The Bible pioneered at least 8 major categories of justice and they are briefly listed below.
God repeatedly said that it’s crucial for individuals, the wealthy, religions and governments to follow true justice:
**“Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Deut. 16:20 NLT
And if we look through the annals of history, it is clear that those who know and follow God’s laws have pioneered more forms of justice, human rights and freedom from various forms of slavery than all other forces combined! The seminar “World Perfect” from the Jewish site, http://www.aish.com/sem/wp/, demonstrates the stark difference between the ethics of pagan nations compared to the concepts of justice that God gave to the Jews and Christians that are unrivaled to this day. Christians spread biblical concepts of justice far beyond Israel so that every nation on earth now benefits from God’s principles, some of which are listed below.
There are many reasons justice should be a top priority for every person to understand and genuinely follow.
1) NATIONAL THRIVING: Justice for all is critical because it is the primary foundation of thriving societies.
**“Justice exalts a nation, but sin is a people’s disgrace.” Proverbs 14:34 (NABRE)
Many scholars have written about a cycle of nations that often takes 2-300 years to go through. Another wise author said that if skeptics of God don’t believe what God has said about the principles that make nations thrive, they can go look at the annals of history to confirm them.
Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson wrote that selfish individuals may get rich, but at the group level,
“A group of altruists will beat a society of selfish individuals every time.”“#3: E.O. Wilson’s Theory of Altruism Shakes Up Understanding of Evolution”. Pamela Weintraub. discovermagazine.com/2011/jan-feb/03. Thursday, April 28, 2011.
When your community and nation thrive, so will you and people you care about. This is why God told His people to work diligently for peace and prosperity when they were in their homeland of Israel, but also when in other nations.
2) TRUE GODLINESS: God repeatedly says that justice is one of the most crucial essences of true godliness.
“The righteous care about justice for the poor, the wicked have no such concern.” Prov. 29:7 (NLT)
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT)
3) INJUSTICE RESULTS IN TYRANNY: When people/nations ignore godliness and justice, they will fall apart, collapse or go into slavery.
***”Now Israel pleads with me, ‘Help us, for you are our God!’ But it is too late. The people of Israel have rejected what is good, and now their enemies will chase after them. The people have appointed kings without my consent, and princes without my approval. By making idols for themselves from their silver and gold, they have brought about their own destruction…Even though I gave them all my laws, they act as if those laws don’t apply to them.” Hosea 8:2-4, 12
(See also: Amos 1-2, Isaiah 1, Isaiah 10, and many other Bible chapters)
4) REWARDS: The Bible tells us that every good act is rewarded.
**“If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet…if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” Matt. 10:41-42
**“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Cor. 2:9 (see also: Titus 3:14***)
God’s rewards are separate from salvation, but will be beyond our imagination! So justice is a privilege but also a reward for us to engage in, as well as protecting our communities from severe damage, crime and ruin. There are several types of justice in the Bible and some of the verses that we read/dialogued about and where they could fit.
Dr. Michael Sandel at Harvard says that one reason for much of the division/conflict among people is because they have very different concepts of justice. Some for example only think that criminal justice is important, while others think that economic justice is also important. Some think individuals cause all their own suffering, while others think systems in society cause a great deal of it as well. What kinds of justice does the Bible talk about?
1) GOD LOVES JUSTICE: God is the ultimate expression of justice. All who love Him strive to imitate Him (Eph. 5:1).
**“For I, the Lord, love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing. I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering and make an everlasting covenant with them.” Isaiah 61:8
**“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” Zechariah7:9-10
**“I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” Amos 5:21-24
**“The Spirit of the Lord…has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of Jubilee.” Luke 4:18-19 NLT/TPT (see also Acts 10:34, Hebrews 6:10. and Rev. 18)
**“If God weren’t just, how could he judge the world?” Romans 3:6
“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” Isaiah 1:17
2) INDIVIDUAL CIVIL RIGHTS JUSTICE: This means that the laws of the government apply equally to all, rich and poor, men and women, native and foreigners, old and young, etc. The only exceptions would be if someone’s immaturity might put others in danger (like a 5 year old driving a car). The Bible repeatedly speaks about civil rights type justice.
