Are Christians not to seek earthly justice?


Salvete, omnes!

I have been focusing here lately on a late of difficult issues that can be found in ! Corinthians 6:1 ff. (see my other recent posts) Here is yet another:

Are Christians permitted to seek earthly justice for wrongs done to them? It would seem that ffrom this passage (and others), they should never do so. Indeed in 1 Corinthians 6:7, Paul seems to be saying that Christians should rather be done wrong than go to court against each other.

However, one might argue (and is this a valid argument?) that Paul actually here means that Christians should better be the ones having wrong done to them (from the “outside”, from non-Christians) than the ones doing wrong to one another. Indeed, the very following verse, he seems to say as much.

But, again, I ask: DO Christians have the right to seek justice, legal or otherwise, against men, Christian or not, who would do them wrong? Or, rather, should they go (at least in this life) unpunished until God can deal with them? After all, when the disciples want to have fire thrown upon a city for not welcoming them, Christ, as I recall, says to leave room for the wrath of God. We seem in the Scriptures multiple times not to resist evil (and to overcome evil with good). I think also in one of Paul’s (other?) letters, Paul basically advises Christians not to resist evil but to suffer it.

So, apparently, we are not to seek justice in any way for wrongs done to us? Are we not eve to seek justice for wrongs done to others, since they, too, should endure them and not resist evil? After all, if we seek justice for them, then we are enabling their resistance of evil? Are we then even to protest for wrongs done against us and others since, again, we are implying that we should not experience them and, in a sense, resisting evil instead simply of enduring it?

Have we not the right not to suffer in this life? Has we not the obligation to seek earthly justice for others who would do wrong? Indeed, Paul himself states in anotehr passage that civil authorities are there to punish evil and reward good; he says nothing at all against this in this passage. Indeed, does not the mere presence of the Mosaic Law suggest that God is fine with just punishment for sin in this life? Or, though, I suppose we could interpret the Law, as we so often do, as simply symbolic for what is to happen to us in the afterlife? Would this be valid theologically, or no?

Are Christians permitted to seek justice for wrongs either done to them or done to others? Legally? Non-legally? At any time? In any circumstance? I would very much appreciate some help understanding all this.



If Christians were not allowed to seek justice do you think we would have been following this practice for the past 2000 years? Do you think there are things that Christians should be doing that somehow escaped our notice for 2000 years?


A lot of this has to do with our inner motivations. Moral theology looks at the means, the ends, and the motivation. These three aspects need to be in alignment - as close to good, right, and true as possible.

People who are abused are NOT morally required to continue to allow themselves to be abused. We are all children of God - his beloved sons and daughters with dignity and purpose in life. We are NOT called to be doormats for anyone.

Going to court meant different things in the time period in history when the sacred scriptures were written than what they could mean to us today. You must always interpret scripture with an eye for critical historical analysis. Catholics are called to NOT take scripture out of its historical context and apply it to our lives today in a way that means something different than what the biblical author intended.

In making moral decisions we must look closely at our motivations. Are we seeking to be vindictive, or are we simply standing up for what is just? Catholics are called to stand up for what is good, right and true. It is a sin of omission to bury our heads in the sand and avoid acting with justice.

In addition to the motivation, the means we go about bringing justice and the end result of our choices also need to be good and in line with God’s will. This takes discernment. May God grant you the discernment to know what is good, right, and true. God Bless.


I’ve wondered this myself many times and I’m still just as confused as when I started. Maybe you should ask this of an apologist.


19 questions.
My head hurts.



OP, you should find a Priest and ask him to direct you to a Bible Study group. You will be able to go over the Bible with other Catholics and learn how they are interpreted by the Church.



Much of the Scriptures needs to be read in the context of the culture and history at the time.
Find a good Catholic Bible study and GO!


Catechism of the Catholic Church #1807
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor….Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man….is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct towards his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor, or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Lev19:15). “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1).

