Thursday, April 16, 2015

Defense of Theonomy: Part 2: The Perfection of the Law

by Steve C. Halbrook

Part 1: The Civil Ruler's Need for Direction

Psalm 19 says "The law of the Lord is perfect ... " (v. 7a), and a few verses later it says regarding God's rules, "by them is your servant warned ..." (v. 11b). Thus, one of the law's perfections is that it provides a sufficient ethical guide for all of life; no situation in life requires any additional ethical requirements than what the law requires in Scripture. As Deuteronomy 4:2 reads, 
You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.
In short, there is no need to add to God's law, since God's law already perfectly tells us how to obey him. The law's perfection entails political matters, as even the Israelite kings were forbidden to "turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left" (Deuteronomy 17:20b).

The perfection of the law continues in the New Testament; Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17).

For John Calvin, "the writings of the
apostles contain ... a simple and
natural explanation of the
Law and Prophets."
And in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, the Apostle Paul teaches that all Scripture equips for every good work:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 
On this, John Calvin writes:
But here an objection arises. Seeing that Paul speaks of the Scriptures, which is the name given to the Old Testament, how does he say that it makes a man thoroughly perfect? for, if it be so, what was afterwards added by the apostles may be thought superfluous. I reply, so far as relates to the substance, nothing has been added; for the writings of the apostles contain nothing else than a simple and natural explanation of the Law and the Prophets, together with a manifestation of the things expressed in them.[1]
And commenting on Calvin's commentary, the English Puritan Thomas Cartwright writes:
[T]he New Testament is a noble addition to the old ... it maketh the old more manifest, and bringeth greater light; which expression ... is no other then Mr.  Calvin  useth on 2 Tim. 3 ... [2]
And so, the New Testament affirms the law's abiding validity (minus ceremonial laws, and laws particular to Israel), and brings more light to the law.[3] On this latter point, further explanation of some of God's laws are given, which helps us to better understand them, since God's word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

However, some think that the civil aspects of the Old Testament law (in its general equity)[4] are abolished (or at least mostly). But, while the New Testament does have some additional verses regarding civil matters (e.g., Romans 13), it by no means has a comprehensive ethical blueprint. Thus, without direction in the Old Testament civil rulers today would be largely in the dark as to how to rule; they would have less direction today than they did in the Old Testament.

What the rejection of Old Testament civil law amounts to, then, is that the law has lost its perfection. While it was once a perfect guide to civil matters, it is now incomplete. 
Thomas Cartwright held that
if the judicial laws of Moses
are no longer binding, then
there was more perfection
in the Law for the Jews
than for us.

This is, of course, an untenable position, for the law, by the nature of the case, cannot be less than perfect. As we previously noted, 
Psalm 19 says regarding God's rules, "by them is your servant warned ..." (v. 11b). Surely we do not want to say that God's law—at least for the most partno longer warns civil rulers about what they should and shouldn't do.

As long as God sanctions the office of civil government, God requires rulers to be just. And if God requires rulers to be just, then they require a comprehensive ethical guide, which is found in the Old Testament. As such,  rulers are still obligated to enforce the Old Testament civil laws.

Regarding civil matters, does it follow that the New Testament church would be in a worse state than the Jews? Thomas Cartwright puts it this way while defending the equity of the judicial laws of Moses against a one John Whitgift:
My former assertion was, That we have a word of God for our direction in all things which we have to do. My reason illustrating this truth was this, That otherwise our estate should be worse then the state of the Jews, who had direction (as is on all hands confessed) out of the Law, even for the least things; And whereas it is the virtue of a good law, to leave as little undetermined, and without the compass of the Law, as can be, my adversary D. W. [Dr. Whitgift] imagining that we have no word for divers things, wherein the Jews had particular direction, supposeth a greater perfection in the Law given to the Jews, than in that which is left to us.[5]
In defending the abiding validity of the judicial laws of Moses regarding capital punishments for certain religious offenses against Roger Williams, the Puritan John Cotton writes:
It is true that the Son of Righteousness has set up another Church, Ministry, and Worship: But did he ever set up another Civil Righteousness?  or a Magistracy to walk by another rule of righteousness, than that which God gave by Moses?  If it be true, that Christ gave no express Ordinance, Precept, or Precedent of killing men by material Sword, for Religion sake: It is as true that neither did he for any breach of civil Justice, no not for murder, nor adultery. Which maketh it therefore evident, that seeing he has expressly authorized civil Magistracy in the New-testament, and hath given no express Laws or Rules of Righteousness for them to walk by an Administration of civil Justice, therefore either he leaveth them to act and rule without a Rule (which derogateth from the perfection of Scripture:) or else they must fetch their rules of Righteousness from the Law of Moses, and from the Prophets, who have expounded him in the Old Testament.[6] 
John Cotton notes that while
Christ made changes to
matters of the church, he
did not set up another
Note Cotton's emphasis on "the perfection of Scripture": without the judicial laws of Moses, Scripture would not provide rulers a perfect rule of obedience; but, since Scripture is perfect, then rulers are provided a perfect rule of obediencewhich can only be found in the judicial laws of Moses. 

Therefore, the law of the Lord is perfect, and as such, it provides ethical direction for every endeavor in life. While the ceremonial law is abolished and therefore does not any longer require ethical direction, the office of the civil magistrate is not abolished, and therefore still requires direction (and thus direction from the judicial laws of Moses). This we would expect in the New Covenant era, which not only affirms the law's abiding validity, but brings more light to it. 

We therefore agree with the Particular Baptist theologian John Gill, who says:
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 ...[7]


[1] John Calvin, "2 Timothy," Calvin's Commentary on the Bible.
[2] Thomas Cartwright, Helps for Discovery of the Truth in Point of Toleration (London: Thomas Banks, 1647), 1. We have modernized the spelling.
[3] In the New Testament, Jesus, the light of the world, brings more light to the Scriptures—regarding not just the Gospel, but the law as well. As we note in this piece, further explanation of God's laws are given, which helps us to better understand them, since God's word is a lamp our feet, and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105)

For instance, in the Sermon on the Mount, after affirming the abiding validity of the law (Matthew 5:17-20), Jesus elaborates on several of God's laws while opposing the oral traditions of religious leaders that would either a) focus on only keeping the law externally (e.g., in the case of adultery [Matt. 5:27]), or b) make up new laws entirely (e.g., they would teach “hate your enemy” [Matt. 5:43], contrary to Proverbs 25:21 and Exodus 23:4, 5). 

In addition, Christ's Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 9:8-12 that the "do not muzzle the ox" command in the Old Testament, which still applies, implies the need to pay people for their labors. 

[4] On applying the equity of the judicial law, Thomas 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.
[5] Cartwright, Helps for Discovery of the Truth in Point of Toleration, 1.
[6] John Cotton, The Bloudy Tenant Washed and made White in the Bloud of the Lamb (England: Quinta Press, 2009), 192.
[7] John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Book 4—Chapter 6: Of the Law of God (Providence Baptist Ministries). Retrieved March 10, 2015 from

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