Biblical Justice Primer: A Higher Law

There are many hot button topics, which Christians usually ignore.  At the top of my list is the American judicial system.  Why do conservative Christians not discuss the judicial system? Why do we assume that a Christian who speaks of overhauling the justice system is a social liberal? Why has all the discussion of this particular topic been left up to the social liberals? With over 2 million adults in prison and the cost of prisons in the billions it is wise for us to think these things through more carefully than we do.

What are the basic principles of Biblical justice? I want to discuss of few of these in some blog posts.  I will not be able to cover every topic, but hopefully you will get a general overview of what the Bible teaches.

Let’s begin with the most basic principle of all. There must be a law governing those who judge and make the laws.  The judges and lawyers and prison guards and jury members and congress must all be underneath some other law. Why is this so important? Without a foundational, ultimate law, judgments becomes arbitrary, dictated by the whims of these behind the bench or by the money of those being tried. There can be no final and true justice if there is not an ultimate law to which men may turn. How are we to know what is the correct level of punishment for a man who rapes a woman? How are we to know what should happen to the extortioner without a law outside and above American law or even international law? Are long term prison sentences right? Without an ultimate law, we have nothing to appeal to, nowhere to turn to make sure we are doing right. Without an ultimate law we like a blind driver in a car with no steering wheel. Who knows where we will end up?

Some will argue that we do not need God’s special revelation because natural law can guide us. By this they mean the normal ways human beings operate across various societies, our God-given conscience which guides us. However, natural law is too general to be of any real use. For example, most societies and people would agree theft is wrong. But one society might decide that stealing is okay if you are poor. Or that stealing is okay if the other person stole from you. Or that if someone steals they should be hung and their children should be killed as well. Or that stealing is only wrong if you steal from a wealthy man. Otherwise it is overlooked. So while there might be general agreement that something is wrong, natural law does not give us enough guidance to make for true justice.

So there cannot be a return to true justice until there is a return to using the Word of God as our guide. This will not be easy. It will require a deep study of God’s Word. And I do not think all Christians will necessarily come to the same conclusions. However, if we use the Bible as our foundation we will a Law above us to appeal to as we make other laws to govern us.

Theft and Work

Here are two quotes from Charles Hodge’s commentary on Ephesians 4:28

“It is very certain that many things tolerated by the customs of men, many modes of getting the property of others into our own possession, practised even by those professing to be Christians, are, in the light of the divine law, only different forms of theft, and will be revealed as such in the judgment of the last day.”

“No one is entitled to be supported by others who is able to support himself.  This is one great principle of scriptural economics.”

Whose Work Is It?


For Conrad Grebel, another leading Anabaptist, “one notices that [baptism] is not a sign of what God will do in the life of the baptized, as Zwingli had understood it, but rather a sign of what the baptized has done already and will do in the future. It would appear that for Grebel baptism is not so much an act of God as an act of the one baptized.  It is his or her confession of faith.” (Hughes Oliphant Old, The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the 16th Century, p. 91)