Some politicians are fond of saying that American laws should be based on the laws of God as taught in the Bible. The Bible certainly contains moral principles that can properly be reflected in our civil laws, such as commands not to accept bribes and not to lie to a court. The teachings of Jesus, such as loving your neighbor as yourself, certainly contain important lessons for living. But the Bible also contains many commandments and teachings that no modern society would even consider using as the basis for its laws or teachings. Here are some of the consequences of basing our laws on the literal teachings of the Bible.
Men could divorce their wives only for “sexual immorality.” Matthew 19:9. Women could not divorce their husbands for any reason (Mark 10:12), but could have an unfaithful husband executed (Leviticus 20:10).
To resolve charges of marital infidelity when there is no evidence one way or the other, a Biblically-mandated procedure described in Numbers 5:11-31 would be developed.
Wives accused of adultery would drink a liquid capable of inducing great physical harm and/or miscarriage. If the accused wife is not harmed by the concoction, she would be declared innocent. If she suffers bodily harm or a miscarriage, she would be deemed guilty of adultery and then executed. Leviticus 20:10. Since the required method would deprive the accused of a jury trial, the Sixth Amendment would have to be repealed.
Parents would be required to kill their children personally for turning away from God. Deuteronomy 13:6-10. Since the killing must be accomplished by stoning, we would have to repeal the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments.
Public execution by stoning would be required for “stubborn and rebellious” children. Deuteronomy 21:18-21.
Women not screaming for help while being raped would be executed. Deuteronomy 22:23-24. But the penalty would not be imposed if the rape occurred in the country, where no one could hear the screams. Deuteronomy 22:25-26.
If a man seduces a virgin and pays her father, she would have to become his wife. Exodus 22:16.
Causing the death of a fetus would be punishable only by a fine payable to the father. Exodus 21:22. We would have to repeal other penalties for late-term abortions.
Schools would teach that God created humans before plants had appeared on the earth (Genesis 2:4-7) and then created them again three days after plants had appeared. (Genesis 1:11-13, 27). Students could also be taught that the redundant effort explains why God needed a rest when he was done. Genesis 2:2.
Creating hybrids by field pollination and mating animals would be banned. Leviticus 19:19. There would be no restrictions on creation of hybrids by genetic modification.
All debts, no matter the amount, would be forgiven after seven years. Deuteronomy 15:1.
Interest would not be allowed except on loans to a “foreigner.” Deuteronomy 23:19-20. Whether aliens in the country legally could be charged interest is not clear.
Workers would have to be paid at the end of every day, presumably in cash. Leviticus 19:13.
People claiming that our laws should be based on the Bible obviously don’t advocate these changes. Using a variety of arguments, they claim that these teachings have been superseded by the demands of modern society or are being taken out of context. But that is precisely the point. We necessarily base our laws on our own evolving sense of right and wrong and not on the specific teachings of the Bible. That is why we don’t stone our children or use ordeals to ferret out adultery even though the Bible commands us to do just that.
Donald E. Knebel is a partner in Barnes & Thornburg LLP, resident in the Indianapolis, Indiana office. He is a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Law Department. Mr. Knebel serves as adjunct professor and senior advisor to the Center for Intellectual Property Research at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. He frequently posts his observations here at Civic Blog. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Barnes & Thornburg LLP or the IU Maurer School of Law.