Home > politics, theology, two kingdoms > 2K Natural Law or Theocratic Natural Law?

2K Natural Law or Theocratic Natural Law?

If you’re going to take political action that is going to compromise the gospel, then you are sealing your own doom. Over the past 50 years, conservatives have spent tens of billions of dollars lobbying, trying to elect candidates, trying to organize in various ways. When I was a kid, I was out passing out literature for Barry Goldwater, back in 1964.

And what has it gained? Are we any better off, to borrow a campaign slogan – are we better off today than we were 50 years ago? What have all those conservatives and libertarians done with those billions of dollars that has shown any improvement in the political or the moral climate of the country?

Now, if that money had been put into the preaching of the gospel – the uncompromised, unvarnished, pure gospel, perhaps there would be something completely different to show for it. But it was put into compromised political action, and there’s nothing to show for it. Absolutely nothing. Tens of billions of dollars – when you think of all the campaigns, all the organizations.

And I’ve been involved – my [PhD] degree’s in political theory, political philosophy. I’ve been interested in politics all my life and have been involved from time to time, working on Capitol Hill. And I learned a very good lesson on Capitol Hill – that what happens there is of little consequence. That if one is interested in changing society, you don’t go to Capitol Hill, you preach the gospel.

If anybody is operating under the illusion that political action is going to make a significant change in society apart from a sea change in the beliefs in the American people, then they’re condemned to futility. They will waste their lives.

John W. Robbins, former Chief of Staff for Ron Paul: The Religious Wars of the 21st Century

I am strongly committed to the biblical understanding of two kingdoms: the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth. Paul did make it clear that the ministers of the sword (the state) serve God, but Christ also made it clear that His kingdom is not of this world. Here is a sermon I preached on John 18:28-38 http://www.porticochurch.com/messages/John_18_28_20071118.mp3 in which I speak against what I see as an unbiblical focus on transforming culture.

I make an effort to point this out because every time I address this issue I am simply mis-categorized as a “transformationist” or theonomist and thus ignored. I am neither, so please give me a couple minutes of your time.

Two Kingdoms Natural Law

A very prominent form of two kingdom theology today is advocated primarily by Westminster California, led by David VanDrunen. You can find a helpful overview on WSC’s Jan. 6 Office Hours Podcast. This view is largely a response to theonomy (the view that the Mosaic case laws, or judicial laws, ie stoning, should be enforced in detail by every nation on earth). They correctly oppose theonomy by pointing out the distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this earth. (They could also counter theonomy by adopting A. W. Pink or John Owen’s views of the Mosaic Covenant)

However, they take this view one step further and say the kingdom of heaven is ruled by the Bible and the kingdoms of earth are ruled by natural law. This is precisely where I disagree. Such a view is nonsensical. Natural law, the law written on the hearts of all men, is the moral law, the 10 commandments. This is the unanimous Reformed view as stated particularly in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 19

I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

II. This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.

Therefore, to say the kingdoms of this world are ruled by natural law and should enforce natural law is to say that they are ruled by the 10 commandments and should enforce the 10 commandments.

Two Kingdoms Theocracy?

The result of such a view winds up exactly where they claim to not want to be: a theocracy. R. Scott Clark wrote a post against homosexual marriage called Natural Law, the Two Kingdoms, and Homosexual Marriage in which he appeals to the state’s duty to enforce the creation laws regarding marriage.

The magistrate has a right and a duty to enforce marriage and divorce laws in order to enforce natural, creational boundaries in the same way he has a duty to protect a society from theft and fraud… I argue that the state should regulate marriage on the basis of natural, creational law and that those who advocate pushing back the boundaries of marriage to include homosexual marriage are advocating the recognition of the violation of natural, creational law…

Such a statement would seem to be subject to my criticism above. If the state has a duty to enforce natural law, the law of creation, then it has a duty to enforce the moral law. To say one is to say the other. Clark anticipates this objection and says:

To anticipate an objection, this is not a theocratic argument. It is not the magistrate’s duty to police every sort of violation of natural law and sin. For example, no one but theocrats want the state enforcing obedience to the first table of the law. The magistrate’s natural sphere of concern and authority is in the second table.

If that is R. Scott Clark’s view, then how is it any different from those who say the state should enforce the second table of the moral law (such as John W. Robbins and J. Gresham Machen)? Answer: It’s not different.

Clark even states 2K Natural Law does not mean the state should enforce every natural law. Well, if that’s the case, then again, what is the point in making a distinction between moral law and natural law and then saying the church is ruled by one and the state is ruled by the other? There is no point. It is an invalid distinction.

[Note that D. G. Hart’s precise criticism of Kloosterman in this post http://oldlife.org/2009/12/21/if-not-two-kingdoms-two-decalogues/ is that he divides the the Decalogue into two tables. Thus Hart’s criticism would equally apply to Clark’s natural law position, which Hart is supposedly defending.]

