Studies in the Laws of Nature’s God
by Gerald R. Thompson
SELF-STUDY – THE MOSAIC LAW
In prior studies, we have had occasion to look at a Bible verse embodying a legal rule and ask, “Is this law peculiar to ancient Israel, or is it applicable to all nations today?” In this study, we will examine this matter in more detail. A key feature of the Mosaic law is its affiliation with Israel’s covenant, which was discussed earlier. Thus, the interpretation of that law becomes, in essence, an interpretation of the applicability of Israel’s covenant.
We are not without precedent in examining this matter, of course. One approach is to consider Israel’s covenant as terminated in its entirety because it has been superseded by the Church covenant. A second approach views the Mosaic law as simply irrelevant to Gentile nations in its entirety, because it never applied to anyone but the Jews. A third approach argues for the existence of “continuity” between Israel’s covenant and the Church covenant, viewing the Mosaic law as covenantally binding on the Church, except for its redemptive (religious ceremonial) aspects.
A fourth approach regards the applicability of the Mosaic law as depending on the subject matter involved. Some presume the provisions of the Mosaic law are repealed unless expressly repeated in the New Testament. Others presume the specific provisions of the Mosaic law are presently binding unless expressly modified in the New Testament. There are, to be sure, other views.
To promote discussion, the present effort will propose a number of legal rules and interpretive principles in an attempt to chart a methodical course through this difficult area. This study will attempt to find some common threads from our prior studies in jurisprudence which apply to the present matter. Of course, you are welcome to disagree and to clear your own path of legal understanding.
The proposed interpretational rules are as follows:
A. We should not interpret Israel’s covenant differently than any other divine covenant. Those rules of law and logic which apply to one covenant ought to be applied to all of the covenants in a consistent and even-handed fashion.
B. To the extent a legal principle or rule is based upon the account of creation it is a part of the law of nature applicable to all people, because it reflects the will of God impressed upon the creation to which all are subject.
C. Any legal principle or rule in the Bible which is not part of the law of nature must be a part of some divine covenant. A covenant, however, is binding only on the original parties and their descendants.
D. It is possible that some provisions of the divine covenants merely restate (in verbal form) the law of nature. However, when this happens, it does not make the entire divine covenant applicable to everyone. A single verse may, in fact, embody multiple legal principles, some of which are based in creation, and some of which are peculiar to a covenant.
Most of the controversy in this matter centers around ¶C; to wit: 1) Has God given us any laws other than what is contained in the law of nature and the divine covenants? and 2) Just who does a divine covenant bind, anyway?
1. Was the Mosaic law, as a matter of covenant, ever obligatory upon any nation other than ancient Israel?
- Is any divine covenant binding on someone other than the original parties and their physical descendants? If so, give an example.
- Read Rom. 2:28-29. Are Christians the legal heirs of Israel? Is “Jewishness” for purposes of this verse a moral, or legal, quality?
- Read Gal. 3:15-19,26-29. To what extent are Christians the legal heirs of Abraham? Are Christians entitled to legal possession of the land of Israel? Why or why not?
2. To what extent may a single provision of a covenant embody multiple legal principles or rules, some based upon creation, some peculiar to the covenant, and others which are no longer applicable?
- Is there any legal or logical rule which requires a single passage of scripture to embody no more than one principle?
- Is there any precedent for one passage of scripture having multiple applications or standing for multiple principles? If so, give an example.
The Mosaic covenant has essentially three legal components, which have been recognized for centuries by a wide variety of biblical and legal commentators, namely, the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial law.
It is proposed that the eternal moral law is none other than the law of nature applicable to all people today. Arguably, many of the specific Mosaic laws were simply applications of the law of nature to specific situations. To the extent these laws are based upon the nature of the creation, they still apply to everyone today.
Let us now examine the Ten Commandments as an illustration of the moral law. The legal task is to determine whether the Ten Commandments are based in the biblical account of creation. What do you think – are the Ten Commandments part of the law of nature?
1. Have no false gods. To what extent is this commandment is based in creation because there is only one Creator, hence, there is only one God?
2. Make no idols. To what extent is this commandment part of the law of nature because no created thing can be a god transcendent from the creation?
3. Don’t use God’s name in vain. Consider this logic: The revealed names of the Creator are holy, and our words must not be spoken in vain respecting the Creator. Yes or No?
