Legal Foundations: The Framework of Law
by Gerald R. Thompson
The Bible As Law
Having examined a number of basic legal inferences which may be derived from a reading of the Bible, the next task is to inquire as to the general use of the Bible as a basis for deriving substantive rules of law. This examination will begin by looking into whether the Bible is exclusively a religious book or speaks solely to spiritual matters, and whether the Bible has any laws of universal applicability today. Specific attention will also be given to the extent which the Mosaic law is a basis for substantive legal rules today.
A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE OF LAW
A biblical perspective of law encompasses the whole revelation of God with respect to law. Thus, it includes rules of morality and religion, as well as those of civil conduct. Yet, as the preceding discussion of jurisdictional law indicates, the rules of morality and religion (which are not humanly enforceable) can be legally distinguished from the rules of individual conduct which human institutions can enforce. The ability to separate religious law from civil law is a great benefit to any perspective of law.
A biblical view of law is not merely religious.
One of the benefits of jurisdictional law is that it lays the foundation for religious and intellectual freedom. Another great benefit of jurisdictional law is that an exposition of biblical perspective of law can be compartmentalized. That is, an inquiry of biblical law can be focused on either religious or civil law. In this work, for example, no attempt is made 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 law from a biblical perspective. These matters are simply one aspect of the subject of biblical law, not its genesis 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.
God as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. One of the familiar “trinities” concerning God is that He is the great Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of mankind. These attributes of God are relevant to an understanding of the distinction between laws of the Bible directed toward redemption (religion) and those of creation (civil application).
God as Creator. God is the Creator of all that exists, including the physical world, all humanity, and the laws which govern them all.
- In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [Gen. 1:1.]
- For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him. [Col. 1:16.]
God as Sustainer. God did not merely create the world, give mankind life, and then forever detach Himself from His creation. Rather, the existence of the earth and the continuation of life utterly depend on God’s sustaining power, without which life would cease. In a sense, law is the sustaining power of God, because it governs the entire creation, holding it together as a continuing reflection of God’s will.
- And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [Col. 1:17.]
- “Surely, God will not act wickedly, And the Almighty will not pervert justice. Who gave Him authority over the earth? And who has laid on Him the whole world? If He should determine to do so, If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.” [Job 34:14-15.]
God as Redeemer. The Bible portrays God as the great Redeemer of mankind since the creation of the world.
- Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone.” [Isa. 44:24.]
- For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men . . . looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. [Titus 2:11,13-14.]
Redemption law defined. Not all laws in the Bible pertain to religion. Even though a biblical perspective of law is entirely founded on the existence of God, the belief that a Creator God exists is itself not a religious belief. In other words, mere belief in the existence of God will not bring any person into covenant relationship with the Savior or effect their personal redemption or salvation. The demons (fallen angels) believe in God, but this does not redeem them. Further, all men know of God’s existence through what has been made, but this knowledge does not save them either.
- You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. [Ja. 2:19.]
- For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. [Rom. 1:21.]
“Redemption law,” as used herein, refers to the law which governs the redemption of sin, personal salvation, individual piety, and the fellowship of believers within the Church. In other words, redemption law is that part of the law revealed in the Bible which pertains peculiarly to God in His redemptive capacity or to people in response to God as Redeemer. Redemption law is therefore inherently religious, because it pertains to matters of the heart and mind, and those acts which are governed exclusively by the law of love.
- If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. [Ja. 1:26-27.]
Redemption law 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.
- That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. [Virginia Bill of Rights, Sec. 16.]
Creation law defined. “Creation law,” on the other hand, is not religious or sectarian, and since this is the case, it 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 of the creatures we call human beings.
The definition of creation law (as used herein) is not limited to the law of nature, or the will of God impressed upon the creation, however. It also includes those covenantal law frameworks which apply to every person on the face of the earth.
The law of nature. The law of nature, of course, applies to every person simply because every person is a creature of the Creator whose conduct must conform to the Creator’s will.
The divine covenants of universal applicability. Of the covenants which are part of the divine law revealed in the Bible, two are applicable to every person today, namely, the Adamic covenant and the Noahic covenant. This conclusion of law rests on certain assumptions of biblical anthropology, namely: 1) Noah and his three sons were all descendants of Adam [See, Gen. 5:1-32]; 2) the great flood of the earth resulted in the death of every person in the world except for Noah and his family (8 persons) [See, Gen. 7:21-23]; and 3) everyone on the earth today is a descendant of Noah and his three sons. Since the terms of the Adamic covenant applied to Noah and his sons as descendants of Adam, the terms of both the Adamic and Noahic covenants apply to every person who has lived since the time of the great flood, including everyone alive today.