Lee Irons makes the same criticism of the 2K Natural Law view (though at this point I do not agree with Irons’ conclusion regarding the duty of the state):

Clark seems to be saying that the state has a moral obligation or duty to enforce the moral law (= natural law), a duty that itself derives from moral/natural law. My problem with this is that, if logically carried through, this will lead to a view of civil government that is just as theocratic as that desired by the theonomists. The only difference so far as I can tell is that on Clark’s view there would be more leeway in the specifics of the penal code…

…Most theonomists would be perfectly happy with a state run on natural law principles, since they argue that the general equity of the Mosaic Law is identical with natural/moral law as revealed via general revelation (cp. Bahnsen, No Other Standard, pp. 206, 222).

Again, I agree with the Reformed doctrine of natural law. It is biblical (Romans 1). I’m merely objecting to the claim that it is the moral duty of the state to enforce it in society.

http://www.upper-register.com/blog/?cat=88

Natural Law

But R. Scott Clark is too smart to miss this point. So what is he really trying to say? Well, his practical position is really that the state is obligated to enforce laws that are derived from fallen man’s observation of himself. I cut his quote short earlier. Here it is in its entirety:

I argue that the state should regulate marriage on the basis of natural, creational law and that those who advocate pushing back the boundaries of marriage to include homosexual marriage are advocating the recognition of the violation of natural, creational law [recognized in the West by pagans and Christians for two thousand years.]

Thus, the argument against homosexual marriage is not a “theocratic” argument, but an argument from the nature of things grounded in natural revelation, in the most fundamental observations about how human beings relate to one another, about what it is to be human, about what it is to be a civil society, about what a family is, and ultimately, that there really is such a thing as nature or creation itself that limits the choices of sovereign, ostensibly autonomous late modern humans.

This is the inevitable conclusion that “natural law” must lead to. Natural law will ultimately find no need and no place for God, precisely because it is natural law, not supernatural law. It is quickly reduced to fallen man looking inside himself and at others to decide “what is right in his own eyes.” Irons notes:

Another problem with the appeal to natural law as the principle for determining the positive enforcement duties of the civil magistrate is that we live in a pluralistic society in which the very content of natural law itself is highly contested at critical points. Many citizens believe, for example, that committed same-sex relationships are not in any way sinful. Again, I affirm that the these people are wrong, and that deep down they know they are wrong. I know that because I believe the Bible’s teaching concerning the content of natural law (e.g., Romans 1). But such an appeal to Scripture will have minimal persuasive value in the public square. A natural law theorist may not go out with the intention of making a naked appeal to Scripture. He may try appealing to various arguments that support his interpretation of natural law, keeping his biblical beliefs out of play to achieve maximum rhetorical effect. But since the ultimate epistemic basis for his interpretation of natural law is Scripture, at the end of the day this will come to light at some point in the argument and it will become evident that he is not really making a good-faith religiously-neutral appeal.

Here are two related posts of mine to elaborate on this problem, and comments I made on D. G. Hart’s blog:

God the Benevolent Scientist

Spectacles Prescribed: A Review of VanDrunen’s “A Biblical Case for Natural Law”

If Not Two Kingdoms, Two Decalogues (note Hart’s fundamental misunderstanding of natural law. He rejects WCF’s definition and instead argues that natural law is that which we can observe in ourselves and others. It may be true that the foundation of the state should be our observations of nature – but that is not the same thing as the law of creation.)

Then What Are We to Do?

This is not an easy question to answer. Appealing to natural law in opposition to Scripture is erroneous, arguing for theonomy misunderstands the Mosaic covenant, and arguing for theocracy misunderstands the kingdom of heaven. I am not certain I have arrived at an answer, but J. Gresham Machen’s words (echoed by Gordon Clark and John W. Robbins) make sense.

What then is the remedy for the threatened disruption of society and for the rapidly progressing decay of liberty?

There is really only one remedy. It is the rediscovery of the law of God.

If we want to restore respect for human laws, we shall have to get rid of this notion that judges and juries exist only for the utilitarian purpose of the protection of society, and shall have to restore the notion that they exist for the purposes of justice. They are only very imperfect exponents of justice, it is true. There are vast departments of life with which they should have nothing whatever to do. They are exceeding their God-given function when they seek to enforce inward purity or purity of the individual life, since theirs is the business only of enforcing – and that in necessarily imperfect fashion – that part of righteousness which concerns the relations between man and man. But they are instruments of righteousness all the same, and when that is not recognized, disaster follows for the state. Society will never be preserved by attaching savage penalties to trifling offences because the utilitarian interests of society demand it; it will never be preserved by the vicious practice (followed by some judges) of making ‘examples’ of people is spasmodic and unjust fashion because such examples are thought to have a salutary effect as a deterrent from future crim. No, we say, let justice never be lost from view – abstract, holy, transcendent justice – no matter what the immediate consequences may be thought to be. Only so will the ermine of the judge again be respected and the ravages of decadence be checked.

