Thursday, March 12, 2015

Proof that Modern Theonomy Advocates the Historic Understanding of the Judicial Law

by Steve C. Halbrook

Because of advocating the abiding validity of the judicial laws of Moses, modern theonomy is often presented as being out of step with historic Protestantism (especially Reformed historic Protestantism). It is alleged that the latter did not affirm that the judicial laws are binding on all nations; they were unique for Israel, and thus were abrogated in the New Covenant era. Statements are pointed to by theologians in history to support this claim.

However, modern theonomists will often object to this, saying that theonomy is in fact historical. They, too, will point to statements by theologians in history to support their claim.

Which is true?

When judging modern theonomy's view of the judicial law in relation to Protestant history, two things are needed: 1) familiarity with what modern theonomy teaches, as well as 2) familiarity with what Protestantism has historically taught.

When judging what modern theonomy advocates, why not go to its best representative: Greg L. Bahnsen, who popularized the term "theonomy" with his book Theonomy in Christian Ethicsand was the movement's leading exegetical defender? 

Bahnsen's Two-Fold Distinction of the Judicial Law

When we take the time to read his work, we find that Bahnsen did not have a simplistic view of the judicial laws of Moses. That is, he did not say that they are all binding today exactly as they are worded in Scripture. This is crucial for understanding his view on the judicial law.

While he affirmed that some laws are binding as they are worded (e.g., due process process laws, the requirement of capital punishment for certain violations of the moral law), he also affirms that 1) some laws were completely unique for Israel (e.g., laws regulating aspects of the land of Canaan), and 2) other laws may not apply in their cultural expressions, but at least apply in their underlying moral principle (e.g., rooftop railings may not be mandatory in our culture, since families do not spend time on roofs,but a fence around a swimming pool might be).

Protestantism's Two-Fold Distinction of the Judicial Law

Now, while Protestant history may not be unanimous in this view, this is certainly the view of historic Reformed and Calvinistic theology: the judicial laws do in fact bind usnot as they applied to Jews (laws of particular equity), as Jewsbut in their common equity

That is, judicial laws that are not tied to unique situations of the Jews or the ceremonial law, but that relate to the moral law (such as prohibitions for violations of the moral law, due process laws, and ruler qualifications) are binding today; and some judicial lawsthose with a particular equity/common equity overlap—are binding to the degree there is an underlying moral principle.

Where one can get easily confused when reading statements in history is through the different meanings given to the word "judicial." At times, theologians used the word "judicial" to judicial laws as strictly given to Israel; at other times, it may refer to judicial laws that apply to all nations. 

Therefore, statements by the Reformers regarding the judicial laws of Mosesand their applicability to all nationsmay be either positive or negative, depending on the meaning they give to "judicial."

For a fuller understanding of the historic use of the term "judicial law," I highly recommend "Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity" by Vindiciae Legis. With its thorough historical treatment of statements by Protestant theologians, including Westminster divines, regarding the judicial law, along with its contextual analysis of Section 19.4 of the Westminster Confession, the article demonstrates without any doubt the binding nature of the judicial law (in its general equity) in the historic Reformed tradition. 

By reading this, one can better understand the statement in Section 19.4 of the Westminster Confession of Faith ("To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require") in light of Section 23.3 ("to take order that ... all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed"), which favorably cites judicial laws from Deuteronomy 13:5 and Leviticus 24:16 (in the original 1647 version). 

Of course, the Westminster Assembly inherited the notion of the abiding validity of the judicial law from the Reformers themselves. For a large collection of quotations from the Reformers advocating the sufficiency of Scripture for civil government (which implies the need for the judicial law) and on the judicial law in particular, see "Sola Scriptura and Civil Government: Part 1: The Regulative Principle of the State as Advocated in the Reformation." (Lord willing, future posts in this series will include quotes from the American Puritans, Covenanters, and others.)

And so, contrary to what some theonomy critics believe, modern theonomy doesn't advocate adhering to all of the judicial law any more than historic Protestantism advocates adhering to none of it. They both advocate adhering to judicial laws relevant for all men while also denying that we must adhere to judicial laws particular to Israel. 

