Traditional Legal Model
There is some variation in understanding:
- From the Jewish point of view a ‘just man’ was a strict observer of the laws of Moses and of rabbinical traditions.” (SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, p283)
- Proverb 20:7 says “The just man walketh in his integrity …” The just man has a sound, upright and consistent moral character.
- Some would view a just man as one who is always obedient; viewed as perfect in God’s eyes.
Biblical Healing Model
A just man is one who has been set right (justified) in his relationship with God. A right relationship with God can only be established with a correct understanding of His character and an acceptance and reflection of that in our own lives.
For definitions from a Modern Dictionary and Webster’s 1828 Dictionary see the entry for “Just” as in “God is Just.”
There are verses in both Proverbs (9:9, 20:7 and 24:16) and Ecclesiastes (7:15, 20) that describe a just man. Other verses name individuals who were described as just.
Just Persons in the Bible
“These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just (Hebrew: tsaddiyq; Strong’s H6662) man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” (Gen 6:9)
The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) translates the word rendered as “just” in Gen 6:9 as “dikaios” (G1342) occurrences of which in the New Testament are translated in 74 of 81 uses as “righteous” or “just.”
“And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous (H6662) before me in this generation.” (Gen 7:1)
“Then Joseph her husband, being a just (G1342, dikaios) man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.” (Matt 1:19)
“And they (Zacharias and Elizabeth) were both righteous (G1342) before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (Luke 1:6)
Interesting that Zacharias was disciplined (verse20) because he did not believe the words of the message from the angel of the Lord. Here is The Remedy New Testament version of the verse immediately above:
“Both he and his wife trusted God, had renewed hearts, and lived in harmony with God’s methods and principles.” (Luke 1:6, The Remedy New Testament)
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just (G1342) and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” (Luke 2:25)
“And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just (G1342):” (Luke 23:50)
“And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just (G1342) man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.” (Acts 10:22)
“And delivered just (G1342) Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous (G1342) man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)” (2 Pet 2:7-8)
Interesting that in the passage above, “just” and “righteous” are from the same Greek word. Here is The Remedy New Testament version of that:
“and God delivered Lot–a man who partook of the Remedy and was tormented by the disgusting lives of those living in violation of God’s design–for it was torture for that man with a healed mind and sensitive heart to live day after day among such vileness and see and hear such vulgarity.” (2 Pet 2:7-8, The Remedy New Testament)
But what did “just” Lot do? Basically, he offered his two virgin daughters as sacrifices:
“Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.” (Gen 19:8)
Does a Just Man Sin?
Along with clues from verses above, here is a verse that can shed some light on what it means to be a just man:
“For there is not a just (H6662) man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” (Eccl 7:20)
In this verse also, the Septuagint uses the word “dikaios” (G1342) for “just.”
It is helpful when looking at a sentence with a double negative (as in the verse above) to allow the two negatives to cancel each other out. Thus, we get:
“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” (Eccl 7:20)
So, there are just men on earth who do good but they still sin and still have sinful natures. The point is that being just does not equate with absolute perfection. God is looking first to establish a right relationship with us, and then the improvements in character (aiming for perfection) will follow. That priority is reflected in this verse:
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
A “just” person may still fall into sin.
All those just men in the verses listed earlier were just in that they were right with God but that is not saying they were perfect and never sinned. Here is a verse sometimes used to support calls for sinless perfection:
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
But consider the corresponding verse from the same conversation as reported by Luke:
“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
The word translated “merciful” means exactly that, where the word translated “perfect” in Matt 5:48 is the Greek “teleios” which means not perfect as we might think of it but “brought to its end” or “finished” or “complete.” It could be “mature” as in “grow up and start treating people like God does – with mercy.”
Emphasizing perfection ahead of the relationship causes people to focus on their behavior rather than their relationship with God. Be assured that you can be just in God’s eyes, (Noah, Lot, Joseph, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Simeon, Joseph of Arimathaea and Cornelius were) even though you have a sinful nature and occasionally fall.
Here is another version of the first verse in this section:
“Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.” (Eccl 7:20, New Revised Standard Version)
This verse also supports that a just man is not necessarily perfect:
“For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.” (Pro 24:16)
A just man can fall. David fell into sin but made it right with God. He remembered the character of God and pled:
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” (Psa 51:1)
David did not offer a sacrifice (nor is it said he was told to) but note what he did offer:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psa 51:17)
Relation to God’s Character
God is not demanding perfection to have a relationship with us. He is more concerned about first establishing the relationship. Having said that, perfection, whatever that means, is His ideal. He wants to heal us of our imperfections for our good because sin hurts His children. We just need to put our efforts in the right place. It is through having the relationship with Jesus as our example that we are changed:
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)
As we behold the glory – the character – of the Lord we are changed to become more like Him – a just man or woman.
Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary Index