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.


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)

38 thoughts on “2K Natural Law or Theocratic Natural Law?

  1. Sorry for the delay in writing back John. Thank you for answering my question.

    Innate law (Romds 2) is not ‘law’ in the above sense.

    You admit the law written on the heart of man includes sanctions (Rom 1), so really your position is that the law written on the heart of man is not a law because it was not written or revealed externally. This is unbiblical. Jeremiah 31 speaks of a law written on the heart of Christians. Romans 1-2 also provide thorough evidence against your assertion. You have no biblical support for your assertion. All you have is an inference from Romans 5 (which we will get to below).

    What is true innately is ratchetted up when it becomes formally revealed law. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

    Ok, so what exactly do you think happened during the “times of ignorance”? Do you think God did not punish idolators? Do you think they were not required to repent? Obviously this is not what Paul is saying. Paul is simply saying that God left the nations in their sinfully created state of ignorance, but now He is sending His special revelation to them and commanding them to respond to it.

    So you have not provided any biblical support for your claim that the law of creation is not the 10 commandments. The best you have been able to do is draw an inference from Romans 5:12-14. This is a difficult passage with numerous interpretations. Moo even admits he’s not quite sure what it means. Sound hermeneutics teaches that in such a case we should allow the more clear passages to interpret the less clear. Therefore, the very clear statements in Romans 1-2 should guide our interpretation of Romans 5:12-14, not the other way around.

    Your claim that Romans 5:12-14 teaches a distinction between transgression and sin is false. It is not supported by the text or anything else in the Bible. They are synonymous (cp Job 8:4; 13:23; 35:6 – note that Job lived before the Mosaic Covenant; Ps 19:13; 32:1; 32:5; 51:3; 59:3; Is 43:25; 44:22; 58:1; Ezk 21:24; etc) 1 John 3:4, as already mentioned, is enough to refute your assertion. The passage could easily be read “even over those whose sinning was not like the sin of Adam” or “whose transgressing was not like the transgression of Adam.” To introduce a dichotomy between the two is unfounded.

    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’.

    This doesn’t work at all. You will be held culpable only if there is a law against running over children with your car. If there is no such law, then you are not culpable. Men are responsible for the law innately revealed precisely because it is a law innately revealed. The law written on the heart of all men is not some vague generalization of right and wrong. Romans 1 lists very, very explicit sins and says that all men know they are wrong and that they deserve death for doing them.

    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

    First of all, the Bible does not teach that men have a “sense” of general relevation. It says they know very explicit things about God and about what God requires of them. They don’t have a sense of God – they know who He is. Second, yes, the law written on the heart of all men is obscured by sin. Therefore God clearly reveals it to Israel in stone. Therefore Israel has greater privilege to obey it and greater responsibility (compared to the surrounding nations) for disobeying it. That is irrelevant as to whether or not the content of the law is the same in both instances.

    As for Romans 7, it hardly says what you’re trying to make it say. Paul is simply expressing the conviction the rich young ruler should have felt when the true spiritual nature of the law was applied to him (Luke 18:18-30; cf Phil 3:6; 9). As a Jew he knew the law, but he was not convicted until he truly understood the law and himself in light of the law.


  2. Brandon

    We have probably taken this discussion as far as we can. You are simply not engaging with key texts.

    You tell me I have not provided biblical support that ‘the law of creation is not the 10 commandments’. It is not for me to so prove. It is for you to prove it is. (Setting aside for the moment whether by the law of creation you mean God’s command to an unfallen or to a fallen Adam).

    You assert that transgression and sin are the same. You cite some passages in covenantal Israel where they are used in parallel. Of course they are. In Isral under the law what was sin was transgression (a breaking of the law) and what was transgression was sin. However, this is not so for the nations, for gentiles. Their sins are not called transgressions. In a word all transgressions are sins but not all sins are transgressions for transgressions are violations of the mosaic law, or of an objectified obligation.

    It will not do to say that Roms 5 is obscure or ‘difficult’. It is only ‘difficult’ to you for it does not fit your preconceived ideas.
    What is difficult about

    Rom 5:13 (ESV)
    for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

    Nor will your reading “even over those whose sinning was not like the sin of Adam” or “whose transgressing was not like the transgression of Adam.” stand the test of linguistic examination. Look at virtually any translation. Those with a given law are more responsible than those ‘without law’ (Roms 2). Consider too:

    Gal 3:19 (ESV)
    Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

    Rom 4:15 (ESV)
    For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

    What is the ‘ignorance’ that Paul refers to in Acts 17? It is their idolatry. It does not mean that God absolutely overlooked it. However, it does mean that he did not punish as he may have. Israel’s idolatry was more culpable for God had revealed himself to her in great saving acts and in the covenant words yet she was idolatrous. Read the prophets they are full of this.

    I was discussing not merely the content of the law but the relative responsibility that exists between an ‘innate law’ and an explicit law expressed in covenant. A point you seem to reject but do so in defiance of Scripturesw such as ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin’. (Roms 3). Presumably Brandon you see no advantage in pressing ‘the 10 commandments’ as God’s revealed standard on unconverted gentiles to awaken conscience since these already have this equally engraved on the heart in creation?


    1. The ignorance that God overlooked that Paul is referring to in Acts 17 is that the Israelites were not commanded to proselytize the rest of the world. God overlooked their sin by not sending a Jeremiah around the world, but only to Israel. This is obviously different now, per Paul’s confronting the Greeks.

