Paul’s Theology on Justice, Righteousness and Reconciliation (A Primer on Justice and Missions, Part 2) *
Fig. 1: How the LXX and NT translates םשׁפט and צדק
Main Point: If the Old Testament concepts of mishpat and tsedeq bear any influence on the New Testament understanding of dikaiosynē (and the consensus is that they do!), then I argue here that dikaiosynē mainly means “righteousness,” or God’s saving righteousness but at times can be translated as distributive justice, or even denote righteousness with some sense of distributive justice subsumed within it (see, e.g., Ps. 72:1–3; 98:1–3 par. Rom. 1.16–17).6
First, we realize that justice–fairness, as important as it is, cannot become an end in itself. Acts of mercy, compassion and justice are only means to a greater work: the reconciliation of the sinner to God and sinners with one another. Therefore, the church participates in the task of justice out of compassion for those who are disenfranchised, but the community of faith does this so that eventually (and here wise discernment has its place) the powerless can feel safe enough to avail themselves of God’s grace. We model God’s compassion so they can feel unafraid of a God whom they might feel has abandoned them.