Creation law, therefore, applies to every human being. Acknowledgment of, assenting to, or compliance with, creation law is not a pre-condition to its applicability. Law is mandatorily imposed by God, not volitionally adopted by man. Covenants may be binding on us as descendants whether we personally assent to them or not. Hence, to recognize the legal effect of such law and covenants is nothing more than acknowledging reality for what it is. And, to do so is not a religious act, or an exercise of religious faith.
The Law of Religious Tests.
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, but in so doing, the biblical foundation of law in America was not 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, the former remained unaffected.
Early American documents. In the early settlement and founding of America, it was common for the colonies/states to provide, in their governing documents, for the civil recognition of various aspects of redemption law. Thus, it was often provided that the holding of public offices was contingent on the professing of specified religious tenets.
- It is ordered, sentenced and decreed . . . that the Governor be always a member of some approved congregation. [Fund. Orders of Connecticut (1639), Sec. 4.]
- AND that all Persons who also profess to believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, shall be capable (notwithstanding their other Persuasions and Practices in Point of Conscience and Religion) to serve this Government in any Capacity, both legislatively and executively. [Penn. Charter of Privileges (1701).]
- That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this State . . . and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion. [Const. of Maryland, November 3, 1776, art. XXXV.]
U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution, in contrast to the then existing state constitutions, prohibited the use of religious tests as a pre-condition to holding public office. It further prohibited Congress from making laws respecting an establishment of religion (laws pertaining to the governance of religious adherents in their capacity as such) or the free exercise of religion (laws pertaining to God’s reserved jurisdiction). In essence, the U.S. Constitution eliminated redemption law (or religion) as a basis for federal laws.
- [N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. [U.S. Const., art. VI., cl. 3.]
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. [U.S. Const., amend I.]
The federal constitutional clauses have been judicially applied to the states in such a way that religious tests are now forbidden at the state level as well. [See, Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961), and McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618 (1978).]
Significantly, art. VI, cl. 3, which contains the above prohibition of religious tests, contains a requirement that all public officers at the state and federal levels, “shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution.” Thus, the swearing of an oath, which presumes acknowledgement by the swearer of the existence of God, must not be legally equivalent to a religious test. Rather, imploring the deity in swearing an oath must be viewed as an aspect of creation law, otherwise, it would be “religious.” In this way, too, the constitution evidences that it is possible to eliminate redemption law as a basis for civil laws, yet retain God’s creation law as a basis for those same civil laws.
The religious dilemma. 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 participation in civil affairs, nor can civil laws pertain to the governance of religious adherents in their capacity as such or to matters within God’s reserved jurisdiction. That is, our nation has rejected religion as the basis for our system of government and its 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 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. This issue is examined in the next chapter. At this point, it is enough to note that 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.
The Bible as a legal textbook.
The Bible is not merely a religious book, because not all things in the Bible pertain to redemption law. This is demonstrated by the fact that 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. Consequently, the Bible is a source book of fundamental law and, as it were, a legal textbook. Furthermore, the Bible is competent legal authority in America as part of our organic laws.
UNIVERSAL BIBLICAL LAWS
Having established that the creation law of the Bible applies to all people, it now remains to discover the terms of that law. Since the discussion in preceding chapters relating to the nature of law, covenants and jurisdiction is primarily an exposition of the law of nature, those rules will not be further reviewed here. Rather, the present purpose is to examine more closely the covenantal provisions of law which have universal applicability to all people.
First, it will be helpful to establish an interpretational framework for all of the divine covenants, which can then be applied to interpreting the Adamic and Noahic covenants specifically. Thus, these two covenants are not to be interpreted by any methodology unique to them alone, but consistently with all the other covenants. The divine covenants may apply to different people, but this does not color the legal analysis. A proper interpretation of each divine covenant requires a uniform interpretational framework for them all.
Rules of Interpretation. The basic interpretational rules for all divine covenants are:
1. To the extent a principle or rule of law is rooted in the biblical account of creation, it is a part of the law of nature and applies to all mankind, because it reflects the will of God impressed upon all creation, of which mankind is a part.
2. To the extent a legal principle or rule is not a part of the law of nature (i.e., rooted in the biblical account of creation), its applicability is limited by the covenant of which it is a part. According to the law of nature concerning covenants, a covenant can be binding only on the actual parties to the covenant and their descendants.