If in fact there happen to be theonomists who do advocate all of the judicial law for today, or believe that the judicial law can only be applied as worded (and thus denying the underlying moral principles in the judicial law that can apply to various settings), it is fallacious to infer from this that all of them doespecially when the movement's best theological leader, Greg L. Bahnsen, believed otherwise. 

And of course, historic Protestantism is not unanimous in advocating the moral equity of the judicial law either; but we don't infer from this that there are none in historic Protestantism who did, especially when a significant number of Protestants (especially those from the most biblical theological tradition, the Reformed tradition) actually did.

Here we include quotes from both Bahnsen and those in history to show that his two-fold view of the judicial law is nothing new; it was advocated throughout Protestant history. 

Following this, we include a short appendix on R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North on distinctions in the Mosaic Law.

Statements by Greg L. Bahnsen

Bahnsen on the obligation of magistrates to enforce relevant Old Testament penal sanctions:
[W]e must recognize the continuing obligation of civil magistrates to obey and enforce the relevant laws of the Old Testament, including the penal sanctions specified by the just Judge of all the earth. As with the rest of God's law, we must presume continuity of binding authority regarding the socio-political commandments revealed as standing law in the Old Testament.
Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God's Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics), 4.
Bahnsen on the division of Mosaic laws into those that bind all nations and those that don't:
Theonomists maintain that the Mosaic code and regulations contain some items which are not based upon necessary moral principles, but rather God’s sovereign good pleasure; as such they are not binding in all ages and upon all culturesitems which must be distinguished and identified on the basis of Scriptural teaching.  The other Mosaic regulations and precepts communicate God’s unchanging moral principlesand indeed are identical to those precepts which correspond to the divine moral principles learned through general revelation.   
Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., House Divided: The Break-Up of Dispensational Theology (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics), 92, 93.
Bahnsen on the laying aside of laws regulating aspects of the land of Canaan:
With the coming and establishment of that kingdom typified by the "promised land," and with the removal of special kingdom privileges from the Jews by Christ, the laws regulating aspects of the land of Canaan (for example, family plots, location of cities of refuge, the levirate institution) have been laid aside in the New Testament as inapplicable.
Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God's Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics), 6.
Bahnsen on not being bound to the unique cultural details of the Mosaic law, but the underlying moral principles:
Furthermore, it should be perfectly plain to any student of Scripture, theonomic or not, that God requires obedience to the underlying principles illustrated by Scripture’s cultural expressions. Theonomy [in Christian Ethics] plainly observed: “the case law illustrates the application or qualification of the principle laid down in the general commandment,” and it is “the underlying principle (of which the case law was a particular illustration)” which “has abiding ethical validity.” We are not bound to the cultural details of flying axheads and rooftop railings, but to the principles about unpremeditated homicide and safety precautions, etc. Those who have ridiculed the theonomic position for requiring observance of ancient cultural details should give responsible reflection to their ill-conceived criticism. Such disdain would equally ridicule New Testament ethical directives with their cultural trappings as though “Go and do likewise” at the end of the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:37) literally obligates us to pour oil and wine on the wounds of halfdead victims of robbery on the Jericho road today, setting them on donkeys (not in cars) and paying for their stay at roadside inns with (literal) denarii. Critical ridicule which is blind to this feature of Biblical interpretation in general is too superficial and inconsistent to warrant serious attention. 
Greg L. Bahnsen, "Preface to the Second Edition," in Theonomy in Christian Ethics: Third Edition (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), xxiv, xxv.
On the Westminster Confession of Faith, he notes:
The Confession teaches us, not that the judicial laws were abrogated, but rather that they "expired" due to the expiration of Israel as a "political body." When the particular political body for which they were worded passed away, the literal wording or specific form of the judicial laws was put out of gear. Only the underlying principle ("equity") of those historical illustrations continues to be obligatory.
Greg Bahnsen, "The Westminster Assembly and the Judicial Law," Penpoint Vol. IV:7 (Covenant Media Foundation, October, 1993), 800/553-3938. Retrieved March 9, 2015 from (Disclaimer: this site promotes the Federal Vision heresy)
In short, for Bahnsen, the judicial law of Moses does and does not apply today, depending on certain factors: in some cases, it doesn't apply at all; in other cases, it doesn't necessarily always apply in its particular wording, but it does apply in all settings in its underlying moral principles. And still in other cases, it applies in its particular wording, to the extent the wording is not particular to Israel, but relevant to all nations.

