American tort law has its origins in the Bible. Here is how it happened. Four thousand years ago, the basic principles of civil law began to develop in various cultures and countries in the ancient Near East, and over two millennia of trade, wars, conquest, population migrations, and historical evolution coalesced and evolved in the land of Canaan where it was incorporated into the traditions and texts which later found reflection in the Old Testament. The Romans conquered large portions of this area long before the birth of Christ and some centuries later adopted Christianity with its Holy Scriptures. Some centuries later, the Romans conquered the British Isles and brought their culture and legal system with them. That system, added to local traditions, evolved into what later came to be known as British common law, which the colonists brought with them to the New World. Over these four millennia, as societies evolved from pastoral to agricultural to industrial economies, the basic rules of law, premised on those societies’ sacred texts, continued to evolve to meet contemporary needs. However, at the core, these rules remained unchanged.
We can trace the origins of our law to the story of Cain and Abel. Cain, the first person born and not created directly by God, murdered his younger brother and, when confronted by God, asked in essence whether he had any responsibility toward his brother. The Bible’s answer to that question is, of course, yes, and much of the Old Testament deals with defining the scope of that responsibility.
In the Old Testament, we find the basic principles of civil negligence, strict liability in tort, products liability, design and construction defect, building codes, and civil liability for breach of statutory law. The core concepts of compensatory damages as a substitute for the earlier “eye for an eye” rules, as well as personal responsibility for the damage one causes, are also present, as are the standards for awarding punitive damages. We also find evidence of the importance of open and free access to the courts, equal access to justice, and requirements for impartial and unbiased administration of justice.
While the law has continued to develop and evolve over the centuries, all the core principles of our civil law are set forth in the Bible, which remains the foundation of Western civilization.
For a more thorough exploration of these concepts, please watch the six short talks on the Divine Origins of the Civil Justice System on the Kazan Law YouTube channel.