Basic (Biblical) Human Rights

February 4, 2018 § Leave a comment

Rights handsIf you’re reading this and you’re human, you have rights. In fact, we seem to have certain inherent rights simply because we’re human. These fundamental human rights are different than civil rights, which are established by governments in something like the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. But in general, civil rights are informed by our understanding of human rights.

Regardless of religious belief, there is wide general agreement over the existence of basic human rights. Our nations’ founders argued for them on Biblical principals, asserting in the Declaration of Independence, that equally and self-evidentially, all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Not everyone shares this view of the origin and source of our rights.

Does the Bible inform us about basic human rights? The message of the Gospel begins with the revelation that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard, rightly deserving eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). It’s only by God’s mercy and grace and our humble turning to Jesus Christ in faith that we are saved—“not of yourselves lest anyone should boast.” Can we boast about rights? And what, if anything, does the Bible say about them? We won’t find a list of human rights in Scripture, but such rights can be inferred and even identified rather specifically by taking a closer look at:

1) how we are created, and
2) how we are commanded to treat our neighbor.

We can also discover that what many claim in today’s culture to be human rights are most certainly not.


“…among these are Life…” 

God’s word tells us from the beginning that all human beings are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that God breathed life into Adam and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Since God gave us life, it’s reasonable to assume that we have a right to live it.


God also gave mankind a free will, the faculties to make choices, so we have a right to make choices—good vs. evil, true vs. false, God’s desires or our own desires, etc. God wants us to choose Him (Deuteronomy 30:19), but He doesn’t force us to believe in or trust Him, or to make any other particular choice. We have the liberty to think and act at our own discretion.

“…and the Pursuit of Happiness….

God directed the first humans to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:29). This is more than a directive to have babies, but to flourish—set up communities and governments and seek fulfillment in relationships, productivity, and satisfaction in the course of living a purposeful life. So it isn’t too difficult to find a Scriptural basis for the three rights Jefferson penned in the endowments God gave humans.


Moral obligations, our God-given sense of right and wrong, can also be grounded scripturally in the law of God written on our hearts (Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:16). But moral law deals with the good we are obligated to do, not rights that we have.

As image-bearers of a moral God, all human beings are endowed with moral truth we can’t NOT know.(1) While the reality of “Natural Law,” our basic moral intuition, doesn’t need to be informed by God’s word, He has nonetheless revealed in it detail about what is right and wrong. For most moral obligations, there is a moral agent obligated to some duty, and there is another agent who is a recipient or object of that obligation. Some duties are to God, and some are to other people.

The key to understanding human rights is considering the latter—moral obligations to our fellow man. Wherever God expects a certain kind of treatment toward others, He likewise expects others to receive that treatment. To be clear, any favor sinful humans receive on earth is part of God’s grace, but it’s also a logical necessity that if good is given by one, it’s received by another. Since moral law applies to all human beings equally, all human beings are also equal recipients and therefore have the same “right” to receive it.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai (Exodus 20:7-17 or Deuteronomy 5:7-21) are a good example of God detailing His moral law. The first four commandments list obligations in our relationship to God, so they don’t lead to human rights. As Creator of everything, God has all rights that don’t contradict His character. The last five, however, deal with our relationship to other people, and this is where we will find the most obvious picture of human rights.

“Do not murder” prohibits anyone from unjustifiably killing anyone else. As a result, on the other side of it, everyone has the right to not be unjustifiably killed. This evidences the basic human right we all have to value, preserve and defend human life, and I would include in that the inherent dignity that comes with being made in God’s image.

“You shall not commit adultery” means we are obligated to keep sexual activity within our marriage and to abstain if we are single. The people we are forbidden to pursue sexually consequently have the right to not be violated in this way. It also seems those in the marriage have a right to protect the fidelity of the marriage—but of course that right would be limited to those who are married.

“You shall not steal” means that not only are we required to respect the property of others, but that everyone has the right to own things and not have those things stolen from them.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” implies that anyone we might lie to has a right to the truth and to be dealt with honestly. This takes a high view of transparency and availability of truthful information to everyone, usually promoted in the context of government(2), but everyone at least claims to value truth.

The tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or property,” does NOT actually lead to a human right because following or not following the command doesn’t directly affect another person. My unhealthy desire to possess something that belongs to my neighbor ultimately affects me, not my neighbor—unless that desire leads to actual theft or adultery.

