The major headings in this prologue – "Divine Law", "Eternal Law", "Natural Law I", "Biblical Prescription of Human Law", and "Natural Law II" – are presented in this specific order for a very specific reason. Each of these major headings can be understood figuratively as an iterative reading through the Bible. The results of each iteration should be used as controls in the subsequent iteration. The approach to each iteration is marked as being either topical or chronological, for the reasons given under each major heading. The final result of following this hermeneutical agenda should be a systematic theology that is Reformed in regards to the sovereignty of God and the accountability of mankind. Before reaching the final iteration, this hermeneutical agenda should establish a reliable biblical context for Bible-based jurisprudence. Since the Bible is intended to touch every area of life, this hermeneutical agenda aims at being not only an agenda for Bible interpretation, but also a plan for developing a Bible-based system for understanding life and glorifying the God Who gives it. In this prolegomenon, we’re setting a Bible-study / Bible-exposition agenda for ourselves and for anyone who wants to follow the arguments we’re making. In this prologue, we make numerous claims about what the Bible says. We don’t attempt to give biblical proofs here, but we assume that for every such claim, a biblical proof exists somewhere, and we try to point to it. If we don’t give a bibliographical location for a biblical proof, the reader should assume that the proof is given in An Investigation into the Biblical Deposition of Human Law and Divine Grace, per se. This prolegomenon is only a survey. The proofs appear elsewhere.
We believe the Bible is true, and that it is in fact our paramount standard of truth. We believe the Bible is the highest normative authority for the definition of what Christians should believe. We also believe that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says He is.
Because we acknowledge that "faith, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17; NASB), we believe that it is a mistake to segregate belief and action in a way that discourages Christians from putting their beliefs into action, thereby translating their faith into works. We therefore believe that it’s a mistake to make a hard-and-fast segregation of systematic theology and Christian ethics. It’s important to first encourage Christians to have right beliefs, and second to put those beliefs into action. This Bible-study agenda is ordered as it is to encourage Christians to have right beliefs about God and about the Bible, first. When beliefs about these fundamentals are established, it’s safe to venture into discussing beliefs about mankind, and about creation in general. Included in beliefs about mankind are beliefs about morality, meaning beliefs about what constitutes good action and what doesn’t, and including what constitutes Christian ethics. Even so, we believe that the Bible’s moral law that is generally applicable to all mankind does not translate directly into human law, because a very specific approach to Scripture is needed to discern the Bible’s prescription of human law. Because of the peculiar demands of extracting human law from Scripture – as indicated below – it’s necessary to take great care in using Bible-based moral law as a control in finding the Bible’s prescription of human law.
Why should anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God surrender what might rightly belong to the visible Church to the forces of secularization, unless they’ve made a genuine study of the issue and concluded that such surrender is blessed by God? — This is a rhetorical question. We hope that among other things, this approach to Scripture will provide guidelines for making this much-needed study.
Some Christians may find it disturbing that the major headings in this Bible-study agenda each pertain to law. Their presupposition may be that this Bible-study agenda chooses law over gospel, and is therefore biased from the outset. Their presupposition would be wrong. In fact, the gospel, as God’s work of redemption in the heart of each regenerated individual, is an act of mercy dispensed within the Almighty’s court of justice. This is also true for the entire plan of redemption of God’s elect. It is initiated as a judicial decision, an act of grace dispensed to the undeserving by way of a Mediator who has merited such justification. So the gospel is rightly understood to be a subset of law, not as something that stands in opposition to it. We believe that treating the gospel as a subset of law is consistent with both reliable readings of Scripture and reliable readings of classical Reformed theology. 1
By having this agenda, arranged as it is by law, we also appear to be opening ourselves to criticism that we are assuming that law has primacy over covenant. This is also not the case. We assume all biblical laws to be obligations that are terms within one or more of the biblical covenants. We choose law as major headings instead of covenants to facilitate biblical construction based on historically reliable theologies. Using historically reliable theologies to solve problems of our times demands extending such theologies into areas that they may have covered in principle, but that they have failed to cover in adequate detail. For the sake of further confirming our commitments first to the Bible and second to the major tenets of the classical Reformed faith, we hereby give cursory explanations for our views of the Five Solas.
The doctrine of sola Scriptura was developed by the magisterial Reformers 2 as a way to combat the excesses of Roman Catholic traditionalism. 3 This doctrine teaches that Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian. It means that the Bible is true, authoritative, and complete. As Paul told Timothy, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2Timothy 3:16-17; NASB). This doctrine is needed in our times to combat not only un-Scriptural traditions, but also un-Scriptural beliefs of a seemingly endless variety.
There have always been people who reject the authority of Scripture; so that’s as big a problem now as ever. On the other hand, over the last 200 years, Bible-believing Protestants have largely abandoned the magisterial Reformers’ definition of sola Scriptura in favor of what some call "solo Scriptura", 4 and have thereby created an altogether new problem. The Reformers believed that the historic creeds of the faith were important and deserved consultation, even though they held a degree of authority well below the authority of Scripture. Their definition of sola Scriptura allowed for this use of the historic creeds. The re-definition of sola Scriptura into "solo Scriptura" entails the demotion of the historic creeds to a status equivalent to any man’s opinion. The doctrine of "solo Scriptura" also rejects natural law, something that none of the magisterial Reformers did. The blanket rejection of natural law and the historic creeds is foolishness. A large part of the reason that natural law has been rejected may relate to defective definitions and implementations of it. The historic creeds may have also been rejected because of their defects. But since both the historic creeds and the human understanding of natural law are man-made, no one should have ever expected them to be perfect. The historic creeds and natural law cannot undergo blanket rejection without long-term consequences that no sane person would ever want.
The Bible alone teaches the history and plan of God’s work of redemption, i.e., the gospel. The Bible alone is a reliable exhibition of written special revelation. There is an important distinction between special revelation recorded in Scripture and personal special revelation. Personal spiritual experience can be a form of special revelation, binding on the conscience of the person having the experience, but having no inherent binding power on anyone else. "We deny that any creed, council, or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience", 5 but we also affirm that the Holy Spirit may at times speak independently of the Bible, even though the Holy Spirit never speaks contrary to the Bible. — We affirm that special revelation is crucial to having a personal relationship with God, and that when personal spiritual experience is consistent with, harmonious with, and affirming to Scripture, it is reasonable to call such personal spiritual experience "special revelation". — We believe the canon is closed. We believe that the canon recognized by the magisterial Reformers – being composed of sixty-six books – was adopted by special revelation. We believe that this canon has been closed by special revelation. We acknowledge that the Bible itself does not define the canon, and that the definition of the canon is extra-biblical. — We believe that personal special revelation – as distinguished from canonical special revelation – never rises to the level of being binding on anyone other than the person who experiences the revelation. Such personal special revelation therefore never rises to the level of being worthy of inclusion in the Bible, or of being treated as equal in authority to the Bible.
The primary purpose of sola Scriptura was, is, and should be, the avoidance of the tendency to teach "as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). It’s essential to avoid – deliberately and conscientiously – setting aside the precepts, priorities, and commandments of Scripture in favor of anything extra-biblical. This doesn’t mean that extra-biblical things cannot be admitted into consciousness. It means that extra-biblical things – regardless of whether they are traditions, human laws, scientific theories, mathematical formulae, money, archaeological data, or any other kind of perception, cognition, or experience – must be set into the context created by Scripture. Scripture is exhaustive with respect to guiding principles, even while it is not exhaustive in the application of such principles to every kind of circumstance or concern. The canon is closed for a reason: Because the Bible itself, and Jesus in particular, make it abundantly clear that He is establishing such general principles, and such principles are not to be "tampered with, augmented, or diminished in any way". 6
We affirm that Christ alone mediates our salvation, and that we are justified and reconciled to the Father only by Christ’s sinless life and substitutionary atonement. Salvation comes from no one else, "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the "only way to heaven, and the confession of his name is the only hope of salvation from sin and judgment". 7 Salvation is a sovereign act of God. Whom He saves and whom He doesn’t, between now and the Final Judgment, only He knows. No natural born human being can know with absolute certainty who is saved, and who is not. We are therefore to know people by their fruits, not by their final destination. Regarding assurance, one can have a great deal of it for oneself through the testimonies of Scripture, conscience, and deeds mandated by the sanctification process; and for others, by knowing their fruits. But as long as we’re alive on this planet, we’re incapable of absolute assurance about anyone, including ourselves, until the Final Judgment. This takes nothing away from the fact that salvation is through Christ alone, and it takes nothing away from the fact that open declaration of allegiance to Jesus Christ puts one into the realm of the visible Church.
With the signers of the Cambridge Declaration, we "confess that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable even of cooperating with regenerating grace.". 8 — "[I]n salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life." 9 Furthermore, our awareness of our new status as receptacles of this grace is a form of special revelation directly from the throne of God, a unique, Bible-authorized form of personal spiritual experience. Even so, "We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerate human nature.". 10
We agree that "[J]ustification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice. We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.". 11
We agree that "[B]ecause salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory that we must glorify him always. We must live our lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone. We deny that we can properly glorify God . . . if we neglect either Law or Gospel". 12
We believe we’re justified in being suspicious of any breed of "Christianity" that rejects any of these Five Solas.
To discern the nature of divine law, it suffices to take a topical approach to the Bible to answer the question, "What does the Bible say about itself?". — Topical approach means that the study of this issue is not necessarily chronological.
To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. (Isaiah 8:20; NASB)
Scripture is the paramount authority for the visible Church. Even so, every human being’s conscience is a filter through which God may communicate the words of Scripture into that person’s heart, drawing that person with irresistible grace. As a general rule, no human being should take another person’s conscience as a substitute for his / her own. Likewise, no human being should take Scripture to the exclusion of their conscience. On the contrary, Scripture is food for the conscience, and neither is sufficient unto itself with regard to personal experience. Conscience is equivalent to the inner sense of God that Paul describes in Romans 1:18-25. So conscience is crucial to personal experience. But there’s a huge difference between conscience – i.e., what counts as authority within a single individual’s private sphere – and what counts as authority within the visible Church. Regarding authority within the visible Church, nothing is higher, or even close to equal with Scripture. Because we recognize the importance of the relationship between conscience and Scripture, it’s necessary to speak of revelation.
Revelation is knowledge revealed by God. General revelation is knowledge revealed generally to humanity. Special revelation is knowledge revealed specifically and especially to one or more individuals. Divine law is a product of special revelation. Special revelation and general revelation carry the same ethical content. The difference is that such content is articulated in special revelation while suppressed in general revelation (Romans 1:18-23). The moral law in each is the same. So the underlying reality of each is the same. But revelation pertains specifically to what is made known to humans, as distinguished from any underlying reality. So the specificity of special and general revelation are different, due to the suppression of moral law in general revelation. A similar way of saying this is that the moral law that pertains to the elect is identical to the moral law that pertains to the lost. But the moral law is received and esteemed in the case of the regenerate, while it is rejected and suppressed in the case of the lost. The degree of clear, understandable articulation of the moral law bears on the degree to which it is received and esteemed.
The divine law, the Bible, like the Persons of the Trinity who orchestrated its authorship, is mediate between the perfect and holy God and His imperfect and unholy creatures. As such, the divine law is perfect in its capacity to guide the unholy to redemption. But it is not perfect in the sense of being an exhaustive articulation of all ethical content. The divine law absolutely articulates reliable ground-rules for discerning the ethical content that it doesn’t expressly articulate. The divine law articulates general principles that cover every situation. For example, the duties to love God and to love neighbor apply to every situation forever. Human behavior is governed eternally and into infinitesimal minutiae by this overarching obligation. But being deeply ignorant and corrupt, humans have great difficulty seeing how to apply this principle to the minutiae of everyday life. So Scripture goes on to say much more than these two greatest of all commandments, but it still is not exhaustive. It is exhaustive in general principles, but not in details.
The gospel is not articulated in general revelation. The gospel is articulation of God’s work of redemption, and it is articulated expressly only in the divine law, i.e., the Holy Scriptures. But this does not mean that someone who has neither heard nor read the divine law is automatically doomed. Scripture itself speaks of people who were clearly elect while being clearly ignorant of the written Bible (Hebrews 11:4-7,31). This clearly shows that God sovereignly awakened specific, elect people to the truth of His work of redemption, thereby making special revelation of His redeeming powers. They received special revelation without the written word. This means that they recognized the holiness of God, the divinity of Christ, and their relative state of depravity, without divine law, but nevertheless with special revelation. — The image of God – and the moral law that defines the behavioral boundaries of such imago Dei – have been violated through sin by every natural-born human being. Both general revelation and special revelation articulate this. This is a truth of general revelation that is acknowledged by special revelation. But special revelation articulates a solution – the gospel, God’s work of redemption – while general revelation does not.
Putting special revelation – a subjective experience of an objective God – into written form, makes such revelation permanent, at least so long as it’s worthy of preservation from one generation to the next. If God ordains the writing of such special revelation, and if people find such written special revelation so valuable that it is deemed worthy of preservation over decades, generations, centuries, and millennia, and is grouped with other similar written special revelations into a specific canon of Scripture, which is then preserved for more generations, centuries, and millennia, then such written special revelation must deserve to be treated as especially holy. But what communicates this holiness is not merely this tradition. After all, other religions have their "holy" writings. What communicates this holiness is the fact that God continues to communicate His special revelation into the consciences of each succeeding generation by way of the reading of Scripture by people in such succeeding generations. But other religions may claim the same thing. Why should one such tradition be esteemed over another?
Only the sixty-six books of the Reformed canon of Scripture adequately communicate the plan and history of redemption. Some religions don’t even acknowledge that redemption is necessary. Others may recognize that redemption is necessary, but offer only works programs to achieve such redemption. Only the Reformed canon adequately, consistently, and lucidly delineates a plan of redemption by imputation. These writings therefore deserve and demand to be treated as permanent, inviolable, and holy. These facts mark the difference between special revelation that deserves to be canonized and special revelation that does not deserve to be canonized. The canon is rightly closed until Christ returns. There is plenty of God-centered work to do in just keeping the visible Church operating within guidelines that are already canonized, without having to suffer claims from nominal Christians that their pet personal experiences need to be added to the canon, or treated as equal in stature. Regarding authority within the visible Church, personal spiritual experiences don’t deserve either to be added to the canon or to be treated as equal in stature. On the contrary, personal spiritual experiences need to be submitted to the light of Scripture to ensure that they are not mere delusions sent by HaSatan to haunt the living. When science, tradition, human law, personal spiritual experiences, or any of innumerable other extra-biblical voices, "supplants the voice of Scripture", 13 the culture that supports such supplanting is out of order.
Admitting that special revelation accompanies salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone admits no assault on the authority of Scripture or on the doctrine of sola Scriptura. Much though Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists would like to use this admission to destroy the doctrine of sola Scriptura, they cannot do so unless they twist such personal special revelation into something that it is not. The special revelation that accompanies salvation is intended primarily for the edification of the newly regenerate individual. It is not intended to be written down for the guidance of the Church at large. It is given to the newly regenerate by God for the establishment of the newly regenerate in his / her new relationship with God. It needs to be checked against Scripture. It does not need or deserve to be esteemed as equal or superior to Scripture, because it is not intended by God to be used for any purpose other than the personal edification and sanctification of one individual.
"The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority [– as distinguished from sole authority –] in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture." 14 — "It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture." 15 — "Scripture is a ‘more sure Word,’ standing above all other truth in its authority and certainty. It is ‘more sure’, according to the apostle Peter, than the data we gather firsthand through our own senses (2 Peter 1:19). Therefore, Scripture is the highest and supreme authority on any matter to which it speaks." 16 — "But there are many important questions on which Scripture is silent. Sola Scriptura makes no claim to the contrary." 17
How else can a person be convinced that they have been saved by God except through special revelation as personal experience, then confirmed through special revelation in the written Word? The conviction is a subjective reality as surely as God is an objective reality.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1 § 1, says, "the holy Scripture [is] most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.". 18 — We take this to mean that special revelation for the sake of canonization is "now ceased", a claim with which we thoroughly agree. But special revelation for many other purposes now continues. How else could the "spiritual gifts" that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12 be in effect other than through special revelation? 19 Even so, we acknowledge that the collective special revelation that led to the canonization of the sixty-six books of the Bible carries far greater authority within the visible Church than special revelation to a single individual. "No man, no church, no religious authority has any warrant from God to augment the inspired Word of Scripture with additional traditions, or to alter the plain sense of it by subjecting it to the rigors of a ‘traditional’ meaning not found in the Word itself." 20
In every form of systematic thought, there are assumptions without which the system collapses. In other words, even in the most rigorous forms of scientific and mathematical systems, there are leaps of faith without which the system collapses. A necessary assumption in Reformed Christianity is that the canon of sixty-six books of the Bible is special revelation to the visible Church. Special revelation written objectively in the divine law impacted the individual consciences of early Christians so that they knew through special revelation experienced subjectively which books were genuinely authoritative and which were not. This subjective response that defined the canon we call canonical special revelation. The non-Reformed operate on their own set of assumptions. — We accept as personal special revelation that these sixty-six books are the authoritative canon of Scripture. If other people want to believe something else, they can do so on their own time, on their own turf, and at their own peril. Such revelation to the visible Church has preeminence over personal special revelation. Personal spiritual experiences are so prone to being inconsistent with biblical principles – as proven by the variety of prohibitions against many kinds of personal experiences in the Old Testament (such as divination, necromancy, sorcery, etc.) – that we deem it unwise to follow any such personal experience unless it can be shown consistent with Scripture. — The more we know of Scripture, and the more we see its interconnectedness and integrity, the more able we are to experience special revelation in the true sense, as opposed to dubious personal experiences. Checking experiences against knowledge of Scripture allows it to be either validated as special revelation or discarded as delusion.
The sufficiency of Scripture pertains to the fact that Scripture contains all the general principles of the work of redemption, not merely of personal salvation, but of the redemption of all of the elect, including all the historical machinations necessary to achieving the redemption of all the elect. In terms of such guiding principles, there is no reason "to exceed what is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6) in the Bible. Whatever Scripture may lack in details it supplies in abundance in general principles. By grace through faith because of Christ, every fact, concern, circumstance, etc., encountered by a 21st century believer can be encompassed by biblical principles and biblical authority. (2 Timothy 3:15-17) — In saying that we, by personal special revelation, accept the sixty-six books of the Bible as the rightly closed canon of Scripture, we say that no authority on earth is in any way equal to Scripture’s authority. We believe that claims of papal infallibility, claims of apostolic authority based on personal spiritual experience, claims of authority that secular governments make over the visible Church, etc., are all bogus. We also say, with Luther and Calvin, that we see the Roman Catholic emphasis on human merit as being deeply Pelagian and semi-Pelagian, 21 especially in contrast to the Augustinian theology of these Reformers.
