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In the following passage there are four different Greek words sharing the same root.

Romans 3:23-26 (ESV)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

justified       δικαιούμενοι   dikaioumenoi
righteousness   δικαιοσύνης    dikaiosunēs
just            δίκαιον        dikaion
justifier       δικαιοῦντα     dikaiounta

My question is, why not translate all four using the same English root word?

It seems as if dikaion is almost always translated "righteous," but here many versions translate it "just." I assume this is to show the structure of the original by revealing the phrase "just and justifier." Why not extend this approach to include the rest of the passage?

Is there any reason not to translate:

...It was to show his justice at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

(this would apply to verse 21,22,25 as well).

The converse is also an option, using "righteous" as the root (though it requires more wordy English):

  • made righteous
  • righteousness
  • righteous
  • one who makes righteous
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  • Great question-the Catholic sources(Douay-Rheims/Confraternity) translates it "Justice". I suspect you will find the answer more in line w/Reformation theology, as they attached a particular emphasis on "Justice" vs "Righteousness", which we equate to 'right-standing'.
    – Tau
    Apr 13, 2014 at 13:31

2 Answers 2

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It would be difficult to give a 100% definitive answer unless there is some commentary by the translation committee on this (which I have not found, but may exist). The following is offered as reasonable conclusions from other evidence.

Variation

It is deemed by some that good writing avoids an abundance of repetition in word usage. For example, this page notes with regard to the use of synonyms:

As a proofreader of hundreds of academic assignments and papers, there is nothing more disappointing than to see the same vocabulary and expressions repeated ad infinitum... One solution to keeping the reader connected with your writing is by using synonyms, synonymous expressions and greater lexical variety.

So a reason may be for variety in the passage, though I suspect this is the least of the reasons.

ESV's Original English Text Base was RSV

Additionally, the original text base for the ESV was the 1971 RSV, per the Preface to the ESV:

The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale-King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work.

The RSV reads in Rom 3:23-26 (same words bolded):

23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

Notice that it is missing the "his righteousness" in the beginning part of v.26. I have not tracked down why, but I suspect the translators of the RSV felt it was superfluous, and thus omitted it. A quick examination of both Greek textual streams shows it should be included based on the Greek (there is no textual variant noted regarding that phrase for this verse).

So this may be another reason there is variation in the ESV, because there was variation in the RSV. However, the ESV adds back the missing phrase and does not follow the same wording as the RSV, so this also is less likely as to why.

Translation Committee General Theological Position

Here is a listing of those involved with the ESV. It is largely a Protestant, Evangelical group. There are varying views on the concept of righteousness. The Protestant view is that of imputed righteousness:

Imputed righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus credited to the Christian, enabling the Christian to be justified.

As the Wikipedia article further notes:

In the 16th Century, the Protestant Reformers came to understand human acceptance by God according to a "forensic" model, in which God declares humanity not guilty, even though they were in a moral sense still guilty of sin. However, the Reformers continued to accept the traditional concept of righteousness. What changed is that the righteousness was seen as Christ's, which was credited ("imputed") to Christians by God.

The key point here is that theologically in the Protestant view, only God has true "righteousness" as a quality, and a believer's righteousness (justification) is derived from that through this imputation (accounting).

This very likely forms the basis as to why ESV makes some distinctions.

Word Definitions for Precision

So given the above points about Protestant theology, consider some of the options you noted, in light of common definitions in English:

  • "made righteous" would not be used, rather "declared righteous" would be used by most Protestant theologians.
  • Both instances where "righteousness" is used in the ESV, it is referring specifically to God's attribute of "being righteous," of which the word "righteousness" has that as part of it's #1 definition - "state of being righteous." So there is a theological reason the word is being used so, but also a "historical" translation reason.1 "Justice" could probably still qualify based on its #1 definition of "the quality of being just," but...
  • The "justified" and "justifier" terms are used in referencing what is happening to human recipients of righteousness, and is likely an attempt to reflect that they are being "declared righteous" or "shown as righteous" rather than "made righteous." This fits the both #1 and #3 English definitions of the term justify:
1. to show (an act, claim, statement, etc.) to be just or right   
...
3. Theology. to declare innocent or guiltless; absolve; acquit.
  • "be just" is probably used of God in v.26 because it is there not talking about the attribute of His righteousness, but in fact the out-working action of His righteousness in declaring the believer to be justified. So the focus there is on God's action of doing righteousness, rather than on His quality of being righteous.