3. To the extent a specific provision in any divine covenant verbalizes some aspect of the law of nature it is binding on all people, not necessarily because the covenant is binding on all people, but because the law of nature applies to everyone even without the covenant. A divine covenant may verbalize rules from the law of nature, but this neither limits the application of those principles to the parties bound by the covenant, nor expands the applicability of the covenant to anyone other than the parties and their descendants. It simply restates them.
A principled approach. Consequently, a single covenantal provision may embody multiple legal principles or rules, some rooted in creation, some applicable by virtue of the covenant itself, and others which are no longer applicable. There is no legal or logical rule which requires any given verse of scripture to exclusively state a principle reflective of the law of nature, or applicable only to people bound by the covenant, without allowing for the possibility that it may contain elements of both. The job of sorting these elements out and the task of interpretation is quintessentially a legal exercise.
The Adamic covenant.
When God created Adam and Eve, He related to them verbally, speaking to them in the garden of Eden. During that time in Eden, Adam and Eve received authorization to carry out a dominion of the earth according to God’s plan.
Adam and Eve were empowered to act as God’s vice-regents in ruling over the earth, in what is commonly known as the “Dominion Mandate.” The Dominion Mandate is actually a grant of authority to carry out dominion of the earth in two principal ways: 1) the bearing of children; and 2) ruling over and subduing the earth (including animals).
- And God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [Gen. 1:28.]
God also authorized mankind to eat from the vegetation of the earth.
- Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.” [Gen. 1:29.]
After the Fall, God modified the means by which mankind would exercise dominion by cursing the ground, but this did not revoke the dominion authority. However, the curse did add a new element to man’s existence: death.
- Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, `You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” [Gen 3:17-19.]
The Noahic covenant.
After the flood receded and Noah, his family and all the animals had left the ark, God covenanted with Noah and his family. This covenant contains one promise and three grants of authority.
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.
- “And I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth. . . . I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” [Gen. 9:11,13.]
The first grant of authority was a restatement of the portion of the dominion mandate relating to bearing children. After God had killed every one else on the earth because of their wickedness, Noah and his family may have needed a reminder to repopulate the earth, notwithstanding that their descendants may fall into the same kinds of wickedness that prevailed before the flood.
- And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. . . . And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” [Gen. 9:1,7.]
The second grant of authority related to the eating of meat. Before the flood, people were authorized to eat only plants yielding seed and fruit bearing trees [See, Gen. 1:29.]
- “And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” [Gen. 9:2-4.]
The third grant of authority related to capital punishment. Prior to the flood, no one was authorized to inflict capital punishment [See, Gen. 4:15.].
- “And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.” [Gen. 9:5-6.]
APPLICABILITY OF THE MOSAIC LAW
One of the most thorny issues confronting anyone developing a biblical perspective of law is how to discern the applicability of the Mosaic law. The present effort will employ the legal rules and interpretive principles explained earlier in an attempt to chart a methodical course through this difficult area.
A key feature of the Mosaic law is its affiliation with Israel’s covenant, which covenant was discussed above. In fact, the Mosaic law is comprised of the detailed legal rules which implement the Ten Commandments, which in turn comprise the terms of Israel’s covenant with God. Thus, the Mosaic law is inextricably linked with Israel’s covenant, so that the interpretation of that law becomes, in essence, an interpretation of the applicability of Israel’s covenant.
Some traditional approaches. We are not without precedent in endeavoring to discern the applicability of the Mosaic law, of course. Many scholars and commentators have gone before us in examining this subject. However, many modern efforts at interpretation have not approached the matter as primarily a legal inquiry. Yet, the nature of the Mosaic law is that it is a legal code, therefore, its interpretation is quintessentially a matter of legal interpretation.
The Mosaic law has ended. One approach to the matter is to say that the applicability of the Mosaic code has simply ended. This approach often posits that the Church covenant (the new covenant in Christ) superseded the Mosaic law. However, this approach fails to recognize that each of the divine covenants is irrevocable and perpetual, including Israel’s covenant. Thus, the Mosaic law has some continuing covenantal applicability. In addition, it also continues to reflect many enduring principles of the law of nature.
The Mosaic law has been merged. A second approach argues for the existence of “continuity” between Israel’s covenant and the Church covenant. This approach tends to view the Mosaic law as covenantally binding on the Church today, although most adherents of this view recognize that the redemptive aspects of the Mosaic law have been modified or obsoleted by the Church covenant. However, this approach ignores the legal rule that a covenant, even a divine one, is binding only on the parties who assented to it and their physical descendants. And, the fact is, not all participants in the Church covenant are descendants of Israel.
