Biblical Principles of Law
by Herbert W. Titus
Ch. 1 – LAW AND JUSTICE
At the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes, the reader, having been exposed to the vanity of men’s philosophies of life, is given one simple message: “Fear God, and keep His commandments: For this is the whole duty of man.”1 Beginning with the latter part of the nineteenth century and continuing at a faster pace in the 1980’s, a steady parade of legal scholars, judges, lawyers, and an ever-increasing vanguard of their fellow citizens in the Christian West, have ignored this wise biblical counsel. “Professing themselves to be wise,” they have “become fools” by exchanging a heritage of a revealed law-order created by God, and accepted by their Christian forefathers, for an imaginary political power game invented by man.
This deal – a trade of law for politics – has brought the once-Christian West to the brink of destruction. Instead of prosperity and freedom, security and liberty, nation after nation in Europe and in the Americas teeters between totalitarian rule and anarchical chaos. In the United States, for example, the church and other voluntary associations find themselves increasingly forced into homogenous social patterns dictated by the Internal Revenue Service and other federal state agencies. At the same time, repeal of traditional laws protecting society from sexual promiscuity has ushered in a cacophony of movements from the so-called “gay liberationists” to “incest insisters,” each of which is committed to its own sexual preference agenda.
In such an age of confusion and conflict, God’s call upon His people to teach all nations the commandments of His Son2 must include the principles necessary to reconstruct God’s law-order for the nations. That call, like any rebuilding effort, must begin with the very foundations of law. Not surprisingly, God has revealed those foundations in the very first book of the Holy Scriptures.
In the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”3 Within six days God imposed order upon His creation and established man as His vice-regent over the entire earth and its inhabitants. During this period, God embedded His creation with the rules by which man was to exercise the dominion that God had given him.
God made these rules – this law-order – knowable to man from the beginning, even before He revealed His law to Moses. Thus, Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome:
- [T]hat which may be known of God is manifest in . . . [all men]; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead . . ..4
Moreover, God’s law order comprehended His entire creation. Not one area, physical or spiritual, was left uncovered as Paul reminded the Christians at Colosse:
- For by him [Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.5
While man has never seen, heard, touched, smelled, nor tasted God’s invisible laws, he has observed their effects through the blessings resulting from man’s obedience and the curses from disobedience. For example, God so created the land that man has experienced throughout history the blessings of protecting human life, and the curses of taking that life. God’s judgment upon Cain for having murdered his brother rested upon the testimony of the earth: “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”6 Moreover, God’s punishment of Cain for that murder came through that same earth:
- And now art though cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; when thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.7
What happened to Cain has continued to happen throughout history to every murderer: Man killers have become fugitives and wanderers unable to exercise the dominion authority that God has given them. Moreover, that same fate has befallen nations that have failed to obey God’s command to and covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”
God affirmed this law to Moses with unmistakable clarity:
- [Y]e shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death . . . So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.8
Yet Israel ignored this law and lost its place in the family of nations:
- They . . . shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan: And the land was polluted with blood . . . Therefore was the wrath of the Lord kindled . . . And He gave them into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them.9
Through Israel’s failure to honor God’s law protecting innocent blood, all nations on earth have been warned that if they refuse to impose capital punishment upon murderers they do so at their peril. As God cursed the earth and expelled the people of Israel from the promised land,10 He will impose that same judgment on others.
In the past two or three decades, nation after nation has deliberately chosen to defy God’s law protecting innocent blood by encouraging and practicing abortion and, on an ever increasing scale, infanticide and euthanasia. But as Paul wrote to the Christians at Galatia: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”11 The law of the land that cursed Cain and spewed out Israel has not changed. To the contrary, as Jesus Christ has reminded us: “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”12
In the book of Deuteronomy, God revealed to Moses that Israel’s future lay in its choice of law-orders. Israel and her people were promised life and happiness if they obeyed the law of God but death and curses if they disobeyed. And God recorded this revelation in “heaven and earth” not only for the benefit of Israel, herself, but for all nations.13 Yet men and nations have ignored this record almost without exception.
One outstanding exception was the United States of America during its first 200 years, from the early part of the 17th century to the early part of the 19th century. When the first Europeans came to America, they justified their settlements under Christ’s Great Commission. Every colonial charter gave as the primary reason for coming to the new world the “propagating of Christian Religion to . . . People, [who] as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring . . . [such People] to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government.”14
This claim not only established the legitimacy of their religious purpose under the law of God, but the legitimacy of their colonial purpose under God’s law for the nations. As Israel laid claim to the land of Canaan under God’s Old Testament decree,15 so Christians laid claim to America under God’s New Testament command:
- All power [authority] is given unto me [Christ] in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever that I have commanded you . . ..16
Having established the legitimacy of the colonial enterprise upon this law of God, America’s revolutionary leaders, a century later, relied upon that same law to justify their decision to separate from the mother country and to become an independent nation:
- When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to separation.
