Archive for the ‘Civil Law’ Category

An Example of the Exegetical Blunders of Horton’s View of the Two Kingdoms

May 3, 2011

Prof. Michael Horton has an article entitled, “The Death of Osama bin Ladin: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?” Horton takes the occasion of bin Ladin’s death as a chance to attempt to propagate his unhistorical view of the two kingdoms. I don’t mean to suggest that the idea of two kingdoms is not historical. What I am suggesting is that the view of the two kingdoms that one sees from Escondido today is a view contrary to that of all the original Reformed confessions (at least, all the major ones, and particularly the big two: the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession). More importantly, it is contrary to Scripture, Natural Law, and sound reason.

This attack on the historic Reformed faith is bolstered by extremely tenuous “exegesis” of Scripture. I am using quotation marks, because I think the label is generous to a fault. Perhaps a more accurate assessment would be “prooftexting.” Here’s Horton’s argument:

Cultures are the most dangerous when they invoke holy texts for their defense of holy land through holy war. However, Christians have no biblical basis for doing this in the first place. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel. Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses. As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word “above all earthly pow’rs.”

Notice the techniques that Horton uses. Horton makes an emotional appeal to a threat of danger. Yet the most dangerous cultures of the 20th century were Communist Russia and Communist China, neither of which invoked holy text for their defense of holy land through holy war. Israel, by contrast, in the same century invoked holy text for their defense of holy land through holy war. Whether one favors them or not, their six day war was one of the least bloody wars of the century (total causalities apparently less than 50,000).

Horton’s next statement about Christians having no biblical basis for defending holy land through holy war on the basis of holy text is unclear. There are various things he could mean. If he simply means that there is no “promised land” for Christians in this world (instead, we wait for the next world), he is correct. If, on the other hand, he means that the Bible cannot justify the defense of Christian lands (lands occupied by Christians), he’s mistaken.

Where Horton blunders is his next line: “In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel.” I realize Horton threw his “clearly” in there as a way of pounding on the lectern at this particularly weak point in his article. Nevertheless, no – the Sermon on the Mount does not abrogate either the civil or the ceremonial law.

I am hesitant to paste all three chapters of the sermon here. Perhaps it suffices to illustrate the point to quote the following:

Matthew 5:17-18
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Does Horton think that Heaven and Earth had already passed at that time? Surely not. Even though the ceremonial law would later be abrogated, it was not yet abrogated at this time. How can we know? Well, in chapter 8 (immediately after the conclusion of the sermon) Jesus instructs an ex-leper to follow the ceremonial law:

Matthew 8:4 And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

Moreover we know that Jesus kept the passover.

Matthew 26:18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.

Need I go on?

The clean/unclean distinctions of the ceremonial law were abrogated by a vision given to Peter. Recall:

Acts 10:28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

It was not, therefore, abrogated in the sermon on the mount, as Horton alleged.

Moreover, the civil law of Israel continued to be in force until Jerusalem was destroyed. Jesus himself commanded his disciples that they should obey the Sanhedrin, justifying that command on the basis that they “sit in the seat of Moses,” that is, they occupy the role of legislators.

So, neither was the civil law abrogated at the Sermon on the Mount nor even by the cross itself.

Indeed, we distinguish (in Reformed theology) between the abrogation of the ceremonial law (which was fulfilled in Christ), and the expiration of the civil law (which was appointed specifically for the nation of Israel, and which was, as a nation, destroyed though a remnant was spared). Moreover, unlike the ceremonial law, the general equity of the civil law endures. That is because Justice is one of God’s attributes: and the laws of Israel were just laws given by a just God.

Horton continued his blunders this way: “Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses.” If we are to understand by “common grace” what has been always understood by that term, God sending the rain upon the just and the unjust, then every time period has been the era of common grace. If by “common land,” Horton means that we Gentiles don’t have a specific land grant from God, that too has always been the case. If Horton means that we today live with unbelievers amongst us, that too has always been the case.

Except where obeying pagan rulers involved disobeying God, the people of God have always obeyed pagan rulers when pagan rulers were over them. Recall Daniel and Jeremiah as examples of this in the Old Testament – or Jesus himself in the New Testament.

The law of Moses didn’t actually constitute the civil kingdom of Israel. There were elders of Israel before Moses, there were elders during the time of Moses, and there continued to be elders even during the times of the kings.

Nevertheless, the law of Moses did order the civil laws of Israel in accordance with the principles of justice and equity. The laws of Moses had, in theory, supreme power like the U.S. Constitution is supposed to have. However, both before and after Christ the people of God have often found themselves under regimes in which the law of God was not honored by the monarchs, elders, or people. That is true both of regimes in which the law of God was honored with the lips of the rulers, and also in regimes in which it did not even receive lip service.

