Justin Thacker writes: A fundamental principle of biblical justice is that we are all equal before the law. The book of Leviticus reminds us: ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly’ (Lev 19:15). Yet a new report from TaxWatch reveals that such equality does not seem to apply to the way we pursue benefit fraud and tax fraud. While tax cheats cost the exchequer nine times as much as benefit cheats, you are 23 times more likely to be prosecuted for benefit fraud than tax fraud. This is surely unjust.
Both the Old and New Testaments are clear that partiality, especially partiality based on wealth and privilege, have no place in the kingdom of God. In particular, the scriptural authors were well aware of the perennial temptation we face to demonstrate such favouritism in our administration of justice. The following are just a selection of the verses that address this issue:
Deuteronomy 16:19 ‘Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.’
2 Chronicles 19: 7 ‘Now let the fear of the Lord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.’
Proverbs 17: 15 ‘Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both.’
Proverbs 17:23 ‘The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice.’
Proverbs 31:9 ‘Speak up and judge fairly’
Isaiah 5: 22-23 ‘Woe to those…who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.’
Micah 3:9-11 ‘Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justiceand distort all that is right;…Her leaders judge for a bribe’
Zechariah 7:9-10 ‘Administer true justice.’
James 2:1 ‘My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism’
James 2:8-9 ‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers.’
The scriptures then are clear: biblical justice must involve the absence of favouritism or partiality. Moreover, there seems to be a number of reasons given for this. One of these centres on the representative role we play in administering justice. Ultimately, the only true judge is of course the supreme law-giver God. This means that when we apply judgements, and we are called to do that, we are doing so in God’s stead. True justice then is justice which faithfully represents the character of God. In 2 Chronicles 19 when Jehoshaphat appoints judges in every town he tells them they must judge righteously ‘because you are not judging for mere mortals but for the Lord who is with you whenever you give a verdict’ (v6).
The one who administers justice is then God’s servant and just as pagan rulers (Cyrus is the obvious example) can be God’s anointed, God’s servant whether they recognise God or not, so too are our secular Justices to the extent that they administer true justice. Jehoshaphat’s admonition to render true justice is based then on the character of the one that the Judges represent. Just as there is ‘no injustice or partiality or bribery’ with God so there must not be any ‘injustice or partiality or bribery’ with you who administer earthly justice. In this way, there is a sense in which there is only one concept of justice – God’s justice – and either our earthly judges administer that true justice or they deliver no justice at all.