What is Righteousness?
info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
- The Definition
- What the Scriptures Say
- Irreverent, Impious, Godless, and Wicked
- The Bad and the Foul
- Other Words for Unrighteousness
- The Outcome Of the Unrighteous
- Unrighteous Acts
The Greek word that we translate as righteous is dike (pronounced, dee-kay). And while the ancient Greek meaning was tendency, the use of this word in the Bible implies justice and conformance to established standards. Justice means doing the right thing, and conformance to established standards (in the Bible) refers to following the ways of God. So the word righteous can also be translated as just, since righteousness is so closely tied to justice.
Here are a few conclusions about what the Bible says is righteousness, and the scriptures from which these conclusions have been drawn:
What the Scriptures Say
If you really want to be righteous, you can be – Matthew 5:6:
‘Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness are blest,
For, they will find satisfaction.’
If you flaunt your righteousness, you won’t be rewarded by God for the good things you do – Matthew 6:1:
‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness before other men so that they will see what you’re doing; for then you will receive no reward from your Father in heaven.’
Righteousness involves living for God’s Kingdom – Matthew 6:33:
‘Put the Kingdom and righteousness first, and then all these other things will be given to you.’
The that things you do prove whether you are righteous – Matthew 11:19:
‘Wisdom is proven righteous by her deeds.’
The things that you say prove whether you are righteous – Romans 3:4:
‘As it’s written: So that you might be proven righteous by your words and you can come off victorious when you’re being judged.’
Someone that deliberately misleads others can never be found righteous – Matthew 12:36, 37:
‘I tell you that on the Judgment Day, you will [all] have to answer for the things that you’ve said to lead others astray. Yes, either you’ll be found to be righteous or you’ll be condemned by the things that you say.’
Immoral, unclean, and greedy people will not be found righteous – Ephesians 5:5:
‘[For it’s easy] to recognize those that are immoral, unclean, and greedy (which really amounts to being idol worshipers), and you know that they won’t receive an inheritance in the Kingdom the Anointed One and of The God.’
To be counted righteous, you must treat other righteous people very well – Matthew 25:37-40:
‘Then the righteous will ask:
Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you sick or in prison, and come to your [aid]?
And the king will say:
I tell you the truth; When you did it for the least of my brothers, you also did it for me.’
Righteous people are at peace with others – James 3:18:
‘The seeds of the fruit of righteousness are planted in peace by the peacemakers!’
You have to be an honest judge to be found righteous – John 7:24:
‘Quit judging from the way things look on the surface… judge righteously!’
Righteousness involves standing up for right things, even if that invites persecution – Acts 4:19, 20:
‘If it’s righteous in God’s eyes to listen to you instead of to God, judge for yourselves. But we can’t stop talking about the things we’ve seen and heard.’
A righteous person has faith in God and His promises – Romans 3:27, 28:
‘So, where is our reason for boasting? It’s gone! Does it come from our obedience to the Law? No, it comes through the Law of Faith, since we believe that a man is called righteous because of his faith, not by the works of the Law!’
True righteousness requires more than just faith – James 2:24:
‘A man is pronounced righteous by the things that he does, not by his faith alone.’
To be counted as righteous, you can’t be immoral or continue in a sinful course – Romans 6:12-14:
‘Therefore, don’t allow sin to rule your mortal bodies anymore and don’t obey its desires… no, don’t offer your body parts as unrighteous weapons of sin! Rather, offer yourselves to The God as people who’ve been made alive from among those [that are] the dead, and [offer] your body parts to God as weapons of righteousness! Indeed, sin must not be your master… and indeed, you aren’t under the Law, you’re under [God’s] loving care.’
Most people in the world aren’t considered righteous – 1 Corinthians 6:1:
‘Would any of you that think you have been [wronged] by another dare to take it to court [to be tried by] unrighteous men, rather than by the Holy Ones?’
Although faith is required to prove ourselves righteous, speaking about what we believe is what saves us – Romans 10:10:
‘For it’s this belief in your hearts that makes you righteous, and it’s your mouths (when they confesses this) that are saving you.’
If you aren’t severely persecuted for being righteous, you won’t be accepted in God’s Kingdom – Matthew 5:10:
‘Blest are those that receive persecution,
For doing [things that are] righteous,
Since theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.’
Also, to see what the Bible says about specific matters having to do with sexual relationships, see the linked document, ‘Christian Morality.’
The Greek word for unrighteous is adike (pronounced, ah-dee-kay).
Note that this doesn’t necessarily imply badness, it only indicates that the person hasn’t met the requirements of being righteous.
This is why many of such ones will be resurrected, for Paul wrote at Acts 24:15:
‘There’s going to be a resurrection of the righteous and of the unrighteous.’
Yet, unrighteous people won’t immediately ‘inherit God’s Kingdom’ upon their resurrection, as do the righteous (see Matthew 25:34); for notice what Paul wrote at 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10:
‘Don’t you know that the unrighteous won’t inherit the Kingdom of God?
Don’t make any mistakes about this; Sexually immoral people, idol worshipers, adulterers, gays, men that have sex with men, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, insulters, and extortionists won’t inherit God’s Kingdom.’
However, there appear to be several levels of unrighteousness, and not all of the unrighteous will be resurrected. For, notice what Psalm 1:4-6 tells us:
‘But, for the impious, this will never be so;
For they’re like the dust that’s blown ‘cross the earth.
So, they won’t be raised in the Judgment,
Nor will sinners see the [blessings] on the righteous.
For, Jehovah knows what the righteous have done;
But the ways of the impious will perish.’