I skipped the sixth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” because, while everyone has parents, not everyone is a parent, so the right to receive honor is limited to fathers and mothers—and even then, the honor due is from their own children. Since it isn’t equal or universal in scope, I wouldn’t consider this determinate of a basic human right (rights we have simply because we’re human).

So from the last four commandments, basic human rights—rights God apparently wants all people to have—include the right to life, dignity, sexual integrity, personal property, and honesty.

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus summarized the principals of the Ten Commandments this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” summarizing the first six, and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” summarizing the last four. Jesus came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17), and He took the Old Testament commandments further. For example, in verses 21-22 of Matthew 5, He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment…”. Jesus equates hatred to murder because the hater essentially wishes death for his neighbor. But this magnifies for us the severity of our sin against God, even sins of the heart against other people. Without the outward result of a murder victim, this doesn’t seem to magnify any rights on our behalf.

This wasn’t a new command, of course. The murder-in-the-heart concept and summary of the commandments regarding our neighbor appear way back in Leviticus 19: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In context, this passage actually details a lot of practical ways we are to “love” our neighbor that result in basic human rights.

• In verse 9, “gleanings of your harvest… leave…for the poor and the stranger” implies a right to charity.
• In verse 10, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another” implies a right to honesty.
• In verse 13, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning” implies a right to civility.
• In verse 14, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind…” implies a right to decency in our weaknesses.
• In verse 15, “You shall do no injustice in court” implies a right to justice.
• In verse 15, “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” implies a right to fairness and impartiality.
• In verse 16, “You shall not go around as a slanderer” implies the right to verbal respect.
• In verse 16, “you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor” implies a right to life.
• In verse 17, “You shall not hate” implies a right to not be hated.
• In verse 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge” implies a right to not be a target of revenge.

And we are required to do the opposite of these things: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

How do we love ourselves? We preserve our own life and do things that generally promote our own health and dignity. We seek freedom and happiness and fulfillment. We desire truth and justice. Given how we treat ourselves, we have a rule so true it’s considered golden: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31). This seems to mean we have a basic human right to be treated in such a way that preserves life, dignity, personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, truth and justice. In the prohibition of evil, we have a right to freedom from general tyranny and injustice.

Mutual respect for our human rights is of course not guaranteed. The presence of sin in the world virtually guarantees that all of us at some point will see our own rights violated to some extent. This doesn’t escape God’s notice or control, and our duty in those cases is to humbly submit to a righteous and just God who is never absent in trials. But in a general sense, these rights seem to be what God in His grace desires for all human beings to maintain in our dealings with one another. In a sense they mark a standard by which God distinguishes justice from tyranny.


Seventy years ago, the United Nations drafted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, listing 30 basic rights for all people of every nation(3). Most can be grounded in the same Biblical foundations. But after looking at what God desires for us to give and receive, we can assess our culture’s claims of what specific human rights are and see if they pass the test.

Sometimes you’ll hear that abortion is a basic human right. The UN Human Rights Commission has wrongly ruled that it is. Based on a particular case in Peru where a hospital refused to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother, the Commission declared that human beings have the right to an abortion in any situation.(4) Ironically, the UN puts it this way: “States parties must liberalize restrictive abortion legislation to realize women’s right to life.”(5) Scripture eliminates such confusion by affirming the right to life for all human beings, including the unborn (Psalm 139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5). Since human beings are revealed in God’s word and affirmed by honest science and logic to be fully human from conception, “You shall not murder” means the unborn also have a right to life, and the absence of any form of the command “You shall abort unwanted pregnancies” excludes the possibility of a right to abortion.

The right to die, as in a right to assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, has been proffered as a fundamental right everyone should have. This notion fails the same test as abortion. Every human being is an image-bearer of our Creator with intrinsic value and dignity, and furthermore we are not our own. We belong to God. Death, though nothing to be feared for the Christian, is still the enemy and a result of sin in the world. If we are forbidden by God to kill others without justification, we are also forbidden to kill ourselves. Therefore self-inflicted death, as a right, is also wrong.

