How Do You Know if the Bible is True?

With so much in doubt these days of what is true and who we can trust, it is of great significance to know if there actually is an objective standard of truth by which we can make sense of the world.  

It is claimed that the bible is such a document to guide us, even making the outrageous assertion that it is inspired by God himself “and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness.”  

Now, I am not ignorant to the fact that the bible has been used to justify all kinds of madness but i believe that is the fault of people that selectively handle the bible, not the bible itself.  In fact, research indicates that, even when adjusting for education, the more someone ACTUALLY reads the bible the more they will have socially just views (even correlated with leaning “politically liberal”…*gasp!).  And if you think science and religion are incompatible that is NOT what frequent bible readers believe.  Keeping this in mind, how then do we know if the bible is true (as in a reliable historical document as well as something worthy to help guide me life)?  

THE SHORTER ANSWER

I know that the bible is true because it is like a LAMP* that guides me in the dark.  

 

LIFE = the bible is true to life, transcending differences.

ARCHAEOLOGY = archaeology confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical narrative

MANUSCRIPTS = manuscript copies confirm the reliability of the Bible

PROPHECY – no book comes close in fulfilment of predictive prophecy, demonstrating the bible’s supernatural inspiration
THE LONGER ANSWER

Here is an expansion of each of the four points above.  

1. LIFE – the bible is true to life, transcending differences.

The bible still speaks to us today even though its contents were written thousands of years ago. times and cultures may have changed but what it says about the human condition has not changed.  God has been inspiring people through the words of the bible, resulting in transformed lives throughout history even to this very day.  

There is a remarkable unity of ideas even though written by

  • different authors (kings, military leaders, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, tax collectors, poets, musicians, statesmen, scholars, shepherds),
  • different places (wilderness <Moses>, dungeon <Jeremiah>, palace <Daniel>, prison <Paul>, while traveling <Luke>, in exile <john>)
  • different times (war, peace)
  • different moods (joy, sorrow, despair, confusion, doubt)
  • different continents (asia, europe, africa)
  • different languages (hebrew, aramaic, and greek)

 

2. ARCHAEOLOGY – archaeology confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical narrative

“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference…the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact” – Nelson Glueck (renowned Jewish Archaeologist)

Old Testament (OT) – some examples of biblical places and events confirmed by archaeological finds

  • City of Sodom and Gomorrah (bituminous pitch – brimstone plentiful at site)
  • City of Jericho (walls that usually fall inward here fell outward)
  • King David (wall past the pool of Siloam)
  • King Solomon (pomegranate temple ornament w/ inscription of God’s name)

 

New Testament (NT) – example of archaeological finds that confirming the book of Luke

  • The Pavement (where Jesus was tried),
  • The Pool of Bethesda,
  • the Nazareth Decree (Imperial Decree not to disturb graves),
  • The Pilate Inscription (Pilate’s name and title),
  • Erastus inscription (Erastus that Paul mentions),
  • New Testament coins (mentioned in gospels indicating values) 

3. MANUSCRIPTS – Manuscript copies confirm the reliability of the Bible

“to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” – John Warwick Montgomery from History of Christianity

How can we trust that the bible that we have now is what was originally written?

The bible passes the test of the “3 Principles of Historiography”:

1) Bibliographical test (reliability of ancient texts are tested through: # of copies, time between copy to original, and variety of documents <languages, material on which it was written>)  

2) Internal Test – no major contradictions in text

3) External Test – other historical materials confirming testimony of the documents (other sources outside of bible that attest to Christian movement writings): from non-Christians

  1. Tacitus (Roman Historian of 1st century)
  2. Suetonius (chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian who reigned AD 117-138)
  3. Josephus (Jewish Historian AD 37-100)
  4. Pliny the Younger (Roman author and administrator wrote in AD 112)
  5. Lucian of Samosata (Greek writer of the 2nd century)
  6. Mara Bar-Serapion (Syrian writer between late 1st and early 3rd century)  

The Old Testament is reliable too.  

  • Accuracy of coping texts in the Jewish culture was part of their religion
  • The OT was translated into Greek before the birth of Christ (the Septuagint) so even more comparisons can be made for inconsistencies
  • Biblical texts, called the “Dead Sea Scrolls”, dated about 150 BC to 70 AD and representing most of the OT, were found in the 20th century that match much of what we currently have.   