-The Christian View of Man p. 193

[Update: I just read a very helpful post over at Feeding On Christ that I highly recommend: Theonomy, Two Kingdoms, and a Middle Road)

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  1. May 3, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Brandon

    As you know I have difficulty with your isolation of the 10 commandments as the moral law. The Mosaic covenant was all moral in that it was all commanded by God.

    I have even greater difficulty with the idea that the mosaic covenant is that given to Adam. I note you have to back this up by Reformed standards because there is certainly no biblical backing. Adam was given ‘a law’ (the day you eat you shall surely die…) not ‘the law’.

    Is not Paul’s point in Romans 2 that we are responsible to whatever revelation we are given? And does he not distinguish between those ‘under law’ and those with ‘without law’. Now while I accept there is a close parallel between the moral understanding of both groups is Paul not allowing for some differences.

    What does Paul mean when he says, ‘does not nature itself teach you’ (1 Cor 11) on a matter about which the 10 commandments say nothing. Or again Paul describes homosexuality as ‘against nature’ in Roms 1. Had he appealed to the 10 commandments could he have found prohibiting homosexuality?

    I take your point that it is difficult to know what a Government ought to insist on and it is all too easy (and wrong) to end up with a position similar to a theocracy. Laws tend to reflect what the people can bear. There is a degree of pragmatism in them. This is true even of the Mosaic law. It did not condemn polygamy but assumed it. It allowed for divorce because of the hardness of hearts though divorce was not God’s intention.

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    • May 4, 2010 at 7:50 am

      I would appreciate a link to an overview of your view of the law written on the hearts of all men, including Adam, so that I know exactly what you are arguing for and how you have worked this all out.

      I quoted Reformed standards because my point was limited. I was not setting out to defend what the standards say but simply to show the inconsistency of those who hold to the standards while also arguing for some kind of natural law in opposition to Scripture.

      The law of creation is summarily comprehended in the 10 commandments – it is not exhausted in detail in the 10 commandments. In 1 Cor 11 Paul is simply speaking of the distinction between men and women that is a result of creation – something that Paul says in 1 Cor 14:34 is revealed in the Law as well. I believe Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 11:14 was simply a matter of rhetoric. See my interpretation of the passage here: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/watch-your-head/

      Had he appealed to the 10 commandments could he have found prohibiting homosexuality?

      John, I think your perspective is warped because of your presuppositions regarding the New Covenant. Yes, Paul could have appealed to the 7th commandment to prohibit homosexuality. The 10 commandments do not stand in isolation to the rest of the Old Testament. They are given and interpreted against the backdrop of creation (Ex 20:11 for example).

      I have even greater difficulty with the idea that the mosaic covenant is that given to Adam.

      Yeah, me too, which is why I never suggested it was.

      You say that Adam only had one law, and yet Paul appeals to creation to support his law that women are to learn quietly with all submissiveness. Clearly there was more than one law revealed to Adam at creation. Would you also argue that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul and strength” was not a requirement for Adam?

      does he not distinguish between those ‘under law’ and those with ‘without law’.

      Yes, he does. He distinguishes between those who have the law of creation written on tablets of stone for easy reading and clear understanding not clouded by sin. But what does he say about the law written on the hearts of the Gentiles?

      For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

      Notice what Paul does not say. He does not say:

      For when Gentiles, who do not have your law, by nature do what a law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have your law. They show that the work of a law is written on their hearts…

      Paul assumes an identity of content between the laws: who do not have the law by nature do what the law requires.

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  2. May 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Brandon

    I am not available for a few days and don’t have time to answer exhaustively just now.

    A couple of points to mull over. You say:

    ‘The law of creation is summarily comprehended in the 10 commandments – it is not exhausted in detail in the 10 commandments.’

    I am not sure where you get this from. This seems more an assertion than a conclusion. At best I would say these laws are appropriate to a fallen creation.

    Yet even in a fallen creation you concede that our understanding of ‘You shall not commit adultery’ is further shaped by the divine revelation that in the beginning man made them both male and female etc. Do you think this knowledge is ‘written on the heart of unregenerate people’? That is, do you think they intuitively know about Adam and Eve? Or for that matter is the sabbath principle ‘written on the heart’? Do people intuitively know that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh and so must they?

    By ‘written on the heart’ I mean an intuitive understanding of right and wrong that an individual has from God. I agree that Paul saw a correspondence between ‘the law’ and ‘the law written on the heart’. I only question that it was a complete and literal correspondence. That the Jews saw themselves by dint of their possession of the law as ‘guides of the blind’ (Roms 2) suggests that they did not see their pagan neighbours as enlightened as they.

    The reason I said ‘the mosaic covenant’ is because I think of ‘the law’ and the mosaic covenant as one. I do not think extracting the 10 commandments from the covenant is legitimate. ‘The law’ is the whole covenant or none. We cannot pick and choose. What possible grounds do we have for saying a) that God gave Adam ‘the law’ and/but b) the law he gave was only the 10 commandments? For these sorts of reasons and others I think the WCF statement is wrongheaded

    I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

    II. This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.

    If you read Genesis where does God give any law where he promises life? Adam already had ‘life’. He was not promised any further form of life.

