What we think of today as “human rights” and how God defined human rights from the beginning of creation are two very different things. Human rights would be defined as those rights every human being has.
There are a lot of different definitions of human rights, some longer and some shorter so I will just offer a brief sample of common human rights that most people in American(and Western) culture believe in.
12 American Human Rights
Below is a list of 12 rights that modern Americans have. The reason I use the key word “modern” is because some of these rights were not granted in America’s original Constitution and Bill of Rights but were added a century or more after America’s founding.
American Right #1
All persons should have full autonomy (full freedom), regardless of their gender, race, economic standing, national origin, ethnic background or religious beliefs.
American Right # 2
Every person has the right to believe as they will, and worship or not worship as we they will.
American Right #3
Every person has the right to do with their own body as they will (this includes any type of voluntary sexual activity inside or outside of marriage).
American Right #4
Every person has the right to work for and obtain property and do as they wish with their own private property.
American Right #5
No person can sell themselves or their children into slavery and no person may own any slaves (human property is forbidden).
American Right #6
Every person has the right not to be physically abused.
American Right #7
Every person has the right to defend themselves harm.
American Right #8
Every person has the right to choose whom they will marry (or divorce). Men and women have equal rights in marriage, and equal rights to their children and all property between them is to be divided equally about the dissolving of the marriage in divorce (absent a prenuptial agreement).
American Right #9
Every person has the right to a free education (at least up to a secondary level).
American Right #10
No person should be deprived of his property, his freedom or his life without due process of the law,
American Right #11
Every person should be treated equally before the law.
American Right #12
No person may be treated differently by the Government based on their religion, their race, their ethnic background or their gender.
There are many other rights that many Americans believe in (on both the right and the left), but once we get past these rights there begins to be much disagreement. For instance when it comes to rights regarding sexual orientation or rights to health care and other social welfare items, there is still much disagreement in the United States. Also there is a lot of disagreement as to the difference between the rights of children and adults with some advocating for more autonomy among children (taking away parental rights over children).
There has also been a debate over the last century in America as to how we get new rights. Constitutional “Originalists” believe that new rights may only be granted by following the Amendment process of the Constitution and the Constitution must be interpreted in light of its original intent. Other Americans, seeing the Constitution as “a living document”, believe that the Amendment process to the Constitution is not necessary for granting new rights. They believe judges may simply take and find existing Amendments, then reinterpret those amendments to grant new rights.
But now let’s compare and contrast American human rights with the rights given to human beings by the God in the Bible.
8 Biblical Human Rights
While our American founders were certainly flawed men we as Bible believing Christians would agree with what they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”. We may disagree as to what those God given rights are, but we agree on the source of those rights.
Below is a list of God given human rights. Human rights in the Bible are those rights that every class of society had, even slaves.
God Given Human Right #1
Every person has the right to love the one true God, the God of the Bible. Everyone has a right to worship him and obey him even when this conflicts with the wishes of their human authorities.
“You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” – Luke 4:8 (NASB)
“We must obey God rather than men.” – Acts 5:29 (NASB)
God Given Human Right #2
Every person has the right to be treated fairly and justly
“Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.” – Colossians 4:1(NASB)
God Given Human Right #3
Every person has the right not to be physically abused.
“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.” – Exodus 21:26-28(NASB)
God Given Human Right #4
No person, male or female, may be deprived of their life without due process of the law. Every person should be treated impartially before the law.
“You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.” – Deuteronomy 16:19(NASB)
God Given Human Right #5
No person may be kidnapped, which is the illegal acquiring of human property. Only persons who are legally acquired as property may be bought or sold.
“If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” – Deuteronomy 24:7(NASB)
“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you.” – Leviticus 25:44 (NASB)
“If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.” – Exodus 21:7 (NASB)
God Given Human Right #6
Both men and women have an equal right to sex with their spouse within marriage.
