousness is thus confirmed by the improbability of certain 
other views. The real test of the interpretation must consist in a 
complete and detailed study of the several passages where the word 
is used. But we can here only suggest certain general considerations 
relating to these passages and to the place of the conception of 
righteousness in Paul's system. 

We will take first the cases in which Paul uses the word "right- 
eousness " by itself without adjunct. These are much more numerous 
than the cases of the phrase " righteousness of God," and they have 
generally been better understood. 20 As we shall see, there is no 
reason for making, as is usually done, an absolute separation between 

18 See Ps. Sol. 2 16 8 s9 - *>• 3i a 8 - I0 . 

19 Cf. Ps. Sol. 9 3 i%\ 

Those interpreters who try to understand the Pauline righteousness in the light 
of the Pharisaic conception take " the righteousness of God " as meaning prima- 
rily a property of men. It is " of God " because he bestows it. So B. Weiss, 
Lipsius, etc. But while this suits Rom. I 17 but indifferently, and Rom. 3 21 f - no 
better, it is wholly inapplicable in Rom. 3 2S f \ In this last place the term plainly 
means that attribute, or the exercise of that attribute, of God's nature in which 
he shows himself righteous. Most modern interpreters admit this, and the group 
represented by B. Weiss and Lipsius have frankly to abandon at this point the 
meaning which they assign to " the righteousness of God " in the earlier passages 
of this same epistle. Yet it is in fact impossible to dissever Rom. 3 21 '■ and 
3 26f - in interpretation. 

20 Cf. Thayer's Lexicon, s.v. Sucaioaivri. One chief reason is that in these 
cases the problem of understanding how righteousness could belong at once to 
man and to God did not exist. Hence the natural indications of the context 
have proved a sufficient guide to the true meaning. The explanation of how the 
word "righteousness" can have the meaning "justification" is, however, to be 
gained only from its history. 


the meaning of the simple word and of the longer phrase. Paul 
uses the word to denote the attainable ideal which he offers for the 
satisfaction of the higher cravings of mankind. Righteousness in the 
ordinary sense, in which the Jews prized and pursued it, the opposite 
of iniquity, Paul believed to be unattainable by any direct exercise of 
man's will. Over against that ideal of a state of moral perfection he 
presents the new life of faith. Man, who sees that his own efforts 
after righteousness, however strong his will to do good, are unavailing 
by reason of the " flesh " and the power of sin, has now, since the 
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the opportunity to believe in 
Christ. That is something within his ability, and to those who be- 
lieve is granted forgiveness, together with new powers of right con- 
duct and Christlike character. This constitutes salvation. 21 To this 
state into which such faith introduces man Paul applies the term 
" righteousness." He means not another and better form of moral 
excellence, but a state of acquittal without moral excellence, that 
is, of forgiveness. By a singular, and for his purposes happy, 
accident of language, which our study of the history of the word has 
explained, he is able to use the very same word by which the con- 
trasted ideal of man's attempted moral perfection was denoted. 
He is able to do so just because he has transcended the moralistic 
rigor of the Pharisees' theology, and has turned to something like 
the loftier doctrine of Isaiah. As Isaiah used righteousness to mean 
God's vindication and salvation of his Servant, who pleads for de- 
liverance, so Paul declares that every man, not only the Jew but 
also the Gentile, who believes in Christ will enter into a relation to 
God like that of ancient Israel to Jahveh, a relation which ipso facto 
puts him " in the right," and by reason of which God is pledged to 
" vindicate " him. " They which be of faith, the same are sons of 
Abraham," "heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3 729 ). The result 
of this vindicatory act of God is man's state of "righteousness." 
Only, as we have seen, this "new life," this "righteousness," is a 
state, not of deliverance from earthly enemies, but of justification 
at the bar of God. 

This contrast between ordinary righteousness and the righteous- 

21 The connection of faith with forgiveness and sanctification in Paul's system 
was not due to any analysis of the necessary implications of the act of faith and 
logical inference therefrom. The synthesis was made in the heat of Paul's own 
soul's life. He knew that these were the reward of faith because he had found 
it so in his own experience. The proof of his theology is a proof by life, not 
by logic. 

ropes: righteousness and the righteousness of god. 225 

ness which is justification is well exemplified by the familiar 
passages, Rom. 9 30 , "The Gentiles, which followed not after right- 
eousness (i.e. moral excellence, as set forth in the Jewish law), 
attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith {i.e. justifi- 
cation or forgiveness)," and Phil. 3 s , "not having a righteous- 
ness of mine own {i.e. the unattainable moral perfection) , even that 
which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the 
righteousness which is of God by faith." In these cases there is 
a certain play between the two senses, which seems to be found also 
in 2 Cor. 9"- 10 . A play of similar nature, although Paul was probably 
unaware of it, is found in the usage in Rom. 4 s - 5 - 6 9 - "• 22 Gal. 3 s . In 
these passages an Old Testament phrase, " reckon for righteousness " 
(A.oyi£«r#ai cis SiKaioavvr/v) , in which "righteousness" was used in 
the sense of moral excellence, is applied (that is to say, misapplied) 
by Paul in support of his system. The term in these passages goes 
in, so to speak, as moral excellence ; it comes out, after Paul has used 
it, with his peculiar stamp upon it. Of the many cases in Paul's 
epistles where righteousness means unequivocally "justification," 
the state of forgiveness and the new life, the following will serve 
as examples : Rom. s 1721 6 16 8 10 io 4610 i4 17 (?) 1 Cor. i 30 2 Cor. f 9 10 
Gal. 2 21 3 21 s 5 Phil. i 11 . 

