Law is in every culture
religious in origin. Because law governs man and society,
because it establishes and declares the meaning of justice and righteousness,
law is inescapably religious, in that it establishes in practical
fashion the ultimate concerns of a culture. Accordingly, a fundamental
and necessary premise in any and every study of law must be, first,
a recognition of this religious nature of law.
must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the
god of that society.
If law has its source in
man's reason, then reason is the god of that society. If the source
is an oligarchy, or in a court, senate, or ruler, then that source
is the god of that system. Thus, in Greek culture law
was essentially a religiously humanistic concept,
In contrast to every law derived from revelation, nomos for the
Greeks originated in the mind (nous). So the genuine nomos is no
mere obligatory law, but something in which an entity valid in itself
is discovered and appropriated...It is "the order which exists (from
time immemorial), is valid and is put into operation."
Because for the Greeks mind was one being with the ultimate order
of things, man's mind was thus able to discover ultimate law (nomos)
out of its own resources, by penetrating through the maze of accident
and matter to the fundamental ideas of being. As a result, Greek
culture became both humanistic, because man's mind was one with
ultimacy, and also neoplatonic, ascetic, and hostile to the world
of matter, because mind,
to be truly itself, had to separate itself from non-mind.
the religion of the state, locates law in the state and thus makes
the state, or the people as they find expression in the state, the
god of the system. As Mao Tse-Tung has said, "Our God
is none other than the masses of the Chinese people."
In Western culture, law has steadily moved away from God to the
people (or the state) as its source, although the historic power
and vitality of the West has been in Biblical faith and law.
any society, any change of law is an explicit or implicit change
of religion. Nothing more clearly reveals, in fact, the religious
change in a society than a legal revolution. When the legal foundations
shift from Biblical law to humanism, it means that the society now
draws its vitality and power from humanism, not from Christian theism.
Fourth, no disestablishment of religion as such is possible in
any society. A church can be disestablished, and a particular religion
can be supplanted by another, but the change is simply to another
religion. Since the foundations of law are inescapably religious,
no society exists without a religious foundation or without a law-system
which codifies the morality of its religion.
Fifth, there can be no tolerance in a law-system for another
religion. Toleration is a device used to introduce a new law-system
as a prelude to a new intolerance. Legal positivism, a humanistic
faith, has been savage in its hostility to the Biblical law-system
and has claimed to be an "open" system. But Cohen, by no means a
Christian, has aptly described the logical positivists as "nihilists"
and their faith as "nihilistic absolutism."
Every law-system must maintain its existence by hostility to every
other law-system and to alien religious foundations or else it commits
In analyzing now the nature of Biblical law, it is important
to note first that, for the Bible, law is revelation. The Hebrew
word for law is torah which means instruction, authoritative direction.
The Biblical concept of law is broader than the legal codes of the
Mosaic formulation. It applies to the divine word and instruction
in its totality:
...the earlier prophets also use torah for the divine word proclaimed
through them (Is. viii. 16, cf. also v. 20; Isa. xxx. 9 f.; perhaps
also Isa. i. 10). Besides this, certain passages in the earlier
prophets use the word torah also for the commandment of Yahweh which
was written down: thus Hos. viii. 12. Moreover there are clearly
examples not only of ritual matters, but also of ethics.
Hence it follows that at any rate in this period torah had the meaning
of a divine instruction, whether it had been written down long ago
as a law and was preserved and pronounced by a priest, or whether
the priest was delivering it at that time (Lam. ii. 9; Ezek. vii.
26; Mal. ii. 4 ff.), or the prophet is commissioned by God to pronounce
it for a definite situation (so perhaps Isa. xxx. 9).
Thus what is objectively essential in torah is not the form but
the divine authority.
The law is the revelation of God and His righteousness.
There is no ground in Scripture for despising the law. Neither can
the law be relegated to the Old Testament and grace to the New:
The time-honored distinction between the OT as a book of law and
the NT as a book of divine grace is without grounds or justification.
Divine grace and mercy are the presupposition of law in the OT;
and the grace and love of God displayed in the NT events issue in
the legal obligations of the New Covenant. Furthermore, the
OT contains evidence of a long history of legal developments which
must be assessed before the place of law is adequately understood.
Paul's polemics against the law in Galatians and Romans are directed
against an understanding of law which is by no means characteristic
of the OT as a whole.
There is no contradiction between law and grace. The question
in Jame's Epistle is faith and works, not faith and law.
Judaism had made law the mediator between God and man, and between
God and the world. It was this view of law, not the law itself,
which Jesus attacked. As Himself the Mediator, Jesus rejected the
law as mediator in order to re-establish the law in its God-appointed
role as law, the way of holiness. He established the law by dispensing
forgiveness as the law-giver in full support of the law as the convicting
word which makes men sinners.
