Righteousness or rectitude is the quality or state of being morally correct and justifiable.[1] It can be considered synonymous with "rightness" or being "upright" or to-the-light and visible.[citation needed] It can be found in Indian, Chinese and Abrahamic religions and traditions, among others, as a theological concept. For example, from various perspectives in Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism it is considered an attribute that implies that a person's actions are justified, and can have the connotation that the person has been "judged" or "reckoned" as leading a life that is pleasing to God.

William Tyndale (translator of the Bible into English in 1526) remodelled the word after an earlier word rihtwis, which would have yielded modern English *rightwise or *rightways. He used it to translate the Hebrew root צדק tzedek, which appears over five hundred times in the Hebrew Bible, and the Greek word δίκαιος (dikaios), which appears more than two hundred times in the New Testament.

Etymologically, it comes from Old English rihtwīs, from riht 'right' + wīs 'manner, state, condition' (as opposed to wrangwīs, "wrongful"[2]). The change in the ending in the 16th century was due to association with words such as bounteous.[1]

Ethics or moral philosophy

Ethics is a major branch of philosophy which encompasses right conduct and good living.[relevant?] Rushworth Kidder states that "standard definitions of ethics have typically included such phrases as 'the science of the ideal human character' or 'the science of moral duty'".[This quote needs a citation] Richard William Paul and Linda Elder define ethics as "a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures". [This quote needs a citation] The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy states that the word ethics is "commonly used interchangeably with 'morality' ... and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group or individual".[This quote needs a citation]

Abrahamic and Abrahamic-inspired religions


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In the New Testament, the word righteousness, a translation word for the Greek dikaiosunē, is used in the sense of 'being righteous before others' (e.g. Matthew 5:20) or 'being righteous before God' (e.g. Romans 1:17). William Lane Craig argues that we should think of God as the "paradigm, the locus, the source of all moral value and standards".[3] In Matthew's account of the Baptism of Jesus, Jesus tells the prophet "it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" as Jesus requests that John perform the rite for him. The Sermon of the Mount contains the memorable commandment "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness".

A secondary meaning of the Greek word is 'justice',[4] which is used to render it in a few places by a few Bible translations, e.g. in Matthew 6:33 in the New English Bible.

Jesus asserts the importance of righteousness by saying in Matthew 5:20, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven".

However, Paul the Apostle speaks of two ways, at least in theory, to achieve righteousness: through the Law of Moses (or Torah), and through faith in the atonement made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3–13). However he repeatedly emphasizes that faith is the effective way.[5] For example, just a few verses earlier, he states the Jews did not attain the law of righteousness because they sought it not by faith, but by works.[6] The New Testament speaks of a salvation founded on God's righteousness, as exemplified throughout the history of salvation narrated in the Old Testament (Romans 9–11). Paul writes to the Romans that righteousness comes by faith: "... a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'" (Romans 1:17).

In 2 Corinthians 9:9 the New Revised Standard Version has a footnote that the original word has the meaning of 'benevolence', and the Messianic Jewish commentary of David Stern affirms the Jewish practice of 'doing tzedakah' as charity, in referring to the Matthew 6:33 and 2 Corinthians 9:9 passages.[7]

James 2:14–26 speaks of the relationship between works of righteousness and faith, saying that "faith without works is dead". Righteous acts according to James include works of charity (James 2:15–16) as well as avoiding sins against the Law of Moses (James 2:11–12).

2 Peter 2:7–8 describes Lot as a righteous man.

Type of saint

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, "Righteous" is a type of saint who is regarded as a holy person under the Old Covenant (Old Testament Israel). The word is also sometimes used for married saints of the New Covenant (the Church). According to Orthodox theology, the Righteous saints of the Old Covenant were not able to enter into heaven until after the death of Jesus on the cross (Hebrews 11:40), but had to await salvation in the Bosom of Abraham (see: Harrowing of Hell).


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Righteousness is mentioned several times in the Quran.[8] The Quran says that a life of righteousness is the only way to go to Heaven.

We will give the home of the Hereafter to those who do not want arrogance or mischief on earth; and the end is best for the righteous.

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the east and the west [in prayer]. But righteous is the one who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Scripture and the Prophets; who gives his wealth in spite of love for it to kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the wayfarer, to those who ask and to set slaves free. And (righteous are) those who pray, pay alms, honor their agreements, and are patient in (times of) poverty, ailment and during conflict. Such are the people of truth. And they are the God-Fearing.


