Can A Christian Sue?
As a Christian injury lawyer, I have been asked about this many times. As with any question, we should consult the Scriptures first.
The Biblical text that is most often cited is Paul’s letter in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8:
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another-and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.
Let’s look at the passage carefully. The actual kind of cases addressed in the passage are described in the text if you look closely:
- A “dispute,”
- that is “trivial” in nature
- “between believers,”
- involving being “cheated”
- and “wronged”
- and this dispute could well be judged by a “man of little account in the church.”
Trivial disputes Between Members:
The type of actual dispute is not revealed, but from the description above it is clear that it involves a matter that is between two believers, where one feels cheated or wronged and appears–to others at least–as “trivial” in nature. The Bible expressly states that legal action—resorting to a public lawsuit in a secular court—in that situation, is shameful.
Imagine, for example, Christian church members suing in a church split to be able to be the half that gets to continue to use the church’s name going forward.
Or a member suing another member for slander for (unknowingly) sharing partially false information in a prayer request about her, and hurting her reputation.
Or, it could involve a dispute between two members of a church suing one another over the giving of a poor reference for a job.
Yes, all of these are unfortunately based on real cases I have seen.
There is little doubt that these bring the reproach of men upon the church, and are horrible examples of what 1 Corinthians 6 expressly forbids.
Are Injuries and Deaths “Trivial?”
The cases that I handle generally involve serious injuries or death. Any case involving grievous injury or death, by definition, is not at all “trivial.”
Therefore, when you hear someone proclaim confidently that “the Bible forbids all lawsuits“ it is an indication of a lack of study. Remember,
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Personal Injuries in the Bible
Exodus 21:18-19 provides that if two men are in a fight and one seriously injures the other (becoming incapacitated) the man causing that injury “shall pay for the loss of [the victim’s] time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.”
As now, lost earnings while the injured man was unable to work and medical expenses were measures of damages.
Paul Used the Legal System
What is the Goal?
Suits Often Lead to Mediated Settlements:
Suits Between Believers:
Further, these types of serious cases are rarely actually “between believers” in any real sense.
Assume I represent your daughter because she was paralyzed when an 18 wheeler rear-ended your car.
I will name the negligent driver of the truck (who may well be a Christian) as well as the company, in order to obtain the compensation due from his company’s insurance.
Recall as well, that insurance is purchased to assist us all in paying for accidental acts that may harm someone, and to help protect our assets in that event. It is exceedingly rare for any case to cost an insured driver one penny personally. Many cases are against large corporations that, of course, do not have souls, and therefore cannot be believers. And it is possible for a company to be run according to Christian principles, this would include companies like Hobby Lobby, Chick-Fil-A, and Barnhart construction. But the company itself is made up on a piece of paper so it is not it’s self a believer.
I may represent a Christian, against a drunk driver and his auto insurance.
Or a believer who is the victim of a hit and run and has to claim again his own Uninsured Motorists auto coverage.
These cases are clearly not what is banned in the Corinthians passage.
Finally, cases that I handle, against negligent drivers, premises owners, hospitals and corporate entities are not at all the type of cases that can be resolved by “men of little account in the church.”
Law and the Bible
If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.
Slip and Falls
If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss.
Negligent Design Causing injury
When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.
Other Negligent Acts in the Bible
A negligent person, accidentally causing injury, has a responsibility under Scripture as well. Lawsuits may be the only way of making a person pay for their negligent acts. Notice that the property owner in Deuteronomy 22:8 is charged with being prudent in his design.
If not for lawsuits generally, we may still have Ford Pintos with exploding gas tanks on the road, burning people alive after very minor car accidents.
The medicines we take would not be so thoroughly tested.
Nursing homes would not be under any incentive to give better care.
There would be no drop off ever painted yellow to help keep you safe.
There would be no remedy to help pay for the care of your daughter, paralyzed by the overtired truck driver.
As you can see, the Bible does not forbid lawsuits, but it gives us much direction and even specific examples . Here is a Biblical checklist that may be helpful in evaluating a potential claim:
- Is this matter “trivial?” (If so, overlook it.) (1 Cor 6:2 & Col 3:13)
- Is this matter solvable by involvement of others at church? (1 Cor 6:4 & Matt 18:15)
- Are my motives selfish or vengeful? (If so, stop). (Phil 2:3)
- Have I tried to resolve my claim before suit or court? (Proverbs 25:8)
Mr. Peel seeks justice for those injured in truck, motorcycle, and car crashes. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Mr. Peel may be reached through PeelLawFirm.com wherein other articles may be accessed.