The law was rejected only as mediator and as the source of justification.
Jesus fully recognized the law, and obeyed the law. It was only
the absurd interpretations of the law He rejected. Moreover,
We are not entitled to gather from the teaching of Jesus in the
Gospels that He made any formal distinction between the Law of Moses
and the Law of God. His mission being not to destroy but to
fulfil the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 5:17), so far from saying anything
in disparagement of the Law of Moses or from encouraging His disciples
to assume an attitude of independence with regard to it, He expressly
recognized the authority of the Law of Moses as such, and of the
Pharisees as its official interpreters. (Mt. 23:1-3).
With the completion of Christ's work, the role of the Pharisees
as interpreters ended, but not the authority of the Law. In the
New Testament era, only apostolically received revelation was ground
for any alteration in the law. The authority of the law remained
St. Peter, e.g. required a special revelation before he would enter
the house of the uncircumcised Cornelius and admit the first Gentile
convert into the Church by baptism (acts 10:1-48) --a step which
did not fail to arouse opposition on the part of those who "were
of the circumcision" (cf. 11:1-18).
The second characteristic of Biblical law is that it is a treaty
or covenant. Kline has shown that the form of the giving of the
law, the language of the text, the historical prologue, the requirement
of imprecations and benedictions, and much more, all point to the
fact that the law is a treaty established by God with His people.
Indeed, "the revelation committed to the two tables was rather a
suzerainty treaty or covenant than a legal code."
The full covenant summary, the Ten Commandments, was inscribed on
each of the two tables of stone, one table or copy of the treaty
for each party in the treaty, God and Israel.
The two stone tables are not, therefore, to be likened to a stele
containing one of the half-dozen or so known legal codes earlier
than or roughly contemporary with Moses as though God had engraved
on these tables a corpus of law. The revelation they contain
is nothing less than an epitome of the covenant granted by Yahweh,
the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, to his elect and redeemed
Not law, but covenant. That must be affirmed when we are seeking
a category comprehensive enough to do justice to this revelation
in its totality. At the same time, the prominence of the stipulations,
reflect in the fact that "the ten words" are the element used as
pars pro toto, signifies the centrality of law in this type of covenant.
There is probably no clearer direction afforded the biblical theologian
for defining with biblical emphasis the type of covenant God adopted
to formalize his relationship to his people than that given in the
covenant he gave Israel to perform, even "the ten commandments."
Such a covenant is a declaration of God's lordship, consecrating
a people to himself in a sovereignly dictated order of life.
This latter phrase needs re-emphasis: the covenant is "a sovereignly
dictated order of life." God as the sovereign Lord and Creator gives
His law to man as an act of sovereign grace. It is an act of election,
of electing grace (Deut. 7:7 f.; 8:17; 9:4-6, etc.).
The God to whom the earth belongs will have Israel for His own property,
Ex. xix. 5. It is only on the ground of the gracious election
and guidance of God that the divine commands to the people are given,
and therefore the Decalogue, Ex. xx. 2, places at its forefront
the fact of election.
In the law, the total life of man is ordered: "there is no primary
distinction between the inner and the outer life; the holy calling
of the people must be realized in both."
The third characteristic of the Biblical law or covenant is that
it constitutes a plan for dominion under God. God called Adam to
exercise dominion in terms of God's revelation, God's law (Gen.
1:26 ff.; 2:15-17). This same calling, after the fall, was required
of the godly line, and in Noah it was formally renewed (Gen. 9:1-17).
It was again renewed with Abraham, with Jacob, with Israel in the
person of Moses, with Joshua, David, Solomon (whose Proverbs echo
the law), with Hezekiah and Josiah, and finally with Jesus Christ.
The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is the renewal of the covenant:
"this is my blood of the new testament" (or covenant), so that the
sacrament itself re-establishes the law, this time with a new elect
group (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The people
of the law are now the people of Christ, the believers redeemed
by His atoning blood and called by His sovereign election. Kline,
in analyzing Hebrews 9:16, 17, in relation to the covenant administration,
...the picture suggested would be that of Christ's children (cf.
2:13) inheriting his universal dominion as their eternal portion
(note 9:15b; cf. also 1:14; 2:5 ff.; 6:17; 11:7 ff.). And
such is the wonder of the messianic Mediator-Testator that the royal
inheritance of his sons, which becomes of force only through his
death, is nevertheless one of co-regency with the living Testator!
For (to follow the typographical direction provided by Heb. 9:16,17
according to the present interpretation) Jesus is both dying Moses
and succeeding Joshua. Not merely after a figure but in truth
a royal Mediator redivivus, he secures the divine dynasty by succeeding
himself in resurrection power and ascension glory.