In the specific context of 1 Cor. 6:1, Paul is talking about immorality within the Corinthian Church community specifically immorality, greed, idolatry, reviling, drunkards, and robbers (1 Cor. 5:11). Instead of addressing these issues within the Church as commanded by Jesus (Matt. 18:15-17), they were going to civil authorities, which in the cases listed probably would have only had a problem with robbery. We see similar things today, where the civil courts have no problems with immorality, but will divide up belongings or property from divorces or other situations or will permit immoral behavior as a “justice” like abortion, euthanasia, etc.

It is hard to determine exactly what St. Paul is referring to in 1 Cor. 6:7 regarding “how or what” is the wrongdoing that it would be better to suffer than to have a lawsuit. But it also seems that he is more concerned that it is the Christians themselves who are committing the wrongdoing (verses 7-8). He then lists again various immoral behaviors (verse 10).

Although it is not explicitly referred to in these texts, I believe there is an implicit reference that they were going to the courts with a sense of vengeance or greed either to “get even” or to “get what I can from this person”. This is a major motivation for people today; I don’t think it would be any different back then. This seems to be why Paul says it is better to suffer the wrongdoing, rather than to make themselves sin by seeking vengeance (Romans 12:19, Lev 19:18), or to seek a greater restitution out of greed or personal gain. Something like “One man’s sin, becomes my winning lottery ticket”. See also Isaiah 59:4 regarding unjust lawsuits.

As you pointed out, Paul also states that civil authorities are there to reward good and punish evil. He even appealed to the civil judgment in his own trial for the sake of justice (Acts 25:10-11). Therefore as Christians we can seek legal justice, with the proper motivation for seeking that justice, because justice is giving to each his due regardless of whether they are Christian or not. We can also seek it Non-legally within the framework of the law (no lynch mobs, stealing something as restitution, etc). At any time or under any circumstance? That depends. You wouldn’t accuse someone of stealing your lunch money 20 years later.

A person asking honest questions has a right to honest answers in justice, and these Forums are a good way to get multiple viewpoints and should not be discouraged from seeking Truth.


Thanks to all who have thus far replied.

I especially appreciate the kind words of the last commenter who respects my right to have my honest questions answered honestly and who does not question my motives after I have indicated time and time again my sincerity in a well-reasoned way. I have been harassed multiple times by multiple individuals here simply for asking tough questions, so, again, what you say is most appreciated and it would be great to hear it from more people here.

That said, I’m still trying to understand the early Christians’ notion of seeking justice from the civil (“secular”, moreso then!) authorities, when they could, when they couldn’t. A few of you mentioned historical context. Could someone please tell me what exactly makes today’s context so different from Paul’s that Christians would, perhaps, have been prohibited from going to civil authorities to have their cases heard? Apparently, as someone pointed out above, we are permitted to do so today, but it seems that Paul is utterly forbidding it in our passage in question. Someone said on a similar thread that it was because pagans “thought differently” than Christians, but I argued that, while they certainly engaged 9in their fair share of sins and were likely “less moral” (in their actions) than Christians because morality was so highly emphasized/thought-of in the Christian community, they could surely apply the law of their day with just as much wisdom and many likely did. Yes, there were surely corrupt officials (we hear that even from secular sources of the day), but many, as even Paul says elsewhere, devote their lives to seeking proper justice. We also hear from Paul that even non-Christians, to whatever extent, have the moral law written within them. Being a student of classical literature, I can attest to this. These men were not, as many think, “amoral”. There was indeed, in many cases, a strong sense, for instance, of justice.

I have also thought that maybe Paul did not want Christians going before secular authorities because it would give the latter a horrible impression of the former, who were supposed to be so moral. Either that, or perhaps it would give them the impression that these Christians going to them simply did not trust the Church to mediate disputes, did not trust their judgement/morality. These arguments, I think, could be pretty strongly vouched for.

