Lord of the Law: Part II

Natural Law

(Continued from Part I)

codetabletCritics of the Bible often point to ancient history as a method of discrediting the authenticity of the Bible. Specifically they claim ancient history refutes the notion that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God. Whereas Christians and Jews might point to the Mosaic Law as the prime example of God’s standards, critics claim the Mosaic Law can’t possibly be the revealed Word of God because the very standards expressed in the Bible are expressed in other ancient writings that predate the Bible. So, unless God is a plagiarist, the Bible simply cannot be true in the fashion it claims.

They tend to use two examples to defend their position:

  1. The Code of Hammurabi
  2. Confucius

Number 1: The Code of Hammurabi is an ancient code of law that was enacted by the sixth king of Babylon, Hammurabi, in the year 1760 B.C. One example of the code is still in existence today. It is inscribed on a seven-feet-tall slab of stone called a stele. In ancient Babylon these steles were placed throughout the kingdom so that everyone could read and know the law.

One of the first three laws says, “If any one brings an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if a capital offense is charged, be put to death.”

Sounds a lot like a prohibition against bearing false witness, doesn’t it?

You know what? There are other laws in the Code of Hammurabi that sound an awful lot like the Mosaic Law — particularly the 10 Commandments (which is found in the book of Exodus). And the challenge issued to those who believe in the authenticity of Scripture is this: Whether you subscribe to an early date for the Exodus (1446 B.C.) or a late date (1260 B.C.), the Code of Hammurabi still predates the writing of the 10 Commandments by hundreds of years.

confuciusthid2Number 2: Confucius was a Chinese philosopher whose teachings greatly influenced the far eastern world. He is famous for a number of quotations. One of the most famous is, “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.”

Okay, now that sounds a lot like the Golden Rule spoken by Jesus in Matthew chapter 7.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” — Matthew 7:12

Critics of Scripture are quick to point out that Confucius uttered his words almost 500 years before Jesus was even born.

So, naturally, these two examples are irrefutable proof that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God and is, instead, the product of a bunch of lazy writers who didn’t have the creative energy to come up with any original material, right?

Well, of course not. So, where is the resolution? It is found in a biblical concept that often doesn’t receive the attention it is due — “common grace.”

When Adam and Eve sinned they became immediately worthy of eternal punishment — death and damnation. In the same way, every single person who ever lived or will live was and is deserving of God’s wrath. God would be completely justified in the destruction of us all. But He doesn’t do that, does he?

Instead, God provided a means of salvation through the work of Christ. And, for the sake of those who will eventually come to a saving faith in Christ, God postpones His ultimate judgment. In the meantime, everyone — even the non-elect — get to experience a measure of God’s blessings and grace through “common grace.” Instead of being immediately cast into hell, many people who will reject Christ until their dying day enjoy long lives full of all sorts of blessings. One such blessing God grants to everyone is an innate sense of right and wrong, which prevents man from falling completely prey to his sinful nature and descending into abject depravity. He gives man a basic understanding of the law.

“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” — Romans 2:12-16

What this means is, even though men may be ignorant of the written Law of God as expressed in the Bible, they still have the principles of that Law written on their hearts. They have a conscience that tells them when something is wrong. Just as Cain knew he had done something wrong when he murdered his brother, Abel, men have always had a sense of right and wrong because God has equipped them with it. This is why Hammurabi had the ability to establish many good laws apart from ever having read Scripture. This is why Confucius “knew” the Golden Rule before Jesus spoke it audibly. These laws are a natural part of God’s creation.

codesteleThat does not mean men have the ability to follow their conscience in order to earn God’s favor. Look at the last part of that passage above. God will judge men by Christ Jesus. Salvation hinges on one thing only: Are you in Christ Jesus or not?

But what this does mean is that God has given rise to a thing we know as “natural law” or the “law of nature.” Natural law is a generally accepted theory of law that posits the existence of a law, which is set by nature and, therefore, has validity everywhere. It is the law that has general acceptance the world over. In practically every society and every culture you will find prohibitions against murder, theft, etc. There are exceptions — but not many.

Richard Maybury expresses this law in its most concise form in his book, “Whatever Happened to Justice?” He reduces natural law to two, basic, principles:

  1. Do all you have agreed to do
  2. Do not encroach on other persons or their property

Similarly Jesus condensed all of the law — both God’s law and Natural law — into two, basic, principles:

“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” — Matthew 22: 37-40

This natural law has had a profound impact on the world — most notably in the foundation of the United States. In the text of America’s foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, there is an explicit acceptance of natural law.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

There has always raged a debate as to whether or not America’s founding fathers were Christians or deists or atheists or something else. But what is not debatable is their understanding of natural law. It was upon an appeal to natural law that the founders justified their rebellion against England because they regarded natural law as a higher authority than the laws of men (more on that later).

Even beyond the shores of the United States the blessings of natural law are evident. It has been at the heart of many of the world’s most civilized societies. Go figure, it comes right from the heart of God, Himself, and is a blessing, indeed.

(To be continued in Part III)

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