Original Research - Special Collection: Structural subjects - Church History and Systematic Theology

Human rights and divine justice

Jan Muis
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 70, No 1 | a2740 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v70i1.2740 | © 2014 Jan Muis | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 May 2014 | Published: 20 November 2014

About the author(s)

Jan Muis, Protestant Theological University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


This article discusses the view of the Leiden professor Paul Cliteur that human rights are essentially secular and require rejection of God’s will as source of moral authority. Firstly, it analyses Cliteur’s reception of Kant and his claim that an exclusively anthropological grounding of human rights is the only possible one. Next, it investigates Nicholas Wolterstorff’s criticism of Kant’s grounding of human dignity in the rational capacity of mankind and his theistic grounding of human rights in God’s love by the mediating concept of human worth. Although Wolterstorff rightly believes that God’s special relationship with human beings is ultimately the best ground for human rights, his understandings of God’s love and of human worth appear to be problematic. Finally, the article explores the possibility to ground human rights directly in God’s justice by construing creation, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the justification of the sinner as central divine acts of justice in which God has given human rights to all human beings.


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