The Application of the Biblical Law to Civil Government

Some general, perhaps random, thoughts on…

The Application of the Biblical Law to Civil Government 300px-Decalogue_jekuthiel_sofer_1768

  1. The Bible addresses the proper role of Civil Government in both the Old and new Testaments
  2. That Civil Government as a Divine Institution
    1. Is implied in the Dominion Mandate (Gen 1:26-28) when it established mankind as a regulatory institution that rules over “every living thing” including mankind.
    2. Is clearly defined as such in Romans 13 where rulers are called God’s ministers for good.
    3. Borders of civil jurisdiction fall within the scope of divine providential determination (Acts 17: 26-28).
    4. Civil jurisdictions will face divine judgment and will survive the present earth and exist in the New Heavens and New Earth.
      1. “It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in that day than for this city.”
      2. He shall call all the nations before him and shall “separate THEM,” the sheep from the goats.
      3. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the Nations.
      4. Among our eternal rewards will be the rule of cities and assemblages of cities, i.e. geographic regions.
  3. The OT establishes applicable principles and limits for civil government.
  4. As stated above, God will judge Civil Jurisdictions
    1. Cities
    2. Nations
  5.  Limits
    1. Cities of Refuge
      1. Civil government should provide for and place appropriate limits on acts of personal retribution.
    2. Eye for eye
      1. Civil government should place limits on the extent of punishment for specific offenses. The punishment should not exceed the magnitude of the crime.
        1. This is the meaning of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
    3. The most extreme punishments should be prohibited except in the case of clear and verifiable evidence
      1. In the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses shall every word be established.
      2. Degrees of provability are acceptable for determination of guilt but severity of punishment is limited by the degree of certainty of the evidence.
      3. Death Penalty limited by degree of certainty
  6. Concerning the death penalty, it was first given to Noah (Gen 9:6) for all mankind and only in the case of murder. According to the biblical passage, this was for the preservation of the dignity of human life and its significance and sanctity as creatures made in God’s image.  Apparently this is a punishment that is appropriate in all cultures IF properly applied.  The fact that other offences were not initially added but were added under the Mosaic covenant is an indication that these are not a necessity for mankind as a whole, though they might be considered in certain cultures and under certain circumstances but only as limitations, not as mandatory prescriptions and then, ONLY when rightly understood and applied and with great caution.
  7. God’s patterns of government serve as our patterns, showing where civil government’s proper functions and legitimate limits are.
  8. Specific application of biblical legal prescriptions and proscriptions.
    1. Human civil government shall not exceed the biblical design.
      1. What God authorized for civil government is right. In other wise, if God authorized a certain penalty a particular offense, then that offense may be regulated and the punishment inflicted upon the offender shall not, if applied, exceed the penalty biblically prescribed.
      2. There should never be any penalty that exceeds the magnitude of the crime.
      3. Death penalty may be permitted for certain offenses but we must endeavor to understand
        1. The nature of the offense actually being punished.
          1. For example, was the death penalty for homosexual acts merely a condemnation of the sexual behavior or was it a condemnation of the idolatry associated with the acts? And we must ask under what degree of evidence could this most extreme penalty be applied?
        2. The application of the principle of the law versus the application of the form of the law. Sometimes it is wise to adapt the principle being addressed into a more contemporary form or expression.
        3. The proper application of the specific restrictions and related punishments.
          1. With regard to whether what are perceived to be the extreme regulations of moral behavior should be applicable to us today there are several points to be considered.
          2. It is a common objection that biblical law should not be a guide to our concept of civil government because of such extreme punishments as the death penalty for homosexuality, adultery, etc. under Moses. This seems to be outrageous to our modern mind. It is a challenge to engage this topic because of the emotional dynamics on all sides but it may be helpful to consider these points:
            1. Some moral law should not be civilly implemented but should be left to the conscience of the individual as long as the behavior presents no harm to others or to society as a whole. This is a biblical principle by the way in that persons not born Jews could adopt the Jewish religion but on a strictly voluntary basis.  And, the Mosaic moral code, though it was a vast improvement over that of the surrounding cultures, it was only enforceable within Israel.
            2. Moral law, which is advisable to implement civilly, cannot be effectively implemented civilly without a social consensus.
        4. The application of the law as practiced by the Jews. For example, though death by stoning was authorized in scripture for disobedience to parents, it was never carried out in a single circumstance, but rather served as reminder of the severity of the offense and a warning of its deleterious effect on the culture.
        5. The biblical context of the regulation.
          1. Some laws and associated penalties were transitional in that they were a lessening of severity from what had previously been practiced.
          2. In some cases, what seem to be strictures on women, for example, are actually an elevation of women from what was previously practiced and was practiced at the time by surrounding cultures.
          3. Some biblical regulations are to be understood not as God’s ideal prescriptions, but as His regulation of man’s fallen condition in an imperfect world. For example, God “hates divorce.”  We can properly conclude therefore that he does not approve of it, yet, he divorced Israel and he regulates divorce, permitting it in certain circumstances in both Israel and the church.  Why does he permit and regulate divorce? Not because he approves of it, but because of the “hardness of your hearts,” Jesus said.
  9. A rejection of the present applicability of biblical law to present society because some portions are perceived to be extreme, does a great disservice in disconnecting society from the many redeeming aspects of biblical law when properly applied to culture. The following ideas are not just good ideas but ideas with divinely sanctioned:
    1. Representative constitutional government
    2. Separation of powers
    3. Limited civil powers
    4. Due process
    5. Equal Justice (the equality of all men before the law)
    6. Proper treatment of the disadvantaged
    7. Proper treatment of livestock
    8. Laws against bribes and prohibitions of financial gain resulting from holding a position of power
    9. Self determination
      1. Private property
      2. Whosoever will…
      3. The numerous scriptures on enjoyment of life
    10. Respect for the rights, liberties, and property of others
      1. Restrain your unruly ox
      2. Do not commit murder
      3. Do not harm your neighbor with a lie
      4. Do not steal
      5. Do not covet your neighbors’…
  10. These principles, applicable to just civil government, are drawn ALMOST ENTIRELY from the Old Testament.