Law has been referred to in various forms, including such ignominious references as “The Law is an Ass!” Yet, for all its vagaries and flaws, human law exists as a reality we all must navigate. The purpose of this investigation is to clarify the foundation of Human Law, so that those who encounter it or must deal with it have a basis on which to work through their engagement with it and their response to it. It might also be possible to see where human law has digressed from its authorised place and that might even enable some people to be protected from its abuses.
In the Beginning
The most authoritative law book in the world is the Holy Bible. In fact, in Australian courts, the Holy Bible is a recognised legal document. In Australia’s highest court, the High Court, the Holy Bible, King James Version, is a highly respected document.
So allow me to start looking for the ‘basis’ of human law in that most ancient and honoured text.
In the very first verse of the Bible we are introduced to the first principle of human law – ‘existence’.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
This very first text in God’s revelation to man speaks of ‘existence’. Existence is a primary principle of law and of human experience. The philosophical discussions about the definition of life itself reflect the importance of this simple point. “I am because I think”. “I am because I exist”. sum quia sum – I am because I am.
This principle of existence has profound implications and extensions. Once a person ceases to exist, as when they die, they change their state and value significantly. Note the Biblical comparison between a lion and a dog. Being ‘dead’ makes a great deal of difference!
“He that is joined to all the living has hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know nothing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 9:4-6
Once you are dead you have lost all practical engagement with human existence on earth. So you will find greater value in a living dog (a menial animal) than a dead lion (the king of all beasts). In the same way, you will find greater value in a live servant, than in a dead king.
That is why the Jews celebrate life with such vigour. Whatever their circumstances, they are inclined to say, “But I am alive!” It is better to be alive, in all your challenges, than to be dead. So the Jewish celebrate life with their toast, “l’chaim”, “To Life!”
There is more to say about existence, but that can be looked at later.
Supremacy and Jurisdiction
The next principle worthy of notice in the Holy Bible is that of supremacy. Another way of looking at the same idea is as ‘jurisdiction’. The Bible reveals that God occupies a place of unique supremacy. He already existed “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1). He had the amazing power to create every material thing that exists (Genesis 1:1). His Spirit hovered over all of creation (Genesis 1:2). And God could speak things into existence (Genesis 1:3).
“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Genesis 1:3
Jurisdiction defines the realm over which a person can speak with authority. (I have defined Jurisdiction elsewhere – see the ChrisFieldBlog.com articles).
God’s jurisdiction extends to all places where light can exist, since He spoke light into existence into the realm over which He has authority.
Similarly, authorities have realms over which they can speak. We will see more on that point later.
The Holy Bible starts by introducing God to us and revealing His pre-eminence, supremacy, power and jurisdiction. Then we see the creation of mankind.
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and 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 created he him; male and female created he them.” Genesis 1:26,27
The existence of mankind is given several important definitions in this short passage. Man does not exist because he exists, as humanist philosophers like to believe. Man exists because of the conscious choice of the supreme being who created all things. Man is a created being. Therefore man is a product, not a cause. Man is accountable, not a law unto himself.
Man is made to a specific deign description – that being “the image of God” – Imago Dei. So man cannot be who he wants to be. Man is not a ‘self made’ creature. Man does not create himself by his own consciousness. Man’s consciousness is a consequence, not a cause. Man is conscious because God made him. Man has a moral responsibility to live life as a reflection of the one man was made to represent. God is holy, loving, responsible, creative, accountable and just, among many other attributes. Humans are to also be holy, loving, responsible, creative, accountable and just.
Divine Law or Natural Law
Students of law will know of Natural Law and may be aware of Divine Law. Natural Law is the assertion that living beings have power and right to certain actions, based on their very existence. If a living being needs air, then it has a natural law right to air.
Here is the definition of Natural Law given in West’s Encyclopaedia:
“A law or body of laws that derives from nature and is believed to be binding upon human actions apart from or in conjunction with laws established by human authority.”
The important revelation given in the Holy Bible is that Natural Law is not the ultimate law upon which human life is based. For those who deny the existence of God, Natural Law is their final court of appeal. Choosing to believe in evolution, rather than divine creation, they see that the supremacy of the more powerful is a natural right. Survival of the fittest, indulging animal instincts, dog eat dog, winner takes all, and similar notions hinge on the idea that Natural Law is the final court of appeal. If someone has the power to dominate you, and you do not have the power to resist, then, by Natural Law, they have the opportunity to dominate you.
Divine Law, on the other hand, speaks morality into the world. It declares that man is not to use his natural prowess for personal supremacy and gain. Man is created to obey divine instruction and live by divine morality. Personal prowess has no intrinsic merit in determining law. Law is a moral issue, not a natural issue. Law is based on requirements imposed by God, not on requirements imposed by one person on another.
A further legal issue which is given to us in the very first chapter of the Holy Bible is that of “dominion”. The ‘dominion mandate’ defined by God is that man has dominion over all other creatures.
“And God blessed them, and said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28
In this dominion mandate we have further confirmation that all humans are equal. All humans were created equally before God, and all humans share a mandate, given by God, to have dominion over all other creatures.
The dominion mandate does not give humans dominion over each other. In the beginning mankind was created equal and given equal authority.
More to Come
These simple elements have profound implication and application. And the unfolding of human law, as revealed in the Holy Bible reaches much further than this. There will be more to come in future posts on the Basis of Human Law.