A Christian View of Social Justice

Social Justice is a word we hear often. From discussions with our neighbors at our local coffee house, to the nightly news, to the political arena, social justice seems to be a common topic of discussion and debate. But what is meant by the term social justice? Is it biblical? Should Christians participate in acts of social justice?

Two Predominate Views of Social Justice

(1) Unconstrained view – This view is based on everyone getting their fair share. As we are all aware, every society has a finite amount of resources to go around. This view holds that everyone should have their fair share of those resources. It is unjust to allow some to hold onto a greater portion of those resources. We should, then, do all we can to see that those resources are shared equally.

(2) Constrained view – This view is based on the fair treatment of all peoples, and it is not concerned with everyone having their fair share of the total resources in a given society. In this view, it’s not unjust for people to hold onto wealth. People are entitled to what they have earned. Instead of putting energy into the redistribution of wealth, we should put our energy into seeing that everyone is treated fairly.

Which View is Biblical?

Let’s look at a few verses on social justice from the Bible:

  • Exodus 21:1-11 provides laws regarding the fair treatment of slaves.
  • In Deuteronomy 15:1-18, especially 7-11 and 13-15, rules are given concerning meeting the needs of the poor.
  • Psalms 72:12-15 and Psalm 103:6-7 tells of God redeeming the oppressed and persecuted from their oppressors, working righteousness and justice for them.
  • Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to judge righteously and to defend the rights of the poor and needy.

By far these are not all the verses in the Bible on social justice, but they give us an idea of which view the Bible is upholding. I believe that is the second view, the Constrained View.

God’s Word does not command us to redistribute our wealth to neighbors, so that we all have equal access to the total resources of the society in which they live. Differing classes and a distribution of wealth does not constitute injustice [1].

A biblical view of Social Justice holds that we are not to show partiality, not to steal, not to swindle others, not to take advantage of the weak because they are uninformed or unable to stop us. 

Rather than saying we need to redistribute our resources, so that we are all on equal footing, the Bible tells us that we are to care for the oppressed and seek to stop others from oppressing them. We are to speak up for those who are being persecuted. We are to work for laws that stand for the fair treatment of all peoples regardless of race or nationality.

Christians are to Work for Social Justice

If we believe part of God’s mission is to redeem the oppressed and persecuted, to make sure the poor are cared for and the helpless are not taken advantage, and if we believe we are a part of that mission, then we are to do the same. Christians are to work for social justice in their cities.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you agree that the constrained view represents the biblical view of social justice?
  2. How does your church care for the needy, oppressed, and persecuted?


Gilbert and DeYoung, What is the Mission of the Church?, 176, 180-183.

[1] I do not believe the churches actions in Acts are meant to be prescriptive. Rather, I see their actions as being descriptive of what took place in that city.


12 thoughts on “A Christian View of Social Justice

  1. Well said. I think it’s unfortunate that the phrase “social justice” is almost always equated with the unconstrained view, at least in American political discourse.

    1. Matt,
      Thank you for your comment. I agree with you completely. Reading about the difference in the two views in DeYoung and Gilbert’s book The Mission of the Church, was helpful to me.


        1. Ok, yeah. Sorry I just did not follow from the last comment. I think that some do push for equality of outcome. When they do that, they are pushing more of a Socialist agenda, which is something I don’t see in the Bible. So, yeah, you make a good point. Thanks again for reading and commenting.



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  5. Both views are inadequate, but I lean more to the second view (Constrained). Social justice does not mean giving others what is “fair” but what is “just” (Micah 6:8). Not even God is fair in his dealings (e.g. Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated). Fairness is not compatible with grace (favor). Noah found grace in the sight of God, but what happened to the rest?

    God is just, no matter how you slice it. The land-owner in the Gospel that paid the same wage to the worker who worked only one hour as the fellow that worked all day is not fair, but he is just. You are right, equal distribution of wealth is not biblical; it might be fair but not just.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply and revealing where you land.

      I have been thinking about your statement below for the past day.You say,

      “Not even God is fair in his dealings (e.g. Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated). Fairness is not compatible with grace (favor). Noah found grace in the sight of God, but what happened to the rest?”

      How are you defining justice and fairness?

      My Working Definition

      The definition of justice I am using in this post includes the idea of fairness. In other words, justice occurs when people are given their due whether punishment, protection, or care. As well as justice occurs when we conduct our relationships with fairness, equity, and generosity.

      Dictionary Definition

      Looking the definition up in the dictionary you also see that fairness and justice are inseparable linked.

      1.the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness:
      to uphold the justice of a cause.
      2.rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason:
      to complain with justice.
      3.the moral principle determining just conduct.
      4.conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.
      5.the administering of deserved punishment or reward.
      6.the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings:
      a court of justice.
      7.judgment of persons or causes by judicial process:
      to administer justice in a community.

      10.bring to justice, to cause to come before a court for trial or to receive punishment for one’s misdeeds:
      The murderer was brought to justice.
      11.do justice,
      to act or treat justly or fairly.
      to appreciate properly:
      We must see this play again to do it justice.
      to acquit in accordance with one’s abilities or potentialities:
      He finally got a role in which he could do himself justice as an actor.

      1. John Davidson

        Thank you for your feedback. Biblical justice and social justice are polar opposites.

        There is no clear and right definition of justice that excludes God. So to grasp justice, we must go to God’s Word.

        Biblical justice is the impartial application of God’s moral law within all realms of society including economic, political, social or criminal justice

        Deuteronomy 32:4
        James 4:12
        Psalm 19:7-9
        Deuteronomy 1:17

        This is a good article.

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