This view is harmonious with Protestant history. Note the statements from the following theologians:

Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Huguenot Theologian, Calvin's Successor

As H. M. Baird summarizes, Beza held to
the precepts given by the Lord in the Old Testament to slay without pity the introducer of strange gods, the false prophet, the blasphemer, and the profaner of the Sabbath. Such commands, he said, have never been repealed. The Mosaic Law remains in force, with the exception of the ceremonial part. Of the other two divisions, the Decalogue or Moral Law, being an accurate transcript of the Natural Law, in which man’s conscience agrees with the unchanging will of God, cannot suffer destruction before nature itself perishes, but abides the certain rule of right and wrong for all nations and for all ages. The third division of the Mosaic Law, the judicial, is also of universal obligation, insofar as its precepts do not relate to one people alone, nor punish the violation of ceremonies now abolished by the Gospel, but embrace that code of general equity which should everywhere prevail.
Henry Martyn Baird, Theodore Beza: The Counsellor of the French Reformation, 1519-1605 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1899), 68.

Statement subscribed to by Early Lutheran Theologians Phillip Melanchthon (1497-1560) and Johannes Brenz (1499-1570) (as well as others):
Phillip Melanchthon,
Luther's successor

Note the assumed distinction in judicial laws—laws that "only bind Israel" and "natural law[s]" binding "all authorities": 
God has clearly and explicitly ordered the civil authority to punish by death the public blasphemers within its territory (Lev. xxiv.16). This law did not only bind Israel; it is a natural law which binds all authorities, kings, princes, judges etc.
P. D. L. Avis, "Moses and the Magistrate: A Study in the Rise of Protestant Legalism,"Journal of Ecclesiastical History, vol. 26, no. 2 (April 1975): 10. Retrieved May 14, 2013 from 

Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603), Puritan Leader, "The Father of English Presbyterianism"
[T]hose judicial laws of Moses, which are merely politic, and without all mixture of Ceremonies, must remain; [such] as those which hinder not the atonement of Jews and Gentiles with God, or of one of them with another. Beside that, it being manifest that our Savior Christ came not to dissolve any Good government of commonwealth, he can least of all be thought to come to destroy that which himself had established.
Thomas Cartwright, The Second Replie of Thomas Cartwright: agaynst Maister Doctor Whitgiftes second answer touching the Churche Discipline (1575), 97. 
On applying the equity of the judicial law, Cartwright says this in debate with a one John Whitgift:
And, as for the judicial law, forasmuch as there are some of them made in regard of the region where they were given, and of a people to whom they were given, the prince and magistrate, keeping the substance and equity of them (as it were the marrow), may change the circumstances of them, as the times and places and manners of the people shall require. But to say that any magistrate can save the life of blasphemers, contemptuous and stubborn idolaters, murderers, adulterers, incestuous persons, and such like, which God by his judicial law hath commanded to be put to death, I do utterly deny, and am ready to prove, if that pertained to this question. And therefore, although the judicial laws are permitted to the discretion of the prince and magistrate, yet not so generally as you seem to affirm, and, as I have oftentimes said, that not only it must not be done against the word, but according to the word, and by it.
Cited in John Whitgift, The Works of John Whitgift, D. D., the First Portion, Containing the Defence of the Answer to the Admonition, Against the Reply of Thomas Cartwright: Tractates I-VI. (Cambridge: The University Press, 1852), 270.

