Re: Shapes of a Wedge

From: Innovatia <>
Date: Fri Jun 04 2004 - 14:01:24 EDT

This is a multi-part message in MIME format.
Precedence: bulk

From: "George Murphy" <>, ASA Listserver

> Dennis -
> I'll comment below on some specifics but here let me make two general
> remarks.
> Your statements simply don't adhere to the text you keep referring to,
> Dt.4:2. There may be some analogy between Jewish circumcision and Christian
> baptism, though the NT in fact makes no such connection. But one does not
> fulfill the torah commands about circumcising males by baptizing males &
> females. Gen.17:9-14 says "You must circumcise," not "You must have an
> initiation ritual." Similarly the Sabbath commandment is not satisfied by
> setting aside some day for worship and the regulations about clean & unclean
> foods are not satisfied by having a healthy diet.
> & there are many other laws which Christians have never made a big deal
> about but just quietly dropped. If we find mold or mildew on our basement
> walls we don't feel we have to follow the procedures in Lev.14. I won't
> bother to multiply examples.
> & similar things can be said about additions to "biblical law." Try as
> we might we can't get laws about air traffic control or the regulation of
> nuclear power plants from torah. Sure, we can get some very general
> guidance - try not to harm people, don't steal, &c - but it's the most
> fictitious of legal fictions to think that you can actually deal with those
> things strictly in accord with Dt.4:2, torah & only torah. & when it comes
> to something like reproductive human cloning, "biblical law" gives
> essentially no answer at all.
> This is not all to say that the laws of torah are of no value. Even
> beyond the 10 Commandments they can give pretty good guidance in a number of
> areas. We don't have to follow the exact procedure of letting the land
> "rest" given in Lev.25 but the basic idea of stewardship of the land is
> important. Again, however, we are not just using torah & nothing but
> torah.

I have given you (and Dave) the impression that I am arguing for
strict adherence to the letter of the OT law. As I have been trying
to convey, I am making a somewhat different argument, namely that, in
view of the NT treatment of the law, American Christians have tended
to discount its applicability to church-state doctrine. I agree that
obedience to the letter of the law ("torah") is not the same as
retaining the validity of its intent. But in discounting the former,
the latter is often not distinguished from it, and is also
discounted. Hence my emphasis upon retaining the law, but not in the
manner attributed to me.

I recognize that the value of the law to us is in its intent, and
that includes the intent of Deut. 4:2 as a general principle about
law itself. By upholding the intent of the law, it is possible to
claim a biblical basis for one's moral conclusions for today. I am
not intending to argue that most of OT law can be applied verbatim.
That misses the larger point.

To disregard the law's intent is what I take to be subtracting from
the law. My concern about adding to the law is that legislators,
making laws, are engaged in an exercise that is a form of original
sin. When Adam determined to know good and evil for himself (i.e.,
make up his own laws), he commited the mother of all sins. Case law
is different in principle than legislative law because the former
acknowledges the authority of an existing body of law from which to
interpret for particular cases, while the latter leaves it up to
humanity (legislators, kings, the people) to determine right and
wrong for themselves. This is how I understand Deut. 4:2, not in the
sense that the letter of the torah must be followed as such today.

> Then because Christians are not bound to follow "biblical law" in that
> detailed sense, the claim that they are only to obey civil laws that are in
> accord with "biblical law" falls to the ground.

Of course. But I have not been demanding this restricted view of the
law, as I tried to clarify in previous email. Christians are bound to
follow biblical law in the wider NT sense, but it does not follow
that the intent of the law (NT taken into account) can be disregarded
in assessing the laws of worldly states, in deciding whether we
should submit to them or not.

> Peter & Paul state no such
> condition when they command obedience to the Roman authorities just as
> Jeremiah stated no such condition when he urged the exiles in Babylon to
> settle down there & to pray for the city's welfare in Jer.29. & since P&P &
> Jeremias weren't ignorant of the fact that Rome & Babylon respectively
> weren't governed by biblical law, this is not (as you suggest below) simply
> an argument from silence.

Peter and Paul DO qualify who these higher authorities are, and both
give essentially the same qualifications (Romans 13:3-5): they are
those who (1 Peter 2:14) " ... punish those who do evil and to praise
those who do good." What I have not heard from you (or Dave) is how
you take this qualification into account in identifying the higher
authorities. If it IS taken into account, and if it refers to good
and evil as understood biblically (hence the side-discussion about
law), then not everyone who holds a gun to your head is a "higher
authority" unless they are supressing what biblically is wrong when
they do it.