      Presumably Brandon you see no advantage in pressing ‘the 10 commandments’ as God’s revealed standard on unconverted gentiles to awaken conscience since these already have this equally engraved on the heart in creation?

      John, are you familiar with a doctrine called total depravity?


  3. Brandon,

    My apologies for posting 2 years late – just found your blog and this post brings a question to my mind.

    I am a member of a 1689 confessional church. One of my elders, who regularly teaches the 1689 to prospective members, is of the opinion that the 4th Commandment is NOT revealed in general revelation; it takes the special revelation of God’s Word for man to discern the cycle of 7 days.

    What biblical warrant do you see for claiming the 4th is written on the hearts of sinful man?


    1. Hi Manfred, thanks for the question.

      The 1689 is clear that the 4th commandment is revealed in general revelation to all men (19.2). The reference given in the confession is Romans 2:14-15. So the biblical warrant I see for claiming the 4th commandment is written on the hearts of sinful men is the same biblical warrant I see for claiming the rest of the 10 commandments are written on the hearts of sinful men. I think a better question would be: What biblical basis does your friend have for claiming 1 of the 10 commandments is not written on the hearts of sinful men if he believes the other 9 are?

      If either he or you are interested in anecdotal evidence, you may want to read the book The Seven Day Circle: The History & Meaning of the Week. The book is written by a non-Christian trying to answer his daughter’s question “Where does the week come from?” He traces its practice through a variety of ancient cultures and he notes:

      “Unlike the day and the year [and the month], the week is an artificial rhythm that was created by human beings [or their Creator] totally independently of any natural periodicity.” p. 4

      Let me know if that’s not a sufficient answer. You can find more resources that I recommend on the subject here: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/resources-for-studying-the-sabbath/


  4. Many thanks for your reply. The quote from The Seven Day Circle appears to line up with what my elder believes: God’s special revelation. This is interesting to me, as all three of my elders fully subscribe to the 1689 and embrace its position on “the sabbath” (I prefer not to use that term, as it’s full of religious baggage and NOT used in Scripture to refer to the 1st day of the week, or the Lord’s Day). I am noodling Bunyan’s argument and Jonathan Edwards’, trying to see the biblical basis for both sides to determine what best aligns with the Word of God. I do not embrace any confession or creed without carefully studying it. I do think the 1689 is very good; but it is curious why the 4th Commandment is the only one to get detailed attention outside chapter 19.

    For the glory of God and the good of His people.


    1. Hi Manfred,

      My apologies, but I miscommunicated in regards to the Seven Day Circle quote. It does not fall in line with what your elders believe. Though it is not the book’s intention, it does demonstrate that there was a common understanding in various cultures prior to Sinai that there was a thing called a “week” that had no basis in nature (ie astronomy), and yet was practiced widely. Furthermore, these weeks included a holy day of rest for religious practice. Therefore it provides anecdotal evidence that the 4th commandment is indeed written on the hearts of all men at creation.

      Here are some examples of the types of things the book refers to (I believe I took these particular quotes from Wikipedia originally):

      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.”

      Please do consider my additional resources on the 4th commandment here: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/resources-for-studying-the-sabbath/

      You may be interested in this essay from Michael Horton. He previously held the position of your elders, but now believes it is rooted in creation http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2011/12/23/are-we-required-to-attend-church-on-sunday/

      it is curious why the 4th Commandment is the only one to get detailed attention outside chapter 19.

      It’s not the only commandment to get detailed attention outside of chapter 19. The 7th commandment receives an entire chapter. Both are mentioned because of the context the confession was written in. The London Baptists were persecuted and were eager to show their affinity with accepted dogma (WCF) where possible but also to demonstrate their obedience to the state where necessary and distance themselves from the radical reformation. Thus a chapter on religious worship makes their intentions clear (these baptists had to meet in secret because any assembly outside of the Church of England was outlawed) and distances themselves from the radical reformation to some extent. This is a great essay for more on the context: http://www.reformedreader.org/ctf.htm

      At least those are my thoughts. Also, confessions tend to address areas of dispute, so if there’s general agreement on the other commandments, they don’t warrant exposition (this isn’t a catechism).


  5. Pingback: The Natural Law State Church | Contrast

  6. markmcculley

    Two kingdom folks like Scott Clark don’t have church opinions on the enforcement of the first table of the ten commandments of the Mosaic law, but they do have private opinions. Every command God ever gave, even those now no longer commanded, is a reflection of God’s unchanging moral character.


    “We should recognize that we live as Calvin wrote, in a “twofold kingdom” (duplex regimen). Surely we understand what that means differently from the way Calvin did.”

    Do we as private Christians have liberty to disagree with Clark’s opinion that the state must not be theocratic but secular?


  7. markmcculley

    Scott Clark— Someone needs to show me even the slightest hint that the Apostles thought that the civil magistrate should enforce the first table….The category I’m invoking comes from a Constantinian, John Calvin. His verbiage was was duplex regimen or “twofold kingdom….In 2009 I distinguished between “common” and “neutral” and I’ve been distinguishing them consistently before and since. “Common” is a well-established category in Reformed theology as is the idea of the “secular.” The rejection of them is quite modern. Again, the question is whether we can appropriate these categories for a post-Constantinian age? I think we can and must.


  8. markmcculley

    Scott Clark—We might just as well speak of one kingdom with two spheres. King Jesus rules the ecclesiastical or redemptive sphere with law and gospel. The latter is found only in special revelation and the former is in special and natural revelation. He rules the civil or common or creational sphere with his law, revealed in creation (nature) and the conscience and by his restraining providence.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s