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Justice in The Old Testament, New Testament, and The Church Today

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Justice

Justice is a concept based on numerous ideas and theories coming from many different fields, viewpoints, and perspectives. Simply stated, justice means to be fair to all, or to set things right (Pomerleau n.d.). Although this definition seems simple it sparks important questions such as; who “sets things right”, what is “right”, and why is justice good. Humans have an innate sense of right and wrong, and along with it a conviction that wrongdoers should be punished and the weak or victimized should be protected and made whole again. Mankind as a collective wants justice and believes that it is good. This justice comes from God, since God created the humans in his likeness, and justice is an attribute of God. The Bible, the prophets, and Jesus showed mankind the correct path, and inspired people to live justly. The idea of justice is presented different ways throughout scripture, in matters between people, as an attribute of God, and as a path to living a righteous life in attempt to earn salvation. In the Old Testament, Justice is presented as a theme in the creation and exodus stories, reiterated by prophets, and displayed instances where God himself acts as a judge. In the New Testament Jesus and his mission inspire followers to live justly and seek salvation and God acts as a judge. In the church today, justice still plays a prominent role in the lives of Christians in the mandate to do justice from scripture, and the call to protect all of God’s creations. Many people have their own standard for how the choose to live their life. Some people chose their moral standard based off of what they believe is right. Many Christians chose to lead a just life, because they believe that the right thing to do is to follow in the example of Christ, and living according to God’s plan.

Justice and God

The Christian God is a monotheistic being, the creator of heaven and earth, who is pure of spirit, existing outside of human constructs, such as time and space. “Theists believe that reality’s ultimate principle is God—an omnipotent, omniscient, goodness that is the creative ground of everything other than itself” (Wainwright 2005). The main attributes that are typically tied to God are; God is loving, God is all-knowing, and God is all-powerful. Another important attribute associated with the Christian God is justice. Justice as an attribute of God is demonstrated in Deuteronomy 10: 9, 10 where God is described as “not partial and takes no bribes”, and continues to say that “He executes justice”. This concept is also demonstrated in Isaiah 33:22 “For the lord is our judge, the lord is our lawgiver, the lord is our king; He will save us”. Since God is the creator and he is all-powerful, God must always be just, God defines what is right and wrong, and God sets the standard for justice. As God acts justly, he maintains faithfulness to the people of Israel, His chosen people with whom he has a covenant. God makes a covenant with mankind and adheres to it justly, and sets terms for this agreement. Since God is able to perfectly exemplify justice, people seek God’s wisdom to understand how to live justly and in accordance with the will of God.

Justice and Humanity

God is just, and since it is one of his attributes, he cannot be unjust. Humans on the contrary are endowed with free will and don’t have to be just. God gives mankind a guide for how to live justly in accordance with his will, by giving them the ability to tell the difference between Good and evil. Mankind’s sense of justice is imparted by their creator. God delivered justice to mankind when he gave them the gives the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 20:23-23:19). In return for God’s commitment to mankind, they should remain faithful to the covenant and commandments. The 10 Commandments are ‘written with the finger of God’ (Exodus 31:18) and delivered to humans (Exodus 25:21) so that they may live according to his will. Acting justly, doing well, and helping the oppressed are some of mankind’s responsibility that are presented as part of doing God’s will (Isaiah 1:17). Humans who chose to follow God have the responsibility to keep their covenant with God and ensure that they are living according to his will, with the commandments as a guide.

In today’s society justice is often associated with the law or the judicial system (Dupuy, 1999). It is a judge’s responsibility to act justly and rule fairly. An excerpt from Romans 13:1 says “God is the highest authority”, which means that God is the highest judge, alluding to his omnipotence. Humans can strive to live justly according to earthly standards, but must ultimately live in accordance with God’s will and plan if they intend to attain salvation.

Justice in the Old Testament

Justice is a prominent theme throughout the Old Testament. It is originally established in the creation narrative, it is displayed again through the Exodus narrative, it is a theme reiterated among prophetic writings, and there are many occurrences where God is portrayed as a judge and has to handle injustice himself.

In the creation narrative God’s gift of justice and call for justice is rooted in the creation in the Imago Dei. The Imago Dei is the notion stemming from the creation story in Genesis 1:26-27, that God created mankind in his image and likeness (Middleton 1994). God himself sees all humans as equal, and doesn’t differentiate between different types of humans. Since justice is one of the attributes of God and humans are created in his image and likeness, humans therefore are inherently valuable and have basic human rights that relate to equality and justice.