John Owen (1616-1683), English Puritan, the "Theologian's Theologian"
Although the institutions and examples of the Old Testament, of the duty of magistrates in the things and about the worship of God, are not, in their whole latitude and extent, to be drawn into rules that should be obligatory to all magistrates now, under the administration of the gospel,and that because the magistrate then was “custos, vindex, et administrator legis judicialis, et politiae Mosaicae,” from which, as most think, we are freed;yet, doubtless, there is something moral in those institutions, which, being unclothed of their Judaical form, is still binding to all in the like kind, as to some analogy and proportion.

Subduct from those administrations what was proper to, and lies upon the account of, the church and nation of the Jews, and what remains upon the general notion of a church and nation must be everlastingly binding.
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 8 (London: Johnstone and Hunter, 1851), 394.

George Gillespie (1613-1648), Scottish Presbyterian, Westminster divine
It will be asked, “But how does it appear that these or any other judicial laws of Moses do at all appertain to us, as rules to guide us in like cases?” I shall wish him who scruples this, to read Piscator’s appendix to his observations upon the 21-23 chapters of Exodus, where he excellently disputes this question, whether the Christian Magistrate is bound to observe the judicial laws of Moses, as well as the Jewish Magistrate was. He answers by the common distinction, he is obliged to those things in the judicial law which are unchangeable, and common to all nations: but not to those things which are mutable, or proper to the Jewish Republic. But then he explains this distinction, that by things mutable, and proper to the Jews, he understands the emancipation of an Hebrew servant or handmaid in the seventh year, a man’s marrying his brother’s wife and raising up seed to his brother, the forgiving of debts at the Jubilee, marrying with one of the same tribe, and if there be any other like to these; also ceremonial trespasses, as touching a dead body, etc. But things immutable, and common to all nations, are the laws concerning moral trespass, sins against the moral law, as murder, adultery, theft, enticing away from God, blasphemy, striking of parents. Now that the Christian Magistrate is bound to observe these judicial laws of Moses, which appoint the punishments of sins against the moral law, he proves by these reasons. 
George Gillespie, Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty (Naphtali Press, 1997). Retrieved March 10, 2015 from

John Gill (1697-1771), Particular Baptist Theologian, Bible Commentator
It may be inquired, whether the judicial laws, or the laws respecting the Jewish polity, are now in force or not, and to be observed or not; which may be resolved by distinguishing between them; there were some that were peculiar to the state of the Jews, their continuance in the land of Canaan, and while their polity lasted, and until the coming of the Messiah, when they were to cease, as is clear from (Gen. 49:10), such as related to inheritances, and the alienation of them by marriage or otherwise; the restoration of them when sold at the year of jubilee; the marrying of a brother’s wife when he died without issue, &c. the design of which was, to keep the tribes distinct until the Messiah came, that it might be clearly known from what tribe he sprung.
And there were others that were peculiarly suited to the natural temper and disposition of that people, who were covetous, cruel, and oppressive of the poor, froward and perverse, jealous and revengeful; hence the laws concerning the manumission of servants sold, at the end of the sixth year; the release of debts, and letting the land rest from tillage every seventh year; concerning lending on interest; leaving a corner in the field for the poor, and the forgotten sheaf;--and others concerning divorces, and the trial of a suspected wife, and the cities of refuge to flee to from the avenger of blood: these, with others, ceased when the Jewish polity did, and are not binding on other nations.
But then there were other judicial laws, which were founded on the light of nature, on reason, and on justice and equity, and these remain in full force; and they must be wise as well as righteous laws, which were made by God himself, their King and Legislator, as they are said to be (Deut. 4:6,8).
And they are, certainly, the best constituted and regulated governments that come nearest to the commonwealth of Israel, and the civil laws of it, which are of the kind last described; and where they are acted up unto, there what is said by Wisdom is most truly verified, "By me kings reign, and princes decree judgment;" and if these laws were more strictly attended to, which respect the punishment of offences, especially capital ones, things would be put upon a better footing than they are in some governments; and judges, in passing sentences, would be able to do that part of their office with more certainty and safety, and with a better conscience.
And whereas the commonwealth of Israel was governed by these laws for many hundreds of years, and needed no other in their civil polity, when, in such a course of time, every case that ordinarily happens, must arise, and be brought into a court of judicature; I cannot but be of opinion, that a digest of civil laws might be made out of the Bible, the law of the Lord that is perfect, either as lying in express words in it, or to be deduced by the analogy of things and cases, and by just consequence, as would be sufficient for the government of any nation: and then there would be no need of so many law books, nor of so many lawyers; and perhaps there would be fewer law suits.
John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Book 4Chapter 6: Of the Law of God  (Providence Baptist Ministries). Retrieved March 10, 2015 from