    He was told he could lose life and die but this was predicated on only one law. Only eating the forbidden fruit carried the sanction of death. We must allow the narrative to set the theology not a system.

    ‘Would you also argue that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul and strength” was not a requirement for Adam?’

    In its exact wording I would. For only to Israel and the people of God does God reveal himself as ‘the Lord’. But of course I would agree that man’s duty is to love God and neighbour, however, that is the essence of the law and not the detail of the written code, even of the ten commandments.

    Paul appeals to the light of creation, and what is ‘natural’, to ‘the works of the law’ on the heart and holds men accountable for these. I am just a bit concerned about making the 10 commandments some kind of absolute code and lifting it from its covenant context to give it a status Scripture may not.

    To finish, how do you relate ‘God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it’ to the following:

    Rom 5:12-14 (ESV)
    Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned- for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

    Roms 5 seems to say there was no God-given ‘law’ between Adam and Moses?

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    • May 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks for the opportunity to answer your questions John.

      Yet even in a fallen creation you concede that our understanding of ‘You shall not commit adultery’ is further shaped by the divine revelation that in the beginning man made them both male and female etc.

      Yes, as I just said in my previous comment, the 10 commandments as revealed on Mt. Sinai presuppose and depend upon knowledge of creation.

      Do you think this knowledge is ‘written on the heart of unregenerate people’?  That is, do you think they intuitively know about Adam and Eve?

      1. Knowing specifically about the person Adam and the person Eve is not the issue.
      2. Yes, I believe all people know innately that people are created male and female for the purpose of union in marriage, and thus the flipside of that is that all people know innately that adultery is wrong. It is the same proposition communicated in different ways.

      By ‘written on the heart’ I mean an intuitive understanding of right and wrong that an individual has from God.

      Innate understanding might be a more accurate word than intuitive (depending on your understanding of intuitive). An individual may or may not be aware of this innate knowledge, depending upon the degree to which God has given them up.

      Or for that matter is the sabbath principle ‘written on the heart’? Do people intuitively know that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh and so must they?

      Yes. If you would like some anecdotal evidence of this, note that the 7 day week is the only calendar marking not derived from astronomy, yet it finds widespread use throughout ancient history. Also note the following examples from a handful of ancient cultures:

      Babylonian – Counting from the new moon, the Babylonian calendar celebrated the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th as “holy-days”, also called “evil days” (meaning “unsuitable” for prohibited activities). On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to “make a wish”, and at least the 28th was known as a “rest-day”. On each of them, offerings were made to a different god and goddess.

      The pentecontad calendar, thought to be of Amorite origin, includes a period known to Babylonians as shappatum. The year is broken down into seven periods of fifty days (made up of seven weeks of seven days, containing seven weekly Sabbaths, and an extra fiftieth day, known as the atzeret)…

      Buddhism – The Uposatha has been observed since Gautama Buddha’s time (500 BC), and is still being kept today in Theravada Buddhist countries. It occurs every seven or eight days… Buddha taught that Uposatha is for “the cleansing of the defiled mind”, resulting in inner calm and joy. On this day, disciples and monks intensify their practice, deepen their knowledge, and express communal commitment through millennia-old acts of lay-monastic reciprocity.

      Assyrian – A famous Assyrian researcher in the 19th century wrote the following: “In the year 1869, I discovered, among other things, a curious religious calendar of the Assyrians, in which every month is divided into four weeks, and the seventh days, or ‘sabbaths,’ are marked out as days on which no work should be undertaken”… He found the following in their creation tablets:

      “On the seventh day he appointed a holy day,
And to cease from all business he commanded.”

      You can also find some interesting info in this inquisitive book http://books.google.com/books?id=Cd5ZjRsNj4sC&lpg=PP1&ots=dCxRN9qaCb&dq=mayan%207%20day%20week&pg=PA8#v=onepage&q&f=false
      He notes:

      The designation of the seventh, fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of a lunar month in a religious Assyrian calendar from the seventh century B.C. as “evil days” provides some further evidence of a possible non-Jewish origin of the Sabbath observance. The prohibitive character of days that are spaced seven days apart from one another, including such precautionary measures as abstention from chariot riding and eating cooked meat on the part of the king, bears close resemblance to that of the Sabbath, particularly given the strict traditional taboo on traveling and cooking on that day.

      .

      I agree that Paul saw a correspondence between ‘the law’ and ‘the law written on the heart’.  I only question that it was a complete and literal correspondence.

      This seems more an assertion than a conclusion 😉

      That the Jews saw themselves by dint of their possession of the law as ‘guides of the blind’ (Roms 2) suggests that they did not see their pagan neighbours as enlightened as they.

