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The Three Uses of the Law: A Protestant Source of the Purposes of Criminal Punishment?


John Witte Jr.


Emory University School of Law

Thomas C. Arthur


Emory University School of Law

1994

Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 10, No. 2, p. 433, 1994

Abstract:     
The 16th century Protestant theological doctrine of the uses of the moral law provided a critical analogue, if not an antecedent to the classic Anglo-American doctrine of the purposes of criminal law and punishment. This doctrine has provided impartial signposts to the development of a more integrated moral theory of criminal law and punishment in 20th century America.

The classic uses of the moral law were forged during the Protestant Reformation. The uses focus primarily on natural or moral law; even though individuals cannot follow the moral law, the moral law is still useful. The moral law has a civil use that restrains person from sinful conduct by threat of divine punishment, thereby creating societal stability. The moral law has a theological use, because it condemns sinful persons for their violations of the law. The moral law also has an educational use through enhancing the spiritual development of believers. This doctrine was rooted in the Protestant theology of salvation and the theology of the person and has remained a Protestant staple.

The legal doctrine of the purpose of criminal law has a vital civil use, lining the moral law and divine punishment with the purposes of criminal law and punishment. According to the legal doctrine, God granted the moral law for deterrence, retribution and restitution, and rehabilitation and reformation. In contemporary criminal law, these concepts of deterrence, retribution, and restitution are still included, but the concepts of natural law and the idea that the state is a source of moral authority have been abandoned. This rise of liberalism has led to moral relativism, and this concept has begun to erode criminal law.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 34

Keywords: Protestant, moral law, criminal law, punishment, America, Protestant Reformation

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Date posted: May 26, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Witte, John and Arthur, Thomas C., The Three Uses of the Law: A Protestant Source of the Purposes of Criminal Punishment? (1994). Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 10, No. 2, p. 433, 1994. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1851124

Contact Information

John Witte Jr. (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)
Thomas C. Arthur
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-5792 (Phone)
404-727-6820 (Fax)

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