Studies in the Laws of Nature’s God
by Gerald R. Thompson
SELF-STUDY – THE BIBLE AS LAW
In the preceding studies we examined a number of possible legal inferences which may be derived from a reading of the Bible. In this study, we will look into the general use of the Bible as a basis for deriving substantive rules of law. This inquiry will consider whether the Bible is exclusively a religious book which speaks solely to spiritual matters, or whether the Bible also speaks to temporal legal matters and may be regarded as a legal text to that extent.
As the preceding studies of jurisdictional law indicate, the rules of morality and religion can be legally distinguished from the rules of individual conduct which human institutions can enforce. One of the benefits of jurisdictional law is that it lays the foundation for true religious and intellectual freedom. Another great benefit is that an examination of lonang can be focused on either religious or civil law. Thus, this series of studies makes no attempt to examine the laws of internal governance of the Church, regulations of redemption and worship, or to detail the laws of religious faith and doctrine. These things are capable of being done from a legal perspective, but they are not for any reason necessarily involved in an examination of lonang.
Matters of religion are simply one aspect of the whole field of biblical law, not its foundation or point of origin. Consequently, there is no basis for concluding that all law from a biblical perspective is necessarily religiously grounded, that it is more religious than any other legal philosophy, or dependent upon religious belief.
What are religious ideas anyway? Is the concept of a creator necessarily a religious idea? Is the idea of the law of nature religious? Is the Declaration of Independence a religious document, and is that the way the founders would have understood it? How could the framers have prohibited religious oaths as a test of civil office, yet affirm Divine Providence in our national charter?
One place to start in examining the question of whether the Bible is necessarily religious in all matters to which it speaks is to ask whether God always acts in a religious capacity.
It is common to refer to God as a Trinity, but in fact, there is more than one trinitarian concept of God. The most familiar, perhaps, is that of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Another familiar trinity is that of Jesus alone, referring to His roles as Prophet, Priest and King.
Another historically understood trinity concerning God is that He is the great Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of mankind. It is these latter attributes that are relevant to an understanding of the distinction between laws of the Bible directed toward redemption (religion) and those of creation (civil application).
In other words, if we can understand that God Himself sometimes acts in a manner which is non-religious, then perhaps some of His revealed Word, and some of His laws, are non-religious. If God is sovereign over all areas of life equally, then either everything in life is inherently religious (at which point the term “religious” loses any descriptive value), or God must relate to some areas of life in a non-religious way.
1. Read Gen. 1:1 and Col. 1:16.
- Can anyone be religiously redeemed merely by acknowledging God as Creator?
- In what sense, if any, can the creation of the world be regarded a religious act?
2. Read Job 34:14-15 and Col. 1:17.
- To what extent do the existence of the earth and the continuation of life depend on God’s sustaining power?
- To what extent, if any, may law be regarded as a means by which God sustains the universe? Does law, in fact, govern the creation, holding it together as a continuing reflection of God’s will?
3. Read Isa. 44:24 and Titus 2:11-14.
- Does the fact that God is the Great Redeemer of the world mean that everyone will be redeemed? Is God any less the Great Governor of those who are not redeemed?
- If God is the Creator of all people, whether redeemed or not, where might we look to find an expression of the laws which govern the unredeemed? Might it be in the laws of creation (laws of nature)?
4. Isa. 33:22 says that “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king, he will save us.” Is there anything necessarily religious about being a judge, lawgiver or king? Is it possible to use the verb “save” in a non-religious sense (such as, to save from drowning)? Is the question of whether you view this text as religious more a function of what it says, or what you believe it says?
Orthodox Christianity generally holds that mere belief in the existence of God will not bring any person into covenant relationship with Him or effect their personal redemption or salvation. Consequently, many have concluded that even though a perspective of law is entirely founded on the existence of God, the belief that a Creator God exists is not itself a religious belief. If this is true, then it is at least possible that some laws of the Creator would apply irrespective of a person’s religious beliefs or spiritual status.
This is, in fact, what is meant by the term “creation law.” Creation law is not religious or sectarian, but applies to everyone, not just the religiously faithful. The basis for this assertion is simple: not all people are redeemed by God, but all people are created by God whether they believe it or not. Accordingly, all people are governed by the laws of God which apply to all of creation and His laws which apply to all human beings.
“Redemption law,” on the other hand, refers to the law which governs the redemption from sin, personal salvation, individual piety, and the fellowship of believers within the Church. In other words, redemption law is that part of biblical law which pertains peculiarly to God in His redemptive capacity or to people in response to God as Redeemer. Redemption law is inherently religious, because it pertains to matters of the heart and mind and those acts which are governed exclusively by the law of love.
Redemption law therefore applies to the areas of life covered by God’s reserved jurisdiction. That is, redemption law is not part of the law enforceable by people, but governs those duties owed solely to God, which He alone can enforce.
1. Read Ja. 2:19 and Rom. 1:21. Does mere belief in the existence of God redeem a person from sin? Under what rationale, then, is mere belief in the existence of God deemed “religious”? If mere belief in a god is inherently religious, what religion is that? Can you identify any religious group which “merely believes in the existence of God”?