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), Westminster divine, Author of "Lex Rex"
Judiciall Lawes may be judiciall and Mosaicall, and so not obligatory to usaccording to the degree and quality of punishment, such as is Deut. 13. the destroying the City, and devoting all therein to a curse; we may not do the like in the like degree of punishment, to all that receive and defend Idolaters and blasphemers in their City: and yet that some punishment by the sword, be inflicted upon such a City, is of perpetuall obligation
Samuel Rutherford, A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (London: Printed for R. I. by Andrew Crooke, 1649), 298. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity (Second Edition), 14 (f.n.). Retrieved March 11, 2015 from 

On this Vindiciae Legis notes:
Rutherford, clearly views many or all first category laws as having underlying moral equity, “of perpetual obligation,” which it is the duty of the civil magistrate to enforce.
Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 14.
Legis also says elsewhere:
For Rutherford the only relaxation in Biblical law is the abrogation of ceremonial laws: “More severity, and a stricter tutory to be over the Church in non-age, and under Pedagogie, we grant, Gal. 4. 1, 2, 3. But that is in regard of Ceremoniall hedges, laws, and dayes, but it is to begge the question, to say that morall transgressions are destructive, if not more, to Christian societies now as then, such as blasphemy, idolatry, heresie, that were punished with the sword then, must now be more loosed from all bodily punishment in any kind, than murther, sorcery, adultery, perjury. For the comparison of a milder Government under Jesus, than under Moses, cannot stand in fencing some moral transgressions utterly from the sword, and in leaving others lesse weighty, under as bloody punishments as ever they were.”
Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 20. Rutherford quote from Rutherford, Free Disputation, 189.

William Gouge (1575-1653), Westminster divine, English Presbyterian

Westminster divine William Gouge provides distinctions between laws particular to Israel and laws common to all nations. On laws particular to Israel, he writes: 
Many branches… appertained to the Jewish priesthood; as, the particular laws about the cities of refuge... Num. xxxv. 25. And laws about lepers… Lev. xiv. 3. And sundry other cases which the priest was to judge of, Deut. xvii. 9. So also… distinguishing tribes. Num. xxxvi. 7; of reserving inheritances to special tribes and families, of selling them to the next of kin, Ruth iv. 4; of raising seed to a brother that died without issue. Gen. xxxviii. 8, 9… the year of jubilee, Lev. xxv. 13, &c. 
William Gouge, A Commentary on the whole Epistle to the Hebrews, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866/67), 2:123. Cited in Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 8 (f.n.). 
 On laws of common equity, Gouge writes:
There were other branches of the judicial law which rested upon common equity and were means of keeping the moral law: as putting to death idolaters and such as enticed others thereunto; and witches, and wilful murderers, and other notorious malefactors. So likewise laws against incest and incestuous marriages; laws of reverencing and obeying superiors and governors; and of dealing justly in borrowing, restoring, buying, selling, and all manner of contracts, Exod. xxii. 20; Deut. xiii. 9; Exod. xx. 18; Num. xxxv. 30; Lev. xx. 11, &c., xix. 32, 35.4. 
Ibid., 11, 12. 

William Perkins (1558-1602), Influential Cambridge Theologian, "The Father of Puritanism"

Therefore the judiciall lawes of Moses according to the substance and scope thereof must be distinguished; in which respect they are of two sorts. Some of them are lawes of particular equity, some of common equity.
William Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience (Cambridge: John Legate, 1596), 17. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 4.

