From time to time ethical questions arise in our lives concerning issues about which the Word of God reveals no absolute, positive divine law either requiring or forbidding our participation. In such cases however, we are not left stranded upon the rock of what someone else thinks. For the Bible teaches us in other ways besides commands, examples, and necessary inferences. These tests of truth regulate matters of positive law. In His transcendent omniscience God provided, in his revealed will, rules by which His people can ascertain the truth relative to any question that might arise in the mind of man throughout the course of human history. Principles are laws also, but they are a different kind of rule from a positive divine law. Positive divine law requires or prohibits a certain action. Whereas principles are laws which are broader in their application. One principle might govern an infinite variety of situations in life.
By way of example, consider Mark 16:16. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” This is a positive divine law which promises salvation only to those who believe and are baptized. Notice that obedience to this kind of law is very narrowly circumscribed. Equally, I Corinthians 6:18 contains a positive divine law which prohibits certain action. It says, ‘Flee fornication.’ It is also a narrow concept forbidding any illicit sexual activity.
By contrast Romans 12 contains numerous broad, general principles which regulate, not certain specific actions only, but an infinite host of situations. For example verse 14 says, “Bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not.” Countless situations might arise which should be governed by this principle.
About this time you might be wondering what on earth all of this has to do with whether or not a Christian should serve on a jury? Just this – some might reason that since nothing is specifically stated in the Word of God that addresses this issue, then Christians should be free to decide for themselves whether or not they should serve if subpoenaed. However, it is incorrect to assume that the Bible has nothing to say about this matter simply because jury service per se is not mentioned in the New Testament. The fact is that the Word of God has a considerable amount to say and all of it must be weighed carefully. The New Testament teaches us the truth on this matter via several important principles.
Not only so, but it is also a matter of considerable moment because several states have begun subpoenaing potential jurors through random shuffling of driver’s license numbers rather than taking them from registered voter rolls. Consequently a larger number of Christians are being affected. Many are wondering just how they should proceed.
Most Christians readily acknowledge their reticence to sit in judgment on a capital case because they recognize the terrible finality of sending a fellow human being to meet his Maker in eternity. Clearly, the New Testament proscribes Christians killing or assisting others to do so (Mt 5:21,22; Gal 5:19-21; James 2:8-13; 4:1-4). Yet they are plagued by other questions in lesser cases.
Does the Christian’s obligation to be a good citizen demand that he serve on non-capital cases (Rom 13:1, 2, 5; I Pet 2:13-17)? How about the principle Peter revealed when he taught that when civil law conflicts with God’s law that God’s law must always take precedence (Acts 5:29)? Does this principle regulate a Christian’s action relative to jury service? All of these questions and more are worthy of consideration. However, the issue turns on the principles elucidated in chapters 12 and 13 of Romans.
Most of the time the chapter and verse divisions which we use are extremely helpful in pinpointing a reference. However, there are more places than one where both of these divisions are detrimental to understanding. One of those unhappy locations is between Romans 12:21 and 13:1. The chapters should be divided either at 12:8 or 13:7. At any rate, Romans 12:9-13:7 should be considered together. They should not be broken into two groups or verses.
In Romans 12:17-21 Paul says, Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Christians are clearly forbidden from avenging themselves. W.E. Vine says “The word avenge is a compound word meaning that which proceeds from justice. It is used to mean to vindicate a person’s right or to avenge a thing. With the first meaning it is used in the parable of the unjust judge of the vindication of the rights of the widow (Lk 18:3,5). With the second meaning it is used in Revelation 6:10 and 19:2 of the act of God in avenging the blood of the saints. In II Corinthians 10:6 it is used of the Apostle’s readiness to use his apostolic authority in punishing disobedience on the part of his readers.
This same word in its noun form is used in Romans 13:4 of the civil authority as a punisher in the discharge of his function of executing wrath on the evildoer. In another noun form it is used of the vengeance that belongs to God. In II Thessalonians 1:8 it is said of the act of Divine justice which will be meted out to those who know not God and obey not the Gospel, when the Lord comes in flaming fire at His Second Advent. In the Divine exercise of judgment there is no element of vindictiveness, nothing by way of taking revenge. In I Peter 2:14 it is used of civil governors as those who are sent of God for vengeance or punishment of evildoers.
In Romans 12:19 Christians are told not to avenge themselves because vengeance belongs to God and who will mete it out. When we read this casually we think immediately of the final judgment at the last day. And it is true that God will mete out justice and punishment at that time. However, God also renders vengeance against evil doers through the civil powers (Romans 13:4).
Read the first seven verses of Romans 13. Clearly the civil ruler is declared to be God’s agent in metering out judgment to evildoers. If in Romans 12:19 Christians are forbidden to take vengeance because it is God who shall mete it out and if one way God metes it out is through civil authorities, then how could the Christian participate in the civil process of venging or punishing evil doers? It seems obvious that in fact they cannot. If Christians cannot participate in the civil power’s function of punishing evil doers, then how could they possibly sit in judgment of accused evildoers in a jury? It doesn’t seem to me that there is much difference in serving on a jury and being a medic in the military.
The major engine driving the power of civil authority is carnal force. Romans 13:4 plainly says, “He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Yet Christians are just as clearly forbidden to use carnal force. Ephesians 6:12says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
If this principle prohibits the Christian from serving in the military in any capacity, and it does, then it also prohibits him from serving in the fiduciary in any capacity that is directly involved in the punishment of evildoers. The same principle which would proscribe a child of God from functioning as an agent of the Executive to punish evildoers would enjoin him from serving on a jury whose function was to punish evildoers.
Finally, consider I Corinthians 5:13, 13: “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth.”
Care must be exercised in the application of this verse for the subject under consideration is church discipline. Still it appears that verses 12a and 13a would preclude a Christian sitting in judgment on a jury of the civil government. God will judge those outside the church. Christians do not judge men outside the church. Romans 13:1-7says God judges those without through the civil power. Again the principle seems to convey the idea that Christians should steer clear of such an involvement. I wonder if Paul’s statement in verses 12 an 13 is what draws his mind to the Corinthian’s questions about taking brethren to law, which is what he takes up in chapter six.
From these passages it becomes clear that Christians should make every effort to avoid serving on a jury and aiding the civil power in the punishment of evildoers. We should begin now to make our conscientious objections known before we become vulnerable by default. Faithful and courageous brethren at great sacrifice paved the way for us in the matter of conscientious objection to military service. We need men just as dedicated to arise in this matter and begin to respectfully appeal to the powers that be.
This was published in the January 1, 1992 issue of the Old Paths Advocate.