No ruler is consistently good or bad, so the authorities P & P speak
of must be identified in their individual acts/laws. That means we
are to submit to Caesar when he upholds what is (biblically) good,
and disobey him when he violates God's law (or NT morality, if you
prefer to call it that). I see no other way to arrive at a consistent
position. Paul says submit to good rule, yet he was executed by the
Roman state for a capital offense against it. Was he inconsistent? I
don't think so. He didn't submit to bad rule.

Jeremiah and Paul both instruct prayer for rulers. But of what does
this prayer consist? It is for God to approve evil men in power, but
that the ruler would make social conditions optimal for the
preservation (presumably) of God's people (Jeremiah) or for the
spread of the gospel (Paul).

> > I would agree that many situations today (in medical ethics, for instance)
> > were not covered in particular OT laws, of course, but the basic legal
> > principles are adequate to provide a foundation for deciding how to behave
> > in these newer cases. Some regard the Ten Commandments as being
> > comprehensive in covering all the bases of human social concern. The basic
> > intent of the law is the key to understanding and applying it.
> But again one hardly is following the injunction to "nor take away anything
> from it" if one drops all of torah except the Decalogue!

That wasn't really my meaning. The Decalogue is viewed (e.g., by
George E. Mendenhall in his famous 1950s paper on ancient Mideast
suzerainty treaties) as an "executive summary" of the whole of the
law, and that the law is comprehensive in that it does not exclude
any basic area of human moral concern.

> > There is also still a place for case law, which is the result of
> > jurisprudence.
> Sure, but many of the regulations of torah are casuistic.

I regard the case law of the OT as particular examples of more
general principles, thereby requiring induction. A few may be cultic,
but many are illustrative of a principle.

> > > I don't know what it means to say that the Galatians (I assume
> you
> > > mean the Judaizers who were trying to win over the Galatians) used the
> law
> > > "illegally." The law says men have to be circumcised, observe the
> > Sabbath,
> > > &c. Nothing illegal about that. In Galatians Paul doesn't say that
> what
> > > his opponents were arguing for was "illegal" or present some legal
> > argument
> > > against them. Instead he tells the Galatians that "now that faith has
> > come,
> > > we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian" (3:25).
> >
> > Illegal in that the Galatians were attempting to use the law in a way that
> > controverted the law itself. In Paul's exposition to the Galatians about
> the
> > wrong use of the law, the issue (as I understand it) was not whether the
> OT
> > law is good and applicable but whether one can be justified by keeping it
> > within one's own experience as a Christian. The inability to fully keep
> the
> > law was the issue. The Galatians reduced the broad claims and stringent
> > demands of the law to something they could satisfy within their human
> > experience. By supposing they could "keep" the law, this implied that a
> > sacrifice for sins was unnecessary, for anyone who does not sin does not
> > need atonement, and does not need the gospel. This reduction of the law is
> > not allowed by the law. (Deut. 4:2) It also denied the gospel in the
> > sacrificial part of the law, thereby denying the law, which is illegal for
> a
> > covenant people to do.
> 1st, Paul's opponents in Galatia were not trying to replace faith in
> Christ with obedience to torah.

They appeared to be in danger of it; hence the letter: Galatians 1:6 (ESV)
     I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called
you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-

Hence Paul's instruction about law and grace: Galatians 5:4 (ESV)
     You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the
law; you have fallen away from grace.

> > > As to the idea that we're not supposed to add to or take away from
> > > the law: In its earliest years the Christian church did just that with
> > > three of the primary precepts of torah - circumcision, food laws, &
> > Sabbath
> > > observance.
> >
> > Some traditions would consider baptism the NT observance of what
> > circumcision entailed. The Sabbath was widely observed by all early
> > Christian traditions not under the papacy (Syriac Church of the East, the
> > Vaudois, Celtic and Italic churches, etc.) and today by some Christians.
> As
> > for the food laws, it was given for a purpose, to protect Israel from
> > various diseases that God promised they would not suffer from if the law
> > were kept. Peter's vision establishes that these laws were circumstantial;
> > I'll grant that. But how are we to distinguish the generality or
> specificity
> > of OT laws unless we are biblically informed, such as in Peter's case?
> > Peter's vision provides us a precedent in how to distinguish the law's
> > general versus particular doctrines.
> I've already commented on this. As to the Sabbath, it's clear that
> Christians were worshipping regularly on Sunday well before the authority of
> the Bishop of Rome extended significantly beyond Rome: Justin Martyr treats
> this as a matter of course in his 1st Apology c.150 A.D.

