I overheard in a Sunday school lesson that the etymology of the word "righteous" includes the concept of a covenant that has since been lost in translation. However, I have been unable to find anything that indicates a direct etymological relationship between these.

From etymonline I have found:

righteous (adj.) an early 16c. alteration of the older word, rightwise, which is from Old English rihtwis, of actions, "characterized by justice, morally right," of persons, "just, upright; sinless, conforming to divine law," from riht (see right (adj.1)) + wis "wise, way, manner" (see wise (adj.)). The alteration of the ending is by influence of courteous, etc. As a noun, "those who are righteous," Old English rehtwisan. The meaning "genuine, excellent" is 1942 in jazz slang. Related: Righteously.

Upright gets force from the idea of physical perpendicularity, a standing up straight by the standard of right ; righteous carries up the idea of right to the standards, motives, and sanctions of religion ; rightful applies not to conduct, but to claims by right : as, he is the rightful owner of the land ; just suggests by derivation a written law, but presumes that the law is a right one, or that there is above it, and if necessary overruling it, a law of God. This last is the uniform Biblical usage. Just generally implies the exercise of some power or authority. [Century Dictionary]

From Strong's Concordance I was able to find

Strong's Concordance tsadeq or tsadoq: to be just or righteous Original Word: צָדַק Part of Speech: Verb Transliteration: tsadeq or tsadoq Phonetic Spelling: (tsaw-dak') Definition: to be just or righteous NAS Exhaustive Concordance Word Origin denominative verb from tsedeq Definition to be just or righteous

And from the NASB Exhaustive Concordance I was able to find:

NASB Translation acquit (1), acquitted (1), declare you right (1), do justice (1), give him justice (1), just (2), justified (5), justifies (1), justify (5), justifying (2), lead the to righteousness (1), made your appear righteous (2), properly restored (1), proved right (1), proved...righteous (1), right (4), righteous (9), vindicated (1), vindicates (1).

Obviously, there is a multitude of scriptures that connect righteousness with the keeping of covenants, but the statement that was given says there is an actual etymological connection between the word righteous and the word covenant. If anyone knows what that is, could you please supply me with an explanation or reference?

1 Answer 1


First the words - the root words involved are these:

  • צֶדֶק (tsedeq) = "Rightness, Righteousness" From tsadaq; the right (natural, moral or legal); also (abstractly) equity or (figuratively) prosperity. This about 118 times in the OT, eg, Lev 19:15, 26, Deut 1:16, Jer 23:6, etc.
  • בְּרִית (berith) = "covenant" From barah (in the sense of cutting (like bara')); a compact (because made by passing between pieces of flesh) -- confederacy, (con-)feder(-ate), covenant, league. This occurs about 284 times in the OT, eg, Gen 6:18, 9:9, 11, etc.

Thus, semantically, the two are quite different from entirely different roots.

Theologically, the passage Jer 23:1-8 (especially V3-6) is a Messianic prophecy about Jesus, the coming King of Israel is was fulfilled in the life and ascension of Jesus who was declared:

  • The descendant of David in Matt 1:1-18, Luke 1:33-35.
  • The king of Israel in John 1:49, John 12:13.

This same prophecy in Isa 42 is couched in Covenant language, despite the fact that the word "covenant" does not appear anywhere in the passage. God's covenants were always what God was going to do as here, "I will ..." This passage is an allusion to the others that talk about the coming Messiah as king of Israel such as:

  • 2 Sam 7:12, 13 - And when your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
  • Isa 9:7 - Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore.
  • Ps 2:6 - "I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain."
  • Ps 45:6, 7 - Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever, and justice is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you above your companions with the oil of joy.

See also Dan 2:44.

However, צֶדֶק (tsedeq) and בְּרִית (berith) are unrelated, etymologically.

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