Any book on Biblical Law that manages to work into its chapter sub-headings the titles of contemporary films, tv programmes and the title of a Pink Floyd track has surely got to be worth a look?
God, Justice and Society is written by Dr Jonathan Burnside who is Reader in Biblical Law at Bristol University. He’s also a Jubilee Centre trustee and author of ground-breaking work for Jubilee Centre such as Consent versus Community and Status and Welfare of Immigrants.
He says that “the goal of [God, Justice, and Society] is to explore aspects of law and legality in the Bible and to do so from the perspective of a modern lawyer.” At 542 pages God, Justice, and Society looks a daunting read. This is a shame, because it’s such a great and readable book with little that is impenetrable to the non-specialist. Jonathan compares Biblical Law in the Old and New Testament with our modern law and highlights how the latter strongly reflects our individualistic society. This compares very unfavourably with Biblical Law which is fundamentally concerned with relationships and thus with addressing the impact that offences have on the whole community. It might be tempting for non-lawyers to think that this isn’t relevant to them. But any discussion of criminal justice, of dealing with sexual offences and ethics, or consideration of property rights or social welfare, will be better informed as to God’s heart for these issues through reading this book.
While society around us pillories Biblical Law as primitive, reading Jonathan’s book acts as a real antidote, demonstrating how full of God’s grace and wisdom Biblical Law really is.
Jonathan summarises the heart of his book as follows.
“The purpose of biblical law is to enable us to love God and to love our neighbour. Biblical law is a guide on how to love appropriately. However, this is not merely an agenda for improved interpersonal contact; it is also an agenda for institutions. In biblical law, love for God, and love for neighbour influences the design of our financial and lending relationships, our political relationships, our conditions of employment, our impact upon the environment, and so on. Love is institutionalized.
“The challenge is to see how biblical law advances relationships being about something more than just an interpersonal agenda, important though that is. It is to recognize that biblical law goes far beyond this to inform the whole of politics and public administration. Its goal is to develop a worldview that is shaped at every point by an understanding of what it means to live a life of love as persons made in the image of God and which, in turn, feeds into our understanding and aspirations regarding the sort of world we want to live in.”