by Bill Nugent
It may come as a surprise to learn that biblical law is in some respects more liberal than the laws instituted by modern human governments. The God of the Bible is loving and gracious. God’s laws are for our benefit and protection.
First let’s define the word: “liberal.” “Liberal” has many shades of meaning but for our purposes we will focus on the fact that liberal means “generous” or “bountiful.” God’s will which is embodied in God’s law is generous and bountiful towards humankind. God’s laws, when truly understood, are the foundation of compassion and freedom. The Bible says “It was for freedom that Christ set us free” (Gal. 5:1a NASB).
Certain detractors have tried to draw a parallel between the law of Moses (Bible) and the code of Hammurabi (Pagan). Any attempt to harmonize these two law codes breaks down when it is pointed out that the law of Moses has many stipulations to protect the poor while the ancient Babylonian code of Hammurabi has very few. The biblical laws are much more humane.
The Old Testament law is replete with commands to show mercy to the poor and orphans. Under the law of Moses the rich and influential are restrained from absolute oppression of the poor. Under biblical law the poor have access to the courts. Judges are specifically commanded to be impartial. A poor person with a strong case must prevail over a rich person with a weak case.
Some years ago the TV show “West Wing” mocked the very idea of biblical law being in any way applied to our society. The show mentioned the dietary (kosher) laws and another ceremonial law and poked fun at them. A plain reading of the Bible, however, shows that the dietary and ceremonial laws mentioned in the show were limited in scope, applying only to ancient Israel in the time period of the Old Testament. West Wing’s alarm was unjustified.
You may have seen internet postings by atheists who find an obscure Old Testament law, take it out of context, and severely criticize it. There were laws that applied to ancient Israel that would be difficult to imagine being applied to modern society. It is not my purpose to suggest that Old Testament laws be applied to our society in a literal way. The New Testament teaches that the Old Testament laws were superceded by the death and resurrection of Jesus who instituted the New Covenant (Romans 7:4-6, Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 7:12; 9:10). Since all of the Old Testament laws were superceded and we live under the New Covenant, the atheist’s criticism is moot.
The purpose of this article is not to place us under the Old Testament laws that I will soon mention, but to show that some of the Old Testament laws are more liberal than modern law. This will give us insight into the nature and character of God.
Here are several areas were present U.S. law would have to liberalize if it were to conform to biblical law. The minimum age for military service in the U.S. is 18 years (17 year olds can be signed in by a parent). The Bible’s minimum age for military service is 20. In the U.S. it takes only one witness to convict a criminal. The Bible commands that there must be two or more witnesses to convict. The Bible also commands that a newly married man must get a one year exemption from military service. U.S. law contains no such exemption. Also under biblical law if a soldier is overly fearful of combat he simply has to say so and he is excused (Deuteronomy 20:7-8). U.S. law provides no such exemption and even obtaining conscientious objector status is a complex process.
The Ten Commandments and other aspects of biblical law are reflected in existing American law. There is no major movement to implement all aspects of biblical law in America. We as Americans, indeed all western countries, owe a debt of gratitude to the God of the Bible. God’s wisdom and God’s laws are the foundation of western civilization.