It is difficult to distinguish the meanings of the concepts of righteousness and justification. Justification is definitely easier to explain and understand because it has to do with a legal acquittal and being freed from blame. There is a catch phrase, “just as if I’d never sinned,” which sums up the meaning. Righteousness, however, has been much more difficult to define. This is possibly due to the fact that both words come from the same root word in Greek.
In Aramaic, each of these words has its own verb root. Understanding the two verbs from the Aramaic clears up the whole distinction between the words.
Justification is the Aramaic word zadiqutha and comes from the verb zadeq. The verb is parallel to the Hebrew word tsaddaq in the Old Testament and means “to justify, declare righteous, or give sentence on behalf of.” It is a legal term, as in Greek. We have received acquittal because of the sentence passed by the judge (God). All men legally discovered death because of sin, but Jesus Christ became propitiation or payment for that sin. He paid the price and suffered the consequences of sin which was death. So now in the legal courtrooms when we come before the judge, we are freed from blame. That is justification.
Romans 4:25 (Aramaic Translation)
Who [Jesus Christ] was delivered up for our sins and rose so that he might justify us.
The second word for righteousness is kanutha. Its verb root sets the foundation for the meaning of the noun. The verb is kan and means “to be, exist, begin to be, to be by nature, to be naturally constituted.” There is a second usage of kan with the same spelling which means “to be upright, to set right, correct”, thus to rebuke, reprove or admonish in its intensive form. If something is natural, it exists in that form by nature of its constitution.
Some of the words that are built from this verb are:
kana - an adjective meaning upright, right or just.
Kanaith - an adverb meaning rightly or justly.
Keyana - nature, natural disposition, essence.
Kanutha - justice, rectitude, uprightness.
These words all have basis and foundation in their definitions to do with something that is by nature. Kanutha then is being right, existing in a rightness, having a right nature, set right to a corrected state. That is the definition of righteousness. There is difficulty when we want to determine one English word to translate this concept of righteousness. We have chosen to use uprightness as the main word in the translation, first of all to show the distinction with the word for justification and secondly, to accent the depth of the meaning of the word.
Now with the background of these two words we can go through all the verses translated righteousness and see which word is used in Aramaic. This clears up difficult passages because we can separate the words completely by translating zadeq and zadiqutha as justify and justification and kan and kanutha as to be by nature, and uprightness or righteousness.
Romans 1:17 (Aramaic Translation)
For the uprightness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, The upright [one] shall live by faith.
This uprightness is kanutha. The righteousness of God is that He is totally upright by nature. He has an innate “rightness”. Because his nature is right, it means He works out things with men with justice. This verse is a quote from Habbakuk and shows that it was available in the Old Testament to exist in a right way, to be upright. When kanutha is referring to someone in the Old Testament it means uprightness, or justice. In the New Testament as the concept is revealed after the day of Pentecost, there is a further element added. Then this uprightness becomes a corrected state, a new nature, a right nature given as part of the gift of Holy Spirit. God who is Holy Spirit has given of his nature to us, in the gift of holy spirit. Righteousness is the upright nature given to us in Christ.
The passage in Romans 3:21-26 also becomes very clear.
Romans 3:21-26 (Aramaic translation):
But now, without the law, the uprightness [kanutha] of God is revealed and the law and the prophets testify concerning it.
But the uprightness [kanutha] of God by way of faith is of Jesus Christ to everyone, even upon everyone, who believes in him, for there is no distinction, because all have sinned and are found lacking of the glory of God.
And they are justified [zadeq] by grace freely and by the redemption that is in Jesus Christ,
(this [one] whom God determined beforehand a pardon by the faith of his blood because of our sins that we had previously sinned)
in the room that God by his long-suffering gave to us for the demonstration of his uprightness [kanutha] that [is] in this time, that He would be upright [kana] and would justify [zadeq] with uprightness [kanutha] him who is in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.