The Mosaic law has been modified. A third approach regards the applicability of the Mosaic law as depending on the subject matter involved. One common subject matter approach is the “repealed unless repeated” (R&R) scheme, in which the provisions of the Mosaic law are presumed repealed unless expressly repeated in the New Testament scriptures. Another common scheme is known as “mandatory unless modified” (M&M), which presumes that the specific provisions of the Mosaic law are presently binding unless expressly modified in the New Testament. Although Israel’s covenant has most certainly been modified, a subject matter approach treats each provision of the Mosaic law as an isolated unit, irrespective of its covenant context. In other words, this approach attempts to determine the Mosaic law’s applicability without regard for its covenantal context, and without a consideration of the rules of the law of covenants.
An interpretive framework proposal. The Mosaic covenant has essentially three legal components, which have been recognized for centuries by a wide variety of biblical and legal commentators.
- [T]he well known division which distributes the whole law of God, as promulgated by Moses, into the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial law . . .. [Calvin, IV Institutes, ch. XX, ¶14.]
Note: Although Calvin is quoted here, he is not cited for the purpose of constructing a “Calvinistic” interpretive framework. Rather, his views are illustrative of views widely held. Thus, the interpretive framework which is here proposed is not merely that which Calvin stated, but rather the “legal rule” which follows each of his statements.
The moral law. According to Calvin, the moral law is the law which commends us to love God and to mutually love one another.
- The moral law . . . is the true and eternal rule of righteousness prescribed to the men of all nations and of all times, who would frame their life agreeably to the will of God. . . . [I]t is evident that the law of God which we call moral, is nothing else than the testimony of natural law, and of that conscience which God has engraven on the minds of men . . .. [Calvin, IV Institutes, ch. XX.]
Legal rule. The eternal moral law is none other than the law of nature applicable to all men today. Many of the specific Mosaic laws were simply applications of the law of nature to specific situations. To the extent these laws are rooted in the nature of the creation, they still apply to everyone today.
Ceremonial Law. Calvin regarded the ceremonial law as the tutelage of Israel which foreshadowed Christ.
- The ceremonial law of the Jews was a tutelage by which the Lord was pleased to exercise, as it were the childhood of that people, until the fullness of the time should come when he was fully to manifest his wisdom to the world, and exhibit the reality of those things which were then adumbrated by figures. [Calvin, IV Institutes, ch. XX.]
Legal rule. The ceremonial law is the law pertaining to the Levitical priesthood and the system of sacrifice for personal atonement it administered. The ceremonial law is no longer effective, because that portion of the covenant has been modified by the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. Thus, it does not apply even to Israel any longer.
Judicial law. The judicial law was described by Calvin as certain forms of justice and equity delivered to the polity of Israel.
- The judicial law, given them as a kind of polity, delivered certain forms of equity and justice, by which they might live together innocently and quietly. [Calvin, IV Institutes, ch. XX.]
Legal rule. The judicial law is the law peculiar to the national polity of Israel as a theocracy. A legal theocracy is where God is the civil head of the nation and an actual party to the civil covenant. No other nation in history has been a theocracy in this sense. Thus, the theocratic laws of ancient Israel do not apply to Gentile nations.
The covenantal applicability of the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law, as a matter of covenant, was never obligatory upon any nation other than ancient Israel. This is because a covenant is binding only on the parties who assented to it and their physical descendants. Since the original parties to Israel’s covenant were the Israelites, only Jewish descendants could ever have been covenantally bound by the Mosaic law. All Gentile people today, by definition, are not descendants of the ancient Israelites. However, this does not mean that the Mosaic law is legally irrelevant to modern nations. It merely means that in construing the terms of the law, we must look for those rules rooted in creation, which are part of the law of nature applicable to all people.
Historically, commentators have recognized that the Mosaic law is not binding on the gentiles as a matter of covenant obligation.
- The allegation, that insult is offered to the law of God enacted by Moses, where it is abrogated, and other new laws are preferred to it, is most absurd. . . . [T]hose things are abrogated which were never enacted for us. The Lord did not deliver it by the hand of Moses to be promulgated in all countries, and to be everywhere enforced; but having taken the Jewish nation under his special care, patronage, and guardianship, he was pleased to be specially its legislator, and as became a wise legislator, he had special regard to it in enacting laws. [Calvin, IV Institutes, ch. XX.]