We believe that the written words of Scripture are binding, meaning, among other things, that they permit people into the visible Church, and prohibit people from it. The fact that people who have no exposure to divine law can be sovereignly saved by God through special revelation of Jesus Christ by way of the Holy Spirit – unusual and rare though such salvation may be – does not put such salvation automatically at odds with Scripture. Even so, all claims, of all kinds, whether soteriological, jurisprudential, moral, scientific, or of any other kind, must be measured against Scripture. If Scripture clearly and obviously repudiates such claims, regardless of their nature or kind, then Scripture shall stand while such claims are sent outside the camp. "The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured." 22
"The classical Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura meant that Scripture is the sole final and infallible authority." 23 We acknowledge, in agreement with the Reformation, and with qualifications indicated above, that the Bible is the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice, and is therefore the sole final and infallible authority. We also acknowledge that the core creeds accepted by classical Reformed Christianity – Nicene, Athanasian, Chalcedonian, etc. – are subordinate authorities. As such, these creeds are not to be disregarded, treated as irrelevant, or treated as no more authoritative than any man’s opinion. But they’re not to be treated as infallible either.
We emphatically believe that every individual has the right, and in many cases also the duty, to check everything against both Scripture and conscience. In the views of the classical Reformers, sola Scriptura clearly did not entail automatic rejection of either the historic creeds of the faith or natural law. Even so, the fact that every individual Christian has the right / duty to check everything against both Scripture and conscience does nothing to destroy or even unsettle the structure of authority in the visible Church. Church leaders / elders still have the power of binding and loosing within the Church.
The reason and conscience of the individual Christian is the "supreme interpreter" of Scripture for that individual Christian, but it is not the supreme interpreter for the visible Church. Whatever structure of authority has been adopted by a local congregation of the visible Church is the "supreme interpreter" for that congregation, as a congregation.
Any attempt at denying the individual the right to interpret Scripture in a manner consistent with said Christian’s conscience, is an attempt at setting some body of human flesh as mediator between Christian and God. Many breeds of nominal Christianity these days are attempting some variation on this ancient ugliness. Such congregations would serve God, their congregants, and themselves more effectively by nurturing the legitimate, practical place for personal special revelation in the life of every true believer. Defenders of Reformed theology would serve their cause much more effectively by developing the experiential theology of Jonathan Edwards.
The rejection of the natural law tradition and the rejection of the historical creeds may each have happened for totally different reasons. But they are both aspects of the "solo Scriptura" syndrome. Both happened as a result of a lack of discernment of biblical truth, both on the part of individuals and on the part of the visible Church as a whole.
We believe that the canon of sixty-six books acknowledged by classical Reformed theology is infallible and inerrant (Exodus 31:18, 32:16; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4). This Bible is utterly true and completely authoritative.
We believe that the sum of Scriptural truth is a sufficient rule of faith for the Christian.
We believe that Scripture alone provides an epistemological foundation that guides God’s elect to salvation, fully equipping us for life and eternity (2 Timothy 3:15-17). We can be certain that "every essential aspect of the apostolic message is included in Scripture".
We believe that "the ultimate criterion of canonicity is divine authorship, not human or ecclesiastical approval." 24. We recognize exclusively the sixty-six books recognized in the Reformed tradition, as being the authoritative canon.
We believe that this entire canon of Scripture is "God breathed" and "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16; NIV). We believe that this means that it is also useful for determining what constitutes good and reliable human law.
We believe that Scripture is authoritative, meaning that "all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God." 25.
We believe that God does not lie, mislead, or speak falsely (2 Samuel 7:28; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). "Therefore, all the words in Scripture are . . . completely true and without error in any part (Num 23:19; Pss. 12:6, 119:89, 96; Prov. 30:5; Matt. 24:35)." 26 Therefore, "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact." 27.
We believe the Bible is clear, meaning that it "is written in such a way that its teachings are to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it." 28 We believe this means, among other things, that the Bible has rational integrity. Even so, we believe that the ability to understand Scripture correctly is more spiritual than intellectual (1 Corinthians 2:14). To understand Scripture, it’s often helpful to use logic, reason, and rationality, and to assume that the Bible has rational integrity. Even so, logic, reason, and rationality are useless to the understanding of Scripture without the leading of the Holy Spirit.
We believe that there is a single reality about which humans have only fragmentary knowledge. We believe that general revelation and special revelation reveal aspects of the same single reality. General revelation is aspects of the single underlying reality revealed generally to the human race. Special revelation is aspects of the single reality addressed to specific people. "Special revelation includes all the words of Scripture but is not limited to the words of Scripture". 29 Special revelation reveals aspects of reality with precision and clarity that general revelation lacks with respect to those aspects. The Bible is a record of special revelations that deserves to have canonical status.
General revelation is "The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all people generally." 30 It’s called "general" because "it comes to all people generally". — "General revelation comes through observing nature, through seeing God’s directing influence in history, and through the inner sense of God’s existence and his laws that he has placed inside every person." 31 — "All people know something of God’s moral laws." 32 The Bible specifies the basic nature of general revelation.
The Bible manifests God’s plan for redeeming His elect and the history of such redemption. General revelation says little-to-nothing about such plan, history, or redemption. The Bible is therefore absolutely necessary for clearly understanding the plan and history of God’s work of redemption.
God is sovereign and can save whomsoever He pleases. Even so, Romans 10:13-17 and other verses make it clear that it’s important for His elect to spread knowledge of His redemption so that the Bible can be used as an instrument to assist salvation and sanctification. Also Scripturally reliable implementation of biblical law as human law is an important teacher, and as such, is an important mechanism in God’s work of redemption (1 Timothy 1:5-11).
"[K]nowledge gained by observation of the world is always imperfect and always liable to error or misinterpretation". 33 — This is also true of knowledge gained via Bible-study. The problem is not with the Bible, and it’s not with the observed world. It is with sin, which always insinuates itself into all human perception and all human action. Such insinuation makes the need to allow Scripture to speak for itself that much more emphatic. Such insinuation into Bible-study is emphatically not so great that it keeps Bible-believing Christians from having knowledge of the moral law and of the work of redemption that is perfect for our times.
"[E]ternal salvation comes only through belief in Jesus Christ and no other way." 34 — God is sovereign, and can save whomsoever He pleases, and is not constrained by any feeble human construction of either special revelation or general revelation. People were saved by Jesus Christ, through special revelation, prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, and they are saved by Jesus Christ, through special revelation, after the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a biblical fact. Even though it may be rare, it’s impossible to eliminate the possibility that Jesus Christ has saved people who are totally outside the realm of divine law, meaning people who have never heard of the Bible, Jesus Christ, Judaism, Christianity, etc. Regardless of what people may know and what people may have heard, salvation is always a sovereign act of God through Jesus Christ.
"[S]aving faith, according to Scripture, is always confidence or trust in God that rests on the truthfulness of God’s own words." 35
We define divine law as synonymous with the Scriptures contained within the sixty-six books of the Reformed canon of the Bible. The divine law contains the general principles by which we can discern the basics of eternal law, natural law, and human law.
All of Scripture is applicable in our time (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 9:10; 2 Timothy 3:16).
Scripture is the paramount transcription of God’s will for all areas of human life (2 Timothy 3:16; Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:1-9).
Every passage of Scripture should be taken at face value, and comprehended on its own terms, before integrating it into a larger literary unit. Such comprehension includes attempting to understand the author’s intended meaning.
We believe that it’s wrong to redefine sola Scriptura in such a manner as to eliminate the existence of natural law, specifically, moral law that applies universally to all human beings, including human beings who have never heard of the Bible. Redefining sola Scriptura to eliminate natural law is a rejection of the views of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and all the magisterial Reformers on this issue, which we believe is a big mistake. 36
Salvation can occur without knowledge of the written divine law (e.g., Abel, Enoch, etc. See Hebrews 11.). But it cannot happen without special revelation, i.e., without a sovereign act of grace toward the undeserving human being saved, wrought by Jesus Christ in either pre-incarnate or post-incarnate form. — But the plan of redemption – including not only the redemption of the elect, but also including the edification of humanity in general through common grace, including through the providential adoption of better, Bible-based legal systems – happens via the sharing of knowledge of the divine law.
To discern the nature of eternal law, take a topical approach to the Bible to answer the question, "What does the Bible say about God, His eternal covenant (Hebrews 9:15; 13:20), and His eternal law (Proverbs 8:23)?". — Topical approach means that the study of this issue is not necessarily chronological.
By eternal law, we mean the immortal, changeless, spiritual, intellectual, and moral qualities of God. "The Eternal Laws are the ways of the nature of God and their multifold relationships with the mysteries of the Godhead. Being eternal and so unchanging, all other things are subsumed under their pervasive breadth." 37
God is independent: "God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy." 38 — "[A]mong the persons of the Trinity there has been perfect love and fellowship and communication for all eternity." 39
God is unchangeable: "God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations." 40
God is eternal: "God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time." 41
God is omnipresent: "God does not have size or spacial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places." 42
God is one: "God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times." 43
God is Spirit: "God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence." Even so, "God still shows himself to us through visible, created things". 44
God is omniscient: "God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act." 45
God is wise: "God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals." 46
God is truthful and faithful: All of God’s "knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth." 47
God is good: "The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and all that God is and does is worthy of approval." 48
God is loving: "God’s love means that God eternally gives of himself to others." 49
God is holy: "God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor." 50
God is just: God’s justice "means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right". 51
God is volitional: God’s volition "is that attribute of God whereby he approves and determines to bring about every action necessary for the existence and activity of himself and all creation". 52
God’s freedom: "God’s freedom is that attribute of God whereby he does whatever he pleases. . . . God is not constrained by anything external to himself." 53
God is omnipotent: "God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will." 54
God is Triune: "God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God." 55 — "God has eternally existed in three Persons and between these Persons there is an eternal unchanging love that is primary to any expression of Moral Law for man. Thus what man should do depends upon what God is and what God’s laws are cannot . . . be other than they are. . . . God above all perfectly knows and loves himself because there is nothing higher to know or more loveable to love." 56 God’s nature is the source of eternal law, and therefore of natural law. The Three Persons of the Trinity are in an eternal covenant with one another.
God’s creation: "God created the entire universe out of nothing; it was originally very good; and he created it to glorify himself." 57 — In this process of creation: (i)God created the Spiritual, psychic, and physical realms as a single harmonious realm. 58 (ii)God created Adam and Eve directly, creating them in His image. (iii)God created chronological time. (iv)The Triune God created the universe through the Son, the logos (John 1:1-3), eternal law. Regarding the relationship between God and eternal law: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Creation exists by way of the Word: "God said . . . " (Genesis 1:3). Therefore, "the Word" is intermediate between God and creation. God is transcendent. By way of the Word (i.e., eternal law) He is also immanent. Jesus is the Word. "All things came into being through Him" (John 1:3).
God’s relationship with His creation: God’s relationship with His creation is providential, meaning that "God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he (1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; (2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and (3) directs them to fulfill his purposes.". 60 — "Now it is evident, granted that the world is ruled by Divine Providence, as was stated in the FP, Question , Articles ,2, that the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason. Wherefore the very Idea of the government of things in God the Ruler of the universe, has the nature of a law. And since the Divine Reason’s conception of things is not subject to time but is eternal, according to Prov. 8:23, therefore it is that this kind of law must be called eternal." 61
Human accountability: Even though God decreed everything that comes to pass, and providentially makes it happen, human beings are still morally accountable for everything that we do.
At the interface between eternal law and natural law are the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. We believe that it’s a biblical fact that all biblical law is contained as terms within covenants. The covenant of redemption and the covenant of works overarch all natural law. The covenant of grace directly impacts the enforcement of natural law.
To discern the nature of natural law, take a topical approach to the Bible to answer the question, "What does the Bible say about what is universally true about humanity?". — Topical approach means that the study of this issue is not necessarily chronological.
Twice within the first nine chapters of Genesis, God, through Moses, says that human beings are created in His image, meaning that every human being is created with the imago Dei, in the image of God (Genesis 1:26; 9:6). Even though every human is endued with the imago Dei, the entire race of humans has corrupted its ability to live, breathe, act, think, perceive, speak, have its being, etc., consistently with the imago Dei. In other words, in addition to being created in the image of God, people also have an innate, inborn propensity to violate themselves, and others. If humans didn’t have this propensity to violate themselves and others, they would live easily and naturally in accord with the moral law, as they did in the garden of Eden. The behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei are the same thing as this moral law. The moral law that defines the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei is the same thing as what we call the natural law. This moral law is called "natural" because it’s built into the nature of every human being (Romans 1:18-23). Because of humanity’s corruption of its ability to live compatibly with the imago Dei, no natural-born human being is capable of abiding by the natural law perfectly.
The only way that any human being can abide perfectly by this moral law / natural law, is by imputation. In other words, God judges all human beings as corrupted, rotten, in violation of the imago Dei, and worthy of eternal wrath. But our Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, stands before the bench of the Almighty, admitting that His client is guilty as charged, but asking nevertheless that the Almighty dispense mercy instead of justice, and claiming that in spite of His client’s guilt, His client has His favor and therefore deserves to have His righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, imputed to him in place of the client’s own guilt. Our Advocate is able to convince the Father that this mercy is just, because He has paid the penalty, death, that is owed by the accused.
By defining a universally applicable moral law that no natural-born human is capable of keeping, natural law defines a universal problem. This universal problem is the suppression of natural law (Romans 1:18-23). Christians typically call the solution to this universal problem the "gospel". The gospel is the earthly manifestation of God’s work of redemption. It is usually associated with the New Testament. But the work of redemption starts early in the biblical chronology, in the first few chapters of Genesis. So instead of calling this solution the "gospel", we call it the "work of redemption" to avoid creating artificial barriers between the Old Testament and the New. God executes His work of redemption through special revelation.
We believe that all law is ultimately covenantal or contractual. In other words, all law exists as terms of covenants and contracts. This belief is based on many references in Scripture to God’s inclination to make and keep covenants. We believe that God’s creation of the universe was covenantal. We believe that God’s creation of mankind was covenantal. We believe that God created mankind so that each human was party to the covenant of works, a covenant by which each human would have eternal life by being perfectly obedient to the moral law that governs the imago Dei, i.e., by obeying the natural law. We believe this means that the propensity to function by way of covenants is buried deep in human nature, in human societies, and in creation in general. As a result, we believe that all just laws are grounded as terms within covenants and contracts. We believe that while in the garden of Eden, the humans violated the natural law. As a penalty for violating the natural law, the humans deserved immediate death and eternal doom. Instead of executing immediate justice against the human race, the Three Persons of the Godhead, as part of their eternal covenant with one another, agreed that the Son would become human to fulfill the covenant of works vicariously for pre-selected humans. This agreement between the Persons of the Godhead to redeem some of Adam’s race is what we call the covenant of redemption. Since the fallen humans were incapable of satisfying the requirements of the covenant of works, the covenant between God and humanity had to be modified to allow the human race to continue its existence. 63 This modified covenant is what we call the covenant of grace. It’s called the covenant of grace because God had mercy on humanity instead of wiping us out, as justice required. 64
So natural law, in the general sense, is that huge set of laws that are terms of the covenant of works, where such laws have been revealed by God to mankind, awareness of which mankind generally suppresses, the suppression being a by-product of the fall. Natural law is the laws contained within general revelation. In other words, natural law was revealed to humanity in general before the fall, and it is basic to human nature. But since the fall, this revealed knowledge has been overlaid with a deeply engrained inclination in every human being to suppress awareness of natural law. According to this classical view, natural law was written on the heart of the human being in the garden of Eden, but it has been suppressed ever since the fall.
It’s reasonable to wonder how this view of natural law aligns with the New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:33, the prophet indicates that the New Covenant is God’s law written on the heart. But according to this classical Reformed view, such law is already written on the heart via general revelation (Romans 1:18-23). There appears to be a contradiction here. Was the law written on the heart in the garden of Eden, or was it (or will it be) written on the heart as prophesied by Jeremiah? This contradiction disappears if we understand this New Covenant as an act, by the Messiah, of revealing anew, reminding, of something already known, but suppressed or forgotten. Jesus in Luke 22:20 indicates that the covenant that Jeremiah is pointing to is the same covenant that Jesus activates in His blood. This natural law articulated in general revelation, and written on everyone’s heart, is systematically delivered from suppression through the enabling of the New Covenant, according to Jeremiah. In the New Covenant, according to Jeremiah, God’s people have both the natural law and the ability to perform it. The ability to perform the natural law has been lacking ever since the fall. Since no one on this planet is able at present to perform it via his or her own merit, the ability to perform the natural law is still lacking in concrete, everyday life on planet earth. But in the New Covenant, the ability exists by imputation. It existed by imputation before the activation of the New Covenant, evidenced by pre-Christian people whom God indicates as being saved (Hebrews 11), all of whom are necessarily saved through imputation of the attributes of Jesus Christ. But such imputation was not revealed canonically until Jesus activated the New Covenant. So (i)the natural law was written on the heart of every human being at creation. (ii)The natural law was universally suppressed at the fall. (iii)Before Jesus was born, God’s elect were regenerated by Jesus Christ through special revelation, even though they had no written knowledge of incarnate Jesus Christ. The regeneration resulted in immediate partial deliverance from the suppression of the natural law (full deliverance via imputed righteousness). (iv)After Jesus’ ministry, God’s elect are regenerated by Jesus Christ through special revelation with the assistance of divine law in which Jesus’ existence is articulated. The regeneration results in the immediate partial deliverance from the suppression of the natural law (full deliverance via imputed righteousness). But the partial deliverance tends to be more complete because Jesus’ existence is articulated in the divine law. In accordance with Jeremiah 31:34, the more deliverance from suppression, the less the need to impose the law on others. (v)When Jesus returns, regeneration will result in the complete deliverance from suppression of the natural law. — With these claims in place, it’s clear that there is no contradiction between the classical Reformed view of natural law and the New Covenant.
In spite of whatever entrenched flaws may exist in Thomas Aquinas’s theology, the following quote makes it clear that some (and perhaps a lot) of what he said about natural law is consistent with the classical Reformed view, consistent with the Bible, and consistent with the truth:
Now among all others, the rational creature is subject to Divine providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others. Wherefore it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law. Hence the Psalmist after saying (Ps. 4:6): "Offer up the sacrifice of justice," as though someone asked what the works of justice are, adds: "Many say, Who showeth us good things?" in answer to which question he says: "The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us": thus implying that the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law. 65
One caveat: It may be true that natural law is "the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law", but claiming that "natural law is nothing other than" that may signify a failure to adequately address the suppression issue, a failure that leads to an unrealistically exalted view of man and a palsied view of God. Even so, Aquinas’ view of natural law was basically accepted by the Reformers; although the Roman Catholic Church’s distortion of it was not.
The term, "natural law" is usually ambiguous. It has a long history, and has had a variety of definitions. The term generally applies to one or both of two sets of theories – one set of theories being moral and the other set being legal. We distinguish the moral set of theories from the jurisprudential set of theories typographically, natural law being moral and natural law being jurisprudential (i.e., human law). We define natural law strictly in terms of morality and ethics.
