In today’s world, we should easily say that biblical law is the basis for our civil justice system and the biblical application of tort law is still consistent with the contemporary legal standards of today. Our extensive modern day civil justice system can be linked back to the teachings of the Bible and the strict laws that it provided as guidance to how we should live and coexist with others. The Bible also emphasizes some major causes that are prevalent today that include; the importance of justice, our obligations to tend to and care for the poor, and our overall responsibility to ensure the protection of the environment and property. The modern day civil justice system, just like the biblical system, upholds these civil standards and assigns trial lawyers (council) to oversee these types of cases to ensure justice is served in a legal fashion. Civil cases are a huge part of today’s legal caseload and the applications of the law can be traced back to the Bible and God’s laws. God instructed his people on the laws that deals with specific wrongs and the remedies associated with them. They can be found mostly in the Old Testament and located directly in the Ten Commandments. These historical civil laws can be determined to have revolved around things such as negligence and strict liability and provide support for the need of compensatory and punitive damages to the person injured in the case. Most of the biblical laws regarding civil liabilities is still consistent today with the modern applications. While they may show some differences, especially on how they are to be remedied, they still incorporate a biblical worldview.
Civil torts are actions or activities that are harmful to either the community as a whole or to individual people or property. The earliest case regarding civil liabilities can be found in the verses of Exodus 22:5 and speaks of negligence to our brothers. It reads, “allowing animals to trespass on to the property of another and do not harm”. Throughout the Bible you can find multiple laws that would now be designated as tort law and the applications of those laws similar to those in a contemporary court room. Tort offenses are those offenses that harm individual persons or their property, whether intentionally, recklessly, or as the result of simple negligence. Negligence cases happen more often than not because of the basis of the crime. Negligent cases require 5 elements to be met before they can be addressed in a lawsuit. These elements are: established duty, breach of duty, cause if fact, proximate cause, and accrued damages. The Bible explains how negligence can come into play within these particular scriptures: Exodus 21:33-34, Exodus 22:5, Exodus 22:6, and Deuteronomy 22:8. For those particular verses, negligence is described as an act against our brother from which intent was not present. For example, Exodus 21:33-34 reads, “Digging a pit but failing to cover it”, establishes that the only crime here is the ignorance to the possibilities of harm to others from your actions.
Harm that results from tort offenses such as neglect, can be remedied through the courts by offering payment of damages to either the person injured or restoring the property that was damaged. Acts regarding reckless endangerment are sometimes subject to additional damages such as “punitive” or “exemplary damages” that are payable to the victim or the victims’ estate if the neglect resulted in the victims’ death. The main reason for offering damages to those that have been inflicted, is to raise awareness of ones actions and to simultaneously deter one from engaging in similar conduct going forward.
Compare and Contrast: Biblical Applications and Modern Applications
The similarities between the two applications of tort law are rather easy to identify. To establish these similarities we must first point out three of the main civil standards that we are required by law to uphold in most civil cases. The standards of upholding justice, representing the poor, and protecting the environment and property where established early on in God’s commands and is significantly relevant in modern applications of law. Richard Hiers points out in his research that the biblical tort laws found in Exodus 21:18 through 22:17are structured along lines closely parallel to concepts found in modern tort law jurisprudence. Many of the biblical laws considered are to give expression to the underlying values of concern for the worth and well-being of both individuals and the community.
Second, God’s laws were somewhat of a prediction as to how man would act negligently to others in somewhat shape or form. These acts are considered civil liabilities and are still present in modern day civil justice claims. Biblical claims had various levels of negligence and how is was defined. An act that foreseeably might cause injury resulted in greater liability than a similar act where no injury was foreseeable. In modern applications this process is still relevant with determining a person’s guilt. The different degrees of negligence that need to be determined through examination are: slight negligence, gross negligence, and reckless negligence. Each degree of negligence has a different degree of liability associated with it, which will also determine the damages that will be required to resolve the issue at hand.
Third similarity in both applications of tort law, are the damages that is owed as a result in the breach of duty to another. Both in biblical applications and modern applications compensatory or general damages were and are awarded as restitution. Compensatory damages can range from simple restitution to payment for lost wages and medical bills. Punitive damages, which are also assigned in some cases, are present in both application and are a very important part of tort law as a whole. These damages, while misunderstood by some, protect the public as a whole and show the community how not to act in certain situations. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to any compensatory or other damages, increasing the plaintiff’s total award. They are most commonly awarded in cases in which the compensatory damages seem to be an inadequate remedy, and because of the defendant’s egregious conduct.
The final area that can be pointed out as a similarity between the two applications is that both emphasize justice and the use of a mediator between the two parties. In today’s modern application, trial lawyers are used by the parties who are looking to seek justice for a wrong committed against them. While the biblical application does not talk about trial lawyers specifically, it does point out that justice should be maintained with either the help of the courts or with the church. The bible shows support for modern trial lawyers in the book of Psalms and it reads, “Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.” While the similarities between the two applications seem unquestionable, the differences are a little more controversial in debate.
Compare and Contrast: Biblical Remedies and Modern Remedies
One of the biggest differences between biblical remedies and modern day remedies is how things should be handled. The Bible encourages us to forgive and to handle our issues with others by talking and agreeing on a fair and reasonable way to resolve our issues. Modern day remedies rely heavily on the instruction of the courts and how things should be determined in response to the laws of man. The Bible teaches us:
“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers?”
This proves that we should first try and resolve our issues against another with prayer and cordial behavior. Modern day remedies require you to let the courts decide what is best and let them apply the law as they seem fit, which could result in more resentment and further issues especially if the case is between actual neighbors. Another difference lies in the positions that people hold. Modern remedies do not first establish the position in which one person has duty to another. Biblical remedies however, does impose such a duty with respect to animals and other property. As a result, the applications of how people chose to view the original basis of law can be altered for each individual case. It is also said that the definitions of liability in biblical applications can be blurred. It is said that often biblical law failed to distinguish between criminal and civil law which inevitably would require different forms of remedies. Modern applications however, have consistent distinctions between civil and criminal law ensuring that tort law cases are well-established for trial.
In the end, we need to remember that God has ultimate jurisdiction overall. So, while some of the laws may have changed the way they apply to certain situations and the processes that we use to distinguish blame may have changed, the application of those laws and the process on how to resolve the issues still need to be consistent with a biblical worldview. While modern applications of tort law have advanced over the last few decades, it still is based solely from the teaching of the Bible and have far more similarities to biblical applications than it does differences. The connections between the two applications are clear and provide a definite understanding of the duties that we have to our fellow man. The Bible reads, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” and to this we know and understand that we should uphold justice, protect the poor, protect the environment and our property, and when seeking justice go to those who hold it at their highest regard.