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In the Spanish Bible, I believe the English "justice" and "righteousness" are both translated as justicia. Is justicia the only word that can translate both of these terms? Is there any way to know which is intended other than through context?

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In Spanish you have adjective justo, which primary meaning is fair, just or righteous, and noun justicia. One of the meanings is having these qualities.

In English you have 3 nouns: justice, righteousness and fairness. They are synonyms, although the context in which they are used varies.

Examples:

  • El profesor es justo — The teacher is fair.
  • El Dios llamará a los justos — God will call upon the righteous.

Now, for justicia as righteousness, indeed you can only know from the context. However, that usage is quite uncommon. The only one I can think of is hacer algo con justicia, which would be translated to: to do something righteously. Again, let me stress that it's not very colloquial, so you won't hear that in every day conversation.

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    I was about to write a similar answer. About "(In) English you don't have adverb and adjective derived from word justice", how about "just", which also means "lawful" and "righteous"? – MikMik Jan 19 '12 at 11:18
  • @MikMik: you're right – vartec Jan 19 '12 at 11:22
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To translate 'righteous' and 'righteousness' more specifically, there are the words recto and rectitud; differentiating from 'justice' which is justicia in the context of how they function.

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The difficulty of translating "justice and righteousness" from English to Spanish, in this case with consideration of the Bible, is an excellent question which I wrestle with often as I write and translate documents dealing with Biblical studies.

Since it is a question of translation, we can find help in looking at the Old Testament where the two terms show up in proximity of each other. Isaiah 28:17 I will make justice the measuring line, fairness the plumb line... (NET Bible). In Spanish the same verse reads, "Pondré el juicio por medida, y la justicia por nivel" (La Biblia de las Américas). See also Psalm 33:5 ("El ama la justicia y el derecho.")

Spanish does not have a direct and easy translation for "just and righteous." The two different Hebrew terms are "mishpat" = justice or juicio and "zedaqah" = righteousness or doing right according to God's standards. The two terms are similar, but not entirely synonymous. It appears to me that the best way to clarify the biblical concept in Spanish is to state "hacer lo correcto" or "hacer lo recto" for righteousness.

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