Author Jonathan Noyes
Published on 05/13/2024
Christian Living

Scripture Provides Us with a Comprehensive Guide to Justice

Jon Noyes provides practical tips for how we can act justly and shares four tenets of biblical justice.


When we use the word “justice,” we mean something. Justice implies conformity to an ethical or moral standard. Now, keep in mind, true justice requires the existence of an objective standard. That’s why anything outside of a theistic system ultimately fails. So, justice is the conformity to an ethical or moral standard defined by the nature and the will of God. This standard is revealed to us in God’s law.

Scripture provides us with a comprehensive guide to justice. The psalmist says in Psalm 119, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” He goes on to say, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.” Paul says that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” True justice flows from God’s nature and from his character.

In Social Justice vs Biblical Justice, a small pamphlet, E. Calvin Beisner points out that the biblical concept of justice is rendering impartially and proportionally to everyone his due in accordance with the righteous standard of God’s law. Notice, biblical justice requires several things. First, justice is impartial. Listen to how Moses instructs the judges of Israel in Deuteronomy. He says, “Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s.”

Impartiality is a tricky thing. I think it needs to be qualified here because, sometimes, we use impartiality to skirt issues. God seems to show some partiality to the widow, to the orphan, to the fatherless, the outcast, and the least of these. He doesn’t show partiality to the extent that they get the standard bent on their behalf or in their direction. The standard doesn’t bend, but God’s justice is the only form of justice that puts a spotlight on them and gives these people a preferential priority in defense.

Second, justice renders to each what’s due. We see this in Exodus 21 and 22 as we read all the case law regarding specific crimes and the penalties for violating specific laws. “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them,” is what God says. In Romans 2, Paul says, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds.” To the church in Corinth, “Each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8). Paul says the same thing to the Galatians. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

The third element of biblical justice is true justice is proportional. When justice is accomplished, there’s a balance between action and reward or punishments. For example, Leviticus 24 distinguishes between crimes done to a person and crimes done to property. The penalty for taking the life of a human being is different than the penalty for taking the life of a cow, for example. Proportionality also distinguishes accidental crimes from intentional crimes. If a person accidentally damages a neighbor’s property, justice—or biblical justice—requires that the cost is split between the two parties, but if it’s shown that there’s negligence or intentionality, the neighbor has to bear the full price of restitution. Proportionality is where we get the statement “The punishment should fit the crime.” This is known as “lex talionis” in legal circles.

Lastly, justice conforms to the standard of God’s law. This includes the Ten Commandments, but it also includes all the moral statutes and ordinances throughout the case laws I’ve mentioned. True justice flows from God’s character and is manifest through God’s law. This is where we get our understanding of rights. When rights are violated, we turn to these things for recourse. Properly understood, rights aren’t guarantees. This is important. Rights are not guarantees that something will be provided for us, but instead, they’re guarantees that what’s ours won’t be unjustly taken from us. You can apply this to everything from property to goods and services to life.

Biblical justice is the application of biblical law in all spheres of society. How are we doing at that? Out of compassion for the least of these in our society, I think that we can do better than we’re doing. If we want to win the culture war, the secret weapon is true justice and service to the least of these. Jesus leads by example in this. If you go to Matthew 20, you’ve got his disciples arguing over who’s going to sit next to him. Do you remember Jesus’ response here? He says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Now, I’m not a social justice warrior, but I do want to reclaim social justice terminology. Social justice is just one application of biblical justice. So, we have to look at what we mean by “social justice,” pass it through the biblical lens, and then decide whether or not it’s true justice. For example, if by “social justice” someone means pursuing a society in which the law of God is applied equally to all people in all situations, then this, by definition, is justice. Unfortunately, though, oftentimes, something else is meant. Instead, when someone talks about social justice, they mean there’s a guarantee of equality of outcome across any situation—that everybody should end up in the same exact place. But the only way of achieving this would be to violate biblical justice. It’s impossible to guarantee that everyone will land in the same place without violating at least one of the four criteria for doing justice. For example, some people are actually taller than other people, and that means that some people will have a better chance of playing pro basketball. Are there exceptions? Yes. Muggsy Bogues was like 5'8" or 5'6", and he made it to the pros, but these examples and bad examples of social justice don’t excuse us from our responsibility as Christians to seek to bring about a more just society. Oftentimes, I feel like that’s what happens. I want to ask again, how do we do that? We do it by fastening on a full-orbed Christian worldview and taking God’s Word seriously, especially in reference to justice.

Christianity says that our fundamental problem is sin. Original sin places all humanity on equal footing. No one is exempt. Paul says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:3). And, yes, sin includes racism, discrimination, and bigotry, but it includes ignoring the poor and not standing up to injustices, as well. Yes, oppressors are sinners, but so, too, are the oppressed, in their own way.

Critical theory has no foundation or solution, only the problem. We have the foundation and the solution: biblical justice, provided we know and live biblical justice out. This is an opportunity for us to address the culture war and win it. Christianity is what provides the best reason to believe things like oppression and racism are wrong. Every human being is made in the image of God, so God created man in his own image, and in the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them. It’s not the color of our skin or any other physical characteristic that gives people value, worth, and dignity. Being made in the image of God is the great equalizer. This is where justice finds its true beginning.

With the basic framework in place, the question remains, how are we doing at this? Is our justice system impartial in defense of the least of these? Do we render what is due in a proportional way? Do our laws conform with the standards of God’s law?