Good Judges

Local judges applying his law is God's ideal government. God has provided perfect law. Our challenge is to apply it to the various situations that arise in modern society. The best people to do this task will be wise and godly judges. Good judges are all that we need in addition to the law.

The system of law and judges was introduced by Moses and it worked effectively. It has never been set aside or replaced with anything better. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people, the system should function even better as the judges are anointed with the gift of wisdom.

Christians often assume that judging ceased at the end of the book of Judges, but that is not true. Judges existed right through the Old Testament period. The role of the judge did not disappear when the kings became permanent military leaders. In David's time, six thousand Levites were set aside to be "officials and judges" (1 Chron 23:3-5). Kenaniah the Izharite and his sons were also assigned duties as judges over Israel during David's reign (1 Chron 26:29). Judges are also mentioned during the reign of Solomon Israel (2 Chron 1:2). Jehoshaphat appointed judges in the land when he was king (2 Chron 19:4,5). Even after the exile, God raised up wise judges for Israel.

And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates-all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them (Ezra 7:25).

Kings came and went, and prophets were missing for long periods of time, but God ensured that Israel always had judges to interpret the law. The ministry of the judge was never abolished. Part of our hope for the future is that God will restore wise judges to administer his law.

I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counsellors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City (Is 1:26).

When righteous judges are restored, we will experience the city of righteousness and faithfulness.

Raising Judges

The best judges are raised up by God. Once Israel had taken a king, judges tended to be appointed by the kings. King Jehoshaphat was noted for appointing judges (2 Chron 19:4). This is not ideal, as kings are a suboptimal option anyway. A judge who is appointed by a king will be loyal to the king. They will have difficulty deciding fairly between the king and a citizen.

After the return from Israel, Ezra the priest appointed judges to administer justice. This was not a normal situation either. Religious leaders should not take responsibility for appointing judges.

In the ideal situation, judges will not need to be appointed. They will emerge in their local communities, as people start going to them for guidance about difficult disputes. When a person's wisdom is widely recognised, other people may start referring to them as a judge. The title is just a recognition of what they are already doing.

For more detail on this topic see Emerging Judges.

Moses and Judges

The first judges in Israel were not appointed. At first, the people took all their disputes to Moses, because they had misunderstood his calling. God established Moses as a prophet. He spoke the law through Moses, because his prophetic calling made him skilled at hearing the voice of God. Part of this prophetic calling was to teach the meaning of the law to the people, but God did not appoint Moses to the role of the judge.

The people assumed that the person who had received the law would be the best person to settle disputes. Moses made the same mistake and assumed that God appointed him to be a judge, as well as a prophet and military leader. The truth was that God had not appointed him to be a judge.

Moses needed a wake-up call because he had misunderstood God's plan for judges. The challenge came from his father-in-law (Ex 18). Jethro was a Midianite, so he did not understand the scope of Moses' calling, but he could see that something was dreadfully wrong. Moses was becoming exhausted by the huge responsibility of hearing every dispute for the entire nation. Exhaustion is often a sign that a person has taken on a ministry that God has not given them. Jethro did not understand this principle, but he could see the symptoms, so he challenged Moses.

The Bible is very precise about what Moses did in response to this challenge.

So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you-as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials (Deut 1:15).

The word commander is a military term. Moses organised the nation into an army structure with units of tens, hundreds and thousands, based on family and tribal affiliations. This military style organisation was essential, while the nation was marching towards the promised land. He took wise and respected tribal leaders and made the commanders over the tens, hundreds and thousands.

The word for official means scribe or magistrate. The people went to these people to settle their disputes, because they were the wisest people in their families and tribes. The people had already recognised them as judges when Moses appointed them to be military leaders.

They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves (Ex 18:26).

Moses gave these judges a challenge and freed them to get on with the task of judging. This approach worked, because God has put the judges in place. They were effective judges once they were allowed to do the job. If Moses had appointed the judges, their freedom would have been compromised.

