C1 Bible Study - Economic Justice

Introduction

The Bible has a rather specific and multifaceted understanding of justice. The Biblical idea of justice is deeply relational, and it extends into economic relationships. Righteousness (s-d-q, or sedeq) and justice (mishpat) are central Hebrew terms in this context. Righteousness ‘describes the relationship that God wills for human beings to have with him through faith… and that human beings are to express through loving obedience’ to the norms (that is, principles of conduct in personal interactions) he commands and sets. These are based on God’s word – he not only created the world, he also orders it. Justice ‘is appropriate treatment, especially of human beings in a relational setting, according to the norms commanded and set by God in each particular case’ (actions).. Mishpat is commanded as something to be done: treating people in the ways that God desires and requires. In the NT, no substance is added to the OT understanding of justice but the work of Jesus Christ does alter interpretations of OT realities. The full consummation of justice at the end of times is stressed. A single word dikaiosune covers both OT words demanding righteousness of believers in response to God’s righteousness.

 

1. The Nature of God's Justice

Read: Isaiah 61 (especially verse 8), Luke 4:14-20, Amos 5:21-24

Optional: Psalm 97:1-2, 33:4-5

Questions for discussion: 

  • Notice the affective language God uses when speaking about justice (I love justice!). Theoretically, God could simply just declare what justice is or should be without getting emotional. Why do you think he gets so involved? 
  • What kind of role according to Isaiah does justice have in God's plan for salvation? How does Jesus pick this up in Luke 4?

 

2. God's Requirements of Humanity

Read: Deuteronomy 10:12-22, Isaiah 10:1-4, Micah 6:8, Matthew 5: 6, 6: 33

Optional: Ezekiel 18, Isaiah 58:2-7

Questions for discussion: 

  • How good is the track record of humanity to living up to God's idea of justice?
  • How does the biblical (OT) law witness to justice?

 

3. Concrete Elements of OT Justice

Read: Exodus 23:1-12, Deuteronomy 15:7-11, 

Optional: Deuteronomy 24:17-18

Questions for discussion: 

  • What are the key principles of economic justice in the OT as identified in the above passages? (e.g. appropriate treatment of others, justice to the poor/needy, quality of relationships). 

 

4. Economic Justice in the NT

Read: Luke 10:21-37, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Optional: Romans 8:1-4, 1 Tim 6: 17-19

Questions for discussion: 

  • Compared to the OT, the NT deals less with concrete law and social order questions. The interpretation of the NT in light of the OT is a complex theological issue. However, abstracting from complex theology: what does the above reading in Luke 10 reveal about the relationship of 'loving neighbour' and justice? 
  • What do you think is so special about 'giving' rather than 'receiving' and 'accumulation' that makes Paul speak of the blessings of giving so forcefully?
  • Paul emphasises 'equality' rather strongly in the passage in 2 Corinthians 8. Is he suggesting a general principle, or just advice for that particular situation?

 

5. Finally, Economic Justice Today

If you were in charge...

  • What if anything would you change in your country's economic system in order to make it more just? Would you copy elements of principles/ rules/policies you found in the Bible? If yes, which ones? If not, why not?

 

Even if you were not nor ever will be "in charge"...

  • Very few of us actually become high level political leaders or decision makers. It is important however to be clear that all of us are called to responsibility on some level, sometimes very basic things: e.g. when we vote or sign citizen's initiatives, when we give to the poor, when we simply love our neighbour and treat them appropriately.

 

Points for prayer

- Pray for a renewed sense of God's purpose for your economic decision-making, your investment, consumption, and especially your giving to the poor and God's work.

- Pray for the fulfilment of justice and righteousness, and that we may be able to see glimpses of it in this age already before eternity.

 

Further literature

A Hartropp, What is Economic Justice? Biblical and secular perspectives contrasted, 2007
C J H Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, 2004, especially chapter 9.