It is with great pleasure that American Vision presents to you Johannes Piscator’s Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses. The following is from the Introduction:
Johannes Piscator (1546–1625) may not be a household name today in Reformed theology, but that is hardly for want of his multi-generational legacy. His writings, and particularly his clear and firm stance on God’s justice as revealed in the judicial laws of Moses, influenced giants of Reformed theology for nearly two centuries afterward. Even where not explicitly cited by name, Piscator’s particular formulation of this question appears in Puritan preaching as late as the American constitutional ratification era. As the reader will soon learn, Piscator’s views were held by several key figures, and they subsequently helped shape the Puritan movements and governments in both England and America. It is time that this nearly-forgotten theologian, and his doctrine of the law, be resurrected and given a rightful consideration among the hall of fame of Reformers.
Toward this end, we have presented the most influential part of Piscator’s work on the judicial laws of Moses, which is cited often by subsequent thinkers: the Appendix to his commentary on Exodus. This Appendix, originally titled “Observations on Chapters 21, 22, 23, namely, an explanation of controversial questions about the abrogation of the judicial laws of Moses,” is here published as a stand-alone booklet, Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses. . . .
Piscator on Mosaic Law
Piscator’s views on the law are nothing less than Theonomy before Theonomy was cool. In this short book, Piscator anticipates virtually every argument outlined by modern Theonomists, except instead of painstaking volumes like Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics, Piscator condenses it all to a brief few pages.
Despite the brevity, here you will find Bahnsen’s argument from Matthew 5:17: that Christ did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, and this means that it is part of Christian duty. Furthermore, Christ’s reference to every jot and tittle means that He included the judicial law within the scope of that duty. Likewise you will find my argument that the civil punishments of the Old Testament are eternally just and that therefore no other punishment can be unless God’s alters it. This argument draws on the eternal moral standard of lex talionis, and it is represented centrally in Piscator. He also anticipates the argument of preventing arbitrary justice by the magistrate (i.e., God’s provision to tie the hands of the state and protect liberty).
Likewise, as the Table of Contents indicates, you will find that nearly every serious objection to Theonomy raised in modern times was already refuted by Piscator at the turn of the seventeenth century. These include the classic retorts that the law was for Israel only, that the law is not binding unless repeated in the New Testament, that Daniel and Nehemiah never tried to impose Mosaic law on their pagan subjects, that all civil laws today are said to be from God (just in his common revelation, not special—a classic “two kingdoms” argument), and among many more, one I heard recently from a popular Baptist apologist: “Must we become Jews first?”
I will save the reader from any spoilers and allow the book to present itself as it goes, but it is helpful to see how Piscator had developed his views elsewhere. As early as 1589, he set them forth in his aforementioned Aphorisms of Christian Doctrine, taken from Calvin’s Institutes. He writes,
The judicials are laws of the right of contracts and of the punishment of those who have committed an offense, issued so that justice among the people and public tranquility may flourish, and that the laws of God may be vindicated from contempt.
With this he had established that the judicial laws include the punishments attached to them. But do these continue today or not? Piscator says yes, they do, and here’s why:
Abrogation of the judicial laws is a difficult question. It can neither simply be said to endure since the Mosaic polity was abolished, and yet neither can it be said that all have been abrogated since many laws, whose purpose and aim is perpetual, continue. Thus, however, it seems to be established: the Christian magistrate is not bound by the judicial law of Moses as far as it pertains to circumstances particular to the people of Israel: that, however, which pertains to the kinds of punishments sanctioned to protect the authority of the Ten Commandments of God, it seems certain that the magistrate of a Christian people is to be bound by these today no less than the people of Israel were in the past.
He later summarizes the duty of the Christian magistrate:
Judicial law, to the extent that it was properly accommodated to the Jewish people, does not obligate the magistrate of a Christian people. Nevertheless, insofar as it determines punishments for crimes, it obliges the Christian magistrate no less today than it obliged Jewish ones in the past.
The die was already cast for Piscator, then. All that remained was a long career of teaching and defending this view along with his colleagues and students.
