Jeremiah 23:6 and NIV 2011

NIV 2011 offers many improvements in its translation over NIV 1984. Yet there are puzzling changes that seem odd at best. I wrote about the lack of a consistent translation of αγιοι, NIV eliminating “saints” totally from the New Testament. 

Another one is the change in Jeremiah 23:6

בְּיָמָיו֙ תִּוָּשַׁ֣ע יְהוּדָ֔ה וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל יִשְׁכֹּ֣ן לָבֶ֑טַח וְזֶה־שְּׁמ֥וֹ אֲֽשֶׁר־יִקְרְא֖וֹ יְהוָ֥ה ׀ צִדְקֵֽנוּ

It is the last line that is of concern.

In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.

NIV 1984
This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.

And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.’

This is what He will be named: Yahweh Our Righteousness.

And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ 

And his name will be The Lord Is Our Righteousness

And this will be his name: ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’


The Hebrew for the final phrase is rather straight forward: Yahweh tsidquenu. For most translations the distinction is whether the verb “is” should be supplied or not. Hebrew allows that addition, but does not require it. Some claim that the supplied verb “is” becomes a play on the name of the king Zedekiah, “Yahweh is righteous.”

But the NIV 2011 change involves more than a supplied verb. In fact, it adds a noun “Savior” and then makes the noun “tsidqenu” into an adjective. Yes, there is the mention of “saving” in the first part of the verse, but is a verb form. Thus, it seems forced, at best, to add “Savior” and then to change the noun into an adjective.

This seems like a departure from making the NIV more helpful to understanding the text of Jeremiah 23:6.

Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

2 thoughts on “Jeremiah 23:6 and NIV 2011”

  1. Hi Rich,

    Yep, I’ve had a look this verse too. I thought it strange that the NIV went in a new direction with this verse. And while I can’t say that prefer the change, it is most definitely exegetically, contextually and doctrinally defensible. There’s a somewhat parallel section in Is 41. And Piepers notes on that section also apply to this section. (and btw, I apologize ahead of time for the length of the quotation. But all the paragraphs need to be read and held together.)

    Pieper Notes (Isaiah II. pp. 152-155)

    What is the meaning of ‏בִּימִין צִדְקִי‎? ‏יָמִין‎ is the right hand, the familiar symbol of power. The genitive in the phrase “in the right hand of My righteousness” is the epexegetical genitive and, like the genitive in har qodhslif (My holy mountain), is to be translated as an attributive modifier – My righteous right hand, as though the reading were bilfnini hatstsadclfq (Gr. 128,p,p.417 and 135,n,p.440). Examples of similar genitives are to be found in verses 11 and 12. But what does ‏צֶדֶק‎ mean? That is one of the weightiest questions faced in interpreting Isaiah or indeed all of Scripture. ‏צֶדֶק‎, ‏צְדָקָה‎ is one of the important, really the most important, terms in the history of salvation in both the Old and the New Testaments. Isaiah did not invent the term; it is as old as revelation. It was the daily food of the faithful people of the covenant. The word is extremely common in the Psalms. Jeremiah and other prophets use the word more sparingly. Isaiah treats it like a costly pearl, letting light shine upon it from every side. Paul built up the entire theology of the New Testament on this term. Without a proper understanding of this term no one can understand the Bible, least of all Isaiah. So it will be necessary at this point, where the term now occurs for the second time, to investigate it rather thoroughly, although it is not possible to exhaust the subject. Whole books have been written about it.

    Comparative philology has not succeeded in finding a concrete meaning of the root ‏צֶדֶק. It seems to be one of the few a priori abstract word-forms in the Hebrew language. In ordinary usage it is simply a simple conventional expression like our right, proper; basically it expresses nothing more than the right relation of a person, thing, action, or attribute to another person, etc. Its primary meaning is equivalent to our proper, right, correct, fitting, due, appropriate – constituted as the circumstances may require. Since the word can be applied to all manner of circumstances of persons and things, of actions and conditions, it is not surprising that it has acquired such a wide variety of meanings. It would lead us too far afield if we were to examine its use in an area unrelated to the present subject. Of primary interest to us is the religious meaning of the word. Among the people to whom God revealed Himself, religion was the one matter of greatest importance, which governed every act, circumstance, and situation in life. To proceed directly to the heart of the matter: In every religion there are three essential elements: the God who is being served, the service that is being rendered to Him; and the servants who by this service serve their God. If such a religion seeks to be taken seriously, then everything about it must be tsaddi`q, appropriate to the service and its purpose, namely, the glorification of God and the blessedness of the worshipers. The God who is worshiped is considered a true God, and all His being and His every act are right, proper, fitting, correct. Furthermore, if the service that is rendered to Him has been enjoined by that God Himself, then it is right and proper. If those who serve Him are honest and faithful in their service, then they too are right and fitting; and the purposes and consequences of this relationship are right and fitting; both as to God and to God’s servants. One need only apply this pattern to Israel’s religion to perceive the meaning of rightness as used here.