 

Well, how was the bible put together and who decided what books to include?

There are 5 Principles to Recognize / Test What to Include in Canon (the standard)

“The church did not determine but rather discovered (recognizing divine authority) of the cannon”

  1. Was the book written by a prophet of God? (In NT Jesus or Apostolic authorship/apostolic approval <John 16:13 Spirit’s promise, 2 Pet 3:16 Peter acknowledges Paul>)
  2. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God (Moses, Jesus, the prophets, apostles)?
  3. Did the message tell the truth about God? (rule of non contradiction)
  4. Does it come with the power of God? (transforming power)
  5. Was it accepted by the people of God? (people who knew the prophet or writer)

NT books as we have them today:  

Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 367) gave us earliest list of book that is exactly like our present New Testament.  However it is important to know these these books were already recognized, established, and quoted from by various early church leaders (ex. Polycarp AD 115, Justin Martyr AD 100) The councils merely put it into writing.        

OT books as we have them today:

The Jewish community had acknowledged it and we know of the discipline of the Jewish scribes through their Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint (250-100 BC)

 

4. PROPHECY – no book comes close in predicitive prophesy, demonstrating the bible’s supernatural inspiration

“Other books claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and parts of the Hindu Veda. But none of those books contain predictive prophecy.” – Norman Geisler and William Nix

Notable Examples of Predictive Prophecy:

Destiny of OT Cities “Every major city and virtually every nation within a thousand miles of Israel had its entire future prophesied by the Bible”  

  • Destructions of Tyre (Ezekiel 26 fulfilled in specific invasion by Nebuchadnezzar and later fulfillment by Alexander)
  • Destruction of Edom
  • Curse on Babylon
  • Destruction of Nineveh

Jesus Christ

  • the time, city, and nature of Christ’s birth as well as life, death, and resurrection, many beyond a person’s control were written centuries before he was even born (about 300 prophesies of the messiah) and fulfilled!  

BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR FUTURE STUDY

The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

Truths that Transform by D. James Kennedy

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

*LAMP acronym courtesy of Rijin Lee

IMPLICATIONS

(2 Peter 1:16-21, 2 Timothy 3:16, Joshua 1:8)

If the bible is true, let us actually READ it and let our lives be guided by it.  

You’re the only one

*a little poem inspired during my silent retreat last weekend

You’re the only one i can tell everything to
You’re the only one i can go to with every desire underneath my desires
You’re the only one who always keeps their word
You’re the only one who never leaves me
You’re the only one who knows my every brokeness and still loves me daily
You’re the only one that becomes more lovely to me in the knowing
You’re the only one from whom i can never ask too much
Jesus
You’re the only one in whose love i am so filled i want to love others better

why we’re afraid to pray for healing

too often we find our prayers infrequent and frail.  when we hear that someone is ill or not well our automatic response is more “that’s too bad” rather than “let’s pray.”  if we actually do pray for healing for another person we keep it general and not too specific.  and we are sure to add on to our prayer “if it is Your (God’s) will” to get God off the hook…or ourselves.

why is that?

it may be that we’re not sure what his will is, especially when it comes to healing.  yes, there are certainly inscrutable things about the Lord’s will in specific cases.  however, there are things about God’s will that are relatively clear.  healing, surprisingly, is one of them.  again, there are instances where he may not provide healing for some reason but in general it is reasonable to think healing is his will.

  1. when Jesus inaugurates his kingdom he proclaims the gospel AND demonstrates the gospel through healing. (matthew 4:23, 9:25)
  2. when Jesus sends his disciples on their short term mission trips he sends them out, commanding them to proclaim the kingdom AND to heal (the 12 in luke 9:6, the 72 in luke 10:9)
  3. we never see an account of Jesus in which he turns people away from healing or says it is not the Father’s will
  4. Jesus instructs us to pray for “His kingdom to come and His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.” if heaven is where God’s kingdom and will is fully established and in heaven there is no sickness or pain, then we ought to ask for healing to be unleashed here on earth.
  5. lastly, our actions betray us. when we do not see healing then we conclude it must be God’s will that we not be healed…but then we continue to pursue medical treatment.  aren’t we disobeying God then if we truly believe that?