This brings us to the group of passages for the sake of which our 
investigation was begun, in which Paul speaks of " the righteousness 
of God." These consist of seven passages, besides Rom. 3 5 , which 
is of a different character, and of which I have already spoken. It 
is evident in Rom. 9 s0 - 31 io 3 - 4 , that the "righteousness" which be- 
longs to men, coming by faith and through God's gift, and which 
Paul contrasts with the Jewish righteousness of works, may also be 
called " the righteousness of God." This is likewise suggested by 
Phil. 3 9 , where the true " righteousness " of Paul's gospel is also 
described as "the righteousness which is from God." But the 
"righteousness of God" is in other cases clearly an attribute of 
God, that, namely, which prompts to the justification of men. How 
it happened that a word, not itself originally a transitive verbal noun, 
gained these opposite senses, the usage in the Old Testament has 
already made clear to us. That this usage was familiar to Paul we 
shall not doubt when we turn to the earlier chapters of Romans. 
It is of much significance that in Rom. 3 21 he explicitly states that 
the " righteousness of God " now manifested was " witnessed by 
the law and the prophets." In Rom. i 17 , the righteousness of 
God, which is now revealed in the Gospel, is contrasted with wrath, 


which is God's attitude toward sin apart from redemption. Paul's 
meaning here is broader than "justification"; it is "vindication," 
redemption, grace, salvation. Only some meaning of that sort 
will yield good sense in this context. We may compare Is. 51 5 , 
" My righteousness is near, my salvation is gone forth," and 56 1 , 
" My salvation is near to come and my righteousness to be revealed," 
and 45 21 , "a righteous God and a saviour." In Rom. 3 2122 , the 
use is closely like that of i 17 , to which indeed reference seems to 
be made. Here, as in 2 Cor. 5 21 , righteousness means " vindicative 
righteousness" conceived as justification. That the righteousness 
of God belongs both to God and to man is evident in two of these 
passages, for as in i 17 " the just " who lives by faith seems to be 
the possessor of the righteousness of God, so in 3 21 - 22 the righteous- 
ness of God comes through faith to all who believe. 

In Rom. 3 M - * we have SucauxrvvT) and Sumuk, referring to the same 
attribute of God, and the verb "justify " connected with them 
(SiKcuowra) . The complete interpretation of these verses is a task 
by itself, but the meaning of Sixaioo-wj?, which we have found charac- 
teristic of Paul, is here of notable assistance, while the interpretation 
to which it brings us has an interesting theological bearing. Under 
the traditional exegesis StWos and SiKaiovvra in v. 26 are set in opposi- 
tion to each other, the former representing the distributive and puni- 
tive justice of God, the latter proceeding from his mercy. The phrase 
then means, "just in his determination to punish sin without fear 
or favor, and yet justifying the (sinner who is a) believer," i.e. being 
able to justify him by reason of the divinely provided propitiation. 
This, as has often been remarked, is an idea surprising to the reader, 
especially in view of v. 21 . In fact, it suits the governmental theory of 
the atonement much better than it does the mode of thought of Paul. 
Give to diKoMxrvvr) its proper Pauline meaning, and all difficulty at 
that point disappears. Paul is saying that God has given his Son in 
order to show his " vindicative " and redeeming righteousness, that 
he might be both vindicative and vindicator (redeemer and justifier) 
of him who has faith in Jesus. He vindicates and justifies just be- 
cause it is his nature to be vindicative (or righteous) and justifying. 
The two words are not contrasted, but look in the same direction, 
and it is the direction to which the whole larger context tends. 22 

With this group of passages our task is ended, so far as it is pos- 

22 It is interesting to notice that the traditional Protestant interpretation of 
this verse is not that of Calvin. lie was too shrewd an interpreter to fall into 
this trap, and he knew Isaiah too well to so misunderstand Paul. 


sible to perforin it without full interpretation of the several New 
Testament passages involved. The study of the history and Old 
Testament associations of the terms "righteousness of God" and 
" righteousness," in connection with the facts of Paul's use, seems to 
show that he employed the term " righteousness of God" in a sense 
often closely akin to "grace" (as was pointed out by Ritschl), and 
often hardly to be distinguished from "justification." This result 
leaves the general interpretation of Paul's theology untouched. That 
must be gained from the clear bearing of his own statements, which 
are fortunately so clear that a large measure of agreement among 
modern students is possible. It is, however, an advantage if we can 
understand this important term as one naturally used to express a 
great idea by a man whose roots went deep into the Old Testament 
religion, where the term had its rise, and who yet lived in the full tide 
of the Jewish religious thought of his own time. We have here a 
significant and instructive illustration of the fact that Paul the Phari- 
see, like his Master, turned back from the problems and dreams of 
his contemporaries to the words of the Prophets of Israel, and that 
he found in them with right the heralds of the Gospel of Christ.