The theme of Justice is also present in the Exodus story. In Exodus 1:11-14 the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites, and held them as slaves subjecting them to harsh labor. God recognized this injustice and responded by working through Moses to serve justice. In Exodus 1:7-10, God recognizes the injustice occurring in Egypt, and acts to make right the situation. This is significant because it clearly illustrates God acting to solve injustice, and doing so by interacting with humankind and showing them how to act justly.

God also used prophets to help guide humans to act justly and follow the will of God (Houston 2019). Throughout history there have been specific times when humans significantly struggle to keep the covenant and follow the commandments. In these times, prophets were sent by God in order to redirect mankind whom had deviated from God’s will. A common theme that is reiterated within the message of these prophets is that God is just (Bọlọjẹ, Groenewald. 2014). The Prophets that spoke of justice in the Old Testament were messengers from God who spoke to the people of Israel to get them back within God’s will. The best example of Justice as one of the Prophets’ main points of emphasis comes from Micah, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Prophets do God’s work and inspire justice in the community by bringing people back within the will of God.

There are many examples throughout the Old Testament of God himself resolving injustice. This is the most literal way God impart his will relating to justice onto mankind. In Old Testament scriptures there were references to two types of judgments. The first type of judgment is one of acknowledgement of injustice and a punishment, and the other is in reference to a final judgment or a judgment day. Examples of instances where God “executed judgment” against those he recognized to be unjust come in Genesis 2:17, Exodus 32:26-35 and Isaiah 66:16. All of these sections of scripture have God as the judge and give punishments to injustices that have occurred. The other type of God’s judgment portrayed in the Old Testament is one that refers to a “final judgment” where God judges goodness versus evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14). This threat of a final judgment incentivizes good and just behavior by humans.

Justice in the New Testament

Justice is a significant theme in the New Testament as well, but the concept and execution of Justice shifted slightly. The New Testament authors exhibit a different portrayal of justice, there is a change from the powerful God that should be feared that is presented in the Old Testament, to a more loving God in the New Testament (Foster n.d.). This depiction of a loving God and the call to seek him out and the opportunity to achieve salvation by acting justly and living his will, is brought about by the life and mission of Christ.

In Christianity, justice has often been seen as something of a concept, but the life and teaching of Jesus encapsulated the term and provided an example for others. Jesus, his life and ministry, and his mission are captured in the Gospels. His mission is carried out by his followers today, who are inspired to live justly and seek salvation because of the example of Christ. Throughout his life Jesus exemplified, and talked about the importance of living justly, and protecting those less endowed than you because all people are equals under their creator God. Examples of Jesus bringing justice to those in need and compelling others to do the same come in; Matthew 19:21, Matthew 25:35, 1 John 3:17-18, and Luke 14:13. These actions and words from Christ, give the message that Jesus wants us to follow in his example and live justly and presents a call for justice from all of his people. Jesus spends much of his ministry throughout the gospels speaking of salvation and how to attain it. A central theme found throughout the New Testament that is heavily centered in the gospels is the coming of the kingdom of God. This theme and the call to act justly and seek salvation is especially prevalent when Jesus came to Galilee and said “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus also gave his followers a new commandment (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 17). Jesus died for the sins of mankind so that they may receive forgiveness and receive salvation. Christ, through his life, mission, and the gospel inspires people to act justly and seek salvation.

There are many examples throughout the New Testament of God himself executing justice. In New Testament scriptures there were references to two different types of judgments by God. The first type of judgment is one punishment for an injustice, and the other is in reference to a final judgment of all souls. Examples of instances where God “executed judgment” against those he recognized to be unjust come in Romans 12:19 and Acts 12:21-23. Both of these sections of scripture have God as the judge and give punishments to injustices that have occurred. The second type of judgment portrayed is one that refers to a final judgment where every God judges the earth. Examples of this type of justice come in Romans 2:16, Psalm 58:10-11, and 1 Peter 4:5. This idea of a final judgment, compels Christians to be prepared for this judgment by remaining in God’s light and doing God’s will throughout their lives so that they may achieve salvation.