Lawes of particular equity, are such as prescribe justice according to the particular estate and condition of the Jewes common-wealth & to the circumstances thereof: time, place, persons, things, actions. Of this kind was the law, that the brother should raise up seed to his brother, and many such like: & none of them bind us, because they were framed and tempered to a particular people. 
Judicialls of common equity are such as are made according to the lawe or instinct of nature common to all men: and these in respect of their substance, bind the consciences not onely of the Jewes but also of the Gentiles: for they were not given to the Jewes as they are Jewes, that is, a people received into the Covenant above all other nations, brought from Egypt to the land of Canaan, of whome the Messias according to the flesh was to come; but they were given to them as they were mortall men subject to the order and lawes of nature as all other nations are. Againe judiciall lawes, so farre forth as they have in them the generall or common equity of the law of nature are morall and therefore binding in conscience, as the morall lawe. (Ibid., 17, 18).
Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience, 17, 18. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 5 (f.n.)

Nathaniel Morton (1616-1685), Pilgrim Separatist and Secretary of Plymouth Colony

It was the great privilege of Israel of old and so was acknowledged by them, Nehemiah the 9th and 10th, that God gave them right judgments and true Laws; for God, being the God of order and not of confusion, has commanded his word and put man into a capacity in some measure to observe and be guided by good and wholesome laws, which are so far good and wholesome as by how much they are derived from and agreeable to the ancient platform of God's laws; for although sundry particulars in the judicial law which was of old enjoyed to the Jews did more especially, at least in some circumstances, befit their pedagogy, yet they are for the main so exemplary, being grounded on principles of moral equity, as that all Christians especially ought to have an eye thereunto in the framing of their political constitutions
and although several of the heathen nations who were ignorant of the time God and of his law have been famous in their times for the enacting and execution of such laws as have proved profitable for the government of their commonwealths in the times wherein they lived: notwithstanding, their excellency appeared so far as they were founded upon grounds of moral equity which has its original from the law of God.
Nathaniel Morton, "Forward to the REVISION OF THE NEW PLYMOUTH LAWS (1658)," Constitution Society. Retrieved March 10, 2015 from We have modernized the language.

James Fisher (1697-1775), A Founder of the First Secession Church, and a Joint-Author of Fisher's Catechism explaining the Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism

James Fisher writes the following in Fisher's Catechism: 

Q. 94. What was the JUDICIAL law?
A. It was that body of laws given by God, for the government of the Jews, partly founded in the law of nature [common equity], and partly respecting them, as they were a nation distinct from all others [particular equity].
Q. 95. What were those laws which respected them as a people distinct from all others?
A. They were such as concerned the redemption of their mortgaged estates, Lev. 25:13; the resting of their land every seventh year, Ex. 23:11; the appointment of cities of refuge for the man­slayer. Num. 35:15; the appearing of their males before the Lord at Jerusalem, three times in the year, Deut. 16:16; and the like.
Q. 96. Is this law abrogated, or is it still of binding force?
A. So far as it respects the peculiar constitution of the Jewish nation [particular equity], it is entirely abrogated; but in so far as it contains any statute, founded in the law of naturecommon to all nations [common equity], it is still of binding force(italics added)
Vindiciae Legis, Christian Magistracy in the RPCNA—Then and Now: Part 1: Theonomy  (Theonomy Resources, 2015), 17, 18. Retrieved March 9, 2015 from

On Q. 95, Vindiciae Legis writes:
Q. 95 makes it clear exactly which kinds of laws are considered to be of particular equity. These are very different from judicial laws dealing with moral offenses such as blasphemy, adultery, etc. 
Ibid., 18. 
Part 1 of the catechism also says this in the section, "What is Sin?":
Q. 7- Are all the laws of God mentioned in scripture of binding force now under the New Testament? 
A. No; the ceremonial law, which was a shadow of good things to come, is now abrogated upon the coming of Christ in the flesh; and many of the judicial laws, in so far as they had a particular relation to the state of the Jewish nation, are laid aside; but the moral law is perpetually binding on all mankind, in all ages and periods of the world, Psal. cxix.
Read the catechism here

Thomas Shepard (1605-1649), Puritan Writer and Pastor, Evangelist to the Indians, Important Influence on the Cambridge Platform