It’s beyond dispute among legal scholars that since the 19th century, there have been two competing visions of what the foundations of human law should be, one vision holding to natural law and the other holding to legal positivism: (i)Natural law, as a collection of legal theories, always points to some moral theory, or to some system of morality, as the presumed foundation for human law. (ii)In contrast, legal positivism assumes that human law is whatever the human sovereign claims it to be. 66 We believe that the primary difference between the two can be found relative to Augustine of Hippo’s famous dictum, "lex iniusta non est lex", meaning "unjust law is not law" (De Libero Arbitrio (Of Free Choice), i, 5). 67 This dictum puts Augustine and his followers automatically into the natural law camp because it assumes that human law should be judged by some morality higher than the human sovereign. Natural law, by definition, must adhere to this belief. In contrast, legal positivism does not adhere to this belief. These two facts relate directly to the difference between natural law and human law.
We’ve already argued that reliable, Bible-based natural law is moral law that is applicable to all human beings. But claiming that something is applicable to all human beings, and actually applying this thing to all human beings, are two radically different things. If someone applies a moral code to his / her self, such application is the immediate concern of that person and God. Anyone else impacted by such application is impacted mediately, not immediately. But when someone applies a moral code to someone else, both the person applying the code and the person who is the target are impacted immediately. When one leaves the arena of applying a moral code strictly to oneself to applying it to other people, one has crossed the boundary that exists innately between the moral sphere and the sphere of human law. Human law is certainly a subset of moral law, but any claim that the two are synonymous is not only wrong, but also the root cause of wars and strife too monumental to recount. Great care needs to be taken at this interface between the moral sphere and the sphere of human law. To claim, as the legal positivists claim, that the interface is non-existent or negligible, is to lay the foundations for tyranny. On the other hand, moral law (human understanding of natural law) that is defective for whatever reason will supply, at best, a skewed foundation for natural law. It’s crucial for us to define natural law only in terms of what is rationally consistent with Scripture, and not in terms of what argues against Scripture. The Reformers affirmed the existence of natural law. 68 We should do the same. This is true in spite of the fact that neither the Reformers nor anyone else has developed a reliable theology of the State.
Historically, definitions of natural law have tended to be either man-centered or God-centered. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and practically all Reformed theologians have held to the position that mankind is deeply depraved, sinful, and morally accountable. In contrast, both secular and religious flavors of humanism have held that mankind is basically good, and is not particularly accountable. Our approach to natural law is dedicated to being God-centered. — It’s ridiculous to pretend that natural law doesn’t exist. The real issue is this: How do we discern what it is and define it so that (i)it glorifies God, (ii)it honors the image of God in every human being, (iii)it is consistent with Scripture, and (iv)it lays a reliable foundation for human law?
For the Bible-believing Christian, there are two moral commands that supersede all others. The two paramount commands are (i)to love God, and (ii)to love neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). Human perception is so flawed that we have great difficulty conceiving how to keep both of these commands simultaneously, or adequately. As a result, Christianity has been prone to developing theologies that either go to the God-centered extreme with insufficient consideration of mankind, or to the man-centered extreme with insufficient homage to God. The latter problem has been by far the more prevalent and damaging. But the real problem has been how to do both adequately. — These two commands, or this single command with two foci, are universal, meaning that they are the core of the law written on the heart of every human being by way of being created in the image of God. Because this command to love God / neighbor is universal, it is the core of the natural law. But life is prone to being so complex that it’s difficult for us to conceive how to satisfy this command. So God through special revelation has given us the divine law to help us to understand the natural law, not only in the simplicity of this command, but in the complexity of everyday life. The most obvious first extension of this simple command into greater complexity is in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17). The first four of the Ten Commandments are duties to God. The remaining six are duties to both men and God.
Universal and global though this natural law is, being innate to every human, all humans exist in a state of fallenness. We are all inherently incapable of satisfying these commandments. We might satisfy them in part, but because of the deep depravity of the human condition, we are incapable, based on our own ability, to satisfy them holistically. The only way they can be genuinely satisfied is by imputation. The second Person of the Godhead satisfies it. God imputes that satisfaction of this law to His elect, and the elect thereby satisfy this law by imputation, not through their own merit. That’s because we merit destruction. It’s by His merit that we satisfy this law, not ours.
Since this command to love God / love neighbor is the most basic of all natural laws, being the basis for all other natural law, and being the core of the moral law, and since humans are deeply depraved, it’s reasonable that such depraved humans would have great difficulty translating such natural law into laws depraved people impose on other depraved people. The Ten Commandments are a step toward our understanding how to do that. It’s reasonable that the Augustinian lineage of Christian theology – including Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas (in the opinions of some Reformed thinkers), Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, John Knox, the Puritans of the English Reformation, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and many others of similar God-glorifying inclination, and definitely NOT including anyone who has an exorbitant view of human merit – would recognize, as they do, that the Ten Commandments are a summation of the natural law to which all humans are subject. But taking this as a starting point for building a human legal system is riddled with hazards.
Stated figuratively and tersely, natural law is eternal law set in combat with human depravity. But given that eternal law is so closely linked to God, and God is without sin, stain, or blemish, how can human depravity taint God, or His eternal law? It can’t, except in the depraved perception of fallen creatures. The existence of natural law is God’s way of saying to humanity that we are still accountable to the eternal law even though we are incapable of keeping it based on our own strength and knowledge.
The translation of natural law into law that humans impose upon other humans is especially difficult given the fact that according to such Bible-based natural law, humans have natural rights by way of the imago Dei, i.e., by way of being created in the image of God. The imago Dei exists even after the fall (Genesis 9:6), which means that at least some natural rights that derive from the imago Dei also exist after the fall. This means that translation of natural law into law that humans impose on other humans gets even more difficult when the natural law is acknowledged to encompass the global existence of natural rights. Any effort at discovering what Scripture says about natural law inevitably entails an effort at understanding what it says about natural rights. Natural law defines duties and obligations required of people in order for them to live consonant with the imago Dei in themselves, and with the imago Dei in others. Since being created in the image of God inevitably entails being endowed with capacities that are God-like, the ability to exercise these capacities are natural rights. Living within the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei demands that people not only exercise their own natural rights, but also acknowledge the natural rights inherent in other people. So one person’s natural rights are another person’s natural obligations. So natural rights – as a source of obligations – are a subset of natural law.
Question 17 of the Westminster Larger Catechism says this: "How did God create man? Answer: . . . having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, . . . yet subject to fall." 69 — So after the fall, mankind still had "the law of God written on their hearts", but lacked the "power to fulfill it". In other words, after the fall, people still had the duty to obey the natural law, including observance of the natural rights, in order to live in harmony with the fact that they were endowed with the imago Dei. But they were impotent to satisfy the obligations of the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei. — Eternal law and natural law exist independently of the human will, and humans are not capable of changing them. In this fallen condition, we’re not even capable of genuinely obeying them. But as the divine law indicates, for the elect, the natural law is obeyed by imputation. Eternal law encompasses natural law, and natural law encompasses the divine law, and the content in each never conflicts with the content in the others.
There is a deep division between natural law whose veracity is beyond dispute, and natural law whose veracity is still in question. For any Bible-believing Christian, it’s beyond dispute that the two great commandments of the New Testament (love God / love neighbor) and the Ten Commandments are moral law / natural law that apply to every human being. But many non-Christians may refuse to acknowledge these as universally applicable. Furthermore, the manner in which these commandments are implemented varies radically within Christendom. So it’s extremely dangerous to translate such natural law directly into human law. It’s important to distinguish two kinds of natural law, not because there are in fact two kinds, but because, in order for Christians to use natural law as a control in discerning human law, only biblical natural law that has obvious veracity should be included in such control. Natural law is one set of laws, but human perception is so flawed that it’s important for us to treat natural law as existing in two sub-categories: natural law (verified) (a.k.a. natural law I) and natural law (being verified) (a.k.a. natural law II). 70 As Bible-believing Christians, any moral law that we can discern in Scripture as obviously being applicable to the entire human race, we take as natural law (verified).
(i) Affirmation of four categories
We accept the ancient classification of law into four overarching categories – eternal, natural, divine, and human – because we believe that it’s rational, and helps to clarify Scripture. Even so, we give no unqualified approval to any ancient, medieval, or modern definition of these terms. Instead, we use definitions derived inductively from Scripture. Presuppositions are inevitable. But knowing how to distinguish presuppositions that are valid in Scripture study – because Scripture reinforces them – from extra-biblical concepts that hinder reliable exegesis, is crucial.
While some people might claim that our belief in these four overarching categories of law is extra-biblical presupposition, we believe that use of these four categories is no more an extra-biblical presupposition than belief in the Trinity, or belief in God’s omniscience. Neither the word "Trinity" nor the word "omniscient" appears in Scripture. But verifying Scripture against Scripture – an obvious inductive process – leads inevitably to the belief in God’s Triune nature, and in His omniscience. The same inductive process of verifying Scripture against Scripture can lead to belief in these four overarching categories of law. The fact that Thomas Aquinas posited these four overarching categories of law in his Summa Theologica is not proof that this doctrine belongs exclusively to Roman Catholicism. 71 Here’s why: There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeing inductively that these four categories of law exist in Scripture. On the contrary, these categories help us to understand. This view therefore belongs to the visible Church as a whole, rather than to a particular subsection thereof. We believe that eternal law, God’s law, encompasses each of the lower forms of law. We believe that (i)eternal law encompasses natural law directly; (ii)natural law encompasses divine law directly; and (iii)divine law encompasses the biblical prescription of human law directly. Since God is not irrational, He does not set up irrational laws. His rationality therefore extends consistently from eternal law to natural law to divine law to human law. Since God is not crazy or fickle, the laws in each subcategory must not conflict with those in any of the superior categories. Since natural law is a product of, and a subset of, eternal law, if natural law conflicts with eternal law, eternal law conflicts with eternal law. That would put God in conflict with Himself, which means that God must be crazy, which is an intolerable assumption.
Above, we gave an overview of how we define eternal law. We also gave an overview of how we define the immediate subset of eternal law, natural law. We define natural law generally as being equivalent to the moral law that is the behavioral boundary of the imago Dei. But natural law has had so many unreliable definitions over so many centuries that it would be careless to identify natural law as the behavioral boundary of the imago Dei without saying anything more. We believe that defining natural law as the behavioral boundary of the imago Dei is absolutely true, but we also acknowledge that this definition is insufficient to alleviate much justifiable suspicion about natural law. So we’ll try to provide an expanded definition that alleviates this suspicion, but we’ll try to do so while being as terse as this prologue demands.
(ii) Distinguishing natural law I and natural law II:
Natural law is a kind of law that applies to all people for all time. It is the eternal moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments and written on the heart of every human being by way of the fact that every human is created with the imago Dei, i.e., in the image of God. The human will cannot change such natural law. God holds all people accountable to it. It is revealed generally to all human beings. But all human beings are also inevitably inclined to suppress awareness of it. Because of the suppression, there is necessarily a distinction between what natural law is, on one hand, and the extent to which it is consciously known, on the other. What such law is, within itself, and how it is discovered, known, and shared by humans, are two radically different things. There is a huge gulf between natural law as given by God, and what humans understand of it. It would be foolish for us to define natural law without acknowledging this gulf.
Natural law is the same thing as the moral law of general revelation. Of course the natural law in general revelation is articulated most accurately in the special revelation recorded in the divine law. The general principles of the natural law that is written on the heart of every human being is articulated in the divine law. In both cases – general revelation that exists regardless of whether divine law exists and general revelation that is articulated and described in divine law – natural law is the moral law that is the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei. The act of falling into depravity was accompanied by suppression of knowledge about the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei. This propensity to suppress knowledge of the natural law was passed from Adam and Eve to their offspring, so that it is an additional aspect of the human condition. The act of choosing to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was an act of doubt and skepticism that caused the harmony between the three fields of perception – physical, psychic, and Spiritual 72 – to disintegrate. The perceptual and actual monism into which humanity was created fractured into a trichotomy. Humanity continued being fully responsible and accountable with respect to the moral law, the natural law as given to them in the garden of Eden. But humanity became incapable of abiding by the moral law without God’s sovereign and supernatural intervention. Before the fall, humans perceived accurately. An external object was not distorted by misinformation or disinformation. At least this was true until the humans met the temptation that they failed to resist. Object A existing in the external world as a source of sensory input was matched perfectly to subject A in the human’s perception and understanding, and there was no cognitive split between what was true externally and the internal comprehension of that external truth. This situation held at least until they met their overwhelming temptation.
After the fall everything changed. Humans were no longer sure about what they knew. Object A in the external world was matched to subject Warped-A in the human’s perceptual and cognitive sphere. Knowledge of the natural law was suppressed, warped, unclear. This suppression is a psychological phenomenon that plagues the entire human race. But this bad psychology warps creation itself, as indicated in Genesis 3:17: "Cursed is the ground because of you". The moral law that defined the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei was exactly the same as before the fall. But humans were doomed to see through a glass darkly, and could no longer apprehend the natural law. Humans were just as accountable for obedience to the natural law as before, but they were too psychologically fractured to accomplish such obedience. In our times, many modern writers have overemphasized the fractured and sinful nature of humanity, to the point of claiming that humans are so sinful that we must therefore no longer be accountable. But the Bible teaches emphatically that humanity is still accountable for obedience to the moral law / natural law that was given to humanity in the garden. The warped perception may be the result of ancestral sin, but that fact doesn’t free anyone from its effects. All people know the natural law, and are accountable for such knowledge even though they simultaneously suppress it, and pretend, even in their bones, that they don’t know it. No amount of writhing under the weight of this responsibility delivers anyone from it. The natural law cannot be erased, either by pretense or suppression.
Historically, natural law has been treated as residing in three places: (i)inborn awareness of God innate to any creature created in His image, being the same thing as what we’re calling the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei, i.e., what we sometimes call conscience; (ii)observable creation; and (iii)the divine law. These have sometimes been treated as mutually exclusive. We believe emphatically that they are not mutually exclusive. Other theologies and philosophies have emphasized one or more of these three at the expense of others. A reliable Christian epistemology has yet to be developed that will show how these three sources of natural law complement one another, work together, and are not inherently at odds with one another. 73 This lack of a reliable Christian epistemology is one of the reasons natural law has become generally repudiated in the western tradition over the last 150 years. But as we indicated above, rejection of natural law – which is implicitly rejection of natural law – is automatic adoption of legal positivism, 74 which is prescription for the kind of tyranny that ran rampant during the 20th century. The need for reconciliation between these three sources of natural law is immense. We cannot claim to have a perfect solution to this problem ready-made. But we believe that we can at least sketch a solution that will make it obvious why it’s critical to divide natural law into natural law I and natural law II. 75 To begin the sketch we’ll look at a problem that has existed in classical Reformed theology for centuries.
In contrast to classical Reformed theology, we believe that the fallen human being is essentially a trichotomy, rather than a dichotomy. To introduce this problem, we quote here from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:
How many parts are there to man? Everyone agrees that we have physical bodies. Most people . . . sense that they also have an immaterial part–a "soul" . . . But here the agreement ends. Some people believe that in addition to "body" and "soul" we have a third part, a "spirit" that most directly relates to God. The view that man is made of three parts (body, soul, and spirit) is called trichotomy. . . . The view that man is made up of two parts (body and soul/spirit) is called dichotomy. 76
This being merely a survey, we’ll forgo a thorough examination of Scripture on this subject here. But we’ll say this much: We agree with Wayne Grudem in his claim that examination of the source language alone gives a stronger case to dichotomy than to trichotomy. But there is strong conceptual evidence on the trichotomy side of this argument, which we believe trumps the dichotomy argument.
Example: In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, the apostle Paul says, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago . . . was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man . . . was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak." (NASB). If the "third heaven" is "Paradise", then it’s reasonable to wonder what the second and first heavens are. By examining the way that New Testament Greek words are translated into "heaven", we discover that "heaven" sometimes refers to the physical sky, and sometimes also to a realm of mind and soul in which there is warfare between good and evil. It’s not reasonable to believe that there is warfare between good and evil in "Paradise", but there is certainly such warfare in a middle heaven. We conclude that fallen humans have access to three fields of perception. (i)The heaven that is equivalent to the physical sky is what we call the physical field of perception and action. Since the earth is a heavenly body in this sense, all action on earth is in this physical field. All fallen humans on this earth have access to this physical field of perception and action. (ii)Since Greek psuche is often translated "soul", and is the etymological source for the English words psychology, psychic, etc., we equate the middle heaven with what we call the psychic field of perception and action, a field in which there is warfare between good and evil. Since this psychic field includes both mind and soul, all conscious people have some access to it. But since full access to it would be terrifying to most people, most people suppress full access to it. (iii)Since the third heaven is "Paradise", and is spiritually pure, we call it the Spiritual field of perception and action. Only Jesus, the Apostles, and prophets of the Old Testament are qualified to speak reliably to us about their first-person experiences of it.
By believing in dichotomy, Grudem and most other Reformed and neo-Reformed Bible scholars believe that humans are "two parts (body and soul/spirit)". Notice that dichotomy doesn’t differentiate the realm in which there is warfare between good and evil from the realm in which the war has already been won. While it’s undeniable that human access to both the psychic and Spiritual fields of perception and action are highly conditional, whereas access to the physical is readily available to all living humans, it’s also undeniable that failure to differentiate psychic from Spiritual presents huge theological problems to anyone who believes in natural law. Here’s why: The natural law is the moral law that defines the boundaries of the imago Dei. Anyone who is able to keep the natural law perfectly has already won the war, lives in perfect harmony with the fact that he has the imago Dei, and has ready and unconditional access to the Spiritual field of perception and action. The people in the garden of Eden had such access until they gave in to temptation. Jesus Christ was able to keep the natural law perfectly, and has ready access to the Spiritual field of perception and action. When the elect receive their physical resurrection bodies, they will also have ready access to all three fields of perception and action. By using common sense to sketch such perfect perception in each of these three fields of perception and action, we can make the difference between natural law I and natural law II obvious. 77
The biblical facts relating to "heaven" make trichotomy difficult to deny. When trichotomy is denied in favor of dichotomy, the relationship between the moral law / natural law and the ordinary human becomes difficult to explain. This is because dichotomy makes no allowance for the Spiritual field of perception and action. It thereby makes it impossible to sketch an epistemology that’s functional under our definition of natural law. Our definition of natural law demands a Perfect Human Perceiver. Pre-fall people, Jesus Christ, and the resurrected elect are the only such Perfect Human Perceivers posited by Scripture. And of course the pre-fall people had a glitch in their circuitry, which caused them to fall. So Jesus Christ and the resurrected elect are the only Perfect Human Perceivers capable of modeling our epistemology. This epistemology must harmonize (i)conscience, (ii)observable creation, and (iii)divine law so that it does not rely inordinately on any of these three.