Conclusion

I would lean towards the final two reasons being the primary driving force behind the ESV translation and variation of the language used for similar Greek words. Whether such is "right" or not depends on at least two factors. (1) ONe's theology. This is probably a good example of showing that all translation of Scripture involves some influence by one's theology, and hence why it is good to go back and look at the original languages to at least get some perspective. That is not to say such distinctions in English are unwarranted, but neither is it proof that they are warranted--one's understanding of other aspects of Scripture is going to influence what the proper meaning is in this Roman's passage--it is not going to be entirely text driven, because the Greek can carry either idea in it. (2) On one's translation philosophy. Should similar Greek words be necessarily translated by similar English words simply because of the Greek root relationship or not? That is, is root similarity important to reflect or the proper meaning itself (as discerned by the translators). These and other such translation decisions will affect it (including the importance or not of first two points noted).


Notes

1 The Preface of the ESV notes as well that (emphasis added):

The ESV also carries forward classic translation principles in its literary style. Accordingly it retains theological terminology—words such as grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, propitiation—because of their central importance for Christian doctrine and also because the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times.

While "righteousness" is not noted, I think it safe to assume (1) the words that are noted are not an exhaustive list, but merely representational, and (2) that the "righteousness" of God would be such a theological term retained.

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  • Good answer-and it dealt w/the Protestant preference.
    – Tau
    Apr 16, 2014 at 6:33
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The use of the terminology above doesn't do justice to the underlining concept Paul is getting at. You can't approach Scripture interpretation as if each text stands alone. There are many specialized terms used. Each one informing the other. However, 23. An indictment of the human races incapacity to attain to the glory of God. Not just in action but in nature. A state of being. Called flesh, in Adam, sinner, etc. Harmartona in Greek denotes missing the mark and in this application is used in relation to Gods glory. We did not and can not attain to the glory. We missed and miss the mark of attaining to the glory of God. The purpose of god in creation. His glory. The line is drawn. We fail as humans. We possess no righteous quality before God.

  1. Being justified in this verse denotes something being done to someone else. Someone i.e. God, is making right someone else, i.e. us, the human race. It goes on to say this is by grace. Meaning he is making us right with himself on his own initiative and In his own terms. Which is Jesus.

  2. Going backwards, in this verse we are presented with the divine moral quality of righteousness possessed only by God.

  3. Pay close attention, here we are presented with Gods righteousness and moral quality by the faith of Jesus Christ, or better said by a life of complete obedience stemming from a pure being. One that has not missed the mark in moral quality nor in moral deed. Jesus born of faith maintained faith. He by faith gave glory to God. By faith meaning he gave the glory of God demonstration to all. Faith is always derivative. It draws off of something else. Jesus was born and died and was resurrected by the glory of God.

  4. Here we see the same thing. Christ is the propitiation. Which means way more than just atonement. It means atonement yes but it also means the presence of God. The glory of God rests upon the propitiation. Its to much to explain here on this topic. But this is the main thrust of Pauline theology.

  5. Here we have the word righteousness used as a statement of the moral quality of God inherent to only him and displayed as such in christ. Because the nature of the Gospel correctly understood shows how God through it maintains His moral quality of righteousness for judging and condemning us and also providing a solution to saving us. And this is called justification. The process where we become correct before God not just in standing but in practice.

Quick comment: the righteous of faith is not the same as the righteousness of God in Christ. The only righteousness we have is our faith. Like Abraham in Romans 4. We never acquire the inherent moral quality of God. God brings us to faith. Thats it. And this is a condition we come to by His initiative. It is simply submitting to his program. God the only righteous one bringing all into faith and submission to him, justification. Once

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