In the Bible the emphasis upon human rights is rooted in the Judeo-Christian faith. The Mosaic law not only established procedural guarantees before the law, but granted the powerless certain economic claims against the wealthy. Thus, the hungry had the right to glean food (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 23:24; 24:19-22; Mt. 12:1). Debtors could expect their loans canceled after seven years (Deut. 15:7-11). Sojourners, widows, and orphans were given special rights to the food brought to the temple as a tithe (Deut. 14:28-29, 26:12-15).
Unfortunately, the rights of the poor were often neglected or even despised. The prophets, however, became an eloquent moral force in reaffirming the civil rights tradition. Their visions of the holy God radicalized their understanding of sin and sensitized them to the extent of economic exploitation occurring in the land (Isaiah 5:16; 6:3-5; Jer. 22:13-16; Ezek. 18:5-18; Micah 3:1-4). Proverbs and religious hymns also highlight that concern (Prov. 14:31; 29:7; Psalm 15; 113:7-9).
The New Testament reflects the same position. The teachings of Jesus are well within prophetic and are highly critical of unjust treatment for disenfranchised groups. He reminded his adversaries that a human being is of great value (Mt. 12:12).
Jesus saw himself as the champion of the underprivileged, the messianic liberator of the oppressed (Luke 4:18). Jesus' teachings and activities continually reinforced the moral standing of the penniless (Mark 12;41-44), the diseased (Mt. 14:13-14), the aged (Mt. 15:4-6), women (John 4:7-9), children (Mark 10:13-14), and other socially weak groups such as prisoners (Mt. 25:36) and the blind (Mt. 11:4-6).
The writings of Paul and the communal practices of the early church (Acts 2:44-45); 4:34-35) mediated the same moral and theological grounding for civil rights as was found in the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Paul's theological affirmations of human equality were unequivocal (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 7:3-4; 2 Cor. 8:13-15).
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.