 

it is not a matter of IF healing is God’s will, it is just a matter of WHEN.  this leads us to the second reason why I think our prayers may be so weak willed.  as americans, we’re terrified of disappointment.  we’ve twisted our theologies of prayer to protect ourselves and limit God.  we’ve found believers in other countries, especially those not cushioned with wealth, to be of tougher faith who don’t give up on God and prayer at the first sign of disappointment.  often they do not have the luxury of health care so they go after God in ways that we can learn from.

in fact, Jesus teaches us, through the story of a widow who keeps going to an unjust judge to get justice (Luke 18:1-8), that perseverance in prayer IS faith (v.8).  when full healing didn’t come to a blind man after Jesus laid hands on him, Jesus just did it again (Mark 8:22-25).  He was fine to acknowledge that healing is a process.  if Jesus had to pray twice for the same healing we could surely pray twice (or more).

just so you know that the kingdom of God isn’t just a matter of talk, i’ve experienced more breakthrough as i’ve kept asking of God in my life.  one night a couple months ago at our discipleship school, right after a teaching on healing prayer, we prayed for anyone who was feeling any physical ailment.  each person we prayed for was not healed instantaneously.  however, when we pressed in to pray a second time, without fail, people felt a significant decrease in their physical symptoms.  i took the teaching challenge to enter into any opportunity to pray for people’s physical healing for the following week.  again, when i didn’t stop with one prayer, i witnessed healing.   one sister with chronic pain in her knees went from barely being able to walk to me to joyfully walking down the stairs.

even if the answer does not come right away he may be shaping us for the better in the asking.

let us persevere with God beyond what we’re comfortable with.

 

*special thanks to chris rattay for many of his insights concerning physical healing

heaven breaking though to earth…

DR view

two weeks ago a team of 25 others and i, from the inner city of LA’s eastside, went down to the dominican republic for about 9 days for a mission trip. we went in hopes of being used of God to bless others and see him at work in another country…and in turn, as it always turns out, we were blessed by the people we met there.

it was indeed an amazing time. the locals led us and we learned from them as we did various outreaches in neighborhoods in santiago.  we dug some trenches, listened to life stories, prayed for people, participated in healings & exorcisms, and shared Jesus. we met some brothers and sisters of our heart, even though not of our blood, and made eternal friends in Jesus.

one experience in particular comes to the forefront of my mind, especially relevant in light of the tragedies and tensions of our nation in this past week. at the mission house where we were staying there is a little haitian man who only speaks creole, named luis, that takes care of the house (to give you some background, the domincan republic is not a wealthy country as it is but it shares a border with haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. even with centuries of conflict between the two countries, many haitians have come to the DR seeking work to send money back to their families.  needless to say, there is much discrimination and oppression against this darker skinned marginalized people group).  luis only knew some words in spanish but would greet us every day with smiles as he closed the doors behind us and cleaned up after us.

our last night we had an amazing time of receiving words of blessing and prayer from the DR team.  as we were taking pictures with each other and saying our good-byes, luis hugged me…for a long time.  but it didn’t feel awkward.  then he moved into placing his hands on my chest and back and began praying for me in simple spanish….a language that is not native to either of us as i am a japanese-american man.  he was the last person to pray from me in the DR.  i who went to DR as the missionary, the pastor and literally the servant of the house we were staying at was praying for me.  yet, in his simple prayers the Spirit of God was moving so powerfully.  i felt in that moment that all else faded away, God was reminding me of the good that he is doing, and i felt like i was in the very loving arms of God as i was in the arms of this small haitian man that society thinks is worth nothing and no one would suspect would be a mighty vessel of God’s presence.

if i didn’t open up because this person was different than me, i would have completely missed what God had for me.  any difference between us whether it was what language we spoke, what race we were, or what social class either of us were did not separate us but rather highlighted the power of God that could bring us together in understanding and peace at that moment.  i sensed God telling me not to miss this moment as it is a piece of heaven happening right here on earth. only the Kingdom of God can break through ALL barriers of separation.  

Father, may Your Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.  

why black lives matter matters

hold up! don’t just skip past this and assume everything that comes next.  please.  i know you’ve heard it already too many times. but this isn’t going to go away if we don’t engage.  

 

because of the climate of our nation that is polarizing so deeply that the “other” side (which ever that may be) is immediately labeled “crazy” and people disengage from dialogue, i’ve got to start with some clarification.

