robust righteousness

I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ–God’s righteousness. (Phil. 3:9, The Message)

13 thoughts on “robust righteousness

  1. Tim Archer says:

    Just curious… is there any reason why “righteousness” is used instead of “justice” in most English translations? Is there a linguistic reason for that differentiation?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Charles says:

    I’m not sure what you are asking, whether its theological or translation oriented. So please excuse my layman’s pathetic understanding of this huge concept.

    The word justice here would not apply in the english language. Justice, to me is getting what you deserve. As some friends of mine are fond of saying, don’t ask for justice/fairness because if you got it you would be in jail.

    Anyway, I think here the words we/you are trying to separate are
    justification, i.e,not justice vs righteousness.

    Now if your question is that of translation, i.e., are there different Greek words for justification and righteousness. I don’t know because I don’t read Greek.

    I make an attempt to pseudo-translate using methods that I’m sure are not approved of here. Using Strong’s numbers coming from the KJV+ and the NASB+ out of the E-Sword Bible software, and using various tranlations that I like, ESV, NET, and the Message, and to a more limited degree the NIV, using the assumption that the people that translated these knew what they were doing, and certainly know more about it than I do. I do this using the E-Sword’s parellel comparisons of the same verse, then reading them in their context in each, and doing same Stong’s Number word searches.

    I further “supplement” that belief with the “dangerous” tool of do they feel/sound right hoping that God is leading me down the right path.

    There are plenty of people here that believe these are poor translations for various reasons but I really can’t judge the validity of their arguments, since I don’t know Greek and I don’t really know their qualifications or biases.

    So what am saying? Well, it looks to me like they are different words……. that justification means judged not guilty, whether I am worthy or not, by the Law……I’m not (Paul obviously believes his illustration/metaphor does).

    and since I am not guilty, I am righteous, i.e, in a right relationship with God only through his grace which is perfect and solely, because he wants me to be righteous in him and gives me this path to it. My defects of character, which I clearly have, don’t count against me, as they would do with justice, but not justification.

  3. hypatia says:

    Looking at the Greek text – which I have done – it is clear that Paul here makes NO value judgements about the righteousness of the law, nor about that which comes from God through faith in Christ/Christ’s faithfulness. He just observes that they are different. So words like ‘petty’, ‘inferior’ and ‘robust’ just AREN’T THERE in Paul’s letter, neither is the reduction of ‘law’ to ‘a list of rules’. I cannot imagine how you would end up with a translation like this one, other than in an attempt to superimpose an agendum, or to deliberately mislead the reader about what the text actually contains. Wouldn’t Paul have included them if that’s what he really thought? Or does the translator have a special hotline to the author that allows him/her to override the text?

  4. Tim Archer says:

    In most languages, including the biblical ones, the words “justice” and “righteousness” are the same. In fact, William Tyndale coined the word “righteousness” when making his translation of the Bible.

    I was just curious if any of the contributors and/or readers of this blog knew how translators choose when to use each word.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. Joel H. says:

    I agree with hypatia, at least generally.

    What you quote is a lovely, well-written, and persuasive passage that seems to me to be only tangentially related to the original Greek. (And I think this is typical of The Message.)

    The contrast here between “petty, inferior” and “robust” is interesting — Are robust things better than fragile ones? Are the rules petty? Etc. — but I think this is more along the lines of creative writing than of translation.

  6. Charles says:


    Php 3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
    Php 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

    In 3:8 it looks to me like he is saying “everything a loss”, I would guess he means in the temporal and therefore less compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus

    ….considering other things like personal effort in trying to adhere to doing the Law, or personal interpretation of the Law, or man attemting to be perfect in the Law or anything else that resides in the realm of man, vs that which comes through faith the realm of God. To that extent he is saying it is better.

    ……Rubbish vs surpassing greatness…..imply to me inferior and superior, while not the exact words, could allow some to come to this conclusion. Furthermore, some people could also generalize the Law as a list of rules……go figure

    Using the word robust to me means stronger, more lasting.

  7. Dru says:

    Tim, you’ve hit something I’ve been trying to find a proper answer to for some years. There were some posts that discussed this a few months ago.

    The Greek word that sort of transliterates dikaiosunin, doesn’t necessarily quite match what either justice or righteousness have come to mean in modern English. It is also confused by the fact that Jerome translates it into Latin as justicia, which is a false friend in many contexts. It is particularly misleading if the Vulgate is your familiar Bible, and your first language is not English.

    Jerome’s choices are significant because, although some time had passed since the writing of the NT books, he was translating at a time when both Koine and Latin were still living languages. It’s a bit like the equivalent of translating Moliere into modern English.

    ‘Justice’ in modern English tends to relate to the public realm. Its obvious context is in terms of deciding between two or more people, the sort of thing a judge does. In the term ‘peace and justice’ it can also be used of political and social issues. ‘Righteousness’ tends to be used more of a person’s virtue and particularly of their relationship with God.

    So it is potentially very important how one translates dikaiosunin in Matt 5:6. Is it “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” or “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled”. They mean something quite different in modern English. The difference has a profound bearing on what the Christian calling is about. Or are both translations inadequate?

