law & gospel

Required reading for an intro to Christian legal theory:

William J. Stuntz, Christian Legal Theory, 116 Harvard Law Review 1707 (2003)

Read the paper ⇒

Abstract (from SSRN): This paper is a review of a fine book of essays called Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought (Yale University Press 2001). The book points to an important gap between a society that includes tens of millions of people for whom Christianity defines reality, and a legal academic world where Christians are few, and most of those few are closeted.

That gap sounds large. Yet most of the essays in Christian Perspectives make it seem surprisingly small: By and large, the authors take moderate positions that would find substantial support in secular law reviews. They may be right: Christianity has less to say about law and legal thought than even its adherents might suppose, and much of what it does have to say is surprisingly conventional. But Christianity is also a deeply subversive faith, and it has some subversive implications for how we think about law. In this review, I focus on two such implications. The first goes to how our legal system treats the poor. The second bears on what may be the defining feature of contemporary American legal thought: its arrogance. Notice the implication that is not on this list: moralism, the view that immoral behavior ought to be legally prohibited. That view turns out to be thoroughly inconsistent with Christianity. It follows that injecting Christian perspectives into legal theory might actually make legal theory more tolerant not, as is widely feared, less so.

The review concludes by considering a different kind of Christian perspective: not how Christianity casts light on the law, but how the law might cast light on Christianity.

Chaim Saiman, Jesus’ Legal Theory—A Rabbinic Interpretation, 23 Journal of Law & Religion 97 (2007-08)

Read the paper ⇒

Abstract (from SSRN): This article locates the ancient debates between Jesus and the Talmudic rabbis within the discourse of contemporary legal theory. By engaging in a comparative reading of both Gospel and rabbinic texts, I show how Jesus and his rabbinic interlocutors sparred over questions we now conceptualize as the central concerns of jurisprudence. Whereas the rabbis approach theological, ethical and moral issues through an analytical, lawyerly interpretation of a dense network of legal rules, Jesus openly questions whether law is the appropriate medium to structure social relationships and resolve interpersonal conflicts. Through an examination of Talmudic sources, this paper argues the controversies between early Christianity and the nascent rabbinic Judaism (summarized by Paul in terms of Letter vs. Spirit) have the same argumentative architecture as the ongoing debates over law vs. equity, procedural vs. substantive justice, rules vs. standards, formalism vs. instrumentalism, and textualsim vs. contextualism. Moreover, the contrast between the Gospels and the emerging rabbinic discourse brings Jesus’ bold claims about the role, rule and domain of the law to the fore. Thus while the mainstream representation of Christian legal theory tends towards rules, procedural justice, formalism and textualism, this analysis of primary sources shows that Jesus argued for exactly the opposite.