WHAT I AM NOT SAYING

  1.  i am not saying that all other lives don’t matter: i am in no way shape or form advocating for violence against ANY individual or people group.  nor am i saying that other lives matter less. albeit crudely, one fellow succinctly put words to this misunderstanding by tweeting: “#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean other lives don’t. Like people who say “Save The Rainforests” aren’t saying ‘F**k All Other Types of Forests’”.  the statement brings to the fore what is being ignored.  if some individuals use that phrase as a justification for violence, it doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater.  
  1. i am not saying that everything associated with black lives matter is all good: it is so important to recognize that those who use this phrase are not all associated and organized together.  the phrase can refer to the principle, the movement, and/or the organization.  if i agree to one it doesn’t mean i agree to all. for example i can use the hashtag #prayfortrump and i could mean we need to pray for our enemies, we need to pray for a presidential candidate to make wise decisions, and/or we need to pray for him to win.  if i agree to one statement it doesn’t mean i agree to all.  I agree with the principle of black lives matter but I do not agree with everything that the organization stands for.  if we are waiting for perfection we will not find it this side of heaven.    
  1. i am not saying that i speak for all black people: i am not a black person.  i won’t pretend that i experientially know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.  yet, my fellow black brothers and sisters have challenged me to speak up.  as a non-black person i am speaking to my non-black friends.  i don’t think i have to convince my black friends that their lives matter.  i am haunted by the words of mlk jr. when he shared “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

 

WHAT I’M HOPING WE CAN ACKNOWLEDGE

  1. unarmed black people are disproportionately killed by law enforcement.   when adjusting for most recent u.s. population, in 2015 unarmed black people were nearly 4 times as likely to be killed by police than unarmed white people.  i am not trying to villainize the police but rather to reveal the troubling response of us as americans, that there is something lurking in our hearts where this is considered permissible.  if we find ourselves thinking “well, they must have done something to deserve it”, doesn’t this reveal a prejudice within ourselves to not give the benefit of the doubt to a person because of their race?  and even if it were the case, is death the verdict deserved?  is an entire race guilty until proven innocent?  this is not even to focus on blacks being killed by other non-blacks while unarmed and doing normal non-criminal activities.  i won’t even spend time on the effects of entrenched racism (we don’t even have to go all the way back to american slavery but can look at housing policies from the 20th century) that our fellow black human beings must endure to this day.  
  1. black people are made in the image of God just as every other person is made in the image of God.   save Christ, no one person or group has the monopoly on the reflection of his image.  the body of Christ ought to reflect his image more clearly but that may not be the case these days.  each part of the body is not the same but we all need each other.  this does not mean that we are not also all broken with sin.  but this does not take away from the dignity of human life no matter how different from our own.  
  1. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors no matter who they are and no matter how much it will cost us.  Jesus not only told us this, he modeled this…to us who treated him like an enemy.  He interacted with and loved on all people – cross gender, cross culture, cross class, cross creed.  He paid the ultimate cost of his life on the cross to love us.  we have neighbors who are literally dying and in need of tangible love.  

this is why black lives matter should matter to each of us.  

 

HOW THEN CAN WE RESPOND?    L.I.V.E.S.

  • Listen: we must be quick to listen and slow to speak.  especially to those with whom we are unfamiliar, where the temptation is to dismiss without understanding.  let us give one another the benefit of the doubt that this person is not just plain crazy but has reasons coming from their experience. let us treat one another the way we would want to be treated.  
  • lnvestigate: this takes listening a step further to actually check if what is being said is true and not jump to assumptions and conclusions for which we have no evidence.
  • Validate: this is so important and what i am not seeing enough of.  i’m not saying you have to agree with everything a person is saying but we cannot invalidate a person’s experience (and especially not of a whole race) or the pain that they feel…especially if you are not of their race.  who are we to say “no, you didn’t experience that” or “no, you didn’t feel that”?  it is especially unfair for the person in a position of relative power (or associated with power) to tell the person who has experienced pain (at the hands of this power) to lay down their pain while they themselves are unapologetic of the pain inflicted.       
  • Engage: this is where we move from mere lip service to action.  james, the half brother of Jesus, reminds us that it does no good to see a person in need and say they should be filled but do nothing to meet that need.  what does this wronged brother or sister need?  maybe it is to stand up for them where they are not given a voice. maybe it is to empower and encourage them to stand. maybe it is to stand with them in a difficult situation. let us ask them and respond where God has given us the grace to be able to meet that need. where we are unable, let us grieve with them and ask God for more grace and faith to hope for better.          
  • Speak: this should be last as it is often what we are prematurely drawn to do first.  also our words have less integrity the less we have done what comes before this.  but speaking is eventually what we will need to do to confess and confirm what God has put in our hearts.  we must spread the word of God’s kingdom to the unengaged.        