The right to marriage equality is perhaps the most confused proposition in our modern times. First, marriage by definition is something scripture defines and human history affirms as the union of a man and a woman. LGBT advocates of “marriage equality” aren’t really demanding the right to marriage, but a very different kind of relationship. Second, given the above truth, marriage equality already exists in the reality that everyone is already free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex they choose. Same-sex couples can’t constitute a marriage any more than a circle can be square. Third, marriage in the traditional sense is arguably not even a human right. God created it but has not required it for everyone, so marriage doesn’t quit fit in this category.

There are others of course, but in these 3 we can at least see how God’s created order and His commands reveal that some “rights” are so called simply because people just really wish they had rights to do certain things.


From the Bible we can humbly but confidently find a foundation for human rights rooted in freedoms granted at creation and the desired outcomes from God’s commands for how we treat our neighbors. God gave us life, free will, and freedom to flourish, so we have a right to exercise those. God wants us to love our neighbor, so they have a right to receive that love in a variety of ways.

Notice that God clearly presents love as a command, and not expressly as a right. While we can justify human rights Biblically, our first thought should be to choose the freedom God’s one and only Son offers, and to be the obedient giver of the good that God desires others to receive. Micah 6:8 declares that “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Our rights do include justice, but our salvation depends on God’s mercy and our humble trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Incidentally, we also have a basic human right to choose to follow Him, the most important one we could exercise.

1) What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (J. Budziszewski)
2) Rule of Law – Right to the Truth (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner)
3) United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
4) United Nations Committee Affirms Abortion as a Human Right (HuffPost)
5) OHCHR Center for Reproductive Rights

Why Pro-Life? Four Simple Reasons

January 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 10.50.32 AM

Why be pro-life? In the free booklet ’21 Days of Prayer for Life’ is a great summary of four reasons we can’t scripturally, scientifically, or logically deny that the unborn have life and value equal to that of you and me. Nor can we claim our nation’s founding principals leave any room for legalized abortion, which has polarized America more than ever 43 years after Roe v Wade.

1) The Bible affirms life: Scripture is clear that all humans have value because they are made in the image of God, the imago dei (Genesis 1:26-28; James 3:9)

2) Science affirms life: The science of embryology is clear that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings.

3) Logic affirms life: If humans only have value because of some characteristic (like size, intelligence, or stage of development) they possess in varying degrees, those with more of it have greater rights than those with less.

4) America’s founding documents affirm life: If pro-lifers are irrational and unconstitutional for grounding basic human rights in the concept of a transcendent creator, our important historical documents—all of which advanced our national understanding of equality—are irrational and unconstitutional as well.

These excellent pro-life apologetics are on pages 6 and 7 of this document from the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, authored by Scott Klusendorf and John Stonestreet. Read, pray and engage.

For more pro-life apologetics, check out this podcast from World News Group and Life Training Institute’s web site.

To Be Clear About Colorado Springs Shooter Robert Lewis Dear

November 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Robert_Lewis_Dear_MugshotTo be clear, Robert Lewis Dear shot and killed 3 people and injured 9 others at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic on Friday, November 27th, 2015.

To be clear, the impulse to immediately politicize the crime as it unfolds is wrong, whether it’s pro-lifers (or “anti-choice”) celebrating the shooting or supporters of abortion (or “pro-choice”) capitalizing on the tragedy as a Planned Parenthood fundraising opportunity.

To be clear, contrary to some reports, Dear was not a Christian, which is evident in his premeditated, murderous actions. “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:16)

To be clear, the only one on the scene who was evidently a Christian, at least so far, was 44-year-old veteran police officer Garrett Swasey, one of the first officers to respond. Swasey was an elder at an evangelical church and was “described by his fellow church members and friends as a courageous man and loving father who drew strength and inspiration from his Christian faith.” He was killed at the scene, sacrificing his life without hesitation for those inside. A co-pastor of Swasey’s for 15 years “noted that although Officer Swasey would disagree with the abortion industry, it would not have been a factor in his actions on Friday. ‘He was there to save lives. That’s the kind of guy he is.’”(1)

To be clear, the other victims at the scene deserve recognition too. The two civilians killed at Planned Parenthood were not publicly identified until late 11/29: They are 29 year old veteran Ke’Arre Marcell Stewart, a DJ, entrepreneur, and father of two children, and Jennifer Tarkovsky, a 35 year old Hawai’i native and mother of two. The unborn killed at the site are also due recognition, but will likely never be named.

