Divine law

Divine law is any law that is understood as deriving from a transcendent source, such as the will of God or gods, in contrast to man-made law. Divine laws are typically regarded as superior to man-made laws,[1][2] sometimes due to an understanding that their source has resources beyond human knowledge and human reason.[3] They are accorded greater authority,[4][5][2] and cannot be changed by human authorities.[2]

Divine laws are noted for their inflexibility.[6] Divine laws are often understood as beyond the authority of humans to change. The introduction of interpretation into divine law is a controversial issue, since believers place high significance on adhering to the law precisely.[7] Opponents to the application of divine law typically deny that it is purely divine and point out human influences in the law. This element of human influence is understood as incorporating some degree of fallibility. These opponents characterize such laws as belonging to a particular cultural tradition. Adherents of divine law, on the other hand, are sometimes reluctant to adapt divine laws to cultural contexts.[8]

Divine law may be transmitted through several mediums. Most frequently, that are transmitted through religious texts. Medieval Christianity understood there to be three kinds of laws: divine law, natural law, and man-made law.[4] Others, on the other hand, understand natural law as a subset of divine law delivered through general revelation from a creator deity. Theologians have substantially debated the scope of natural law, with the Enlightenment encouraging greater use of reason and expanding the scope of natural law and marginalizing divine law in a process of secularization.[9] Some people may understand themselves as receiving guidance through prayer or conscience, although the moral authority of these methods of transmission are much lower.

Since the authority of divine law is rooted in its source, the origin and transmission history of divine law are important.[10][lower-alpha 1]

There are frequently conflicts between secular understandings of justice or morality and divine law.[11]

Religious law, such as canon law, includes both divine law and additional interpretations, logical extensions, and traditions.[5]

Thomas Aquinas

In Thomas Aquinas's Treatise on Law, divine law comes only from revelation or scripture, hence biblical law, and is necessary for human salvation. According to Aquinas, divine law must not be confused with natural law. Divine law is mainly and mostly natural law, but it can also be positive law.

See also



  1. Chaniotis 1996, p. 85.
  2. Peters 1988, p. 244.
  3. Chaniotis 1996, p. 86.
  4. Anghie 1996, p. 323.
  5. Molano 2009, p. 212.
  6. Chaniotis 1996, p. 67.
  7. Chaniotis 1996, p. 75.
  8. Peters 1988, p. 244f.
  9. Anghie 1996, p. 323f.
  10. Weiss 2010, Part II. The Indicators of God’s Law.
  11. Chaniotis 1996, p. 66,69.


  • Anghie, Antony (1996). "Francisco de Vitoria and the colonial origins of international law". Social & Legal Studies. SAGE. 5 (3): 321–336. doi:10.1177/096466399600500303. ISSN 0964-6639.
  • Peters, Rudolph (1988). "Divine Law or Man-Made Law-Egypt and the Application of the Shari'a". Arab Law Quarterly. 3 (3): 231–253. doi:10.1163/157302588X00281.
  • Chaniotis, Angelos (1996). "Conflicting authorities: Greek asylia between secular and divine law in the Classical and Hellenistic poleis" (PDF). Kernos. 9: 65-86.
  • Molano, E. (2009). "Divine Law and Constitutional Canonical Law". Ius Canonicum. 49: 195-212.
  • Weiss, Bernard (2010). The search for God's law : Islamic jurisprudence in the writings of Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidi. Salt Lake City Herndon, Va: University Of Utah Press International Institute of Islamic Thought. ISBN 978-0-87480-938-1. OCLC 758391490.

Further reading

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