**“Native-born Israelites and foreigners are equal before the Lord and are subject to the same decrees. This is a
permanent law for you, to be observed from generation to generation.” Numbers 15:15 (NLT)
**“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.” Leviticus 19:15
**“True justice must be given to foreigners living among you and to orphans…” Deuteronomy 24:17
**“You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way.” Exodus 22:21 (see also Ex. 23:9, Zech. 7:10)
**“Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.” Zechariah 7:10
**“This is what the Lord says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! Jeremiah 22:3 (see also: Malachi 3:5, James 1:27)
“What sorrow awaits the unjust judges and those who issue unfair laws.” Isaiah 10:1
3) NATIONAL/ECONOMIC JUSTICE: God judges nations corporately for injustice and crime, especially when they cross His line of mercy.
**“Then the Lord said, “The cries of injustice from Sodom and Gomorrah are countless, and their sin is very serious! I will go down now to examine the cries of injustice that have reached me. Genesis 18:19-21(CEB)
**“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Matthew 23:37-9 (NLT)
***“You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have erased their names forever.” Psalm 9:5
**See also Amos 1,2,4 Micah 1,2,3
4) RETRIBUTIVE/CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Retributive justice deals with what is a crime, who is responsible for it and what punishment should they receive, how to restore what was wrongfully taken, etc.
The Bible has many laws about various crimes and what is fair punishment. If you steal a sheep, you have to pay back 4 sheep (Exodus 22:1). If you injure someone with intent to harm, then the punishment is Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” Exodus 21:24 ESV. But if a thief is injured or killed while trying to rob a home, then the homeowner is not guilty (Exodus 22:2). If you kidnap someone to sell them into slavery, that is a capital crime and the criminal should be executed (Ex. 21:16). Interestingly, God did not institute any concept of jails in the Bible. So criminals had no chance to be schooled in more crime and people did not pay taxes to support criminals.
The Bible also strongly supports reparations for injustices done such as slavery. God predicted that Israel would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, but he would punish the Egyptians for this and give great wealth to Israel in compensation for their slavery (Gen 15:13,14, Exodus 3:17, 21,22). This article summarizes how the Bible/Torah fully supports reparations for injustice.
5) DISTRIBUTIVE/ECONOMIC JUSTICE: Distributive justice deals with how society should decide to distribute wealth, power, respect, opportunities and other valuable things? Should all valuable resources be divided equally to all, based on diligent work and creativity, according to social status, according to need, based on property rights, based on beneficial contributions to the society or others? How does God distribute rewards?
The Bible is very balanced. It teaches that all land and nature was created by God and so must be divided equally (Lev. 25:8-19, Joshua 13-18, 1 Kings 4:25, Neh. 5:1-13, Ez. 45:1-9;47:22,23 and others). It also established a system with a true free trade market (which can only happen if land rights are shared equally by all in the first place) which you can see in places like Proverbs 31:14, 16, 24, but also warned against dishonest trade (Ezekiel 28:18) and trade that exploits and enslaves people (Amos 2:6-7). It spoke about reward for hard work/creativity/contributions to society,
**“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” Proverbs 14:23
But it also speaks strongly of deep concern that every person and family’s needs be taken care of by all levels of society:
**“The godly care about the rights of the poor; the wicked don’t care at all.” Proverbs 29:7
The Bible also says that those who refuse to give to the needy will be guilty of sin, and cursed (Deut. 15:9, Proverbs 28:27***)
“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Enough, you princes of Israel! Stop your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Quit robbing and cheating my people out of their land. Stop expelling them from their homes, says the Sovereign Lord.” Ezekiel 45:9
“Distribute the land as an allotment for yourselves and for the foreigners who have joined you and are raising their families among you. They will be like native-born Israelites to you and will receive an allotment among the tribes.” Ezekiel 47:22
6) JUSTICE FOR SIN: Satan and his angels have incited all sins. Hell punishes them justly for this evil. God wants all people to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), to free them from the slavery/abuse/injustice of sin (Rom 6:16, Ez. 9:9), & died to show incontrovertible evidence of His love. Repentance enables forgiveness (1 John 1:9). People who persist in rebellion will be responsible for sins they commit. Justice must be done for evil caused (Luke 12:47-48). Few see the far reaching consequences of sin and injustice. But the Bible and science show that choices to do good or sin affect many lives and generations.