It might be best to defer this strand of discussion on early church
practices, which might involve a forerunner of the papacy, a
contemporary of Justin in Rome, Simon Magus. I would agree that many
early churches met on both Saturday and Sunday, but more on Saturday
if the Church of the East and the "barbarians" are included.

> Furthermore, one
> doesn't show that some practice is in error simply by attributing it to the
> papacy, which for all its mistakes has often exercised its authority for
> good - cf.. Chalcedon.

Of course. But it appears to have originated in the gnostic
influences of the generic papacy - a possibly different discussion.

> > I don't want to affirm this position too simplistically. I recognize that
> > discerment of the purpose of the law is essential (especially since much
> of
> > the OT law is given as illustrative case law). But I am also wary of
> > Christians nowadays as being too free in its interpretation so as to
> engage
> > in new law-making. Complications such as these in adjudicating God's law
> > must be dealt with by jurisprudence, leading to a body of case law. I
> don't
> > claim that living by biblical law is trivial in practice! It wasn't for OT
> > Israel. But I see it being laid aside too easily nowadays, to the
> detriment
> > of those left with only their own moral sensibilities as their guide.
> Again Christians should certainly take "biblical law" - & not just the
> 10 Commandments into account in ethical decision making, whether individual
> or social. But that is far from the whole story. What role does Christ
> have in your understanding of ethics? Does the guidance of the Holy Spirit
> in the Church make any difference? Do our brains make any difference?

I understand the law as the obligations of the human party in God's
covenant with Israel (OT or NT). Christ is the faithful human
covenant partner who satisfies the obligations on Israel's behalf. In
satisfying them, Christ established their continued relevance for his
followers, brought the focus on OT law back to its intent, and
spelled out the radical implications of this intent, such as in the
Sermon on the Mount. (More implications are Peter's vision, picking
grain in the fields on the Sabbath, etc., as discussed.) In short,
Christ revealed the greater - indeed, the ultimate - meaning of the
law as the perfect law-keeper himself. The Spirit directs Christians
to understand the law as it was intended by God, as revealed in
Christ. This is not a trivial exercise (brains needed), for its
adjudication takes discernment to apply wisely, and to appreciate
(with the Pslamist) its wonders.

My overall concern here is that I don't see much of the American
church looking to the law of God in this way for moral guidance on
God and government. I put it in terms of the law of God instead of
word of God or instruction of Christ or biblical morality or example
of Christ because what defines governments, including the kingdom of
God, is its law.

The dominant AmXn attitude appears to me to be an overreaction to
wooden legal literalism and has become one of liberation from the law
- not from its impossible demands, but from the law itself. The
result is a church ill-prepared to know when and when not to submit
to Caesar.

> > >More generally, some recent NT scholars (e.g., Mark Powell of
> > > Trinity Lutheran Seminary) have argued that the language about the
> > > authority of the church to "bind and loose" in Mt does not refer (as has
> > > been traditionally thought) to the authority to forgive or retain sins
> (as
> > > in Jn.20:23) but to its authority to say whether or not particular parts
> > of
> > > torah are to be applied in a given situation. It's clear, as I noted,
> > that
> > > the church _has_ done this. This doesn't mean that churches - let alone
> > > individual Christians - can just casually ignore aspects of the law that
> > > they don't like. But it suggests, e.g., that the church as a whole
> could
> > > decide (trusting in the Spirit's guidance) that biblical condemnations
> of
> > > homosexual acts do not applied to Christians in committed same-sex
> unions.
> > > Whether or not the church should do that is, of course, a matter for
> > debate.
> >
> > That's basically the Romanist position of church vs scripture.
> There is no "Romanist position of church _vs_ scripture." This is
> frankly an insulting statement on which any competent Roman Catholic
> theologians will be glad to set you straight.

(Powell's insight is interesting.)

I don't mean that the Romanists consider that their position opposes
scripture, but simply that Romanists have taken a position in which
their (papal) claims oppose scripture. Numerous examples of papal
edict over scripture down through the centuries of papal rule could
be cited.

