by Gerald R. Thompson
SELF-STUDY - THE ORIGIN OF LAW
Does the Bible speak to legal matters? Is there such a thing as a truly distinctive lonang jurisprudence? Is a legal philosophy based on the Bible a matter of subjective opinion or objective truth? And, if an objective lonang jurisprudence exists, is it relevant to modern nations?
Initially, every legal system must investigate, or at least presume answers for, these questions: Does law originate with God, nature or people? Are there any pre-existing laws which constrain us, or are we free to recognize any laws we wish? If there were no statute books or court opinions, would there still be law?
In the search for absolute ethical standards and fundamental legal rights, where can these be found apart from a "higher law" of divine, not human, origin? As long as people believe in the perfectibility of man, they will cling to the hope that humanity can eventually solve its own problems. But, isn't such a position inherently futile? Will perfection ever come from within the species? Instead of treating the question as a philosophical one, ask yourself: What does the evidence from history show?
- Herbert Schlossberg, in Idols for Destruction, stated that "Questions about justice are fundamentally religious." Can any legal system be morally neutral? To what extent is it possible for a legal system to avoid, at a fundamental level, declaring the rules of right and wrong behavior? Are rules of right and wrong inherently moral?
- Consider the relevance of a God-based view of law to any legal system:
- If no transcendent God exists, is law unavoidably arbitrary? Without God, who is there who can declare absolutely what is right or wrong, or why?
- Unless God is immanent (involved) in human affairs, how can His laws be relevant? Unless God actively enforces His laws as the great Sustainer of the universe, why should we obey the rules He prescribes for our conduct?
- Unless God has revealed His law authoritatively, how can we know any of it for certain? Unless God clearly and authoritatively revealed His law to us for the governance of society, how could He hold us accountable for its obedience? In other words, isn't even God under a duty to promulgate his laws?
- 1 Tim. 1:5-8 says, But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully.
How can a legal system be grounded in God's revelation of law? Will all legal systems equally succeed or fail in conforming to lonang?
- Read the following verses.
"All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." Matt 11:27.
. . . then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. . . . For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, "All things are put in subjection," it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 1 Cor 15:24,27.
Pilate therefore said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin." Jn 19:10-11.
- Does the right to rule people ultimately come from God, ourselves or from somewhere else?
- Is anyone above the law of God? What are the limitations on the right of one person to rule over another?
- Deut. 30:15-18 says, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You shall not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it."
Ancient Israel had the choice whether to accept God's law and receive its blessings, or to reject it and receive its curses. To what extent is this same choice available to nations today?
Early legal commentators, such as Cicero, Grotius, Montesquieu, Blackstone and Kent, believed that when God created the heavens and the earth, He imposed His will and laws upon the entire earth and its inhabitants. Such laws were believed to be applicable to all people, and discoverable by anyone through a well-reasoned observation of human behavior and experience, as confirmed or tested by the Bible.
These "laws of nature," as they were called, were not limited to the realm of the physical sciences. Rather, they were conceived as including laws of right and wrong human behavior. Furthermore, these laws were held to be absolute and eternal, never having been rescinded, and not subject to change.
This legal belief system was most popular, as can be expected, in pre-Darwinian times. It is obviously not the prevalent or accepted basis for legal philosophy today. But, in point of fact, this view of law was accepted in America for a longer period of time than the subsequent evolutionary view of law has been. So, perhaps it is worth examining to see what it was that captivated the legal community for so long.
- Psalm 19:1-4,7-9 says, The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. . . . The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
- Does the revelation of God in creation include a revelation of His will? Of His law? How does one relate to the other?
- What areas of life or aspects of creation, physical or spiritual, has God left ungoverned?
- Rom 1:18-21,26,28,32 says, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions . . .. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper . . . and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
- To what extent is the revelation of God in creation sufficient to inform people of His nature as well as His existence? Does this revelation have a moral quality to it, being something to which people can be held accountable?
