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Justice in the Old and New Testament Essay

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Updated: Feb 12th, 2022

The Old and New Testaments are significantly different in many aspects, likely as a consequence of the time difference between their time of writing. Both consider it essential, but they assign it, and the qualities associated with it, different roles. The Old Testament gives righteousness a clear definition and makes it a critical attribute of God, ruler, and individual. By comparison, the New Testament depicts it as coming from God and only possible through following His will. As such, it is prudent to compare the two definitions in detail to understand the overt and underlying differences between the two halves of the Christian canon better.

Justice in the Old Testament should be considered in terms of the meaning attributed to the term there rather than its current definition. Haacker claims that “it is about restoration, redistribution, and providing the right. […] The one who is stronger gives; the weaker receives.” Yahweh is supposed to be the ultimate representation of justice and righteousness, who cannot be questioned, and any misfortune, however long-lasting, is the result of his warranted wrath (Mic 7:9). As representatives of God and rulers, monarchs are supposed to deliver God’s justice to the people through their governance. In turn, individuals are supposed to follow the path of righteousness as best they can to maintain Yahweh’s favor.

The New Testament was written in times of the Roman Empire, after the development of classical Western philosophy and ethics. According to Haacker, this development has led to the sometimes-confusing usage of the abstract Greek word ‘righteousness’ alongside its more clearly defined Hebrew equivalent. However, the distinction is mostly meaningless, as God is always trusted to make the right choice, and righteousness comes from him alone.

His commandments and decision are law, yet following that law is not enough for righteousness, and one has to follow God’s will directly to achieve it (Rom 2:1–29). As such, the New Testament makes no distinction between rulers and individuals, as they are all the same before God.

Both the Old and the New Testaments consider justice and righteousness to be of the utmost importance. However, the first half of the Bible considers it to be well-defined and achievable through following a specific set of rules. These laws do not necessarily correspond to modern definitions of justice, being explicitly biased against the stronger party. The New Testament, on the other hand, considers justice to be divine and, thus, incomprehensible to any person. It is possible to debate righteousness of an act according to the Old Testament, even if the topic is complicated, but the New Testament terms, calling someone just is merely an indication of approval (Haacker). As such, while the word has similar positive connotations, the specific meaning is entirely different.

When debating the meaning of justice in the Bible, it is easy to make one or both of two mistakes. One is assuming that it is defined the same way as in the law, while the other is thinking that the definition is consistent in both parts. The Old Testament makes justice a critical trait that God possesses and that humans can achieve by following specific principles. Meanwhile, the New Testament claims that justice is following God’s will, which others cannot determine from the side. As such, to avoid misunderstanding references to justice and righteousness when discussing theology and the Bible, in particular, one should be careful to make sure which term is being discussed.

Work Cited

Haacker, Klaus B. “Justice, Justification, and Righteousness.” Oxford Reference, 2015. Web.

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