The judicial laws, some of them being hedges and fences to safeguard both moral and ceremonial precepts, their binding power was therefore mixed and various, for those which did safeguard any moral law, (which is perpetual) whether by just punishments or otherwise, do still morally bind all nations; for, as Piscator argues, a moral law is as good and as precious now in these times as then, and there is as much need of the preservation of these fences to preserve these laws in these times, and at all times, as well as then, there being as much danger of the treading down of those laws by the wild beasts of the world and brutish men (sometimes even in churches) now as then; and hence God would have all nations preserve their fences forever, as he would have that law preserved forever which these safeguard; but, on the other side, these judicials which did safeguard ceremonial laws which we know were not perpetual, but proper to that nation, hence those judicials which compass these about are not perpetual nor universal; the ceremonials being plucked up by their roots, to what purpose then should their fences and hedges stand? As, on the contrary, the morals abiding, why should not their judicials and fences remain?
The learned generally doubt not to affirm that Moses’ judicials bind all nations, so far forth as they contain any moral equity in them, which moral equity doth appear not only in respect of the end of the law, when it is ordered for common and universal good, but chiefly in respect of the law which they safeguard and fence, which if it be moral, it is most just and equal, that either the same or like judicial fence (according to some fit proportion) should preserve it still, because it is but just and equal that a moral and universal law should be universally preserved; from whence, by the way, the weakness of their reasonings may be observed, who, that they may take away the power of the civil magistrate in matters of the first table, (which once he had in the Jewish commonwealth,) affirm that such civil power then did arise from the judicial, and not from any moral law; whenas it is manifest that this his power in preserving God’s worship pure from idolatrous and profane mixtures, according to the judicial laws, was no more but a fence and safeguard set about moral commandments; which fences and preservatives are therefore (for substance) to continue in as much power and authority now as they did in those days, as long as such laws continue in their morality, which these preserve; the duties of the first table being also as much moral as those of the second, to the preserving of which latter from hurt and spoil in respect of their morality, no wise man questions the extent of his power.
Thomas Shepard, The Works of Thomas Shepard, First Pastor of the First Church, Cambridge, Mass. with a Memoir of His Life and Character: Volume III, ed. John Adams Albro  (Boston, MA: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1853), 53, 54.

Henry Barrow (1550?-1593), Martyr, Separatist Leader, "the Founder of English Congregationalism"

I ought to be wise in sobriety, and not to answer more than I know. Great doubt and controversy hath been about this question a long time, but for my part, I cannot see that any more of the judicial law was or can be abrogated by any mortal man or country, upon what occasion soever, than belonged to the ceremonial law and worship of the temple, from which we have received other laws and worship in Christ's testament; but that the judgments, due and set down by God for the transgression of the moral law, cannot be changed or altered, without injury to the moral law and God himself.
George Punchard, History of Congregationalism from about A. D. 250 to the Present Time: Volume III (NY: Hurd and Houghton, 1867), 67.

Francis Turretin (1623–1687), Swiss-Italian Theologian
Undoubtedly those things are to be accurately distinguished which in the law were of particular right (which peculiarly applied to the Jews in relation to time, place and the Jewish nation: such was the law concerning a husband’s brother, the writing of divorcement, the gleaning, etc.) from those which were of common and universal right, founded upon the law of nature common to all … 
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. G. M. Giger, ed. J. T. Dennison, Jr., 3 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1994), 2:166. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 5 (f.n.)

Thomas Hall (1610–1665), Puritan Minister
Some judicial precepts are Juris communis, of common equity, such as are agreeable to the instinct and law of nature, common to all men; and these for substance bind all persons, both Jews and Gentiles; as being Moral, and so agreeing with the Moral Law. These judicial precepts which were Juris particularis, of particular equity, such as pertained especially to the Jews common-wealth, and were fitted for them and their time, are now abolished. E.g. that a man should marry with none but his own stock; That the brother should raise up seed to his Brother, and that a Thief should restore four-fold, this was peculiar to the Jewish Common-wealth and not to ours. 
Thomas Hall, A Practical and Polemical Commentary, Or Exposition upon the Third and Fourth Chapters of the Latter Epistle of Saint Paul to Timothy (London: Printed by E. Tyler for John Starkey, 1658), 227. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 6 (f.n.)