- What is the connection between rejecting the knowledge of God from nature and the likelihood of engaging in unnatural behavior? To what extent is unnatural behavior also unlawful?
- 1 Cor. 11:14a,16 says, Does not even nature itself teach you . . .. But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
Is it possible to observe the created order and apply the use of reason so as to understand the rules of right and wrong behavior to which God expects people to conform?
- Prov. 6:6 says, Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise.
Is it possible to discover righteous human behavioral patterns from a study of the animal kingdom? To what extent?
Aristotle, among others, took the position that much of the knowledge people have is innate within us. In Western tradition, this has generally been regarded as a question of conscience, or the imprint of God on the human heart (or mind). According to this view, all people carry within their hearts a knowledge of certain rules of right and wrong behavior.
This view has found expression not only in theological circles, but in legal thinking as well. The legal logic goes something like this: Because the law of the Creator is written on our hearts, every person is presumed to have knowledge of it, and no one can be excused from obedience to it.
- Read the following verses. See also, Jer. 31:33-34.
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. Rom 2:14-15.
"Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people." Heb 8:8b-10.
- To what extent does every person have a conscience, that is, a part of the law of God written on their heart?
- Is there any time when God would have written His creation laws on the hearts of the Gentiles without doing the same for the Jews? Is the promise of Heb. 8:8-12 for the Jews alone?
- Gen 4:8b-11 says, And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" And He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand."
Cain was punished for killing his brother Abel, even though no express rule prohibiting such action had yet been verbalized.
- Did God's unverbalized creation laws include a prohibition against murder? To what law was Cain held accountable for his actions?
- Did Cain know about the law to which he was held accountable? To what extent does God hold people accountable for breaking laws He has not revealed?
- Exodus 18:16 says, "When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and make known the statutes of God and His laws."
Moses claimed to have been able to make known the laws of God with enough specificity to resolve individual disputes before the Ten Commandments or the rest of Israel's laws were verbalized by God. Upon what legal rules could Moses have based his judgments? Are those same legal rules applicable to us today? Why or why not?
In addition to the revelation of law in the created order and the human conscience, early legal commentators generally recognized the Bible as the revelation of God's law in verbal form. Thus, it would have been professionally acceptable in former times to look to the Bible for the rules of right and wrong behavior by which we may know what conduct is lawful and unlawful.
Historically, the biblical revelation of law was variously referred to as the divine law, the revealed law, or the law of nature's God. However, the divine law and the law of nature are not identical. The law of nature has applied to everyone from the beginning of time, but the divine law was given at various times throughout history and in some cases applies to specific groups of people.
Further, the law of nature is evident to all people and can be known by a reasoned observation of the world, but the divine law is can be discovered exclusively from verbal revelation. Thus, as historically understood, divine law cannot be known simply by a reasoned observation of the creation or self-reflection, but is uniquely made known in the written word, specifically, the Bible.
- Refer again to Psalm 19 and Romans 1:18-32.
- Does the Bible support the view that all of God's law must come from the Bible to the exclusion of nature?
- To what extent are we expected to investigate nature as a means of learning God's ways and His laws? What is God's response to people who refuse to acknowledge what nature teaches?
- Matt 5:17-19 says, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
To what extent, if any, is Christianity opposed to law? Did anything in the teachings of Jesus alter or abolish the law of nature (i.e., the laws of creation)?
- John 13:34 says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."
Is this commandment a part of God's law? If so, is it a part of the law of nature, or the later revealed divine law?
- Numbers 35:29-31,33 says, "And these things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it."
- Does the law of murder apply to all humanity or to just some part of it? Is the law of murder a part of the law of nature or is it based solely on the divine law?
- Is capital punishment prescribed in the law of nature or is it based solely on the divine law?
- Must the two prior questions be answered the same? How can you tell if a law of in the Bible is part of the law of nature or not?
* Copyright © 1995, 2006 Gerald R. Thompson.