Precursors to Paul's "righteousness" language

Paul’s uses of the δικ- word group is ultimately founded in the Hebrew root צדק, which is capable of a wide range of meanings. Although somewhat reductionistic, it is helpful to see the root as connoting “conformity to an ethical or moral standard.”[1] This is confirmed by comparison to related roots in cognate languages: “the term appears to be used to refer to right comportment: status or behavior in accord with some implied standard.”[2] The root exists in multiple forms which show a great deal of overlap; evidence shows that the verb and noun forms are used somewhat interchangeably.[3] The verb form has a range of meanings depending upon the stem; it can mean “to be right/just,” “to declare right,” or “to vindicate,” among others. The related nouns exhibit similar semantic flexibility; they can refer to God’s righteous character, the righteous action of a judge, or loyalty and honesty within the context of a community.[4] In sum, the concept of צדק undergirds much of the OT thought on how God and humanity relates:

The ṣedeq-ṣĕdāqâ of the community and the individual is comportment according to God’s order in every area of life, in just and proper social order (justice to the helpless, the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the resident alien), in legal procedure, in the ritual of worship, all effected by God’s ṣedeq-ṣĕdāqâ.[5]

It is during the Second Temple period that the δικ- word group becomes strongly associated with the Hebrew root צדק. There is a natural semantic overlap between the terms, and the LXX creates a strong connection between the two in translation (for example, the noun form צְדָקָה occurs 159 times in the Hebrew MT; this is translated by the Greek term δικαιοσύνη 135 times); consequently there is a strong link theologically. The difference is that the δικ- word group had a stronger emphasis upon legal and forensic denotations,[6] while the Hebrew use of the צדק word group emphasized covenantal relationships more prominently. This stronger emphasis upon the legal connotations carries into the NT as well,[7] but the moral aspect is not absent. In short, the צדק and δικ- word groups can be used quite broadly to refer to a wide range of human experience under the rubrics of covenant, conformity, and legal standards.


  1. TWOT 2:752.  ↩

  2. NIDOTTE 3:746.  ↩

  3. Ibid.  ↩

  4. See the entries for צֶדֶק and צְדָקָה in HALOT 1004–1007; BDB 841–842.  ↩

  5. J. J. Scullion, “Righteousness: Old Testament,” ABD 5:736.  ↩

  6. See John Reumann, “Righteousness: Early Judaism,” ABD 5:737.  ↩

  7. See entries on δικαιοσύνη and δικαιόω in BDAG 247–249 as examples.  ↩