A Catechism on God’s Law (Part 13)

Based on Greg Bahnsen’s “By This Standard,” (1991).

  1. What about the making of moral judgements?

Jesus deemed the Ten Commandments to be authoritative- but not uniquely so. When he was asked to judge which commandments should be kept in order to enter eternal life, he made use of the Decalogue (Mat.19:16-19; Mk.10:17-19). However at the same time He included the relevant case law, “Do not defraud (Mk.10:19, from Deut.24:14), and the summary command, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mat.19:19, from Lev.19:18). He used the extra Decalogical commands just as authoritatively as the Decalogue’s own requirements.

Indeed, when asked to judge which was the greatest commandment in the entire Old Testament, Jesus did not go to the Ten Commandments at all, but chose rather two laws outside the Decalogue: love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself (Mk.12:28-31, from Deut.6:4-5 and Lev.19:18).

…According to Jesus the “greatest” commandments- the “first of all”- on which “the whole law hangs” were the extra-Decalogical love commandments (Mat.22:33, 36; Mk.12:28, 31). The problem with the Pharisees, said the Lord, was precisely that they attended to the minor details of the law (tithing) and “have left undone the weightier matters of the law- justice, and mercy, and faith” (Mat.23:23), that is, “the love of God” (Luke 11:42).

It is important at just this point that we pay attention to Jesus’ words, for He does not encourage exclusive attention to the weightier love commandments of the Old Testament law. He says quite precisely, “These things you ought to have done and not to have left the other undone.” Our obligation to the weightier matters of the law does not cancel our obligation to the minor details (p.125-127).

  1. What of the law and sexual ethics?

When Paul prohibits marrying an unbeliever, he cites the Old Testament requirement that unlike animals are not to be yoked together (II Cor.6:14, from Deut.22:10). “Be not unequally yoked together” is a well-known verse used by many pastors to discourage their young people from marrying outside the faith, and yet many of those pastors will elsewhere insist that the believer is not under the requirements of the Old Testament law!

When Paul was confronted with the wicked situation of incest within the church, his moral judgement on the matter was taken from the Old Testament prohibition (I Cor.5:1, based on Lev.18:8 and Deut.22:30)…When he delivered his apostolic judgement as to the immorality of homosexuality, he simply reiterated the standard of the Old Testament (Ro.1:26-27, 32, from Lev.18:22 and 20:13).

  1. What about the law and economics?

…The New Testament makes unhindered use of the Old Testament commandments in Christian moral judgements. Paul’s argument that congregations should pay their pastors is especially enlightening as to the extent of the law’s validity. He argues from the case law principle of the Old Testament that “You shall not muzzle the ox as it treads” (I Cor.9:9, from Deut.25:4), thereby revealing the assumed contemporary authority of the laws outside the Decalogue. An invalid rule would be useless here. But even more striking is Paul’s willingness to appeal to the moral principle embodied in one of the ceremonial laws! Pastors should earn their livelihood from the gospel ministry because priests derived their sustenance from the altar (I Cor.9:13-14, based on such texts as Lev.6:16, 26, 7:6, 31ff; Num.5:9-10; 19:8-20, 31; Deut.18:1)…

In a related economic matter James delivered a moral judgement regarding the rich who fraudulently withhold their workers’ pay, basing his judgement of the Old Testament law requiring prompt pay for workers (James 5:4, from Lev.19:13 and Deut.24:14-15). In financial matters, no less than in sexual matters, the New Testament practice was to utilise the Old Testament moral standards of God’s law (p.129-130).

  1. What about inter-personal relationships?

Few Christians will dispute the New Testament standard that we ought not to avenge ourselves but rather go to the one who wrongs us and show him his fault (Ro.12:19; Mat.18:15), and yet this standard is taken directly from the Old Testament law at Leviticus 19:17-18. Another commonly endorsed New Testament ethical judgement which is in fact based on the Old Testament law is the injunction to care for one’s enemies (Mat.5:44; Ro.12:20, rooted in the illustration of Ex.23:4-5). As often as Christians condemn private vengeance and hatred of one’s enemies, they reaffirm the continuing authority of God’s law (even if unwittingly).

  1. What of the valid use of God’s law today?

If the validity of the law (or a portion thereof) has expired in the New Testament, as some claim, then what are we to make of scriptural assertions that God does not alter His covenant word, does not allow subtraction from His commandments, is unchanging in His moral character (which the law reflects), and does not have a double-standard of right and wrong?

Why then is the writing of the Old Testament law on our hearts central to the New Covenant? Why does the Bible say that His commandments are everlasting? Why do New Testament writers say that the entire Old Testament is our instruction in righteousness and to be obeyed? Why do they cite its stipulations with authority and use them to bolster their own teaching? Why are we expected to model our behaviour on Christ’s, while we are told that he obeyed the law meticulously and perfectly? Why does the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit entail observance of god’s law? Why does love summarise the law in particular? Why does faith establish the law for us to keep, and why does God’s grace teach us to walk in the law’s path of righteousness? Why are we told in numerous ways that the law brings blessings to those who heed it?

Why are the law’s requirements never criticised or explicitly repudiated in the New Testament? Why are those who do not keep the law but claim to know the Saviour called liars? God’s inspired Word says all of these things and more. What reply can the detractors from God’s law today make in the face of such insurmountable evidence of the law’s full validity? (p.133-134).

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