Environmental Law: Wisdom From The Ancients -- By: Sandra Richter

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 24:3 (NA 2014)
Article: Environmental Law: Wisdom From The Ancients
Author: Sandra Richter

Environmental Law:
Wisdom From The Ancients

Sandra Richter

Wheaton College

All indicators are that our planet is currently facing an environmental crisis of unprecedented proportions. The effects may be mapped in every avenue of human existence from food supply and water quality to decimated landscapes and species extinction. Terms such as sustainable agriculture, environmental terrorism, and factory farming have moved into everyday parlance. Does religion and specifically Christianity have a role in shaping a response to this crisis? Is there an ecotheology to be found in the Bible, and how might the community of faith go about applying that biblical paradigm to current issues? This essay attempts to begin to answer these questions by mapping a relationship between the wisdom of the ancients and a current course of action for the Church with particular emphasis on stewardship, Sabbath, and action.

Key Words: ecotheology, Israelite law, Israelite agriculture, Sabbath, warfare

Author’s note: This essay was presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, November 15, 2012, and portions appear in my essay “Religion and the Environment,” in Christian Handbook of Religion (ed. Terry Muck; Baker Academic, forthcoming).


In its power to shape the value systems and ethical boundaries of human behavior, religion has played a key role in our race’s treatment of the environment. And, unfortunately, since the days of Lynn White’s 1967 epoch-defining article “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,”1 the verdict regarding the impact of the Judeo-Christian tradition on Western society’s environmental ethic has been less than positive. Rather, White’s diagnosis of Christianity as “the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen” and his conclusion that Christianity therefore “bears a huge burden of guilt” for the philosophical and ethical framework that has fueled the modern technological exploitation of nature have been echoed by many.2 Specifically, White argued that the Christian world view holds

that “no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.”3 And this alleged biblical perspective has frequently been set in unbecoming contrast to the supposed more eco-friendly views of other religions, past and present. The charge is that, in the Bible and Christianity, nature is desacralized by the elimination of polytheism and animism, dominated...

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