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 ). He evenhandedly 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 judges do well to remember God in their courts. God does not take bribes ( Deut 10:17 ) or pervert 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 fair while evil still abounds, and so the oppressed petition God to intervene on their behalf ( Psalm 7:9 ; Prov 29:26 ). Their prayers 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 God will decisively intervene in the future is the biblical hope.

This philosophical issue of theodicy underlies the story of Job. On the one hand is his friends' false assumption that Job's trouble must fit his crimes ( 8:3-7 ), whereas on his part, Job claims to be the victim of an injustice, and demands that God remedy the situation ( 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 he is 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 not mere human reasoning ( Hab1:7 ). According to the Sinai covenant, judges are to uphold the Mosaic law by acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. A breach of justice consists of a verdict 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 ). The victims are disproportionately from the poor, among whom are the fatherless, the widow, and the resident alien ( Deut 27:19 ; Psalm 82 ). The righteous judge must never show partiality to the rich ( Deu 24:17 ), nor for that matter to the poor ( Lev 19:15 ); he must render 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 ). Kings are 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 to follow 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 ), yet Christians may not take justice into their own hands ( 1 Thess 4:6 ). At times it is better to suffer injustice than to bring the gospel into disrepute by taking a brother to court ( 1Cor 6:7-8 ).

Divine Justice and the Justification of the Wicked. The gospel promises escape from God's just wrath against sin ( Rom 1:32 ). Before human judges the Savior was unjustly tried and executed ( Isa 53:8 ; John 7:24 ; Acts 3:14 ). From the divine perspective, however, Jesus' death satisfied God's justice ( Rom 3:26 ). Thus God remains 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 when God will exercise absolute justice over all creation ( Psalm 98:9 ; Eccl 3:16 ; Isa 28:5-6 ; 29:19-21 ). The New Testament emphasizes the approach of final judgment, when all people will be evaluated according 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 beyond Solomon to an ideal just king. The Old Testament goes on to predict that the Messiah will execute justice on God's behalf ( Isa 9:7 ; 11:3-4 ; 16:4b-5 ; 28:17 ). In the New Testament, 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


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.
Justice [N] [T] [B]

is rendering to every one that which is his due. It has been distinguished from equity in this respect, that while justice means merely the doing what positive law demands, equity means the doing of what is fair and right in every separate case.

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Justice". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .


jus'-tis (tsedhaqah; tsedheq; dikaiosune):

The original Hebrew and Greek words are the same as those rendered "righteousness." This is the common rendering, and in about half the cases where we have "just" and "justice" in the King James Version, the American Standard Revised Version has changed to "righteous" and "righteousness." It must be constantly borne in mind that the two ideas are essentially the same.


1. Human Justice:

Justice had primarily to do with conduct in relation to others, especially with regard to the rights of others. It is applied to business, where just weights and measures are demanded (Leviticus 19:35,36; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Amos 8:5; Proverbs 11:1; 16:11; Ezekiel 45:9,10). It is demanded in courts, where the rights of rich and poor, Israelite and sojourner, are equally to be regarded. Neither station nor bribe nor popular clamor shall influence judge or witness. "Justice, justice shalt thou follow" (Deuteronomy 16:20; compare Deuteronomy 16:18-20; Exodus 23:1-3,6-9). In general this justice is contrasted with that wickedness which "feared not God, and regarded not man" (Luke 18:2).

In a larger sense justice is not only giving to others their rights, but involves the active duty of establishing their rights. So Israel waits upon God's justice or cries out:

"The justice due to me (literally, "my justice") is passed away from my God" (Isaiah 40:27). Yahweh is to show her to be in the right as over against the nations. Justice here becomes mercy. To "seek justice" means to "relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17; compare Isaiah 11:4; Jeremiah 22:15,16; Psalms 82:2-4). The same idea appears in Deuteronomy 24:12,13; Psalms 37:21,26; 112:4-6, where the translation is "righteous" instead of "just."

