Words are important. Translating words from one language to another – correctly – is very important. One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that every translation of the Bible involves some interpretation. There are certain words that just can’t be translated easily. There are numerous Greek words for example that just don’t have an equivalent in English. One such word is dikaiosyne.
“Linked with God’s reign in a mysterious way is the concept dikaiosyne, which is perhaps the most characteristically Matthean notion of all.” (Transforming Mission by David Bosch p. 71) This word can refer to righteousness (a spiritual term that refers to fearing God & keeping his commandments), or to justice (a practical term that refers to seeing that the oppressed get treated fairly). The word could refer to religious devoutness (righteousness) or to championing the cause of the marginalized (justice.)
Most English translations have a bias towards translating the word righteousness and intending it to be a spiritual term. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God & His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) (See also Matthew 5:6, 5:10, & 5:20) It seems like many of us have become self-righteous and have become just like the Pharisees that Jesus said our righteousness or justice should surpass. How would our behavior change if we started understanding this word to mean justice? Some suggest that we use both words and simply translate it righteousness/justice every time. I like that thought but it seems to me that we have been so biased towards righteousness for so long that it would do us good to emphasize justice for a while. Another possibility is to translate the word as living a life that is consistent with the nature & character of God. I really like this possibility because the Bible clearly indicates that God is a God who loves justice.
So here is the Ken Shuman paraphrase of Matthew 6:33: “Seek first God’s dream for the world and live a life consistent with God’s nature & character and everything else will take care of itself.” David Bosch suggests that “dikaiosyne relates to both God & neighbor. It manifests itself in active faith in God’s involvement in history.” (Transforming Mission -page 72)
“Discipleship involves a commitment to God’s reign, to justice and love, and to obedience to the entire will of God. Mission is not narrowed down to an activity of making individuals new creatures, of providing them with ‘blessed assurance’ so that, come what may, they will be ‘eternally saved’. “Mission involves, from the beginning and as matter of course, making new believers sensitive to the needs of others, opening their eyes and hearts to recognize injustice, suffering, oppression, and the plight of those who have fallen by the wayside.” (Bosch p.81)
“To become a disciple means a decisive and irrevocable turning to both God and neighbor. What follows from there is a journey which, in fact, never ends in this life, a journey of continually discovering new dimensions of loving God and neighbor, as ‘the reign of God and his justice’ are increasingly revealed in the life of the disciple.” (Bosch P. 72)