(This is Part Two. Part One is here.)
For many dispensationalists and now some preterists, law in the Old Testament is “Jewish law.” In Dallas Theological Seminary’s scholarly journal, Bibliotheca Sacra, S. Lewis Johnson, a former professor at the seminary, argued that the Ten Commandments should not be a part of the Christian’s ethical life. He wrote the following:
Donald Grey Barnhouse, a giant of a man in free grace, wrote: “It was a tragic hour when the Reformation churches wrote the Ten Commandments into their creeds and catechisms and sought to bring Gentile believers into bondage to Jewish law, which was never intended either for the Gentile nations or for the church.” He was right, too.
Barnhouse was the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia until his death in 1960. As a Presbyterian, he would have had to affirm the Westminster Confession of Faith and its catechisms. The Larger Catechism has a large section on the Ten Commandments. So, what we’re hearing today from some preterists was made popular by some dispensationalists. Oh, the irony!
No Other Standard
No Other Standard is Dr. Bahnsen’s response to various books, articles, and other critiques that have circulated over the years. Bahnsen skillfully takes his critics’ arguments apart, showing that they have either misrepresented his position or misrepresented the Bible. Line by line, point by point, he shows that they have not understood his arguments and have also not understood the vulnerability of their own logical and theological positions.Buy Now
A young woman asked Christian apologist Frank Turek a question about the applicability of Old Testament law in the New Testament in this short video clip that has been posted on Facebook:
“There are a lot of things we do not follow now that are in the Old Testament. Like Don’t eat shrimp or don’t cut your hair. So, what separates those from laws against killing?”
Here is Turek’s response:
Excellent question. In the Old Testament. There were certain laws that were purely for Israel. Old Covenant laws. They no longer apply to Christians. Know people are going to hate me for this, but it’s true, the Ten Commandments don’t apply to Christians either. The Ten Commandments are part of the Old Covenant. Now, nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, and because they are repeated in the New Testament, they do apply to Christians. But because they’re the Ten Commandments, they don’t apply to Christians, because that was part of the Old Covenant, and the writer of Hebrews—Hebrews 8:13—says the Old Covenant is obsolete. All the commands in the Old Testament are obsolete. Everything from Exodus 20 through Deuteronomy. That’s part of the Old Covenant that don’t apply today. If they are repeated in the New Testament, they do apply. So we need to keep that in mind. We don’t want to mix and match our covenants. Christians notoriously do that, and it causes a lot of confusion. I like that because I like bacon.
I believe that if Turek had more time to think about what he said, he might answer in a different way. He answered first by saying the Ten Commandments don’t apply to Christians because they are part of the Old Covenant, but because nine of them are repeated in the New Testament, those nine apply during the New Covenant Age. His assumption is that only those laws repeated in the New Testament apply. As we will see, that’s an interpretive problem.
I like most of what Turek writes. He’s good at dealing with atheist arguments. See his book Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. He mentions and quotes from my favorite section from the Bahnsen v. Stein debate. He has some helpful things to say about eschatology. For example, he wrote, “we can conclude reasonably that most, if not all, of the New Testament documents must have been written prior to 70.”
His answer to this young woman’s question, however, is off base. It’s true that there was a change in covenants but not in the moral aspects of that covenant. We know this because the New Testament writers appeal to many Old Covenant moral laws as Turek points out and leaves out many others.
There is nothing in the NT that supports Turek’s claim that only the laws repeated in the NT are applicable. He’s reading something into the Bible that’s not stated. My question would be, “Where’s the verse to support the claim that only laws repeated in the New Testament apply?”
Are we to believe that while laws regarding incest (Lev. 18:8; Deut. 22:30; 27:20) apply in the New Testament (1 Cor. 5:1-2), but laws against sex with animals (Ex. 22:29), abortion (Ex. 21:22-25), kidnapping (Deut. 24:7), arson (Ex. 22:6), or cursing the deaf or tripping blind people (Lev. 19:14) do not apply? Some might say that most of these are common sense prohibitions. If this is the argument, then they were common sense regulations in Moses’ day.
How about “just weights and measures” (Lev. 19:35-36; Deut. 25:13-16)? This law is repeated in Proverbs (11:1; 20:10) but not in the NT. I suppose this law would come under the commandment not to steal, the Eighth Commandment. But why mention these specific laws from the OT if they are reasonably covered by the Eighth Commandment?