- An ordinance, in fact, is not binding upon those to whom it has not been given. But in the case under consideration the ordinance itself declares to whom it was given, in the words: ‘Hear, O Israel,’ and everywhere the covenant is spoken of as made with the Jews, and they themselves are said to be chosen as the peculiar people of God. . . . [W]e conclude that we are bound by no part of the Hebraic law, so far as this is law of a special kind. For, outside of the law of nature, the binding force of law comes from the will of him who makes the law; and it is not possible to discover, from any indication, that God willed that others than Israelites should be bound by that law. There is, then, no need of proof that in respect to ourselves this law has been abrogated; for a law cannot be abrogated in respect to those on whom it has never been binding. But for the Israelites its binding force was abrogated in respect to rituals, at least, the moment the law of the Gospel began to be promulgated, as was clearly revealed to the chief of the Apostles (Acts 10:15). It was abrogated also in regard to other things, after the Jewish people, th[r]ough the fall and devastation of their city, which was destroyed without hope of restoration, ceased to be a nation. [Grotius, Law of War, at 33-50.]
- Thomas Jefferson referred to the book of Exodus as “laws made for the Jews alone.” [T. Jefferson, Letter to Thomas Cooper, Esq., January 10, 1814.]
Moral law – Examples.
Let us now examine how the above interpretive rules may be applied to some specific provisions of the Mosaic law. The first example will be the Ten Commandments as an illustration of the moral law. The legal task is to determine whether the Ten Commandments are rooted in the biblical account of creation. To the extent the commandments are rooted in creation, they are part of the law of nature applicable to everyone today.
Other gods. This commandment is rooted in creation because there is only one Creator of the universe, hence, there is only one God. All gods other than the Creator are false.
- “You shall have no other gods before Me.” [Ex. 20:3.]
Idols. An idol is something made by people, who are themselves creatures, which often represents something God has created. Yet, no created thing can be a god, because only the uncreated Creator is God. Thus, this commandment is also rooted in creation.
- “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” [Ex. 20:4.]
God’s name. The revealed names of the Creator are holy. As God created the world by speaking it into existence, so man’s words impact the world, and his words must not be spoken in vain respecting the Creator.
- “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” [Ex. 20:7.]
Sabbath day. The law of the sabbath is rooted in the creation of the world in six days, and God’s resting on the seventh day. Clearly, the sabbath was not invented for the first time at Mt. Sinai. It was merely revealed in a new way at that time.
- “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” [Ex. 20:8,11.]
Honor parents. Contemporaneous with man’s creation, God commanded man to be fruitful and multiply. To honor one’s parents is merely to honor the family order instituted by the Creator.
- “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” [Ex. 20:12.]
Murder. The law of murder must have pre-existed the Ten Commandments. Otherwise, Cain would not have been guilty of murdering Abel, and God would not have told Noah to execute future murderers. Thus, the law of murder must be part of the law of nature.
- “You shall not murder.” [Ex. 20:13.]
Adultery. God made man male and female, and also instituted the marriage relation at the time of creation. To avoid adultery honors the marital relation instituted by God.
- “You shall not commit adultery.” [Ex. 20:14.]
Stealing. The Dominion Mandate, issued contemporaneously with man’s creation, includes authority to “subdue the earth.” Since man’s dominion is the root of all property rights, stealing dishonors the dominion God has given to someone else.
- “You shall not steal.” [Ex. 20:15.]
False witness. Accusations spoken falsely create disorder and dishonor a fellow vice-regent of God, contrary to God’s intentions for His creatures.
- “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” [Ex. 20:16.]
Coveting. Coveting concerns a person’s heart attitude respecting property and possessions belonging to others, thus, is linked to the Dominion Mandate.
- “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” [Ex. 20:17.]
Ceremonial law – Examples.
The Levitical tithe. An example of the ceremonial component of the Mosaic law is the Levitical tithe.
Dual aspect. Tithing in the Bible has a dual legal aspect. That is, there are some aspects of tithing which are part of the law of nature (the moral law), and some aspects which are peculiar to the Levitical priesthood (ceremonial law).
Law of the tenth. The law of the tenth is based on the fact that people had a history of giving a tenth to God prior to the Mosaic law. Thus, the Bible records that Abram gave a tenth of his property to Melchizedek on one occasion, and that Jacob vowed to give a tenth of his future acquisitions to God’s use.
