In the introduction to the translation of Deuteronomy in the Septuagint (LXX), the NETS translator, Melvin H. K. Peters says:

It is fair to say that of DeutTr typically maintains a very close relationship to his source text, though within a linguistically rather constricting framework, one can nevertheless speak of an interpretative dimension…The indicators of a close connection between a Greek translation and a Hebrew source text are well established. Some are attested throughout the Pentateuch, other in the larger corpus of LXX translation Greek and even in the NT. [NETS p.142]

DeutTr was, on the one hand, a translator who often slavishly mimicked his source text but who, on the other hand, from time to time slipped in some exegesis. He does not make unwarranted changes, but when he deems them necessary, he does not hesitate to act. [NETS p.144]

Twice the LXX translator "slipped in some exegesis" changing righteousness to mercy:

If we are watchful to perform all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, there will also be mercy (ἐλεημοσύνη) for us.” (6:25 NETS)

And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’ (6:25 ESV)

By giving back you shall give his pledge back by sunset, and he shall sleep in his garment and bless you, and to you shall be mercy (ἐλεημοσύνη) before the Lord your God. (24:13 NETS)

You shall restore to him the pledge as the sun sets, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you. And it shall be righteousness for you before the LORD your God. (24:13 ESV)

In both cases the Hebrew is צדקח [H6666] meaning righteousness, which the LXX translator everywhere else (9:4,5,6 and 33:21) uses δικαιοσύνη which means righteousness.

What is the sense of righteousness which warrants mercy [ἐλεημοσύνη] in the two exceptions? Or did the LXX translator make an change which is unwarranted?

  • For some mysterious reason, you seem to assume that the LXX is a translation of the Masoretic. Furthermore, the two concepts (tzedakah v'chesed) are, to my knowledge, considered, if not complete synonyms, then, at the very least, strongly related, in Hebrew thought. (Avinu Malkeinu comes here to mind).
    – Lucian
    Oct 4, 2017 at 20:53
  • @Lucian I attempted to clarify your LXX comment. Unless you think the Masorites altered the original consonants or otherwise corrupted the text, I don't see the issue comparing the ESV to the LXX. As to your other point, I do not think mercy and righteousness are treated as synonyms in Greek thought and language. As Peters states, the LXX seems to "slavishly mimic" the Hebrew. In that case the change is intentional or a result of a variant manuscript and the two passages do not seem to have much in common. Especially the 2nd. "Mercy" for returning a pledge? Oct 4, 2017 at 22:31
  • Did you even bother clicking on the links I provided ?
    – Lucian
    Oct 4, 2017 at 22:38
  • @Lucian Yes. The link to tzedakah cites Deut 6:25, not 24:13. Saying the word is translated a certain way does not explain why the translator, who slavishly mimicked the original text and rendered the same word as righteousness everywhere else, deviated in these two cases. Especially in the second. How can returning a pledge be considered as "alms-giving?" Oct 4, 2017 at 22:56
  • Righteousness can mean either holiness or justice. When we say that someone is righteous or just, we usually mean that they are holy, rather than implying that they are of a justiciary or judiciary nature. (Indeed, Christ taught us that the latter usually conflicts with the former). Now, since the divine commandments can be (and have been) summed up as loving God and neighbor alike, and since fulfilling them is righteousness, then love and righteousness are strongly connected. And since alms-giving is the most basic expression of mercy and loving-kindness, the conclusion immediately follows.
    – Lucian
    Oct 5, 2017 at 13:37

3 Answers 3


צְדָקָה (ṣeḏā·qā) does not seem to have as narrow a scope so as to be interpreted solely as "righteousness". Swanson's Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semitic Domains suggests that "justice" (Isaiah 5:23), "innocence" (1 Kings 8:32), and "prosperity" (Proverbs 8:18) are all appropriate translations, with a note that "further study may yield more domains".

Genesius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament ascribes additional meanings of "piety" or "virtue" (Isaiah 5:7; 28:17; 46:12; 54:14; 59:14) and "righteous acts" (Isaiah 64:5), also noting that "Sometimes specially it is kindness and mercy, Psa. 11:7; 24:5."

A Jewish translation of Deuteronomy 6:25 into English (JPS Tanakh) reads:

It will be therefore to our merit before the LORD our God to observe faithfully this whole Instruction, as He has commanded us.

Deuteronomy 24:13 similarly reads:

You must return the pledge to him at sundown, that he may sleep in his cloth and bless you; and it will be to your merit before the LORD your God.