4. Keep the sabbath day holy. To what extent is the principle of the sabbath based on the manner in which the world was created.
5. Honor your father and mother. Contemporaneous with man’s creation, God instituted the family. To what extent is honoring one’s parents merely to honor the family order instituted by the Creator?
6. Do not murder. Did the law of murder pre-exist the Ten Commandments (Hint: remember Cain and Abel)? Is it part of the law of nature?
7. Do not commit adultery. God instituted the marriage relation at the time of creation. Is the law of adultery part of God’s eternal moral law?
8. Do not steal. To what extent does stealing dishonor the dominion God has given to someone else? Is this principle based in creation?
9. Do not testify falsely. Try this: Accusations spoken falsely dishonor a fellow image-bearer of God. Is this part of the law of nature?
10. Do not covet. Consider this: Coveting concerns a person’s heart attitude respecting property and possessions belonging to others, thus, is linked with the command not to steal. Is this command part of the eternal moral law?
The judicial law was historically described as certain forms of justice and equity delivered to the polity of Israel. Thus, it is proposed, the judicial law is the law peculiar to the national polity of Israel as a theocracy. A legal theocracy, as examined earlier, is where God is the civil head of the nation and an actual party to the civil covenant. Presumably, the nation of Israel is unique in this respect. It is this sense of uniqueness which provides the key to unlocking those provisions of the Mosaic law which are “judicial.”
Thus, we are on the lookout, as it were, for 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. The following are submitted as examples of the judicial aspect of the Mosaic law:
1. Read Deut. 7:1-8. To what extent does the command not to intermarry with the people living in the land before the Israelites possessed it reflect an ethnic and spiritual purity which Israel was to maintain as a holy nation?
2. Read Lev. 19:19 and Deut. 22:11. To what extent is the command not to wear clothing made of two materials symbolic of the ethnic and spiritual purity which the Israelites were to maintain?
3. Read Ex. 31:14-15; Ex. 19:12-13; Lev. 24:16; Deut. 17:2-7; Ex. 22:20; Lev. 20:27; and Ex. 22:18. To what extent is the infliction of capital punishment for offenses against God unique to Israel, because only in that nation would an offense against God also be an offense against the civil ruler?
4. Read Deut. 17:14-15 and 2 Sam. 7:1-29. To what extent are laws relating to the throne of Israel, including the Davidic covenant, unique to that nation?
5. Read Lev. 25:8-17,25; and Num. 36:7-9. Do the land laws of the Jews reflect the theocratic nature of the nation? To what extent did the land, as the unique possession of Israel, reflect the fact that Israel was God’s unique possession?
6. Do you think any of the above laws are moral laws applicable to us today? Which ones, and why?
The ceremonial law is generally regarded as the tutelage of Israel which foreshadowed the church covenant pertaining to personal redemption. It is proposed here that 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 it has been abolished. Thus, it does not apply even to Israel any longer.
For an example, we could look at the various provisions of the law pertaining to animal sacrifice and the temple, but that’s too easy. Let’s try something a little more legally challenging: To what extent is the law of tithing applicable today?
1. Read Num. 18:21-24. Was the Levitical tithe a general giving of a tenth in the discretion of the giver, or a prescribed form of giving in which the donors, recipients, time, place and manner were all specified in detail?
2. Read Num. 18:1-6. What was the underlying rationale for the institution of the Levitical tithe? (Hint: Who were the Levites, and what were their special duties and legal disabilities in the nation?)
3. Read Heb. 8:1,6-7,13. What was the effect of the church covenant with respect to the Levitical priesthood? To what extent was the Levitical order of priests abolished?
4. Read Heb. 7:12. To what extent did the abolition of the Levitical order require a legal change? What was the nature of that legal change? Were all laws associated with the Levitical order equally affected by that change? What law is the subject of Heb. 7:1-11, and how does it relate to verse 12?
- Were Abram and Jacob bound by the Mosaic law, or their tithing activities undertaken pursuant to the Levitical tithe? What effect would a change of the ceremonial law have on pre-Mosaic law?
- Does the law of tithing have a dual legal aspect? That is, are there 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)? If so, could other biblical laws have a similar dual aspect?
* Copyright © 1995, 2006 Gerald R. Thompson. Used by permission.