However, my problem with not being permitted to go to civil authorities, even then, was the possibility of not getting sufficient legal representation from men trained in the law. I mean, within the Church, certainly at that time, I doubt there were many trained lawyers who could adequately represent their clients, especially in a very questionable case. And then, what of penalty? Surely the Church was not permitted to meet out any civil penalty such as imprisonment or even death? Was there, then, some alternative form of a “court system” within the Church? I have heard tell of this before, but am really not sure iof it/how it worked. And, if so, why didn’t the Church maintain this? Was it because ofthe issues I just raised, regarding proper legal representation/penalty/etc.? If it existed, was this “early Church court system” a sort of experimentation (like the “all things in common”) that ultimately turned out not to be the best method after all? I mean, if I had a dispute that I thought couldn’t, for various reasons, be handled simply by non-legal-scholars within the Church, I would want to have the option to go to the civil authorities, whether in the time or Paul or today. Or, did Paul realize this but still thought the advantages of remaining in the Church for litigation outweighed the disadvantages of potentially inferior representation? I mean, I can see cases where having a good lawyer that could most adequately and best defend you, for instance, would be key, instead of relying on “amateurs” in the Church. Having a lawyer skilled in the law and even in persuasive oratory (as was so important back then) could definitely be to one’s advantage, especially when evidence was difficult/scarce.

The only problem with all this is that Paul, in an inspired text, appears to argue that Christians themselves are competent enough to judge all this, arguing that we, after all, will judge the world. He seems, then, to imply, possibly(?) that lawyers are really not even needed among Christians. However, as I said above, I see some real problems, to be quite honest, with this assertion, especially in more problematic cases. Surely Christians when they judge the world will know much more about the cases than we presently do here? Herre, that’s what, I would argue, lawyers are for. I mean, if we follow Paul’s argument, at least as I am understanding him,l we shouldn’t even need lawyers today, at least among Christians. We should be able to handle all legal matters within the Church just fine, but I jsut don’t see that. (And, please, spare me the lawyer jokes. I am asking these questions seriously and do not wish to get sidetracked. Though there may be corruption, their profession, I would argue, serves a noble purpose.)


Yes, surely Christians are competent enough to judge cases generally, as they are familiar with what is right and what is wron morally on a general level, so I would agree with Paul on this, but, I think, this is as fr as Paul’s argument can go. When it comes to more specific cases, especially if evidence is scarce and/or very complicated, or even uncertain as to its meaning, I would again argue that experts in the law would be helpful in those cases.

However, I am hesitant to fault Paul in an argument, even insofar as its extent, as, again, we are dealing with an inspired text and, so, therefore, apparently, Paul’s argument and, arguably, even its extent, cannot be considered to be in error.

So, what am I to do here? How am I to understand this?

(Sorry. Message editing time timed out.)


Here’s the problem Misty, you look for absolutes where there are none.

This is a prudential matter. Paul clearly states his preference. But, remember the three fonts of morality I keep posting about? They apply here too.

The reason this requires cultural context is because Paul is writing to a community full of squabblers. He believes it will set a bad example of Christianity for those in the community to go before a civil magistrate with their petty squabbles. He prefers they settle it internally.


Paul, having established the Corinthian community, was their religious authority-- their bishop-- and then he entrusted the community to other ordained men. These are disciplinary measures he is taking with his own flock who he believes is out of control in some aspects of their conduct. He has the authority over them to make such requests and suggestions.


If the Church taught this as a universal doctrine, you would know it.


Appreciate the help, and that makes sense.

The only issue I still have after reading this, I suppose, is Paul’s argument that Christians are always perfectly suited to deciding cases on the basis that they will eventually judge the world. (see my previous post as regards this matter)

Briefly, to sum up, as I said, while they may be competent to judge on general moral principles, if a case gets “murky” or very specific or if evidence gets confusing and convoluted or even very scarce, then I would think that the litigants would be better served by going to a specialist in the law and those, at the time, would have been outside the Church with the civil authorities. As I say, sometimes you need someone skilled in the law, in argumentation and even in rhetoric to convince a jury whether yours or the other side is correct. The person arbitrating may not have all the evidence in front of him. One or the other or both litigants may not always be the most honest about the evidence as they present it before their brother who is doing the arbitration. Or, perhaps the one doing the arbitrating may not have thought of this or that angle to a case and may, theefore, judge wrongly. Again, in these cases, I would think that specialists in the law would be best for all involved. Yet, Paul seems to suggest that simply being a Christian is enough to make one a specialist in the law. Again, I hate to question an inspired writer, and I am probably missing something. So, what, exactly, am I missing here? Is there something wrong with my understanding of Paul’s argumentation?