These earliest judges functioned in a tribal environment. They would start off as leaders in their families and sub-tribes. The wisest of local leaders would become judges. The best would rise to be appeal judges for their entire tribe.

The same principle should apply in modern societies. Wise people should rise up in their local communities as their wisdom in resolving disputes is recognised. When their wisdom is acknowledged throughout a broader community, they have become a judge. Judges are not appointed; they are honoured.

Becoming a Judge

The wisdom of potential judges will be recognised by their families. When they resolve disputes between members of their family, others will notice their wisdom and take their disagreements to them. If a wise person is successful in settling disputes in their wider family, they will begin to be recognised in their community for their skill in judging. People will refer their disputes to them to get the benefit of their wisdom.

Excellent judges will be identified by a natural sifting process. Many people will demonstrate wisdom in their families, but only a few will have sufficient wisdom to deal with the more complicated interactions of the local community. The few that gain a reputation across the wider community for wise decisions will be recognised as judges.

The members of the community can influence the reputation of a judge, by accepting their decisions. If people undermine the decisions of a judge, people with disputes will avoid them.

Performance Standards

The important innovation that Moses made was to introduce performance standards for the role of judging. This standard gave the people the freedom to take their cases to the judges with the greatest wisdom. This standard ensured that the best judges would be recognised and widely used.

People will always go to judges that they trust. Judges that make good decisions will get more cases to decide. If people do not like the decision that a judge has made, they will be able to appeal to another judge to hear their case. If a judge is constantly having their decisions overturned by another judge, people will stop going to them and they will lose their role as judge.

Free Authority

Local judges exercise Free Authority, because they gain authority when the people submit their disputes to them. If people stop bringing cases, the judge loses authority and their role is done.

A judge's authority is not permanent. It is limited, temporary and fragile.

Christian Judges

A Kingdom Community will be an environment where good judges can emerge and be recognised. Most will begin as an elder in a neighbourhood church. An elder with a prophetic edge might be recognised for their wisdom.

Paul reminded Christians that there should always be people among them who can resolve difficult disputes. One problem with the Corinthian church was that wise judges were not emerging as Paul expected.

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?… Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers (1 Cor 6:1, 4-5)?
Christians should take their disagreements to their elders. Most neighbourhood churches will have a least one who is capable of making wise decisions.

Some elders will develop a reputation in their church for handling disputes wisely. As their reputation spreads, other residents of the Kingdom Community will submit their disputes to these wise elders (1 Tim 3:7).

Solomon received “the wisdom of God to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28). We should expect that God would raise up elders with similar wisdom. Now that the Holy Spirit has been poured out, the wisdom of Solomon should be common amongst the followers of Jesus.

Elders with the “wisdom of God to administer justice” will be respected in their community and sought out by the people of the world needing justice.

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world (1 Cor 6:2)?

This is not a reference to the “last judgment”. The people of the world will recognise the ability of wise elders and be drawn to them in the same way that pagan kings from all over the world came to listen to Solomon.

The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart (1 Kings 10:24).

Everyone will come to the elders of a Kingdom Community to receive the wisdom that God has put in their hearts.

Disagreements about Judges

The parties to a legal dispute will have to agree on their judge. This may be problematic if one person wants one judge, but the other wants a different one. The best way might be to choose a judge from a neighbouring community, who is less connected to the litigants. Another solution would be for both parties to choose their preferred judge, and for these two judges to choose a third judge to sit on the case with them to balance their views. Agreement on an independent judge would ensure that justice is fair.

The victim of a crime will have priority in choosing a judge to hear their case. A criminal will not be able to avoid justice by refusing to agree to a judge. If they refuse to agree, the judge chosen by the victim should proceed to hear the case. If the judge has areputation for fairness, the community will back their verdict.

Character of Judges

Good judges will have good character. They will be impartial and honest. Moses challenged the judges with the following words.

Judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God (Deut 1:16,17).

Justice must be totally impartial. Good judges will decide on the merits of the case, ignoring the status of those making the claims. Foreigners and refugees should be able to obtain judgment without any bias against them.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly (Lev 19:15).