2. Read Gen. 4:3-8.
- When Cain killed Abel, did he violate a law of the creation? Is there anyone on earth, now or in the past, to whom this law does not apply?
- Is the law of murder a religious law? Is it applied or enforced differently for Christians compared to non-Christians?
3. Read Num. 35:29-34.
- Does compliance with God’s laws of creation depend on a person’s consent? If a person refuses to acknowledge the existence of God or a creator, does that make the law of murder any less binding on that person?
- Can a legislature repeal, or a judge nullify, the law of murder? Why or why not?
4. Is the recognition of the law of murder by a society necessarily a religious act, just because it is mentioned in the Bible? If a law of creation applicable to all mankind is mentioned in the Bible, can the Bible be used as a source of legal authority to validate the existence of that law, without injecting “religion” into the process?
- What about the laws of theft and adultery – are they matters of “creation law” or “redemption law”? Are our duties with respect to theft and adultery owed solely to God, or are they legally enforceable?
- How do you know whether a matter is governed by “creation law” or by “redemption law”? Is there a legal rule which distinguishes one from the other? What is it?
This distinction between redemption law and creation law is an important one in the history of the United States. For a time in our nation, particularly in the several states, redemption law was made civilly enforceable after the pattern of England. These civil laws were eventually repealed. It might well be asked whether, in disestablishing religion, the biblical foundation of law in America was thereby removed. In other words, America was founded on the creation laws revealed in the Bible, and to some extent, on the biblical redemption laws as well. When the latter were removed from our laws, were the former unaffected, or were they removed also?
One way to approach this matter is to examine the law of religious tests. To some extent, the law of religious tests presents a dilemma for those who maintain either that a biblical perspective of law is inherently religious, or that the Bible is a book which speaks exclusively to religious and sectarian matters.
Modernly, there is a uniform expression of law regarding religious tests at the state and federal levels. Religious tests cannot lawfully be used as a basis for determining eligibility to participate in civil affairs. That is, the United States has rejected religion as the basis for its system of government and laws.
One could respond by arguing that the law of religious tests, etc. expressed in the U.S. Constitution and/or by the U.S. Supreme Court is wrong, but one need not make this argument to show the relevance of the Bible to America’s legal affairs. The rejection of religion as a basis for civil law is not “anti-biblical” if it is understood to mean solely that our nation’s laws are not based on redemption law.
Whether the religious laws of the Bible are a proper basis for civil laws today raises the question of whether the United States is, or should be, a theocracy or have an established religion. It is possible to argue for the laws of the Bible as a basis for modern civil laws without advocating that America is or should be a theocracy or have an established religion.
One may validly ask whether all things in the Bible pertain to redemption law. What is the evidence? Does the Bible contains legal rules of universal applicability respecting such things as the nature of law, the rights of individuals and families, limitations on civil powers, the jurisdiction of civil laws, the legal relation of social institutions, etc. Are these things inherentlyreligious?
Assuming for the moment that the Bible contains some non-religious law, it now remains to discover the terms of that law. Specifically, the present purpose is to examine more closely the covenantal provisions of non-religious law which have universal applicability to all people.
1. Read Gen. 1:28-29.
- To what extent do these verses apply to the descendants of Adam and Eve today? To whom would the verses not apply, if anyone? How is your answer affected by your assumptions about the literal existence of two individuals who were the physical ancestors of all people?
- To what extent do these verses grant anyone authority to have children, rule over the earth, and eat vegetation? Is this authority limited to use by Christians? Is this authority inherently religious in nature?
2. Read Gen. 3:17-19. To what extent did either man’s Fall or God’s curse of the ground alter or abolish the prior grants of authority in Gen. 1? To what extent does the curse apply to the descendants of Adam and Eve, and why? To what extent may the law of inheritance apply here? Is our fallen nature merely a religious assertion, or is it also a legal conclusion? That is, is man inherently lawful or lawless?
3. Read Gen. 9:11,13. One of the most well known promises of the Bible is that God would never flood the earth again. This promise and its sign, the rainbow, were part of the Noahic covenant. To what extent do these verses apply to the descendants of Noah today? To whom would the verses not apply, if anyone? How is your answer affected by your assumptions about the literal existence of eight people who survived a flood in which all other human life perished?
4. Read Gen. 9:1,7. Does this command relate to having children, or to something else? Is it merely a religious command? Is it applicable only to Christians?
5. Read Gen. 9:2-4. Is the eating of meat a religious act? Do people have a legal right to eat meat? If so, does this right apply only to Christians?
6. Read Gen. 9:5-6.
- These verses are generally understood as relating to capital punishment. Is capital punishment a function of religious law and church authority, or a function of civil law and state authority?
- Compare Gen. 9:5-6 with 9:2-4. Both sets of verses were delivered by God at the same time to the same people as part of the same divine covenant. Is there any legal rationale which would argue for the continuing validity of one set of verses and deny the continuing validity of the other, or must both sets of verses rise or fall together? If you conclude that neither set of verses has any legal effect today, how do you trace man’s authority to eat meat?
* Copyright © 1995, 2006 Gerald R. Thompson. Used by permission.