This view of the judicial laws of Moses is reflected in the writings of Piscator’s students as well as many subsequent great theologians. As for his students, they can be seen in the aforementioned four-volume collection of essays superintended by Piscator himself, Theological Theses of Disputations in the Illustrious School of Nassau. The first edition in 1596 contained 34 Theses on the Law of God written by one Johannes Textor of Allendorf. Thesis 20 affirms that the judicial laws of Moses are abrogated only insofar as they pertain to the special condition of Israel. As far as they pertain to simple justice, especially the Ten Commandments, however, Textor penned that God’s punishments for crimes remain in effect, for his standards of justice is eternal:
Insofar as the nature of crime is the same in all ages and among all nations, and God (whose nature does not change, but is always the same) abhors crime equally today as in the past, and equally with this nation as with them, therefore, He wills that criminals be punished equally and with equal measure.
In the subsequent edition in 1607, two further sets of theses expressed these views just as explicitly. Elias Acontius provided 41 theses on the Law of God, arguing in theses 39 through 41 that the judicial law is partly abrogated, partly not abrogated. It is abrogated only insofar as it pertained specially to the government of Moses or Israel. It is not abrogated, however, to the extent that it simply prescribes how public offenses against the Ten Commandments should be punished. These punishments are perpetual standards for the magistrate.
Paulus Dubinus’s 60 theses on the Political Magistrate cover the same ground, making sure to include the proper scope of biblical law among the duties of the magistrate, but adds further clarifying details. His theses specify what types of laws are intended as pertaining to Israel only, and which are not. Thesis 35 states,
Judicial law is abrogated insofar as it was properly accommodated to the Jewish people (as the law of the right of primogeniture, the law of marrying a wife of a brother who had died without male issue, the law of marrying a wife of his own tribe, the law of dismissing servants from servitude, and also of assigning perpetual servitude to them, and others of that kind).
The next continues, making clear some of the specific penal sanctions viewed to be perpetual:
Insofar as it determines penalties for crimes (such as the law of the punishment of the seducer (Deut. 13: 5), the punishment of blasphemers (Lev. 24: 15-16), the punishment of incorrigible children (Deut. 21:12), of murderers (Ex. 21:12, Lev. 24:17), of adultery (Lev. 20: 10-11), of thieves (Ex. 22: 1 ff.), of false witnesses (Deut. 19:16 ff.)), we affirm that a Christian magistrate is no less obligated today than a Jewish one was in the past.
And finally in thesis 38, he argues that the standard of civil justice never changes:
The reason is because this pertains to the guardianship of the Ten Commandments. Surely, crimes are to be punished no less today than in the past, because God hates them no less today than in the past; again crimes are to be punished neither more heavily nor more lightly today than God willed His people to punish them in the past. For crimes never lose their nature. Theft is always theft: whether it is done in the Old Testament or in the New.
Would that we had more seminary students like these today! And while these lessons are from the pens of Piscator’s students, his close supervision and scholastic methods ensure that they represent his own views to a very high degree.
Piscator’s legacy on biblical law, however, does not appear only in his immediate disciples. Indeed, as we have already said, it can be seen in prominent men extending for centuries afterward. Several of these have been included in excerpts in the Appendix. The reader will see citations of this work by Piscator by prominent Puritans such as Thomas Edwards in England, as well as Thomas Shepard in early Massachusetts Bay who equaled John Cotton in both his views and prominence.
The reader will also see citations by prominent members of the Westminster Assembly, including George Gillespie, Francis Cheynell, and Samuel Rutherford (although Rutherford does not agree on every point with Piscator). This fact should direct modern interpreters of the famous “general equity” clause of the Westminster Confession of Faith on Mosaic judicial law (19.4) to understand that the section was written either to express Piscator’s view directly, or at least to allow for subscription by those influential members who did (and do) hold Piscator’s view. Thus, we must extend to the same degree Piscator’s legacy beyond the mere persons and to the Westminster Confession itself, as well as to the subsequent confessions based upon it.
This must include the London Baptist Confession of 1689, which although softening the language of the equivalent section due to the kinder, gentler promises of the Glorious Revolution, nevertheless finds prominent representatives who read and repeated Piscator’s views almost verbatim. I have in mind the aforementioned Reformed Baptist John Gill, who was not only the most accomplished Baptist scholar in history, he was among the most learned Christian Hebraists in general as well. Piscator’s name (along with Junius’s, and to a lesser extent Tremellius’) appears throughout the footnotes of Gill’s famous commentaries—297 times in his volumes on the Pentateuch alone. It is not surprising then that Piscator’s formulation for Mosaic judicial law appears clearly in Gill’s Body of Divinity as well. I have therefore added it to the Appendix as well.