But let me back up a bit from this response, because I see that what
you probably meant was that the scriptures empower the church to make
judgments. I agree, as long as the resulting case law is
distinguished from the biblical law upon which it is based. In the
case of the papacy, this distinction is entirely problematic. Using
scripture to make judgments is not the same as creating new

> >I am wary of it in view of the scriptural emphasis upon the eternal nature
> of God's law.
> > The church, as representative in the world of Christ's kingdom, must
> > exercise such discernment, but (as you might be intimating) must do so by
> > adjudicating God's law. The homosexual issue would be an instance of what
> > the church should adjudicate (Paul to Corinthians urges adjudication by
> the
> > church), however the conclusions or legal reasoning might end up.
> In view of the fact that the law _has_ been changed - again,
> circumcision, Sabbath, kosher - it's hard to argue that it's "eternal" in
> any meaningful sense. It is Jesus Christ who is "the same yesterday, and
> today, and forever." But if you want to call the procedure for change
> "adjudicating" rather than "binding & loosing" I have no objection.

You're right; it's only as long as heaven and earth persist: Matthew 5:18 (ESV)
     For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an
iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Yes, the function of the two expressions looks similar or identical.
Powell is onto something, it appears.

> > > & none of the above give any detailed guidance about what kind of
> > > laws Christians might find acceptable for a pluralistic society. But it
> > > does mean that Christians can be much freer about such legal structures
> > than
> > > any considerations about Old testament laws might suggest.
> >
> > My concern was what biblical govt would be like, not a society (such as
> > America) with a declared humanistic ethical base (in which "we the people"
> > decide right and wrong). No human law-making is biblically acceptable, if
> I
> > understand the plain meaning of Deut. 4:2; 12:32.
> To the extent that those texts are concerned with laws for society they
> are applicable only to ancient Israel. There is nothing at all in Dt.4:2 to
> suggest that a Jew living in Babylon or Egypt shouldn't obey the laws
> concerning marriage, contracts, penalties for crimes, &c of Babylon or
> Egypt. We can assume that Jeremiah didn't want the exiles to worship
> Babylonian idols but he doesn't tell them to follow the commands of torah
> and destroy them.

Yes, those texts contain transcultural principles, though the letter
of the law was given to cultic Israel. In our case, just as Jeremiah
would not have promoted idolatry, AmXns should not promote government
in which representatives of the people determine right and wrong for
themselves, for this is what law-making is. That does not mean that
we are called by God to overturn Washington through armed rebellion,
but we can avoid participation in its law-making institutions. Yet
this has largely not been done. Disentanglement from the evils of the
world-system can be difficult and carry a price which most AmXns are
not willing to pay at this time.

> > I think we might have a
> > different conception of how the Christian is to understand his/her
> position
> > politically, perhaps. If a Christian lives under a government that does
> not
> > acknowledge Christ as having authority over it, then we find ourselves in
> a
> > jurisdiction that, at a basic level, is in rebellion to the jurisdiction
> > (Christ's rule) that we have given all our loyalties to. The basic
> > relationship is one of tension, and it is to the extent that the earthly
> > power repudiates Christ's authority (i.e., biblical govt).
> Roman authorities defied Christ's authority when they demanded that
> Christians swear by the genius of the emperor but not when they required the
> payment of taxes for building Roman roads or maintaining the legions -
> neither of which is commanded by torah.

Agreed, the general principle from the "submission texts" being that
when powers demand what is right, we submit to them; when they don't,
we don't.

The tax issue is not as simple as it appears, though your point as it
stands is well taken. Paul in Rom. 13: 7 says: "... If you owe taxes,
pay taxes; ..." One consideration is whether taxes are biblically
owed. Paul at the same time urges Christians to be as free of such
obligations as is possible (v 8). For U.S. taxation, the matter is
complicated to the point where I will only refer those interested to
XLM or off-list discussion. It is not without good reason that in
recent years, Congress has considered abolishing the federal income

> > I agree that we have a certain freedom in regard to OT law in that God
> gives
> > us a role in adjudicating it, and that of course includes its
> > interpretation. My concern is that I see AmXny largely doing what the Gang
> > of Nine in DC do - legislate from the bench, as it were.
> It seems to me that even though you claim to be neither adding to or
> subtracting from biblical law, you are in fact interpreting it in a way
> rather like the way the Warren Court sometimes interpreted the constitution!

I am saying that we shouldn't do that, not that I have entirely succeeded!

>> The law of stoning
> > bad youth actually has some stiff legal requirements - not a casual
> > undertaking. If such an event were to occur today, I suspect that the
> spirit
> > of lawlessness grown up between generations would not be nearly as
> > pronounced as it is. Why did God give this law, anyway, if not to aid in
> > preserving society? I'm not saying parents necessarily should do this
> today,
> > but I wouldn't discard it simply because it bothers my 21st-century moral
> > conditioning.
> What "stiff legal requirements"? Dt.21:18-21 says that if a son is
> stubborn & rebellious & won't obey his parents they should take him to the
> elders of the city, tell them that he's stubborn & rebellious & disobedient,
> & they shall stone him to death. It's pretty simply. And it's not
> optional. So if you really take Dt.4:2 seriously you _should_ say that
> parents necessarily should do this today.

