Word Studies in the New Living Translation: δικαιόω (dikaioō)

Greek:      δικαιόω (dikaioō)
English:     justify, make right with God, make right in God’s sight

by Mark D. Taylor, NLT Bible Translation Committee

Certain terms in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament bear particular theological significance—placing extra weight on the task of translation. One such word is the Greek term dikaioō (pronounced dik-aye-AH-oh), which is used 39 times in the New Testament. This verb is part of a family of words that includes dikaios (pronounced DIK-aye-ahs), dikaiosynē (pronounced dik-aye-ah-SOON-ey), and dikaiōs (pronounced dik-AYE-ohs), all of which convey a sense of uprightness, justice, or fairness. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, these terms generally connoted the idea of proper conduct in society. The New Testament writers took up such terms in a theological sense to describe one’s conduct in relation to God and his standards of what is right.

The NLT translators often wrestled with how to render theological terms such as dikaioō. Many translations render dikaioō as “justify” or “justified.” For example, the NIV uses those terms 25 times, and the ESV uses them 33 times. The NLT translators discussed whether readers would truly understand what the word “justify” means in the context of the New Testament. In the end, the translators decided to take a somewhat flexible approach to translating the term, using several different English expressions based on the Greek tense and the immediate context. Here is a list of ways the NLT renders dikaioō, with the number of occurrences in parentheses:

  • make/made right with God (or in God’s sight) (18)
  • shown to be right/right with God (5)
  • have right standing (with God) (3)
  • proved right (2)
  • acquit (1)
  • agreed [that God’s way] was right (1)
  • justify (1)
  • justified before God (1)
  • appear righteous (1)
  • his righteousness (1)
  • made acceptable to God (1)
  • counted as righteous (1)
  • set free (1)
  • vindicated (1)
  • [left untranslated once, due to its repetition within a single sentence]

You can see that the underlying meaning of the Greek word throughout the New Testament pertains to being made right with God, and this is clearly and simply reflected in the NLT text in a majority of its occurrences. The NLT translators decided it would be best if the term was translated in ways that would be immediately understood by the average reader of English. This fits within the NLT’s approach as a dynamic-equivalence translation, which seeks to accurately convey the meaning or message of the original-language texts.

One example is Romans 3:28, where the NLT uses a dynamic translation:

KJV: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

ESV: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

NIV: “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

NLT: “So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”

Regardless of how dikaioō is translated, we need to take to heart the astounding truth that the New Testament writers conveyed: God, in his love for us, has made it possible for us, who are sinners, to be made right with him through the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. This is not accomplished through our own efforts but is purely an act of God’s grace. Hallelujah!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.