Misty, no one has “harassed” you and your claiming so is offensive. If someone is sending you 200 private messages a day, that’s harassment, but saying things like “buy a Bible commentary,” or “your posts are too long and you ask too many questions” is not harassment. Besides, since you’ve acknowledged elsewhere that you just ignore posts you don’t like, it seems grossly inaccurate to say you’re being “harassed.”


Paul doesn’t say that.

You are making an assumption.

But, Paul doesn’t say what you are asserting he says, so it’s moot anyway.

Yes you are missing something. Paul is using a hyperbole to illustrate his point.


Just to clarify what Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:2-3:

”Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life” (RSV).

The “saints [who] will judge the world” refers to those in heaven with Christ who will participate in His judgment as members of His body, and not to judging the world in an earthly judicial court setting. This seems to be a clear distinction by then referring to “matters of this life”. Although not technically members of His body in a Christian sense, Jesus speaks about the people of Nineveh who will rise up in judgment and condemn (Mat. 12:41-42). Paul also says that these cases are “trivial” which implies that they do not require a formal lawsuit at all. Or that they are “trivial” in the eyes of the secular courts who have few or no laws against “greed, drunkenness, idolatry, adulterers, etc” (1 Cor. 6:9).

We also know that Paul is talking about Christians having lawsuits against their fellow Christians. Paul is chastising them first for doing the evil and then not seeking reconciliation or making amends as commanded by Jesus (Mat. 5:23-24). In the ideal or perfect Christian community among themselves, even today, there would be no need for any lawsuits because they would have contrition and would want to be reconciled and make amends. But it seems in the Corinthian community many are not even trying to live a Christian life. In fact when they come together for worship it is “for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17).

It seems to me that you are mixing together secular law and religious law and reading more into the inspired text than is actually there. While secular and religious can and do overlap in many instances, there are other times that they do not. For example: secular law would not have any say in regards to the practice of baptism, circumcision, or worship. Religious law would have no say regarding traffic regulation like speed limits and a lot of other things. But they can overlap regarding murder, robbery, principles regarding social justice, etc. It is going too far to say that either the Church or the State should judge ALL cases. In your original post you mention Paul approving of civil authorities and in this passage he is commanding Church judgment. They each have their proper role and place. This was true in Biblical times and is still true today.

Originally Posted by MysticMissMisty:
Was there, then, some alternative form of a “court system” within the Church? I have heard tell of this before, but am really not sure of it/how it worked.

I don’t think there was ever anything like what you seem to be describing. In a way, the sacrament of penance (confession) is going before the “court of the Church”. Except that there is no trial, or study of evidence, or defense presented. The individual presents himself with their “crimes” and willingly accepts the judgment of penance (temporal, spiritual, or both), as restitution and for the purpose of amendment. In the early Church, many times the confessions were public confessions, but even then you were not found innocent or guilty. Instead you presented yourself as guilty and as your own accuser. Another example would be through a Church Council when defining a doctrine (like the divinity of Christ or the Trinity) when “judgment” is declared and those not accepting that are “anathematized”. Another example would be the judgment on excommunication. Possibly the tribunals for the Inquisitions were the closest to what you describe, but Church and State courts still played different roles even though they worked together.


It sounds to me that Paul is just telling them to shape up and be a christian in their behaviour toward one another. I think he is telling them to be ashamed of themselves and that they should know better especially in such small matters … picky picky picky.


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