Judges must not favour people who are important. On the other hand, they must not favour the poor either. This is still a temptation for modern judges.

Judges must not accept bribes.

Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you (Deut 16:19,20).

He told them, "Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery" (2 Chron 19:6-7).

Good judges must remember that they are not judging for themselves, but are acting on behalf of God. They should fear the Lord and judge carefully.

Judges that depend on people in their community submitting disputes to them will have a strong incentive to be fair to everyone. If they lose their reputation for fairness, they will soon be out of a job.

Love the Law

Good judges will know and love God's law.

I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble (Psalm 119:163-165).

A judge should praise the wisdom of God's law seven times a day. Love of the law will prevent many mistakes.

Modern-day judges are trained academically. They learn about legal interpretation and the principle of precedence. These things are important, but they know very little about God's law. This is a recipe for injustice.

Unfortunately, very few Christians love the law. Most misinterpret Psalm 119 as a command to love the scriptures. This is a distortion. The entire psalm is devoted to the wonder of the law. Our refusal to love the law might be one reason we lack wise judges.

Anointed by the Spirit

Good judges will be anointed with the Holy Spirit of God. Israel tended to be dependent on a few heroic judges. Not many people were filled with the Spirit, so only a few had the capacity to be good judges. Jesus was the perfect judge, because he was full of the Holy Spirit and carried a Spirit of wisdom and counsel.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth (Isaiah 11:2-4)

To function effectively, human judges also need to be full of the same Spirit. We need judges who have the spirit of wisdom and understanding.

When human judges make good decisions they are acting for Jesus, just as godly pastors are acting for the good shepherd. We do expect Jesus to return to care for his sheep, because he is able to work through human shepherds by the power of the Spirit. In the same way, he does not have to return to bring justice, as he can work through anointed judges.

When anointed judges apply God's law in the power of the spirit, peace will return to the earth.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea (Is 11:6-9).

God's system of government is good judges filled with his Spirit and applying his law. It will bring great blessing to earth.

Solomon's Wisdom

When King Solomon settled the dispute over a live baby between two prostitutes, he showed the benefit of the gift of wisdom.

When all Israel heard the verdict (mishpat) the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice (mishpat) (1 Kings 3:28).

The gift of wisdom is essential for administering justice.

Bad Judges

Corrupt judges produce injustice by ignoring evidence and deciding in favour of those with money and power. Zephaniah describes some judges as wolves.

Her judges are evening wolves who leave nothing for the morning (Zeph 3:3).

In many countries, judges look after their mates among the rich and strong. The poor and weak cannot get justice.

Speak the truth to each other,
and render true and sound judgment in your courts;
do not plot evil against your neighbour,
and do not love to swear falsely.
“I hate all this,” declares the Lord (Zech 8:16-17).

When judges are dishonest or corrupt, the weak will suffer.

Judges Job

Judges will deal with cases that are brought before them. There are four aspects to their work.

  1. The judges will thoroughly investigate the case collecting all the information that is relevant.

    The judges must make a thorough investigation (Deut 19:18).

    If necessary, they will visit the scene of the crime and make observations and measurements (Deut 21:2).

  2. The judges will listen to all the relevant witnesses.

    A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).

  3. The judges will arrive at a verdict (Ex 18:22)

    the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty (Deut 25:1).

    Their verdict will acquit those who are innocent and condemn those who are guilty.

  4. The judges will decide on a penalty for the guilty person.

    they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment (Deut 17:9 NKJV).

    They will determine what penalty is required by the scriptures. This is an important aspect of justice. The penalties for crime must be those prescribed by God and not driven by a desire for revenge. For more details, see Crime and Punishment.

Judges will not generally operate on their own (Deut 19:18; 25:1). Several judges will hear serious cases to reduce the risk of the bias that one judge might bring. There is safety in numbers.

Voluntary Process

If a person has something stolen the judge would proceed as follows. He would undertake an investigation to discover the thief. He might employ an expert to assist with the investigation. In a free society, many private investigators would be available. Some would operate on the basis of only receiving payment if the thief is brought to justice. This might cost more, but the victim would be able to pay the investigator out of the restitution received.

