Dikaiosyne In The Gospel of Matthew
This is an old post, originally written in October of 2009. For posterity I decided to go ahead and repost.
This past week while on vacation I had the opportunity to do a lot of reading. I finished Church After Christendom by Stuart Murray and Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and started Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission by David Bosch. This last book that I just started has been on my reading list for quite some time and I’m quite glad of that, only wishing that I had had the opportunity to read it sooner.
As the name implies, Transforming Mission is an in depth theology of mission for our time. It starts with historical overviews of missions throughout the ages before arriving at our post-modern age though. Its starting point is missiology in the New Testament (and this is what I’m still going through). It’s a work to trudge through though as the pages are littered with gems that I hadn’t really ever thought of / taken into account / put together before.
This brings me to the topic at hand: Dikaiosyne in Matthew. Matthew is the first major Biblical New Testament text examined, chosen for obvious reasons: the frequently quoted “Great Commission” that closes the book. Bosch though contends that an average reading of this challenge without the context of the preceding text misses much of the point and as such he spends much time developing the concepts of missiology throughout the Gospel of Matthew.
One of those areas is the inseparability of God’s reign and Dikaiosyne. Dikaiosyne is a Greek word. In mythological Greek texts, Dikaiosyne as a proper noun is the spirit of justice and righteousness. Pertinent to the Biblical text, it is either translated as righteousness (one of God’s attributes and something we “get” from God through justification) or justice (our conduct in relation to our fellow man which seeks for them that which they have a right to).
In Matthew, it is exclusively translated as righteousness to the detriment of the inherent richness in this word. In Transforming Mission, Bosch says, “…we should translate it with justice-righteousness, in an attempt to hold on to both dimensions…it is doing the will of God…[and]…relates to both God and neighbor.” The two dimensions that he is talking about is the constitutive (God’s justification of us which makes us holy and righteous) and the normative (a people of God’s reign ministering to others the same justice they have experienced from God).
In my mind this is quite powerful and radical and evokes new emotion/meditation when reading these passages. Here are a few as examples:
Mt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for dikaiosyne (righteousness/justice), for they will be satisfied.”
Mt 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for dikaiosyne (righteousness/justice), for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”
Mt 5:20 “For I tell you, unless your dikaiosyne (righteousness/justice) goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Mt 6:33 “But above all pursue his kingdom and dikaiosyne (righteousness/justice), and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Re-adding the element of justice into these verses really brings the hammer down; no longer do they entail an individualistic sense of spirituality (our own righteousness before God) but added is our neighbor in relation to us. And something to remember — adding an element of justice does not remove the element of righteousness. We cannot replace one for the other (creating the liberal notion of a purely social gospel) rather they work hand in hand.
Take this for what its worth; I found it worth sharing and preserving and hope someone else out there might as well.