On justice and righteousness


Presbyterian Association of Musicians attendees crack open their Bibles at Montreat Conference Center

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Mary Brueggemann, a retired United Church of Christ pastor, is leading adult Bible study during this week’s Presbyterian Association of Musicians conference at Montreat Conference Center. (Photo by Paul Seebeck)

MONTREAT, N.C. — The Rev. Mary Brueggemann, a retired United Church of Christ pastor, began the Presbyterian Association of Musicians conference  Bible study on Justice in the New Testament Tuesday with a quote about the Old Testament.

Before saying, “We should pray,” she used these words from Princeton Theological Seminary emeritus professor, Patrick D. Miller:

“All the questions we have in our doubt or pain have come from the lips of ancient Israel. Their response was praise, rather than there is no meaning to life … This providence of God plays out in the terrors and possibilities of the human experience. Over and over again, God is with us. God will help us.”

With that, Brueggeman invited those in her class to share their prayer requests. Included in those requests were:

  • Children on our borders
  • Protestors in Hong Kong
  • Purple church pastors, who minister to Republicans and Democrats and everyone else
  • The Trump administration
  • And several personal requests.

After prayer and reading with the class from Deuteronomy 24:17-22 — God’s command to care for the alien, orphan and window — Brueggemann asked, “How many times do you think justice is mentioned in the Old Testament?  How about the New Testament?”

Doing a word study on justice, she found the word appears 100 times in the Old Testament — and only 15 times in the New Testament.

“Why so few,” she asked, “when justice was the core attribute of Jesus? (Luke 4:18-19).”

Brueggemann said a study of Plato’s “Republic” by theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff helped her as she wrestled with her questions. The Greek noun which Plato uses for justice in is “dikaiosyne.” That word is translated in the New Testament as “righteousness.”

“Righteousness is used over 300 times,” she said. “In English, ‘dikaiosyne’ can be translated as either ‘justice’ or ‘righteousness.’ The translators choose ‘righteousness,’ which is right living, or right relationship with God.”

Brueggemann said she also found “hendiadys,” the expression of a single idea by two words connected with “and,” was also helpful in her understanding of “justice” and “righteousness.”

These two words are used this way 26 times in the Old Testament, such as in Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 “So, when you read the New Testament,” she said, “could the word ‘righteousness’ mean ‘justice’ as well?”

Then Brueggemann began to look at the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-10. Drawing on Richard A. Horsley’s book “Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All,” Brueggemann called Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount his “covenant speech” because it complements the kind of justice described in the Old Testament.

In the Beatitudes, those who are blessed — some theologians describe them as God’s special people — are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

Brueggemann said the first Beatitude about the poor is Jesus’s general way of establishing the kingdom of God. Horsley, she noted, writes that “the meek are those who don’t covetously strive to take what belongs to God” and that “the merciful are those who share economic goods with others.”

“As for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and are persecuted for righteousness, the word could easily be ‘justice,’” Brueggemann said. “One isn’t persecuted for being upstanding, but for seeking justice.”

“Right living will lead to the pursuit of justice — and the pursuit of justice demands right living.”

The daily adult Bible study on Economic Justice in the New Testament continues through Friday at the PAM conference, where the theme is “Not as the World Gives.” The theme is based on a verse from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, John 14:27 , where Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

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