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What does the Bible say about human rights?

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Question: "What does the Bible say about human rights?"

Any honest study of the Bible must acknowledge that man, as God’s special creation, has been blessed with certain “human rights.” Any true student of the Bible will be stimulated toward ideals such as equity and justice and benevolence. America’s founding fathers put it well: “all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Such a statement accords well with Scripture. The Bible says that man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Because of this, man has a certain dignity and was given dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26).

The image of God in man also means that murder is a most heinous crime. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, / by man shall his blood be shed; / for in the image of God / has God made man” (Genesis 9:6). The severity of the punishment underscores the severity of the offense. The Mosaic Law is full of examples of how God expects everyone to be treated humanely. The Ten Commandments contain prohibitions against murder, theft, coveting, adultery, and bearing false testimony. These five laws promote the ethical treatment of our fellow man. Other examples in the Law include commands to treat immigrants well (Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33-34), to provide for the poor (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 15:7-8), to grant interest-free loans to the poor (Exodus 22:25), and to release all indentured servants every fifty years (Leviticus 25:39-41).

The Bible teaches that God does not discriminate or show favoritism (Acts 10:34). Every person is a unique creation of His, and He loves each one (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9). “Rich and poor have this in common: / The LORD is the Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2). In turn, the Bible teaches that Christians should not discriminate based on race, gender, cultural background, or social standing (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11; James 2:1-4). We are to be kind to all (Luke 6:35-36). The Bible gives strict warnings against taking advantage of the poor and downtrodden. “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31).

Instead, God’s people are to help whoever is in need (Proverbs 14:21; Matthew 5:42; Luke 10:30-37). Throughout history, most Christians have understood their responsibility to aid their fellow human beings. The majority of hospitals and orphanages in our world were founded by concerned Christians. Many of the great humanitarian reforms of history, including abolition, were spearheaded by Christian men and women seeking justice.

Today, Christians are still working to combat human rights abuses and to promote the welfare of all people. As they preach the Gospel around the world, they are digging wells, planting crops, giving clothes, dispensing medicine, and providing education for the destitute. This is as it should be. There is a sense in which the Christian has no “rights” of his own, because he has surrendered his life to Christ. Christ “owns” the believer. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But God’s authority over us does not negate God’s image in us. Our submission to the will of God does not annul God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In fact, we serve God most when we serve others (Matthew 25:40).

Recommended Resource: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson

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