    It was Israel’s firm conviction that its God was the right, the true God. He was YHWH (see the explanation of this name in Is 41:4). What He does is eo ipso right. Jehovah had revealed Himself to Israel in preference to all the gentile nations (Ps. 147:19-20). And this revelation is, of course, right, correct. What was it that Jehovah revealed? Israel was persuaded, by revelation, of the tremendous fact that overshadowed everything else, namely, that Israel was chosen to be the Lord ’s peculiar people. Its election in Abraham is what the Lord in His opening address in verses 8 and 9 so impressively proclaims to this people. When for the second time the Lord’s world lay in spiritual ruins, He plucked Abraham, a worshiper of idols, a man no better than anyone else in this corrupt generation, out from the massa perdita; out of pure grace He did not reckon his sin unto him and made him His ohebh, φίλος, His bosom friend and servant for time and eternity, and concluded a covenant with him and his seed (Gen. 15) with a promise of life in this world and in eternity. We know that Christ is the very heart and essence of this covenant and that His salvation was meant for “everyone that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The preparation, execution, realization, and fulfillment of the covenant is the subject matter of all Scripture, of both Testaments – yes, of all history. Though everything that pertains to this covenant of grace and that at the same time is in accordance with its origin, its substance, its nature, and its purpose, may indeed be described in other terms, it first of all is ‏צַדִּיק‎, ‏צֶדֶק‎, ‏צְדָקָה‎, whether reference is being made to God, to men, to objects, or to circumstances. This is, of course, a special use of the concept which does not preclude its application to circumstances other than those that have to do with the covenant. Insofar as God establishes this covenant, carries it out and preserves it, He is tsaddiq in His thought, word, and deed. Objectively, this covenant is righteousness for Abraham and his seed in what it promises, gives, and accomplishes. Abraham and his seed are righteous in so far as they are included in this covenant by faith, continue in it, and walk in accordance with it. Everything that is contrary to this covenant is in every sense ‏לֹא צֶדֶק. What the covenant purposes and accomplishes is deliverance from destruction, salvation, happiness, and blessedness. This is the starting point from which all words formed from the צדק root (and their synonyms) must be examined – from the first mishpat in Is 1:17 to the last kebhodi in Is 66:19 — in order to determine the specific meaning of each word according to the special circumstances prevailing in each passage where the word occurs. If this is done, one may occasionally fail to hit the bull’s-eye, but one will hardly miss the whole target.

    The word צֶדֶק occurs, for example, in verse 2. צֶדֶק there summons Cyrus into her service. If one follows the above guidelines, one might be undecided, whether the Lord’s gracious faithfulness, His subjective gracious intention toward Israel, is being personified, or whether it is the objective salvation by grace that the Lord has extended to Israel. But there cannot be any doubt whatsoever that the Lord’s gracious relation to Israel is meant. There can be no. thought of taking the righteousness of God to mean the retributive righteousness with which God dispenses justice among heathen nations. If one then also observes from Psalm 132:9,16, or Psalm 71:15, that צֶדֶק and תְּשׁוּעָה righteousness and salvation, are one and the same, then one will never interpret God’s righteousness in Psalm 31:2(1) (Deliver me in Your righteousness); Psalm 119:40 (Quicken me in Your righteousness); or Psalm 17:15; 5:9(8), and many other similar passages, as referring to God’s righteousness judging according to the Law, but rather as the righteousness of the covenant, which forgives sins and works salvation. From that it should also be clear what is meant by “My judgment” in Is 40:27. The meaning of בִּימִין צִדְקִי in our passage follows the same line. The right hand of My righteousness, or My righteous right hand, can only be that hand or act that effects Israel’s preservation, either by virtue of the purpose of God’s covenant, or by virtue of its content (that is, grace itself); or because of its objective, namely, deliverance and salvation. One would have to translate: My faithful right hand, or: My gracious, redeeming, saving, right hand. Here, without a doubt, the expression emphasizes God’s faithfulness to the promises of His covenant, since everything that precedes has the purpose of quieting Israel’s anxious fears by the assurances of God’s love, and those fears arose from lsrael’s idea that God had forsaken and forgotten His people (Is 40:27; 49:14). If anyone objects that this makes too fine a distinction, let him translate: By My gracious right hand, or: By the right hand of My covenant.

    We recall Luther’s experience with the concept tsedheq or tsidhqath YHWH- the righteousness of God. In the New Testament he translated it: Die Gerechtigkeit, die vor Gott gilt. That is satisfactory for all practical uses, but is still not quite exact. In our passage the term occurs in its objective sense. It ha already occurred in the Psalms and now appears very frequently, especially in this part of Isaiah, as a synonym of ‏ישׁע‎; ‏יְשׁוּעָה‎, ‏תְּשׁוּעָה‎, etc. Its real meaning is the salvation that proceeds from the covenant grace, the righteousness that the Lord prepared for the believers in Christ. Thus also the YHWH ‏צִדְקֵנוּ of Jeremiah 23:6;33:16 is not to be understood as our righteousness before the Lord but as our righteousness received from the Lord. By effecting our salvation, the Lord has become our Salvation.


    1. Thanks, Steve. Yes, I have read Pieper in past years, not recently. While I agree with everything he wrote, I think the distinction is not whether there is a doctrinal connection (there is between righteousness and salvation) but whether a specific translation in a specific context is defensible to change to accommodate the doctrine, which I don’t think there is in Jeremiah 23:6.

      For instance “in the right hand of My righteousness” that is mentioned in the first paragraph the alternate translation is legitimate, since hand is specified in the text and even more in the immediate context (of the phrase itself).

      In the case of Jeremiah 23:6, while the connection is made with salvation because of the proximity to the “saving action” in the first part of the verse, there is no linguistic connection for translation in this specific text.

      As always, appreciate your remarks, insights, and friendship.


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