The Greek ἐλεημοσύνη properly means something like a "merciful act" and not simply the quality of "mercy", which is ἔλεος. Throughout the King James Version, ἐλεημοσύνη is consistently translated as "alms". This would seem to be in line with understanding צְדָקָה as meaning something like a righteous or virtuous act.

It seems from the above that there is a difference between how the usual Christian and Jewish translations interpret the text. The KJV, RSV, and NASB all seem to accord with the ESV; the Septuagint and JPS Tanakh seem to agree more with each other. The Vulgate - based on Jerome's translation of a 5th century proto-Hebrew text - also seems to be closer to the Jewish translations:

And he will be merciful to us, if we keep and do all his precepts before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us (Deuteronomy 6:25, Douay-Rheims)

But thou shalt restore it to him presently before the going down of the sun: that he may sleep in his own raiment and bless thee, and thou mayst have justice before the Lord thy God (Deuteronomy 24:13)

  • +1 Good observation that the JPS follows the LXX in seeing something other than righteousness. I think your point about the Jewish and non-Jewish (Christian) perspective is valid. I also think there is something more since the LXX does use righteousness in 9:4-6 and 33:21. (The JPS does not. I don't think the JPS ever sees "righteousness" in Deuteronomy.) Since the LXX does recognize righteousness, it seems 6:25 and 24:13 have a common element missing/or different from 9:4-6 and 33:21 to cause the LXX to use mercy not righteousness which they otherwise used. Oct 7, 2017 at 6:46
  • Does the Vulgate accurately reflect the Greek concept of righteousness? Oct 10, 2017 at 16:38

I see the Hebrew and Greek of Deuteronomy 6:25 like this:

From WLC
And for us it will be righteousness if all this commandment is preserved to be done before the LORD our God, as he has charged us.

From LXX
And a righteous work it be will for us, if we should preserve to be done all these commandments before the Lord our God, as the Lord has charged us.

Details: enter image description here

And the Hebrew and Greek of Deuteronomy 6:25 like this:

From WLC
Restore! You will give back the pledge of a man as the sun goes down, then he will lay down in his garment and bless you. And for you it will be righteousness before the LORD your God.

From LXX
For restitution, you will give the pledge to him upon the setting of the sun. Then he will lay down in his garment, and he will bless you. So it will be a righteous work for you before the Lord your God.

Details: enter image description here

The LXX translator has given δικαιοσύνη for צדקח in these instances for two reasons:

  • "particular" deeds are being depicted in the Hebrew -- returning a man's garment, and preserving the commandments of the LORD; and

  • with regard to the deed of Deuteronomy 6:25, וּ/צְדָקָ֖ה תִּֽהְיֶה לָּ֑/נוּ "and righteousness she will be to us", and the deed of Deuteronomy 24:13, וּ/לְ/ךָ֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה צְדָקָ֔ה "and for you she will be righteousness", i.e. it will be credited to us/you as:
    "a righteousness" --> "a righteous work" --> "alms"

    Other instances of צדקח are not couched in this way in the Hebrew.


Righteousness and mercy are two completely different things and there could never be any warrant for a translator - whatever the context - to translate one word with the other.

Righteousness, in the very meaning of the word in English - right - and in Greek - di/kaios - mean that a person possesses the attribute of undeviating and absolute rightness. The Wycliffe translates δικαιοσύνη as 'rightwiseness' which I view as a very good translation, myself.

The whole expression of Law communicated in the Pentateuch to Israel - both the commandments themselves and the consequences of non-compliance - shows a rightness that is never anything other than absolute.

It could never be competent translation to interpose one quality for the other.

  • Except that is what the LXX translator did. So it would appear the LXX saw fit to interpret the word which shifted the meaning of the passage. Oct 6, 2017 at 14:22
  • 1
    You are assuming that "righteousness" is the only possible meaning of the underlying Hebrew word. This particular word seems to have a particularly large semantic scope, encompassing many different shades of meaning.
    – user33515
    Oct 6, 2017 at 17:33
  • @RevelationLad As you say, the translator 'interpreted'. The translator should have been translating.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 7, 2017 at 1:24
  • @user33515 I am assuming that words convey a definite concept. And that disciplined translation will faithfully express that concept. Context is not an excuse for swopping concepts.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 7, 2017 at 1:26
  • Nigel, the question is asking "What is the sense of righteousness which warrants mercy [ἐλεημοσύνη] in the two exceptions?". The LXX translator has done something that would be considered "from left field". The function of hermeneutics is to try to determine why such things arise. From a secular point of view it might be an interesting exercise in linguistics or social/philosophical/political influences on the writer, and from a believer's perspective it might be interesting in regard to what God is teaching by moving the writer in this way.
    – enegue
    Oct 7, 2017 at 3:50

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