The purpose of God in requiring Adam to exercise dominion over
the earth remains His continuing covenant word: man, created in
God's image and commanded to subdue the earth and exercise dominion
over it in God's name, is recalled to this task and privilege by
his redemption and regeneration.
The law is therefore the law for Christian man and Christian
society. Nothing is more deadly or more derelict than the notion
that the Christian is at liberty with respect to the kind of law
he can have. Calvin whose classical humanism gained ascendency at
this point, said of the laws of states, of civil governments:
I will briefly remark, however, by the way, what laws it (the state)
may piously use before God, and be rightly governed by among men.
And even this I would have preferred passing over in silence, if
I did not know that it is a point on which many persons run into
dangerous errors. For some deny that a state is well constituted,
which neglects the polity of Moses, and is governed by the common
laws of nations. The dangerous and seditious nature of this
opinion I leave to the examination of others; it will be sufficient
for me to have evinced it to be false and foolish.
Such ideas, common in Calvinist and Lutheran circles, and in
virtually all churches, are still heretical nonsense.
Calvin favored "the common law of nations." But the common law of
nations in his day was Biblical law, although extensively denatured
by Roman law. And this "common law of nations" was increasingly
evidencing a new religion, humanism. Calvin wanted the establishment
of the Christian religion; he could not have it, nor could it last
long in Geneva, without Biblical law.
Two Reformed scholars, in writing of the state, declare, "It
is to be God's servant, for our welfare. It must exercise justice,
and it has the power of the sword."
Yet these men follow Calvin in rejecting Biblical law for "the common
law of nations." But can the state be God's servant and by-pass
God's law? And if the state "must exercise justice," how is justice
defined, by the nations, or by God? There are as many ideas of justice
as there are religions.
The question then is, what law is for the state? Shall it be
positive law, after calling for "justice" in the state, declare,
"A static legislation valid for all times is an impossibility."
Then what about the commandment, Biblical legislation, if you please,
"Thou shalt not kill," and "Thou shalt not steal"? Are they not
intended to valid for all time and in every civil order? By abandoning
Biblical law, these Protestant theologians end up in moral and legal
Roman Catholic scholars offer natural law. The origins of this
concept are in Roman law and religion. For the Bible, there is no
law in nature, because nature is fallen and cannot be normative.
Moreover the source of law is not nature but God. There is no law
in nature but a law over nature, God's law.
Neither positive law [man's law] nor natural law can reflect
more than the sin and apostasy of man: revealed law [e.g. ONLY THE
BIBLE] is the need and privilege of Christian society. It is the
only means whereby man can fulfill his creation mandate of exercising
dominion under God. Apart from revealed law [the BIBLE!], man cannot
claim to be under God but only in rebellion against God.
[The Institutes of Biblical
Law, Rousas John Rushdoony, 1973, The Craig Press, Library
of Congress Catalog Card Number 72-79485, pp. 4-5, Emphasis added]
 Hermann Kleinknecht and W. Gutbrod, Law (London:
Adam and Charles Black, 1962), p. 21
 Mao Tse-Tung, The foolish Old Man Who Removed Mountains
(Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1966), p. 3.
 Morris Raphael Cohen, Reason and Law (New York:
Collier Books, 1961), p. 84 f.
 Ernest F. Kevan, The Moral Law (Jenkintown, Penna.:
Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1963) p. 5 f. S.R. Driver,
“Law (In Old Testament), “in James Hastings, ed., A Dictionary
of the Bible, vol. III (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
1919), p. 64.
 Kleinknecht and Gutbrod, Law, p. 44
 W.J. Harrelson, “Law in the OT,” in The Interpreter’s
Dictionary of the Bible, (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962),
 Kleinknecht an Gutbrod, Law,p. 125.
 Hugh H. Currie, “Law of God,” in James Hastings, ed.,
A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1919), I, 685.
 Olaf Moe, “Law,” in James Hastings, ed., Dictionary
of the Apostolic Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
1919), I, 685.
 Meredith G. Line, Treaty of the Great King,
The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary
(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1963), p. 16.
See also J.A. Thompson: The Ancient Near Easter Treaties
and the Old Testament (London: The Tyndale Press, 1964).
 Kline, op. cit., p. 19.
 Gustave Friedrich Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1883), p. 177.
 Kline, Treaty of the Great King, p. 41.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,
bk. IV, chap. XX, para. Xiv. In the John Allen translation
(Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christina Education, 1936),
II, 787 f.
 See H. de Jongste and J.M. van Krimpen, The Bible
and the Life of the Christian, for similar opinions
(Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1968),
p. 66 ff.
 The very term “nature” is mythical. See R.J. Rushdoony,
“The Myth of Nature,” in The Mythology of Science (Nutley,
N.J.: The Craig Press, 1967), pp. 96-98.