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How does the Bible define justice?

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How does the Bible define justice?
Posted on January 25, 2022  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

How does the Bible define ‘justice’? How does this differ from modern definitions of the same?

Today, justness is typically tied to the concept of moral rightness. It has to do with fair treatment and proper consequences. In America, we often say that the punishment should fit the crime. A punishment that is too lenient would not be just and a punishment that is too strict would also not be just. It is often agreed upon that different actions of crime deserve different consequences. So, a robbery and a murder would have different consequences for an individual for justice to be done.

In the event of a crime, justice comes as the proper treatment of the one who was wronged by having the criminal make restitution—usually through jail time—for the crime committed against another person.

Justice in the Bible

In the Bible, we read that Christ justifies us by grace (Titus 3:7). It is through the grace of God that we are made righteous. Here the term justifies refers to us being made right with God or rather, us having the ability to stand before His presence. Our sin suggests that we deserve punishment, but because Christ paid for our sins for us, we are not required to face its consequences. Instead of receiving spiritual death, through Christ, we have spiritual life.

The Bible often discusses justice in light of how Christ makes us right with God

The Bible often discusses the concept of justice in light of how Christ makes us right with God or makes it possible for us to be in right standing with God. But the Bible also talks about justice as it relates to caring for the poor and the widows. 

  • Psalm 82:3 – “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.”
  • Isaiah 1:17 – “…learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

The call to defend the weak, the oppressed, and the widows and orphans is extended into the New Testament as well. Speaking to the religious elite of his day, Jesus said, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42). Jesus called them out for only doing what makes them look good but not for helping those who are truly in need.

Taking up the cause of the poor is clearly tied to moral rightness and fair treatment. In the Bible, justice has to do with the proper treatment of those who are less fortunate and who have true needs. Those who take Scripture seriously will do justice by helping those in need and looking out for those who are less fortunate. In the Word of God, justice and hospitality and mercy and righteousness are all tied together. The one who practises justice is the one who takes up the cause of those without a voice. The one who takes up that cause is merciful and gracious to those who are less fortunate because that is reflective of the nature and character of God. The one who is merciful seeks righteousness and the one who seeks righteousness desires to be hospitable towards others.

What’s the difference?

While many Christians properly agree that we should do what is just for the poor, we do not always agree on the best way to help those who are less fortunate. This is seen in different political ideologies about providing assistance to the poor. While the church does not shoulder all of the responsibility for helping the poor, many churches set up funds to help those in need, collect food to provide meals to those who are hungry and basic services to help the less fortunate function in society. 

Apart from God’s Word, justice is a prisoner to the whims of society

Anything a church can do to help the community is to be commended, but it is also the responsibility of the Church to help the community understand that we help the poor because we love Christ. Everything we do should be to magnify the name of Christ. We decrease so He can increase. We give the Lord the credit for what we do to help others to point others to the Saviour.

The real difference between modern concepts of justice and biblical justice is that Christ is the foundation of biblical justice. We do good for others because God first loved us. He loved us so much that He sent Christ to make us right with God and through Christ we share what He has done for us with others. 

Without Christ, people can still care for the poor or seek proper punishments to make things as right as possible for victims. But it is only done based on the standards of that culture. For Christians, the standards are solidified in God’s Word. Apart from God’s Word, justice is a prisoner to the whims of society with regard to things like reproductive rights, inclusiveness, racial equality, etc. The result is that different groups of people will disagree about what justice looks like in each of these areas. Christians must look to what Scripture says about each of these areas (and others) to see how to handle them in light of what it portrays as being in line with God’s nature, attributes, character, and moral desires for His creation.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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