The Theological Theory of Crime

 


The Theological Theory of Crime is documented back to the writings of Moses around
1400 BC.  In the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century the theory took a fatalistic turn under
the influence of the followers of theologian John Calvin.  Their emphasis was on the sovereign
will of God to the exclusion of the free will of man.  Criminals were seen as those predestined to
be so by God.  When naturalistic philosophy flooded all fields of thought in the mid 19th century
the Theological Theory of Crime fell out of favor and it continues to be obscure today among the
many theories of criminology.  However, the Theological Theory of Crime as expressed by the
Apostle Paul, arguably Christianityís foremost theologian, remains a theory that answers all the
questions of the human condition in general and criminal behavior in particular.

Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, ?-67 AD, was a Jew who lived under Roman rule.  As a
member of the Pharisees, an orthodox group, Saul was employed in the persecution of the new
Jewish sect, later called Christians.  This new group claimed that Jesus of Nazareth, who did many
miracles and was executed by the Roman Governor, was the Messiah and had risen from the dead.
Whereas the Pharisees believed that they could attain standing with God by keeping the Mosaic
Law and other traditions, this new sect taught that all men must repent of their sin and trust in the
atonement of the Messiah to be saved from Gods judgement.  Paulís testimony is that while in
route from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest believers there, he was personally confronted by
Jesus Christ himself and became a believer.1  In the years to follow, Paul became a leader of the
Christians and his letters to various churches comprise the majority of the New Testament.  These
letters express his view of the Theological Theory of Crime including the origin of law, the cause
of law violations, the methods of dealing with crime and the consequences of breaking laws. As
Criminology was not a separate field of study until the 18th century, the Apostle Paulís expression
of the Theological Theory of Crime must be gleaned from within his theology as a whole.

First, Paul holds that God gave laws to define sin and crime.  He writes:
     Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the
     law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
     Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the
     law is the knowledge of sin.  Romans 3:19-20

Second, Paul asserts that, based on the Genesis account, man has a fallen nature.  The
sinful nature of the first man, Adam, was passed on to all men.  Paul writes:
     Wherefore, as by one man sin entered in to the world, and death by sin; and so death
     passed upon all men, for that all have sinned; {for that: or, in whom} Romans 5:12 2
This fallen nature not only results in selfish, sinful attitudes and actions that place man under the
condemnation of God but also lead to crimes against others. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul
states:
     Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication,
     uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath,
     strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of
     the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such
     things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Paul also holds that those who indulge the fallen nature are the quickest to spiral down into sin
and crime.3 Those who moralize or those who justify themselves by religion, while less likely to be
career criminals, have the same fallen nature and commit the same sins and crimes.4

Third, Paul believes that, to keep order in society, God has ordained human governments.
Those who ďexecute wrath on evil doersĒ on behalf of government are Godís ministers, even to
the point of exercising capitol punishment.  Paul instructs those to whom he is writing to obey the
law, pay taxes and respect and honor authorities.  He views governmentís role in enforcing law as
a deterrent to the natural tendencies of man and a just punishment for evildoers.5  Human
government, however, is not the final solution for crime in the Theological Theory of Crime as
presented by Paul.  He contends that God has addressed the root problem, that is manís fallen
nature.

According to the Apostle Paul a man is changed by God at the level of his nature when,
recognizing his guilt, he places his entire trust in the atoning sacrifice that God himself made - His
Son Jesus Christ.6 Paul writes:
      For as by one manís disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of
     one shall many be made righteous.  Romans 5:19
      Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh,
     fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of
     wrath, even as others.  But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he
     loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by
     grace ye are saved;)  And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in
     heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding
     riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye
     saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest
     any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good
     works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:3-10
And again:
      Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away;
     behold, all things are become new.  2 Corinthians 5:17
      But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness,
     faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22
And finally, writing to Christians at Corinth:
     ... Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor
     abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor
     revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of
     you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the
     Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. (Emphasis Added)
Those who are changed in this way (saved) are not prevented from committing crimes or other
sins but are free to yield to God rather than their fallen nature.7

In summary, the Apostle Paulís view of the Theological Theory of Crime is comprised of
these main points.
    1.  Law was given by God to define sin and crime.
    2.  Man commits crime because of his fallen nature.
    3.  God ordains governments to deter and punish crime.
    4.  God offers salvation.  Those who accept it are changed - no longer under obligation to
         their fallen nature.

While the Theological Theory of Crime is still held by conservative theologians it is widely
dismissed today by criminologists as unscientific.  It is said to be based on religion, bigotry and
intolerance rather than science.  This argument is valid - assuming the naturalistic philosophy that
is popular in science today which presupposes that there is no Creator God or that He is
irrelevant.  Therefore, by definition, no theory which includes theology can be relevant.  Right and
wrong are seen as relative therefore man cannot have a fallen nature.  Man merely needs to learn
how to improve himself.

However, science is not naturalism and tolerance is not the acceptance of all ideas as equally
valid (as these terms have been redefined).  The scientific method is to form an hypothesis after
systematic, objective collection of data and then to test the hypothesis empirically.  This method
can be applied to the Theological Theory of Crime as appropriately and effectively as to other
theories in the field of Criminology.  Indeed, this is an application of the scientific method with
implications that reach into eternity.

Allen Blake
Criminology SOSC 265
Professor Walker
Bethel College
March 14, 2001
 

End Notes

1.  Acts 22

2.  While crime is an act in violation of law, sin is and act or attitude in violation of the character
of the Creator.

3.  Romans 1:18-32

4.  Romans 2:1-3:23

5.  Romans 13:1-7

6.  Romans 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; 10:9-13

7.  Romans 6:11-13

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