- And he [Melchizedek] blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he [Abram] gave him a tenth of all. [Gen. 14:19-20.]
- Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “. . . this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house; and of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee.” [Gen. 28:20,22.]
However, the Levitical tithe was not a general giving of a tenth in the discretion of the giver. Rather, it was a prescribed form of giving in which the donors, recipients, time, place and manner involved in tithing were all specified in detail. Briefly, the tithe was given exclusively to the Levites as compensation for their services in connection with the tabernacle and the performance of the priestly duties, including the administration of animal sacrifices.
- “And to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting.” [Num. 18:21.]
Priesthood changed. The new covenant in Christ Jesus was inaugurated by His death on the cross and the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. [See, Mat. 27:50-51.] This had the legal effect of abolishing the Levitical system of animal sacrifice, instituting a new priesthood, and abrogating the ceremonial law.
Abolition of animal sacrifice. By His death, Jesus became the supreme sacrifice for sins once and for all, abolishing the system of animal sacrifice.
- After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. [Heb. 10:8-10.]
New priesthood instituted. By becoming an eternal high priest on the order of Melchizedek, Jesus is now the only mediator between God and man. In this way, a new priesthood was established, and of necessity, the Levitical order was abolished.
- Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens . . .. But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. . . . When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. [Heb. 8:1,6-7,13.]
Abrogation of ceremonial law. Since Jesus’ priesthood abolished the Levitical order of priests and the Levitical priests were established by law, a change in the priesthood necessitates a change in the law (that is, the ceremonial law of Israel’s covenant).
- For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. [Heb. 7:12.]
The end result. With the elimination of the Levitical priesthood, the Levitical form of tithing also disappeared, because it was inextricably bound to the nature and existence of the Levitical priesthood: 1) But for the animal sacrifice system, there would have been no Aaronic priesthood; 2) But for the Aaronic priesthood, the Levites would not have been set apart to assist the priests; and 3) But for the Levites being set apart, no tithes would have been instituted. [See, Num. 18:1-7,21-24.]
However, the law of the tenth still remains, since it is part of the law of nature.
Judicial law – Examples.
The judicial law is that aspect of the Mosaic law related to Israel as a theocratic polity. The legal rule is that a legal theocracy is where God is the civil head of the nation and an actual party to the civil covenant. Since ancient Israel is the only theocracy in the history of the world in this legal sense, it is unique as a national polity. It is this sense of uniqueness which provides the key to unlocking those provisions of the Mosaic law which are “judicial.”
- “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Ex. 19:5-6.]
Thus, those provisions of the Mosaic law which relate to ancient Israel as a nation set apart from all other nations as God’s chosen people, as well as the laws regarding the unique political structure of the nation, comprise the judicial law. The following are submitted as examples of the judicial aspect of the Mosaic law:
Intermarriage. The command not to intermarry with the people living in the land of Israel before the Israelites possessed it reflects an ethnic and spiritual purity which the Israelites were to maintain as a holy nation. [See, Deut. 7:1-8.]
Mixing fabrics. The command not to wear clothing made of two materials is symbolic of the ethnic and spiritual purity which the Israelites were to maintain. [See, Lev. 19:19 and Deut. 22:11.]
Religious crimes. The infliction of capital punishment for offenses against God was unique to Israel, because only in that nation would an offense against God also be an offense against the civil ruler. [See, Ex. 31:14-15 (profaning the sabbath); Ex. 19:12-13 (profaning the tabernacle); Lev. 24:16 (blasphemy); Deut. 17:2-7, Ex. 22:20 (idolatry); and Lev. 20:27, Ex. 22:18 (spiritism and occult practices)].
Israel’s throne. Laws relating to the throne of Israel, including the Davidic covenant. [See, Deut. 17:14-15; 2Sam 7:1-29.]
Land of Israel. Laws relating to the land of Israel which was promised through Abraham, confirmed through Isaac and Jacob, and anticipated in the Mosaic law. [See, Gen. 17:7-8; Deut. 1:6-8.] This land, as the unique possession of Israel, reflected the fact that Israel was the unique possession of God. Thus, the land laws of the Mosaic law reflect the theocratic nature of the nation, including the command that the land could not be permanently sold [Lev. 25:23], the law of the Jubilee [Lev. 25:8-17], and the command that the land could not be transferred from one tribe of Israel to another [Num. 36:7-9.]
* Copyright © 1993, 2010 Gerald R. Thompson. Used by permission.