    Some translations attempt to translate this Beatitude without using either word, but the results do not always work very well.

    In Phil 3:9 though, it looks fairly clear that Paul does mean something that corresponds more to the modern English usage of ‘righteousness’ for two reasons. The first is that in the context Paul appears to be talking about a person’s status before God, their relationship with him. The second is that because of the way these two words are used in English, if one substitutes ‘justice’ for ‘righteousness’ in most English translations of this verse, it will cease to make much sense.

    I had a very interesting discussion with someone whose knowledge is much greater than mine, but who had not really thought about the point before, some 18 months ago. We concluded that the way the two words ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness’ have distinct meanings in English – useful though this may be – means that in some contexts neither is a totally adequate translation.

  8. Charles says:

    The second is that because of the way these two words are used in English, if one substitutes ‘justice’ for ‘righteousness’ in most English translations of this verse, it will cease to make much sense.

    This seems rather obvious to me, so why do it, and why avoid the use of justification which can and has been used in english as equivalent to righteousness?

  9. trierr says:

    Nobody seems at all concerned with how διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ is translated here. In the message we have “trusting in Christ” but, just to lob a new perspective hand grenade into the discussion, why translate it that way? The message is not that different from most translation which say “through faith in Christ.” Why not translate this “through Christ’s faithfulness” (ISV) instead?

  10. Wayne Leman says:

    Good observation, trierr. The NET Bible also translated the genitive phrase as a subjective genitive:

    “and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.”

    As for whether the genitive here should be translated as objective (“trusting Christ”) or subjective (“Christ’s faithfulness”), see the footnote for this verse in the NET Bible. I’ll copy it here:

    “Or “faith in Christ.” A decision is difficult here. Though traditionally translated “faith in Jesus Christ,” an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that p°stiv Cristo (pistis Christou) and similar phrases in Paul (here and in Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Eph 3:12) involve a subjective genitive and mean “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness” (cf., e.g., G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, “P°stiv CristoÂ,” NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42). Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when p°stiv takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5). On the other hand, the objective genitive view has its adherents: A. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul,” NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, “Once More, PISTIS CRISTOU,” SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730–44. Most commentaries on Romans and Galatians usually side with the objective view.”

  11. Dru says:

    Charles, I agree that there are some contexts where ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification’ just might both serve as alternative translations, but to me they do not have the same meaning at all. Also, ‘just’ as in Joseph being described as a ‘just’ man is quite a good rendering of the complex of ideas that underlie dikaiosun**.

    But in most contexts, ‘righteousness’ seems to me to be about a person’s inherent virtue, whereas ‘justification’ is more about how they represent themselves to someone else, or in the Christian context, how God represents them to himself.

    Interestingly, in the Christian context, both are seen as ‘good’ words, but when used in a secular context, if used at all, they tend to convey something slightly questionable. ‘Righteousness’, even if not preceded by ‘self-‘ often tends to convey smugness and ‘justification’, even if not preceded by ‘self-‘ often tends to convey making excuses and special pleading.

  12. Charles says:

    Dru, I absolutely agree with you and I was just trying to make a point about the use of the word justice, which I still don’t understand. It is my belief, however, that justification, i.e., not guilty leads to a right relationship with God. These both come from the grace God, and are tied together rather than equivalent.

    Unfortunately, these words lose that sense in secular usage and do end up with a self oriented connotation. They are also not necessarily perceived as positive. When someone refers to a righteous man, I can interpret that as meaning I’m not, therefore falling short, or that he is some kind of goody goody and I am better.
    I also find it very interesting that we talk about self justification without actually knowing the Biblical use, but end up using it indirectly in that very sense and with the somewhat negative connotation that comes with self rather than God.

    FWIW, I like the Message provided it is used to gain a big picture view of the Bible, especially for new Bible readers and not in a line by line, or even worse a word by word approach. I like using it in conjunction with the ESV Study Bible.

    Being a rather generalized paraphrase and not claiming to be more it was never intended for the rigorous analytical use that it is being put to here. So I find it somewhat ironic that it is knowingly degraded by scholars for something it wasn’t intend to be. Even if this particular verse isn’t word for word accurate is anyone saying that this particular verse misrepresents in general what Paul and many other Christians actually believe?

    Eugene Peterson stated, “When I’m in a congregation where somebody uses it [The Message] in the Scripture reading, it makes me a little uneasy. I would never recommend it be used as saying, “Hear the Word of God from The Message.” But it surprises me how many do.”

  13. LeRoy says:

    Which rightly says:
    1344 δεδικαιωμένος righteous, or such as he ought to be
    1345 δικαίωμα right, concession, prescription, privilege, option, choose. choice, citizen, fees
    3717 όρθός/ως correct, right, advisable, just, from L. correct-, corrigere, ‘make straight, amend (put right)’, from cor- ‘together’ + regere ‘guide
    δίκαιος upright, just, fair, equitable, right, m., nominative, sg. 1. just, fair

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