Thursday, March 17, 2011

Does Scripture Repeal the Case Laws?

by Greg L. Bahnsen

(Excerpt from No Other Standard: Theonomy and its Critics)

Some non-theonomists have tried to show that the New Testament sets aside the case laws of the Old Testament. Two recurring problems attend these efforts. First, appeal is sometimes made to texts which do not allude to or pertain to the case laws whatsoever. For instance, appeal is made to Colossians 2:14 and to Ephesians 2:15 by critics of theonomy.[1] These verses have nothing particularly to do with the Old Testament case (judicial) laws, though. Colossians 2:14 deals with the condemning function of the law, while Ephesians 2:15 refers in particular to the ceremonial category of laws which erected a wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles. [Walter] Chantry[2] appeals to Ephesians 2:15 as evidence that the judicial laws “shut out the rest of the world from faith,” but this is extravagant. The requirement of a rooftop railing and the prohibition of rape (just to take two examples) did absolutely nothing to bar the Gentiles from coming to faith. It is not the civil regulations of the Jewish commonwealth which built a wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles. After all, Gentile aliens existed within the land of Israel and even came to saving faith. Moreover, the laws revealed by Moses for the commonwealth were intended to be a model for surrounding Gentile nations (Deut. 4:5-8). Chantry is thus wrong to think Paul was alluding to the judicial laws in Ephesians 2:15. Paul speaks of “the law of commandments in ordinances” which erect a wall between Jews and Gentiles.

God had revealed to the Jews the way of salvation, found in the foreshadows of the ceremonial law (sacrifice, temple, etc.). That law also contained outward signs of separation horn the unbelieving world, such as the dietary separation of clean from unclean meats (Lev. 20:22-26). With the coming of Christ, these ceremonial means of redemption have been made inoperative (Heb. 8:13), and the symbols of separation have been laid aside (Acts 10:11-15). It was the self-sacrifice of Christ which removed these laws that placed a partition between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-15), thus bringing both groups into one saved body on an equal footing. Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:15 has nothing whatsoever to do with Israel as a political body or with the judicial laws of the Old Testament.

In the second place, if the critics were correct in their appeal to these passages, and if these passages pertain to the law itself (without discrimination), then the critics would be reduced to absurdity – proving far, far more than they intended. Such passages would then prove that the entire law of God has passed away (including the ten commandments), leaving us a moral code that no longer prohibits blasphemy, bestiality, cruelty to the blind, etc. (since they are not forbidden in the text of the New Testament).

Greg L. Bahnsen, No Other Standard: Theonomy and its Critics (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), 102-104. Available for free download at I.C.E. Freebooks.

     [1] E.g., D. Dunkerley, “What is Theonomy?’ (privately distributed: McIlwain Memorial Presbyterian Church, Pensacola, Florida, 1978), p. 2; Robert Strong, Theonomy Expanded Observations” (distributed from Reformed Theological Seminary, 1978), p. 4.  
     [2] Walter Chantry, God’s Righteous Kingdom (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), pp. 117, 118, 121.

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