Main article: Tzadik

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Righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct (for example, Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:1; Psalms 1:6; Proverbs 8:20). In the Book of Job, the title character is introduced as "a good and righteous man".[9] The Book of Wisdom calls on rulers of the world to embrace righteousness.[10]


Main articles: Mandaeans § Origin, and Zidqa

An early self-appellation for Mandaeans is bhiri zidqa meaning 'elect of righteousness' or 'the chosen righteous', a term found in the Book of Enoch and Genesis Apocryphon II, 4.[11] In addition to righteousness, zidqa also refers to alms or almsgiving.[12]

East Asian religions

Yi (Confucianism)

Main article: Yi (Confucianism)

Yi, (Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: ; Jyutping: Ji6; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄧˋ), literally "justice, or justness, righteousness or rightness, meaning", is an important concept in Confucianism. It involves a moral disposition for the good in life, with the sustainable intuition, purpose, and sensibility to do good competently with no expectation of reward.[13][14]

Yi resonates with Confucian philosophy's orientation towards the cultivation of reverence or benevolence (ren) and skillful practice (li).

Yi represents moral acumen that goes beyond simple rule-following, as it is based on empathy, it involves a balanced understanding of a situation, and it incorporates the "creative insights" and grounding necessary to apply virtues through deduction (Yin and Yang) and reason "with no loss of purpose and direction for the total good of fidelity. Yi represents this ideal of totality as well as a decision-generating ability to apply a virtue properly and appropriately in a situation."[14]: 271 

In application, yi is a "complex principle" that includes:[14]

  1. skill in crafting actions which have moral fitness according to a given concrete situation
  2. the wise recognition of such fitness
  3. the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from that recognition.

Indian religions

There might not be a single-word translation for dharma in English, but it can be translated as righteousness, religion, faith, duty, law, and virtue. Connotations of dharma include rightness, good, natural, morality, righteousness, and virtue. In common parlance, dharma means "right way of living" and "path of rightness". It encompasses ideas such as duty, rights, character, vocation, religion, customs and all behaviour considered appropriate, correct or "morally upright". It is explained as a law of righteousness and equated to satya (truth): "...when a man speaks the Truth, they say, 'He speaks the Dharma'; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, 'He speaks the Truth!' For both are one"[15]

The wheel in the centre of India's flag symbolises Dharma.

The importance of dharma to Indian sentiments is illustrated by the government of India's decision in 1947 to include the Ashoka Chakra, a depiction of the dharmachakra ( the "wheel of dharma"), as the central motif on its flag.


In Hindu philosophy and religion, major emphasis is placed on individual practical morality. In the Sanskrit epics, this concern is omnipresent.[17] Including duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and "right way of living".[sentence fragment] The Sanskrit epics contain themes and examples where right prevails over wrong, good over evil.

In an inscription attributed to the Indian Emperor Ashoka from the year 258 BCE, in Sanskrit, Aramaic, and Greek text, appears a Greek rendering for the Sanskrit word dharma: the word eusebeia This suggests dharma was a central concept in India at that time, and meant not only religious ideas, but ideas of right, of good, and of one's duty.[citation needed]

The Ramayana is one of the two great Indian epics. It tells about life in India around 1000 BCE and offers models in dharma. The hero, Rama, lived his whole life by the rules of dharma; this is why he is considered heroic. When Rama was a young boy, he was the perfect son. Later he was an ideal husband to his faithful wife, Sita, and a responsible ruler of Aydohya. Each episode of Ramayana presents life situations and ethical questions in symbolic terms. The situation is debated by the characters, and finally right prevails over wrong, good over evil. For this reason, in Hindu Epics, the good, morally upright, law-abiding king is referred to as dharmaraja.

In Mahabharata, the other major Indian epic, similarly, dharma is central, and it is presented with symbolism and metaphors. Near the end of the epic, the god Yama, referred to as dharma in the text, is portrayed as taking the form of a dog to test the compassion of Yudhishthira, who is told he may not enter paradise with such an animal, but who refuses to abandon his companion, for which decision he is then praised by dharma. The value and appeal of the Mahabharata is not as much in its complex and rushed presentation of metaphysics in the 12th book, claims Daniel H.H. Ingalls, because Indian metaphysics is more eloquently presented in other Sanskrit scriptures.[citation needed] The appeal of Mahabharata, like Ramayana, is in its presentation of a series of moral problems and life situations, to which there are usually three answers given, according to Ingalls: one answer is of Bhima, which is the answer of brute force, an individual angle representing materialism, egoism, and self; the second answer is of Yudhishthira, which is always an appeal to piety and gods, of social virtue and of tradition; the third answer is of introspective Arjuna, which falls between the two extremes, and who, claims Ingalls, symbolically reveals the finest moral qualities of man.[citation needed] The Epics of Hinduism are a symbolic treatise about life, virtues, customs, morals, ethics, law, and other aspects of dharma. There is extensive discussion of dharma at the individual level in the Epics of Hinduism, observes Ingalls; for example, on free will versus destiny, when and why human beings believe in either, ultimately concluding that the strong and prosperous naturally uphold free will, while those facing grief or frustration naturally lean towards destiny.[citation needed] The Epics of Hinduism illustrate various aspects of dharma, they are a means of communicating dharma with metaphors.

