Justice in the Eyes of Jesus:
The Concept of Justice in the New Testament


Paper delivered at a conference sponsored by the World Islamic Call Society,
Sheraton Tower and Hotel, Chicago, 2-4th November, 2006,
“Justice in Evangelical Christian and Islamic Thought”



“Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17-21)


In this paper I want us to examine the concept of justice in the eyes of Jesus. How did Jesus understand, teach and deliver justice?

I want us to consider this question under five headings and see that biblical justice is relational; is creative; is liberating; vindicates; and restores. [1]


1. Biblical Justice is Relational

“Justice in the Bible is pre-eminently a relational bond which links persons together in a community of mutual responsibility and mutual rights.”[2] Specifically, biblical justice defines and creates a relationship between a holy God and his people and with one another in a community of faith. Biblical justice is then, first and foremost, relational. It is founded on God's gracious initiative.


The dilemma we face is this. How can we who are unholy, relate to a holy and righteous God? Christians believe that divine justice was fully personified in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said of himself, without a trace of arrogance,


“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)


Citing the Hebrew scriptures, Paul summarises our condition before a holy just God in this way:


“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.

All have turned away, they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good, not even one.”
(Romans 3:10-12)


On the basis of God’s holy nature, he continues,


“every mouth will be silenced, and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20).


How then can we be made right with a just and holy God? Paul goes on to explain that Jesus died in our place to take upon himself the judgement we deserve, so that we can be justified and made right with God. This is the basis for our relationship with God.


“There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood… he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-26)


Jesus died to bring us back into a right relationship with God. This is the basis for our relationship with God. It is also the same basis for our relationships with one another.


“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)


Matthew uses similar imagery to describe Jesus as God’s chosen servant. He quotes from Isaiah 42 to describe Jesus’ unique role in bringing forth justice and establishing justice on earth:


“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him

and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out,

or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

he will not falter or be discouraged

till he establishes justice on earth.

In his law the islands will put their hope.”
(Isaiah 42:1-4, see Matthew 12:15-21)


Justice is therefore God’s initiative and our hope. Living under, and by, the justice of God, is an act of faith and fidelity. Jesus specifically rebukes the Pharisees of his day for their hypocrisy and disregard for justice because it was a sign of their disregard for God.


“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42)


Notice Jesus links justice with love. If we love God, we will desire to become like him in our values, in our priorities and actions. Biblical justice is therefore a quality of ‘mutual bondedness’ - the foundation of our individual, as well as shared, covenant relationship with God. This is why Jesus insists with great authority that our heart attitude toward God and our motives toward others are more revealing, and more critical, than our ability to keep to the letter of the law.


In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains God’s attitude to such things as murder, adultery, divorce and right to retaliation. In doing so he calls us to a higher ethic.


“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart…” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28)


Ultimately we will be judged on the basis of how we have treated others. Not because we are saved by good works, but rather because our actions demonstrate our heart attitude, our faith and trust in God’s justice. Our actions reveal our trust in Jesus, who has reconciled us to God. Jesus says how we treat others ultimately demonstrates how we treat God.


“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)


So, in a society that prizes personal freedom and affluence, “both the rugged individualism of the free-enterprise capitalist and the narcissistic individualism of the ‘me generation’”,[3] biblical justice holds us accountable to God, calls us back to a right relationship with him, builds faith and strengthens community. First and foremost then, biblical justice is relational.


2. Biblical Justice is Creative

God has initiated a covenant relationship with his people based on his character. This is why the apostle Peter cites Leviticus 19:2 to show why we must be holy. Because God is holy.


“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:13-17)


Therefore because of this new covenant relationship, God is also calling his people to be a new community to demonstrate it.


“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9-12)


Biblical justice is therefore creative. God’s initiative creates a people who once were no people. Hollenbach says, “It is a justice which ever seeks new and deeper levels of mutual relatedness, not simply the preservation of those familiar bonds which already exist. Thus it goes beyond a quid pro quo fairness in social interaction and economic exchanges.”[4] This new creation community is one that draws all - especially the stranger and the alien into the neighbourhood. If genuine, it will be infectious. It will be evangelistic - eager to share the good news - eager to welcome others into the community. Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to define our responsibility to build community. He was asked a question “who is my neighbour?” The lawyer wanted Jesus to define the limit of his neighbourly responsibility - those living within a mile? Two miles? Five miles? Jesus turned the question around and asked What kind of neighbour are you?