Irreverent, Impious, Godless, and Wicked
The Greek word that was translated as impious above, asebe, appears to speaking of a person that knows God and what He requires, but disrespectfully chooses not to do what is right. Certainly those that are guilty of asebe do know God; for in the Proverbs, Solomon mentions their offering Him faulty gifts. Asebe is a difficult word to translate with any clarity, because in an irreverent society, irreverence and its synonym impious, are passé.
In the poetic Bible books (such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations) we find the word asebe contrasted as the opposite of righteousness. And at times, it not only implies disrespect for God, but also disrespect for other humans. So, depending on the need and the implication, we have translated it as irreverent, impious, and disrespectful.
Many of the Scribes and Pharisees were like that (disrespectful); for Jesus said of them (at Matthew 23:15): ‘So, woe to you scribes and Pharisees – you hypocrites – because you travel land and sea to make a single convert; then when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of the garbage dump (gr. Gehenna) as yourselves!’
Understand that Gehenna is the name of the valley that served as the city garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, and it appears as though his use of this term implied that such individuals (the irreverent Scribes and Pharisees) could not expect a resurrection… that they will just be gone like garbage that is burned in a fire. For more information on this, see the linked document, ‘Is There a Burning Hell?’
We can see the difference between those whom God considers unrighteous and those whom He considers irreverent by looking at the ways that the ancient royalty of Judah and Israel were treated when they died. Most were said to have been buried with their fathers… implying that they had gone to ‘the place of the dead’ (gr. Hades, heb. Sheol) where they would await a resurrection (see Revelation 20:13). However, dogs ate wicked Queen JeZebel, and the implication (by God’s causing this to happen) is that she was just gone and would never live again.
She was wicked (gr. ponerou), and there is no hope for those that remain wicked.
Ponerou is the Greek word most commonly translated as wicked, and it refers to those that are willfully bad.
So, like the asebe (irreverent), they are undeserving of a resurrection.
Yet this condemned condition isn’t irreversible, because at Isaiah 1:16, such ones are urged to:
‘Bathe yourselves and get clean!
Remove your wicked lives from My eyes!
Stop being bad and learn to do good;
Insist on [judgments that are] fair;
Rescue those who’ve been wronged;
Give decisions [in favor of] orphans, as well as justice to widows…
Then you can come and plead before me, says Jehovah.
‘Then, if your sins should be crimson red;
As white as snow, [I will make them].
And even if they are like scarlet,
I’ll make them as white as fine wool.’
The Bad and the Foul
The Greek word for bad is kakia, and it may imply the same thing as being evil.
Notice what we are told about the fate of the bad at Proverbs 6:14-18:
‘He plans to do bad, since his heart is perverse, and he brings disturbance to his own town. But because of this, his death will come soon… he’ll be cut off and not be brought back, since he rejoices at things that God hates. He’s destroyed because his life is unclean… because his eyes are insulting… because his tongue is unrighteous… because his hands have shed righteous blood… because his heart conspires to do bad, and because his feet run to do evil.’
The Greek word for foul is almost the same as in English, phaulos (fowl-os), and it means worthless, wicked, or base.
We do know that some of the foul will be resurrected, since Jesus said at John 5:28, 29:
’Now, don’t be surprised at this, because the hour is coming when everyone in the tombs will hear his voice and come out; those that did good things to a resurrection of life, and those that practiced what is foul to a resurrection of judgment.’
And while some think that these verses are speaking of the separating of the dead after the resurrection and the two outcomes thereafter, this doesn’t seem likely; for notice what Jesus said at John 6:40:
‘This is what my Father’s Will is:
That everyone who pays close attention to the Son and believes in him should have age-long life (gr. zoe aionos), and I will resurrect him on the Last Day.’
So, those that pay close attention (or obey) and believe in Jesus appear to be already considered among ‘the living.’
For notice what Jesus said (about God) at Matthew 22:32:
‘He isn’t the God of the dead, but of the living.’
As the result, it appears as though when ‘the living’ are resurrected, theirs will be a ‘resurrection of life.’ Whereas, the unrighteous and foul are considered dead in the eyes of God; so theirs may be a resurrection that requires them to undergo a period of judgment.
Other Words for Unrighteousness
Several other Greek words are used to describe the unrighteous in the Bible, and we won’t attempt to show the outcome for each of them, because the Bible doesn’t tell us anything more about them. These words are:
Anomia – lawbreakers
Hamartia – sinners
Athiest – those that don’t believe in God.
The Outcome Of the Unrighteous
The outcome of unrighteousness is death; for Romans 1:26-32 tells us:
‘This is why God abandoned them to their dishonorable passions; for their females have changed the natural use of themselves into something that’s unnatural, and the same is true of their males! For they’ve left the natural use of females and started burning in their lust toward each other – males with males – doing what is indecent and receiving the type of reward they deserve for such wrongdoing. And because they don’t approve of coming to an accurate knowledge of The God, He has given them depraved minds, which make them do these wrong things.
‘So they’re filled with unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, badness, envy, murder, arguments, deceit, rudeness, and gossip. [They are] slanderers, God haters, insolent, proud, braggarts, inventors of badness, disobedient to parents, without any understanding, agreement breakers, without any natural (family) love, and merciless. And though they know the righteous judgments of God very well (that those who do such things deserve death); they not only keep on doing them, but they also approve of others that do such things!’
So, all forms of unrighteousness are mentioned in the above scripture, both the lesser wickedness of those that will be resurrected and the greater wickedness of those that won’t. However, they are all considered the dead.
The Scriptures show that unrighteous acts include:
Having bad manners (being rude)
Not believing in God (atheism)
Being the cause of any badness
Being disobedient to one’s parents
Refusing to be reasonable
Not honoring agreements
Not loving your family (gr. astorge)
Not being merciful
Being sexually immoral
Being a thief
Being an angry person.
(Romans 1:28-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, James 1:19, 20).
Also, see the link Christian Forgiveness and Repentance.