When disputes arise between people, it is necessary to have an independent person, a judge, who is competent to decide the matter. In the early days of Israel’s national life, Moses judged all legal disputes, but when this work became too much for one person, he appointed officials to help him (Exod 18:17-26). These were men chosen from the elders of the people, and as the administration of Israel developed they became a clearly recognized official body in the nation (Num 11:14-17; Deut 16:18; 21:2; Josh 8:33). (Concerning the national deliverers whom the book of Judges refers to as judges see JUDGES, BOOK OF.) In their administration of justice, judges were to be strictly impartial, favouring neither the poor nor the rich (Exod 23:2-3,6; Deut 1:16-17; see JUSTICE). Under no circumstances were they to accept bribes (Deut 16:19-20). When cases were too difficult for them, they were to take them to the priests to decide (Deut 17:8-9; 2 Chron 19:8-11).

Despite these laws, in later times Israel’s administration became so corrupt that judges and priests favoured anyone who paid them well (Amos 2:6-7; 5:12; Micah 3:11; Zeph 3:3). They became so biased that they refused a fair hearing to anyone whom they did not like (Mark 14:55-56; John 7:51). Disputes may sometimes arise in the church, but Christians should not take fellow believers before civil judges to settle their disagreements. Such matters should be settled by spiritual people within the fellowship. Christians should be prepared to suffer wrong rather than force their rights to the extent of creating lawsuits with other believers (1 Cor 6:1-7). Christians must be prepared to forgive, and this forgiveness must extend to opponents who are openly anti-Christian (Matt 5:10-11,38-42). Cases may arise, however, where Christians feel they should demand their legal rights in order to clear Christianity of false accusations (Acts 16:36-39; 22:25; 25:10-11). (See also JUDGMENT.)

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