Dr. Jonathan Burnside has been writing a follow-up to his book God, Justice and Society: Aspects of Law and Legality in the Bible, which has received outstanding reviews internationally. In a recent book review, David M. VanDrunen, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Theological Seminary, California calls it "the best book of any sort that I have read for a while." Jonathan says: "Biblical law is one of the most remarkable bodies of law the world has ever seen, both in terms of its endurance and cultural significance. Yet despite this, it's a subject that's not very well understood. Maybe that's why it's one of those areas of law where perceptions are key. Even if you don't know very much about biblical law, you'll have an opinion about it." Part of his research is to help scholars, policy makers and interested readers get a better grip on how biblical law 'works.'
Jonathan is presently writing a follow-up book, provisionally called The Spirit of Biblical Law. He wrote part of the book whilst T. C. Beirne Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the School of Law, University of Queensland and as Sir Harry Gibbs Visiting Fellow in Law at Emmanuel College, University of Queensland. Australia gave him the chance to work closely not only with fellow academic lawyers, but also with theologians at Queensland Theological College. It was a valuable and unique combination, as he explains: "I think the task of exploring biblical law is too important to be left to lawyers – but it's also too important to be left to theologians! Because the better we understand law, the better we understand biblical law. That's not always how biblical law has traditionally been understood but it is, I think, part of how it needs to be understood, and the study of law helps us to do that."
God, Justice and Society argues that we should see biblical law as an integration of different instructional genres of the Bible. In doing so, it claims we are better placed to appreciate the substantive and presentational differences between biblical law and modern legal concepts and legal assumptions. It explores a series of issues including the relationship between biblical and natural law, the incompleteness of biblical law, its similarities and differences to ancient near eastern legal collections and, most importantly, the interconnections between biblical law and wisdom. These in turn are related to detailed studies of different aspects of biblical law, including the environment, economics, land, social welfare, vengeance, theft, sex and marriage. Throughout, the book sheds light on the relationship between law and narrative.
The Spirit of Biblical Law develops the relationship between law, narrative and wisdom further, by exploring how biblical law constitutes identity. The book undercuts popular stereotypes about biblical law being about 'rules', which are imposed in an authoritative way, from 'on high.' Burnside argues that biblical law is not simply an icon of revealed law: it's also an icon of concealed law. This is part of what it means to imagine biblical law as belonging, ultimately, to the category of wisdom because the process of getting wisdom is essentially one of relationship, encounter, and discovery. The book also addresses problems around the purpose of punishment in biblical law, especially capital punishment, and the relationship between law and spirit in the New Testament.
Since the publication of his last book, in 2010, Jonathan has given a number of different talks to audiences of judges, lawyers and theologians, as well as public lectures in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. "The overall reception to God, Justice and Society shows, I think, the value of a conversation between biblical law and modern law. And when we engage in that, we find that two things happen: that biblical law becomes less strange and modern law becomes less familiar. We find there is more in biblical law than we first realised, and there are aspects of modern law we see in a different light."
Dr. Burnside is happy to supervise research students on subjects relating to biblical law, criminal law and criminal justice.
My Brother’s Keeper: Faith-Based Units In Prisons (Willan, 2005)
The Signs of Sin: Seriousness of offence in Biblical Law (Continuum, 2003)
Relational Justice: Repairing the Breach (1994, Waterside Press).
The above publications are all supported by a companion website. The University of Bristol is not responsible for external sites.