The Apostle Paul writes:
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst (1 Cor. 5:1-2; cf. 7:1-3).
Some sexual impropriety had taken place in the Corinthian church. Paul references Old Testament law (Lev. 18:8; Deut. 22:30; 27:20). The Bible required that the unrepentant person had to be removed from the church and treated as an unbeliever (see Matt. 18:15-20). This would have been done by the elders after all remedies for reconciliation had failed. Paul writes, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). The old leaven was to be cleaned out so the new leaven would not be affected (1 Cor. 5:6-7). I guess the accused should have told Paul, “That’s ‘Jewish Law.’ It doesn’t apply under the New Covenant.” A preterist might say, “That law is still in effect, but it will be done away with when Jesus returns to put an end to the Old Covenant Law.” This makes no sense since we learn from various examples that specific Old Covenant laws were done away with prior to the judgment coming of Jesus before their generation passed away, circumcision being the most evident example.
Some years ago, I participated in a discussion with a group of dispensationalists about the kingdom of God. Naturally, the subject of the law came up.
Dr. Harold Hoehner, at the time a professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, said like Turek, “Well, if something isn’t repeated in the New Testament, it’s not applicable today.”
David Chilton asked this pointed question in response: “So if your pastor was found to have had sex with an animal, what would you say?” And Hoehner responded, “Since it’s not repeated in the New Testament, it’s not a sin.”
The other DTS professors backed away from Hoehner’s claim. They remarked, “the prohibition comes under laws governing fornication. The New Testament forbids fornication.
I responded, “I agree with you. It is covered under the provision regarding fornication. How do you know what constitutes fornication from the New Testament alone?”
They knew they were trapped. “The Old Testament defines fornication,” they said.
What do we do with an Old Covenant law (Ex. 21:17; Lev. 20:9) that Jesus uses against the Pharisees concerning the death penalty for “he who speaks evil of father or mother” (Mark 7:10)? Of course, Jesus was not addressing little children. He was condemning the way the Pharisees were manipulating God’s law in order to avoid its practical applications and thereby “neglecting the commandment of God” and setting it aside “in order to keep [their] tradition” (vv. 8-9).
Jesus repeated the commandment in the NT? Is it still applicable? I guess Turek would say that it only applied before the cross. Then what do we make of the woman caught in the act of adultery? Did Jesus overturn the sanction for this prohibition? Some scholars believe He did. Then why not the commandment regarding rebellious children?
Paul freely uses Old Covenant law in the NT. He applies a law about the mistreatment of animals (Deut. 25:4) to “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). See an expanded application in 1 Corinthians 9:7-10 where Paul references what is written in “the law of Moses” (v. 9) and broadens its application by stating that it was written “for our sake” (v. 10).
He makes a similar application from the OT about different animals being yoked together for work (Deut. 22:10) with believers and unbelievers being bound together, that is, being “unequally yoked” (ἑτεροζυγέω=hetero [differently] + zugeó [yoked]) (2 Cor. 6:14).
The Old Testament is filled with such applicational laws that did not pass away with the coming of the New Covenant. That’s why Paul could write the following: “All Scripture is God breathed [θεόπνευστος] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Reproof, correction, and training in righteousness are moral categories. Paul commended Timothy because “from childhood” he had “known the sacred writings” (v. 15). Paul is referring to all the Old Covenant by using the terms “sacred writings” (ἱερὰ γράμματα) and “scripture” (γραφὴ). They were and still are applicable today.
What about Turek’s use of Hebrews 8:13? If the moral law from the OT was no longer applicable except those laws repeated in the NT which most people did not have access to, then why did God promise to put His “laws into their minds and write them upon their hearts” (8:10) in the New Covenant? What laws are these? They seem to be biblical laws—“elementary principles of the oracles of God”—that were to become second nature by way of study, practice, and application (Heb. 5:11-14).
The writer to the Hebrews explains in what way the first covenant was “obsolete … and growing old” and “near [ἐγγὺς] to disappear” (8:13). He was referring to the “regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary” (9:1). Jesus is the Word that “became flesh and tabernaclen” among the Jews during His earthly ministry (John 1: 14). He is the lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), the temple (2:13-2), and the once for all sacrifice (Heb. 10:10). These are the laws that passed away because they found their fulfillment in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ:
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Heb. 9:11-15).