To build a solid foundation, we should start simple: Suppose we have a Perfect Human Perceiver looking at a tree. Because this Human’s perception is perfect, the tree that exists externally and objectively is reflected perfectly in this Human’s perceptual grid. In terms that are common in science, the tree has grown from a seed and has been constructed from such a seed in accordance with the pertinent "laws of nature". Such "laws of nature" govern things like the conditions under which the seed will germinate, the climatic conditions necessary for the seedling’s survival, the soil conditions necessary for the tree’s growth, the interaction of DNA and nutrients, etc. Science has historically assumed that such "laws of nature" exist, even when the actual substance of such laws is unknown. Roughly, science has operated by (i)hypothesis, (ii)testing, and (iii)conclusion, where the conclusion feeds into development of another hypothesis. 78 The hypothesis is always an attempt at describing the "laws of nature" that govern the object being studied. Because science only works when it focuses on tests that are repeatable, and because access to the psychic and Spiritual fields of perception are highly conditional, the objects of such tests in reliable, i.e., true, science are practically always in the physical field of perception and action. In other words, science focuses entirely on observable creation. Because science has dominated our culture for so long, many people have assumed that natural law and the "laws of nature" are the same thing. This is essentially an assumption that natural law is defined almost entirely by observable creation. Given the limits on human perception, such an assumption would limit the Perfect Human Perceiver’s perception of the tree to strictly what science can tell Him about the tree, i.e., to data that can be gleaned from the physical field of perception and action. But since the Perfect Human Perceiver’s perception is not thus limited, such overemphasis on observable creation – as defined by human science – is an automatic rejection of reliable biblical epistemology. The "laws of nature" discerned through the studious observation of creation are certainly true. But they are not holistic truth. They are not holistic truth because they say nothing about how humans should respond to such truths. When the objective "laws of nature" enter the Perfect Human Perceiver’s sensory apparatus as sensory input, they confront a question posed by the Perfect Human Perceiver’s perceptory apparatus: "So what?". Being localized in space and time, the Perfect Human Perceiver is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. 79 But this doesn’t mean that He’s not Divine. It just means that to the extent that He is localized in space and time, He does not occupy all space and all time the way the Father does in His immanence. Instead, the Perfect Human Perceiver knows what He needs to know when He needs to know it, and does what He needs to do when He needs to do it. Need is defined in terms of sin and death, because the Perfect Human Perceiver never sins and never dies.
Romans 6:23 says that "the wages of sin is death". This clearly shows that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between sin and death. This relationship first appears in Scripture in Genesis 2:17, where God essentially tells the Perfect Human Perceivers with the glitch in their circuitry, "You sin, you die!". Since all life-forms on planet earth die, Paul’s declaration of the cause-and-effect relationship between sin and death might be misunderstood to mean that all life-forms on planet earth are sinners, and that’s why they all die. This misunderstanding results from a failure to understand the meaning of "sin". In both the Greek and the Hebrew source languages, sin means "to miss the mark" or "to wander from the path". When a dog dies, it doesn’t die because it has missed the mark or wandered from its allotted path. On the contrary, its death is the fulfillment of its allotted path. With the exception of humans, all life-forms on planet earth were designed to die, and their deaths are always acts of hitting their marks and staying firmly on their allotted paths. This is true for all creatures except humans. Humans were designed to live in perfect obedience to the natural law, and to thereby never die. When they violate the natural law, they miss the mark, they sin, they reject the path for which they were designed, and they certainly pay the penalty. This is because God the Father is covenant-keeping, law-enforcing, and just. But He has also given His Son – the preeminent Perfect Human Perceiver – as a ransom to atone for the sins of many, and to satisfy God’s wrath against sinners, and thereby redeem some such sinners from the deaths that they deserve.
The Perfect Human Perceiver always perceives what He needs to perceive when He needs to perceive it, and knows what He needs to know when He needs to know it, and does what He needs to do when He needs to do it. In this way, He is perfectly obedient to the natural law, and still maintains His status as human and therefore localized in space and time. So when the "laws of nature" associated with the tree being observed by the Perfect Human Perceiver enter this Person’s sensory grid, this Person’s perceptory grid responds by saying, "So what?". More specifically, the Perfect Human Perceiver’s conscience is activated by such sensory input, as though God the Father spoke directly to the Perfect Human Perceiver’s conscience, saying, "So what are you going to do about this input?". The Perfect Human Perceiver knows that it’s His purpose, design, nature, and programming to always do what He needs to do when He needs to do it by knowing what He needs to know when He needs to know it, thereby avoiding violation of the natural law, the moral law that governs all humanity. To do this He needs more than knowledge of the "laws of nature" that pertain to that tree, because the "laws of nature" as defined by science are non-holistic, and are inadequate to satisfy the question posed to the conscience. He needs information from the psychic and Spiritual fields of perception and action. — This is how conscience and observable creation interact in the Perfect Human Perceiver’s epistemology. The Creator has designed the human conscience to be perfectly obedient to natural law. In other words, observable creation from all three fields of perception and action provides sensory input to the Perfect Human Perceiver, and the Perfect Human Perceiver’s conscience – being pure, holy, and unaffected by the fall – responds in a way that produces whatever action satisfies the natural law.
With this sketch of how conscience, observable creation, and natural law interact, it’s important to now include the divine law in the Perfect Human Perceiver’s epistemology. The divine law comes into existence through the covenant of grace. The Triune God ordained and knew that the Perfect Human Perceivers in the garden had a glitch in their circuitry. The Triune God ordained a covenant of redemption between Themselves, where this covenantal agreement entailed that the Three Persons of the Godhead would work together to redeem some of Adam’s race. When – because of the glitch in their circuitry – the people were booted out of the garden because of their failure to abide by the natural law that was a manifestation of the covenant of works, the Triune God – as an outgrowth of the covenant of redemption, and as a substitute for the covenant of works – implemented the covenant of grace. Instead of immediate destruction of the entire human race as penalty for violating natural law, God gave common grace to the entire human race by allowing humans to propagate and die, the same way animals propagate and die. This common grace contained a plan by which some humans would be redeemed through special grace that circumvented the glitch in their inherited circuitry, and that circumvented their fallen nature. These elect became aware of God’s special grace towards them by way of special revelation, where special revelation is knowledge conveyed directly to an elect sinner through the psychic and Spiritual fields of perception and action. Through God’s supernatural (meaning beyond the "laws of nature") intervention, some of this special revelation was written down and canonized into the divine law. — Now that we have this explanation of what the divine law is, we’re ready to see how it interacts with conscience, observable creation, and natural law in the Perfect Human Perceiver’s epistemology.
When Jesus said, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18), He was showing the Perfect Human Perceiver’s commitment to divine law. In essence He was saying that He was every bit as dedicated to being obedient to the divine law – and to the plan of redemption contained within it – as He was to being obedient to the natural law. So as far as the Perfect Human Perceiver is concerned, divine law is a special subset of natural law that defines the parameters of the covenant of grace, lays out the plan for redeeming the elect, and defines laws, behaviors, and mores for imperfect human perceivers who aspire to being Perfect Human Perceivers.
Conclusion: The Perfect Human Perceiver (i)is utterly obedient to both the natural law and the divine law; (ii)receives sensory input from the Spiritual, psychic, and physical fields of perception and action, and considers all such input to be aspects of observable creation; and (iii)processes all such sensory input – including input from the written divine law – through His conscience so that He always knows what He needs to know when He needs to know it and does what He needs to do when He needs to do it so that He never sins and never dies. — In contrast to the Perfect Human Perceiver, the imperfect human perceiver (i)is innately and compulsively disobedient to both natural law and the divine law; (ii)compulsively suppresses sensory input from the Spiritual and psychic fields of perception and action, and generally considers only the physical field of perception and action to be observable creation; and (iii)does not know what he needs to know when he needs to know it, does not do what he needs to do when he needs to do it, does not avoid violating natural law and divine law, does not avoid sinning, and does not avoid dying. — Because of these radical differences between the Perfect Human Perceiver and the imperfect human perceiver, it’s crucial to divide natural law in two. Natural law I is natural law as perceived by the Perfect Human Perceiver. Natural law II is natural law as perceived by the human race, i.e., by the imperfect human perceiver.
Because the Bible has an abundance of moral demands, and because such demands are obvious to any Bible-believing Christian, we include all such obvious moral demands in natural law I. In other words, we treat it as already verified, i.e., as being an undeniable aspect of natural law, and we call it natural law (verified), a.k.a. natural law I. 80 We believe that Scripture is exhaustive with regard to general principles, while it is not exhaustive in detailed application of such principles. When speaking of natural law (verified) that derives from Scripture, we are speaking strictly of the general principles found in Scripture that are clear and obvious moral demands made by God. The most obvious of such natural law (verified) are (i)the command to love God, (ii)the command to love neighbor, and (iii)the Ten Commandments. Since natural law is by definition moral law that applies to the entire human race, and since we Bible-believing Christians are hereby brazen in claiming that morality found in our Book applies to everyone, and since non-Christians inevitably have mores of their own, it’s reasonable for Christians and non-Christians alike to ask if we are open to allowing non-Christian ideas to be included in natural law I. Our answer must be an emphatic "No!". Here’s why: Natural law I is to be used as a control in the human law iteration. Natural law I, by itself, as a subset of eternal law, imposes no human-exacted penalties, and is therefore harmless to non-Christians. It provides guidelines for Christians to set up consensual behavioral guidelines between themselves, and it provides some very circumscribed guidelines for discerning the biblical prescription of human law. Including non-Christian ideas in Christianity is purely syncretistic. It may be appropriate to study such ideas within the ambit of natural law II, but it is absolutely not appropriate in natural law I. With this caveat understood – regarding the relationship between the primacy of the Bible’s general principles and the secondary nature of extra-biblical data – we can define natural law I like this: Natural law I is that aspect of the eternal law that Bible-believing Christians, by the light of the moral law written on the heart of every human by virtue of being created in the image of God, combined with the light of reason, are able to consciously perceive in Scripture. The second type of natural law, natural law (being verified), a.k.a. natural law II, is subject to all the moral obligations contained in natural law (verified), but focuses more on the machinations involved in deciphering what’s true and what’s not. Clearly, natural law I is based on divine law, i.e., on Scriptural data, while natural law II allows for extra-biblical data to be examined in the light of natural law I for the sake of seeing how the two interact. Natural law II allows for the exhaustive general principles of natural law I to be applied to myriad extra-biblical details.
(iii) Relation of natural law to human law:
Because we are all imperfect human perceivers, there are ample reasons for the entire content of natural law to be ambiguous. It’s ambiguous for Bible-believing people who have a stake in natural law, for people who reject the entire framework, and for everyone in between. Due to the global suppression of such moral law, human consciousness of such moral law varies radically from one individual to the next, and from one culture to the next. This ambiguity points to a desperate need to take great care in backing such morality with guns, swords, and jails. When human laws are likely to be bad, it’s important to remove their enforceability. In other words, bad laws deserve to be denied the backing of police powers. As long as there is a strict distinction between natural law and human law, it’s reliable to assume that the more widespread the agreement about the content of the natural law, the better. 81 Due to the global suppression, no natural-born human has either perfect knowledge of natural law or perfect ability to obey it. So people have a universal need to grow in their knowledge of natural law, because natural law is universally suppressed, and the suppression is overcome through revelation, i.e., revived conscience. Families, communities, societies, cultures, and nations have the same need to grow in their knowledge of natural law for similar reasons, and by similar means. Even if people are doomed to spend eternity in hell, it helps all the rest of us if in this life such doomed are obedient in their actions even if they are not in their thoughts and intentions.
Augustine and all of his followers among the magisterial Reformers – including Luther, Calvin, Beza and the Puritan theologians of the English Reformation – all believed that human law should be just, that just laws should be derived from the divine law, and that the Ten Commandments are a summary of the generally applicable moral law contained in the divine law. They believed that the Bible is an infallible foundation for the derivation of positive law, a.k.a. human law. They believed that the Ten Commandments are a summary of the natural law, and that the Ten Commandments therefore transcend the boundary of the visible Church, and are applicable to believers and non-believers alike. Western nations – especially America – have followed these traditional beliefs to some extent, but the relationship between divine law and human law, and likewise between natural law and human law, has become a huge source of controversy. Since the Ten Commandments are part of the Mosaic Covenant, and since the Mosaic Covenant is subjected to amendment by the New Covenant, there has been an ongoing controversy about what laws, from the Mosaic Covenant, continue to be applicable in the New, and what laws are discontinued. This is sometimes called the continuity-discontinuity debate. — We believe these arguments about continuity and discontinuity have borne little if any good fruit. We believe that there are assumptions made by both sides of this argument that are inherently wrong. The side that leans toward continuity assumes that human law should be derived from the moral law. The side that leans toward discontinuity assumes that the continuity side is wrong, and they assume that they can find a foundation for human law somewhere other than in Scripture. We believe both of these sets of assumptions are deeply flawed. We believe that human law cannot be derived directly from natural law, even if it’s natural law (verified). 82 We believe that Bible-based human law must be derived directly from Scripture by way of a chronological exegesis, not by way of the topical exegeses that produce natural law (verified) and not by way of resorting to extra-biblical sources of authority.
Adherents to classical Reformed theology might object to the whole arrangement that we’re presenting here, based on the claim that it minimizes the gospel and exalts law. The same might claim that it gives no place to Christ. We believe that neither of these claims is true. Here’s why: Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient to the natural law. He is the only human being who ever has been. It was in God’s design from the beginning for the covenant of works to be satisfied by and through Him. By satisfying the obligations of the covenant of works, Jesus Christ made way for all of His chosen to do the same by imputation. We’re convinced that the "Five Points of Calvinism" 83 affirm these facts, so we affirm these Five Points without equivocation. We believe that they are the biblically sound description of the soteriological thrust of the work of redemption. Soteriology, the study of salvation, is usually presented as the core of the gospel, and rightly so. It is God’s grace towards undeserving, hell-deserving humans. But such grace exists within the context of a legal system because legal mercy – which is what grace is – is meaningless outside of a legal framework. What we’ve done by emphasizing law is to make sure that the context of the gospel is not neglected.
The Christian church in America is in trouble because it has neglected the context of the gospel. In de-emphasizing the context of the gospel, i.e., law, church leaders have allowed the walls of the church to fall into ruin, and they’ve allowed secularism to plunder the visible Church through exponentiating infringement. 84 According to one way of looking at it, this invasion has happened because the duties of the deacon have not been properly spelled out. One task of the deacon is to man the walls and keep invaders out. He is the office of human protector of the church, the watchman on the walls, while pastors, preachers, presbyters, elders, etc., are those who are in command over the deacon. This latter group of church leaders, by forgetting or neglecting the context of the gospel, have failed to provide proper guidelines, instructions, commands, etc., to the deacon, and have allowed secularism to invade even the most stalwart Bible-believing congregations. Most are not even aware of the extent to which secular governments now do what church governments should do. Such leaders appear oblivious. We put the gospel into this context for the sake of reestablishing the legal context of the gospel. We have no intention of being or encouraging an insurgency aimed at replacing the existing leadership of the visible Church. We have no intention of trying to replace gospel with law. When deacons have proper guidelines, the existing leadership should be greatly helped, and the gospel should go forth in power.
Under the current regime, many Bible-believing Christian leaders lead their flocks to accept the dictates of legal positivism as though such dictates were Scripture itself. In other words, by reading passages like Romans 13:1-7 with a lack of discernment, i.e., without keeping such passage within the overall context of Scripture, these leaders guide their people to treat secular laws with far more blind obedience than such laws deserve. In other words, because these leaders esteem secular governments in the manner that they do, secular laws are welcomed into the Christian camp without adequate consideration of whether such secular laws harmonize with Scripture, and the extent to which they do or don’t. Examples: Virtually all churches of all kinds in America have contracted to be U.S. Code, Title 26 § 501(c)(3) churches. 85 They thereby collaborate with revenue collection agencies that funnel such monies (a)to abortion clinics, (b)to indoctrinate children in secular humanism in the public schools, (c)to fund secular humanist propaganda (NPR, CPB, NEA, NEH, etc.), and (d)myriad other abominations. Such churches also generally encourage congregants to enter contracts with unbelieving persons (similar to these contracts that the churches make with the IRS), where such unbelieving persons / corporations become the congregant’s creditor, and the congregant becomes the unbeliever’s debtor. None of this can be supported with sound biblical doctrine.
The natural law can be rightly seen as a prioritized collection of demands that God makes of all people, because all people are created in His image. In contrast to natural law, the work of redemption is not so much about what humans must do as about what God is doing to redeem humans. He sent His Son to be a sacrificial atonement so that through that sovereign act many would be redeemed. This process was initiated and executed by God. God draws people into redemption through irresistible grace (a grace so tempting that it can’t be resisted). So the gospel and the whole work of redemption is about God’s grace toward humanity, not about anything that humanity must do. Even so, in the process of coming to earth to be a sacrificial atonement, Jesus Christ also made demands of humanity. We believe these demands should be understood in two different ways. (i)The demands that Jesus makes of the world are clarifications of the natural law that apply to all humans, and which all people are incapable of adequately keeping by their own strength. (ii)The demands that Jesus makes of the world, as such clarification of the natural law, can be kept adequately, even if imperfectly, through the grace given by God to those He sovereignly regenerates, so long as they honor Christ above all others. Regenerate individuals keep such natural law as the fruit of God’s grace, not as the means by which to obtain God’s grace. 86
Jesus’ demands in the New Testament clearly focus on (i)inner relationship with God and (ii)attitudes one has towards the image of God in other people. 87 So Jesus’ demands focus on internalities, i.e., on the psychic field of perception and action. It supplies this focus relative to, and additionally to, the more physical focus of the Mosaic Covenant. In direct contrast to the New Testament’s focus on the psychic field of perception and action, jurisprudence (i.e., knowledge of human law) focuses on externalities far more than either the Old or New Testaments. This is because internalities are extremely difficult to prove in a court. So jurisprudence inevitably focuses on the external and physical. So putting the gospel into its legal context may look at first like an overemphasis on the external and physical, at the expense of the gracious and internal. But we don’t believe this is an either-or situation.
Since legal positivism has replaced natural law in the united States over the last 70 to 150 years, dependence upon general principles of Biblical law has been replaced by arbitrary, necessity-based, feeling-based jurisprudence. Good intentions have generally replaced sound judgment. The visible Church is now awash in a fiat legal system and all the flotsam and jetsam that it keeps afloat. Much of such debris is being floated by nominal Christians who cite the words of Jesus as authority for implementing their social agenda as positive law. The demands of Jesus need to be kept within the much larger legal context that He understood perfectly, and from which we have perilously strayed.
A thorough understanding of how out-of-order the visible Church in America has become tends to distress anyone who loves her. But being distressed does nothing to induce biblical order. The roots of confusion about the biblically prescribed relationship between Church and State have existed for as long as the Church has existed. Why should anyone think that such confusion can be remedied now?
The root problems are hermeneutical – at least as they relate to Christian understanding. These problems will not be solved perfectly until Jesus returns, but that doesn’t mean that better hermeneutics cannot go a long way towards solving them as long as He chooses to tarry. In order to find solutions to these problems in Scripture, it will help if we understand that at their core, these issues revolve around the relationship between natural law and human law. — There are huge difficulties in translating global moral law – i.e., natural law – into human law. Here’s an example: Adultery is prohibited by the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14). It is therefore prohibited by global moral law / natural law. In order to translate such moral law into human law, violation of the moral law must be accompanied by a penalty. That’s because human law that is not enforced is human law in name only. If it fails the promulgation test or the enforceability test, then it fails to be genuine human law. Enforceability requires that there be a penalty for violation. The penalty for adultery under the Mosaic Covenant was death (Leviticus 20:10), even death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:22-25). This puts us on the horns of a dilemma. If we acknowledge that adultery is violation of global moral law / natural law, do we also assume that the penalty in the Mosaic Covenant is globally applicable, or not? This is a manifestation of the continuity-discontinuity debate that has plagued the visible Church for ages. 88 We’re convinced that there is a straightforward solution, but that solution remains out of reach as long as we refuse to treat the Bible as a human law book.