Justice and the church today

We can learn a lot about justice and how it should apply to our lives and in the church today by looking at the scripture and applying the lessons and teaching to situations in today’s world. Justice is a significant part of today’s church and two of its important applications are the mandate given in scripture and the dignity of the human person. Christians seeking salvation should live good and just lives fulfilling God’s will until judgment (Hosea 12:6). Justice is a good place to start for those looking to make a difference in their community while living in accordance with God’s plan.

When reviewing the life and works of Christ, his followers are mandated or called to “do justice” (Micah 6:8). This call to “do justice”, consists of recognizing and confronting evil, caring for the lesser privileged, and the recognizing and undoing of injustices (Isaiah 1:17). This call to live and act justly is reiterated many times throughout the bible. The call to recognize and confront evil and undo injustices asks followers of Christ become aware of injustices, and to act on them as God would, by actively pursuing justice. By doing this, Christians can help rectify an unjust world with the justice of God. The call to care for the lesser privileged comes from Psalm 82:3-4, which tells us to “give justice to” or care for those whom are lesser privileged than us. People can work to fulfill this call by using the virtue of solidarity. “At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace”.

Throughout scripture we as Christians are also called to care for God’s creation. This refers to primarily the treatment of other humans, because man was the pinnacle of God’s creation. This call comes in the parable of The Final Judgment, when God rewards those who acted justly and showed love to fellow humans, but damned those who did not (Matthew 25:31-46). In today’s world where there are many injustices occurring, we should follow in Christ example and actively pursue justice while attempting to rectify injustice. We should consider if our actions as an individual or society respect or threaten the dignity and life of the human person. We should also participate in a society that supports the wellbeing of all whom are in it. We should protect the basic rights necessary so that everyone may have a decent basic human life. We should also are pay special attention to the needs of those less endowed than us. Scripture, Jesus’s example, and prophetic writings are all good places for us to take an example for how to properly live according to the will of God.

Conclusion

There are many different conceptions of justice, each of which has a slightly different meaning, but it has always remained one of the key aspects for people trying to live a righteous life. Justice is an attribute of God, and therefore anything God does is just and he can’t be unjust. In the Old Testament, God created humans in the Imago Dei, endowing them with fundamental principles including justice because of their likeness with God. Humanity has a covenant with and commandments from God to keep in his plan and them on his plan. Despite this, mankind has at times struggled to keep their commitments and have required God to send prophets to lead them back onto the right path. Even after sending prophets humans were still lost, so God sent His son, Jesus. Jesus was truly God, so he too was completely just. Through his life and ministry Jesus set an example of what it means to live a just life, and his future followers are called to do justice through the scriptures. Jesus endowed mankind with the opportunities of freedom from sin, and the hope of salvation. These opportunities as well as the call to act justly are seen as prevalent aspects in the church today. Justice is present in the virtue of solidarity, and the call to do justice is actively worked by the members of the church throughout society.

Reference List

  • Bọlọjẹ, B., & Groenewald, A. (2014). Malachi’s concern for social justice: Malachi 2:17 and 3:5 and its ethical imperatives for faith communities. HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, 70(1), 9 pages. doi:https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v70i1.2072
  • Dupuy, P. (1999). The danger of fragmentation or unification of the international legal system and the international court of justice. New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, 31(4), 791-808.
  • Foster, R. (n.d.). Understandings of Justice in the New Testament. Teaching the Bible: Society of biblical literature https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/TBv2i5_Fosterjustice.pdf.
  • Holy Bible. English Standard Version. The Gideons International in Australia. Houston, W. (2019) ‘Social Justice and the Prophets’, https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/related-articles/social-justice-and-the-prophets
  • Middleton, J. (1994) The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context. Christian Scholars Review 24.1, pages 8-25. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/01-genesis/text/articles-books/Middleton-ImagoDei-CSR.pdf
  • Paprocki, J. (n.d.). Social Justice—Catholic Social Teaching. Loyola Press. Retrieved from https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/ignatian-spirituality/introduction-to-ignatian-spirituality/social-justice-catholic-social-teaching.
  • Pomerleau, W. (n.d.). Western Theories of Justice. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://www.iep.utm.edu/justwest/.
  • Wainwright, William. (2005) Monotheism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

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Justice In The Old Testament, New Testament, And The Church Today. (2021, November 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/justice-in-the-old-testament-new-testament-and-the-church-today/
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