Christianity and Natural and Biblical Law

QUESTION: Christianity and Law – Natural and Biblical Law

ANSWER:

Natural law includes God’s general revelation to us of both physical and moral laws. Christians believe that we can know God’s will or natural law through our conscience, our inherent sense of right and wrong. The Apostle Paul says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the [Mosaic] law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law...” (Romans 2:14).

William Blackstone, one of the most influential figures in the history of law, describes the Christian view of natural law this way: “Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is an entirely dependent being....And consequently as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker’s will. This will of his maker is called the law of nature.”1

Blackstone’s view is consistent with the biblical account of creation, moral order, and divine law. The Apostle Paul explains the concept of natural law in Romans 1 and 2, claiming that we all have a fundamental knowledge of the existence of a transcendent law that we must obey, yet that we consciously fail to obey it. Our fallen, sinful nature does not destroy our awareness of this general revelation. We may “see through a glass darkly,” yet we still see. We know intuitively that certain things are outside the moral order (Romans 1:26–32), such as homosexuality, hating God, spitefulness, pride, boasting, inventing evil, disobeying parental authority, breaking covenants, unnatural affections, and unmercifulness.

Christianity and Law – Grounded in God
The general revelation of natural law is grounded in God. Understood properly, natural law explains why each of us is accountable to God for our actions: we know a transcendent law exists, yet we consciously flaunt it. This truth must be incorporated into any successful legal system.

In addition to natural law, Christian legal theory must take into account God’s special revelation of His moral order and divine law, the Bible. Natural law gives us a general concept of right and wrong, while the Bible fleshes out that skeletal framework, telling us what God considers moral and lawful.

Leviticus 18 provides a good example. Here God tells Moses not to follow the legal structures either of Egypt, where the Israelites had been, or of Canaan, where they were going. God gave them clear laws that forbade certain practices: incest, adultery, infanticide (abortion), homosexuality, and bestiality. These practices continue to intrigue fallen people throughout history, from New Testament times up through today. God considers these practices abominations contrary to human nature (Romans 1:26–27), undermining the dignity and sanctity of His vision for the Christian home and family.

God’s general revelation and special revelation, considered together, allow for the implementation of a legal system that is independent of human wisdom. General and special revelation are accessible to everyone and provide the guidance necessary to create a reasonably just legal system. Blackstone summarizes, “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation [the Bible], depend all human laws....”2

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, in Blackstone’s Commentaries with Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 5 vols., ed., St. George Tucker (Philadelphia, PA: William Young Birch and Abraham Small, 1803; reprint, South Hackensack, NJ: Rothman Reprints, 1969), 1:38–9.
2 John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 58.

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