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Does God Care More About Justice Than About Sex?

“The Hebrew and Greek words for justice are used over 1000 times in the Bible. Compare that to the words for sexual sin, which are used less than 100 times… If we Christians obsessed over justice and mercy like we do over sexuality we just might change the world.” – Lance Ford

I challenge that claim: both the numbers, and the method involved. Counting how many times a word is used is not a reliable way to determine what is important to the divine author of Scripture.

You’d think that what is important to God could be found in the 10 Commandments. There, sexual sin outnumbers injustice 1-0. Or look at the New Testament sin lists in Mark 7:21-22, Romans 1:26-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and the lists of who is excluded from the Holy City in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15. In them, I find fornication, adultery, and homosexual behavior, but hardly any attention to the issue of justice.

In one of Paul’s very earliest letters to a newly-planted church, the first command he gives them from Jesus is, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from porneia (sex outside of marriage).” He goes on and says, “Therefore, whoever rejects this, rejects not human authority but God.” (Read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 for the entire context.)

Porneia is condemned in eleven books of the New Testament, where forms of the word are used 55 times. Krisis (Greek for “justice”) is used 47 times, but in the New Testament, it almost always means “judgment” (a politically incorrect part of the New Testament message).

The standard Hebrew Bible word for justice is mishpat. It is used 425 times in Scripture. However, the word has many other meanings that make up the majority of times this word is used. In the plural, it often refers to regulations or God's "judicial decisions" (Exodus 21:1). It can mean "(legal) right" or "court case," and it often means "custom" (2 Kings 11:14). But it most often means “judgment,” from which most of the other meanings come.

I find 133 times where mishpat does mean "justice," plus another nine where it could mean either "justice" or "judgment" (like Dt 32:41 or Judges 4:5). That's not 1000, even if we add all 157 uses of the ambiguous word tzedeqah. But tzedeqah is better translated “righteousness.” Often, mishpat and tzedeqah are used together in a way that indicates that they refer to two different spheres of right behavior. If tzedeqah ever means “justice,” it is in a minority of cases. So much for the “1000+” statistic.

Yes, mishpat is used in some powerful classic passages, such as Isaiah 1:17 (“Seek justice, correct oppression”) and Micah 6:8 (“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice…?”). Justice is a major character trait of God, which undergirds our entire sense that someday, the wrongs of this evil age will be righted, a concept without which it is only too easy to lapse into the cynical despair of Malachi 2:17.

Although unfortunately God has not spelled out exactly what justice looks like in enough concrete examples to solve most of our intense modern debates about it, justice is important to God. But so is sexual morality. Jesus was tougher on that subject than the Torah. The reason is because the disregard of Biblical teaching on sex does tremendous social and emotional damage. Maybe that’s why God has more explicit teaching on the subject in the Torah and New Testament than God gives us about what it means to do justice. See my Patheos post

So the quote at the beginning of this post about the word count on justice versus sex in the Bible is nonsense, on both counts. The sad fact is that most people don’t have the time or the inclination to check it out and see whether the claim is true, which it is not.