If you are looking for avenues to open a dialog with friends and coworkers about God's Word and His plan for redemption, criminal justice is an excellent place to start. Carefully read the following quote and decide which words are found in the bible: “Witnesses offered testimony against the accused and gave evidence that the law was broken. Before a judgment of innocence to acquit or of guilt to condemn was pronounced, the judge considered arguments for defense or justification.” So, which of those words can be found in Scripture? The answer is that every word in the previous quote is in the bible. However, is the quote talking about something recorded in the bible or about a current event in the news? The quote could just as easily be describing an event from the New Testament as it could be media coverage of a local news story. Because the news media is always covering some crime that most people are willing to talk about, you have a valuable tool to witness for Christ when you understand God’s design for criminal law.[i] Open any newspaper article about crime and you have a ready-made platform to show how God’s way is better than our way in dealing with human nature and the problem of sin.
If God has addressed a problem in humanity and given a solution, is it possible that God’s solution is the best possible answer for the occasion? If God has given a remedy for man’s sinful nature, then should it not be the best remedy available? Well, if man’s sinful nature creates crime and God has provided a response for crime, then it ought to be the best possible response to crime. According to Scripture, God will eventually extinguish crime completely, but until then, He has provided instructions on how to most effectively combat and impede criminal behavior in this very imperfect world. In view of this revelation, do you personally know God’s instructions for criminal justice?
The book of Esther focuses on the lives of two political activists: Mordecai who demonstrated silently in the streets, and Hadassah, who was planted as a mole in the king’s palace without knowing that she would ultimately risk her life for a chance to point a finger at Haman, the chief prince of the land. Both activists broke the king’s law in order to send their message. Yet, these two individuals also influenced the king to enact a law that saved innocent lives from being murdered. Their story, now memorialized in the annual Jewish Feast of Purim, shows how two believers acted out their faith by influencing politics amidst a non-believing nation. In contrast, it is reprehensible that preachers known for thoroughly studying biblical issues, often do a pitiful job examining various types of biblical laws and how they should or should not motivate Christians to influence legislation or instruct their community regarding morality. The paltry attention that religious leaders usually give to criminal justice has helped lead to the false conclusion that the Gospel has nothing to with criminal justice and thus they teach that Christians should refrain from taking an active role on moral issues within their culture. Decades of this kind of mindset in European churches has helped countries increase their acceptance of immorality. However, if Christians are to bear the message of reconciliation, then like any good arbiter, Christians should plainly convey the issues that stand as a gulf between God and mankind. Such proclamation is most powerfully served outside the walls of church houses. Godly criminal law provides daily examples showing how the overtly wicked in a community are separated from God’s righteousness.
Ideas have consequences, and this is especially true regarding ideas on the origin and function of law and crime. Pervert the law of the land and the harvest from gospel preaching will shrivel to a fraction of what it could have been. On the other hand, a godly justice system reinforces basic concepts conducive to conviction of sin and repentance. Though the majority of people may choose a path leading unto rebellion against God, the external motivation of a healthy criminal justice system can condition them to be more receptive to the concept of guilt and eternal punishment and to understanding their need for redemption. When people have enough wisdom to understand that their criminal acts can cause them pain and suffering here and now, it is easier for them to envision sinful acts causing pain and suffering in the hereafter. On the other hand, it is very difficult to convince sinners that they will face justice from God whom they have never seen, when they have not known justice from court judges that they can see, hear, and touch. Because of this relationship between righteous judgment, just punishment, and the gospel, whenever a criminal justice system strays from God’s plan for handling crime, it detracts from the overall receptiveness of the gospel and actually breeds more crime and rebellion against God.
Does law have anything to do with the Gospel? Though this may seem contradictory, mature believers know how to use the law to further the gospel of Grace. Mature believers realize that sound doctrine and a proper understanding of criminal law go hand in hand and that preaching moral law to the culture has a basis in theology and the Gospel. The Apostle Paul, for example, understood the relationship that exists between moral law and the Gospel of Grace. In fact, Paul wrote to pastor Timothy reminding him how moral law fits into sound doctrine:
§ “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind [homosexuals], for menstealers [kidnappers], for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.” (First Timothy 1:8-11)
Paul also called attention to the relationship between Law and salvation in the first book written for the New Testament cannon. In the epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle wrote to a Gentile congregation in the body of Christ describing the purpose of the Law, not the symbolic type of law that was binding only upon the Jews, but the aspects of the Law that are applicable to every human being:
§ “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24)
The Apostle Paul taught that the thing best suited to bring sinners to Christ is the law, nonetheless, it is the most neglected and misunderstood tool in evangelism. Though civil government is charged by the law to punish the flesh committing crimes, once faith is present in a person under grace through Christ Jesus, the Law has no power to condemn that soul (Romans 8:1). Law is specifically for the unsaved, to prick their conscience, to convict the lost of their bent and wayward condition, to impress upon the wicked God’s condemnation, and to induce guilt in hopes of stirring their conscience and bringing them unto faith in Christ.