      Yes. Their neighbors were sinful human beings in rebellion against God who suppressed/hindered this innate knowledge of God’s law. Paul explains all of this in Romans 1. What’s your point? This doesn’t have anything to do with a difference in the law itself.

      Notice the implication here that even you admit – the law that the Jews had was applicable to the Gentiles. If the law the Jews had was not relevant to the Gentiles, then they could not be a guide to the blind. This has two implications:
      1) The law of the Jews (at least some of it) applied to the Gentiles as well
      2) The law written on the hearts of the Gentile was insufficient due to sin obscuring knowledge of the law, thus requiring the spectacles of the Jewish written law.

      ‘The law’ is the whole covenant or none.  We cannot pick and choose.

      God very clearly distinguished between the Decalogue and the rest of the Mosaic laws from the very beginning. He wrote the 10 commandments in stone, with His own finger, and He spoke them to the Israelites directly. The rest of the laws were mediated, written, and spoken by Moses. Thus, yes, we can make a distinction between the two.

      That does not mean that part of the Mosaic covenant remains in effect. The entire Mosaic covenant is abolished, has grown old, and has vanished away. However, the 10 commandments existed before Mt. Sinai and thus they remain in effect. See here to unpack this more: http://www.mctsowensboro.org/mcts-blog/the-decalogue-john-owen-and-reformed-theology-part-iv/

      If you read Genesis where does God give any law where he promises life?  Adam already had ‘life’.  He was not promised any further form of life.

      Answering that is beyond the scope of this combox and post topic. It’s something I would be more than happy to take up elsewhere at another time.

      But of course I would agree that man’s duty is to love God and neighbour, however, that is the essence of the law and not the detail of the written code, even of the ten commandments.

      I do not think that is correct. You have introduced an unbiblical dichotomy between these two things. Everywhere the summary of the law is discussed, it’s exact details are also discussed. They go hand in hand. (cf. Lev 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Matt 22:40 – note that Jesus does not say these are new commands He is giving, instead He says this is a summary of everything taught in the Old Testament; Mark 12:29-31 – Note that all Jesus does is quote OT passages (Deut 6:4; Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18). Luke 10:25-28 – the lawyer says these two commands are a summary of the OT, and Jesus agrees. Jesus does not say these are His new commands, but rather that they are the very commands of the OT; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8-13)

      For only to Israel and the people of God does God reveal himself as ‘the Lord’.

      I’m not really sure what you’re talking about. God is called Lord throughout Genesis, including Gen 2 & 3. Eve specifically calls God Lord in Gen 4:1.

      Roms 5 seems to say there was no God-given ‘law’ between Adam and Moses?

      Well then I guess God screwed up by destroying the world in a flood. Obviously there wasn’t any sin since there wasn’t any law, right? But I thought you believe there was a God given law written on the hearts of all men?

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  3. May 9, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Brandon

    Thanks for detailed response. Much of what you say about ‘innate’ I agree with, though see proviso below.

    I do not agree that the NT allows us to think of the 10 commandments as separate from other aspects of the covenant. I believe it teaches the covenant is the covenant is the covenant. He that breaks one breaks all etc. But we have discussed this before.

    Re Paul’s point in Romans 5. I think he is very clearly saying that no Law existed between Adam and Moses. However that does not mean that people did not sin. Romans 5 is clear they did.

    Rom 5:12-14 (ESV)
    Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned- for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

    Adam’s sin was a transgression, that is it was a breaking of a given law. The sin of others between Adam and Sinai was not a transgression for it was not the breaking of a given law.

    Imagine no speed limit. If I drive at sixty miles an hour along a road with houses alongside and children playing on pavements then I am responsible for my behaviour and if someone is injured I will be held culpable. I had an ‘innate obligation/responsibility to drive safely. If however, there is a speed limit (an explicit law exists) on the road (30 mph) and I know of it and ignore it, I am even more culpable. In breaking it, I become a transgressor.

    I think this is how the bible thinks about ‘the law’ and ‘the works of the law written on the heart’. It is why Paul says that through the law comes ‘the knowledge of sin’ (Roms 3) and,

    Rom 7:7-9 (ESV)
    … if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.

    There is a sense in which the person who has ‘the law’ is much more culpable than the person who has merely an innate sense of the law. This is why Israel was judged more strictly than the nations. We never read of them being held accountable for breaking the sabbath.

    And so…

    ‘Obviously there wasn’t any sin since there wasn’t any law, right?’

    To quote a Brandon from the past (not the present) … Wrong!! 🙂

    I enjoy engaging with you in discussing these issues.

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    • May 10, 2010 at 7:11 am

      I do not agree that the NT allows us to think of the 10 commandments as separate from other aspects of the covenant. I believe it teaches the covenant is the covenant is the covenant. He that breaks one breaks all etc. But we have discussed this before.

      This is an assertion, not an argument, and it doesn’t interact with anything I said above, so there’s not much to respond to.

