The Mosaic Law Should Not Be Applied to A Civil Government

Objection 1: God’s Law provides the moral basis for right and wrong. Without it, we would have no way of knowing what government should outlaw and what it shouldn’t.

Objection 2: Matthew 15:17-20 tells us that Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it and that the Law would not pass away until all was fulfilled.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 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. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:17-20)

Objection 3: Romans 13 tells us that government exists to punish those who do evil and reward those who do good.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. (Rom 13:1-6)

On the contrary, Jesus said (John 18:36), “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

I answer that God’s Law is for God’s Kingdom. While God’s Law perfectly encapsulates his will for his kingdom people, it remains to be proven why this must be applied to those who are not in his kingdom. And since doing so involves denying liberty to people by legalistically forcing a moral code on them against their will, the burden of proof lies with those who would impose this standard.

In the Old Testament, God’s Kingdom Entity was the Nation of Israel. At that time, it was a political nation and an ethnic people, as an entire group. Because of this, it made sense that God’s Law would be closely applied to this group in a civil sense. God had entered into a unique relationship with these people for specific purposes. He had staked his glory on their faithfulness to him. Since this nation was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, it was critical that the entire nation obey his law. Thus, the civil law of that land was very closely married to the universal moral law of God.

In the New Testament, however, God’s Kingdom Entity is “not of this world.” His Kingdom Entity is a universal congregation of those who believe in him. If God’s law is to apply to his Kingdom, then it must apply only to his Kingdom people. To say that because certain things were civil laws in Israel they must be civil laws in America is to miss a few steps. The direct transference between that context and this would be to apply the Mosaic law to the church.

If the Old Testament gave us a scenario from which we could draw the conclusion that we should force God’s Law on the unsaved, we would see commands from God for Israel to conquer the nations around them in order to force God’s law on them. But we don’t see that.

We see them wiping out certain nations in judgment, yes, but for the most part, these are nations that occupy the land that God had chosen for his people, and the specific reason God wanted them to wipe them out was to preserve the purity of the land so that his people would not be led away into idolatry.

Once they settled in the land, was Israel commanded to cross the Jordan and conquer the lands to the East in order to force the Law on them? Were they commanded to march on Assyria, Lebanon, Egypt? No they weren’t! They were to focus on being faithful to the Lord themselves and allow their faithfulness to be the light to the nations. They were to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.

Further, we see the example of Daniel. We have no record of him using his position of power in Babylon to try to enforce the Mosaic Law on the Babylonians. This is a situation far more analogous to our current situation. We are not living in Israel. We are living in Babylon.

Therefore, I see no prescription in the pattern of the Old Testament to indicate that we should force God’s Law on those who don’t want it.

Reply to Objection 1: This assertion implies that nothing can be known if it is not in the Scriptures. Surely without chapter and verse we would know nothing of chemistry or quantum physics. No, in fact God tells us that God’s “invisible attributes … have clearly been perceived … so they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) and that “when Gentiles … do what the law requires … they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts…” (Romans 2:14). Thus, it is possible to understand certain aspects of moral law without the Scriptures. It is not possible to understand all of it, particularly those aspects which deal with our relationship to the Lord, but it is possible to understand that there is such a thing as right and wrong and that certain specific things are wrong without it.

Who has ever been robbed and didn’t know that he had been wronged until he read Exodus 20? Who has ever been mourning a loved one who had been murdered and didn’t know that evil had been done because they had never read the Bible. The fact that so many cultures throughout the history of the world have been able to arrive at similar basic civil moral codes without the divine revelation of Scripture reveals that Scripture is not needed to understand that there is a concept of right and wrong, and is not needed in order to form a civil moral code sufficient to maintain a peaceful society.

What is the one common denominator that all of these moral codes have in common? Don’t harm other people. That much is simply understandable by empathy. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that a society would dissolve into utter chaos without a way to provide justice for victims of violence and fraud.

I think that I may have previously unintentionally asserted that I believe civil law to be amoral – i.e. that the things that civil governments legislate are not moral in nature. That’s not really what I meant. I was trying to say that being a moral issue was not sufficient reason for a civil government to outlaw a behavior. Civil governments are only concerned with those aspects of morality in which there is a victim. Don’t harm your neighbor.

I summarize my view of Morality as follows:

Reply to Objection 2: What does it mean for the Law to continue? In what sense does it still apply? This passage makes no clear connection to the civil government. As I pointed out, it is carried forward for God’s Kingdom People: the Church. Verse 20 even makes it clear that what Jesus is concerned with is “entering the kingdom of heaven.” He is not concerned with applying civil law in an earthly sense.

Further, take a look at what Jesus had just said:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mat 5:14-16)

It seems to me that the continuance of the Law is in order to be the standard for us as lights of the World. Instead, we take up arms against the world. They do not see our good works and give glory to our Father. They see our bigoted behavior and curse God because of us. This is why I’m so passionate about this. God’s glory is at stake here!

Trying to carry the Mosaic Law forward in any sense is fraught with difficulty. There are clearly many aspects of the Mosaic Law that have not been continued. Dietary Laws and Circumcision are two that were specifically repealed in Scripture, but there are others that were not specifically repealed that the church has not carried forward, namely why do we wear blended cloth and shave our beards?

Even within the church, we don’t have a clear rubric for how we carry certain things forward, and we don’t have full agreement even amongst ourselves. How can we just pick and choose the things we want to apply. Perhaps we should shift our focus and, rather than focusing on externals, we should focus on changing hearts through patient witness.

There are a lot of things in the Mosaic Law that we have conveniently ignored, yet we somehow like to elevate homosexuality as the most important issue. Yeah, 1 Corinthians 6 and Romans 1 clearly teach that it is a sin, but that says nothing about whether they have to be civil laws.

Reply to Objection 3: Romans 13 says nothing of use on this subject. It says that the government punishes evil and rewards good, but it does not define what those things are. I think the context would indicate that evil here is to be interpreted in a civil sense and not in a purely spiritual sense. Thus, I think evil in this context refers to that which harms another person. I see no reason to assume otherwise. Seeing as how this passage is bracketed by commands to live in peace with others at all costs (Romans 12:14-21) and commands regarding Christian Liberty (Romans 14), I think that it is against Paul’s intent to interpret this to mean that he is prescribing that Government is to uphold God’s law in a civil sense. Instead, Paul is simply telling us what our attitude should be toward government, and is assuring us that government is supposed to be a force for good.

But Romans 13 is not a carte blanche divine blessing on state power. Otherwise there would be no caveat on what government should do. Further, in Acts, the apostles said that they had to choose between obeying God and obeying man. Clearly government has the ability to step outside the bounds of what is supposed to do. In a nation such as ours, it is our responsibility to make sure that it remains restrained to those bounds. Romans 13 is no more a divine blessing on unrestrained state power than Ephesians 5 is a divine blessing on slavery. Paul is simply saying, “This is the Christ-like attitude toward government.” He is not telling us anything about the relationship between the Mosaic Law and the Civil government.

Since Romans 13 intractably equates the activity of government with the sword, it would behoove us to limit the use of that sword to only those situations in which it is clearly necessary. The government should not wield its sword wantonly to uphold a standard of behavior simply because a certain segment of its population wants it upheld just for the sake of that standard. That is not government’s job. The governments job is to preserve peace and provide justice. What does this look like? Protect the freedom of the people and provide justice for victims who have been wronged. It is the job of the church to uphold the standard of God’s Law and his Word. The prescribed method for doing this is through personal righteousness and unity within the body. Our engagement with the world should be peaceful and not violent.