There is nothing about the passing away of the moral application of the law to the individual and society at large. The moral law was designed for the nations (Deut. 4:1-8).
The young woman mentions shrimp and Turek mentions bacon. The NT is clear that Jesus declared all foods to be clean (Mark 7:18-23). Peter was given similar instructions about unclean foods by a direct revelation from God: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15; 11:9). To emphasize the point, the command was given three times (v. 16).
It’s downright simplistic to claim that only those laws repeated in the NT are applicable under the New Covenant. This does not mean that it’s always easy to apply God’s law in today’s world, but it is part of wisdom to do so.
Charles Colson wrote the chapter “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms” in the book Transforming Our World:
Recently I addressed the Texas legislature…. I told them that the only answer to the crime problem is to take nonviolent criminals out of our prisons and make them pay back their victims with restitution. This is how we can solve the prison crowding problem.
The amazing thing was that afterwards they came up to me one after another and said things like, “That’s a tremendous idea. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that?” I had the privilege of saying to them, “Read Exodus 22. It is only what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.”
Colson did not take the legislators to natural or Noahic law. Rather, he referred them to the Mosaic legislation, a set of laws that dispensationalists and some preterists tell us were unique and only applied to Israel. Thomas Ice and H. Wayne House claim the following and exhibit commandment schizophrenia like Frank Turek:
The Christian is to love the law of God. Grace does not free the believer from obedience to the will of God. However, Christians are not under the expression of the law as it was given to Israel. Instead, we may use the Mosaic legislation as examples of how we may respond individually and corporately; we main gain wisdom from it. Christians are, however, to obey the will of God as it is expressed in the New Testament—the law of Christ—and the law revealed in the Adamic and Noahic covenants.
While “Christians are not under the expression of the law as it was given to Israel, [but] we may use the Mosaic legislation as examples of how we may respond individually and corporately.” Does this mean Christians can adopt a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach? Yes, the law prohibits having sex with animals, but there is no moral obligation to follow that prohibition.” House and Ice maintain that “wisdom” must be used to determine how the Mosaic legislation should be applied under the New Covenant. The authors never show how this works in practice or how their “wisdom” approach would be different from that of a theonomist.
In addition, there is no comprehensive “law of Christ” in the New Testament.[v] Jesus continually referenced the existing revealed law. He condemned the religious leaders for “nullifying” the law of God, “neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men…. You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:8-9). What “commandment of God”? The Fifth Commandment (7:10). Jesus also appeals to the Adamic Covenant regarding marriage (Matt. 19:3-6) and combines it with elements of the Mosaic legislation (19:7-8; Deut. 24:1-4), seemingly putting them on equal authoritative footing.
Theonomy: An Informed Response
Christendom is a civilization—the kingdom of God in history—that is governed in every area, every nook and cranny, by God: a society whose lawfully anointed rulers govern in terms of God’s revealed law. In this view, God is not in retirement or on vacation; He is a King who has delegated to His officers the authority to exercise command. There are three covenantal institutions: family, church, and state. To deny that God’s covenant law applies to civil government in New Testament times is necessarily to abandon the ideal of Christendom.Buy Now
One last point. The Apostle Paul offers a succinct understanding of how God’s law—all of it—is to be understood and used:
But the goal of our commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith. Some people have strayed from these things and have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and worldly, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral [fornicators], homosexuals, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted (1 Tim. 1:5-11).
The Christian might argue that Paul is only addressing “the lawless and rebellious” as if Christians are not sometimes lawless and rebellious. It wasn’t that long ago that Christians often supported the slave trade even though Scripture condemns the practice of “manstealing” (Ex. 21:16). “George Keith published An Exhortation & Caution to Friends Concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes that emphasized the Mosaic prohibition against manstealing (Exod. 21:16— ‘he that stealeth a Man and selleth him, if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to Death’)…. One non-Quaker biblical protest did come from Puritan New England when in 1700 Judge Samuel Sewall published a pamphlet entitled The Selling of Joseph. Sewall too cited the Golden Rule and the Mosaic prohibition against man-stealing, while he also explained that ‘the curse of Canaan’ from Genesis 9:25 had nothing to do with contemporary Africa or modern slavery.”