      Your explanation of Romans 5 and the law fails on numerous points. Let me simply ask this: What is sin?

      Like

  4. May 10, 2010 at 7:39 am

    All I ask is where the NT, especially perhaps Paul, speaks of ‘the law’ and doesn’t mean the whole mosaic covenant? Of course, I think the 10C’s are at the heart of the covenant but they do not exhaust it. Where does the NT invite us to make your distinction?

    How do you explain these verses I have quoted which seem to me to quite clearly distinguish between sin and transgression. In fact, the distinction I make I don’t think is very novel. It is one that I would have thought commended a wide degree of support (not that that makes it right, it simply means it is not bizarre).

    Sin is an attitude of rebellion against the Creator. It is lawlessness. By lawlessness I mean a throwing off of divine rule in a thousand different ways. All that the divine rule implies is innately imprinted on the human heart. On this I think we will agree.

    I only wish to say that there is a distinction between lawlessness and transgression along the lines I think Roms 5 points out (and you have not refuted) 🙂 and I wish to avoid insisting on an absolute correlation between the 10 commandments and ‘natural law’ because I doubt such a case is clearly made in the Bible.

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  5. May 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    (and you have not refuted)

    Have some patience John. I’m refuting it step by step.

    Sin is lawlessness. Agreed. Therefore to sin is to break the law, right?

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  6. May 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    No. Its not. I almost never used ‘lawlessness’ knowing that it may elicit that response. Lawlessness is an attitude of heart. It is rebellion. Knowing God they glorify him not as God… God does not hold gentile people responsible for having broken ‘the law’ or ‘a law’. Law, at least in its normal biblical usage is an objective and revealed legal code carrying sanctions. That is the sense in Romans 5.

    In that sense Israel had greater privlege but also greater responsibility. That surely is Paul’s point about the law bringing the knowledge of sin.

    What does Paul mean when he says

    Rom 7:7-9 (ESV)
    What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.

    I don’t think ‘law’ is simply command, instruction. Many between Adam and Moses were given commands from the Lord but they were not ‘law’. Law seems to carry sanctions, either the promise of life or the threat of death. There are many obligations that we have as Christians but the NT generaly shies away from calling them ‘laws’.

    I know this is confusing. What I am asking is whether it reflects a more biblical nuance on ‘law’ than I think yours at the moment is.

    Incidentally, I don’t claim to have all this thought out even if I sound as if I do.

    Like

    • May 10, 2010 at 1:45 pm

      Honestly John, this is getting absurd.

      I almost never used ‘lawlessness’ knowing that it may elicit that response.

      The bible defines sin as lawlessness, so you shouldn’t have any hesitation for doing so as well.

      Law, at least in its normal biblical usage is an objective and revealed legal code carrying sanctions.

      So it is not a law that is written on the hearts of all men? Just commands? What?

      Like

  7. May 10, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    You have to deal with the texts quoted.

    ‘For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.’

    and Roms 5.

    ‘Rom 5:13-14 (ESV)
    for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. ‘

    Like

  8. May 11, 2010 at 2:59 am

    PS What too of

    Rom 4:13-15 (ESV)
    For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law … For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

    Like

    • May 11, 2010 at 8:11 am

      John, have patience. I will get to your texts, but they don’t say anything close to what you are trying to make them say. Let’s take them one step at a time.

      Law, at least in its normal biblical usage is an objective and revealed legal code carrying sanctions.

      So it is not a law that is written on the hearts of all men? Just commands? What? What is written on the hearts of all men?

      Like

  9. May 11, 2010 at 9:31 am

    What the bible says is written on the heart is ‘the works of the law’. I am certainly not arguing that those without law have no moral compass nor that they are unaccountable. I never have. I simply make the point that to have ‘the law’ is to be in a much more privileged position. It is to have an objective revelation from God.

    Time to address some of the texts, I think. 😉

    Like

    • May 11, 2010 at 9:49 am

      I’ll address the texts when I feel like addressing the texts. Calm down.

      So you believe general innate revelation cannot be a law because
      1) It is not externally written
      2) It does not carry sanctions
      Is that correct?

      Like

      • May 12, 2010 at 2:44 am

        Brandon

        You are not the privileged interrogator. You must answer as well as ask.

        Your questions are leading here to conclusions that are reductionistic. Of course I believe that ‘the work of the law written on the heart’ functions as a ‘law’ of sorts. Paul clearly says so. However, to rest here and equate ‘the law’ to ‘the WOLWOH’ and no factor in other texts such as the ones I have quoted is reductionist. A proper biblical perspective involves correctly weighing the salvation-history nature of ‘the law’. Just as a proper weighing of biblical language means that we do not always equate ‘command’ with ‘law’.

        If we see all command as law (and all promise as gospel) as Luther did then we are reading the bible flatly and not redemptive-historically.