 

ignoring black lives matter won’t make it go away.  our fellow human race is speaking.  we need to listen and engage.  what we can not do is ignore race and hope this all goes away.  

let us remember that in the kingdom of heaven (i hope to be there one day with you) we will be worshipping the One we were made in the image of…and every nation, people, tribe, and tongue will be there.  

wealth: the other gospel

what a child wrote in response to the question "what is your wish for 2016" (found on a wish board at the kidspace museum in pasadena on new years eve day)
what a child wrote in response to the question “what is your wish for 2016” (found on a wish board at the kidspace museum in pasadena on new years eve day 2015)

 

i’ve been reading a book called the great chasm by derek engdahl and it has been hammering me with convictions that have kept me thinking.  on this the first day of the new year i believe it is a significant direction I want to continue to walk in.

the contents of this book, as i’ve told many people, captures what it has taken me nearly 12 years to learn (and counting).   it is a rare book (unfortunately) that brings together thorough biblical exposition with balanced real world application, especially to something so largely ignored from the pulpit.  i couldn’t commend it more wholeheartedly.

the book speaks of God’s heart for the most vulnerable in our society and the danger that wealth poses to disconnect us from the marginalized and His heart.

as a person that considers myself middle class, but actually in the top 4% of the world in terms of wealth (80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day), this is an uncomfortable topic.  yet, i must face it for that very reason. i’ve learned that having wealth, power, and/or status of any kind can blind you to it’s dangers.  i never considered myself wealthy until i got to know and have befriended people who are not wealthy (by wealth i mean having more than i need in terms of food, clothing, shelter).  those who “have” are not always aware that they have and are often not mindful of the “have nots.”  those that “have not” are keenly aware of their lack and of the others who “have.”

there is so much in the book that has struck me but i’d like to share one idea (from the fourth chapter) that still won’t let me go: wealth preaches a gospel contrary to Jesus.

engdahl reminds us that wealth (or “mammon”) is not neutral, but is personified by Jesus as setting itself up in opposition to God, hence in matthew 6:24 He says “you cannot serve God and money.”   The pursuit of wealth runs contrary to the gospel of grace.  gospel means good news. wealth promises to give us the “good news” of (earthly) life and security. Jesus promises to give us the “good news” of (eternal) life and security.  so who do we trust more in daily life?  the true gospel reveals itself in how it is obtained.  engdahl writes “At it’s core, Mammon, represents a meritorious worldview. It is opposed to grace because it is fundamentally about what can be earned and purchased.”  if my life and security is based upon what i can accomplish and earn that is not much security for me (worldly resources are limited and i fail).  if my life and security is based upon what God himself has accomplished and purchased that gives me a peace that can overflow (He is the limitless source of all life and He is able to keep His promises).

if we cannot serve both God and wealth can’t we at least have both, as long as I don’t “serve” wealth?

here, engdahl holds us again to the words of Christ by taking us back a couple more verses in that same section of matthew (v.19-21) and reflecting on it: “We deceive ourselves into believing we can have wealth as long as we do not put our trust in it. This is a great lie. What Jesus says is that if you have wealth you WILL put your trust in it: you will be enticed to serve it. You can store up treasure in heaven or on earth, and wherever that treasure is, THAT is where your heart will be.”

now, don’t get me wrong, no one is saying here that making wealth is a problem. it is what one does with it that reveals who serves whom. it is the keeping of wealth (putting our trust in it for security) rather than the giving of it (putting our trust in God for provision for us to bless others) that is an issue.

paraphrasing rankin wilborne, out of all the rivals that Jesus could have used to set up against God, He uses wealth. it is deadly precisely because we don’t think any of us have a problem with it.

let us choose this day (this year) whom we will serve.

what is biblical justice (and why does it even matter)?

for most of my life when I heard the word “justice” i thought of people getting what they deserved…and by that I mean punishment. and what did justice have to do with social justice? at best my understanding was fuzy and at worst they were on completely different planes. i suspect i’m not the only one. in so much of popular media and movies when a protagonist metes out “justice” it usually means some shady villainous character is in for some pummeling.

but is that the flavor of the word in God’s mouth? is that what the bible has to say about justice? and why does it matter?

let’s ACTUALLY take a look at what the bible has to say about justice.