For anyone who has a clear understanding of the distinction between natural law and human law, it’s obvious that the lack of a satisfactory solution to the continuity-discontinuity problem is the source of this mass-pollution of the visible Church. 90 Anyone who has followed our argument thus far understands that human law is a subset of natural law. But in order to be certain that we have gathered all the necessary preliminary information that will be required in such a chronological iteration, it’s critical that we understand the relationship between natural law and natural rights.
Natural rights are rights that a person has as a result of being created in the image of God. While natural law is the behavioral boundary of the imago Dei, natural rights are capacities that are inherent to being created with the imago Dei. Given that the fallen human is so damaged, it might be difficult to imagine how anyone can have any such rights left. A natural right to own property is basic to being created in the image of God, and it’s clear from reading Scripture that it’s a natural right that survived the fall. It’s certain that God owns all things. It’s reasonable to assume that if we are created in His image, then we would have the capacity, the right, to own something, certainly not everything, but at least something within the ambit of His ownership. The most obvious physical object that any human being could own is his / her physical body. Body ownership is confirmed by the apostle Paul when he tells Christians to give our bodies to God (Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:19). One cannot give what one does not own (unless one is a thief). So we must own our bodies in the natural state. When we give our bodies to God, they are no longer ours, but His. But He makes us stewards over them from thence forward. — The point here is that all humans are born with a natural right to own their body. Even a cursory reading of Scripture confirms this.
Are there other natural rights that survived the fall? — Given that it’s confirmed abundantly in Scripture that people have the capacity to own things other than their bodies, it’s clear that all people have a natural right, even in their fallen state, to own non-bodily physical objects. So we conclude that all people have a natural right to own both their physical bodies and other physical objects. One’s right to own one’s body translates readily into actual and concrete ownership. But right to own other physical objects exists as an abstract natural right that translates into actual and concrete ownership under more complicated circumstances. For example, if someone claims ownership of something, but someone else has possession of that thing, then actual ownership is less easily ascertained. So ownership of such non-bodily secondary property is a natural right in general, and becomes specific, concrete, and actual under circumscribed circumstances.
So far, our reasoning from Scripture in this natural law I iteration should convince us that natural rights – i.e., just claims inherent in being human – survived the fall to some extent, and impact the physical field of perception and action, and therefore will impact the human law iteration. 91 In the natural law I iteration, we should discover at least two such natural rights, i.e., just claims that all people have built into their nature: (i)the natural right to own one’s physical body and (ii)the natural right to own secondary property. A cursory reading of Scripture proves that such natural rights exist. It also proves the existence of another natural right that’s relevant to human law, the right to contract.
Even a cursory reading of Scripture proves that human agreements are crucial to human affairs. It also proves that such agreements often turn into contracts. In other words, agreements often contain penalty clauses like this: "I agree that thus-and-such is true, and I promise to perform action X in relationship to thus-and-such, and in exchange for your performance of action Y. If I fail to keep my promise, then you have the right to execute penalty Z against me.". Such a contract establishes a human law / positive law. It does so by mandating, through mutual consent, that the given party is obligated to perform action X, and that failure to perform will result in penalty Z. — Since God is a covenant-keeping God, it makes sense that having the imago Dei would include a natural right to enter agreements and contracts with other people. It makes sense that the natural right to enter into contracts would survive the fall, and would even be more necessary after the fall than before. The existence of the natural right to contract is crucial preliminary information for the human law iteration.
Having some exposure to jurisprudence helps us to see significance and meaning in certain aspects of Scripture that the jurisprudentially ignorant tend to overlook. Magisterial Reformers like Luther and Calvin were trained as lawyers, and therefore had a way of looking at the Scriptures that most of us lack. This is especially true since the relationship between human law and biblical theology has been systematically severed over the last 150 years. The result is that concepts like natural rights are far less likely to be acknowledged as originating from Bible-study. But there are numerous other concepts that are both theological and jurisprudential, and that need to be acknowledged as such. In addition to natural rights generally, the natural right to own property and the natural right to contract are also critical to reliable human law.
Because a contract by definition requires the parties to consent to the terms of the contract – i.e., to voluntarily and knowingly agree to be bound by the terms, to perform the requisite duties, to fulfill the promises, and to enforce the other party’s obligations as necessary – it’s important to look at consent as a possible natural right. We need to examine the extent to which it might be a natural right. In order to do that, it’s necessary to look at the differences between covenants and contracts. But before examining the relationships between covenants, contracts, and consent, we should recapitulate.
Natural law is moral law that applies to all people for all time. It is the behavioral boundary of the imago Dei. Natural rights are just claims given to all people by way of being created with the imago Dei, but many such rights have been put out of reach as a result of the fall. Nevertheless, the natural rights that remain after the fall are protected under the natural law, because they were protected under the natural law before the fall, and always will be thus protected. Since God is the primary enforcer of natural law, He is the primary protector of natural rights. It makes absolute sense that natural law would impose an obligation on every human being to avoid impeding another human being’s exercise of the latter’s natural right. Therefore, human A’s natural right imposes a natural obligation on human B such that B should avoid interfering with A’s right. — This arrangement obviously continues to exist after the fall. Since execution of human law is limited to what can be verified in the physical field of perception and action, protection of natural rights, as a subset of human law, is also limited to what can be verified in the physical field of perception and action. Natural rights that readily fit this physical constraint are the right to property and the right to contract, but there may be other such natural rights.
God enforces natural laws. He may use secondary causes in their enforcement, but the primary enforcer is God Himself. Anyone who violates natural law – meaning everyone – sins. Everyone who sins dies. God may use secondary causes to execute justice against sinners, but the primary source of such justice is God Himself, because He is Holy and righteous, and it’s not in His nature to tolerate sin in His presence.
The big difference between natural law and human law revolves around the extent to which humans should set ourselves up as secondary causes in the execution of justice against sinners. This issue – the extent and manner in which God wants us to be such secondary causes – is the core issue in the millennial confusion about the right relationship between Church and State. Since we are all sinners, how far should we go in setting ourselves up as judges and executioners of sinners? Do our sins utterly disqualify us from being God’s executioners, not disqualify us at all, or only partially disqualify us? This question goes to the core of the continuity-discontinuity debates. 92 We’re convinced that it cannot be properly answered without doing a separate, strictly chronological reading of Scripture, and without excluding many of the conclusions of the natural law I iteration, 93 for the sake of not biasing the continuity-discontinuity issue. — In theology that is reliable, natural law will encompass natural rights in such a way that neither damages the other, and the God-centeredness of natural law is not defiled.
A topical / non-chronological hermeneutic may suffice in exposing the general principles of natural law / moral law, but it doesn’t suffice in ascertaining the biblical prescription of human law / positive law. For centuries, people (meaning nominal Christians) have assumed that human law should derive directly from natural law. But the attempt at deriving human law directly from natural law is a big mistake. It’s not reasonable to translate morality directly into human law. Human beings are far too flawed for that kind of translation to work reliably. A separate, strictly chronological hermeneutic is necessary to ascertaining biblically-prescribed human law.
God set up a long-term plan for redeeming His elect. This chronological work of redemption is a core feature of the covenant of grace. The existence of this chronological work of redemption testifies to the fact that by grace, God avoided imposing His law in all its wrath on all of humanity. If He had not mixed mercy with His law at the time of the fall, the human race would have been subjected to the full force of His law, and would have been immediately dead. So the existence of the covenant of grace, and of the chronological work of redemption, are proof that God applies His law to the human race in a very measured, restrained, gracious, and piecemeal manner. This is not to say unjust. It’s merely to say gracious. So God’s law is universally applicable in a very nuanced manner. This very nuanced manner cannot be fully appreciated unless one takes a chronological approach to Scripture that mirrors the chronological work of redemption.
Since human law is time-bound – meaning that it must necessarily conform to strict rules of chronology in order to provide human justice – it’s reasonable that seeing Scripture through concepts used in human law, like property and contract, would also necessarily proceed under strict chronological guidelines. It’s also reasonable that such chronological approach to Scripture would be subject to controls established by (i)what Scripture says about itself; (ii)what Scripture says about eternal law; and (iii)the moral law established by Bible-based natural law and summarized by the Ten Commandments. But it’s essential to disallow such moral law from biasing the results of the chronological human law iteration. To avoid such biasing, it’s necessary (i)to use jurisprudential concepts that derive from the natural law I iteration – concepts like property and contract – as tertiary controls, and (ii)simultaneously to avoid using moral results of the natural law I iteration as such controls. We try to avoid using the moral results of the natural law I iteration because it’s essential to avoid making assumptions (eisegesis) about what moral principles have been promulgated as human law. We should make no assumptions about human enforcement or human-executed penalties, and instead we should search for written proof that such enforcement and penalties are prescribed in Scripture. Presupposing that such enforcement and penalties exist without actually reading evidence of them in the chronological exegesis, biases the results of the chronological iteration.
Even though it’s crucial for the chronological iteration to focus on the biblical prescription of human law, there are by-products of this focus that elucidate natural law. Example: This whole arrangement – eternal law, natural law, divine law, and human law – is based on the belief that the Bible is a covenant. But some people dispute this. Some people claim that because there is no mention of a covenant in the Bible until Genesis 6:18, no covenants existed before then. But at Hosea 6:7, God, through Hosea, speaking of Ephraim and Judah, says, "like Adam they have transgressed the covenant". If Adam transgressed the covenant by eating from the "tree of knowledge of good and evil", then he must have been party to a covenant, even though no specific mention of a covenant is made before Genesis 6. But some people say that because the Hebrew word for Adam is the same word for mankind, Hosea 6:7 should be translated, "they, just like men, have broken the covenant". That would apparently eliminate the claim that the Bible is a covenant starting in Genesis 1:1. But Hebrews 13:20 indicates that there is an everlasting covenant through which Jesus was raised from the dead. That could be a reference to the covenant of redemption. But it’s also likely to reference the covenant of works (Hebrews 9). These references to an everlasting covenant in Hebrews in essence claim what the magisterial Reformers claimed, namely, that the covenant of works defined the natural law, that the covenant of works pertains to human behavior, and that the covenant of works was inaugurated at the same time that human beings were created. The evidence appears to be stacked in favor of the belief that the Bible is a covenant-book, from beginning to end, and that laws are manifestations and terms of covenants. Still, some might argue that the covenant of works pertains to humans, and humans were not created until the sixth day, and that therefore there is no covenant between God and the rest of creation, and that therefore the Bible cannot be a covenant-book. But Genesis 9:13 speaks of a covenant that God made with the earth, and even with every living creature (vv. 15-16). If God can be in covenant with the earth and its creatures, He can be in covenant with anything He wants. — The evidence is overwhelming that God relates to humanity through covenants, and covenants by nature contain terms, and such terms are essentially laws. We therefore conclude that the Bible is a covenant-book, and should be read as a covenant-book to gain greater insight into the work of redemption. By reading the Bible chronologically, with a focus on human law, evidence piles on top of evidence proving that the Bible is a covenant from beginning to end, and this proof is a by-product of the chronological iteration that elucidates natural law while being tangential to human law.
The fact that God can make covenant with whomsoever He pleases appears to put human consent into a position of having zero importance. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that classical Reformed theology has usually cast human consent as having only marginal significance. For example, Grudem’s Systematic Theology defines a covenant like this: "A covenant is an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship." 94 There appears to be a contradiction in this definition. Common sense may lead one to assume that if an "agreement" is "imposed", then it is not really agreement because it is assent under duress. Long-standing Anglo-American contract law holds that a contract made under duress is voidable ab initio, from the beginning. This line of reasoning leads to the conclusion that a covenant, as defined by Grudem, is voidable ab initio. This line of reasoning leads further to the conclusion that if the Bible defines an eternal covenant, and natural law is an outgrowth of such eternal covenant, then since so-and-so did not volunteer, i.e., consent, to be party to such eternal covenant, such covenant must be voidable ab initio. Of course that is a ridiculous conclusion. Where did we go wrong in this line of reasoning?
Common sense may lead one to assume that if an "agreement" is "imposed", it is voidable. But further consideration demands that if one of the parties to the agreement is God – the one and only God Who created the universe, created humanity, created every human being with capacity to choose within some limited range of choices, and created the given covenant – then this omnipotent God can cause the measly human to think whatever He wants, to choose whatever He wants, and to agree to whatever He wants. Like every dog has a limited range of choices at any given point in its life, every human has a limited range of choices at any given point in his / her life. The range of choices may be vastly broader for a human than for a dog, but the range of choices is nevertheless finite. Since God created everything else, God must be the primary cause of the limitations on human choices. There may be secondary causes of such limitations, but God is always the primary cause. Covenants in which God is an express party are therefore agreements that carry exceptions to the normal rule, the normal rule being that duress is grounds for voiding an agreement.
Duress is defined as inflicting physical harm against someone else, and/or threatening to do so. Duress is not the primary mode that God uses to get people to agree with Him. He operates at a level beyond the human’s range of choices and beyond human will. Human will is essentially the capacity to choose, and to maintain a choice. Human will is essentially conscious. But God operates on the subconscious and unconscious when He gets people to agree with Him. That’s why the "Five Points of Calvinism" 95 say that God draws a person to Himself through a process of irresistible grace whenever He regenerates one of His elect. He imposes Himself on that person’s innermost inclinations, beyond that person’s ability to know, understand, will, or choose. The agreement starts at that innermost level and grows from there. — When God "divinely imposed" the covenant of works on the people in the garden of Eden, He did something very similar. In order to get the people to agree to the terms of the covenant of works, He built agreement into their essential makeup. In other words, agreement to the terms of the covenant of works is an essential facet of being human. Since natural law is the terms of the covenant of works that were imposed on humanity, deep in every human being’s conscience is delight in being obedient to the natural law. But of course everyone’s conscience has been seared to some degree. But accountability remains. — Conclusion: We conclude that in covenants between God and man, agreement on the human side is true agreement, and not assent under duress.
Now that we’ve addressed problems inherent in claiming that a covenant is a "divinely imposed legal agreement", we should address problems inherent in claiming that a covenant is "unchangeable". — It’s the essence of presumption to claim that any human being is capable of changing eternal law or natural law. Likewise, it’s the essence of presumption for any human to claim that they can change the eternal covenant or the covenant of works. Since God is not fickle, it’s clearly error to assume that God would change any of the covenants that He makes with humans. On the other hand, the history of the work of redemption, like any history, is a record of change. It tends to make one wonder about whether all covenants are "unchangeable".
The Hebrew word translated to "covenant" in most English translations of the Old Testament is b’rit. This word appears over 280 times in the Tanakh. B’rit usually means specifically an agreement between God and mankind in most of these 280-plus appearances. But it can also mean a treaty, a national alliance, a marriage, or an ordinary contract. At times it clearly refers to a situation in which agreement is coerced (1 Kings 20:34; Ezekiel 17:13). Under such circumstances, the coerced party would probably have moral grounds for changing or voiding the covenant. How do we reconcile such facts with Grudem’s definition of covenant?
Some of the covenants in the Tanakh are not between God and men. Instead, only humans are expressly parties. So contrary to Grudem’s definition, not all the covenants in the Bible are explicitly between God and man. In fact, it is critical to put appearances of b’rit into different conceptual categories according to how the word is used, and it’s helpful to use different linguistic cues to distinguish these different concepts. In An Investigation into the Biblical Deposition of Human Law and Divine Grace, per se, we make these distinctions: In addition to the covenant of works, the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace, we also see that there is an eternal covenant, Biblical Covenants, blood Covenants, divine covenants, a global covenant, global Covenants, local Covenants, treaties, alliances, social compacts, jural compacts, ecclesiastical compacts, and contracts. The definition for covenant given by Grudem in his Systematic Theology is essentially the same thing as what we call the eternal covenant. — Even when a covenant / contract / agreement is "divinely imposed", human consent is a crucial feature of such legal instrument.
This claim – that human consent is crucial to even divinely imposed covenants – begs one to question the role that consent played in the covenant of works, i.e., in the covenant that existed in the garden of Eden, the covenant that provided the natural law. If the covenant of works was "divinely imposed", meaning that God created humans to be in agreement with it, then why did they break it? Why didn’t God create the people so that they would not break it? — In the garden of Eden, the people had access to the "tree of life", but were denied access to the "tree of knowledge of good and evil". In the new Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14), people explicitly have access to the "tree of life" and probably also have access to the "tree of knowledge of good and evil". It’s obvious that in the garden the people were vulnerable to the temptation to eat off the forbidden tree. Clearly, God created humans with a deep desire to understand. So even though the natural law defines the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei, the natural law also obligates people to consciously choose, will, consent to being obedient to the natural law. This requires that people have knowledge of good and evil, i.e., that it’s evil to violate the natural law and good to obey it. We conclude that the capacity to consent is a natural right because God clearly created people with a just claim to consent – i.e., a just claim to choose to obey or to refuse to obey. So the glitch in the pre-fall people’s circuitry is related to their lack of access to the "tree of knowledge of good and evil", to their lack of capacity to make a fully informed choice, and therefore to their lack of consent.
Thus far, we’ve determined that the right to own property and the right to contract are natural rights that survived the fall. We also conclude that consent, as a defining ingredient in the creation of a contract, is also a natural right. Since one person’s natural rights automatically impose natural obligations on other people, to acknowledge such rights, the natural obligations that derive from natural rights are crucial aspects of natural law. Such natural obligations define that aspect of natural law that governs human relations with one-another, as distinguished from that aspect of natural law that governs human relations with God.
Both legal scholars and biblical theologians generally agree that covenants, compacts, contracts, etc., have components, and we concur. Most agree that two essential types of components are parties and terms. Without parties and terms, such agreements cannot exist. The terms generally impose obligations and define benefits. Contained in the terms are usually promises. Often such instruments delineate penalties for failure to perform. Such instruments also often have a specified duration. — By reading the Bible as a human law book, one automatically searches for such components to such instruments. This search leads to the conclusion that every such instrument has a specific jurisdiction, i.e., a specific scope of authority. The jurisdiction is defined above all by the parties and the terms. The specified parties delineate the in personam jurisdiction of the instrument. The specified terms delineate the subject matter jurisdiction of the instrument. Before jurisdiction over a specific circumstance can be established, both in personam jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction must be established. If one of these two things is missing, then jurisdiction is lacking. All laws that appear in the divine law, regardless of whether they are eternal, natural, or human, always appear as terms of covenantal / compactual / contractual instruments, and such instruments and such laws are always limited by the boundaries established by their in personam and subject matter jurisdictions.
The American natural law tradition maintains that there are different levels of human law, the most obvious gradations being constitutional law, amendments to the constitution, statutory law, and case law. We see these various levels reflected in Scripture, or more accurately, we see in Scripture that these gradations of human law are reflections of Scripture. — These gradations of human law – as well as numerous other jurisprudential concepts from Anglo-American natural law – developed in Christendom while Christianity (not secular humanism) was still by far the dominant religion. It’s difficult to determine the degree to which these concepts derived from Scripture. Even so, if one approaches Scripture with an understanding of these concepts, it’s difficult not to see that they exist in Scripture. — The original covenant under which human beings were created, the covenant of works, is like a constitution. The covenant of grace is like a set of amendments to the constitution. We’re convinced that this is a clear and obvious way of looking at the first few chapters of Genesis. But some people from the Reformed school may object to this characterization.