Horton concludes (this particular paragraph) with: “As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word ‘above all earthly pow’rs.'” Paul doesn’t specify that the powers are “secular.” Paul says

Romans 13:1-7
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Notice that Paul calls the powers that be “of God” and “ordained of God” and repeatedly calls the ruler “the minster of God” and “God’s ministers.” Their duties are not the duties of the ministers of the gospel, but they are still ministers of God. There remains an intimate connection between theology and the civil magistrate, therefore. Their laws are called the “ordinance of God,” even their very unpleasant tax laws.

Is their power finite? Of course it is. None of God’s ministers (neither ministers of justice nor ministers of the gospel) have infinite power. Yet both are – or ought to be – servants of the same God, aiding the people in a complementary way.

Horton goes on in the article (be sure to click through to page 2page 3 is just bio) to actually quote from Romans 13. Horton writes:

First, it means that we can rejoice that even in this present evil age, God’s common grace and common justice are being displayed through secular authorities. “For [the ruler] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. … Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:4, 7). Yet the divine wrath that rulers execute is temporal and finite rather than eternal and infinite. Such justice is never so pure that it is unmingled with injustice, never so final that it satisfies God’s eternal law.

There is, of course, no need to qualify God’s justice as “common.” We only qualify “common grace” that way to distinguish it from saving grace. God’s justice is one of His eternal attributes, as Horton ought to know:

Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Westminster Larger Catechism
Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Horton even has the temerity to quote from Calvin (whose view of the two kingdoms is incompatible with Horton’s):

In view of the image of God stamped on every person, justice must always be tempered by love. Commenting on Genesis 9:6, John Calvin reminded us that we cannot hate even our most perverse enemies, because of the image of God in them. In one sense, the creation of every person in God’s image provokes the temporal sword against murderers. Yet in another sense, it also restrains our lust for revenge. “Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings.”

Notice that this deals with issues related to our personal vindication. But for most of us, Osama was not our personal enemy. He did not burn down our houses, kill our loved ones, or even badmouth us on a blog. Instead, Osama was an enemy of Christian nations, of Christians, and of Christ. He was God’s enemy. While I would have rejoiced even more to see Osama converted, I rightly rejoice in seeing God’s justice meted out by the servants of God – the ministers of His wrath.

After a brief appeal to Ezekiel (which I have substantially answered already), Horton makes a comment that we ought urgently fulfill the mandate to preach the gospel. I agree! (For that matter, I agree with lots of things that Horton says. I just don’t agree with his promotion of his two kingdoms view in contrast to Calvin’s two kingdoms view. That doesn’t mean I consider Horton a heretic, but rather a brother in Christ with whom I sharply disagree on a particular point.)

Horton concludes:

So as we take satisfaction in the honorable service of U.S. forces in bringing a terrorist to justice in the court of the temporal city, let us never dare to confuse this with “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). In our response, let us use this opportunity to display to our non-Christian neighbors the radical contrasts between the biblical view of God, humanity, redemption, and the last judgment, and the religious and secularist distortions—even those that profess to be Christian.

I have two issues with this. First, he’s laying on the metaphors a little thick. The SEALs did bring this terrorist leader to justice. It is justice in God’s eyes, for God declared:

Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

There is no need to qualify this justice in terms of “the temporal city,” but we cannot really object to him saying that, for this life is indeed temporal. We must point out, however, that this justice is exactly the same in substance as the justice meted out by the law of Moses. Those who died for murder under the law of Moses may have died in a different mode (stoning rather than being shot in the head), but the punishment they received was the same: physical death.

This justice was not meted out in court. It was meted out in the field. Obviously, I think Horton meant that metaphorically. Nevertheless, in this kind of context, those metaphors can tend to have the effect of confusing rather than enlightening.

That confusion seems to be compounded by Horton’s reference to the city whose builder and maker is God. That city is heaven. Surely Horton does not seriously worry that people will think that this present life is heaven. Instead, it appears that Horton is trying to position the city whose builder and maker is God as being a “here and now” thing that could be confused with the “secular” world. Yet Horton’s position is undermined by the very text he quotes.

After all, Abraham is described this way:

Hebrew 11:9-10
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Abraham was not looking for something “here and now” but something “not yet.” Abraham was looking forward – on this point – to heaven itself. He was a pilgrim on the earth, as are we. There is a continuity, not a discontinuity, between us and Abraham on this point.

Indeed, Scripture itself declares:

Hebrews 11:16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

And Jesus testified:

John 14:2-3
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

Finally, let me touch on Horton’s concluding sentence:

In our response, let us use this opportunity to display to our non-Christian neighbors the radical contrasts between the biblical view of God, humanity, redemption, and the last judgment, and the religious and secularist distortions—even those that profess to be Christian.

