Commutative Justice – The truthfulness of parties to an economic exchange.
Commutative Justice is about honest and just economic transactions. It is a major theme in both Testaments of the Bible. From the Old Testament:
Lev 19:11 NRSV
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.
Lev 19:13 NRSV
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.
Lev 19:35-36 NRSV
You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Deut 25:13-16 NRSV
13 You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small. 15 You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God.
Economic transactions of the time often involved grain, ointments, food, and precious metals. A scale consisting of a beam balanced on a stem, with trays of equal weight on each side, was used to determine weight and price. Weights were placed on one side and the substance to be weighed was placed on the other side. Standardized weights were removed one by one until the two trays were in balance. Then a price was rendered. A dishonest merchant would use weights that would misrepresent quantities to his advantage.
Proverbs frequently warns against dishonest behavior and use of false scales and measures. The prophet Micah wrote 6:11-12:
Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths.
Our culture operates in a much more complex economic environment and many of the issues we face are not directly addressed by scripture. For instance, discrimination in hiring and promotion would clearly fall under commutative justice. Nevertheless, honest and just economic transactions were a central concern of biblical ethics and must be a central part of any Christian economic ethic.