Justice

Justice [N] [T] [E]

(Heb. sedeq [q,d,x],mispat [f'P.vim];Gk. dikaiosyne [dikaiosuvnh]).God, the Righteous Judge. Justice is rooted in the very nature of God ( Isa 40:14 ). Heevenhandedly rewards good, and he does not ignore the sins of any ( Psalm 33:5 ; Psalms 37:6 Psalms 37:28 ; 97:2 ; 99:4 ). Human judgesdo well to remember God in their courts. God does not take bribes ( Deut 10:17 ) orpervert justice in any way ( Gen 18:25 ; 2 Chron 19:7 ).

At the same time, God rarely delivers instant justice. The world does not seem fairwhile evil still abounds, and so the oppressed petition God to intervene on their behalf ( Psalm 7:9 ; Prov 29:26 ). Theirprayers may even take the form of a complaint ( Hab 1:2-4 ),although people must not challenge God's essential justice ( Job 40:8 ; Mal 2:17 ). That Godwill decisively intervene in the future is the biblical hope.

This philosophical issue of theodicy underlies the story of Job. On the one hand is hisfriends' false assumption that Job's trouble must fit his crimes ( 8:3-7 ), whereas onhis part, Job claims to be the victim of an injustice, and demands that God remedy thesituation ( 19:7 ; 27:2 ; 29:14 ; 34:5-6 ).

The justice of God is reaffirmed in the New Testament ( Rom 3:5-6 ; 9:14 ; 1 John 1:9 ; Rev 16:5-7 ; 19:11 ). Because heis just, God never shows partiality or favoritism ( Matt 5:45 ; Acts 10:34-35 ; Romans 2:6 Romans 2:11 ; Eph 6:9 ; 1 Peter 1:17 ).

Human Justice Based on God's Law. Just law is law that reflects God's standards( Gen 9:5-6 ; Deut 1:17 ), and notmere human reasoning ( Hab1:7 ). According to the Sinai covenant, judges are to uphold the Mosaic law byacquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. A breach of justice consists of averdict that runs contrary to the law or that does not accord with the known facts ( Exod 23:1-9 ; Deut 25:1-3 ).

In a culture where judges, not juries, render a verdict, false accusations, bribery,and influence peddling are the favored devices of injustice ( Deut 16:18-20 ; 1 Sam 8:3 ; Prov 17:23 ; 19:28 ; Isa 5:23 ; Jer 5:28 ; Ezek 22:29 ; Amos 2:6-7 ; Zech 7:9-10 ). Thevictims are disproportionately from the poor, among whom are the fatherless, the widow,and the resident alien ( Deut 27:19 ; Psalm 82 ). Therighteous judge must never show partiality to the rich ( Deu 24:17 ), nor forthat matter to the poor ( Lev 19:15 ); he mustrender true judgment at all times.

Under the monarchy, the king is the final arbiter of justice ( 2 Sam 8:15 ; 15:3-4 ; 1 Kings 10:9 ; Prov 20:8 ). Kingsare warned about injustice ( Prov 16:10 ; Jer 21:12 ; 22:2-3 ; Micah 3:1-3 Micah 3:9-11 ).Solomon's wisdom makes him a just king ( 1 Kings 3:11-12 1 Kings 3:28 ; 2 Chron 9:8 ).

At the same time, justice is not a virtue for judges and kings alone; all Israel is tofollow in the "paths of justice" ( Gen 18:19 ; Psalm 106:3 ; Prov 21:15 ; Isaiah 1:17 Isaiah 1:59 ).Pursuing justice in life is of greater worth than religious ritual ( Prov 21:3 ; Micah 6:8 ; cf. Matt 23:23 ).Justice must lead to honesty, even in mundane business transactions ( Lev 19:35-36 ; Hosea 12:7 ).

In the New Testament, the love of justice is a virtue ( 2 Col 7:11 ; Php 4:8 ), yetChristians may not take justice into their own hands ( 1 Thess 4:6 ). Attimes it is better to suffer injustice than to bring the gospel into disrepute by taking abrother to court ( 1Cor 6:7-8 ).

Divine Justice and the Justification of the Wicked. The gospel promises escapefrom God's just wrath against sin ( Rom 1:32 ). Beforehuman judges the Savior was unjustly tried and executed ( Isa 53:8 ; John 7:24 ; Acts 3:14 ). From thedivine perspective, however, Jesus' death satisfied God's justice ( Rom 3:26 ). Thus Godremains a righteous judge even as he justifies those sinners who believe in Christ ( Luke 18:14 ; Gal 3:11-13 ).

Justice and the Kingdom of God. The Old Testament looks forward to the time whenGod will exercise absolute justice over all creation ( Psalm 98:9 ; Eccl 3:16 ; Isa 28:5-6 ; 29:19-21 ). TheNew Testament emphasizes the approach of final judgment, when all people will be evaluatedaccording to their works ( Rom 2:5 ; 3:5-6 ; Rev 20:13 ).

Psalm 72 is a prayer for a king who would protect the poor, a psalm that looks beyondSolomon to an ideal just king. The Old Testament goes on to predict that the Messiah willexecute justice on God's behalf ( Isa 9:7 ; 11:3-4 ; 16:4b-5 ; 28:17 ). In the NewTestament, Jesus already begins to carry out the Father's justice while on earth ( Matt 12:18-21 ; John 5:28-30 ),but it is in the future that he will execute God's will over all ( Acts 17:31 ; Rev 19:11 ).

Gary Steven Shogren

See also Justification;Righteousness

Bibliography. F. B chel and V. Herntrich, TDNT, 3:921-54; R. D. Culver,TWOT, 2:948-49; C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:416-27; G. Quell and G.Schrenk, TDNT, 2:174-225.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.


[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Justice'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.