Does God's Law Apply to Us Today? (Part I)
I don’t have to tell you that the United States is in trouble. Some of our trouble is external: The Iranians, the Invasion of our Southern Border that brings illegal aliens that continue to kill our citizens, divide our country, and drain our national resources. There’s belligerent North Korea and then there’s the Chinese who are buying our debt and reminding us that we are spending our children’s prosperity.
But some of our problems are internal. Probably the most stressing is the out-of-control violent crime in America. We’ve heard about it for so long that we're numb to it. In 2011 over 14,000 people were murdered and about 83,000 were reported raped, yet there were only 43 executions of murderers in 2012. In fact, the trend today is toward banning capital punishment across the American states.
Much time and money is wasted providing sociological reasons for why crime prevails in our nation: poverty, race, self-esteem. But the ultimate problem is not racial or psychological: it’s spiritual. In short, God has provided a criminal justice system, but America is moving away from that justice system on the fast track.
In an earlier article, I made the argument that American law should be based on the Bible. I also gave some quotes supporting that early Americans believed that law, morality, and the Bible were connected. But how far do we take that? Can we pull random verses from the Bible and start applying them? God ordered the Israelites to wipe out whole populations: can we do that today with, say, the Iranians?
In this essay my goal is to clarify what we mean when we say that the Bible is the basis of our laws.
Slaying the Amalekites
First, we’re not talking about making laws from the whole Bible. As an example, God’s order to King Saul to wipe out the Amalekites was a command given at one time to one man. On many occasions, the Bible records that God came to someone and told them to carry out some act of His will. No one is suggesting that we take those divine commands given to individuals and arbitrarily apply them to the whole of American society.
One of the features of Biblical law is that it applies to all mankind equally. The “picking and choosing” of Biblical events and applying them as laws with severe punishments would destroy any regularity of the law.
Second, we’re not talking about applying every rule given by Moses. Mixed in with the moral law, Moses gave to Israel many rules that helped distinguish the nation of Israel as a unique people, a people separated to God. Many of the rules from the Mosaic economy no longer apply today and the Bible says as much.
So, what contents from the Bible apply to nations today? The body of rules that apply to our law today is the moral law, the standards of righteousness that were made known to men and given to mankind with the Mosaic Law, yet made known to mankind prior to it. This moral law is the basis for the law of the three great monotheistic religions of the World, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
The Law of God & Unbelievers
The Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law
The Bible distinguishes between moral laws and ceremonial laws. The moral laws are those laws that are unchanging and are rooted in God’s character. The prohibition on rape, for example, would be an example of a moral law. The act in-and-of-itself is wrong. However, there were other laws, ceremonial laws, which were a part of the Covenant that God made with Israel. These laws were symbolic. For example, we are told that the sacrifices of bull and goats could not wash away sin (Hebrews 10:4). They were a picture or “type” of the perfect sacrifice to be offered by Messiah. These ordinances have now “passed away.”
God's Criminal Justice System
Today the number of laws and rules generated by the federal government is staggering. The United States Federal Register is published every day except weekends and holidays. Each publication is hundreds of pages, filled with the statutes, decisions, and rules of the federal government. In 2010, the Register was over 85,000 pages and weighs over 100 pounds. In contrast, the laws that God gave to Moses were relatively few. While there were about 400 rules under the Levitical Code, there really is only one Great Commandment and from that Great Commandment flow the other rules.
The Great Commandment
What is the great commandment? It’s given in Deuteronomy 6:5 which says
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Jesus said that the second commandment was like the great commandment:
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Matthew 22:39)
So, the Great Commandment has two parts: love God and love our neighbor. All other commandments are rooted in these two commandments. Furthermore, Jesus said that “On these two commandments [loving God and loving our neighbor] hang all the law and the prophets (vs. 40).” The other laws and prophecies “hang” or “rest” on the two great commandments. The “law” would include the next set of instructions: the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments
You’re probably more familiar with the Ten Commandments since it's been controversial of late. Back in 1980 in Stone v. Graham, the Supreme Court banned the display of the Commandments in the schools. The Ten Commandments more fully give man an idea of what it means to love God and love our neighbor. The Ten Commandments are
Thou shalt have no other Gods before me
Thou shalt not make any graven image
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
Remember the Sabbath day
Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness
Thou shalt not covet
The Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20: 3-17 and are referred to as the “Ten Commandments” three times in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4). These prohibitions are necessary, but not sufficient, to keep the Great Commandment. In other words, just because you keep these commandments does not mean you love God. However, a man that loves God will keep these commandments. Jesus clarified this order. He said in John 14:15:
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
Love is first; the commandment second. Of course, this does not imply that a man is at liberty to break the commandments if he doesn’t love God! If a man does not love God, he should at least obey because he fears Him. Such a man is, at least, wise.
The Ten Commandments are based on the Great Commandment. Commands such as “do not kill” or “do not commit adultery” are summarized in the statement “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Romans 13:8-9).” Paul goes on to tell us in vs. 10 that
love [is] the fulfilling of the law
So, when we’re careful not to covet our neighbor’s property or his wife, when we are careful not to harm him, honor our parents, and bear no false witness, these are acts of love toward others.
When we keep the commandments, we are practicing those acts that are loving toward God and man. Now that doesn’t mean that our hearts are toward God and man. We might obey begrudgingly, harboring contempt for both. This is simple enough to relate to: a woman could act respectfully toward her husband, but have no respect for him in her heart. In the same way, we can act with love toward God and our neighbor without having a heart toward them. But the act of respect, even if not genuine, is still salutary.
Now, the Ten Commandments provide a summary of God’s moral standards in the form of prohibitions. But, how are these commands promulgated and what are the penalties if they’re broken? Are there exceptions to the general rule? This is where the Mosaic Law comes in.
This essay continues with "Does God's Law Apply to Us Today"? (Part II).
© 2010 William R Bowen Jr