“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Jesus, very cleverly, creates a dilemma. The person at the centre of the story is left naked and unconscious. Therefore no one traveling along the road could tell from his clothing or accent whether he was one of their tribe or not. The man is reduced to stripped to his bare humanity. The Samaritan, an enemy of the Jews is the only one who stops. The only one who acts as a neighbour. The Parable of the Good Samaritan, illustrates our responsibility toward who ever we meet. In these divine encounters we are called to be creative, inclusive and compassionate toward those in need - who ever they are because they are created in the image of God. In this regard, Jesus explicitly denies us the right to retaliation.


“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)


Jesus insists that we break the spiral of violence and create an environment in which even our enemy can be reconciled and drawn into our community. Biblical justice is therefore not only relational, it is also creative in transcending the boundaries of race, politics or religion. Biblical justice is relational and creative.


3. Biblical Justice is Liberating

The Hebrew scriptures trace the liberation of God’s people from slavery. In the Exodus we see the people of God emerge from bondage. Their liberty is assured only as they obey God’s leading and relate to him and one another in the ways he proscribes. The Law given at Mount Sinai was intended to liberate God’s people - to protect them and provide for their future. Notice the way in which their liberation is intended to shape the way they treat others.


“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-20)


The Law, which defined the rights and responsibilities of God’s people, included the idea of the Sabbath - a weekly day of rest, but also the Sabbath year - every seventh year the land was given rest. And after every seven sevens - after 49 years, there was to be a year of Jubilee.  “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:10)


 The Year of Jubilee injunctions ensured that every 50 years, slaves were freed, debts were cancelled, and ancestral property was returned. The intention was that, whatever their circumstances in the intervening years, broad equality among God’s people was maintained. God warns, “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God.” (Leviticus 25:17). Later, Isaiah predicted that God would send the Messiah to inaugurate a spiritual year of Jubilee (Isaiah 61:1-3). And it is with these words that Jesus begins his first recorded message delivered in the synagogue of Nazareth,


“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:17-21)


Jesus came to proclaim the good news of liberation, freedom, recovery, release, the season of God’s favour especially to the poor, to prisoners, to the blind and to those who were oppressed. To these people, in particular, Jesus brought hope, justice and liberation. Biblical justice is relational, it is creative and liberating.



4. Biblical Justice Vindicates

Biblical justice vindicates - as it liberates. Stephen Mott observes: "Often people think of justice in the Bible only in the … sense as God's wrath on evil. This aspect of justice indeed is present… [but] Justice in the Bible very frequently also deals with benefits. Cultures differ widely in determining the basis by which the benefits are to be justly distributed. For some it is by birth and nobility. For others the basis is might or ability or merit. Or it might simply be whatever is the law or whatever has been established by contracts. The Bible takes another possibility. Benefits are distributed according to need. Justice then is very close to love and grace. God “executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and… loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing” Deuteronomy 10:18)… To oppress is to use power for one's own advantage in depriving others of their basic rights in the community (see Mark 12:40). To do justice is to correct that abuse and to meet those needs (Isaiah 1:17). [5]


When Jesus read from the prophecy in Isaiah 61 in the synagogue of Nazareth, he claimed it was being fulfilled as he spoke the words.


“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

19to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favour.”

 (Luke 4:18-19)


However, significantly, Jesus does not complete the sentence. Isaiah 61:2 goes on to say:


“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favour

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

instead of ashes, the oil of gladness

instead of mourning, and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)



In his first coming Jesus did not come to judge. It was not yet “the day of vengeance of our God”. The first time Jesus came to save. We believe he will return to fulfil the second half of this prophecy.


Ruth Foster observes,


“Recalling the themes of Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, Jesus revealed His upside-down kingdom as a radical reversal of normal human values. The focus then of His coming was on the poor, the enslaved, the blind, and the downtrodden, a focus that embodied God’s nature as defender of the weak. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament teaching concerning justice for the needy and helpless in his teaching (Luke 4:l6ff) and in his attention to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of people. If any doubt exists about how Jesus understood his mission, his reply to John the Baptist’s poignant question from prison, “Are You the Coming One, or shall we look for someone else?”, clarifies for us his thinking. Jesus sent John the answer that “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5).


