The Gospel narratives tell us that Jesus of Nazareth was a prime advocate of social justice. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, comforted the lonely, and helped the needy. In a society ruled by the few elites of a powerful empire, Jesus chose to side with the poor and the marginalized. The “poor” during Jesus’ time were almost deprived of everything—economically, socially, and, politically—that an ordinary citizen would (or at least should) have had today. Retrospectively, we could therefore say that this kind of “social situation” has greatly improved in our society today, whether in the First World or the Majority World societies. But is this really the case?
I am afraid it is not. Marginalization of the “weak” and the “poor” continues to be seen today, especially in our highly competitive and technologically advanced societies. Our world’s rapid industrialization has, perhaps inevitably, even further marginalized the “poor,” the “weak,” and the “powerless or less powerful” in our societies. There are perhaps many factors and causes of this continual marginalization, and, to some extent, oppression, of the weak and poor today, especially since education, social networking, political and societal institutionalization, and individual industry, to name a few, play a huge and vital role in helping one become professionally and financially successful (i.e., less dependence on aid organizations) in the society. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that many good Samaritans and charity organizations have extended a helping hand to the marginalized people of today’s society. Their helping hand has provided by various means social justice for those in need. But the question remains, have we really improved the “social situation”?
I believe that we have not. While we may perhaps argue from a theological perspective that this social situation will continue to be so until the eschaton, this argument does not excuse anyone from doing something about and rectifying this social situation in order to promote social justice in our societies. There are many examples that we can cite here that demonstrate both the global and local social injustices going on today (just look at the middle-east crisis and the hunger and poverty in many countries today to cite the obvious).
Why is there still social injustice, and why is there so much of it in our world today? This is a difficult question to answer, and it seems that there is no solution to it as long as we are still living in this fallen world. As Christians, however, we are mandated to engage in the promotion of social justice in our society. Jesus Christ exemplified social justice when he walked on earth two millennia ago (Matt 9:35–36) and paved the way for us to follow his footsteps, even if following him might entail pain and suffering (1 Pet 2:21). The Bible certainly speaks of social justice, and by extension, Christians, of course, should also seek and promote social justice from their study of it.
The Bible and Social Justice: Old Testament and New Testament Foundations for the Church’s Call is a book on social justice and is published by the McMaster Divinity College Press in conjunction with Pickwick Publishers (Wipf & Stock) in 2015. The eight essays in the book were first presented at the annual H.H. Bingham Colloquium at McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 2012, and then collected as an edited book, offering it as a textbook or supplemental resource for both church and academy. The editors, Cynthia Long Westfall and Bryan R. Dryer, argue in the introductory chapter that the human cry for justice and God’s call to implement his justice on earth are being heard throughout the pages of the Bible. The editors note that social justice is an important biblical concept that “deserves faithful and earnest attention” (xvii) by both scholars and the church. Most importantly, they indicate that social justice is shown not by simply preaching it but by living it out in today’s society. In the editors’ words, “our hope is that rigorous study of the biblical theme of social justice was met with practical concerns for how the church might respond to our world’s cry for justice in the name of Christ” (xviii). Truly, the editors have produced an important and timely book for us today. It is a resource that we can use for tracing the theme of social justice in the entire Bible and in teaching our students and congregations.
Here are the eight essays of the book, with the name of the author in parentheses:
- Imagining Justice for the Marginalized: A Suspicious Reading of the Covenant Code (Exodus 21:1—23:33) in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context (Paul S. Evans)
- Wisdom’s Cry: Embracing the Vision of Justice in Old Testament Wisdom Literature (Mark J. Boda and Shannon E. Baines)
- Seek Yahweh, Establish Justice: Probing Prophetic Ethics. An Orientation from Amos 5:1–17 (M. Daniel Carroll R.)
- Social Justice or Personal Righteousness? What Jesus Has to Say in Matthew and Mark (Craig A. Evans)
- Good News to the Poor: Social Upheaval, Strong Warnings, and Sincere Giving in Luke–Acts (Bryan R. Dyer)
- Reframing Social Justice in the Pauline Letters (Stanley E. Porter)
- Continue to Remember the Poor: Social Justice within the Poor and Powerless Jewish Christian Communities (Cynthia Long Westfall)
- Social Justice in the Book of Revelation: Reading Revelation from Above (David L. Mathewson)
— Hughson T. Ong