The “laws of nature and of nature’s God” were familiar 18th century terms that referred to the “will of the Creator” as revealed in nature and in the Holy Scriptures.17
Not only did the United States justify its becoming a legitimate member of the family of nations upon the law of God, as had Israel, each state and the federal union justified their legal and political structures upon the covenant law that God revealed through Israel in her choice to be ruled by a king. While the people of Israel demanded a king “like all the other nations,”18 God in His mercy gave her a covenant king under God’s law:
- Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord.19
Beginning with the Mayflower Compact in 1620 and, continuing through the revolutionary war, the American statesmen adopted the covenant form of government by written charters and constitutions containing the God-given framework and limits for the exercise of civil authority. While America’s Old Testament roots have been widely ignored in recent years, they were gratefully acknowledged in her early history as the following quote from David Hoffman’s 1846 Course on Law Study attests:
- The Bible . . . affords the only authentic history of the origin and multiplication of mankind; and by exhibiting the actual manner in which society was generated, and communities formed, offers the best theory of the social compact. These remarks apply of course chiefly to those portions of the Bible connected with the origin and polity of the Jews.
Not only did America’s constitutional commitments link her to Israel and to God’s law, but each new state sought to submit her citizens’ daily lives to God’s law through the English common law. Jesse Root, the first reporter of court decisions in Connecticut, heralded the new nation’s Common law as having been “derived from the law of nature and of revelation – those rules and maxims of immutable truth and justice, which arise from the eternal fitness of things. . ..”20 Even Joseph Story, while a Unitarian at heart, was a Trinitarian at law: “There never has been a period, in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundation.”21
With such a Biblical heritage, Christians have been given a foundation for reconstruction not only of America’s legal system, but of the legal systems of all nations. The task then is to rediscover God’s common law for the nations and to proclaim it to a dying world:
- See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.22
At the heart of the common law was a Biblical definition of law. One of its great expositors, Sir William Blackstone, discovered the meaning of law in the book of Genesis. In chapter II of his Commentaries on the Law of England, he noted that God, as the Creator of the heavens and the earth and of all living creatures, created the rules of action that all creation was bound to obey.
First, God created the physical world and subjected that world to rules that governed its action. For example, on the fourth day God created the sun “to rule the day” and the moon and stars “to rule the night.”23 Moreover, God revealed to Job that He had created all such rules before man ever existed:
- “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . Who hath laid the measures thereof . . . or who hath stretched the line upon it? . . . Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in earth?”24
Yet, through the ages, God has allowed man to discover His physical laws as He did when Sir Isaac Newton discovered in 1684 the law of gravitation. That law, in turn, reflected the truth revealed by God in Genesis 1 that the movement of physical objects on earth was regulated in relation to other physical objects in the universe.
Second, God created plant and animal life. And, as was true of the physical inanimate creation, God subjected this life to rules of action that it was bound to obey. For example, on the third day God created each plant and each tree bearing seed after his kind and on the fifth and sixth days God created each animal bearing forth “after his kind.”25 Once again God revealed to Job that the laws governing life, such as the law of gestation, were created before man existed:
- “Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? Or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve? Canst thou number the months that they fulfill? Or knowest thou the time when they bring forth?”26
Yet, as has been the case with the inanimate physical world, God has opened to man opportunities to discover his law of gestation, nutrition, growth, and other biological activities. Indeed, man’s discoveries have affirmed God’s law that each plant, each tree, and each animal reproduces after his kind.
Finally, God created man. While God did create man to reproduce after “his kind,” He, also, created man specially in His own image. Thus, God subjected man not only to the laws governing His animate and inanimate creation, God also subjected man – as the bearer of His image – to laws which reflected God’s will and intellect. Because God created man along with everything else to be entirely dependent upon Him, God required man to conform to His will.27 Blackstone and his contemporaries called this “will of the maker . . . the law of nature.”
From the beginning God made it clear that He had created a law-order especially addressed to man’s unique nature. For example, in Genesis 1, God commanded man to do good: to multiply and to subdue the earth and its creatures.28 In Genesis 2, God commanded man not to do evil: “[O]f the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”29 He commanded no other creature concerning good and evil, because He had created no other creature like man.
