Author ORCID Identifier

John Witte, Jr. 0000-0001-8929-0267

Thomas Arthur 0000-0003-0411-0824

Document Type


Publication Date



Protestant theological doctrine, Uses of moral law, Purposes of criminal law and punishment, Deterrence, Retribution, Rehabilitation, Liberal individualism


In this article, we focus on the interaction of Anglo-American criminal law and Protestant theological doctrine. We argue (1) that the sixteenth-century Protestant theological doctrine of the uses of moral law provided a critical analogue, if not antecedent to the classic Anglo-American doctrine of the purposes of criminal law and punishment; and (2) that this theological doctrine provides important signposts to the development of a more integrated moral theory of criminal law and punishment in late twentieth century America.

Part One of this Article sets out the theological doctrine of the "civil," "theological," and "educational" uses of the moral law, as formulated by sixteenth century Lutherans and Calvinists, and elaborated by later Protestant writers in England and America. Part Two analyzes the analogous "deterrent," "retributive," and "rehabilitative" purposes of criminal law, as articulated by early modem Anglo-American jurists and moralists, and explores the historical cross-fertilization between these theological and legal doctrines. Part Three reflects on contemporary American criminal law developments in light of this three uses doctrine.

First Page


Publication Title

The Journal of Law and Religion