First, both parents must agree. (That's not always so simple!)
Instead of stoning him immediately, they must do it publicly and
before the city leaders, which means that they are not going to be
inclined to do this on an emotional whim if they want to keep their
social standing. Social pressure is involved. Furthermore, if their
judgment is faulty, the city leaders have a chance to talk them out
of it (though the parents retain the authority in the matter).
Finally, they must be the executioners of their own son. Under these
conditions, I doubt that this happened very often, only in clear-cut
cases. I can't recall any instances of it in OT history.

Parents should have this kind of authority. In America, they do have
it in a perverted sense, as abortion rights. Even if it were not
exercised but only known in families that it could be, it would have
a profound effect on how rebellious children related to their parents.

Parents should have the authority to do this today, but they don't
because they don't live under biblical govt, unlike the situation in
ancient Israel. Deut 4:2 as a legal principle applies in that we
would be motivated to not disregard the rebellious-child law. (Again,
I'm not ignoring the fact that in the light of the NT, how the intent
of this OT law is implemented need not be exactly the same.) One of
the consequences of govt suppression of biblical law is that
Christians cannot live as they could under biblical govt - hence the
desire for biblical govt. (How it is achieved is a different

An example somewhat like this that is operative today is child
discipline by spanking. Proverbs explicitly condones it. Yet the
state govts take children away from Christian parents because of it.
Xn parents are faced with the choice of raising their children under
their authority as they see fit or else having them taken from them
by the state. It's a lose-lose situation for them and the parents
cannot be as righteous (assuming you agree with spanking) as they
otherwise could be under a less evil govt.

> > > However, the state is clearly not in
> > > > accord with biblical teaching in inserting itself into marriages and
> > > > therefore should not be heeded in this matter. It has no jurisdiction
> > > there.
> > >
> > > You are adding to what Romans and I Peter when you say that and
> > are
> > > therefore inconsistent with your own principles. If the state has a
> > > regulation about couples getting a license if they intend to marry then
> > they
> > > should do so, just as they should buy dog or fishing licenses. (The
> > > comparisons do not reflect my view of marriage!) Of course if the state
> > > ordered a man to divorce his wife and marry another woman there would be
> a
> > > problem.
> >
> > It is not from Rom 13/1 Peter 2 that I am making this argument but from
> > Deut. 4:2; 12:32. Which is the controlling text? I don't think Rom/Peter
> > addresses it, but Deut does explicitly.
> & as I've pointed out in detail, you don't follow Dt.4:2.
> The state can of course make bad laws about marriage & families &
> Christians may feel that they have to oppose them, even to the point of
> civil disobedience. But the fact that the law can't be reduced to "biblical
> law" doesn't make it ipso facto bad.

I understand that there is nothing in scripture which says: don't get
a marriage license. I am saying something different, that the state
has no grounds from scripture to require marriage licenses. Scripture
does not approve it, unless you want to argue that whatever scripture
does not expressly deny the state is allowed by Rom 13/1 Peter 2.

Yet from those "submission texts" the state is not allowed any more
authority than scripture affirms because it is established by God "to
punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good." That
subjects state authority to God's law. If I infer from God's law that
the state is not allowed usurpation of authority God has given to
parents, the only "addition" to scripture that I see is the inference

Even if the authority of the state were not conditioned by God's law
in the submission texts, on the grounds of Acts 5:29, the legal
consequences of a marriage license are in conflict with scripture
because, in most U.S. state laws, the authority that scripture gives
parents over their children is denied them and usurped by the state.
The legal nexus giving the state this authority under state law (for
most states) is the license. Either you can function as a biblically
normative parent without a license or else knuckle under to the state
and get one. It's either/or.

> But the fact that the law can't be reduced to "biblical
> law" doesn't make it ipso facto bad.

If "biblical law" is understood as general principles (not cultic
particulars), and if the scope of these principles is morally
comprehensive, then such biblical law will always be able to be used
to judge human laws, as to whether they are in harmony or conflict
with scripture. Christians might differ over the judgments, but in
principle, jurisdiction of Christ's kingdom, hence its law, is
universal over the nations. So I would look at it the other way, from
the standpoint of whether biblical law can be reduced to apply to the
content of particular human laws.


Dennis Feucht
Received on Fri Jun 4 14:44:27 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Jun 04 2004 - 14:44:27 EDT