In this conception of justice the full meaning of the New Testament is not yet reached. It does not mean sinlessness or moral perfection. Job knows the sin in his heart (Job 13:23,26; 7:21), and yet speaks of himself as a just or righteous man (12:4; 13:18). The Psalmist confidently depends upon the righteousness of God though he knows that no man is righteous in God's sight (Psalms 143:1,2; compare Psalms 7:8; 18:20-24). It is not a lack of humility or dependence upon God when the Psalmist asks to be judged according to his righteousness. In relation to God, the just, or righteous, man is the one who holds to God and trusts in Him (Psalms 33:18-22). This is not the later Judaistic legalism with its merit and reward, where God's justice is simply a matter of giving each man what he has earned.

The word "justice" does not occur in the New Testament, and in most cases where we find "just" in the King James Version it is changed to "righteous" in the American Standard Revised Version. The idea of justice or righteousness (remembering that these are essentially the same) becomes more spiritual and ethical in the New Testament. It is a matter of character, and God's own spirit is the standard (1John 3:7; Matthew 5:48). The mere give-and-take justice is not enough. We are to be merciful, and that to all. The ideal is righteousness, not rights. As Holtzmann says, "The keynote of the Sermon on the Mount is justitia and not jus."

2. Justice of God:

God's justice, or righteousness, is founded in His essential nature. But, just as with man, it is not something abstract, but is seen in His relation to the world. It is His kingship establishing and maintaining the right. It appears as retributive justice, "that reaction of His holy will, as grounded in His eternal being, against evil wherever found." He cannot be indifferent to good and evil (Habakkuk 1:13). The great prophets, Isaiah, Micah, Amos, Hosea, all insist upon Yahweh's demand for righteousness.

But this is not the main aspect of God's justice. Theology has been wont to set forth God's justice as the fundamental fact in His nature with which we must reconcile His mercy as best we may, the two being conceived as in conflict. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures most often conceive God's justice, or righteousness, as the action of His mercy. Just as with man justice means the relief of the oppressed and needy, so God's justice is His kingly power engaged on behalf of men, and justice and mercy are constantly joined together. He is "a just God and a Saviour" (Isaiah 45:21). "I bring near my righteousness (or "justice") .... and my salvation shall not tarry" (Isaiah 46:13; compare Psalms 51:14; 103:17; 71:15; 116:5; Isaiah 51:5,6). The "righteous acts of Yahweh" mean His deeds of deliverance (Judges 5:11). And so Israel sings of the justice, or judgments, or righteousness of Yahweh (they are the same), and proclaims her trust in these (Psalms 7:17; 35:23,24,28; 36:6; 140:12,13; 50:5,6; 94:14,15; 103:6; 143:1).

The New Testament, too, does not lack the idea of retributive justice. The Son of Man "shall render unto every man according to his deeds" (Matthew 16:27; compare Matthew 25:14-46; Luke 12:45-48; Romans 2:2-16; 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:24,25; 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9; Hebrews 2:2,3; 10:26-31). But God's justice is far more than this. The idea of merit and reward is really superseded by a higher viewpoint in the teaching of Jesus. He speaks, indeed, of recompense, but it is the Father and not the judge that gives this (Matthew 6:1,4,6,18). And it is no mere justice of earth, because the reward transcends all merit (Matthew 24:46,47; Mark 10:30; Luke 12:37). This is grace not desert (Luke 17:10). And the parable of Matthew 20:1-15 gives at length the deathblow to the whole Judaistic scheme of merit and reward.

And God's justice is not merely gracious, but redemptive. It not simply apportions rights, it establishes righteousness. Thus, just as in the Old Testament, the judge is the Saviour. The difference is simply here:

in the Old Testament the salvation was more national and temporal, here it is personal and spiritual. But mercy is opposed to justice no more here than in the Old Testament. It is by the forgiveness of sins that God establishes righteousness, and this is the supreme task of justice. Thus it is that God is at the same time "just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). "He is faithful and righteous (or "just"; see the King James Version) to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1John 1:9).


See Comm., and Biblical Theologies under "Justice" and "Righteousness," and especially Cremer, Biblical-Theol. Lex. of New Testament Greek

Harris Franklin Rall

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'JUSTICE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.