What the Bible Says About “Human Rights” and “Social Justice”

What's your perspective on issues like feeding the hungry, fighting abortion, helping the homeless, and working to end slave trafficking? As Christians, shouldn't we just concentrate on evangelism? I'm a believer, and I sincerely want to "serve my own generation by the will of God" (Acts 13:36). But I also can't help wondering about some of the "social justice" and "human rights" issues that are getting so much press in the Christian community these days. The Declaration of Independence talks about the "unalienable rights" of mankind, but does the Bible? It seems to me that the only thing "unalienable" about man is his weakness for sin. Does Scripture really have anything to say about "human rights" and "social justice?

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From a certain perspective, you have a point. The Bible never makes specific reference to the ” unalienable rights of man.” Not in so many words. But that doesn’t mean that the idea is “unbiblical.” On the contrary, we’d suggest that the concept is derived by inference from solid biblical principles.

The 17th and 18th century philosophers who elaborated and popularized the concept of the rights of man (for example, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) were working on the basis of what the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer has called “the Christian consensus” of Western European culture. They inherited their high view of humankind from Renaissance thinkers. Those thinkers, in turn, had been inspired by long-held doctrines of the church. The church, of course, based its view on Scripture’s account of creation and the unique role assigned to Adam in Genesis 1 and 2. We are thinking in particular of the words of Genesis 1:26 and 27:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

In light of this, we cannot agree with you that the only thing “unalienable” about humanity is our “penchant for sin.” That’s just one side of the story. The Image of God ( Imago Dei) also has to be taken into consideration. From it flows a whole series of implications as to what a human being is and how he or she should be treated by his or her fellows (see also Luke 6:31). This, in our view, is what the concept of “human rights” and “social justice” is all about.

Perhaps it would be helpful to add that we use the term “social justice” in the same way that Chuck Colson, Marvin Olasky, Albert Mohler, and many other conservative, biblically grounded Christians have used it. We don’t understand it in terms of government-mandated redistribution of wealth. On the contrary, we see it as a matter of the church rolling up its sleeves and becoming the hands and feet of Jesus. As Christians, we have a responsibility to redress those social factors that conspire to keep entire segments of our population mired in hopelessness and despair. What’s more, we need to approach this task primarily from a relational perspective. As we understand it, “social justice” means nothing more than “doing right by one’s neighbor.” As you know, that’s an idea that figures significantly in the words of Jesus.

If you need additional help understanding these concepts, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just

Personal Faith, Public Policy

How Now Shall We Live?

Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy

The Bible Answer Book

Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

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Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project

Christian Research Institute

Insight for Living

Family Policy Alliance

Christian Worldview

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