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As we started to see in yesterday’s post, although the word justice frequently appears in the Bible with reference to the poor and oppressed, it just as often (if not more often) appears in conjunction with the word righteousness.

Because these words appear together so frequently in Scripture, I think it’s important to understand the original Hebrew meaning of both righteousness and justice. This will take us in a slightly heady direction for a few days, but hang with me – we’re laying a foundation so we can get to the more practical implications.

I’ve assumed for decades that the words righteousness and justice appear alongside each other in the Bible because true righteousness must include justice, among other qualifications. If someone is upstanding in character, then they are going to care for the poor and oppressed.

Turns out the Hebrew meaning of righteousness is much more expansive than that.

Sedaqa – the Hebrew word translated righteousness – doesn’t refer to moral behavior so much as it refers to rightness. In theologian Christopher Wright’s words, “The root meaning is probably ‘straight’: something fixed, and fully what it should be…a norm – something by which other things are measured, a standard.1


1. Christopher J.H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 255.

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