Only a few months prior to the publication of this book, American Vision also published a collection of three sermons by New England Puritans ranging from 1742 to 1788. In each of these, the same formulation for Mosaic judicial law appears. Each affirms that those civil laws which pertained only to the special conditions of Israel are indeed abrogated, yet those that pertained to general civil justice, including the punishment of crimes, abide as God’s eternal standards of justice even today. These sermons each come from prominent clergymen, including the 1788 sermon by Samuel Langdon, who was once the president of Harvard and a leading delegate to the New Hampshire constitutional convention.
Johannes Piscator’s legacy therefore can be seen extending from his own time all the way to the American constitutional ratification era, and from thousands of immediate students who vanished into history to some of the most prominent names in the history of Reformed theology, as well as leading political figures. Yet, until now, he has continued to receive only marginal interest even from specialists. For example, Richard Muller’s massive four volumes on post-Reformation Reformed dogmatics gives only a score or so of passing references to Piscator, and not a single mention of his views on law and government. Yet an earlier essay from the same author shows that influential Puritans such as William Perkins sometimes esteemed Piscator’s exegetical work equal to, and sometimes above, that of Beza and even Calvin.
That Piscator’s works have been obscured for so long, then, is right next to a tragedy, and that his views on Old Testament law have been considered novel, unprecedented, or outside of the “Reformed tradition” when expressed in our own time is equally unfortunate. It should now be considered not only inaccurate, but as failure of modern Reformed theology to know itself, rather than as an aberration on the part of men who reformulated those views largely afresh in our own time. May we move forward as Reformed brethren with a renewed respect for the history and place of the theonomic tradition.
 See God’s Law and Government in America: Three Historic Sermons
 Material for this historical section draws heavily from Hermann Steubing, “Lebensnachrichten von den Herborner Theologen. Aus dem literarischen Nachlasse des D. Johann Hermann Steubing. Erste Lieferung. Caspar Olevian und Johannes Piscator,” Zeitschrift für die historische Theologie, Issue 4 (Leipzig, 1841), 98–138.
 Aphorismi Doctrinae Christianae, ex Institutione Calvini excerpti, cited in Müller, 73.
 Thomas Hartwell Horne, An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, 4th Ed., 3 vols. (Philadelphia: E. Littell, 1825 ), 2:231.
 Hermann Steubing, “Lebensnachrichten von den Herborner Theologen. Aus dem literarischen Nachlasse des D. Johann Hermann Steubing. Erste Lieferung. Caspar Olevian und Johannes Piscator,” Zeitschrift für die historische Theologie, Issue 4 (Leipzig, 1841), 113, which also lists Menso Alting, Daniel Tossanus, David Pareus, Conrad Vorstius, Antonius Hovaeus, John Jonston, Amandus Polanus, Franciscus Junius, Georg Remus, and Balthasar Mentzer.
 Steubing, 111–112.
 Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Reason Begins: A History of European Civilization in the Period of Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne, Rembrandt, Galileo, and Descartes: 1558–1648 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), 551–6.
 I say “serious” objections, because the trivial, but unfortunately more common, ones today such as “Judiazing,” “legalism,” “But, shellfish!,” etc., Piscator did not find the need to address.
 Aphorismi Doctrinae Christianae, ex Institutione Calvini excerpti (Herborn, 1589), 13.
 Aphorismi Doctrinae Christianae, ex Institutione Calvini excerpti, 17–18.
 Aphorismi Doctrinae Christianae, ex Institutione Calvini excerpti, 130.
 Full title: Thesium Theologicarum in Illustri Schola Nassovica, partim Hebornae, partim Sigenae diputatarum.
 Thesium Theologicarum, Vol. 1, (Sigenae Nassivorium, 1596), 209.
 These two sets of these almost certainly came from the 1607 edition of the Thesium Theologicarum, but I found them separated and separately catalogued in the rare books collection at Emory’s Pitts Theological Library. They are not paginated, but are dated 1607.
 Richard A. Muller, “William Perkins and the Protestant Exegetical Tradition: Interpretation, Style and Method in the Commentary on Hebrews 11,” in William Perkins, A Cloud of Faithful Witnesses: Commentary on Hebrews 11, ed. by Gerald T. Sheppard, Pilgrim Classic Commentaries, vol. 3 (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1990), 83–87.