The book of Genesis, then, has established the first essential element of a Biblical definition of law, namely, that it is a rule of action created by God by which God’s creation is governed. Man did not invent law as modern day legal positivists have contended. To the contrary, man has by God’s grace discovered the laws of gravitation, the laws of gestation, and the laws of human society. Moreover, man has not found law inherent in an eternal universe as modern day natural law theorists have assumed. Instead, God created the law governing His creation at the same time that He created all things; and, like that created world, that law-order has both a beginning and an end.30 Without the sun to govern the day and the moon to govern the night, there will be no law of gravitation governing the new physical universe. With Christ as the light to all of that universe’s human inhabitants, there will be no “law of nature” governing the new man. Rather, God’s new creation will walk in the light as He is in the light in which there is no darkness at all.31
God has not only created Law, He has revealed that law to man. In Matthew 16:6, Jesus Christ warned His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Matthew devoted this entire chapter to Christ’s exposure of the limitations of human reason. The Lord Christ taught that the empirical observations of man, unaided by God’s revelation, could never uncover the truths of God. To demonstrate this proposition, Christ conducted a “Gallup poll:” “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” And they said, “Some say thou art John the Baptist: some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.”32 Not until Peter suddenly exclaimed: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” was the truth known. Christ, then, identified the unmistakable source of that truth: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”33
The early scholars and practitioners of the common law accepted Christ’s teaching in Matthew 16 and sought God’s revelation in nature and in His Holy Scriptures to discover God’s precepts for man. Indeed, the phrase “law of nature” meant simply the will of God as it has been revealed by God in His creation.34 The Psalmist David linked the Laws of God to God’s revelation through nature with these words:
- The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world . . . The law of the Lord is perfect.35
Moreover, Moses, before God revealed His written law in the Ten Commandments, applied the law of God to the disputes brought before him as judge:
- “[T]he people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.”36
Not only did God’s leaders know God’s law by revelation through nature, but all men by faith in the Creator may know God’s law as did Abel when he “offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous . . .”37 As Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, all men have always known God’s law, they have simply suppressed that knowledge in unrighteousness. That knowledge has always been revealed by God through His creation:
- [T]hat which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it to them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made . . ..38
Even though God revealed His laws through nature; nevertheless, because of His mercy He also revealed those laws in writing in the Holy Scriptures. Blackstone has captured well why God chose to speak His law to man through His Word:
- [I]n order to apply . . . [the law of nature], it is still necessary to have recourse to reason, whose office it is to discover . . . what the law of nature directs . . . And if our reason were always, as in our first ancestor before his transgression, clear and perfect . . . we should need no other guide . . . But . . . [man’s] reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error.39
The law that God has revealed in His Word has not contradicted His Law revealed through His creation. Rather, it has confirmed that law. For example, the law prohibiting murder that has been revealed through the land that cried out upon the spilling of innocent blood was revealed by God in the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”40 Moreover, the blessings of obedience to God’s law and the curses of disobedience have been specified in God’s revelation to Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy, Chapter 28.
Because of his corrupt nature, the natural man has chosen throughout the ages to reject God’s revealed Law. For example, the modern age has yielded two schools of legal philosophy: the legal positivists who have sought to explain law as the invention of wise men, and the natural law theorists who have labored to explain law as reflections of eternal truth reasoned by wise men. Both schools have become victims of a self-created dilemma, As Roscoe Pound, dean of the Harvard Law School in the early 1900’s, acknowledged:
- From the time when lawgivers gave over the attempt to maintain the general security by belief that particular bodies of human law had been divinely dictated or divinely revealed or divinely sanctioned, they have had to wrestle with the problem of proving to mankind that the law was something fixed and settled, whose authority was beyond question, while at the same time enabling it to make constant readjustments and occasional radical changes under the pressure of infinite and variable human desires.41
Having experienced no better than a draw in this wrestling match between stability and change, the legal positivists bankrupted the German legal system by justifying the near extermination of the Jews in the name of social order. And the natural law theorists are today seeking to erode the American legal system by justifying sexual anarchy in the name of liberty. Both are guilty of the same error: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things.”42
God’s people have by God’s grace been positioned to receive God’s true Law of justice and liberty for mankind: As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
- Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.43
Christ, Himself, promised His disciples that if they continued in His word then they would know the truth of God. Included in that truth is the Law of God as revealed by Him in nature and in the Holy Scriptures.
What God has revealed to man is a world sovereignly governed by God. Blackstone summarized this fact in one short paragraph as follows:
- This law of nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this; and such of these as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.44
In other words, Law to be called Law must be unchanging, that is, fixed, uniform, and universal, not relative as to time, person or situation, or place.
