Original Research - Special Collection: Bible 200

By everyone and for everyone: The principles underlying ‘justice’ in Deuteronomy 16:18–20

Albert J. Coetsee
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 55, No 3 | a2654 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v55i3.2654 | © 2021 Albert J. Coetsee | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 June 2020 | Published: 31 March 2021

About the author(s)

Albert J. Coetsee, Unit for Reformed Theology and the development of the SA society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


In Deuteronomy 16:18–20, Moses instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and officials in their various towns upon entering the Promised Land. Strikingly, not much is said about the qualifications of these judges and officials, or the method of their appointment. Rather, the passage is devoted to what these judges and officials were, and were not to do, and also what the community’s share in justice was to be. Despite the emphasis in the passage on the principles the community and its judges and officials were to embody, no comprehensive study has been published that relates what exactly was expected of both parties when it comes to justice. The primary objective of the current article was to investigate what principles these judges and officials were to embody, and what was expected of the community when it came to justice. The secondary objective was to give some suggestions on how these principles can be applied to modern citizens and judiciaries. This article investigates the possible literary, historical and canonical context of the passage by means of a detailed literature study and an independent exegetical study. Making use of these findings, the principles underlying justice in the passage were deduced. This article revealed that the appointment of judges and officials was the task of the whole community; that judges and officials were to judge fairly; that the community had to appoint judges and officials who were wise; that the appointment of judges and officials was for the whole community; that the pursuit of justice were to be the aim of everyone and that the blessing of the Lord would ensue where justice prevails. In conclusion some suggestions were given on how these principles can be applied to modern citizens and judiciaries, briefly reflecting on judicial progress and challenges in South Africa.

Contribution: This article therefore contributed to the discussion of the Old Testament in Africa. It argued that one possibility of meeting the challenges and setbacks of the South African judiciaries is to (once more) emphasise the principles deduced from Deuteronomy 16:18–20 to the country’s citizens and judiciaries. The (re)implementation of these principles by the Rainbow Nation could ensure that justice is served by everyone and for everyone.


Deuteronomy 16:18–20; justice; righteousness; judges; officials; judge; judiciary, principles; community; citizens.


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