When the thief has been identified, the victim will confront him. If he confesses and returns what has been stolen, that would probably be the end of the matter. If the thief refuses to confess, the victim will take the case to a judge.

The accused has two options. He could agree to take the case to a judge. In this case, the victim and the thief would need to agree on the judge, and they would agree to accept his decision. Both parties would want a judge who had a reputation for honesty and wisdom.

The other option for the accused would be to refuse to accept any judge. If he does not submit to the judge, he will come under suspicion and people will stop trusting him. Life would get very difficult as people in the community would be reluctant to buy things from him. Refusing to submit to a judge would probably be more expensive than making restitution.

If the accused refused to submit to a judge, the victim could still take his case to a judge. He would want to avoid any suggestion of bias, so he would choose a judge who had a reputation for being fair to thieves. He would avoid his friends or anyone who might be accused of favouring him.

The accused would present his case to the judge. To preserve his reputation for fairness, the judge would check the evidence very carefully. Even if the accused refused to appear before him, the judge would look for all evidence or alibis that might favour the accused. He would bend over backwards to be fair, as this would be the best way to maintain his reputation. A good reputation is essential for a judge who wants to continue in the business.

If the judge decides that the accused is guilty, he would specify the amount of restitution that must be paid. This would usually be for times the amount that was stolen. If the thief had submitted to the judge, he would effectively have contracted to pay the amount specified by the judge. When the restitution is complete, the judge will advise the community that the thief has paid his debt.

If the thief was dishonest, he might refuse to pay what he owed, even if he had submitted to the judge. The solution is the same, whether the accused had submitted to the judge or not. The judge would announce to the community that the thief had been convicted, but refused to pay.

The people of the community where the criminal lived should support the judge by refusing to trade with the thief until he has paid the specified restitution. His employer might take a percentage out of his wages to go towards the restitution. Other employers could refuse to employ him. If everyone refused to buy from him or supply him with goods, he would eventually have to pay restitution just to survive.

Supporting Good Judges

Submission works best when everyone acknowledges the best judges.

Anyone resisting the decision of a good judge is rebelling against what God has put in place (Rom 13:2).
The reference to judges in Romans 13:1 has no definite article, so the statement is about judges in general, not particular judges. In this verse, there is a definite article, so Paul is speaking of an actual judge. He is warning that if we refuse to accept the verdict of a good judge after submitting to them, we are rebelling against God's order. Those who rebel in this way will bring judgment on themselves.

This is a principle from the law. When a person gives false evidence to incriminate another person, the judges are to investigate, and if the witness proves to be a liar, they are to be given the sentence that the person falsely accused would have received (Deut 19:16-19). A person who attempts to pervert justice will receive the penalty they tried to inflict on the innocent person. If we refuse to submit to the decision of a judge, God will inflict judgment on us. Good judges have the backing of God. Societies that reject his law and the judges he is bringing forth will experience judgment.

The only way a guilty thief could avoid making restitution would be to escape to another country. Even that might not work, because his reputation would follow him. In most situations, it would be cheaper and easier to pay the restitution, and then get on with life.

If everyone submits to good judges, thieves can be punished without the use of force and coercion. Trade is voluntary, so people are not obliged to trade with a convicted thief. The thief would generally choose to make restitution, so he can continue to engage in trade.

Enforcing Verdicts

Under God's law, judges do not have power to enforce their verdicts. Their authority is limited to declaring a verdict and specifying just restitution. Sometimes the guilty person will be convicted by the Holy Spirit and agree to make the required restitution. More often, the family or community of the convicted person will pressure them into accepting the judge's verdict and paying the specified penalty. The local people will exert this pressure, because they want justice to prevail in their community. They will realise that in the next case, they might be the victim and want justice to be enforced in their favour. If the social pressure on the criminal is strong, the only way to avoid paying restitution might be to leave their community. However, that would also have a high cost.

