Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Christian Courts?

In an interesting exegesis Brian S. Rosner thinks that Paul advocated the establishment of Christian courts in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. He expounds on this idea on page 95 in “Paul, Scripture and Ethics: A Study of 1 Corinthians 5-7”. A more standard interpretation would be that Christians should avoid suing each other. The New Bible Commentary offers a historical perspective:

"Among the elite of first-century society it was quite acceptable to institute civil proceedings before a magistrate and jury on trivial matters in order to establish one's social and political superiority over others. In weighing up their decision in such cases the jury had to take into account the status and power of the opposing parties, and the judge had to act likewise in imposing fines. Furthermore, certain persons were excluded from instituting legal proceedings against others; i.e. a son against his father, a slave against his master, a freedman against his patron, a citizen against the magistrate, and an inferior against his social superior. Judges and juries were regularly bribed by participants in a case. Mediation rather than litigation could be used in Jewish and Graeco-Roman courts. This was the preferred option of some because leading citizens feared the damaging effects of litigation on their social standing and public careers. Enmity was also engendered, for those who voted against the defendant automatically became his enemies. Civil litigation for the elite was simply seen as an extension of factions and discord in political life. ... ... ...

"In the light of the way local courts operated it is little wonder that Paul is appalled that some Christians dare to take civil actions before annually elected magistrates and wealthy compatriots. They acted as either judge and jury with great partiality and could also be bribed. (Therefore, Paul reasoned that) If the saints are to judge the world ... then they are surely competent to act as mediators in the civil actions which Paul calls trivial cases. ... ... ...(This is why) Paul asks, `do you appoint as judges men of little account in the church?'... .... While secular judges were people of high status in the community, in the Christian gathering secular status had no place. Paul uses the same term here as he does in 1:28 of those whom secular society despises. ... Some of those who were wise (see 1 Cor. 3:18) might undertake the role of mediator which was an accepted way to resolve matters in secular courts. The third stage of education in the first century trained students in legal studies and therefore there would be some in the church who were legally competent to resolve matters equitably.

... Paul indicates his revulsion at their actions by the words brother ... against another (brother) which signify the fellowship of believers - and this in front of unbelievers! ... The fact that matters could not be resolved when a brother has a dispute against another Christian is a sign of defeat for the Christian community. .... It is better to suffer wrong rather than go to court. Not only was dirty linen being washed in public but a fine was imposed on whoever lost the case - hence his accusation you ... cheat and do wrong - better `defraud.' In Ro 13:1-7 Paul discusses the God-ordained role of the state in criminal cases, but he has no place for the locally elected magistrates and juries who used the civil actions as a political arena. Christians who were legally trained and acting as mediators would resolve issues in a just way in a society where unjust conventions prevailed."

I’m skeptical that Paul advocated a system of Christian courts but he was appalled that we should use a secular court unanswerable to the church (v.4). But, I’ll think more about this.

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