The church then becomes the stage on which Jesus’ radical way of living is acted out. Brueggemann argues that the church “as a wedge of newness, as a foretaste of what is coming, as home for the odd ones, is the work of God’s originary mercy.”[6]


These peculiar people that Brueggemann calls “that odd community” are those who question what the content of “neighbor justice’’ is and who consistently seek to act out the answers.”[7]


Jesus promises vindication for the poor, the outcasts, the marginalised, the abused and the oppressed. That is why his message is good news. Knowing that vindication and vengeance will come on the day of judgement, should temper the way we treat others. In his letter to the Romans, Paul insists:


“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)


It is God’s role to avenge, not ours. Jesus told another parable to illustrate this and to motivate his followers not to get despair.


“He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:2-8)


Hollenbach observes, “The complete fulfillment of this vindication will occur only on the eschatological day of judgment. But the resurrection of Jesus is the down payment on its complete realization, and the Spirit of God has been given to a groaning world as the first fruits of the harvest in which vindication and judgment will be complete. Christians who seek to remain faithful to the Spirit which has been given them are both called and enabled to act in the task of bringing vindication to all who are poor and oppressed. Such action is central in the biblical understanding of the Christian's participation in the justice of God.”[8] In this sense, as Stephen Mott points out, biblical “Justice delivers; it does not merely relieve the immediate needs of those in dire straits… In the act of restoration, those who were victims of justice receive benefits while their exploiters are punished.”[9]

So, to summarise - we have seen that biblical justice, in the eyes of Jesus is first relational, second creative, third liberating and fourth, vindicating. Finally…


5. Biblical Justice is Restorative

God’s intention is that people be reconciled to himself and to one another in community. As we have seen, it is specifically those who are vulnerable, the poor, the weak, the widow and orphan and the stranger who are the focus of God’s compassion and protection, so that they can survive and remain in the community.  In this sense maintaining justice for them is a central demand on God’s people.


“He has showed you, O man, 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)


The apostle James summarises the meaning of religion in this way:


“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)


God’s intention is therefore that justice be restorative. Naim Ateek points out, “To talk about the righteousness of God, therefore, means to talk about God’s compassion and mercy. In fact, God’s concern for justice grows out of compassion and mercy. Injustice is condemned biblically not because the law has been broken, but because a merciful God is flouted and people are hurt.”[10]


Jesus demonstrated this in the encounter with an adulterous woman.


“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11)


Jesus did not condone her sin. But he would not condemn either. Ruth Foster observes, “The woman had committed a crime. Jesus did not condone or excuse her crime. Rather, he illustrated his trust in the power of redemptive love by forgiving the woman of her sin. With mercy and compassion he told her, “Go and sin no more.” At the same time he focused attention on the hypocrisy of her accusers: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Many Christians have found in this story an insight into the core of the Christian gospel.”[11]


In another encounter Jesus is having a meal at the home of a Pharisee when a prostitute enters and anoints his feet with perfume, wets them with her tears and dries them with her hair. The Pharisee is appalled that Jesus is allowing her to touch him. Jesus responds with a story about two men who each owed money. One owed a little and the other owed a great deal. The money lender cancelled the debts of both. Jesus asks which will love the money lender the most. The Pharisee replies, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.” Jesus then applies the principle.


“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:44-50)


Another group of people in society specifically mentioned in need of compassion and restoration are prisoners. In Matthew 25 we find proof that God intends us to be involved with restorative justice.


“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’… Then the righteous will answer… When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)


Our attitude toward prisoners is indicative of our attitude toward the Lord. “Consider this also, the first saint in Heaven was a thief--the thief who cried out to Jesus from the cross "Remember me when you enter to your kingdom". Jesus did not just remember him, he took him along. "Today you will be with me in paradise." God’s actions on our behalf on the cross have to do with justice. The cross is, in fact, God’s plan for justice that restores.”[12] In this sense we should all be able to identify with the thief. For we all fall short of the glory of God; we do not live up to God’s expectations; we all deserve God’s judgement. The good news is that when we are honest and confess our guilt we can all experience the restorative aspect of God’s justice.


“if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7-9)


God is just. We deserve condemnation. But because Jesus died in our place, God can justly forgive and restore us. And that is why we must seek justice and restoration for others also.



We have seen that justice, in the eyes of Jesus, is first relational, second creative, third liberating, fourth vindicating and fifth, restorative. Each is complimentary and inseparable. Hollenbach again.