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” – I Corinthians 7:4 (NASB)
God Given Human Right #7
Every person is entitled to a day of rest one day a week
“but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.” – Exodus 20:10(NASB)
God Given Human Right #8
Every person has the right to defend themselves and their family
“If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account.” – Exodus 22:2(NASB)
“fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses” – Nehemiah 4:14(NASB)
Some big differences between Biblical and American Human rights
First off all I want to remind the reader that we are discussing “human rights”, meaning rights that all human beings have in common.
There are many more rights that God gives to various groups such as males vs females, husbands vs wives, free vs slave and adults vs children.
This discussion of “human rights” is really a discussion of “equal rights between all human beings”.
There are some big differences between what we believe as Americans are human rights and what the Bible presents as rights given by God. Listed below are key differences between Biblical human rights and American human rights.
Except for the 8 Biblical human rights listed above, men and women do not have equal rights under Biblical law.
Except for kidnapping (the illegal acquiring of human property), slavery is allowed under Biblical law. But even slaves as human property are entitled to the 8 Biblical Human rights listed above.
There is no right given to worship any other God, except the God of the Bible.
There is no right to sex outside of marriage between a man and woman.
Only free men have the complete right and power over their own property and decisions. A father could override his daughter’s property decisions, and a husband could override his wife’s property decisions under Biblical law.
No person had a right to education whether paid or free under Biblical Law.
Under Biblical law, discrimination between men and women, Israelite and non-Israelite was not only allowed, it was commanded by God. Even under new law of Christ in the New Testament, there are some differences between how believers and non-believers are treated.
But doesn’t God support more human rights (equal rights) in the New Testament?
Some Christians may concede that there were far fewer human rights given in the Old Testament than in the New. But these same Christians (feminists and egalitarians) would point to this passage from the New Testament which they believe supposedly grants more human rights:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 (NASB)
The truth is that this passage does no eliminate all social classes or gender distinctions between men and women, slave or free, Jew or Greek. It simply affirms an old truth that from the very beginning, all people had a human right to come to the one true God, worship him and obey him regardless of their gender or social status.
If you look into the full context of this passage it is talking about how God would no longer deal with his people through the nation of Israel, but now his people would be represented in a new body, the Church which is the body of Christ. God’s promise of salvation was not restricted to the nation of Israel but rather God saves all people and brings them into his body, regardless of their social status, ethnic origin or gender.
So in the view of some egalitarians, God eliminated all distinction in rights between men and women and he also eliminated slavery or social castes with different rights by this one passage.
But as with any other subject, we cannot take one passage and cancel out all other passages in the Bible. These old allowances and principles were reinstated and in some cases even elaborated on further in the New Testament.
The Principle that that God created woman for man and that he is her head in society, in the Church and in the home is brought forward and reinforced in the New Testament:
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God… Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” – I Corinthians 11:3 & 9(KJV)
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” – Ephesians 5:23-24(KJV)
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands… For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord…” I Peter 3: 1 & 5-6 (KJV)
On the slavery issue – see my post “Why Christians should not be ashamed of Biblical Slavery”.
Our rights do not come from our government, they come from our maker and our God. He gives us some rights that our government does not, and he does not give us all the rights our government does.
Some extra rights that our government gives us are not sinful and therefore as Christians we may enjoy these additional rights that are granted to us in American society. But other rights, such as the right to private sexual acts outside of marriage, the right to engage in homosexual sex or prostitution and the new right to gay marriage are sinful and Christians may not exercise these rights.
Another sinful right that our American society grants is the right to no-fault divorce. God grants no such right. A husband or wife have no right to divorce their spouse expect for if their spouse violates the covenant of marriage by engaging in sexually immoral acts, physical abuse or physical abandonment of the marriage.
We as Christians must never forget that God is the one who created us, and he is the one who defines what it means to be human. God is the one the grants our grants us our rights, and his commands supersede that our modern cultures and governments.