Home > 1689 federalism, old covenant > How Christians Should Regard Moses (Luther)

How Christians Should Regard Moses (Luther)

How Christians Should Regard Moses is an interesting sermon from Luther responding to the theonomists of his day. What is noteworthy is that Luther responds the way that 1689 Federalism has responded (which is not surprising given that Luther largely followed Augustine). The Mosaic law as a unit (including the 10 commandments as they were delivered to Israel) is abrogated. It does not continue into the New Covenant. However, part of Mosaic law overlapped with natural law, which binds all men. And Moses clarifies natural law by putting it in writing, so we can look for clarification in Moses. Furthermore, Moses contains promises of the gospel, by which men were saved through believing.

They desire to govern people according to the letter of the law of Moses, as if no one had ever read it before.

But we will not have this sort of thing… It is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel…

Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law. We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, “Thus says Moses,” etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff…

That Moses does not bind the Gentiles can be proved from Exodus 20:1, where God himself speaks, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews. The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver – unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law…

When these factious spirits come, however, and say, “Moses has commanded it,” then simply drop Moses and reply, “I am not concerned about what Moses commands.” “Yes,” they say, “he has commanded that we should have one God, that we should trust and believe in him, that we should not swear by his name; that we should honor father and mother; not kill, steal, commit adultery; not bear false witness, and not covet [Exod. 20:3-17]; should we not keep these commandments?” You reply: Nature also has these laws. Nature provides that we should call upon God. The Gentiles attest to this fact. For there never was a Gentile who did not call upon his idols, even though these were not the true God. This also happened among the Jews, for they had their idols as did the Gentiles; only the Jews have received the law. The Gentiles have it written in their heart, and there is no distinction [Rom. 3:22]. As St. Paul also shows in Romans 2:14-15, the Gentiles, who have no law, have the law written in their heart.

But just as the Jews fail, so also do the Gentiles. Therefore it is natural to honor God, not steal, not commit adultery, not bear false witness, not murder; and what Moses commands is nothing new. For what God has given the Jews from heaven, he has also written in the hearts of all men. Thus I keep the commandments which Moses has given, not because Moses gave the commandment, but because they have been implanted in me by nature, and Moses agrees exactly with nature, etc.

But the other commandments of Moses, which are not [implanted in all men] by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the tithe and others equally fine which I wish we had too. Now this is the first thing that I ought to see in Moses, namely, the commandments to which I am not bound except insofar as they are by nature…

Thus we read Moses not because he applies to us, that we must obey him, but because he agrees with the natural law and is conceived better than the Gentiles would ever have been able to do. Thus the Ten Commandments are a mirror of our life, in which we can see wherein we are lacking, etc…

In the second place I find something in Moses that I do not have from nature: the promises and pledges of God about Christ.

This is the best thing. It is something that is not written naturally into the heart, but comes from heaven… in Moses there are the promises of God which sustain faith. As it is written of Eve in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head,” etc. Again Abraham was given this promise by God, speaking thus in Genesis 22:18, “In your descendants shall all the nations be blessed”; that is, through Christ the gospel is to arise.

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  1. Kaj
    February 9, 2017 at 12:15 am

    I was somewhat relieved to hear him specifically refer to the 10 commandments as a ‘mirror’ of our life (2nd para before the end of your excerpt). I was worried about him saying that we only follow Moses in what agrees with nature/natural law. Taking all of Moses, how do we know what to follow as natural to all men, and what isn’t? Some would say it’s natural for a woman not to wear any type of trousers.

    Taking the view generally attributed to Calvin, of Moses larger scope of commandments as an exposition of the 10, an argument from general equity (which makes the whole of Moses relevant when rightly applied) seems to me better than to limit relevance to the 10 commandments as is commonly done.

    I wonder what you would think.

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