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Deuteronomy 6:25 NASB

25 It will be righteousness for us if we [a]are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.

Was Moses saying that if children of Israel careful kept and observed the law they would have attained righteousness.

How can we understand the above text?

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There are two main parts to this Question:

  1. What is the working definition of "righteousness" at that point in Scripture?
  2. What is Moses referring to in this passage?

1. Definition of "righteousness"

Background to supply a definition

The literature background for studying Moses should be the Book of Enoch. This is because Moses knew this book, it predated everything before historical events after Genesis 10. It isn't part of cannon, but it is valid, true, and provides historical context, much how Homer's Greek might shed insight on the Greek used in the New Testament.

This book (1 Enoch, AKA 'The Book of Enoch') mentions "the righteous" as people numerous times, too many to list, but consider 1:1, 2, 8; 5:6; 25:5, 7; 27:3; 39:4-7—just for starters. By contrast (which is useful) we have "unrighteous" people in 9:6, 10.

Chapter 5 speaks of the righteous as if they sin in the current life...

1 Enoch 5:8 (by R.H. Charles) emphasis added

And then there shall be bestowed upon the elect wisdom, And they shall all live and never again sin, Either through ungodliness or through pride: But they who are wise shall be humble.

...In this verse, it says "elect", not "righteous", but ch 5 only addresses two groups:

  • First a group held in contempt and called "godless" (5:4-6)
  • Then "the righteous" (5:7), also called "elect" (5:8)
  • Then we get the phrase "elect and righteous" to describe the same people in 60:8.

From this, we learn so far:

  • The terms "elect" and "righteous" are used somewhat as one-in-the-same, somewhat interchangeably. For the most part, we can say that in 1 Enoch's definition (Moses's source of ideas) "elect" = "righteous".
  • This "righteousness" that these "righteous" people have is not treated as "sinlessness" or "perfection".

The term "righteous" literally means "just" or "right". "Righteous [people]" live upright lives, consider this article and this expanded word study.

I note that many religious commentaries turn the term "righteous" into a pious, pie-in-the-sky, etherial, sinless, "made-sinless", "approved-forgiven" concept, especially since Martin Luther's Justification by Faith and the idea of imputed righteousness. But, buried in these, including the expanded word study (above), "righteous" still essentially means "right" or "justice-related". If, in Enoch's day, "the elect/righteous will on longer sin [in the pined-for future]", then "righteous" does NOT mean "100% sinless", no matter how much our applied theology studies might tend to forget that pragmatic fact.

Teachable moment: Keep hermeneutics and theology as separated studies, just as they are separate forums on SE. Let's not let our theological definitions of "righteous" developed 500 years ago define what Moses meant 3,500 years ago.

So, for Moses, "righteousness" does not mean "perfect" or "sinless", but "doing justly" and maybe "striving to live with piety".

2. What Moses means

The phraseology in your verse is strikingly similar to Abraham's righteousness by faith...

Genesis 15:6 (NASB)

Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

In that concept of Genesis 15, we have the hermeneutic of "first mention" because of the way the word "righteousness" is used. It is "for" or "to" someone. "This is righteousness to Abraham/us"... that manner of speaking.

Conclusion

So, Moses is not claiming that Israel would be instantly sinless or anything along those lines. It's not justification by works; it's about what God considering the people fair and honest because they are lawful and obey His good commands.

Moses is telling Israel, more or less, "Just how God counted Abraham's faith and trust as righteousness to him, God will count our obedience as righteousness to us."

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Collen, it is my understanding that Moses supports a justification by works philosophy in Deut 6:25. I find that justification by works is taught in both the Old and New Testament, which is a righteousness based on works. This is not to be confused with salvation by works.

At one time, Paul subscribed to the teachings and philosophies of the Pharisees. The Pharisees built traditions and laws which they expected others to follow. One such law of the Pharisees was to wash your hands in a prescribed manner, with prescribed prayers before eating. The Pharisees had thousands of man-made commandments such as this. The Pharisees built these commandments from concepts from the Torah, or the law of God, but not really found in the law of God. Today those commandments are called the Oral Law or the Talmud. If you did not follow the laws of the Pharisees, the Pharisees would not consider you righteous. They would correct others and compel others to follow their man-made commandments under the premise that their authority to make such commandments came from Yahweh Himself. Quite often, our Messiah Jesus/Yeshua, intentionally broke the commandments of the Pharisee's oral law just to show people that the Pharisee laws are nothing, but it is God's commandments that count. For example we see this exact situation in Mark 7:

[1] Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. [2] Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. [3] For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash [their] hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. [4] When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. [5] Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" [6] He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. [7] And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' [8] "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men--the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do." [9] He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. [10] "For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' [11] "But you say, 'If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban"--' (that is, a gift to God), [12] "then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, [13] "making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do." (Mar 7:1-13 NKJV)

As already mentioned, at one time, Paul subscribed to these traditions of the elders. But did you see what the Messiah said in Mark 7? Yeshua said that these traditions make void the Word of God. Notice Yeshua did not say to not to follow the Law of God, in fact Yeshua quotes Moses and defines what Moses wrote as the Law of God and as the Word of God.

Thus the Pharisees actually have created a new type of righteousness--one that comes from man, not from God. It is this that Jesus preached against.

And Paul backs this up in Phillipians 3 as well, the same message as our Messiah in Mark 7:

[Phl 3:8-11 NKJV] [8] Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law [the Pharisees' oral law], but that which [is] through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; [10] that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, [11] if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:8-11, NKJV)

Our Messiah only taught and practiced the torah. The torah is the righteousness that we are to practice.

1st John 2:29:

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him." [1 John 2:29, NKJV]

and 1st John 3:7:

"Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous." [1 John 3:7, NKJV]

and 1st John 3:10:

"In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother." (1 John 3:10, NKJV)

And Jesus Himself taught so many times that to love Him is to obey His commandments. Our actions are so important. In James 2, we find that 'faith without works is dead'. I encourage you to read 1 John and consider this concept.

These are but 3 examples, but i find it throughout both the New and Old Testament.

Jesse Steele's interpretation assumes that Moses regarded the book of Enoch with high regard, and many other assumptions that I think is dangerous to make. The book of Enoch has some outlandish stuff. And any explanation that uses the book of Enoch as an explanation to make God's law, the law of Moses, say something which is the exact opposite of what it seems to teach, when taken at face value, just might need to be considered (very) carefully.

Collen, a resource that i found very useful in considering your question is this 8-minute YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YN7YKBAoHmU

For a longer, more thorough 30-minute teaching of this, please see this 'Hunger' teaching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grf88FzEtdw ("Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.")

Cheers!

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