Judges have a moral authority that is given to them by their community. This moral authority is given in two ways. It comes when parties to a dispute submit a case to a judge. It is multiplied when the local community honours the judge by pressuring the parties to the dispute to accept the verdict.

Reasonable actions by members of a local community to enforce a judicial verdict will be immune from prosecution. For example, a neighbour or employer who assists with the return of stolen goods would not be charged with theft, even though they have taken something that does not belong to them. A wise judge would not consider a charge of theft against a person seizing stolen goods from a thief, because they would risk losing their reputation for wisdom, if they undermined justice by supporting the thief.

Sometimes leaders of the community might enforce the restitution. If a group of elders and their friends arrived at the door of the thief's house, the thief would be hard-pressed not to make restitution. If they refused the leader's requests, they would be ostracised by the rest of the community until they did pay what was owed. If they wanted to continue participating in their community, they would have no choice but to give in and pay restitution.

For more detail on this topic, see Voluntary Justice.

Busy judges might employ people to assist with enforcing their decisions. These people would need to be wise and sensible and have a high level of respect in their community. They have had experience at getting repayment of debts without using force. If this person became careless and got into trouble, the judge would stop using them, and find another person who is more sensible and careful.

The authority of a judge is similar to that of an elder in a church. They both have authority while people choose to submit to them. If people who have submitted to an elder or a judge lose confidence in their wisdom, they can walk away. Once they walk, the judge or elder are powerless to do anything, so their authority is gone.

Supporting Judges Decisions

The biblical system only works if the entire society supports the judge's decision. Submission means supporting the decisions of good judges. We can strengthen the authority of excellent judges byhelping them to implement decisions. For example, a good judge will sentence a convicted thief to pay restitution, but he will not be able to use physical force to obtain the restitution payment.

However, if the rest of society refuses to deal with the thief until his restitution is complete, he would have no choice but to comply with the judge's decision. Good judges will get their decision supported, because other members of society help implement them. This also works to keep the judges honest. If they start making unjust decisions, people will withdraw their support, and they will lose their reputation.

Submission to excellent judges means less skilled judges admitting their mistakes and correcting them when a more skilled judge points out an error in a decision. As the system of judges develops, some of the better judges will specialise in hearing appeals. Often several judges may hear the appeal together.

Submission means accepting the verdict of the judge, even if it goes against us. In most cases, only one party can win, so when two parties to a dispute submit to a judge, they must agree that they will be bound by the judge's decision. They might agree to the options of appeal before submitting to the judge. For example, they might agree to accept an appeal to a group of judges on issues of law rather than fact. If there are no grounds for appeal, submission means accepting the decision of a judge, even if it goes in favour of the other party.


Only God has perfect knowledge, so only his judgments are always true.

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments (Rev 19:1-2).

Human judges aim for the truth, but their judgements will sometimes fall short. The best protection against judges missing the truth is a strong appeal process.

An important aspect of voluntary justice is that either party to a decision made by a local judge is free to appeal their case to another judge, if they think the decision is unfair. An appeal would normally be taken by the loser of a case. The winner of a case will often agree to an appeal, if the judge has been unable to make a decision that is obviously correct. If the winner is confident that their case is just, they would be willing to go to appeal in order to put it beyond the shadow of doubt.

An appeal would need to have reasonable grounds to get consideration by a good judge. If the decision was obviously correct, no wise judge would be willing to hear an appeal. The best judges would want to protect their reputation, so they would avoid frivolous cases. This would prevent people from shopping around to find a judge who would give them the decision they wanted.

The appeal process will expose unwise judges. If people do not like the decision that a judge has made, they will appeal to another judge to hear their case. If a judge is constantly having decisions overturned by another judge, people will stop going to them and they will cease to be a judge.

Appeal Judges

The initial appeal would be to another judge in the same town. The advantage of multiple judges is that there would be other judges who could re-hear the case. For serious issues, an appeal could be made to a judge in a larger city who might be experienced at dealing with this type of case.

If any case arises requiring a decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose. (Deut 17:8).

