The Basics of Law


The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. It also serves as a mediator of relations between people and is considered an essential component of human civilization. In the broadest sense, the law covers all of the rules and regulations established by a government or social group for its citizens or a particular group or class of people. Law encompasses both societal and individual rules, and the law may be categorized as civil or criminal. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals, while criminal law governs offenses against a state or local community.

A societal legal system typically regulates contracts, property and other matters of personal interest by statutes, codes, common law and precedent. A statute is a formal, written document that establishes a new rule or regulation that must be obeyed. Codes, such as city, county and state laws, regulate specific activities or areas of life such as traffic rules, housing, insurance or banking. Common law, on the other hand, is judge-made precedent and can be applied to cases from any jurisdiction. Judges are referred to as the “living oracles” of law and are required to make rulings based on their interpretation of previous cases.

There are many different types of law, including tort law, which compensates individuals for damages caused by another person’s actions such as automobile accidents or defamation. Contract law determines a person’s rights and duties to tangible goods or services, and property law defines ownership of real estate such as homes or car parks, and intangible assets such as stocks and bonds. Criminal law is the branch of the law that punishes people who commit offenses against a state or community, and can include everything from theft to murder.

While the precise definition of law is a matter for debate, scholars have found that the law is unique in its nature from other subjects and disciplines. It lacks normative statements that could be used as criteria to judge right and wrong, such as those of empirical science (such as the law of gravity) or social science (such as the law of demand and supply). This makes it difficult to compare the law to other fields, and a special vocabulary is often needed.

One important aspect of the law is that it shows sinners their need for a mediator to redeem them from its condemnation. Jesus’ crucifixion fulfilled this purpose, as He not only paid the penalty for all sins but also abolished (Greek: kataluo or katalyo) the law by His sacrifice of Himself. This included every implication of the law, from what a man is allowed to do or not do, to how he should treat his fellow citizens. By taking upon Himself our sins, He also made the law of Moses obsolete. In doing so, he purged our consciences of all sinful thoughts and desires. This is the true meaning of Jesus’ words, “having abolished [kataluo] the law and its commandments.” (Col 2:14).