In Psalm 148, God revealed that His laws governing the physical universe – the sun, the moon, the stars, and the heavens have been forever fixed. In like manner God revealed to Job that His laws that govern the animate world have not changed from the time that He created them:
- “Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . Who hath laid the measures thereof . . . ? or who hath stretched the line upon it? . . . Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass? Whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwellings.”45
As the laws governing God’s inanimate and animate creation have been fixed from the beginning, so have been the laws of good and evil. As Jesus Christ, Himself, has declared:
- “Think not that I am come to destroy the law . . . I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, til all be fulfilled.”46
Jesus, therefore, warned the people not to be misled by the Scribes and the Pharisees who taught, for example, that God’s command concerning marriage could be broken because it had not remained as it has been at the beginning:
- “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder . . .. Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”47
Not only is God’s law fixed over time, it is uniform; that is, not relative to person or to situation. This characteristic of law has been confirmed by God for the inanimate world by His response to Joshua’s prayer for victory over the Amorites:
- Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel. And he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun stand thou still upon Gibeon and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon.”48
Only by God’s sovereign intervention into the physical laws of the universe did the sun, the moon, and the earth stand still. The uniqueness of this event has been recorded:
- And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord harkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel.49
This event, by its uniqueness, has established that law must be uniform – absolutely binding in all circumstances and on all men; otherwise, it cannot correctly be called law.
What is true for law in the inanimate physical world, that it is both fixed and uniform, is true for the animate world. Thus, God revealed to Job these observations about the ostrich:
- “Gavest thou the . . . wings and feathers unto the ostrich? Which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmth them in the dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labor is in vain without fear; Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding.”50
The ostrich, like all of God’s living creatures, cannot deviate from the fixed and uniform rules governing its life. Indeed, God has protected her from doing so by depriving her of “wisdom” and “understanding.” In short, she has been programmed to behave after her kind.
But man has not been programmed in the same way; rather, he has been created in God’s image. Although he has the capacity to conduct himself contrary to God’s rules and to justify that conduct in his mind, man is bound by God’s uniform rules of right and wrong. That has been so from the beginning. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Nevertheless, they partook of the forbidden fruit because they believed it to be good. Then, they justified their conduct before God:
- “Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” And the man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat . . ..” And the woman said, “the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”51
Neither Adam’s and Eve’s behavior nor their justifications altered God’s command that they not eat of this one tree in the Garden of Eden. God’s law concerning the tree did not change because of Satan’s deceitful act nor because of Eve’s gullibility. The very nature of Law does not allow man to relativize it to fit his personal desires or to accommodate his situation.
This truth about God’s law learned through the fall of Adam and Eve has been repeated again and again in the Holy Scriptures. For example, God has revealed that if a male makes a vow to God, then he is obligated without exception to perform it.52 Thus, Joshua was obligated to save the Gibeonites from destruction because of his vow even though it had been secured through fraud.53 And Jephthah, the ninth judge of Israel, was obligated to kill his daughter because he had vowed to sacrifice the first one who came out of his house upon his return from war if God granted him victory.54 God’s law of vow was not modified by either a fraudulent circumstance or a special person. It was uniform.
To be law according to Scripture, a rule must not only be fixed and uniform, but, also, universal, that is, not relative to place. This principle may be easily demonstrated in the physical world: the law of gravitation and the law of gestation govern the entire universe; they are the same in Africa and in America. That is why an airplane may fly around the world without having to undergo structural change; that is, also, why it takes as long to produce a panda bear baby in the San Diego zoo as in China. Likewise, God’s laws governing man’s choices of right and wrong behavior do not vary by cultures or nations. As Paul told the “men of Athens” in his sermon on Mars Hill:
- “God . . . hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord . . . and find him.”55
God’s “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” applies to all peoples, to all nations. Indeed, God created the nations out of one people in order to save man from destruction through salvation by works.56 In turn, He created Israel to point all people to His mercy to a salvation by Faith through Jesus Christ.57
Man has denied that God created the nations. Through the ages men have claimed credit for kingdoms and their law-orders.58 Modern legal anthropologists have continued this heresy by asserting that law depends upon the choice of a nation’s people. The common law assumed otherwise. It followed the Bible’s teaching that God, the Sovereign Ruler of all nations, determined not only all nations’ lifespans and boundaries, but all nations’ law-orders.
From this brief analysis have emerged the three essential ingredients of law: 1) It is created by God; 2) It is revealed by God; and 3) It is imposed by God without regard to time, situation or person, or place. In order then for any command or order or rule or other act to be called law, it must conform to these Biblical principles. As Blackstone has put it, no human law is law at all if it contradicts “the law of nature or the law of revelation.” Ignoring this maxim, man, especially twentieth-century man, has ushered in totalitarian reigns of lawless rule. Indeed, the lawlessness practiced by today’s United States Supreme Court in such cases as Roe v. Wade (the pro-abortion decision) has been made possible by contemporary legal scholarship that has denied that man discovers the law, but has claimed that man makes law. Blackstone’s view of the role of the judge followed that of Moses: a judge’s opinion was evidence of the law, not law itself. Therefore, if a court order was “clearly contrary to the divine law” then it should not be followed, not because such an order was “bad law, but that it was not law” at all. Such biblical thinking about law is an absolute necessity to restore the rule of law not only in America, but throughout the world.