and JUSTICE BIBLE
(Investigator 129, November)
THE BIBLE FIRST
"God, not politicians was the first to
speak out on poverty," reported The Advertiser. (September 15,
The newly published Poverty and
Justice Bible, produced by World Vision and the Bible Society, has
2800 verses on poverty and justice highlighted in orange.
Concern for the poor is a biblical
theme. Early Christianity took practical action against poverty – its
programs in the Roman Empire were unique. The pagan emperor Julian
wrote: "It is disgraceful that they care not only for their own poor
but for ours as well."
At the British launch of the Poverty
and Justice Bible 13 Members of Parliament received copies from the
Andy Reed, MP said,
heart for tackling poverty and establishing justice…
Christians have always, and will always be, involved in these issues."
Alistair Burt, MP said, "This is a
highly significant edition of the Bible reminding us of God's
commitment to those affected by poverty and injustice."
Steve Webb, MP said, "The Poverty and
Justice Bible is a timely reminder of God's priorities. This Bible
highlights the fact that God is concerned about all aspects of our
lives, and that ‘true religion' must involve action to address the
gross injustices that still scar our world and our nation."
The Bible Society's Chief Executive
James Catford said, "Poverty and justice have always been on the heart
of God… It's important that Christians in Parliament not only know what
God says on these issues, but also allow it to influence their
The Australian launch of the new Bible
took place in Canberra at a 270-person gathering of "Micah Challenge".
Micah Challenge is a global coalition of 30 Christian aid agencies
committed to fighting poverty. In Australia it has100,000 supporters
"who believe justice for the poor is an essential aspect of their
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd congratulated
those who developed the Poverty and Justice Bible and said,
"…faith without works is dead…Christian doctrine…is both about
individual spirituality and a parallel commitment to social justice."
Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull
challenged all Australians to act to alleviate poverty and suffering:
"Now in the New Testament we are told…of faith, hope and love…when one
of us makes a contribution be it in dollars or in time, that
contribution carries with it a direct message of love and personal
THE BIBLE AGAINST POVERTY
The Bible is modern and relevant because
on many big issues such as the threat of asteroids (#62), the health
hazards of promiscuous sex (# 48) and on poverty and justice, it "spoke
The Poverty and Justice Bible is
the Contemporary English Version and includes a 32-page study guide on
JUSTICE: HUMAN or DIVINE
In his article Poverty
and Justice Bible (lnv. 129, p. 18-19)
Anonymous makes a number of questionable claims. The first is his
quotation from the Advertiser: "God, not politicians was the first to
speak on poverty." The second is when he reiterates the claim in his
concluding remarks on poverty and justice: "It [the Bible] "spoke out"
I have no doubt
that the Bible comments on poverty and justice
(Proverbs 28:27, for example). This is not the issue. The issue is the
implied claim that it is the first document to concern itself with
justice, and that the contents are authored by God.
The fact that the
Bible was authored by human beings is indisputable.
That God dictated to the scribes what they had to write is not. If we
apply Occam's razor - that the least speculative theory which best fits
the known facts is the one most likely to be true, and combine this
with the observation that there is no sound evidence for the existence
of deities, then a more reasonable conclusion is that scripture is of
entirely human origin.
When were the
first laws, which obviously deal with justice,
established? How old is the Bible, and do the first extra-biblical laws
predate it? According to some scholars the age of the earliest books in
the Bible are as follows:
agree that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, written
by an unknown Israelite about 1500 B.C. Others hold that the Pentateuch
(the first five books of the Bible) are the oldest books in the Bible,
written between 1446 and 1406 B.C.
The most well
known example of an ancient law code is the Codex
Harnmurabi, enacted by Harnmurabi, sixth king of Babylon. This code,
written in the Akkadian language, is inscribed in cuneiform script on a
basalt stele measuring seven foot, four inches in height, and dates
approximately from 1790 BC. The Codex Harnmurabi isn't the oldest
law code, for others predate it, but it is the most significant:
The Code of
Hammurabi is the longest surviving text from the Old
Babylonian period. Almost completely preserved, the code is far more
significant in legal history than any of its forerunners, such as that
of Ur-Nammu [which is the oldest known example, circa 2100-2050 Be].
