During a recent reading and discussion of the book of Revelation, this passage in chapter 19 caught everyone's attention:
It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:8)
Immediately questions arose:
- What are the righteous acts?
- Can we do them?
- Should we do them?
The further study of these "righteous acts" reveals some fascinating insights from Scripture...
The Greek word translated in the Revelation passage above as "righteous acts" is the word δικαιωμα (dikaioma- Strong's #1345). The word means "an equitable deed." It comes from a related Greek word δικαιoω (dikaioo- Strong's #1344) that means "to render innocent" as a judge might declare someone innocent during a trial. This word is found ten times in ten verses throughout the Apostolic Writings.
The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon on Crosswalk.com provided the following definitions:
- that which has been deemed right so as to have force of law
- what has been established, and ordained by law, an ordinance
- a judicial decision, sentence
- of God
- either the favourable judgment by which he acquits man and declares them acceptable to Him
- unfavourable: sentence of condemnation
- of God
- a righteous act or deed
Let's examine how Scripture uses this word. The Apostolic Writings first use dikaioma to describe Zacharias and Elizabeth at the beginning of the book of Luke.
Usage of dikaioma
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. (Luke 1:5-6)
Here Scripture declares that Zacharias and Elizabeth were both righteous and walked blamelessly in all the commandments/"righteous acts" of G-d. Please note that it does not say they were righteous because they walked blamelessly in all the commandments. The passage only indicates that both are true.
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)
Paul indicates that these unrighteous men know the "righteous acts" of G-d and yet do not walk in them. With Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1:6 we see that righteousness and walking in the commandments go hand in hand. In these men we see that unrighteousness and not walking in the commandments of G-d also go hand in hand.
The book of Romans uses dikaioma in another fashion. Paul points out that Gentiles who obey the commandments will judge Jews who do not obey the commandments:
For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:25-29)
Circumcision of males was the sign of citizenship in the nation of Israel (Genesis 17:10). Uncircumcision was an indication that an individual was not part of that people.
In verse 25 Paul speaks of a circumcised man transgressing the Law and, as a result, becoming uncircumcised. It is physically impossible for a circumcised male to become uncircumcised so what did Paul mean? If we consider circumcision as membership in the nation of Israel and uncircumcision as non-membership in the nation of Israel, let's paraphrase Paul's words:
For indeed [membership in nation of Israel] is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your [membership] has become [non-membership]. So if the [non-member] man keeps the requirements [righteous acts] of the Law will not his [non-member status] be regarded as [membership]? And he who is [in a visible way not part of Israel] if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and [the physical sign of membership] are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is [membership] that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and [membership in Israel] is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Paul uses "circumcised" and "uncircumcised" as shorthand expressions for citizenship or non-citizenship in the nation of Israel. In this passage, he says that a man who is not part of Israel (i.e. not circumcized) but keeps the righteous acts of the Law will be considered as if he were Israel. That man will also judge those in the covenant who have not obeyed the Law.
Some might challenge this approach to Paul's teaching; however, Paul himself confirms it later in Romans 5 where we find the next instances of dikaioma in Scripture:
The gift [salvation] is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification [righteous acts].
For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification [righteous acts] of life to all men. (Romans 5:16-18)
It is interesting to note that these verses are the only passages in all of Scripture where the NASB authors translated dikaioma as "justification." Translating them this way is not necessarily an error. It is just an inconsistency in the translation of the word dikaioma. Young's Literal Translation of this passage is as follows:
and not as through one who did sin [is] the free gift for the judgment, indeed [is] of one to condemnation but the gift [is] of many offenses to a declaration of 'Righteous,' (Romans 5:16 (YLT))
If we consistently translate dikaioma as "righteous acts" in this passage, then we find that through Messiah's act of righteousness there resulted "righteous acts of life to all men." This fits with Moshe's pronouncement at the end of Deuteronomy:
When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, "Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life... (Deuteronomy 32:45-47)
Should our lives look so different from Messiah's if we claim it is He who lives in us?
Moshe tells us that G-d's Word, His Commandments, His Law is our Life.