As mentioned above, a covenant, among Reformed theologians, is generally understood to be "an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man". We’re obviously contradicting this definition by claiming that the covenant of works was amended by the covenant of grace. Who’s right? — We would never argue with the Reformed view that "Christ perfectly obeyed the covenant of works for us since he committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22) but completely obeyed God on our behalf (Rom. 5:18-19).". 96 Clearly the covenant of works still existed unmodified during Jesus’ ministry. So we believe that the natural law – behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei, such boundaries being defined by the covenant of works – does not change. Likewise, we believe that the covenant of works does not change. But we also claim that the covenant of works was amended by the covenant of grace. Sounds like we believe something that’s self-contradictory.
The covenant of grace was the beginning of the work of redemption. It did not change the covenant of works, per se. But the natural law is included in the covenant of grace in such a way as to allow the continued existence of fallen humanity. God told Adam that "from the tree of knowledge of good an evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:17; NASB). But on the day that the people ate from it, they didn’t die immediately. Did God change His mind? No! Another translation says, "You are not to eat from it, because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die" (2:17: Complete Jewish Bible). According to the Holiness of God, the people deserved immediate incineration. But God knew from the beginning what would happen, and He planned from the beginning to implement the covenant of grace which would allow God’s elect to be redeemed through the long-term work of redemption. The covenant of works would continue existing at the core of the covenant of grace, but amendments would be attached to it, not to change the covenant of works, but to change humanity’s relationship to the covenant of works. So it’s probably more appropriate to claim that the covenant of grace was a set of appendments to the covenant of works, rather than to claim that it was a set of amendments.
To avoid such complexities as we proceed with the strictly chronological reading of Scripture, we call the covenant of works by a different name in the 4th iteration. We call it the Edenic Covenant to signify the covenant that was "divinely imposed" in the garden of Eden. In the chronological reading, we use this name to eliminate assumptions that may cling, for good or ill, to the expression, covenant of works. We do something similar with the covenant of grace. To eliminate any assumptions that may cling to the covenant of grace, we call it the Adamic Covenant. The Adamic Covenant is a set of amendments (or more precisely, appendments) to the Edenic Covenant, the latter being the organic constitution. The amendments pertain strictly to the work of redemption, and emphatically not to the eternal, unchangeable moral law. God’s plan, history, and work of redemption contains several major sets of amendments to the existing constitution. Throughout this long-term work of redemption, the natural law never changes, even though humanity’s relationship to the natural law changes as the work of redemption advances. The pattern of God sovereignly amending the constitution exists from beginning of the Bible to its end.
Even though constitutional law in the Bible meets the criterion of being "divinely imposed", statutory law and case law do not. These latter gradations of law appear in the history of the work of redemption as products of judges and legislatures – an example of the latter being the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:21). We can understand statutory law as the biblical record of humans attempting to implement "divinely imposed" constitutional law as positive law, i.e., human law. We can understand case law as the biblical record of decisions made by judges in specific legal actions.
Given what’s been covered thus far, the most obvious type of legal action is an action ex contractu, in other words, a suit that comes out of a failure to perform the obligations of a contract. Given that covenants, compacts, and contracts are largely the same – the major difference being that what we call "covenant" is "divinely imposed" and has God as expressly active as a party to the instrument – actions ex contractu are extremely rudimentary, and are very similar, if not the same, as actions out of covenants and actions out of compacts. While such actions ex contractu relate specifically to the natural right to contract, there is another rudimentary form of legal action that is discovered in the natural law I iteration, 97 and this other form of action relates specifically to the natural right to own property. We find the action in Genesis 9:6, a term of the Noachian Covenant. We call it an action ex delicto – an action out of a delict, out of a dead, damaged, or injured human being. Because of our analysis of verse 9:6 in the natural law I iteration, we use the words bloodshed and delict interchangeably. In the natural law I iteration, we find that these two kinds of legal actions – actions ex contractu and actions ex delicto – are the only kinds of legal actions that are obvious outgrowths of natural law.
Legal actions in human law are by definition disputes that go before some kind of judge for adjudication. In order for a legal action to be lawful (i.e., to be consistent with moral law, i.e., with the Ten Commandments) in its application to a given person, both the subject matter of the action and the person who is the target of the action must be covered by the scope of the covenant / contract. In other words, for a legal action that’s based on a given covenant or contract to be lawful, the covenant / contract must have both subject matter jurisdiction and in personam jurisdiction. Given that human beings are limited in time and space (at least in this world), their legal instruments are also thus limited. So a given covenant or contract is typically limited in time and space. This means that a given covenant, contract, or court has authority only within a specific territorial jurisdiction, and is limited to no authority outside the territorial jurisdiction. For a covenant or contract to have lawful authority in a given legal action, it must have each of these three simultaneously: subject matter jurisdiction, in personam jurisdiction, and territorial jurisdiction.
When a case comes before a judge, it’s necessary for the judge to determine in advance what law is alleged to have been broken. Then it’s necessary for the facts of the case to be presented as evidence. This shows an extremely rudimentary distinction between law and fact. 98 The distinction between law and fact is absolutely crucial to the just functioning of any system of jurisprudence. — Over the last several centuries, there has been great controversy over how to apply secular facts to the Bible. There has been an urban myth abroad in Christendom that science and the Bible are inevitable enemies, and that the two are in irreconcilable conflict. So the tacit assumption has been that law and fact don’t apply to the Bible because the Bible is not a reliable source of either law or fact. Given that law and fact are so basic to deciding any given case in any given court, the tacit assumption has been that if the Bible is not a reliable source of fact, then it’s not a reliable source of law, and if it’s not a reliable source of law, then it makes no sense to try to see other fundamental jurisprudential concepts in it. This has been a deep and ugly rift between the Bible-believing community and the jurisprudential community. This rift has been, from a purely rational perspective, totally unnecessary, and absolutely non-beneficial to jurisprudence, science, Christianity, and the pluralistic community at large.
Scripture is not primarily a science book. It is primarily a law book. Science and law are opposites in this respect: Science takes physical facts as primary, and attempts to induce laws from them. But reliable jurisprudence – meaning that legal positivism and legal realism are automatically excluded – takes law as primary, and attempts to apply law to facts. Both science and jurisprudence have feedback loops that help to refine their respective laws. But jurisprudence is inherently normative, while science is inherently descriptive. Natural rights are core assumptions in jurisprudence, and their existence mandates that jurisprudence always be fundamentally normative. But natural rights cannot be proven by science. When jurisprudence copies science to the point that natural rights are minimized, then human law becomes tyrannical.
Given that the Bible is what it claims to be, a covenant, the Bible is essentially a law book. It’s certainly more than merely a human law book, but it’s nevertheless a law book, because it’s a covenant book. Given that this is the case, any fact claims that Scripture may make should be regarded primarily as fact claims that exist to aid interpretation of Biblical law. In other words, Biblical facts are not the same as "scientific" facts because they are not verified in the same way. Scientific facts are verified based on physical evidence. The same is true for human courts. Truth claims are verified through sense data, reason, and testimony of reliable witnesses. But Biblical facts are not verified in this way because Biblical facts exist to aid in the interpretation of Biblical law, not as facts to be subjected to law, but as facts to aid in the interpretation of law. — By viewing Biblical facts – i.e., truth claims made by Scripture – in this manner, Biblical facts cease to have the same historic vulnerability to "scientific" skepticism. Let ‘em be skeptical all they want. If they want to treat a law book as a book of scientific claims, theories, and propositions, then they’re wrong even before they get started. The historic rift between the Bible-believing community and the jurisprudential community results from this insistence on treating Biblical facts as truth claims that deserve scientific scrutiny, rather than as truth claims that exist above all for the sake of aiding proper interpretation of Biblical law.
This is probably enough verification of Bible-based jurisprudential concepts – at least for this prolegomenon – to move into the 4th iteration.
We are accepting three categories of natural law as verified: (i)We accept the commandments to love God / love neighbor, the Ten Commandments, and all the information in Scripture related to such commandments, as moral law. We accept such biblical information as natural law (verified), 99 but we do so with the emphatic caveat that such moral law does not readily convert into human law, and must go through a rigorous filtering process before being translated into human law. (ii)We accept the classification of law into four overarching categories that comes to us from the Church Fathers (with undeniable influence from people like Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero) by way of Thomas Aquinas. We accept this classification with the caveat that these classes of law must be defined by way of Scripture, not by the traditions of men or by dubious theologies. (iii)We accept Aristotelian logic with the same kind of caveat. (iv)We accept the following terms and concepts that relate to jurisprudence: eternal covenant, Biblical Covenants, blood Covenants, divine covenants, global covenant, global Covenants, local Covenants, treaties, alliances, social compacts, jural compacts, ecclesiastical compacts, natural rights, contract, property, consent, jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction, in personam jurisdiction, constitution, amendment, statute, case law, legal action, ex delicto, ex contractu, territorial jurisdiction, law and fact, Biblical law, and Biblical fact. We accept these as bare minimal legal vernacular necessary for starting the chronological iteration. We accept these with the knowledge that an edifying chronological reading of Scripture may require us to admit that other jurisprudential concepts may exist implicitly in Scripture, and for us to properly understand what Scripture says about human law, we may need to expose such concepts in their relationships to natural law, natural rights, property, contracts, etc.
To discern what God through the Bible prescribes for humanity as human law (also known as positive law), take a chronological approach to the Bible starting in Genesis 1:1, going to the end of Revelation. Answer these questions: What covenants does God make with humanity? What are the jurisdictions of these covenants? What laws does God impose upon humanity? What laws does God demand that humans impose on other humans? — Chronological approach means that the study of this issue is strictly and rigorously chronological.
To treat the Bible specifically as a source of human law, it’s necessary to take a strictly chronological approach to it. To do otherwise is to tolerate the imposition of ex post facto laws, to violate jurisdictional boundaries, to be prone to excessive force, and to be vulnerable to victimizing people in many other respects. It’s necessary to focus on the Bible primarily as a source of human law, and to disallow introduction of non-jurisprudential information as much as possible. This especially means that the tendency to deduce human law from moral law needs to be avoided, and should be allowed only when a passage cannot be understood by any other means. This means that even though the conclusions of the divine law, eternal law, and natural law I iterations are controls in the human law iteration, the demand for exclusive and strict chronology in the human law iteration preempts the moral conclusions of the natural law I iteration. 100 The moral conclusions of the natural law I iteration act as a fifth level of control, rather than as a primary control. In the human law iteration, this is the priority of the controls: (i)controls formed by the conclusions of the divine law iteration; (ii)controls formed by the conclusions of the eternal law iteration; (iii)controls formed by jurisprudential concepts found in the natural law I iteration; (iv)controls that exist by way of the need for strict chronology in the human law iteration; and (v)controls formed by the moral conclusions of the natural law I iteration (conclusions that are not strictly jurisprudential). — The first two controls are necessary in order to make sure the human law iteration conforms to Scriptural priorities. In other words, the combined conclusions of the divine law and eternal law iterations act as a primary control. The second two controls (iii & iv) are necessary to discerning reliable human law in Scripture. The fifth control is necessary whenever the human law iteration is ambiguous without it.
These priorities must be observed in the human law iteration primarily because, as a general rule, in jurisprudence, laws do not stand alone. They don’t have an autonomous existence. They are always an aspect of some kind of covenant, compact, or contract. This being the case, it’s critical to ascertain the jurisdiction of the covenant, compact, or contract as a precondition for knowing how to apply the law. So a strictly chronological approach to Scripture is a prerequisite to ascertaining the jurisdiction of each of the covenants that appear in Scripture. Since information from the natural law I iteration that is non-jurisprudential does not conform to the strict chronology rule, 101 it cannot be used as a control in the human law iteration, except as a last resort.
The jurisdictional boundary between secular government and church government subtends the encompassing category of human law. Even though all humans are governed by the natural law – i.e., by the eternal, timeless moral law that is summarized in the Ten Commandments – the nuances, subtleties, and subdivisions of human law unfold in history, and are therefore functions of chronology. Even though human law is a subset of natural law, 102 human law cannot be properly distinguished except through strict chronology, because jurisprudence itself unfolds chronologically.
The eternal moral law / natural law was promulgated at creation, when God created humanity in His image and defined the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei. Since it’s a direct outgrowth of the relationships between the Persons of the Triune God, it is eternal. Even though human beings may have existed before time in God’s mind, they did not exist in reality until God created them. The natural law was therefore not promulgated to them until creation. Even so, how and when human law has been promulgated is a totally different issue. We cannot assume that God’s prescription of human law was simultaneous to the promulgation of natural law. Instead, it’s necessary to search chronologically for such promulgation. This is because belief that human law was promulgated at the same time as natural law is introduction of an extra-biblical assumption that is not readily verifiable in Scripture. It’s true that human law is a subset of natural law because the former must conform to the latter. But this doesn’t mean that human law was promulgated in the garden of Eden. It makes far more sense to believe that human law is an aspect of the work of redemption. This belief is verified by Jeremiah 31:34, where the Lord says that under the New Covenant, "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother; saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them". If there will be no reason for those party to the New Covenant to teach one another when this New Covenant is fulfilled when Jesus returns, then there will be no reason for those party to this New Covenant to impose human law on one-another when this New Covenant is fulfilled. After all, human law is in many respects merely an extremely crude form of teacher. It’s teaching that’s backed by the sword, guns, and jails. In other words, human law teaches with deadly weapons, while milder forms of teaching use less violent methods. This shows that at some point, human law will cease. If there’s no reason to teach when the New Covenant is fulfilled, there’s no reason for human law when the New Covenant is fulfilled. If human law has an end, then it must also have a beginning. So while natural law is eternal, being a subset of an eternal covenant, human law is finite, and is a function of the work of redemption. It makes sense that the biblical prescription of human law would parallel the unfolding of God’s chronological work of redemption. That’s why we approach this iteration of Bible-reading with the assumption that it must be strictly chronological.
While the mechanics of following this hermeneutic properly are important, it’s also important to remember the problems that have consistently resulted from NOT following such mechanics. Even though the magisterial Reformers never developed the hermeneutical agenda that we’re recommending here, they were nevertheless very aware of the problems that arise out of NOT following such mechanics. For example, the following is an excerpt from a letter that Martin Luther wrote to the German aristocracy: 103
We now come to the main part of this sermon. We have learnt that there must be secular authority on this earth and how a Christian and salutary use may be made of it. Now we must establish how long its reach is, and how far it may stretch out its arm without overreaching itself and trenching upon God’s kingdom and government. This is something about which we need to be quite clear. When [secular government] is given too much freedom of action, the harm that results is unbearable and horrifying, but to have it confined within too narrow a compass is also harmful. In the one case there is too much punishment, in the other too little. . . . Secular government has laws that extend no further than the body, goods and outward, earthly matters. But where the soul is concerned, God neither can nor will allow anyone but himself to rule. And so, where secular authority takes it upon itself to legislate for the soul, it trespasses on [what belongs to] God’s government, and merely seduces and ruins souls. . . . You should know that a prudent prince has been a rare bird in the world since the beginning of time, and a just prince an even rarer one. As a rule, princes are the greatest fools or the worst criminals on earth, and the worst is always to be expected, and little good hoped for, from them, especially in what regards God and the salvation of souls. For these are God’s jailers and hangmen, and his divine wrath makes use of them to punish the wicked and maintain outward peace.
The issue that Luther is addressing here may seem on its face to be different from the one we’re addressing in this hermeneutical agenda. He is clearly addressing the question, How do you draw the boundary lines between visible Church and "secular government"? But he’s basically shooting from the hip. He’s not addressing the more complicated question, What guidelines are there in Scripture for helping us to understand What is God’s? versus What is Caesar’s?? It’s impossible to properly address Luther’s issue based on Scripture without also addressing the issue that Jesus Himself raised, What is God’s? and What is Caesar’s?. To address these issues in a way that’s verifiable, (i)it’s necessary to keep these issues within the larger context that this hermeneutical agenda attempts to keep; (ii)it’s necessary to distinguish natural law from human law; and (iii)it’s necessary to avoid using words like "secular", "government", and "church" until such concepts actually appear in the chronological unfolding of the work of redemption. To understand the biblical prescription of human law, it’s absolutely crucial to take a chronological approach to Scripture, and to impose on it only what’s absolutely necessary and thereby allow it to speak for itself.
If we recast this human law - natural law problem in more-or-less modern terminology, we see that deciphering the jurisdictional boundary between secular government and church government depends largely upon understanding what kinds of misbehavior deserve the sword, and what kinds don’t. Distinguishing what kinds of behavior deserve the sword, and what kinds don’t, is essentially distinguishing different subject matter jurisdictions. Since making such distinctions in modern times is inherently dependent upon distinguishing subject matter jurisdiction, it’s almost inevitable that making similar distinctions in Scripture will also depend on distinguishing subject matter jurisdiction. Furthermore, it makes sense that a chronological reading of Scripture – done specifically for the purpose of understanding human law – would need to also pay close attention to in personam jurisdiction, i.e., jurisdiction over person. — The covenants that appear in Scripture are given in redemptive history, and are sensitive to chronology in a way that eternal law and natural law are not. It’s reasonable to assume that such covenants that appear in Scripture have specific subject matter and in personam jurisdictions, and that they build on one another. It’s also reasonable that such covenants be limited to territorial jurisdictions that are express or implied in Scripture.
This hermeneutical prolegomenon is given here to establish the theological context within which the biblical prescription of human law can be discovered. For an exposition of such prescription, see Basic Jurisdictional Principles: An Investigation into the Biblical Deposition of Human Law and Divine Grace, per se.
To maximize understanding of biblical passages that still appear ambiguous, take a topical approach to the Bible, and use conclusions from all the preceding iterations as controls. Also, to measure any extra-biblical truth-claim against Scripture, take a topical approach to the Bible, and use conclusions from all the preceding iterations as controls. — Topical approach means that the study of the given issue is not necessarily chronological. 104
Natural law (being verified) (aka natural law II) 105 is the changing human understanding of the changeless natural law. 106 Although it focuses to some extent on difficult-to-understand Bible passages, it focuses mostly on general revelation, and on figuring out how general revelation interfaces with Scripture. Before going any further, we should make sure that we are putting this iteration into its proper context. — Natural revelation is God’s revelation of Himself in all of creation. General revelation is God’s revelation of Himself to all people in general. Special revelation is God’s revelation of Himself to specific individuals. Natural law is that aspect of natural revelation that defines the human’s moral response to God’s immanent existence in His creation, and that therefore defines for every human being the behavioral boundaries of the imago Dei. 107 Natural revelation produces a natural theology that is the foundation for the universal violation of universal moral law and the universal guilt of man. All people have exchanged the knowledge of God for a lie.