In Hinduism, dharma signifies behaviors that are considered to be in accord with Ṛta, the order that makes life and universe possible, and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues, and "right way of living". The concept of dharma was already in use in the historical Vedic religion, and its meaning and conceptual scope has evolved over several millennia. The ancient Tamil moral text of Tirukkural is solely based on aṟam, the Tamil term for dharma. The antonym of dharma is adharma.


In Buddhism dharma means cosmic law and order, but is also applied to the teachings of the Buddha. In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for "phenomena". Dharma refers not only to the sayings of the Buddha, but also to the later traditions of interpretation and addition that the various schools of Buddhism have developed to help explain and to expand upon the Buddha's teachings. For others still, they see the dharma as referring to the "truth", or the ultimate reality of "the way that things really are" (Tibetan: ཆོས, THL: chö).[relevant?]


Tattvartha Sutra mentions Das-dharma with the meaning of "righteous". These are forbearance, modesty, straightforwardness, purity, truthfulness, self-restraint, austerity, renunciation, non-attachment, and celibacy.

A right believer should constantly meditate on virtues of dharma, like supreme modesty, in order to protect the soul from all contrary dispositions. He should also cover up the shortcomings of others.

— Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya (27)


For Sikhs, the word Dharm means the path of righteousness and proper religious practice. For Sikhs, the word dharam (Punjabi: ਧਰਮ, dharam) means the path of righteousness and proper religious practice. Guru Granth Sahib in hymn 1353 connotes dharam as duty. The 3HO movement in Western culture, which has incorporated certain Sikh beliefs, defines Sikh dharam broadly as all that constitutes religion, moral duty, and way of life.

Persian religions


In Zoroastrianism, asha is an important tenet of the Zoroastrian religion with a complex and nuanced range of meaning. It is commonly summarized in accord with its contextual implications of 'truth' and 'right(eousness)', 'order' and 'right working'.

From an early age, Zoroastrians are taught to pursue righteousness by following the Threefold Path of asha: humata, huxta, huvarshta (Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds).

One of the most sacred mantras in the religion is the Ashem Vohu, which has been translated as an "Ode to Righteousness". There are many translations, that differ due to the complexity of Avestan and the concepts involved (for other translations, see: Ashem Vohu).

"Righteousness is the best good and it is happiness. Happiness is to her/him who is righteous, for the sake of the best righteousness".[18][full citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b "righteousness". Oxford Living Dictionaries. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  2. ^ Wedgwood, Hensleigh (1855). "On False Etymologies". Transactions of the Philological Society (6). London: George Bell: 68.
  3. ^ Craig, William Lane. "Doctrine of God (part 19)". Reasonable Faith. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  4. ^ Young, Robert (1998). Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Hendrickson Academic. p. 819. ISBN 978-1-56563-810-5.
  5. ^ Romans 4:5, Romans 3:21–24
  6. ^ Romans 9:30–33
  7. ^ Stern, David H. (1992) Jewish New Testament Commentary: A companion volume to the 'Jewish New Testament'. pp. 30, 512. ISBN 9653590081
  8. ^ Mababaya, Norlain Dindang. "Islam Teaches Righteousness And Forbids Evil Deeds". www.wefound.org. Archived from the original on 11 March 2001.
  9. ^ Job 1:1 in the New Catholic Bible
  10. ^ Wisdom 1:1: New Revised Standard Version
  11. ^
    • Rudolph, Kurt (April 1964). "War Der Verfasser Der Oden Salomos Ein "Qumran-Christ"? Ein Beitrag zur Diskussion um die Anfänge der Gnosis". Revue de Qumrân. 4 (16). Peeters: 552–553.
    • Coughenour, Robert A. (December 1982). "The Wisdom Stance of Enoch's Redactor". Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period. 13 (1–2). Brill: 52. doi:10.1163/157006382X00035.
    • Rudolph, Kurt (7 April 2008). "Mandeans ii. The Mandean Religion". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
    • Aldihisi, Sabah (2008). The story of creation in the Mandaean holy book in the Ginza Rba (PhD). University College London. p. 18.
  12. ^
    • Gelbert, Carlos (2011). Ginza Rba. Sydney: Living Water Books. ISBN 978-0958034630.
    • Drower, Ethel Stefana (1937). The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  13. ^ "The Main Concepts of Confucianism". Philosophy.lander.edu. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  14. ^ a b c Cheng, Chung-ying (July 1972), "On yi as a universal principle of specific application in Confucian morality", Philosophy East and West, 22 (3): 269–280, doi:10.2307/1397676, JSTOR 1397676
  15. ^ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.4.xiv
  16. ^
  17. ^ Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1957). "Dharma and Moksa". Philosophy East & West. pp. 41–48. Archived from the original on 21 February 2001. Retrieved 27 August 2023.
  18. ^ Kanga, Ervad Kawasji Eduljee. English Translation of Gujarati Khordeh Avesta. p. 1.