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Lawsuits Among Believers

By John A. Huffman, Jr.
Eighth in a series

1 Corinthians 6:1-3

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels — to say nothing of ordinary matters?

We live in a litigious day. Most of us grew up in simpler times in which, if you slipped, fell and injured yourself, you assumed personal responsibility for your awkwardness or at least your failure to look where you were stepping.

The first I was aware of liability lawsuits was when I, on a summer break, went to visit my girlfriend and her family who lived on Long Island, New York. She described how early on a snowy day her father, an American Airlines pilot, would get up and shovel the walk and sand it to protect against liability lawsuits in case someone slipped and fell. In that neighborhood, neighbors were looking for excuses to sue each other for huge settlements for somewhat vague injuries such as back strain or whiplash. Little did I dream that that was only a foretaste of what within twenty years most of our society would become. People are suing right and left. As a result, our premium costs have accelerated exponentially.

It's been with great pain that I've watched a number of our very best medical doctors retire early from their practices, as the cost of malpractice insurance and the threat of legal suits have made a once beloved profession much less attractive. One of our anesthesiologists retired in his late fifties after he was sued by a family member of his office staff to whom he had given free treatment.

Granted, there should be protection for people who have been seriously injured by professional incompetence.

But all this can be taken too far! Once again we find that the circumstances in first-century Corinth are quite similar to ours today. That was a litigious society, even more so than ours. The Greeks loved to sue. The law courts were one of their chief amusements. First-century records from Athens show us that the first attempt to settle was carried out by private arbitration. Each party chose its own arbitrator, and a third was chosen by agreement between both parties to be an impartial judge.

If that failed, there was a court known as The Forty. The Forty referred the matter to a public arbitrator, all who were male Athenian citizens in their sixtieth year. To refuse to be an arbitrator was to face the penalty of disenfranchisement. If the matter still was not settled, it was referred to a jury court, which consisted of 201 citizens that handled minor cases and 401 citizens for cases involving larger amounts of money. There were juries that could be as large as from 1,000 to 6,000 citizens, each of whom was paid for acting as a jury member. You can see that practically every Athenian male was in his own way a lawyer who spent a great deal of his time either deciding or listening to law cases.

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