“There can be no vindication of the oppressed apart from a creative restructuring of the conditions of exchange and interaction in economic and political life. There can be no liberation which is not simultaneously a movement into a relationship of truly mutual relatedness. The biblical vision acknowledges the reality of injustice and deep conflict in history. Thus it sees the fullness of justice as an eschatological hope.


Injustice is the conflict-ridden exclusion of persons or groups from participation in the richness of social relationship. It leads to oppression and poverty. The remedy for injustice is the struggle to overcome this exclusion and domination, a struggle that is often filled with conflict. But the conflicts of injustice as biblically portrayed are most definitely not conflicts between freedom and social solidarity or between personal faithfulness and corporate responsibility. These are inseparable both in a fully just community and in the process of moving toward such a community.


It must also be noted that the biblical vision of justice will sometimes call Christian citizens to question and challenge the presuppositions which underlie current movements in the political process… A justice which is integrally relational, creative, liberating, [and] vindicating of the poor [and restorative] cuts against some of the bias and self-interests of nearly all political movements and ideologies to be found on the political scene. So though Christians need to employ reason and persuasion fully in their civil pursuit of justice, they also need to recognize its tendency to become infected with what Niebuhr called ideological taint. The defense against this danger is not retreat into an uncritical fundamentalism. The pathway of such a retreat is closed off by the fact that the Bible does not contain the concepts or analyses that can fully illuminate real policy choices.


The strongest secular warrant for the biblical vision of justice is its appositeness for a pluralist and conflicted world. Mutual relatedness, creative restructuring, liberating inclusiveness, and a forthright commitment to the vindication of the poor and oppressed are simultaneously the conditions of religious faithfulness and public civility today... The civil task of the public church is to help nurture them and act on them in both the religious and political domains. Failure to do so would be both unbiblical and uncivil.”[13]

Ruth Foster concludes:

“The waters of justice and righteousness are dangerous to those of us who have promised to follow Christ and to live in covenant with His people. God’s justice is dangerous because:

Are we courageous disciples? Are we brave enough to be God’s light and justice to those in the shadows? If we are to know God fully through his Son Jesus Christ, we must live justly. If the world is to know Jesus Christ through us, we must risk entering into the dangerous waters of God’s justice and righteousness.”[14]

Alan Storkey also offers this closing challenge:

“our relation to God's justice is unavoidable. It delineates our lives and shapes our history. Moreover, both in the Scriptures and in two thousand years of Christian history, we have the greatest formative tradition of justice in world history. When we walk out of the ghetto, we already know the city, have a good map and have access to its ruler. Surely it is time so to do.” [15]


© Stephen Sizer

November 2006

[1] This talk was inspired by an article entitled The Politics of Justice by David Hollenbach.  http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/jan1982/v38-4-article5.htm#Hollenbach David Hollenbach, S.J., is Associate Professor of Theological Ethics at Weston School of Theology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is the author of Claims in Conflict: Retrieving and Renewing the Catholic Human Rights Tradition (1979).

[2] David Hollenbach, ibid.,

[3] David Hollenbach, ibid.,

[4] David Hollenbach, ibid.,

[5] Stephen Charles Mott, Justice, Holman Bible Dictionary.

[6] Walter Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postrnodern Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993),p. 36

[7] Ruth Ann Foster, “Dangerous Waters of Justice and Righteousness” Christian Ethics Today http://www.christianethicstoday.com/Issue/024/Dangerous%20Waters%20of%20Justice%20and%20Righteousness%20By%20Ruth%20Ann%20Foster_024_11_.htm  


[8] David Hollenbach, Politics., op.cit., ,

[9] Stephen Charles Mott., Justice., op.cit. See also Stephen Charles Mott, Biblical Ethics and Social Change (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1982).

[10] Naim Ateek, Justice and Only Justice (Mary Knoll, New York, Orbis, 1990), p. 143.

[11] Ruth Ann Foster, “Dangerous”., op.cit.,

[12] Justice Fellowship 2003, http://www.justicefellowship.org/generic.asp?ID=908

[13] David Hollenbach, op.cit., ,

[14] Ruth Anne Foster, Dangerous, op.cit.,

[15] Alan Storkey, “The evangelical ghetto” Anvil, Volume 22 Number 2 2005