Many churches have turned a simple bible doctrine upside down: they offer condemnation to their church members on a host of possible infractions while offering grace, understanding, gentleness, and a meek attitude toward the wicked so that the wicked may feel welcomed and not offended in church. This approach may help church growth, but not necessarily conversions and changed behavior. Regrettably, the twisted mindset of wholesale gentleness to the wicked has permeated not only the church, but also our courts, thereby reducing our justice system to “just a system.” Criminals, as well as the lost, wicked, or unsaved, are under the curse of the law, not grace. The notion of trying to make sinners and criminals comfortable around the things of God is a foreign concept to a biblical worldview. The curse of the law brings guilt, and nobody should try to make the guilty feel comfortable about themselves.
§ “Now we know that what things so ever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19)
The better one understands principles of godly justice and God’s law, the better one can also settle many doctrinal debates. For instance, the best investigative practices used to solve criminal cases can also be used to examine the claims of various religions. The proper philosophy used in collecting and analyzing forensic evidence of a crime scene, for example, is also useful in examining the claims of Christ. Even the debate over the doctrine of the Trinity can be clarified and its mystery revealed by using principles taken from criminal law procedure - a point that was alluded to by Jesus Christ. In fact, criminal justice law is at the heart of the gospel message.[ii] The punishment that the Father laid upon His Son for our sins is a graphic portrayal of each method that God authorized civil government to use in criminal punishments. Though some things can be a sin without being a crime, such as gluttony, every criminal act mentioned in Scripture is also a sin, and Christ is the propitiation to the Heavenly Father for these sins.
Regardless of the government, morality is used to argue against whatever is to be considered hard-lined criminal behavior. However, because they do not understand that criminal law is an expression of theology, even nationally recognized preachers sometimes oppose Christians who strive to influence cultural morality. In addition, individuals who search the scripture for moral clarity, an action once thought by judges to be a noble endeavor, are now being attacked for aspiring to such clarity in courtrooms. Consider the jurors in a Colorado case who were instructed legally by a judge to think outside the narrow confines of manmade law and to make an “individual moral assessment” during their deliberations. After they sentenced a murdering rapist to death, the sentence was overturned by the Colorado Supreme court because some of the jurors dared to consult the bible for moral wisdom – they were penalized for consulting a higher authority during their moral assessments.[iii] Or, consider the lawyers for Brian David Mitchell, who petitioned a Utah court to ban jurors from gaining access to bibles and churches “to prevent prejudicial exposure.”[iv] If your bible were taken away from you, would you know how to articulate godly values of morality and criminal sentences convincingly? On a broader scale, if judgment must begin first at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), then how many people at your church can correctly describe what the biblical sentence should be for someone guilty of perjury?
The bible has much to say about criminal justice and law enforcement. There are several aspects of the United States criminal court system that owe themselves to Christian theology. The position that a person cannot be punished until he is sentenced, instead of a lynch mob acting upon an accusation, for example, finds its heritage directly from what the bible teaches on criminal justice (i.e. Deuteronomy 17:4-11; 19:16-19). There are many more aspects of the U.S. court system, however, that are contrary to what God’s Word teaches. Unfortunately, modern pastors are typically either unprepared or unwilling to address criminal justice issues from the Bible.
Politicians squabble over the cause of prolific crime waves. All civil leaders know that somebody’s rules need to be on the books, and they struggle along party lines for answers to crime; but during their clamorous efforts to come up with solutions, they either completely ignore or scorn what God has said on the subject. Even politicians that claim to be Christian do not give God the courtesy of at least finding out what He has to say about this issue before making up their minds. Likewise, today’s judicial candidates are quick to boast that they never consult the bible or their faith when it comes to rendering judgment. Their lips say they are close to God, but their hearts are far from Him on matters that count in the courtroom.
