What Is Righteousness?

Righteousness is defined as “the quality of being morally correct and justifiable.” It can also be considered synonymous with “rightness”. It is a concept that can be found in Indian religions and Abrahamic traditions as a theological concept. For example, from various perspectives in Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism it is considered an attribute that implies that a person’s actions are justified, and can have the connotation that the person has been “judged” or “reckoned” as leading a life that is pleasing to God.



It is also found in Tamil literature in the name of அறம் (aram). In Tamil literature there is separate section called அற நூல்கள் (“righteous books”), for example Thirukkural, Nālaṭiyār and many more books. Tirukkural dedicates chapters 1–38 of the Book of Aram for righteousness. A poem in Purananuru written by Kaniyan Pungundranar, it showcases the practice of righteousness leads to world peace and harmony in society.

William Tyndale (Bible translator into English in 1526) remodelled the word after an earlier word rihtwis, which would have yielded modern English *rightwise or *rightways. He used it to translate the Hebrew root צדקים (TzDYQ), tzedek, which appears over five hundred times in the Hebrew Bible, and the Greek word δίκαιος (dikaios), which appears more than two hundred times in the New Testament.


Old English rihtwīs, from riht ‘right’ + wīs ‘manner, state, condition’ (as opposed to wrangwise, “wrongful”). The change in the ending in the 16th century was due to association with words such as bounteous.

Ethics or moral philosophy

Ethics is a major branch of philosophy, encompasses right conduct and good living. “Rushworth Kidder states that “standard definitions of ethics have typically included such phrases as ‘the science of the ideal human character’ or ‘the science of moral duty'”. Richard William Paul and Linda Elder define ethics as “a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures”. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy states that the word ethics is “commonly used interchangeably with ‘morality’ … and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group or individual.”



Abrahamic religions


See also: Attributes of God in Christianity

William Lane Craig argues that we should think of God as the “paradigm, the locus, the source of all moral value and standards”. In Matthew’s account of the baptism Jesus tells the prophet “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus requests that John perform the rite for him. The Sermon of the Mount contains the memorable commandment “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”. The Greek word dikaiosune also means justice and the sole translation using this rendering for Matthew 6:33 is the New English Bible.

Jesus asserts the importance of righteousness by saying in Matthew 5:20,

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

However, Paul the Apostle speaks of two ways, at least in theory, to achieve righteousness: through the Law of Moses (or Torah); and through faith in the atonement made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3-13). Some interpret that he repeatedly emphasizes that faith is the only effective way. For example, just a few verses earlier, he states the Jews did not attain the law of righteousness because they sought it not by faith, but by works. The New Testament speaks of a salvation founded on God’s righteousness, as exemplified throughout the history of salvation narrated in the Old Testament (Romans 9-11). Paul writes to the Romans that righteousness comes by faith:

“…a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'” (Romans 1:17)

In 2 Corinthians 9:9 the New Revised Standard Version has a footnote that the original word has the meaning of ‘benevolence’ and the Messianic Jewish commentary of David Stern affirms the Jewish practice of ‘doing tzedakah’ as charity in referring to the Matt. 6 and II Cor. 9 passages.

James 2:14-26 speaks of the relationship between works of righteousness and faith, saying that “faith without works is dead.” Righteous acts according to James include works of charity (James 2:15-16) as well as avoiding sins against the Law of Moses (James 2:11-12).

2 Peter 2:7-8 describes Lot as a righteous man.

Type of saint

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, “Righteous” is a type of saint who is regarded as a holy person under the Old Covenant (Old Testament Israel) but also sometimes used for married saints of the New Covenant (the Church). According to Orthodox theology, the Righteous saints of the Old Covenant were not able to enter into heaven until after the death of Jesus on the cross (Hebrews 11:40), but had to await salvation in the Bosom of Abraham (see: Harrowing of Hell).


Righteousness is mentioned several times in the Quran. The Quran says that a life of righteousness is the only way to go to Heaven.

We will give the home of the Hereafter to those who do not want arrogance or mischief on earth; and the end is best for the righteous.

— Quran Sura 28: Verse 83

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

— Quran Surah 49: Verse 13

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the east and the west [in prayer]. But righteous is the one who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Scripture and the Prophets; who gives his wealth in spite of love for it to kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the wayfarer, to those who ask and to set slaves free. And (righteous are) those who pray, pay alms, honor their agreements, and are patient in (times of) poverty, ailment and during conflict. Such are the people of truth. And they are the God-Fearing.

— Quran Surah 2: Verse 177


Main article: Tzadik

Righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct (for example, Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:1; Psalm 1:6; Proverbs 8:20). In the Book of Job the title character is introduced to us as a person who is perfect in righteousness.

East Asian religions

Yi (Confucianism)

Main article: Yi (Confucianism)

Yi, (Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: ; Jyutping: Ji6; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄧˋ), literally “justice, righteousness; meaning,” is an important concept in Confucianism. It involves a moral disposition to do good, and also the intuition and sensibility to do so competently.

Yi resonates with Confucian philosophy’s orientation towards the cultivation of benevolence (ren) and skillful practice (li).

Yi represents moral acumen which goes beyond simple rule following, and involves a balanced understanding of a situation, and the “creative insights” necessary to apply virtues “with no loss of sight of the total good. Yi represents this ideal of totality as well as a decision-generating ability to apply a virtue properly and appropriately in a situation.”

In application, yi is a “complex principle” which includes:

  1. skill in crafting actions which have moral fitness according to a given concrete situation
  2. the wise recognition of such fitness
  3. the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from that recognition.
Buddhism Dharma Wheel

Buddhism Dharma Wheel

Indian religions

Dharma is a key concept with multiple meanings. There might not be a single-word translation for dharma in Western languages. Dharma धर्म can be translated as righteousness, religion, faith, duty, law, and virtue. Connotations of dharma include rightness, good, natural, morality, righteousness, and virtue. It means moral, right, just, balanced, or natural etc. In common parlance, dharma means “right way of living” and “path of rightness”. Dharma encompasses ideas such as duty, rights, character, vocation, religion, customs and all behaviour considered appropriate, correct or “morally upright”. It is explained as law of righteousness and equated to satya (truth, Sanskrit: satya सत्यं). “…when a man speaks the Truth, they say, “He speaks the Dharma”; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, “He speaks the Truth!” For both are one.” — Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.4.xiv


Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4: Text 7

yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharata

abhyutthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srjamy aham

“Whenever there is decay of righteousness, O Bharata, And there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth”
Whenever and wherever there is a decline in righteousness/religious practice, Oh descendant of Bharata, and a rise of evil/irreligion— Then at that time I manifest Myself.

In Hindu philosophy and religion, major emphasis is placed on individual practical morality. In the Sanskrit epics, this concern is omnipresent. Including duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and “right way of living”. The Sanskrit epics contain themes and examples where right prevails over wrong, the good over evil.

In the mid-20th century, an inscription of the Indian Emperor Ashoka from the year 258 BC was discovered. This rock inscription contained Sanskrit, Aramaic and Greek text. According to Paul Hacker, on the rock appears a Greek rendering for the Sanskrit word dharma, the word eusebeia. In his 250 BCE Edicts used the word eusebeia as a Greek translation for the central Buddhist and Hindu concept of dharma. This rock inscription, concludes Paul Hacker,[34] suggests dharma in India, about 2300 years ago, was a central concept and meant not only religious ideas, but ideas of right, of good, of one’s duty.


The major Jain text, Tattvartha Sutra mentions Das-dharma with the meaning of “ten righteous virtues”.


For Sikhs, the word Dharm means the path of righteousness and proper religious practice.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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