Law and Society (XVI)

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines casuistry as “a resolving of specific cases of conscience, duty, or conduct through interpretation of ethical principles or religious doctrine.”

Casuistry has a long and very important history, with its origins in Biblical law. How do we know this? Because Biblical law deals with specific criminal cases, from a background of Christian morality. In Exodus 20 God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and the children of Israel, and in chapters 21-23, He gave specific examples of how His law was to be applied and enforced. This is casuistry.

How was casuistry to work? Take the issue of murder. The Bible teaches that “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death” (Ex.21:12). So, if the death was clearly pre-meditated, it was murder. The Bible uses the illustration of a man who “hates his neighbour and lies in wait for him…”(Deut.19:11) to kill him. This applies clearly today to women who have an abortion, and doctors who perform abortions. They commit murder and should die, for what the Bible calls in a number of places, the “shedding of innocent blood.”

What about witnesses? There had to be two or three witnesses for conviction for a capital crime. One witness was not sufficient (Deut.19:15). If there were malicious witnesses who sought to bring false evidence to a court, and they were proven as such, they would be liable to the same punishment they had sought to bring against the accused person, even to stoning for a capital crime. “…You shall do to him just as he intended to do to his brother” (Deut.19:19).

How was execution to take place? Normally by public stoning. Why? This meant the whole community had to take responsibility for justice in the community, it precluded professional executioners, and it meant that execution was always a very public affair. With the invention of firearms, we could use a firing squad.

Does this mean that in all cases where there has been a loss of life, an offender had to lose his life? No, because Biblical law acknowledged the fact of accidental death, or manslaughter. God used the illustration of two men going into the forest to cut down trees, and as one “swings his hand to cut down the tree, and the iron head slips off the handle and strikes his friend so that he dies…” (Deut.19:5).

In some cases of manslaughter, such as when an ox that was known to gore was not properly restrained by its owner, and it gored and killed someone, “…the ox shall be stoned and its owner shall be put to death. If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him” (Ex.21:29-30).

What does this mean? The case laws deliberately permit individual application of God’s law, so that justice is done, and seen to be done. They also require speedy collective community responsibility for justice without gaols, with restitution for criminal activity (such as theft) that does not require capital punishment. It also precluded State-sanctioned murder, political manipulation of a national economy, and the large-scale abuses of power (so prevalent in the modern era, world-wide) would be a thing of the past.

The psalmist said, “give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart” (Ps.119:34), and “I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts” (Ps.119:45).

David also said, “the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul…” (Ps.19:7).  It seems he believed in casuistry: “a resolving of specific cases of conscience, duty, or conduct through interpretation of ethical principles or religious doctrine.”

King David went further: “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps.119:97).

But the Church has ignored has ignored David’s enthusiasm for the law of God. In fact, it’s ignored God’s law and casuistry for centuries. This is one of the reasons nations (along with the church around the world) are in decline. They will continue to slide, while we in the Church continue to ignore the practical, real-life applications of God’s law to our societies.

It’s time to change, and if church leadership is disinterested, it will have to start in the grass-roots. The hierarchy didn’t want to know Jesus Christ, or His followers such as Luther, Wesley, and Whitefield, so these men went on their way regardless, and God used them. Will it be any different with our willingness to accept the law of God?

 It is these laws [the case laws of Exodus] and their amplification in the Book of Deuteronomy that must serve as the foundation of any systematically self-conscious Christian revolution.[1]


[1] Gary North, “Ethics and Dominion,” 2012, p.1742.