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Rightwiseness and Justice, a Tale of Translation

Ronald Damholt


In most English-language Bibles—particularly those arising out of Protestantism—the Greek word dikaiosyne, which occurs most often in Romans, is overwhelmingly translated “righteousness.” Scholars have long voiced concerns with this rendering, and in this article I both review their objections and ask why this tradition of translation has been so tenacious. The answer proposed is twofold: first, the ancient Anglo-Saxon pedigree of the word rightwiseness (whose meaning originally included notions of justice about which Paul seems to have been writing) and its consequent preference by the first English Bible translators, the Wycliffites; and second, the penetrating brilliance and lasting influence of William Tyndale, along with his inclination to follow the Wycliffite choice in this matter. I also consider alternative traditions of New Testament translation relative to this important Greek word and sketch the historical context out of which these divergent traditions have developed.

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