Law is a system of rules that governs the actions and responsibilities of individuals, groups or societies. Laws can be made by government and enforced through the use of force or other methods. Laws are often broken and people can be punished for doing so. Laws are usually used to keep order, protect people and property, settle disputes and punish criminals. Law is the basis for most modern societies and is a vital part of civilization.
Law can also be used to describe a profession or the study of systems of laws and how they work. Lawyers, judges and other legal professionals are examples of people who practice law. Law can also refer to the entire set of laws of a particular place or country. The laws of Canada, for example, are a set of rules that govern the actions of citizens and public officials.
Some theories of law suggest that it is a social institution that seeks to satisfy social wants through a process of conflict resolution. Dean Roscoe Pound, for instance, believes that law is a means to balance the conflicts of different interests in society. The “oughts” of the law, according to this theory, are dictated by moral, social, economic and political concerns.
Other theories of law focus on the role of a state in making and enforcing laws. These views are sometimes referred to as the “legal order” theory or the “official control” theory of law. The former is based on the idea that the law is a regime of adjusting relations and ordering conduct by the systematic application of the power of the organized political society. The latter theory emphasizes the totality of official controls, including all legal precepts and punishments.
A third view of law argues that the function of law is to restrain evildoers. This view suggests that a governmental system of law is the only way to achieve this end. It is the logical consequence of the natural law theory and the tyranny of the will, which sees the state as the only agent capable of regulating human behavior in a way that ensures the fulfillment of social and moral requirements.
The Bible, however, has a much more radical view of the purpose and nature of law. The Old Testament uses the word tora [h’r/T] some 220 times and, although it carries a connotation of law in English, it more accurately translates as “instruction.” The biblical civil laws are moral admonitions that are not amenable to state enforcement (e.g., Exod 21:2-6 ). It teaches sinners that they are fully accountable to God for their violations of his moral requirements and shows them their need for a mediator who can redeem them from the law’s condemnation (Rom 5:20 ; 7:13 ).
In most countries, the ability to make and enforce laws depends on having political power. A nation ruled by an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it may oppress minorities and other opponents of the state, or it may fail to promote social justice or permit orderly social change.