J. Heinrich Alting (1583–1644), German Theologian
The forensic Laws of Moses are not all of one sort. In truth, some are only of particular right; others, moreover, are of common right and equity. 
J. Heinrich Alting, Exegesis Logica & Theologica Augustanae Confessionionis (Amsterdam: John Janssonius, 1647), 97. Excerpt translated by Adam Brink. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 4 (f.n.)

J. Heinrich Alsted (1588–1638), German Theologian
Of the forensic laws of Moses, those are perpetual which are of common right, or which have something moral. However, those have been abrogated which are of particular right, that is, such laws as were specially for the Mosaic constitution, and which have something ceremonial attached. 
J. Heinrich Alsted, Encyclopaedia, 7 vols. (Herborn: 1630), 4:1599. Excerpt translated by Adam Brink. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 4, 5 (f.n.)

Johannes Polyander (1568–1646), Dutch Theologian
Things which in this law are of common right, those still bind magistrates and subjects of every kind; but what are of particular Jewish right: those expired together with the polity of Moses.
Johannes Polyander, “Disputatio XVIII. De Lege Dei,” Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, ed. Herman Bavinck (Leiden: Donner, 1881), 162. Excerpt translated by Vindiciae Legis. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity, 5 (f.n.)

Appendix: R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North on Distinctions in Mosaic Law

As the most gifted and recognized exegete in the modern theonomy movement, and as the one who popularized the term "theonomy," we believe Greg L. Bahnsen is the best representative for understanding the modern theonomic approach to the judicial law. 

However, what about the other two most influential theonomists and leading social critics of the movement, R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North? 

While we will not go into their views in detail, and we agree less with them than we do with Bahnsen at points of theonomic application, the following quotes do show that they, like Bahnsen, 1) affirmed that some of Israel's laws were particular to that nation, and 2) that the underlying moral principles of the judicial law apply (not just the law's exact wording).

R. J. Rushdoony on Changed Penalties

In his famous Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony lists Old Testament laws requiring the death penalty, and states:
At a few points the penalties were altered in the New Testament ...
Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law: Volume One  (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), 77.

R. J. Rushdoony on Underlying Moral Principles

In discussing the command in Deuteronomy 22:8 to create a roof battlement, Rushdoony says:
A principle of safety in building construction as well as a general liability principle is stated. The flat roofs of the day were commonly used for summer living; the roof had to have a wall or railing to prevent falls. A property owner had thus a general responsibility to remove occasions of hurt to legitimate persons on his land or in his home. The obligation to "make alive" is the duty to remove the potential sources of damage.
Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law: Volume One, 251, 252.

Gary North on Hebrew Land Tenure Laws
[T]he lifetime slave-holding provisions of Leviticus 25 were an integral aspect of Israel’s jubilee land tenure laws, and therefore when God annulled the latter, He also annulled the former.  By transferring legal title to His kingdom to the gentile world (Matt. 21:43), and by visibly annulling Israel’s legal title to the land of Palestine at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70, God thereby also annulled the Hebrew land tenure laws.  What had been a God-approved spoils system for a unique historical situation—the military conquest of Canaan by Israel—became a dead letter of biblical law after the fall of Jerusalem. 
Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), 145.

Gary North on Underlying Moral Principles

If a small child falls into [a swimming pool], liability could be imposed on the owner only under the "railed roof" statute (Deut. 22:8), not under the "uncovered pit" statute. The pool is a place of entertainment and recreation, just as flat-roof housetops were in the ancient world. It is not a pit which men stumble into unexpectedly. The so-called "attractive nuisance" problem - a dangerous object to which small children are attracted - falls under the railing statute.
North, Tools of Dominion, 488.

(Special thanks to Chalcedon Presbyterian Church for permission to use the image of Greg Bahnsen)


Scolaris Legisperitus said...

What's the « railing statute » ? This expression appears only once in Tools of Dominion.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

"When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it." (Deut. 22:8)