This statement is ambiguously worded, so that is not clear who it is Horton views as merely professing Christians. Horton’s main opponents with respect to these points would seem to be Evangelicals, either modern (who perhaps have simply gotten caught up in the fever of patriotism) or historic (who reject on Biblical grounds Horton’s view of the two kingdoms). If Horton is calling those groups merely professing Christian, this is quite troubling. If not, it is unclear who Horton thinks might be disagreeing with him.

Of course, ambiguity is not a crime. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if Horton could be more specific about who he doesn’t view as his Christian brother. Despite my principled disagreement with his departure from the historic Reformed position, I still consider Horton a brother in Christ. I hope he feels the same way.


The Old Testament Law – Tripartite Analysis

October 31, 2008

To provide some background for discussion of the law of God, it is important to understand the categories involved:


The law of God in the Old Testament is of three kinds:

1. Moral

Moral law, because it reflects the character of God, is enduring and immutable. It never was and it never will be permissible to worship any god but God, it never was and never will be permissible to worship God other ways than He ordains, it never was and never will be permissible to dishonor God’s name, it never was and never will be permissible to appropriate all seven days of the week for our work, it never was and never will be permissible to dishonor the authorities over us, to kill, to steal, to lie, to covet, and so forth. In short, it is always the case (for all history) that we must love the Lord our God wholeheartedly and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

2. Ceremonial

Under the Adamaic, Noahic, Abramic, Mosaic, and Solomonic administrations of the covenant of grace, the worship of God was manifested in certain outward ceremonies that were designed to point to Christ. Eminent among these ceremonies were the rite of animal sacrifice, the practice of tabernacle and later temple worship, and in some cases a specialized priesthood. These things all have been fulfilled in Christ, the one true and perfect sacrifice. He is our high priest and his sacrificial work is finished. Consequently there is no more sacrifice and no more priestly class among us. There were other associated ceremonies as well, such as dietary laws and laws related to physical cleanliness as a picture of spiritual cleanliness. All these ceremonial laws, being fulfilled in Christ, have been done away.

3. Civil / Judicial / Juridical

This third category of laws were the laws specific to the Mosaic administration of the nation of Israel. They are the laws by which the country was run. They are not binding on all humanity. Nevertheless, they are important as to their “general equity,” by which I mean that they show to us a just system of government. There are moral aspects of the civil law of Israel, and these moral aspects remain significant. There were circumstantial aspects, and these aspects necessarily vary under different circumstances. Finally, there were ceremonial aspects, and these aspects have been fulfilled or supplanted in the New Testament.

Errors Distinguished

There are four major (and numerous minor) errors that arise from holding to expired portions of the law (Judaizers and “Extreme” Theonomists) or to disposing of still-relevant portions of the law (“Extreme” Two-Kingdomists and “Extreme” Dispensationalists / Antinomians).

1. Judaiziers

Judaizers seek to impose part (or perhaps all) of the ceremonial law on Christians. Thus, for example, the Judaizers argue that it is necessary for Christians to be circumcised.

2. “Extreme” Theonomists

The term “theonomist” has a wide range of meanings. In some cases, folks who call themselves “theonomists” will insist that virtually all and every detail of the Mosaic law with respect to the Nation of Israel must be followed. The problem with this approach is that it overlooks the fact that the Mosaic law was tailored to two particular forms of government and accompanied a nation-state that has ceased to be.

3. “Extreme” Two-Kingdomists

I am using the term “extreme” here because I’m not sure all “two-kingdom” folks would say this description applies to them. In some cases, it appears that “two-kingdoms” folk treat the civil law of Israel as though it were entirely ceremonial. Thus, these folks say that the civil law is essentially done-away-with and consequently for instruction on how governments should be just, we must appeal exclusively to “natural law,” the light provided by God in general revelation.

4. “Extreme” Dispensationalists / Anti-Nominians

“Extreme” Dispensationalists and also Anti-Nominians take the view that all the laws of the Old Testament are done away with, including the moral law. This error arises from a failure to understand the nature of the moral law, and the relation of God to the law of God. God does not change, and consequently the definition of morality does not change.


The issue of God’s law is not a simple one to be handled carelessly or callously. We must be careful to observe to do all that God has commanded us, and yet we need to be careful not to bind men’s consciences beyond what the Word of God states. Excess in the first regard leads to legalism, excess in the second regard leads to antinomianism. There is one way to see the path to stay on it, without going either to the left or to the right: that one way is by careful attention to the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures.


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