FIRST, let’s see how much the word actually comes up and presumably how important the subject is to God:

in the old testament* (*i refer to the hebrew bible or the protestant old testament, as other groups add texts that are not in the canon of either traditions)

  • in hebrew (the original language of the old testament) the word that is translated in English as justice is the word: “mishpat
  • the word mishpat is used 426 times (according to the hebrew concordance of the nasb translation) in 403 verses.
  • the word for love (as in the word used concerning how abraham loved his son Isaac, how Isaac loved rebekah, how we are commanded to love the Lord your God from deut 6:5) used in hebrew is “ahab
  • the word ahab is used 220 times in 202 verses

the word “justice” is used about twice as much as the word love.

in the new testament

  • in greek (the original language of the new testament) the word that is translated in English as justice is the world: “krisis” (we know this is the equivalent word for the hebrew word mishpat as krisis is used in the greek when matthew quotes from the old testament book of isaiah 42:3)
  • the word krisis is used 47 times in 46 verses
  • the word for cross (you know, what Jesus was hung on to die slowly of suffocation) used in greek is “stauros
  • the word stauros is used 27 times in 27 verses

the word justice is used nearly twice as much as the word for the cross (what christians use as a symbol to identify their faith).

needless to say, even from a cursory reading of bible, it is fair to say that justice is a big deal to God.

in fact, the prophet micah sums up a God honoring life in this oft quoted verse:

“he has told you, o man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

– micah 6:8

how then do we “do justice”?  what is justice in the eyes of God?

NOW THEN, let’s look again to the scripture to see how the word justice is used:

in the old testament

often times the word “mishpat” is translated in english as other words such as “judgment”, “manner”, “right”, “cause”, or “ordinance.”   if we look at just the words that are translated as the english word “justice”, what was most shocking to me was how it was actually used and to whom it was most often applied. the word is not used, mainly, toward sinister abusive people…it is used more for the most needy and vulnerable in society (just for starters see exodus 23:6, deuteronomy 10:18, psalm 82:3, ecclesiastes 5:8, isaiah 1:17. there are so many more…if you don’t believe me do a word search on justice in any bible app/website and actually read the verses in context)

wait…so we’re supposed to punish the needy, the poor, the immigrant, the orphan, the widow (which it seems is the tact that too many are actually taking in america)?

NO! it is the definition of justice as mainly having to do with punishment that is not reliable. let’s take a closer look at a passage that talks about what God means by justice in more depth.

27 “‘Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit;
therefore they have become great and rich;
28 they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no bounds in deeds of evil;
they judge not with justice
the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,
and they do not defend the rights of the needy.

29 Shall I not punish them for these things?’ declares the Lord,
‘and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?’”

– jeremiah 5:27-29

in verse 28 justice is equated with making the cause of the fatherless prosper and defending the rights of the needy.

yes, those who do not do that, especially those who maintain power by neglecting those in need, will be punished. But justice is not just punishment of evil (which, in context, is neglecting those in need) but it is the doing of good (acting on the interest of those in need). we tend to focus on the former and neglect the latter.

in fact, whenever the word justice is used in the old testament, more often in the same breath it is linked to caring for and acting on the interest of those in need.

in the new testament

speaking of former and latter things, we see this same vein of the usage of the word justice carry into the new testament as even Jesus weighs in on the issue of justice in case it wasn’t clear.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

– matthew 23:23

in this passage Jesus underscores the importance of justice. he even ties justice together with mercy and faithfulness (and in the parallel passage of luke 11:42, to the love of God). the luke 11 passage calls to mind the greatest commandment which are to love God and to love others. justice, then, is paralleled with loving of others.

the reason why the term “social justice” is not used in the bible is because, to God, justice and social justice are inextricably linked.

 

IN SUMMARY then, what is biblical justice and why does it matter?

Q: what is biblical justice?

A: biblical justice ≠ mere punishment

biblical justice = social justice = taking action to uplift those in need

Q: why does biblical justice matter?

A: it is the weight of the heart of God, so heavy that it encompasses love and takes Him to death on a cross

or to put it differently

The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.

– proverbs 21:15

So are we living justly?