Justified

Paul uses the words “justified” or “justify” several times; also in Galatians (2:16-17, 3:8, 11, 24; 5:4).

In every-day English one ‘justifies’ a point by providing adequate reasons.  Strong’s dictionary explains the meaning of underlying Greek word as to show or regard as just or innocent.  The original Greek word therefore means something a bit more specific than to simply provide reasons; it means to show or regard somebody as just or innocent before God.

Most translations give “justified”, but some use other words or phrases, for instance:

  • Good News Bible: “put right with God”
  • Young’s Literal: “declared righteous”

To be “justified” is the result of the “justify”-activity.  In Gal 2:16 two opposing means of justification are contrasted, namely works and faith.  To be “justified by the works of the Law” implies that the person tries to show himself as just or innocent by the works of the Law.  But to be justified by faith is something that God does:

  • God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one” (Rom. 3:30)
  • God … justify the Gentiles by faith” (Gal. 3:8)

Certain schools of thought read into this word an even more specific meaning, namely that, to be “justified”, is the result of some technical legal process.  They see it as that God has no option but the punish sin, and that Christ took our punishment, so that we do not have to be punished.  I do not understand how it is fair or right for one person to be forgiven because another person, even a God-Person, has been punished instead.  I therefore prefer different explanation for why Christ had to die.  I agree that if He did not die, we could not be saved, but I do not accept the simplistic explanation that Christ took our punishment to satisfy some legal requirement.  He did suffered and He did die so that we can go free, but I prefer a much more complex explanation of what the real problem was that Christ had to solve, and why He solved it the way He did.

But the point now is rather that the original Greek word “justify” does not imply a technical legal process.  It simply means to show or regard (somebody) as just or innocent before God.

To appreciate what Paul meant by “justified”, consider the parallel phrases used in Galatians to describe a right relationship with God, which may be regarded as synonyms for “justified”.  Often such a right relationship is described:

Firstly, as being a son of Abraham, and therefore as sharing in the inheritance promised to Abraham:

  • To become a son of Abraham (3:7)
  • To be “Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (3:29);
  • To be “an heir” (4:7);
  • To receive the blessing of Abraham (3:14);
  • To receive the promise of the Spirit (3:14)
  • To be blessed with Abraham (3:9);

Secondly, using word “righteousness”:

  • To receive righteousness (3:21);
  • Reckoned as righteousness (2:21; 3:6)

Thirdly, as being a son of God:

  • To be “sons of God” (3:26);
  • To be adopted “as sons” (4:5);

A good definition of “justified” is found in Romans 5:1:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Another good explanation of it is to be reconciled to God:

  • reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10)
  • reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2Cor. 5:18)
  • reconciled to God” (2Cor. 5:20)
  • reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20, 22)

Based on these concepts the phrase used by the GNB, namely ”put right with God” is proposed here as a good representation of the original Greek word.

  • reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20, 22)
  • reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2Cor. 5:18)
  • Another good explanation of it is to be reconciled to God:
  • A good definition of “justified” is found in Romans 5:1:

>>> Galatians Table of Contents

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