        Like

  10. Joe
    May 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    John, I was wondering what you think Paul to be speaking of in this verse in Romans 7:22
    “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.”
    I have been going through all of these issues myself for some time and really can’t see some of your reasoning. I have a friend that holds very similar views as you and we have had these same talks. How do you take that verse? warmest regards brother, Joe

    Like

    • May 12, 2010 at 3:35 am

      Joe

      Here is a stab at a short and then a longer answer to your query.

      Short answer

      Paul is not speaking of a Christian. He is speaking of a Jew (regenerate or unregenerate I am unsure) seeking to live for God by the law without the power of the indwelling Spirit.

      Longer answer

      Paul sees everyone as belonging to one of two humanities – Adam or Christ (ch5). Adam or Christ can be further described as Adam/in the flesh/old man/or old creation while Christ is Christ/in the Spirit/new man/new creation.

      To be in Adam or the flesh is to be subject to the powers that both control the flesh and threaten it. Adam/flesh is under judgement or wrath/under sin/under law/under the reign of death (Roms 5-8). For man in the flesh (responsible man unaided by grace) all these powers are destructive.

      What God does in Christ is remove us from Adam and indeed from the first creation that Adam represents. In the death of Christ we die to the whole realm of flesh, of this world, and of all the powers and authorities that control and condemn flesh and we in Christ’s resurrection live in a new world, a new creation.

      In fact we live where Christ lives – before the Father (Eph 1). We are seated with Christ in heavenly places and are ‘accepted in the beloved’. We can go even further and say that while we live it is ‘not I who lives but Christ who lives in me’. Christ is our life. We are called to realise this and live out this new reality. We are to see ourselves as no longer alive in this world.

      Paul draws out the implications of this in Romans 5-8 and other letters. In Roms 6 we are no longer under the power of sin. Someone who has died is ‘justified from sin’. A dead person cannot be accused or controlled by sin – he is dead.

      In Roms 7 we have died to the law.

      Rom 7:1 (ESV)
      Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?

      Rom 7:4-6 (ESV)
      Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

      Law was addressed to man in the old creation/in the flesh (7:5; Gals 3:3). Our position is not in the flesh but in Christ. We are in heaven not earth. Our position regarding the law is Christ’s present position. He is not under law. He was once and glorified God under it but in death his relationship to the law ended. He is risen to a new sphere and realm of existence and so too are we.

      In Romans 7 Paul is showing the weakness of law. It could demand but not supply. It produced death not life. And he is talking about the whole law as he normally does. It is one of the ten commandments he refers to (coveting) and the one that is most internalised at that. The best the law could do even in a regenerate man is a delight in its precepts. It could not give any ability to keep them. The way we bring fruit to God is by dying to the law and being raised with Christ or to use Paul’s analogy by death to end one marriage and in resurrection to enter a new one.

      The new marriage is in essence life in the Spirit. It is to live beyond law and by ‘keeping in step with the Spirit. It is to live by ‘Faith working through love’ (Gals 5). Against such living there is
      no law (Gals 5,6). Indeed such living fulfils the ‘requirement of the law’ (Roms 8). In this sense the new covenant ‘law written on our hearts’ is realised paradoxically by being removed from the world where law has authority (for where it has authority it can only curse Gals 4) and placed in the the realm of new creation.

      In Roms 8 we find death too is overcome by being in Christ.

      Paul is saying to us: this is the reality, realise it and live by it. That is faith must recognise our new position and live it out.

      I fear that often we incompletely grasp this when we see the law as in some sense a ‘rule of life’. It tends to a legalistic approach to sanctification which becomes more focussing on rules than focussing on Christ risen and glorified as the object of our affections and Christ on earth as the model for our living.

      This is a kind of quick overview. I have been blogging a bit on flesh and Spirit where I am trying to spell this out more fully.

      Regarding the law, although I would differ here and there, I have not read better than Douglas Moo’s article in 5 views of the Law available for download here.

      http://www.djmoo.com/books.html

      Like

      • Joe
        May 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm

        John, Thanks for your lengthy response, that would have taken me some time. A few things first, Praise God for Jesus Christ, our only hope of fellowship with God, making it to heaven and avoiding hellfire. We are married to Christ and not to the law and we find all our strengh against sin not by legally trying to follow the ten commandments but by Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the gospel of our salvation and everyone born of God knows something of its power. That being said I must say that I don’t think you really delt with my question or the verse and if I can say humbly I dont think you are dealing rightly with the Word of God. Paul uses such plain speech to show that he is speaking of Christian experience that I can’t see anything else. He says that he is the “one who wills to do good”, (v21) and many other statements that no unconverted man can truly say, no one.

        You said something that i thought was a little strange and maybe i am missing something.
        “The best the law could do even in a regenerate man is a delight in its precepts. It could not give any ability to keep them.
        To delight in God’s precepts truly and spiritually as opposed to surfacy or legalisticly is not possible in an unconverted man, his attitude toward God is enmity and whatever he says or thinks that he delights in God or His laws is false.
        Hope that I have read you rightly and may God help us look to Christ. Joe

        Like

  11. May 13, 2010 at 1:32 am

    Joe

    Thanks for response. On the whole I think Romans 7 from v21 assumes a regenerate man. (I say on the whole for sometimes I wonder if it may be an unregenerate person and find myself reluctant to be dogmatic it is not.) However, I am more or less sure it is someone regenerate Paul describes.