To be clear, whether Dear makes conservative claims, is sympathetic to the pro-life movement, or identifies himself as a Christian (all of which are contradicted by his actions), his behavior does not reflect the vast majority of conservatives, pro-lifers or even nominal Christians. And if Dear is found to have identified as an “independent female” or a liberal or a martian, the vast majority of those groups are not reflected in his behavior either.

To be clear, what Dear did was murder. It doesn’t matter if Dear considers himself a Democrat or Republican, Christian or Atheist. He killed 3 people, and that was evil.

To be clear, abortion is also murder, but the fact that Planned Parenthood supplies abortions does not justify violence against its doctors, clinics or patients. Pro-life means exactly that.

To be clear, Dear’s apparent mental illness does not excuse him from moral culpability. He had the mental capacity to plan and carry out his crime and he is able to take responsibility for it. We can’t blame gun laws, climate change, the GOP, or the growing opposition to abortion for Dear’s sin.

To be clear, the church needs to act as Garrett Swasey did and purpose to be a vehicle of selfless love, action and clarity in the face of tragedy.


Abortion Apologetics Gosnell-style

September 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

Kermit GosnellIn the new film 3801 Lancaster: An American Tragedy, we will hear convicted murderer and late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell defend his actions on Biblical grounds:

“Until I really completed my first Genesis to Revelation reading of the Bible, which I did since I was incarcerated, I really didn’t feel as comfortable as I am. I think it’s Genesis 2:7, expresses the breath of life as the beginning of life that God breathed breath—breathed life—into Adam. The Bible, to me, is very clear that life does not happen until breath.”

As an example of how NOT to interpret Scripture, let’s just point out two simple things:

1) Adam was created from the dust of the earth as a grown man. He was not conceived in a womb, so it’s nonsensical to compare the “birth” of Adam to the birth of any human being after him. If we want to talk about when a fetus begins breathing, it’s actually at conception. In utero, oxygen is delivered through the placenta to the baby, long before the likes of Kermit Gosnell can get a hold of them.

2) Gosnell cites Genesis 2:7 but claims to have read the Bible from “Genesis to Revelation.” Did he skip Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5Luke 1:41,44Galatians 1:15, and Ephesians 1:3,4, passages that clearly establish the existence of life and personhood before the point of birth?

Such a bad hermeneutic employs classic cherry-picking, but while having the entire Bible to pick from, cherry-picking a verse completely irrelevant to a case for abortion. Even Gosnell’s own medical textbooks tell him that life begins before a child reaches the delivery room air, and his desperate moral appeal doesn’t change that truth. Gosnell is interested in saving one life: his own.

We don’t need more examples of terrible hermeneutics, but what we can gain from this one is a contemplation of the man behind it. Kermit Gosnell is an enemy, but we should practice praying for him. Whether he’s read the whole Bible is not evident in his apologetics for abortion, but he should do it again. In its pages are the gospel and the possibility for redemption, even for Kermit Gosnell.

Dawkins’ Non-apology is an Apologetic for Atheism

August 27, 2014 § 8 Comments

Last week, atheist Richard Dawkins tweeted to a follower who had pondered the moral dilemma of being pregnant with a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome. She called it a “real ethical dilemma.” It wasn’t so much of a dilemma for Richard Dawkins, who responded: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” This of course ignited a firestorm of debate for and against his sentiments. Mostly against.

EHAJKwNKnowing full well the reality that much meaning can get lost in the limitations of a 140 character Tweet, Dawkins wrote what he calls an “apology” on his web site the next day. Although the post was more of a clarification of his Tweet than a rescinding of it. He says that if he were allowed more than 140 characters, his reply would be this:

“Obviously the choice would be yours. For what it’s worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do.  I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare. I agree that that personal opinion is contentious and needs to be argued further, possibly to be withdrawn. In any case, you would probably be condemning yourself as a mother (or yourselves as a couple) to a lifetime of caring for an adult with the needs of a child. Your child would probably have a short life expectancy but, if she did outlive you, you would have the worry of who would care for her after you are gone. No wonder most people choose abortion when offered the choice. Having said that, the choice would be entirely yours and I would never dream of trying to impose my views on you or anyone else.”

What he clarifies in his post is that he really meant what most people thought he said in the tweet. He exhibits really no fundamental change of heart.