Scripture shows that general revelation exists in two kinds: mediate and immediate. Both can be found in Romans 1-2. — Mediate general revelation is revelation that God gives to all people by way of some medium. It is not direct because it is mediated. For example, Romans 1:18-32 speaks of God’s "invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, [being] clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (v. 20). Paul was almost certainly thinking of Psalm 19:1-6 when he wrote this: "The heavens declare the glory of God . . . ". Nature ("The heavens") is here the medium, just as it is in Romans 1:20 ("what has been made"). — Immediate general revelation is direct, unmediated revelation. The most obvious example of this is the natural law written on the conscience (e.g., Romans 2:15). — Historically, theologians have cited mediate and immediate general revelation as two of the three sources of natural law. Above, we cited (i)conscience, (ii)observable creation, and (iii)divine law as being the three sources of natural law in classical Reformed theology. Now we are hereby making the same claim but restating it with different linguistic cues. Since (i)conscience is largely (if not always) a function of immediate general revelation; (ii)data from observable creation is a function of mediate general revelation; and (iii)divine law is a function of special revelation, we hereby restate our original claim in terms of revelation: Historically, natural law has been treated as residing in three places: (i)immediate general revelation, (ii)mediate general revelation, and (iii)special revelation written into the divine law.
Since we are Bible-believing Christians, our epistemology must bring these three kinds of revelation into harmony, especially bringing immediate and mediate general revelation into obedience to written special revelation. This enterprise necessarily focuses on distinguishing between what is true and what is false. It is therefore essentially epistemological. In order to do it properly, it’s absolutely critical that we avoid abandoning the epistemological framework that we take as an essential feature of natural law I, 108 namely, the three fields of perception and action. Even though there is not a one-to-one correspondence between these three kinds of revelation and the three fields of perception and action, it’s clear that knowledge can come from any of these three sources of revelation, and it must come through one or more of these three fields of perception. Such knowledge can be a "pure article", meaning that it comes exclusively from one of these three kinds of revelation, or it can be a "mixed article", meaning that it derives from both general revelation and divine law. 109
Regardless of where it comes from, all truth is God’s truth, because the Creator of the universe is the Creator of all truth. This means that something true in science must also be true in theology. But of course the conflicts between science and theology are legion. — If God reveals Himself in both nature and Scripture, and if the principal textbook of the theologian is the Bible while the principal textbook of the scientist is nature, and if God has both of these spheres, then in an ideal world there would never be a conflict between science and religion, or between reason and faith, or between nature (creation observed through the physical senses) and supernature (creation observed through the psychic or Spiritual senses), or between nature and grace. But we don’t live in an ideal world.
(i)We have theologians reading Scripture and making mistakes in understanding it. When scientists are right while the theologians are wrong, science corrects the visible Church, but it is incapable of correcting the Bible. In such a case, scientists show how theologians have failed to connect the Bible’s exhaustive presentation of general principles to observable creation’s exhaustive presentation of details.
(ii)We have scientists making serious logical errors, like claiming that something can come out of nothing and claiming that chance can do things. Claiming that an effect does not have a cause (something out of nothing) violates the law of causality. Also, chance, by definition, may define a range of possibilities and probabilities, but by definition, it is incapable of doing anything. It cannot cause anything. — Scientists who make such claims are exposing themselves as practicing junk science and being expounders of bunk. Such scientists are expounding both bad theology and bad science. When scientists get out of line in this manner, they deserve rebuke by philosophers and theologians, and especially by tax-payers who fund their foolishness.
External facts – regardless of what field of perception and action is their source – are constantly presenting every human with the question, "What are you going to do about me?". With the exponential expansion of scientific knowledge over the last several centuries, the demands of such facts have in many ways become a nuisance. Because of the failure of Christian theology to keep pace with the changes, the visible Church and the society at large are both awash in poorly processed information, and HaSatan is leading people by their noses into mass delusion. Fixed false beliefs dominate our culture. It’s absolutely crucial for every thought to be taken captive for Christ, for every fact-claim to be measured against reliable Bible-based theology, and for all technology to be vetted and used in a manner subservient to such theology. That is one of the purposes of this iteration.
We’re convinced in advance that there is no inherent conflict between science and the Bible, because God made them both. The skeptic might claim that if God made everything, then God made other religions also. So if it is legitimate to claim that there is no inherent conflict between science and the Bible, then there must also be no inherent conflict between other religions and the Bible. But the skeptic’s claim is inherently wrong. This is because it ignores the fact that the Bible emphatically exposes all humanity as deeply depraved, and it also provides a solution to that depravity. Given such depravity, there is no reason to make an a priori assumption that the creators of some other religion have somehow escaped depravity enough to create a flawless religion. On the other hand, there is reason to make an a priori assumption that the non-human part of creation (excluding demons and devils in the psychic field of perception) is not depraved. This is because humanity fell, but the non-human part of creation did not fall. Genesis 3:17 says that "the ground" (probably meaning all of physically observable creation) is cursed "because of you". So whatever is wrong with creation, humanity is the source of that wrong. So whatever is wrong with "the ground" is caused by humanity. So "the ground" is an inherently different class of objects to study from humanity. So other religions are inherently different objects of study from physical creation, and there are ample reasons to assume that there are inherent conflicts between the Bible and other religions. Furthermore, when we claimed that there is no inherent conflict between science and the Bible, we were speaking specifically of the physical sciences, not the study of human beings. The latter is the inherently depraved studying the inherently depraved, and this is inherently a dubious breed of science because the normal rules of science cannot apply. But this does nothing to diminish the fact that all genuine truth is God’s truth, and is rationally consistent with Scripture. The problem when human beings are the object of scientific inquiry is in arriving at reliable truth-claims. This problem derives from the fact that the object of such study was created to have access to each of the Spiritual, psychic, and physical fields of perception and action, but two of these fields are eliminated in advance from the scope of study.
This iteration is certainly dedicated to studying how the Bible should interface with other religions, pseudo-science, science, existing legal systems, and all kinds of fields. So one of the major purposes of this iteration is to examine other ideologies in the light of Scripture, to discern how much weight they carry, and how much they don’t. In short, this iteration is heavily concerned with the tendency of the visible Church to indulge in all manner of syncretism. So all these conflicts are not merely between scientists and Bible-believing Christians. They are also often between Christians and the legal community, and between Christians and all kinds of other sectarians.
Many of these conflicts result from a failure, on the part of Bible-believers, to recognize and heed jurisdictional boundaries. For example, the tools of scientists are logic (including mathematics) and physical evidence. While it’s crucial for Bible-believers to adhere to the three fields of perception and action as being crucial to Christian epistemology, it’s also crucial to respect the fact that science deliberately excludes evidence coming from the psychic and Spiritual fields of perception and action. 110 — Another example of failure to acknowledge and heed jurisdictional boundaries appears when Christians attempt to use the legal system to impose biblical standards of morality on non-Christians. There is a time and place for doing that, and a time and place to deliberately avoid doing that. Without a clear understanding of jurisdictional boundaries, Bible-believing Christians do not understand where to draw the line.
God’s revelation in nature is just as much God’s revelation as God’s revelation in the Scriptures. They are distinguished, but united. They are not separate even though they are distinguished. 111 Wherever you find truth, you find the truth of God.
In recent centuries some people have criticized the Reformed faith on the grounds that it practices syncretism. These critics point to Aristotelian logic and ask how the visible Church was – or ever could be – justified in applying Aristotelian logic to Scripture. They claim that this is inherently syncretistic, since Aristotle, a pagan, invented Aristotelian logic. Astute theologians answer this claim by the counter-claim that Aristotle no more invented Aristotelian logic than Columbus invented America. They say that in the same way that Columbus discovered America, Aristotle discovered logic. This difference between discovery and invention goes to the core issue in syncretism. If overwhelming evidence can be accumulated to prove that a "discovery" exists as a function of natural law, and how it exists as a function of natural law, then Christians should consider accepting this "discovery" as part of the natural law, and as having a legitimate place in the interpretation of Scripture. When such a "discovery" exists as a "mixed article" – meaning that the discovery exists both in Scripture and in natural revelation – then the mixed article’s place in Scripture-interpretation is more sure. But until such overwhelming evidence exists, the "discovery" should be treated as an invention of pagans that has no legitimate place in Bible interpretation. — Rather than having a wall against all pagan influences, it’s important to have a rigorous filter. This is because Scripture is exhaustive with respect to general principles, but it is not exhaustive with respect to detailed application of such principles.
In the same way that Aristotle discovered logic, rather than invented it, American jurisprudence (at its best) discovered, rather than invented, the basic jurisprudential concepts that are prerequisites to the human law iteration. These concepts could have been discovered in the Bible, the same way Aristotelian logic could have been discovered in the Bible. Like Aristotelian logic, they are "mixed articles". But God chose to have these concepts and tools discovered providentially in an extra-biblical setting, then to have them incorporated into Bible-interpretation. The same is essentially true of Aquinas’s four overarching sets of laws. — In both the logical and jurisprudential cases, Bible understanding is enhanced and the Scriptures are found to be more lucid than before.
When there is an apparent conflict between logic and Scripture, or between any other kind of truth-claim and Scripture, the Bible-believing Christian should always choose Scripture as having presumptive priority over the extra-biblical truth-claim, and under the presumption that the extra-biblical truth-claim is in some way awry. The presumption that God is rational is essential, and is amply confirmed by Scripture, and is necessary to defend the faith against pagan claims to the contrary. But history shows clearly that such pagan claims can be so subtle, and can be cloaked in such authority – like the authority of scientists, lawyers, doctors, judges, and political office-holders – that it’s difficult for elders of the visible Church to keep their guard up. Then the laws and public mores in general view the God of the Bible with a smirk, as though He is inherently whimsical, irrational, and unreliable. Although there are countless instances of pagan claims that have had such negative influence on the visible Church, the claims of Immanuel Kant have had such deep, ugly, and long-lasting impact on the visible Church – by way of their influence on Christian theology – that his work deserves nomination for being the most damaging.
Kant’s work created an insurmountable barrier between the "noumenal" and the "phenomenal". "Noumenal" is essentially Kant’s word for the psychic and Spiritual fields of perception and action. 112 "Phenomenal" is essentially Kant’s word for the physical field of perception and action. 113 Kant claimed that these two realms never communicate. 114 Such a claim is absolutely against the claims of Scripture. For example, the New Testament teaches that "the invisible things of God, even His eternal power and deity, are known through the things that are made". So Paul is saying that you can get to the "noumenal" sphere from the "phenomenal" sphere. Paul says that God not only can be known, but is known by and through the created order. — If there is, as Kant claims, an insurmountable barrier between the "noumenal" and the "phenomenal", then in contradiction to Scripture, the unbeliever has an excuse, and is delivered from moral accountability. He has the excuse of ignorance, i.e., of the claim, "I couldn’t get to the noumenal from the phenomenal.". — Therefore there is an irreconcilable difference between Scripture and Kant. But the visible Church was so bowled over by Kant’s arguments that theologians essentially caved in to them, and acted incapable of adequately defending biblical Christianity against them. 115
If Kant wanted to claim that science can only address observable creation, and that observable creation for fallen humanity includes only the physical field of perception, then this would certainly be a legitimate claim about the nature of the scientific enterprise. But that bite wasn’t big enough for Kant. He made the more exorbitant claim that human beings, in general, cannot perceive anything beyond the physical. He made an exception for logic and mathematics, but he essentially cast everything else, including the Bible, into the realm of mythology. In doing this, he essentially discarded natural theology and natural law, and thereby laid the foundations for tyrannical regimes based on legal positivism. In human history of the last several centuries, there has been a huge chasm between natural law and the "laws of nature". This chasm has resulted from the rejection of Scripture as a source of law. This rejection has created a moral vacuum that has been filled by wars, totalitarian regimes, the national socialism of German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, American, and many other varieties, and apocalyptic extremes of evil. The moral vacuum has yet to be filled with anything better. 116 So in order to frame this topical iteration, it’s important to remember that this iteration is focused on discerning natural law. But unlike natural law I, 117 the epistemological model here is not the Perfect Human Perceiver, but the imperfect human perceiver. In contrast to the Perfect Human Perceiver, the imperfect human perceiver (i)is innately and compulsively disobedient to both natural law and the divine law; (ii)compulsively suppresses sensory input from the Spiritual and psychic fields of perception and action, and generally considers only the physical field of perception and action to be observable creation; and (iii)does not know what he needs to know when he needs to know it, does not do what he needs to do when he needs to do it, does not avoid violating natural law and divine law, does not avoid sinning, and does not avoid dying. Because of these radical imperfections, it’s necessary to establish radical filtering processes in order to eliminate misperception, so that only what is reliable is accepted as natural law, and only what is reliable is allowed to be used in Scripture-interpretation, and of course, this automatically eliminates the iron wall that Kant built between the "noumenal" and the "phenomenal".
Regarding this filtering process, we should say more about Aristotelian logic. It’s important to note that at least since Augustine, Aristotelian logic has been used as a tool in understanding Scripture. Without it the field of systematic theology probably would not exist. But the inclusion of Aristotelian logic reminds us again of the distinction between "mixed articles" and "pure articles". "Mixed articles" are truth-claims that appear in both Scripture and nature (i.e., both special revelation recorded in the divine law and general revelation – either mediate, immediate, or both). Because "mixed articles" are truth-claims from general revelation that also appear in Scripture, they deservedly go much more readily through the rigorous filtering process than "pure articles" (articles from general revelation that are not readily apparent in the divine law). Aristotelian logic is a "mixed article". There is ample evidence that Jesus was logical, even if He was not trained as a logician. The same is true of Paul. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that the syllogism – the most crucial feature of Aristotelian logic – is so basic to human thinking that most people (including the authors of Scripture) understand it intuitively. The fact that God providentially chose Alexander the Great’s tutor to articulate what’s intuitive to most people should not be grounds for refusing to use logic to understand Scripture. — Even though all this is true, it doesn’t mean that we should use logic with abandon. History is strewn with theologians whose logic has led them into the weeds.
Logic and mathematics are indispensable components of the scientific process, and are therefore indispensable to the human understanding of God’s truth in mediated general revelation. Whenever such truth is ascertained – and to whatever extent it is ascertained – it elucidates the nature of the moral law that defines the boundaries of the imago Dei. In other words, it communicates information about the natural law. This shows that there is no real bifurcation between natural law and what some people call the "laws of nature". 118
In contrast to the fact that there is no inherent bifurcation between natural law and "laws of nature" from the Bible-believing Christian’s perspective, secularists claim an inevitable split between the Bible and the "laws of nature". The secularist’s simultaneous acceptance of the "laws of nature" and rejection of natural law is part of a much more widespread attempt at removing morality from both science and government. But since morality is about decision-making, and decision-making is an inevitable part of everyday human life, the attempt at removing morality from science and government is a fool’s errand. In essence, that secular agenda has done nothing more than replace Christian morality with a secular morality that in comparison is an irrational morass. Studying physical reality through the scientific endeavor provides information that has the potential to peel layers of suppression off the human conscience. But of course that’s not likely to happen as long as Christians neglect to interpret both Scripture and physical data coherently. But interpreting (iii)Scripture and (ii)physical data coherently inevitably requires harmony with (i)conscience.
Regarding the "secular progressive" attempt at removing Christian morality from science and government, it’s important to remember that each of the four types of law has its own sphere of authority / jurisdiction. For the Christian, the jurisdiction of human law is encompassed by the jurisdiction of divine law; the jurisdiction of divine law is encompassed by the jurisdiction of natural law; and the jurisdiction of natural law is encompassed by the jurisdiction of eternal law. Neither natural law nor eternal law change. But divine law contains the history of, and plan for, the work of redemption. The work of redemption is both (i)God’s work of redeeming His elect and (ii)God’s work of ordaining and bringing to pass all the peripheral machinations that are necessary, in His view, to His primary work of redeeming His elect, including delivery of His divine law into human hands, providential workings through human governments, providential expansion of the human knowledge base, and the general edification of humanity.
When we speak of the general edification of humanity, it’s necessary to remember that all humans are endowed by their Creator with knowledge of the natural law, and are endowed by their compact with HaSatan with an overwhelming proclivity to ignore their knowledge of the natural law. The classical Reformed view – with which we fervently agree – is that in this fallen condition, the human being is incapable either of truly loving what is truly good or of choosing on his own strength what is truly right. That’s because in this fallen condition, humans are denied access to the Spiritual field of perception and action. God grants such access only by His sovereign, supernatural intervention on behalf of such human. Such access is always accompanied by a degree of special revelation. Such special revelation is always in harmony with the paramount record of special revelations, the divine law. What this means is that the conscience of the un-regenerate individual contributes inadequately, at best, to his/her knowledge of natural law. Conscience as a source of natural law is clouded further by the fact that no one knows with absolute certainty who is regenerate and who is not. Of course, one can be convinced about oneself, and when one is thus convinced, it’s reasonable to have faith that people with whom one agrees about basic issues are also regenerate. But since whether any given person is regenerate or not is outside the realm of human certainty, the issues about which people agree become far more important in determining what is accepted as the content of natural law than any arguments about who is saved and who is not. Because the content of natural law is unchanging while the human ignorance that derives from our compact with HaSatan is huge, our knowledge about the content of natural law is constantly changing. Furthermore, human agreements about what constitutes natural law are also constantly changing. In fact, both societal and individual awareness of what constitutes natural law is extremely dependent upon "the currents of history and culture". 119 It is dependent upon the chronological processes of edification and knowledge-acquisition, i.e., the secondary aspects of God’s work of redemption.
Here’s another way of looking at this issue: In Deuteronomy 29:29, Moses draws a distinction between "secret things" and "things revealed". God’s decretive will, also known as His will of decree, pertains to whatever God ordains, regardless of whether humans know it or not; and to whatever extent humans don’t know it, the decretive will is "secret things". Since most of the eternal law is not known by humans, and might never be known by humans, most of the eternal law is God’s decretive will that is "secret things". On the other hand, God’s preceptive will, also known as His will of precept, pertains to "things revealed", i.e., to aspects of God’s decretive will that God makes known to humans. Such revealed knowledge is the foundations upon which biblical precepts are formed.