    However, while it is someone regenerate he is not describing proper Christian experience. He is describing the experience of someone who is regenerate but thinks that holiness is to be achieved through fleshly determination to achieve holiness through law-keeping. That is someone, who has not realised that all the holiness of the law can do, even for a believer, is condemn. All the law can do to a believer or unbeliever is give the knowledge of sin. If we think of ourselves in terms of the holiness of God’s law we will always stand condemned and powerless, the law can do no other. It provokes only a cry of wretchedness – a wretchedness of guilt and frustration at our powerlessness before it.

    You will notice there are few if any gospel words in the second half of Romans seven. The Spirit is absent, faith is absent, power is absent etc. The focus is inward and not outward. It is ‘I, I, I’.

    Only when we realise that we have been delivered from the law through death and find all our resources in union with a living exalted Christ is there liberty and joy. This of course is Romans eight. It involves looking outside of self and flesh and the rule-keeping/performance based mentality of flesh/law obedience (self trust for holy living) and living by daily dependence on the Spirit looking to him to guide me in and empower me for holy living. This is true Christian experience. It will still involve conflict for the flesh and Spirit war but we can be sure of victory as we trust and obey the Spirit of Christ within.

    In Roms 7 there is no Spirit/flesh conflict, only defeat. The good I would, I do not and the evil I would not, I do. There is no power in the flesh for obedience. In me that is in my flesh dwells no good thing. I am sold under sin. The flesh is powerless and the law is powerless to produce fruit. Thus a regenerate person who seeks to rely on them will be wretched and constantly condemned.

    I think it is important to see that Romans 7 does not represent the height of Christian experience, or deep spirituality, as it is sometimes pictured as doing, but sub-Christian experience. It envisgaes a believer who is not living by gospel faith, who has not properly grasped that he has died to the law and it has no rights over him; it cannot accuse or demand.

    Like

  12. May 13, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Joe

    Re:

    ‘“The best the law could do even in a regenerate man is a delight in its precepts. It could not give any ability to keep them.
    To delight in God’s precepts truly and spiritually as opposed to surfacy or legalisticly is not possible in an unconverted man, his attitude toward God is enmity and whatever he says or thinks that he delights in God or His laws is false.’

    I agree with this. The reason for sometimes wondering if it is an unregenerate person described is because Paul says, ‘I am of the flesh, sold under sin’ and the inability he total inability he expressess to keep the law. Neither comments seems an appropriate description of a regenerate person since Ch 6 has just made the point we are no longer slaves of sin.

    Thus Roms 7 seems to present a paradox – a person who has qualities that belong only to the regenerate mind (delighting in law of God) and qualities that belong only to the unregenerate (sold under sin). Thus I believe the proper way to understand 7:21 etc is as in the above comment box.

    Like

  13. May 17, 2010 at 6:27 am

    John, I’m not trying to provoke you here, but you’re acting like you’re ADD. I am trying to have a conversation with you about your view. Part of that process entails fully understanding your view and its implications. I will get to your texts and answer your questions when I feel like it. Until then, I would appreciate it if you could continue to answer my questions regarding your view. Of course you can choose not to do so and our conversation can end, but I think we would both like it to continue.

    Your questions are leading here to conclusions that are reductionistic

    Yes. That’s a form of argumentation called reductio ad absurdum. If your view cannot hold up to a thorough analysis, if your view is inconsistent when pressed for details, then it is not biblical.

    However, to rest here and equate ‘the law’ to ‘the WOLWOH’ and no factor in other texts such as the ones I have quoted is reductionist.

    John, I’m just asking you very basic questions. If asking you to clarify and define the meaning of terms is being too reductionistic, then you are simply being a sophist. You are arguing that there was no such thing as a law in existence for all men between the time of Adam and Moses. I cannot respond until you define what a law is.

    So I will ask my question again. (Feel free to say no if I am incorrect)

    You believe general innate revelation cannot be a law because
    1) It is not externally written
    2) It does not carry sanctions
    Is that correct?

    Like

  14. May 17, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I believe the bible uses the word ‘law’ in a number of ways. In its most formal salvation-history sense it applies to the one law given to Adam and the Mosaic covenant given to Moses and Israel. In both cases it was a formal command revealed (not necessarily written as in Adam’s case) that included specified sanctions.

    Innate law (Romds 2) is not ‘law’ in the above sense. Though clearly God tells the heart of men that their godless behaviour is worthy of death (Roms 1).

    What is true innately is ratchetted up when it becomes formally revealed law.

    Like

  15. May 17, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Acts 17:30 (ESV)
    The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,

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