The Biblical Roots of Justice

José Míguez Bonino

Article Type: Article

Publication Date: 1/1/1987

Issue: Justification and Justice (Vol. 7, No 1, Winter, 1987)

One of the earliest Old Testament poetic compositions that has reached us—the Song of Deborah—already introduces our subject: it sings of “the righteous acts” (literally, “righteousness-es,” in the plural) of the Lord. Most modern versions translate the term as “victories.” Luther, with contemporary translators, sticks to “justice” (although he uses Gerechtigkeit in the singular). The variations are not arbitrary. The epic hymn, in fact, celebrates the triumph of “the peasantry of Israel” which, under the leadership of Deborah, defeats the enemy and makes the land safe and free again for the people. This act of deliverance is “a righteous act” of Yahweh—it is, in fact, his “righteousness.” This identification of God’s saving power as God’s righteousness is, I think, the central biblical root of “justice.”

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