Even Ted Koppel seemed to agree with Colson and against some dispensationalists and preterists:
What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions. They are commandments. Are, not were. The sheer brilliance of the Ten Commandments is that they codify in a handful of words acceptable human behavior, not just for then or now, but for all time. Language evolves. Power shifts from one nation to another. Messages are transmitted with the speed of light. Man erases one frontier after another. And yet we and our behavior and the commandments governing that behavior remain the same.
Most people who only have seen the 1956 film Ten Commandments on television have never seen Cecil B. DeMille’s opening monologue. DeMille had something more in mind than just making a film about a religious figure from the Bible. He considered his production to be so important that he came out on stage to deliver a short but powerful statement on the nature of freedom under the law of God:
The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God’s laws or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the State or are they free souls under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today.
The elaborate film Souvenir Book that was made available in theaters includes a preface with the title “The Law by Which Men Live”:
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS are not laws. They are THE LAW. Man has made 32,000,000 laws since they were handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai more than three thousand years ago, but he has never improved on God’s law.
All law reflects some worldview. Law is an inescapable concept. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas.” There is a corollary to Jefferson’s observation: “Every non-religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas.” Jefferson himself proved this by compiling a moral philosophy in his Literary Commonplace Book. Even the most lawless person has his own sense of justice. We hear people talk about “prison justice.” Prisoners will judge other prisoners, especially those involved in child abuse cases. There are some crimes that even murderers will not tolerate. Someone is ultimately in charge: the sovereign individual where “every man does what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6), a single ruler who claims a “divine right,” the call for a political savior by the people best exemplified in the way Israel asked for a “king like all the other nations” (8:22-23; 1 Sam. 8), a “we the people mentality” where the decisions of the majority become law, or placing the final arbitration of what is right in the hands of nine Supreme Court justices where only five are needed to change a law.
President Harry S. Truman voiced the common and prevailing sentiment of his day:
The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we comprehend that enough these days. If we don’t have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody.
We cannot live within the fluid boundaries of legal relativism. There must be a definitive and final legal standard of appeal to justify moral decisions at the personal and governmental levels. If not, then one judge’s opinion is as good (or as bad) as another. “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6)
The debate the applicability of the whole law of God for Christians has been dealt with in numerous places. Before you critique the position, learn what all the factors are. The following materials will help:
· Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today.
· Greg L. Bahnsen, No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics
· Greg L. Bahnsen, “M.G. Kline on Theonomic Politics: An Evaluation.”
· Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., House Divided: The Break-Up of Dispensational Theology.
· Kenneth L. Gentry, God’s Law Made Easy.
· Kenneth L. Gentry, Covenantal Theonomy: A Response to T. David Gordon and Klinean Covenantalism.
· Gary North, ed., Theonomy: An Informed Response
· Gary North, Victim’s Rights: The Biblical View of Civil Justice.
· James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23.
S. Lewis Johnson, “The Paralysis of Legalism,” Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 120 (April/June 1963), 109.
Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 204), 239.
Charles Colson, “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms,” Transforming Our World: A Call to Action, ed. James M. Boice (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), 154-155.
H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press,1988), 118-119.
For a discussion of the “law of Christ,” see my Publisher’s Introduction to H.B. Clark’s Biblical Law: The Text of the Statutes, Ordinances, and Judgments of the Bible (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press,  2010).
Mark A. Knoll, “The Bible and Slavery in Colonial America,” Text and Canon Institute (July 18, 2022). See “Gary DeMar on Slavery, Abolitionism, and their Legacy.” Also see James B. Jordan’s “Slavery in Biblical Perspective.”
Ted Koppel, The Last Word, Commencement Address at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (May 10, 1987). Quoted in Robert H. Bork, The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law (New York: The Free Press, 1989), 164.
The Ten Commandments Souvenir Book_,_ Paramount Pictures Corporation (1956, 1957), was published by The Greenstone Company, New York, N.Y.
Quoted in Paul Grimley Kuntz, The Ten Commandments in History: Mosaic Paradigms for a Well-Ordered Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 170.
Harry S. Truman, Harry S. Truman: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President—January 1 to December 31, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1965), 197.
Greg L. Bahnsen, “M. G. Kline on Theonomic Politics: An Evaluation of His Reply,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, VI:2 (Winter, 1979-1980).