SJ Quinney College of Law, University of Utah


In this study I have set out to investigate the stories that Jews and Christians have told for over two thousand years. Surveying the Biblical literature, I have looked for verses, passages and stories related to the issue of the bystander’s duty to act on behalf of the victim. The issue of a person’s duty to help someone in need and to be proactively engaged on behalf of the most vulnerable is everywhere present in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The Biblical proscriptions are not just suggestions to “do the right thing” but divine ethical demands to action on behalf on the one in need. A failure to act on behalf of one in need will lead to either exclusion from the community in this age or to judgment in the next. Both Jews and Christians are identified fundamentally by their actions towards others.

This essay does not argue that only Jews and Christians know how to act or that Biblical expectation should be imposed on a secular world. However, the ancient religious texts still have a positive normative power to shape non-religious legal discussion. The Biblical texts speak of the duty of a person to act on behalf of another because of the covenantal relationship that God has with humans which structures “human-to-human interaction in important ways.” God’s covenant with the chosen people, which Christianity then appropriated and re-interpreted through its understanding of Jesus, expected one to care for all persons and not stand by while someone was victimized. People of faith believe that God cares. Therefore people, reflecting the divine intention, should care.