The distinction between decretive will and preceptive will is implicitly a distinction between two types of human accountability. All people are accountable for their violation of natural law, starting with their violation of the commandment to love God / love man. "[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23; NASB), which means that the entirety of Adam’s race violates the most important aspect of all natural law. Since most people remain ignorant of the myriad ways that they violate the natural law, the natural law in all these ways is hidden to them. Under the circumstances it’s reasonable for a person to assume that all these hidden violations of natural law are violations of God’s decretive will to the exclusion of His preceptive will. But if this were the case, then people would be held accountable for things they do not know. So we’re convinced that the Bible says clearly that all of the natural law is part of God’s preceptive will. The human race has entered a compact with HaSatan to remain ignorant of God’s preceptive will. To reconcile the preceptive will that is a function of the natural law with the preceptive will that is a function of "things revealed" in Deuteronomy 29:29, it’s necessary to conclude that there are two kinds of preceptive will. One kind is a function of natural law, and therefore of general revelation. The other kind is a function of the work of redemption displayed in the divine law, and therefore of special revelation. When Moses speaks of "things revealed", it’s clear that he’s speaking of the second kind, of the preceptive will that is revealed through special revelation. The first kind of preceptive will is suppressed through humanity’s compact with HaSatan. The second kind of preceptive will occurs by way of the removal of such suppression, i.e., by a process of deliverance from the satanic compact. Evidence for the first kind of accountability shows up every time someone dies. The "wages of sin is death" (Romans 3:23) means that all people die because of their sin, i.e., because of their violation of natural law. Death is God’s execution of His penalty against every human who violates natural law, meaning against everyone, because everyone dies. For this kind of law, this kind of preceptive will, every human being is accountable, regardless of the extent to which one has suppressed one’s knowledge of such violation. This kind of preceptive will is global accountability for the moral law. — Evidence for the second kind of accountability – accountability for "things revealed", things freed from suppression, laws revealed, laws brought to consciousness through special revelation – is different from such global accountability. The divine law contains description of a chronological plan through which God has redeemed and will continue to redeem His elect. The plan contains prescription of human laws through which institutions like families, tribes, nations, etc., can function in a manner that progressively honors God. Accountability for natural law exists regardless of consciousness of such natural law, whereas the type of law implicitly referenced in Deuteronomy 29:29 pertains to deliverance from suppression. This second kind of preceptive will must pertain more to renewed consciousness of natural law, and to new knowledge of the work of redemption, than to natural law that continues to be suppressed.
Regarding relationships between natural law and electricity, cell growth, DNA, stars, and a multitude of other classes of objects that are observable creation studied by the "natural" sciences, as long as human law is unsettled, such physical evidence needs to stay on the natural law II side of the filter between natural law I and natural law II. 120 This is because their study must necessarily remain subject to human law. Discernment of natural law I and the biblical prescription of human law both require focus primarily on special revelation. In contrast to natural law I, discernment of natural law II focuses primarily on submitting extra-biblical information, laws, principles, theories, concepts, propositions, physical data, etc., to special revelation – and to the controls developed through the previous iterative readings of Scripture – to establish compatibility between natural law II, biblical prescription of human law, and natural law I / eternal law. This is an iterative process. Scripture is read (i)to discern the nature of the divine law itself and how it demands to be comprehended (topical, not necessarily chronological); (ii)to discern the nature of eternal law (topical, not necessarily chronological); (iii)to discern the nature of natural law I (topical, not necessarily chronological); (iv)to discern the biblical prescription of human law (must be rigorously chronological – yields, among other things, prescription of human laws); and (v)to discern the natural law II (topical, not necessarily chronological). — These five readings should yield a knowledge base of law and fact that acknowledges the supremacy of Scripture and the supremacy of God. A subsequent reading can be done to explore the eschatological arena, which doesn’t necessarily neatly yield either law or fact. Such an eschatological reading must also be rigorously chronological. 121 — This process puts the Holy Scriptures squarely in the middle of all human concerns, which is precisely where the Bible belongs. The inclination to set the Bible alongside tradition, as though the two were equal, and as though humanity were fully capable of drawing the same general principles derived from Scripture without Scripture, has been a total disaster. The Bible is not merely an "addition". The Bible, and only the Bible, displays God’s plan of redemption in all its glory. No other source, of any kind, even comes close. Only in the divine law’s record of special revelation are all the general principles that constitute the natural law revealed.
All of the above defines the context within which to discern the biblical prescription of human law. The remainder of this Investigation into the Biblical Deposition of Human Law and Divine Grace exists to make this discernment within this context.
Thomas Aquinas; The Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Treatise on Law. (URL: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FS.html#TOC09.)
"The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals", April 20, 1996. (URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/cambridge.html.)
Edward A. Dowey; "Law in Luther And Calvin". (URL: http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/jul1984/v43-4-article1.htm.)
The-Highway.com’s web pages: (i) "What Do We Mean by Sola Scriptura?", by Dr. W. Robert Godfrey (URL: http://www.the-highway.com/Sola_Scriptura_Godfrey.html.); (ii) the "Council of Orange" (529 A.D.) (URL: http://www.the-highway.com/Orange.html.); (iii) "A Critique of the Evangelical Doctrine of Solo Scriptura", by Keith Mathison (URL: http://www.the-highway.com/Sola_Scriptura_Mathison.html.); and (iv) the "Synod of Dort" (1618-1619 A.D.) (URL: http://www.the-highway.com/dordt.html.).
W. J. Torrance Kirby; "Richard Hooker’s Discourse on Natural Law in the Context of the Magisterial Reformation". (URL: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume 3/kirby3.pdf.)
Martin Luther; "On Secular Authority: how far does the Obedience owed to it extend?" (1523 AD). (URL: http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.co.uk/2005/11/secular-authority-to-what-extent-it.html.)
Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.; "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists". (URL: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sufficiency.html.)
Andrei Marmor; "The Nature of Law", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/lawphil-nature/.
Christopher Neiswonger’s staff blog at apologetics.com: (i) "protestants don’t do natural law (but they did and they should)" Part four, 7/14/06 (URL: http://www.apologetics.com/forums/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=90823&an=0&page=1#Post90823); (ii) "Part 3 Augustinian Natural Law in the thought of Martin Luther", 7/20/06 (URL: http://www.apologetics.com/forums/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=90826&an=0&page=1#Post90826); (iii) "Christian Libertines and Christian Reconstructionists in the thought of the Protestant Churches", 8/3/06 (URL: http://www.apologetics.com/forums/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=90830&an=0&page=2#Post90830).
John Piper; "There is Salvation in No One Else". (URL: http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper91/01-20-91.htm.)
Andries Raath; "The Origins of Defensive Natural Law in Huldrych Zwingli’s Covenant Theology". (URL: http://puritanism.online.fr/puritanism/The Defensive Role of Natural Law in Hudrych Zwingli.pdf.)
R.C. Sproul; Defending Your Faith. (URL: http://www.ligonier.org/store/defending-your-faith-paperback/)
Stephen Thornton; "Karl Popper". (URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/popper/.)
Westminster Confession of Faith. (URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/westminster_conf_of_faith.html.)
Westminster Larger Catechism. (URL: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous/westminster2.i.i.html.)
2Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers had the backing of the local magistrates, while other leaders of other strains of the Protestant Reformation did not. This is one of the reasons we call these Reformers "magisterial". Another reason is that we take their exposition of Scripture as authoritative, even if imperfect.
3See "What Do We Mean by Sola Scriptura?" by Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, URL: http://www.the-highway.com/Sola_Scriptura_Godfrey.html.
4"A Critique of the Evangelical Doctrine of Solo Scriptura" by Keith Mathison, URL: http://www.the-highway.com/Sola_Scriptura_Mathison.html.
5"The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals", URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/cambridge.html, April 20, 1996.
6Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.; "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists", URL: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sufficiency.html, Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32.
7John Piper, "There is Salvation in No One Else", URL: http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper91/01-20-91.htm.
8Cambridge Declaration URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/cambridge.html.
9"The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals", URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/cambridge.html, April 20, 1996.
10"The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals", URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/cambridge.html, April 20, 1996.
11"The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals", URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/cambridge.html, April 20, 1996.
12"The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals", URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/cambridge.html, April 20, 1996. — For more about how law and gospel work together, see "What about the Gospel?" herein, URL: #LawGospel.
13Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.; "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists", URL: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sufficiency.html.
14Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.; "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists", URL: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sufficiency.html.
15Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.; "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists", URL: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sufficiency.html.
16Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.; "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists", URL: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sufficiency.html.
17Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.; "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists", URL: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sufficiency.html.
18Westminster Confession of Faith URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/westminster_conf_of_faith.html.
19We believe that theologians who insist that these "spiritual gifts" have ceased by divine decree are "Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
20Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.; "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists", URL: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sufficiency.html.
22"The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals", "Thesis One", April 20, 1996, URL: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/cambridge.html.
23"A Critique of the Evangelical Doctrine of Solo Scriptura", by Keith Mathison, URL: http://www.the-highway.com/Sola_Scriptura_Mathison.html.
25Systematic Theology; p. 73 — It’s reasonable to accompany this claim with recognition that no living human being is perfect; and that no human being therefore has a perfect understanding of Scripture in all its glory and complexity; and that no human being should be expected to have perfect belief or perfect obedience as long as humanity exists in its fallenness.
27Systematic Theology; p. 90 — We believe it’s reasonable to accompany this acknowledgement with a simultaneous claim that Scripture is primarily a covenant, and that as such it is primarily legal (in the sense of being first about an eternal covenant, and therefore about such covenant’s eternal law, and only quaternarily about human law). Therefore, any fact posited in Scripture exists primarily for the sake of aiding the interpretation of biblical law, not for the sake of setting up targets for scientific skepticism.
36Some evidence that magisterial Reformers each believed in some form of natural law: (i)"The Nature of Law" (Augustine), by Andrei Marmor, URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/lawphil-nature/; (ii)Martin Luther’s Sermon on Usury, URL: http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5018&context=ocj; (iii)"Law in Luther And Calvin", by Edward A. Dowey, URL: http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/jul1984/v43-4-article1.htm; (iv)"The Origins of Defensive Natural Law in Huldrych Zwingli’s Covenant Theology", by Andries Raath, URL: http://puritanism.online.fr/puritanism/The%20Defensive%20Role%20of%20Natural%20Law%20in%20Hudrych%20Zwingli.pdf; (v)"Richard Hooker’s Discourse on Natural Law in the Context of the Magisterial Reformation", by W. J. Torrance Kirby, URL: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%203/kirby3.pdf.
37"protestants don’t do natural law (but they did and they should)", Part four, by Christopher Neiswonger, 7/14/06, URL: http://www.apologetics.com/forums/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=90823&an=0&page=1#Post90823.
56"Christian Libertines and Christian Reconstructionists in the thought of the Protestant Churches", by Christopher Neiswonger, 8/3/06, URL: http://www.apologetics.com/forums/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=90830&an=0&page=2#Post90830.
60Systematic Theology, p. 315. — This definition of providence is sometimes called "Calvinistic compatibilism" because "it holds that absolute divine sovereignty is compatible with human significance and real human choices". (Systematic Theology, p. 316).
61Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, "Treatise on Law", Question #91, "Of the Various Kinds of Law", URL: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FS/FS091.html.
64These terms, covenant of works, covenant of redemption, and covenant of grace, are common fixtures in classical Reformed theology. We cannot vouch for every Reformed theologian, so we use definitions here that make sense to us. We believe they are also consistent with the definitions found in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. But most importantly, we induce them directly from Scripture. — Regarding the covenant of grace, we believe that God is a God of perfect justice. So His dispensation of grace was not an act of adulterating such justice. Instead, it was an act of executing justice by way of something other than total destruction of the human race, i.e., through vicarious atonement.
65Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, "Treatise on Law", Question #91, "Of the Various Kinds of Law", URL: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FS/FS091.html.
66Because they assume that law is arbitrary, legal realists don’t believe in moral law that is higher than positive law. They therefore default into the legal positivists’ camp, even if they don’t admit it.
67See "The Nature of Law", by Andrei Marmor, URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/lawphil-nature/.
68The neo-Reformed may claim that the magisterial Reformers rejected natural law. All this shows is that the neo-Reformed aren’t bothering to read the source texts written by the magisterial Reformers. — Evidence that the magisterial Reformers each believed in some form of natural law: (i)"The Nature of Law", (Augustine), by Andrei Marmor, URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/lawphil-nature/; (ii)Martin Luther’s Sermon on Usury, URL: http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5018&context=ocj; (iii)"Law in Luther And Calvin", by Edward A. Dowey, URL: http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/jul1984/v43-4-article1.htm; (iv)"The Origins of Defensive Natural Law in Huldrych Zwingli’s Covenant Theology", by Andries Raath, URL: http://puritanism.online.fr/puritanism/The%20Defensive%20Role%20of%20Natural%20Law%20in%20Hudrych%20Zwingli.pdf; (v)"Richard Hooker’s Discourse on Natural Law in the Context of the Magisterial Reformation", by W. J. Torrance Kirby, URL: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%203/kirby3.pdf.
69Westminster Larger Catechism, URL: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous/westminster2.i.i.html.
71Summa Theologica URL: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FS/FS091.html.
73Jonathan Edwards went a long way towards reconciling these three. But we believe his theology has yet to be adequately updated for the 21st century with regards to such reconciliation.
74Actually, we said that rejection of natural law is automatic adoption of legal positivism. But since natural law is defined as an outgrowth of natural law, rejection of natural law is an automatic rejection of natural law.
78Even though all human beings observe creation to some extent, and even though all human beings learn through the process of hypothesis, testing, conclusion, re-articulation of conclusion as hypothesis, etc., science formalizes this process into a societal phenomenon. One of the essential outgrowths of this process is technological innovation.
79In Matthew 24:36, Jesus clearly says that there is something that He does not know. This means that He is not omniscient. If He’s not omniscient, then it’s not reasonable for anyone to claim that He is omnipotent. The classical solution to this problem is to claim that Jesus is fully God and fully Human, and that He is neither omniscient nor omnipotent in His Human capacity, but He is both in His Divine capacity. We’re not contesting the claim that He is fully God and fully Human. We’re only sketching an epistemology that shows how He had some Divine capacities even in his Humanity.
81We make this assumption conditioned upon strict distinction between natural law and human law because assuming that natural law translates readily and directly into human law leads consistently to gross abuse of power. Establishing the reliable relationship between natural law and human law requires a unique and distinct hermeneutic.
83The "Five Points of Calvinism", sometimes known by the acronym TULIP, or as the "doctrines of sovereign grace", arose from the Synod of Dort, URL: http://www.the-highway.com/dordt.html. A solid, Bible-based defense of these doctrines appears at the "Desiring God" website, URL: http://document.desiringgod.org/five-points-en.pdf?1446647340.
84Part of the problem has been the "solo Scriptura" syndrome (See herein, URL: #SolaScriptura.). Another part has been "grace abuse". Another part has been the continued rejection of Scripture in preference for tradition. — In short, mass idolatry, great delusion, and fixed false beliefs.
85U.S. Code, Title 26 § 501(c)(3), URL: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/501.
95The "Five Points of Calvinism", sometimes known by the acronym TULIP, or as the "doctrines of sovereign grace", arose from the Synod of Dort, URL: http://www.the-highway.com/dordt.html. A solid, Bible-based defense of these doctrines appears at the "Desiring God" website, URL: http://document.desiringgod.org/five-points-en.pdf?1446647340.
98This distinction is absolutely crucial in traditional Anglo-American natural law. But efforts by legal positivists to model jurisprudence after the scientific method have led to a dangerous abandonment of this distinction which leaves law almost as variable as facts. In other words, we’re well down the road to a totally arbitrary, fiat legal system.
103Martin Luther, "On Secular Authority: how far does the Obedience owed to it extend?", (1523 AD), URL: http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.co.uk/2005/11/secular-authority-to-what-extent-it.html.
104Without the teachings of Dr. R.C. Sproul, this iteration may have never have been developed. Even so, any errors in it are the authors’, and not his. — See his book and video series, Defending Your Faith, available at his store at URL: http://www.ligonier.org/store/defending-your-faith-paperback/.
106Some people might object to our use of the word "verified". The verification processes used in science, jurisprudence, and Christian theology are different and peculiar to each field. Roughly, (i)in science, for a proposition to be accepted as valid, the proposition must be falsifiable, rather than verifiable (The definitive work on this issue is generally acknowledged among philosophers of science to be The Logic of Scientific Discovery, by Karl Popper. See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/popper/.); (ii)in jurisprudence, propositions are verified by the agreement of a jury; and (iii)in Bible-based theology, propositions are verified by accord between conscience, special revelation, divine law, and prioritized coherence between the four overarching categories of law.
107We’ve already defined natural law as synonymous with the moral law of general revelation. There’s no cognitive dissonance here, because humanity is a subset of all of creation, and revelation to all humanity is a subset of revelation in all of creation.
109Mediate and immediate general revelation may appear to be mutually exclusive from a linguistic perspective. But God can nevertheless simultaneously communicate information directly to the conscience and indirectly through the physical senses, meaning that mediate and immediate are not necessarily mutually exclusive in fact. Even so, when these two kinds of general revelation are "mixed", we don’t consider them "mixed". Our whole focus is on bringing all knowledge into obedience to the divine law. So when a truth-claim exists simultaneously in both immediate and mediate general revelation, such truth-claim is not a "mixed article" unless it also exists in Scripture.
110Logic and mathematics are exceptions to this exclusion. They are exceptional because, as products of the human mind, they are features of the much broader psychic field of perception and action, but science cannot function without them.
111As Dr. Sproul puts it, distinguishing between body and soul is harmless. But separating body from soul is murder.
112To the "noumenal" realm, Kant assigned three concepts: God, self, and "the thing in itself", also known as the "essence". Kant said these are metaphysical concepts, and that they exist in a metaphysical reality, if they exist at all. He did not say these things don’t exist. He only asked if they can be known via sense perception, and he answered, absolutely not.
113To Kant, the "phenomenal" realm is the world of the five senses.
114Kant says that there is an unbridgeable chasm between the realm of the "phenomenal" and the world of the "noumenal". Kant says that the reason there is an insurmountable wall between the "phenomenal" and the "noumenal" is because we cannot assume that the law of causality that operates in the "phenomenal" realm also operates in the "noumenal" realm. Therefore he was skeptical about the ability to know anything about God.
115In his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant said that for practical purposes, we must live as though there is a God, because the "God-hypothesis" is necessary for meaningful ethics, and because you cannot have an enduring civilization without a meaningful ethic. So after assaulting the "God-hypothesis" in a way that intimidated virtually all Christian theologians – thereby showing himself to be an agnostic, at best – Kant endeavored to use the "God-hypothesis" for practical purposes, thereby exposing himself as another "whitewashed tomb".
116It’s important to mention in passing that there has been an effort in the legal community in America, especially since the War Between the States, to blend jurisprudence and science, thereby making jurisprudence operate by the same mechanisms that drive the scientific enterprise. This effort has been driven by legal positivists. This effort is based on a set of assumptions that are inherently erroneous. Science essentially induces facts from sense data and then translates the facts into propositions that are then subjected to further testing against sense data. This defines a feedback loop in which sense data, i.e., physical information, is king, and propositions are mere would-be laws that are tested against king fact. In contrast, jurisprudence is inherently normative. Jurisprudence takes law as king, and applies the law to facts. — This important distinction between law and fact, and the relative manner in which they are treated in these two fields, is addressed more herein, URL: #LawFact.
118It’s more appropriate to call the "laws of nature" evidence from nature, because "law" implies that it’s proven to be certain. But only logic and mathematics can be proven with certainty. Example: It’s absolutely certain that 1+1=2. But it is not absolutely certain that the sun will rise tomorrow.
119"Augustinian Natural Law in the thought of Martin Luther", by Christopher Neiswonger, 7/20/06, URL: http://www.apologetics.com/forums/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=90826&an=0&page=1#Post90826.
121Of course one can read the Bible for inspiration, insight, edification, etc., totally outside this hermeneutical agenda, and we certainly recommend that. This agenda aims to use Scripture as a control for the discovery of laws and principles by which to structure social interactions, from families and local communities to complex, diverse, and perhaps even global societies.
copyright © 2013 Charles Raleigh Porter, III
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