Messiah Yeshua says that He came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) He also says that He IS that life (John 14:6). Should our lives look so different from Messiah's if we claim it is He who lives in us? (Galatians 2:20)
Using this consistent translation of dikaioma we see that Paul tells us that the work of Messiah (G-d's Word made flesh) results in righteous acts of life to all men (Romans 5:18). Later in his letter to the Romans Paul makes this point even clearer:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement [righteous acts] of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-5)
Here Paul tells us that the Law could not save us. It was never intended for that purpose! Instead, G-d's own Son was sent to save us.
Did you notice the phrase "so that" in verse 4? The "so that" passages of Scripture are wonderful because G-d is revealing why something is done. In these verses, we find that one reason why G-d sent His own Son: so that the righteous acts of the Law might be performed by us (verse 4).
"But wait!" you might say. "It doesn't say that the righteous acts of the Law might be performed by us it says they might be fulfilled in us."
Messiah gave the Law its fullness and then gave it to His disciples.
A literal reading of the Greek in this verse is "that the righteous acts of the law may be given fullness within them." The Greek word translated here as "fulfilled" is plerothu. It is the passive, third person, singular form of a verb which means "to fill." The passive voice indicates something is happening to the Law rather than the Law doing something. The Law is given fullness. Picture a cup being filled up to the top. When a cup is filled, nothing else can be added to it. We cannot hope somehow to perform the Law any more perfectly than Messiah did.
Once a cup is filled, however, we do not throw it away, do we? No, we give the full cup to the person for whom it was intended. Messiah gave the Law its fullness and then gave it to His disciples. He gave His perfect righteousness for salvation, and He gave us His perfect example to follow for kingdom living. As King David said:
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7 (NKJV))
Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. (Psalm 119:11)
Messiah gave us the Law in perfect fullness so that we might be credited with righteousness by faith and walk in the fullness of the commandments He has given. It is as John wrote:
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. (1 John 2:3-7)
Before we are made righteous by Messiah, our works are "as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6, KJV). After He saves us, then we are now able to and should be doing good works/righteous acts. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we have been created in Messiah Yeshua for the purpose of doing good works and that G-d prepared those good works for us in advance. These are the "righteous acts" of the saints.
Paul has already indicated earlier in Romans that the Law is a Spiritual thing (Romans 7:14) versus a "thing of the flesh" so we should not fall into the trap of thinking that Paul was speaking of something other than the dikaioma [righteous acts] of the Law.
Where is the next instance where we find dikaioma? We find a pair of references in the letter to the Hebrews.
Hebrews chapter 9 speaks of the first priesthood (the context given in chapter 8) and tells us:
Now even the first covenant had regulations [righteous acts] of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. (Hebrews 9:1)
The word "covenant" in the NASB is italicized to indicate the word is not present in the original Greek text but was added by the translators as part of their interpretation. Here the writer of Hebrews equates the commandments regarding worship and the sanctuary as righteous acts. This pattern continues later in the same chapter:
The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations [righteous acts] for the body imposed until a time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:8-10)
The righteous acts of the Law were never intended to make us perfect or take away sin!
The writer of Hebrews affirms what Paul indicated in Romans: the gifts and sacrifices (the righteous acts proscribed by the Law) cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience. The righteous acts of the Law were never intended to make us perfect or take away sin. The writer to the Hebrews makes this exact point in Hebrews 10:4.
In these passages, the author of the book of Hebrews equates the commandments regarding worship and the earthly sanctuary with the dikaioma [righteous acts] mentioned elsewhere in Scripture.
The book of Revelation contains the last instances of the word dikaioma found in Scripture:
Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED." (Revelation 15:1-4)
This verse speaks of a future time when G-d's righteous acts (the righteous acts of G-d performed by the saints noted in Revelation 19:8) will be revealed. The capitalized text in verse 4 is a quote from the Tanakh:
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And they shall glorify Your name. (Psalm 86:9)
The prophet Isaiah affirms this:
And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me," says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23)
Scripture's final use of dikaioma is the original passage that started our investigation:
It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:8)
While this passage marks the Bible's final use of dikaioma and Luke chapter 1 marks its first use in the Apostolic Writings where else does Scripture use this word? The Tanakh is written in Hebrew, so this word would not be found there. The Septuagint, however, is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures written 200-300 years BCE. The Greek Septuagint is what Messiah Yeshua and His talmidim quote when referencing the Tanakh. Is the word dikaioma used there as well?
We examined the Septuagint to see what could be found.