Friday, May 13, 2011

Are you Dispensational when it comes to Old Testament Civil Law?

John Nelson Darby, the father
of Dispensationalism
by Steve C. Halbrook

Do you become dispensational when it comes to Old Testament civil law?

Do you affirm covenantal theology, and thus hold that particular laws in the Old Testament (O. T.) are mandatory today unless they have been modified in the New Testament (N. T.)? Consequently, do you oppose Dispensationalism for holding that O. T. law was just for Israel; that particular laws in the O. T. are repealed unless they are repeated in the New Testament? 

If yes, then excellent! And we agree. This is the historic, Reformed (and most importantly, biblical) view.  All Scripture (Old and New Testament) equips the man of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16, 17); Jesus upheld the moral law until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17-20).

And yet, when it comes to O. T. civil law, do you suddenly shift gears and adapt a dispensational heuremantuetic? That is, when someone says that the O. T. civil laws are binding today, do you argue (as dispensationalists do), “Those laws were just for Israel! Nowhere are they repeated in the New Testament!”

Now hold on. Aren’t you covenantal? Why then the about-face? Surely you don’t hold that the O. T. law against bestiality (Exodus 22:19) is expired, simply because the N. T. doesn’t repeat this law? 

Of course not.

But logical consistency demands the same approach to O.T. civil law. Silence in the N.T. about O.T. civil laws no more abrogates these laws than silence in the N.T. about bestiality abrogates that law.  The presumption covenantal theology makes is that O. T. laws are still valid unless proven by the N. T. to be invalid.

Maybe you think that the civil law was part of the abrogated ceremonial law. But how would you justify this?

Consider the clear distinctions between civil and ceremonial law. The ceremonial law typified redemption (cf. Hebrews 10:1) or taught the redemptive community principles of separation from unbelievers (cf. Leviticus 20:22-26), while the civil law was the enforcement of non-redemptive justice (Exodus 21:23-25; cf. Hebrews 2:2). The ceremonial law was only binding on Israel's covenant community (Exodus 12:48)
, while the civil law was binding on all of Israel (Leviticus 24:22; cf. vv. 16-23). The civil law is simply the (abiding) moral law applied to the state.

And, let us add, O. T. civil law is in fact repeated in the New Testament. (Not that dispensational theology, as an inconsistent system, would accept this as a basis for upholding O. T. civil law.)

For example, Jesus upheld the moral law (which includes O.T. civil law) until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17-20); He particularly upheld the capital punishment against cursing one's parents (Matthew 15:4); and after His resurrection, He required His disciples to teach all nations to observe everything He commanded the disciples (Matthew 28:19, 20)--and surely these commands include the civil law, which He affirmed prior to the resurrection. 

And let's not forget the repentant Zacchias affirming the O.T. law of restitution (Luke 19:8; cf. Exodus 22:1). Then there is Paul's affirmation of O. T. civil law by advocating innocence until proven guilty (Acts 23:3; cf. Deuteronomy 25:1, 2); repenting of speaking against the high priest (Acts. 23:5); recognition of the validity of a plurality of O.T. capital punishments (Acts 25:11); and holding that all Scripture (including the O.T.) equips the man of God for every good work  (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)--which encompasses good works in the civil sphere.

(This last verse really shows the self-refuting nature of Dispensationalism; while Dispensationalism holds that only the N. T. is for Christians, the N. T. itself says that the O. T. is for Christians.)

We can give more examples, but you must see our point by now. Rejecting O. T. civil law is neither consistent with covenantal theology, nor with the "N. T. only" argument.

And so, if you are going to be truly covenantal, how long will you waver between two opinions? If dispensationalism is true, then embrace it. But if covenantal theology is true, then embrace it, and stop rejecting O. T. civil law on the basis of dispensational theology.      

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