Good judges would not make decisions that undermined justice, because this would damage their reputation. People who may have experienced injustice would be able to appeal to wise judges. People who are just unwilling to submit to justice would not get their cases heard.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul affirms this system of government by excellent judges applying God's law. He supported this system by urging all people to freely submit to excellent judges.

Submission to excellent judges means less skilled judges admitting their mistakes and correcting them when a more skilled judge points out an error in a decision. As the system of judges develops, some of the better judges will specialise in hearing appeals. Often several judges may hear the appeal together.

Some judges might specialise in particular aspects. A local judge might never get to deal with a complicated insurance case. Judges who understand a particular aspect of law might begin to specialise in that area.

After Moses received the law, he acted as judge for all the people. Once he understood his mistake, he released local judges to be judges.

They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. (Exodus 18:25-27).

The local judges decided all the cases that were brought before them. However, the harder cases were appealed up to Moses. These appeals had an educative effect. By watching his decisions, the judges would learn how to decide cases in the future.

Moses was able to act as the highest court of appeal, because God had given the law through him, so he understood it best. No one was appointed to that role after he died. What would happen is that some judges would get a reputation for understanding the law and making wise decisions. People wanting justice will start appealing their cases to the best judges. Appeal judges would be raised up by their reputation for good decisions.

Financial Support

Being a judge will usually be a part-time role. Most local communities will not have enough cases to occupy a full-time judge. Most will earn their living by pursuing another career.

If a case is complicated and involves a lot of work for the judge, litigants might be requested to pay costs. The person bringing the case would have a responsibility to cover the costs of the judges. One reason for fourfold restitution is to provide enough compensation to cover the judge’s expenses. The biblical principle that a workman is worthy of his wages would apply (1 Tim 5:18).

Judges hearing many appeals might need payment for their work. The people of a community might pay a wise person a retainer, so that a trusted judge is available to hear cases when they arise. This would give the judge time to study God’s law and keep up-to-date with decisions being made by other judges, but all contributions to the retainer must be voluntary.

Everyone living in a community benefits from good justice, so they owe a debt to the judges who provide it. God’s people must decide what they owe good judges for maintaining a peaceful society, and settle the debt owed. Being paid a retainer does not give a judge any authority. People would not have to submit their cases to the judge their community supports They would be free to go to another judge, if they chose.

God's people who want everyone to have access to good judges might provide financial support to the best judges, so that they can handle more cases. This is not a justification for general taxation by governments. Donations should only be made to the judges who are busy hearing many cases, and especially those dealing with many appeals. They will be excellent judges who are applying God's law to disputes between people. We want them to be available for this task, so that sin is restrained and society remains peaceful and harmonious. Voluntary payments to the best judges would enable themwork full time at their work. People supporting judges should be careful to do it in a way that does not influence the outcome of the cases that the judges are hearing.

Judges with a widespread reputation might develop a business acting as an arbitrator for commercial disputes. A voluntary process for resolving disputes between businesses in different regions and nations will be important for trade.

Tough Cases

For tough cases, an appeal judge might invite other widely respected judges to hear the case with him. This will improve the quality of his decision and strengthen the sense of justice. A case decided by several wise judges would be more likely to be accepted.

For really difficult cases, judges might call in people with spiritual discernment or prophetic insight.

If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge-whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the LORD your God will choose. Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them, and they will give you the verdict (Deut 17:8,9).
Following the work of the cross, there are no priests or Levites as such, but every society should have men and women of God with the "gift of discernment" or "wisdom of God to administer justice" who can assist judges with good advice.

God is our final judge. Any mistakes that are made by human judges on earth will eventually be corrected when we stand before the perfect judge at the end of the age. This is the ultimate court of appeal. All mistakes will be corrected by this supreme court.

Prophets and Judges

The prophets will have a role in exposing decisions that are unjust. Micah challenged the judges of Jerusalem for accepting bribes.

Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money (Mic 3:11).

Jeremiah warned the judges against decisions that protect evil people and resist justice.

How can you say, "We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD," when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?

From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD (Jer 8:8-12).