Crime rising to epidemic proportions is a signal that civil government has failed a primary purpose for its existence. Justice is to be doled out by civil authorities for the preservation of the community. Though crime will always be with us in this life, God promised that if civil government does what it is supposed to do, criminal activity will be kept to a minimum (i.e. Deuteronomy 19:20). However, none can rebel against God’s moral and spiritual law without reaping negative repercussions. As such, sharp increases in crime result whenever civil authorities rebel against criminal justice practices endorsed by biblical jurisprudence. Ultimately, the truth of the matter is that a dysfunctional government is always near the heart of a crime epidemic.
Why should Christians study criminal justice? Because a criminal justice system is at the heart of Christ’s atonement for sin. Because the world needs the right answer for solving criminal problems in society. Because Christians are less susceptible to false doctrine when they understand how criminal justice and theology impact each other. Because the Bible cannot be understood or applied to its fullest without first understanding godly principles of righteous judgment as found in God’s criminal justice system. Because criminal justice provides a readymade platform for ambassadors of Christ to testify of the need for spiritual salvation and absolute morality. Because history shows that Christians with good intentions have unfortunately influenced politics and criminal justice systems toward evil and destructive practices by not understanding biblical jurisprudence themselves. And because when it comes to what it takes to make a good law, liberals have done very well at teaching lies while Christians have done a poor job of telling the truth.
[i] First, there is traditional crime, which includes such offenses as murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and larceny. Second there is organized crime, which consists of a group of individuals with formal organization and a hierarchical structure engaged in criminal activity. Most of the offenses associated with organized crime include illegal gambling, prostitution, racketeering, and drug trafficking. Third, white-collar crime involves members of the community who commit illegal acts in the course of their legitimate business operations. This type of crime usually consists of embezzlement and fraud offenses. Finally, there is political crime, which includes assassination, sabotage, kidnapping, espionage, and terrorism, aimed at destroying a political structure or influencing political or social change.
[ii] The trials of Jesus can be broken down as such:
a. Jesus is taken before Annas (pre-trial)
b. He is delivered next to Caiaphas (pre-trial)
c. The official trial by the Sanhedrin (formal)
d. The Trial by Pilate
e. The Trial by Herod
f. The final decision by Pilate
The illegality of these trials includes, but is not limited to the following:
a. The private examination of Jesus before Annas or Caiaphas was illegal due to the private nature of the examination by the judge: such should be done publicly.
b. The indictment against Jesus was, in form, illegal. Criminal procedure of the Mosaic code rests upon three rules: certainty in the indictment; publicity in the discussion; and assurance against all dangers or errors of testimony. The Sanhedrin did not and could not originate charges; it only investigated those brought before it.' -- Edersheim, vol. 1, p. 309. “The only prosecutors known to Talmudic criminal jurisprudence are the witnesses to the crime. Their duty is to bring the matter to the cognizance of the court, and to bear witness against the criminal ... Of an official accuser or prosecutor there is nowhere any trace in the laws of the ancient Hebrews.' -- Mendelsohn, p. 110. In capital or death penalty cases, the witnesses are also the legal executioners.
c. The proceedings of the Sanhedrin against Jesus were illegal because they were conducted at night. 'Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend it at night.' -- Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:1. 'Criminal cases can be acted upon by the various courts during daytime only, by the Lesser Sanhedrins from the close of the morning service till noon, and by the Great Sanhedrin till evening.' -- Mendelsohn, p. 112.
d. The Sanhedrin should not have looked for witnesses after the trial started. According to Jewish law, a trial starts when witnesses come forward to testify. The witnesses come first, then the trial.
e. The sentence of condemnation pronounced against Jesus by the Sanhedrin was illegal because it was founded upon His uncorroborated confession. 'We have it as a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence that no one can bring an accusation against himself. Should a man make confession of guilt before a legally constituted tribunal, such confession is not to be used against him unless properly attested by two other witnesses.' -- Maimonides, 4:2. 'Not only is self-condemnation never extorted from the defendant by means of torture, but no attempt is ever made to lead him on to self-incrimination. Moreover, a voluntary confession on his part is not admitted in evidence, and therefore not competent to convict him, unless a legal number of witnesses minutely corroborate his self-accusation.' -- Mendelsohn, p. 133.
f. Since the Sanhedrin knew the testimony of the witnesses was false, these witnesses, according to God’s criminal justice system, should have been punished. The fact that they were not is another illegality.
[iii] Monday, March 23, 2005, Robert Harlan, guilty of kidnapping, rape, and murder, had his death sentenced reduced by the Colorado Supreme court because some jurors discussed the propriety of death sentences using biblical references. The court took exception to jurors consulting a higher authority.
[iv] Macintoch, Jeane. New York Post, USA, November 8, 2004.