Too Righteous? Ecclesiastes 7:16


Is it possible to be too righteous? Ecclesiastes 7:16


Ecclesiastes 7:16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise - why destroy yourself?

In the Old Testament, Israel was commanded to be holy (Lev. 11:45). Jesus commanded us to be perfect; as perfect as God - "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). In and of ourselves, we can and will NEVER meet these expectations (mind us, commands). In the sense of these verses, we do not need to be concerned about being "overly righteous," but merely meeting the standard. However, sin, like diving weights, weigh us down. We continue to sink deeper and deeper in unrighteousness. God's standard may be met ONLY in the imputed righteousness of Christ, and Christ alone (Rom. 4:4-6). Sinners need grace (cf. Phil. 1:18). The obedience of Christ alone imputed (reckoned) to us is necessary for any to meet the high and holy standard of God (Rom 5:15-18). As John Bunyan once said, "Our sins, when laid upon Christ, were yet personally ours, not his; so his righteousness, when put upon us, is yet personally his, not ours." Without Christ, our diving weights drag us to hell.

The teacher in Ecclesiastes is not saying be self-righteous. The fig-leaf theology of Genesis 3 still leaves one naked and sinful before God. Paul says in Romans 10:3, "Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness."

This said, the larger context of Ecclesiastes may be seen in Ecclesiastes 7:14-17. God has ordained both the good and bad times. We must accept this reality, and since we do not know the future, we should trust God through both. Sometimes the righteous suffer (cf. Job) and the wicked prosper. However, in an attempt to rescue our futures, we should not be overly involved in a self-centered and fanatical pursuit of holiness, which will merely lead to self-righteousness and wickedness. We need to rest in Christ, our righteousness. We need to pursue the fear of the Lord and expend ourselves in faithful service to him (Eccl. 12:13-14).


Richard Pratt, General Editor. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).