Multiple Witnesses

A key principle in God's law is that a person can only be convicted of a crime on the evidence of at least two independent witnesses.

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offence he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).

This prevents one person from making false charges against another. There must be another person to corroborate their evidence. For serious crimes, there must be at least three witnesses. A person can only be convicted if there is strong evidence from three people who actually witnessed the crime. Hearsay is not sufficient. The requirement for two or three witnesses imposes a high standard for convicting a person of a crime.

An additional principle is that the witnesses must not have committed the crime with which they are charging the accused. This is what happened to the "woman taken in adultery". The men accusing her turned and walked away because they knew they were guilty of the same sin (John 8:3-11). I suspect that any group of men would find it hard to enter a house to catch a woman in the act of adultery and then make her stand naked in front of them without falling into lust along the way. Lust was the same as adultery according to Jesus' moral standard (Matt 5:28). However, lust is not a crime because it is hidden from witnesses in the human mind, but it is sufficient to disqualify a witness to adultery.

Private Crime

The requirement for several witnesses will drive most relationship sins underground. Convicting a person of a crime committed in private will be almost impossible, as there will be no independent witnesses. Most of the people present when a crime is committed in private will have been participating in the crime, so they are not allowable witnesses.

Unless a crime is committed in public, it is unlikely that there will be three independent witnesses required for a conviction. Most people who choose to commit a sin like adultery will also make sure they only act in private, so there are no witnesses to testify against them. If they are wise and keep these aspects of their lives private, judges will not be able to touch them. This law will be to push illegal sexual activity out of public view into private places where it belongs. The rest of the society will be shielded from it.

Protecting the Innocent

The requirement for multiple witnesses will ensure that only the guilty are convicted. God's law gives priority to ensuring that innocent people are not convicted. The price of this principle is that criminals will sometimes "get away" with their crimes. This is not a problem for Christians, as we know that their escape from justice will only be temporary. They will have to face the perfect judge at the final judgment, where God has a record of every crime that they have ever committed.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:10).

Justice is sure and certain. Criminals, who escape the punishment of judges in this age, because there are no independent witnesses to their crime, will receive perfect justice when they stand before God.

Negative Law

Judges have no authority until a crime happens if laws are phrased negatively.

You shall not steal.
This negative wording is very important. This law has no implication for the behaviour of anyone who does not steal. This law has a penalty, but it only applies to those who steal. Judges can only apply this law to those who steal. People who do not steal are free to do what they like with their money. This gives us great freedom. We can avoid the authority of judges by not stealing. A negative law has no relevance for those who do not break it.

A positively stated law gives judges much greater power and greatly reduces freedom. Consider a positively stated law.

You must give all your spare money to the poor.
This law would give judges the right to monitor and challenge every financial transaction. Judges would have authority to check on every person who spends money. This would be an extremely dangerous power and we would lose much freedom. Freedom is strengthened when laws are expressed negatively. Positively expressed laws make judges a terror to everyone.

Biblical law does not give judges responsibility for forcing people to lead virtuous lives. The law cannot change human nature, so it cannot eliminate sin. The only solution to sin is being born again by the Holy Spirit in response to the gospel of Jesus. Under biblical law, judges can only restrain sin by punishing crimes; they must not attempt to make people good.

On the other hand, those who intend to do evil should fear good judges, because God has given them authority to make those who rob and assault pay restitution to those they harmed. When laws are framed negatively, evil people do need to fear the authority of the judge. The law is targeted directly at them.

Last Resort

As the Kingdom of God expands, the need for judges should diminish. When Christians have disputes with unbelievers, they will mostly "turn the other cheek" or settle before they get to court.

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well (Matt 5:39,40).

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison (Matt 5:25).

Christians should only use judges as a last resort after all other possibilities for reconciliation are exhausted. Going to court is a failure of love.

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers (1 Cor 6:7-8).

As more and more people become Christians, the role of judges will diminish. If every member of a society is a Christian, judges would be redundant.

The role of judges is described more fully in the book called Government of God.