Economics 101 & Public Square

Biblical Principles of Law and Regulation

LinkedIn Email Print

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis portrays hell as a bureaucracy full of rules and regulations. The book’s antagonist, the demon Screwtape, is a mid-level functionary in a nearly endless lowerarchy.

Lewis may have portrayed hell this way partly as a commentary on Hitler’s Germany. However, the United States also has a large number of regulations today. The picture above is a visual display of this fact.

The number of regulations in the United States has grown astronomically in the twentieth century:

  • In 1925, all the federal codes could be contained in one four-to-five-inch thick volume.
  • Now, in 2013, it requires twenty-five feet of shelf space to contain all the volumes.

More regulations were added in the fifteen years since 1998 than in the first 150 years of the country’s existence. Economist Clyde Wade Crews estimates these regulations cost about 1.8 trillion dollars in enforcement and compliance. That exceeds all corporate profits in the United States in a year.

Some would argue that the government does not need to say so much more than God does about how we live. However, we must recognize that there is a biblical case for certain regulations. This is not an argument for theonomy or theocracy, but an exploration of one way in which biblical principles can guide how Christians think about regulations.

Laws vs. Regulation

First, there is a difference between a law and a regulation. Generally speaking, a law is a principal, almost always a prohibition on some behavior. Regulation involves enforcing and implementing laws. The legislature passes bills and the executive signs them into law, but agencies are tasked with the enforcement and implementation of these laws.

For instance, most states have legislation requiring that professionals such as lawyers and doctors be qualified and certified. It is up to state licensing boards to make this happen; the necessary education, training, and licensing requirements are all part of the regulations which implement the law.

In essence, a law is something that forbids behavior, and a regulation is something that requires positive action on our part as a way to obey the law more fully.

So how should we think about regulation? We can draw certain principles from biblical regulations that can shape our views on the matter. When is it proper to impose on people a further burden of compliance beyond restraining them from wrongdoing?

Protect Life

It is proper to require people to take action to avoid killing or harming others.

We are all familiar with the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” but God says more. In Leviticus 19:16 we are told to do nothing that endangers our neighbor’s life. This goes beyond not killing. It requires that we actually take action to avoid harming others.

We see this concept of taking reasonable precautions against known danger to life in several places. Deuteronomy 22:8 commands that those with flat-roofed houses must have a parapet on it to protect others from falling. We also see that if the owner has built that parapet, he is not guilty of murder should someone fall.

We see this approach repeated in Exodus 21 where an ox owner is guilty of a crime if his ox gored someone, but only if the ox was known to have been dangerous. People are responsible for making sure that which they own is reasonably safe for others.

Some modern applications of this principle include requiring people with swimming pools to surround the swimming area with a fence. Another example is when the state requires auto inspections to insure that all the external safety features–such as brakes, tire wear, etc.–are in working order.

Protect Family

Families are to be honored and protected.

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:8,

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

There are a number of requirements dealing with honor and protection that are placed on family members:

  • The bonds of marriage are protected with the prohibition on adultery and fornication.
  • The requirements for husbands go beyond the letter of the law. They must refrain from immoral behavior, and they are required to love and protect their families (Ephesians 5:25). Presumably that means to take action when necessary.

In modern application, this precept gives a foundation for laws regarding divorce and for the fundamental protection of the family unit.

However, these are not the only commands that require people to take action, implying the need for some regulation. In the next few posts, we will explore how the Bible calls for the protection of the poor and the weak.

What amount of regulation do you think is appropriate? Leave your comments here.

Have our latest content delivered right to your inbox!

Further readings on Economics 101 & Public Square

  • Economics 101
  • Public Square

All-consuming. Raucous. Rage-filled. Divisive. Whatever words you choose to describe an election year in the United States, virtually everyone recognizes…

  • Economics 101
  • Public Square
How Should Christians Think About the National Debt?

By: Susan Wharton Gates

6 minute read

In January 2023, the United States reached its national debt limit of $31.4 trillion. Set by law, the debt limit…

Have our latest content delivered right to your inbox!