The “apology” portion is on par with what many celebrities and political figures offer as an apology. His words: “Those who thought I was bossily telling a woman what to do rather than let her choose. Of course this was absolutely not my intention and I apologise if brevity made it look that way.” And then, “I regret using abbreviated phraseology which caused so much upset.”

Maybe a little Apology 101 is in order. A true apology expresses something like, “What I did was wrong”, or, “I regret what I said and I intend to change my direction.” What produced the greatest offense is what he said—that unborn children with Downs Syndrome are probably not worth saving—not necessarily how he said it. Dawkins’ apology centers on how he said it. It was more akin to “I’m sorry if you were upset or misunderstood.” An apology is one time where the offender should seek the spotlight, owning up to what he has said or done; the focus is on his actions and his appeal for forgiveness or an offer of restitution. Dawkins may regret the fact that controversy erupted, or feel sorry that others were incapable of seeing it his way.

The remaining two-thirds of his “apology” post was directed to “the haters” who were upset with him. Then he concludes: “what I was saying simply follows logically from the ordinary pro-choice stance that most us, I presume, espouse. My phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding, but I can’t help feeling that at least half the problem lies in a wanton eagerness to misunderstand.”

Far from an apology, his post is closer to an apologetic for the utilitarian brand of Atheism revealed in his pro-choice logic. Dawkins says, “My true intention was, as stated at length above, simply to say what I personally would do, based upon my own assessment of the pragmatics of the case, and my own moral philosophy which in turn is based on a desire to increase happiness and reduce suffering.”

Without God, the highest achievement can only be one’s own temporal happiness. Without God, personhood is endowed on a sliding scale according to a child’s growth toward (or an aging person’s growth away from) usefulness, a “a gradual, ‘fading in/fading’ out definition.” Without God, humanity has no value beyond what some men consider useful, so “the decision to abort can be a moral one.” Without God, there is no objective moral standard for good and evil, right and wrong, yet the moral law written on every fellow human heart created in God’s image compels even atheists to reason about “moral” choices, despite the reductio ad absurdum. That Law on our hearts can be suppressed for a lifetime, but ultimately convicts. Atheism is in every case a temporary state (Romans 14:11,12; Philippians 2:10,11).

Richard Dawkins’ pro-abortion statements make perfect sense on Atheism, which would make a genuine about-face apology quite unexpected anyway.

Celebrating Roe v Wade’s Anniversary (or Why Hardly Anyone Is)

January 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

RoeWadePartyIt’s been 40 years since the landmark Supreme Court Roe v Wade ruling legalized abortion in the United States. Since then, by some estimates, over 55 million unborn children have been aborted.

For something that many hailed as a victory for freedoms in this country, there is a strange lack of what we would call celebration on its anniversary. This is unlike other victories we commemorate, like Independence Day. It’s unlike any number of holidays or anniversaries of a wedding or birth, where the beginning of something wonderful is remembered with parties and celebration. An internet search will show that very few use the word “celebration” in conjuction with the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, even among proponents and sympathizers of abortion. Roe v Wade is far more often “marked” or “remembered” by benefit dinners and events, but most don’t assume the gaiety and joy that usually accompanies the anniversary of something good.

Could it be that the anniversary is marred by opposition to abortion that never waned, but actually increased, highlighting a 40 year conflict that advocates didn’t expect? Or could it be that those in a position to celebrate the victory for abortion don’t feel the moral liberty to celebrate something that they somehow know is evil?

Abortion proponents may say the polarizing debate is the reason for the shortage of “celebration” of legalized abortion, but I think the latter explanation may have some validity. The human conscience bears witness to moral law written on every heart, according to Romans, law that tells us that abortion is murder, and murder is wrong. The conscience is often seared, but it’s an intellectual inhibitor as well as an emotional one. It may be that the divine law in the heart of the pro-abort serves as an annoying reminder that the heart that beats deep within the womb has the right to live. That’s a downer.

We generally celebrate life, not death.

If Roe v Wade was a victory for freedom, then we all ought to feel free to celebrate. If abortion is murder, we should mourn, and even the hardened may be at least reluctant to pop a cork and dance. There is no widespread jubilee about Roe v Wade, unlike what we will probably see from many the day it overturned. That would be a victory worth celebrating.

[Related post: Pro-Abortion, Pro-life and the Importance of Consistency]

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