282 laws, carved in forty-nine columns on a basalt stele, address a
variety of topics in civil, criminal, and commercial law. Like other
Near Eastern codes, Hammurabi's does not attempt to cover all possible
The tenor of
Hammurabi's code can be seen in the following extracts,
which outline his vision for society. The language is somewhat
grandiose, which is to be expected as it was commissioned by a king,
but I think the spirit of the intent is there nonetheless:
Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth,
who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling
son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made
him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name,
made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose
foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu
and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared
God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy
the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the
weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash,
and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind...
great gods have
called me, I am the salvation-bearing shepherd, whose staff is
straight, the good shadow that is spread over my city; on my breast I
cherish the inhabitants of the land of Sumer and Akkad; in my shelter I
have let them repose in peace; in my deep wisdom have I enclosed them.
That the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the
widows and orphans, I have in Babylon the city where Anu and Bel raise
high their head, in E-¬Sagil, the Temple, whose foundations stand
firm as heaven and earth, in order to declare justice in the land, to
settle all disputes, and heal all injuries, set up these my precious
words, written upon my memorial stone, before the image of me, as king
The need for
financial security is, of course, the first measure in the
prevention of poverty, and Hammurabi's code makes provisions for people
disadvantaged by adverse circumstances:
anyone be captured in war and there is not sustenance in his house, if
then his wife go to another house this woman shall be held blameless.
137: If a man wish
separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who
has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a
part of the usufruct of field, garden, and property, so that she can
rear her children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of
all that is given to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be
given to her. She may then marry the man of her heart.
148: If a man take
wife, and she be seized by disease, if he then desire to take a second
wife he shall not put away his wife, who has been attacked by disease,
but he shall keep her in the house which he has built and support her
so long as she lives.
177: If a widow,
whose children are not grown, wishes to enter another house (remarry),
she shall not enter it without the knowledge of the judge. If she enter
another house the judge shall examine the state of the house of her
first husband. Then the house of her first husband shall be entrusted
to the second husband and the woman herself as managers. And a record
must be made thereof. She shall keep the house in order, bring up the
children, and not sell the house-hold utensils. He who buys the
utensils of the children of a widow shall lose his money, and the goods
shall return to their owners.
I'm not going to
argue that these laws are better or worse than those
found in the Bible. The purpose of my essay is solely to show that
ideas of justice and concern for the disadvantaged are more likely to
be of human rather than divine origin and predate scripture.
THE BIBLE AGAINST POVERTY
In #129 I
reported on the Poverty and Justice Bible which has
verses about poverty and justice highlighted. I quoted The
Advertiser newspaper that, "God, not politicians was the first to
speak out on
poverty." (September 15, 2009, p. 10)
(#130) responded and denied that "God" (via the Bible) was
first in speaking out on poverty. He cited the Code of Hammurabi (c.
1800 BCE) which had clauses that made provision for financial security
and therefore opposed poverty prior to the Bible.
however compared Bible statements about poverty with
"politicians" in the later Roman Empire and forward to the present.
Within that period of comparison, "God" or the Bible "spoke out" first.
What if we extend
the discussion, as Straughen wants to do, and
consider the Hammurabi Code?
Even then a case
can be made for "God speaking out first". How?
From Genesis we
learn that poverty among humans began when they
rejected God's authority and didn't appreciate the safe and bountiful
"paradise" He put them in. As a consequence they were ousted from Eden,
and forced to manage without God. The first humans in effect rebelled
and most of their descendants copied the rebellious pattern of their
The result was
lives of poverty, hard work, and death: "By the sweat of
your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground…" (Genesis
continues with stories of poverty, counsel calculated to
reduce poverty, and with predictions of a saviour/messiah through whom
poverty would be conquered:
hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of
well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow… (Isaiah 25:6)
If the biblical
true then, "God spoke out first", thousands of years even before
presently scientifically confirm the Genesis scenario outlined
What we can do is
test what is testable and generalize the result. We
"test what is testable"
whenever we observe that the sun
rises every day and we generalize this observation and expect the sun
to rise tomorrow and plan our activities accordingly. We "test what is
testable" whenever we check peoples' past record or conduct to decide
which person to trust in future.
in this magazine, where we "tested what is testable",
The description of Earth before creation in Genesis 1:2;
Whether all humans descend from one "mother of all" 3:20;
Whether a human-like species interacted with early humans 4:14-15.
In these three
topics the outcome predicted from Genesis eventually got
substantial scientific support.
If we add to the
confirmed parts of Genesis the statements in the rest
of the Bible that have achieved scientific confirmation, hundreds of
them, then we see the Bible as a document of highest credibility. And
from that position of high credibility it can be said: "God, not
politicians was the first to speak out on poverty."