“Now we are being punished because of our wickedness and our great guilt. But we have actually been punished far less than we deserve.” Ezra 9:13
“For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.” Psalm 37:9
“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28 (Isaiah 28:21 portrays this as God’s strange act, one he hates to do, but must)
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.” Matt. 25:41 (see also: Rev. 20:14,15)
7) CHURCH JUSTICE: Churches look for areas where people are
suffering and oppressed to demonstrate God’s ideals of justice and compassion.
When other societal institutions fail to follow justice, godly churches
compensate for that.
Ellen White quotes Acts 2/4 and says this is a key way to finish God’s work:
**“Of the apostolic church, in those bright days when the glory of the risen Christ shone upon them, it is written that no man said “that any of the things which he possessed was his own.” ”There were no needy people among them.” “The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all.”
“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in
homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and
generosity-all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the
people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being
saved.” Acts 4:32, 34, 33; 2:46, 47 (KJV originally, updated to NLT).
Search heaven and earth, and there is no truth revealed more powerful than that which is made manifest in works of mercy to those who need our sympathy and aid. This is the truth as it is in Jesus. When those who profess the name of Christ shall practice the principles of the golden rule, the same power will attend the gospel as in apostolic times.”
8) RESTORATIVE JUSTICE: Restorative justice (also sometimes called “reparative justice”) focuses on how to restore a healthy relationship between victims and offenders, between the rich and the poor, etc. not just follow cold hard government rules. It views crimes as offenses against an individual or community rather than the state. Offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to repair the harm they’ve done – by apologizing, returning stolen money, community service, educating others about the harm injustice does, etc. Victims are active in the process so that they feel fairly treated.
ZACCHEUS EXAMPLE: “Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Luke 19:8 9
“Then I pressed further, “What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations? I myself, as well as my brothers and my workers, have been lending the people money and grain, but now let us stop this business of charging interest. You must restore their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes to them this very day. And repay the interest you charged when you lent them money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.” They replied, “We will give back everything and demand nothing more from the people. We will do as you say.” Then I called the priests and made the nobles and officials swear to do what they had promised. Nehemiah 5:9-12
The Bible strives to restore healthy relationships and to rehabilitate those who have done wrong in communities. It uses fair punishments, it does not put people in jail for years and it cancels debts every 7 years to enable a fresh start (Deut. 15:1), as well as emphasizing forgiveness and mercy and 2nd chances and in many other ways.
There are other types of justice in the world and the Bible. But every kind of justice that is beneficial was pioneered by God in the Bible and they are crucial for the stability, thriving and safety of all people in nations. And as one Pastor Anyabwile says, “In this life, only the gospel of Jesus Christ satisfies every aspect of biblical justice.”
Never forget that God says that wicked people don’t care about justice, godly people do:
**“The godly care about the rights of the poor; the wicked don’t care at all.” Proverbs 29:7
God does wink at ignorance (Acts 17:30), but the choices and actions of each person that relate to justice literally determines whether we are contributing to improving lives or harming lives, becoming closer to God or moving farther away from Him. Godly people throughout history identified injustices in society, opposed them and rescued people from those evils, and transformed the world of their time. They gave us a legacy of faith. Now it’s our turn.
These articles have some helpful ideas on this topic: