A Progressive Covenantal Perspective: Paul and the Tripartite Division of Moses’s Law


The question this essay will address concerns the Apostle Paul’s perspective on the use of the law of Moses in the Christian life and in civil government. This is a single question with two prongs of application. One prong concerns the Christian life, broadly conceived, and seeks to address the continuing relevance of the law of Moses for new covenant believers. The other prong addresses the continuing relevance of the law of Moses for civil government at all levels (e.g., local, state, federal), specifically whether the law of Moses should be the standard to which Christians should hold their governments accountable and which Christians should promote through their normal legislative processes. At the heart of the question, which inevitably affects both prongs of application, is whether the Bible portrays the law of Moses as divisible into parts or aspects, and if so, which of these parts are now abolished through Christ and which remain in force.

Within the Reformed tradition, it has been commonplace to construe the law of Moses as tripartite, consisting of ceremonial, civil, and moral law. Within this schema, a common view has been that only the moral law remains in force, whereas the ceremonial and civil laws have been abolished. Christians are still bound to obey the moral law but are not obligated to obey the ceremonial or civil laws, the ceremonial being abolished through the definitive work of Christ and the civil being limited in application to the time and place of theocratic ancient Israel.[1] However, within this tradition, some have stressed that only the ceremonial law has been abolished and that, in addition to the moral law, the civil law remains in force today, whether maximally in the details of its legislation or minimally in its principles of justice. This latter approach is associated with the label “theonomy,”[2] which in some of its manifestations has roots in the Reformed tradition, had a heyday in a particular form in the late twentieth century,[3] and within some circles is apparently increasing in influence today.[4]

In view of this variegated tradition, I will argue that it goes astray essentially in its conception of the law as tripartite. Paul did not conceive of the law of Moses as tripartite but as a fundamental unity, which as a whole was abolished by Christ and replaced by the new covenant. No part or aspect of the law of Moses remains in force in the new covenant era since Christ fulfilled it and rendered it obsolete. This does not require that Paul rejected any continuing relevance of the law of Moses—after all, he continued to cite it positively—but only that the law of Moses no longer functioned as covenantal law for God’s people but instead exemplified God’s righteousness and wisdom within a particular era of redemptive history. The tripartite view of the law, in obscuring its fundamental unity, fails to reckon with the planned obsolescence of the entire law within redemptive history. As a result, it does not rightly perceive the abiding relevance of the law of Moses to the Christian life and civil government.

The argument for this thesis will unfold in three stages. First, I will address Paul’s negative statements concerning the law, which evince the abolition of the entire law. Second, I will address Paul’s reappropriation of the law as an example of God’s righteousness and wisdom. Finally, I will show that in Paul’s reappropriation of the law, he applies it to new covenant believers, not the civil government. Of these three stages in the argument, the first is foundational since it concerns whether the law of Moses is tripartite. The second stage of the argument addresses the proper use of the law in the new covenant era. The final stage, which builds on the others, addresses those to whom the law of Moses can be properly applied today, whether the church or the civil government.


Paul viewed the law of Moses as indivisible because it was inherently bound up with the old covenant, the whole of which Christ abolished, having brought it to its intended end. In Paul’s negative statements concerning the law of Moses, there is no indication that only some aspects of the law were abolished whereas others remained covenantally binding. Rather, Paul repeatedly claims that Christians are not under the law but are free from it. The old covenant’s stipulations do not function anymore as covenantal authority for God’s people.

The Meaning of “Law” in Paul’s Letters

To understand Paul’s treatment of the law of Moses, the issue must be set in its covenantal context. The word for “law” in Paul’s letters is νόμος (nomos), and almost every occurrence in the Pauline corpus refers to the law of Moses.[5] Hence, Paul’s treatment of the “law” isn’t a commentary on every kind of legislation—not even divine law in its entirety—but the specific and particular legal code given by God to Israel at Mt. Sinai.[6]

Paul’s use of the term νόμος probably owes to the influence of the LXX, תּוֹ ָרה which strongly preferred νόμος as the translation of the Hebrew term (Torah). The word ָרה וֹתּ refers to instruction, and in its Mosaic context refers to the stipulations of the Sinai covenant.[7] Hence, as a translation of the term νόμος in the LXX and Paul should be understood to refer to the legislation of the Sinai covenant. It was not simply legislation, but legislation within a covenantal framework. The law code was equivalent to covenantal stipulation; the commands or individual stipulations within the law code filled out the content of the love and faithfulness Israel was required to have and hold for God. Obedience to the commands of the law was an expression of Israel’s love and loyalty to the God of the covenant.

The point thus far is that the legislation at Sinai was indivisible from the covenant that framed and gave rise to it. It is illegitimate to divorce the Sinai covenant from its legal content, since the former is the basis for the latter, and the latter gives expression to the former. Hence, the term νόμος in Paul’s letters can be translated as “law-covenant,” since it refers to the law code of the Sinai covenant. Any discussion of Paul’s view of the law of Moses must therefore take into account the law’s inseparability from the Sinai covenant. If in Paul’s theology the Sinai covenant is deemed obsolete, so must its law code.

The Meaning of “Under the Law” in Paul’s Letters

The phrase “under the law” (ὑπὸ νόμον, hypo nomon) in Paul’s letters also suggests that Christians are free from the entire law of Moses. In the Pauline corpus the phrase appears in eleven verses, mostly in Romans and Galatians.[8] The law in view is the law-covenant of Moses, despite the absence of the Greek article modifying νόμος.[9] What does Paul mean when he speaks of a person or group being “under the law”? Given the lexically predominant referent of νόμος as the Sinai covenant’s legislation, to be “under the law” refers to being “under the Sinai covenant’s legislation.”[10] To be “under” a law-covenant is to be a member of that covenant community, to be obligated to do and keep that specific covenant’s stipulations. Some have stressed that “under the law” means to be “under the curse of the law” or “under the dominion of sin,”[11] and Paul can certainly align the law closely with sin and death (esp. cf. Rom. 6:14–15; Gal. 3:22–23). Nevertheless, this is not the formal meaning of the phrase but rather a function of the impotence of the Sinai law-covenant. Perhaps the clearest instance of this is Galatians 4:4, where the Son of God was born “under the law.” Surely Paul did not mean that God’s sinless Son was born under sin’s dominion! Rather, Jesus was born and grew up under the stipulations of the old covenant and, as a man, was obliged to keep its commands.

Not once does Paul claim that Christians are still “under the law” in any sense. Christians are not “under the law” but “under grace” (Rom. 6:14–15). Christians have been redeemed from a life “under the law” and adopted as God’s sons (Gal. 4:4–5). In the new covenant era, to live according to the Spirit is to be free from a life “under the law” (Gal. 5:18). In these texts, Paul never indicates that Christians are still obligated to keep parts of the law of Moses but not others. Attempts to show otherwise read implicit qualifications into the text and fail to observe what Paul actually says of the law as a whole, not simply its ceremonies.[12] Paul’s consistent distancing of Christians from a life “under the law” indicates they are free from the obligation to do and keep the stipulations of the Sinai covenant.

The Temporality of the Law in Paul’s Letters

In Pauline perspective, God intended the law of Moses as a whole to be temporal and provisional, not eternal and final. From the standpoint of redemptive history, God never intended the Sinai law-covenant to be everlasting and definitive. Rather, its goal was to instruct and prepare Israel for the arrival of the Messiah. For our purposes, this point can be adequately demonstrated through a brief survey of Romans 9:30–10:4; 2 Corinthians 3; and Galatians 3:15–4:7.

In Romans 10:4 Paul calls Christ “the end of the law.” The word “end” (τέλος, telos) can refer to the goal or culmination of something, and such a meaning fits well in the Romans context. In Romans 9:30–10:4 Paul utilizes the metaphor of a race. Israel was running the race of law-pursuit but did not arrive at the finish line, whereas the Gentiles, though not pursuing the law, received the victor’s award of righteousness by faith (9:30–31). Israel didn’t finish the race because they “stumbled” over the stone of faith in Christ (9:32–33) and instead sought to establish their own righteousness (10:1–3). Using the race metaphor, Paul says the law had a finish line—a τέλος—and the finish line was Christ himself, whose arrival would bring the law to its intended conclusion and usher in the eschatological age of righteousness (10:4).[13] The law of Moses pointed to Christ, and when Christ arrived, the law—not just the legalistic misuse of it[14]—came to its proper end.

Paul makes a similar argument in 2 Corinthians 3, in which the law-covenant of Moses is called “old” (παλαιός, palaios, 3:14) in contrast with the “new” covenant, the latter of which Paul was a minister.[15] The old covenant had a ministry of glory with Moses as its minister, yet it ultimately was an external ministry of condemnation because it could not overcome Israel’s hardness of heart, which was expressed in their inability to look upon Moses’s shining face (3:7, 13). The covering on Moses’s face showed that the old covenant could not internalize the law and bring the Israelites into the presence of God to behold him with unveiled face (3:14–18). One of the keywords is καταργέω (katargeō), which occurs four times in the chapter (3:7, 11, 13–14). Initially, it refers to the “fading” glory on Moses’s face (3:7), but then it refers more broadly to the entire ministry of Moses (3:11) and the “setting aside” of the old covenant (3:13), which is “set aside” in Christ (3:14).[16] The transitory glory of Moses’s face depicts the transitoriness of the entire old covenant and its ministry. In 2 Corinthians 3:13–14 we have a parallel with Romans 10:4, for the Israelites were unable to see the “goal” (τέλος) of the old covenant, which was to point beyond itself to the coming of the Messiah.

Galatians 3:15–4:7 stresses the limited duration and planned obsolescence of the law to an even greater degree. In Galatians 3:15–18 Paul teaches that since the law-covenant of Moses arrived subsequent to the promises to Abraham, it did not add to or render invalid the promises. The law was not meant to bring about the inheritance, for such was given by a promise to Abraham. Positively, in Galatians 3:19–25 the law’s temporal purpose is made clear, as the number of temporal words or clauses indicates:

  • “until the Seed came to whom it had been promised” (3:19)
  • “before the faith came we were imprisoned under the law” (3:23a)
  • “being shut up until the faith to be revealed” (3:23b)
  • “the law was our instructor until Christ” (3:24)
  • “when the faith came, we are no longer under the instructor” (3:25)

Similarly, Paul resumes the temporal words and clauses in 4:1–7, this time utilizing the metaphor of maturation to describe Israel under the law of Moses:

  • “for as long as the heir is a child” (4:1)
  • “until the appointed time set by the father” (4:2)
  • “when we were children” (4:3)
  • “but when the fulness of time came” (4:4)
  • “you are no longer a servant but a son” (4:7)

According to these texts, God planned the law of Moses to be in effect only for a time, until the time of fulfillment through the Messiah. The Sinai covenant’s legislation was never meant to be final and definitive, nor was it intended to bring about the inheritance, life, or righteousness (3:18, 21). Instead, it was meant to show Israel her need to obtain the Abrahamic promises through faith in the Messiah (3:24–29). It was meant to be in force only until the maturation of God’s people—the fullness of time—when the Messiah would arrive (4:4–7).

This quick survey of some key texts in Paul’s letters sufficiently clarifies the temporality and provisional nature of the law of Moses. It was never intended to be an everlasting law-covenant but was intended to remain in force only until the coming of Christ. Further, there is no evidence in these texts that Paul thought only a certain part or aspect of the law-covenant of Moses was to be set aside.[17] For instance, Israel’s blindness as to the τέλος of the law was pervasive, for they failed to see the purpose of the whole law, not just some of its parts (Rom. 9:30–10:4; 2 Cor. 3:13–14). When Paul contrasts the old with the new covenants in 2 Corinthians 3, it is the entire Sinai covenant, not just some of its parts, that is rendered old, set aside, and transcended by the glory of the new covenant. Again, in Galatians 3:15–4:7 the entire law, not only some of its parts, is in view. The whole law was given subsequent to the promises to Abraham (3:17), and the whole law was given on account of transgressions and was mediated by angels (3:19). The whole law functioned to imprison and instruct Israel (3:23–24), and it is therefore the whole law we are no longer under (3:25) and from which we have been redeemed (4:5). The entire Sinai covenant, along with its inseparable legislation, had come to its intended end since the Messiah inaugurated the new covenant.

Given that Paul portrays the whole law as having been abolished, and that he does so without qualification or division of the law into parts or aspects, the burden of proof rests on those who claim otherwise. The tripartite view of the law, whether applied broadly to the Christian life or, in the case of theonomy, more specifically to civil government, obscures the Scriptural witness regarding the planned obsolescence of the entire Sinai law-covenant. In its zeal to uphold the law of God, the tripartite view dims the glory of the new covenant, in which we find God’s final and definitive covenant legislation written on his people’s hearts.


Given Paul’s portrayal of the abolition of the entire law of Moses, it is perhaps surprising that he freely reappropriated it.[18] Within the new covenant era, the law of Moses was no longer binding covenantal instruction but retained abiding relevance as an example of God’s righteousness and wisdom within the old covenant era. Paul did not reject the law of Moses as useless and irrelevant; after all, its author was God and was therefore instructive for the Christian in the way of righteousness and wisdom (Rom. 7:12; 2 Tim. 3:15–16).[19]

A Sampling of Paul’s Positive Use of the Law

That Paul retained a positive use of the law to instruct is evident from a sampling of texts in which he cites the law in support of his teaching. In Romans 13:9 Paul cites four commandments from the second table of the Decalogue and says Christians fulfill them when they love one another. He positively cites the fifth commandment in enjoining children to obey their parents (Eph. 6:2).[20] Of chief importance for Paul is the love command, which is summarily articulated in Leviticus 19:18 (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14). He cites the law of not muzzling the ox in support of the need to provide material sustenance to apostles and elders in their ministry (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18 = Deut. 25:4). Moreover, even when he doesn’t cite the law explicitly, it is probable that the principles of the law informed Paul’s teaching on issues such as generous giving (2 Cor. 9:7 = Deut. 15:10), sexual ethics (Rom. 1:27 = Lev. 18:22; 20:13), the right treatment of workers (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1 = Lev. 25:43, 53), and the discernment of innocence and guilt (2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19 = Deut. 19:15). Paul even applies the pleasing aroma from the Levitical food offerings to depict how Christian holiness pleases the Lord (Eph. 5:2; Phil. 4:18 = Exod. 29:18 et al.). That Paul used the law of Moses in support of his teaching to primarily Gentile Christian churches shows that Paul saw the old covenant as still instructive in some sense for new covenant believers, even though those new covenant believers were not under that former covenant.[21]

So, in what sense is the old law-covenant still instructive for believers today? Does the law’s remaining relevance to instruct Christians prove the tripartite view, particularly that the moral law remains in force? Two observations from these texts suggest that the tripartite view is too simplistic in its formulation. First, in contexts of moral instruction, Paul cites from the entire law, not just the moral law. Paul certainly highlights the Decalogue as instructive (Rom. 13:9; Eph. 6:2)—often the Decalogue is cast as the moral law or at least a summary of it—but by no means does Paul use only the Decalogue in allowing the law to instruct Christians. As seen above, Paul’s moral teaching is informed by the civil law (1 Cor. 9:9; Gal. 5:13–14; 1 Tim. 5:18–19) and even the ceremonial law (Eph. 5:2; Phil. 4:18). Apparently for Paul, the entire law of Moses retained the ability to instruct, not just the moral law. In this regard, the argument that Paul’s ongoing use of the law proves the binding validity of the moral law proves too much, since Paul cited more than just the moral law for moral instruction. The tripartite view fails to explain adequately the ease with which Paul can find support from anywhere in the law for his moral instruction.

A second observation is that Paul distances new covenant believers from the law by claiming that they “fulfill” (πληρόω, plēroō) the law instead of “doing” (ποιέω, poieō) and “keeping” (φυλάσσω, phylassō) the law. In the LXX the ordinary verbs used to depict the relationship between Israel and the law were ποιέω and φυλάσσω—Israel was to “do” and “keep” the commandments.[22] However, despite Paul’s frequent mention of the law of Moses, as well as his willingness to use these verbs to depict the obligation of those under the law to keep it (cf. Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; 5:3; 6:13), he almost never says Christians “do” or “keep” the law.[23] An instructive parallel is 1 Corinthians 7:19, where Paul stresses the importance of “keeping the commandments of God” (τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ, tērēsis entolōn theou), yet excludes circumcision from those commandments which Christians should keep.[24] Since circumcision was the entrance rite into a life of obedience to the laws and customs of Moses (Acts 15:5; Gal. 5:3), Paul’s exclusion of circumcision from the commandments suggests the commandments Christians should keep aren’t coextensive with the commandments of Moses.

Instead, Paul stresses that Christians “fulfill” (πληρόω) the law. What the law required is fulfilled in Christians because of the accomplished work of Christ (Rom. 8:4), and when Christians love one another, they fulfill the love of neighbor command that summarized the social ethic of the old covenant (Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 5:14; cf. Lev. 19:18). The notion of fulfillment includes elements of continuity and discontinuity with regard to the law of Moses. On the one hand, that Paul urges Christians to do the very thing Leviticus 19:18 enjoined Israelites to do shows the goodness of the law of Moses, and that the summative ethic of the new covenant—love—is essentially identical to that of the old. On the other hand, that Paul teaches Christian fulfillment of the law suggests that the Christian’s relationship to the stipulations of Moses is different from that of ancient Israel, for it shows the law from the perspective of its completed and accomplished reality through Christ. That Christians “fulfill” the law suggests both the goodness of the law of Moses and the covenantal distance Christians have in relation to it—a distance the tripartite view diminishes.[25]

A Balanced Approach: 1 Corinthians 9–10

A nice example of Paul’s balanced approach to the law of Moses is found in 1 Corinthians 9–10, in which Paul cites the law of Moses positively yet distances himself from the obligation to keep it.

In 1 Corinthians 9:9 Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 in support of the idea that an apostle has a right to “worldly/fleshly things” (9:11). He specifically locates the teaching “in the law of Moses” (9:9), which serves as a basis (γάρ, gar, 9:9) for his point. That Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 for support shows he thinks it still instructs new covenant believers and is useful for wisdom.[26] Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10:1–13 Paul reminds the Corinthians of Israel’s idolatry in their wilderness wandering. He twice states that Israel’s story occurred as an “example” (τύποι/τυπικως, typoi/typikōs) for Christians (10:6, 11), and that it was recorded in writing “for our instruction” (10:11). Even though the Exodus narrative of Israel’s wilderness wandering isn’t the Sinai covenant’s legislation per se, Paul’s description of Israel’s wilderness experience around Mt. Sinai as “for our instruction” aptly describes his approach to the law in general.[27] From these examples, it is clear that Paul retained a positive use for the law of Moses in its ability to instruct Christians.

Nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 9:20–21, occurring in the same context, strikes another tone, for it distinguishes between the law of Moses and the law of God.[28] In 1 Corinthians 9:20 he ministered “to those under the law,” which refers to adherents to the old law-covenant (primarily Jews). Paul immediately clarifies that he himself was not under the law, but he could keep those regulations for the sake of the gospel. Additionally, he ministered “to those apart from the law” (9:21), which probably refers to Gentiles who did not adhere to the old covenant’s stipulations. While ministering to those, Paul lived as one free from those stipulations. His freedom relative to the stipulations of the old covenant speaks to those stipulations as adiaphora for Paul; at this stage of redemptive history, Paul was under no obligation to adhere to them as covenantal legislation. But Paul’s freedom from obligation to the law of Moses didn’t entail freedom from moral norms or any covenantal obligation, for Paul immediately clarifies that he was not “apart from the law of God, but in the law of Christ.” Fascinatingly, Paul distinguished between “the law of God” and the “law of Moses”; he was obligated to the former but not the latter. Further, he was not free from covenantal obligation—after all, he was “in the law of Christ,” probably a reference to the new covenant, with Christ set in contrast to Moses.[29]

To summarize Paul’s balanced approach in 1 Corinthians 9–10, Paul can speak positively of the law-covenant of Moses. It can still be an authority for Christian ethics (9:9) and an instructor for Christian righteousness (10:11). Since the law of Moses exemplified God’s law at an earlier stage in redemptive history, it still has the ability to confirm and make explicit for the Christian the righteousness and wisdom of God. At the same time, the old law-covenant doesn’t obligate the Christian as such but is now adiaphora, for the Christian isn’t under that covenant. What the Christian is obligated to obey is the law of God, which in this redemptive era instructs climactically and definitively through the lens of Christ’s new covenant and is grounded in the character of God and the created order.[30] As Brian Rosner has argued regarding Paul’s use of the law, the law was still “a critical and formative source for his moral teaching. . . Rather than reading the law as law, Paul reads it as wisdom for living, in the sense that he has internalized the law, makes reflective and expansive applications, and takes careful notice of its basis in the order of creation and the character of God.”[31]


Thus far I have argued that Paul stressed the abolition of the whole law of Moses, not just parts of it, and that he reappropriated the whole law of Moses as indicative of God’s righteousness and wisdom in a previous redemptive-historical era. The argument thus far has addressed the tripartite view of the law and has found it wanting in its conception of the ceremonial, civil, and moral aspects of the law. At the same time, the tripartite view rightly recognizes the ongoing instructive value of the law of Moses within the new covenant era. What remains to be seen is the manner in which Paul applies the reappropriated law, whether to the Christian life or civil government. Specifically, the focus of this section will be on who it is that the law of Moses instructs. To whom does Paul think the law of Moses still speaks? For whom in the new covenant era was it written? I will suggest that Paul applied the law’s instruction to new covenant believers, not civil government. When the law of Moses is cited for its moral instruction, Paul consistently has in view Christians; he never applies the law of Moses to civil magistrates. This section thus overturns theonomy’s core holding, i.e., that the law of Moses, particularly the civil law, is the standard for civil government at all levels.

The Law of Moses Applied to Christians

Paul consistently applies the law of Moses to new covenant believers. In Romans 13:8–10, he applies some of the Decalogue and Leviticus 19:18 to the church of Rome, urging them to love one another. Paul calls the entire churches of Corinth and Ephesus to heed the law’s teaching regarding not muzzling the ox (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18; cf. Deut. 25:4). It is the entire church at Ephesus that Paul urges to remember the Deuteronomic principle of needing two or three witnesses to uphold an accusation of wrongdoing (1 Tim. 5:19; cf. Deut. 19:15). Paul urges specifically children in the church to render Christian obedience to their parents, in keeping with the fifth commandment (Eph. 6:2; cf. Exod. 20:12). In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul explicitly states that the account of Israel’s wilderness generation occurred “for our sake” (10:6) and “was written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages has arrived.” The “instruction” (νουθεσία, nouthesia) found within the law was intended ultimately for “us,” believers belonging to the eschatological, new covenant era.

1 Corinthians 5 gives a particularly instructive example of how Paul applied the law of Moses to the church. The problem in the Corinthian church was that there was some man who was having sexual relations with his “father’s wife” (5:1). Instead of rebuking the man and calling for him to repent, the Corinthians were not only tolerating this behavior but even boasting about it (5:2a, 6a). In response, Paul urged the church to exact the punishment of excommunication, which he reiterates several times in the chapter:[32]

  • “Remove the one who did this from your midst” (5:2)
  • “Hand over such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (5:5)
  • “Cleanse out the old leaven” (5:7)
  • “Let’s feast not with the old leaven” (5:8)
  • “Do not associate with the sexually immoral” (5:9)
  • “Do not associate with or even eat with such a one” (5:11)
  • “Should you not judge those inside?” (5:12)
  • “Send away the evil one from among yourselves” (5:13)

Paul’s response is instructive, for it shows how in the new covenant era Paul can still apply the civil law of Moses to the church, albeit in a distinct way due to the advent of the new covenant.[33] The specific sin of sexual immorality—especially of the incestuous kind depicted in 1 Corinthians 5—was punishable by death in ancient Israel (cf. Lev. 18:11; 20:11).[34] In the new covenant, old covenant capital punishment has become excommunication and disfellowship from the church.[35] While there are obvious differences between the application of the civil law in theocratic Israel and the reappropriation of the civil law in the new covenant, the point here is to note the similarities: Paul applies the civil law of Moses to the church, not the Corinthian magistrates. LXX-Leviticus 18:29 calls for the “destruction” (ἐξολεθρεύω, exolethreuō; cf. LXX-Lev 20:17) of the offender, which is similar to the result Paul intends for the man at Corinth (ὄλεθρος, olethros, 1 Cor. 5:5). Similarly, LXX-Deuteronomy 17:7 calls Israel to remove the offender from their midst, a command Paul echoes in 1 Corinthians 5:13.[36] Paul gives no indication that the church was to bring the man before the Corinthian magistrates but directs the church to deal with it themselves. Perhaps one could object that Paul didn’t seek punishment from the Corinthian magistrates because they were pagans and had no interest in pursuing biblical justice.[37] But this objection fails to consider Paul’s consistent demarcation in 1 Corinthians 5–6 between those inside the church and those outside (1 Cor. 5:12; 6:1, 6); the church has a specific responsibility and authority to judge one another, a responsibility and authority that the civil magistrates lack.

Paul’s application of the law of Moses to the church isn’t farfetched since, as mentioned above, the law of Moses is covenant legislation and both Israel and the church represent different but related covenant communities. The Israel-Christ-church paradigm intrinsic to Pauline ecclesiology—in which Christ fulfills the promises to Israel and the church shares those promises in Christ—explains the ease with which Paul sees the law of Moses as retaining moral instruction for Christians.[38] After all, “we are the circumcision” (Phil. 3:3), “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), the “one new man” (Eph. 2:15), God’s treasured possession (Titus 2:14; cf. Exod. 19:5), and God’s dwelling place (2 Cor. 6:16; cf. Lev. 26:11). Since it is new covenant believers who specifically have a share of the covenant promises God made to Israel, it is fitting that Paul would enjoin specifically new covenant believers to reappropriate the legislation of that covenant.

The Law of Moses Not Applied to Civil Government

In contrast to the church, Paul never applies the Sinai covenant promises or legislation to civil government, since civil government—and more broadly civil society—is not a redeemed covenant community. Perhaps one could object that since Paul wrote his letters to churches or individual Christians and not to emperors or civil magistrates, his failure to apply the law of Moses to civil government is hardly surprising; naturally, Paul would seek the law’s application to his intended audience, not to another audience. This objection sees rightly that the occasional nature of Paul’s letters dictated the content of those letters; we don’t have everything Paul could say about specific topics.[39] Further, we should remember the dictum that “the absence of evidence doesn’t entail the evidence of absence.” However, this objection ultimately fails because on at least two occasions Paul provides his basic expectations for civil magistrates; in neither of them does he draw from or allude to the law of Moses, nor does he draw conceptual parallels between Israel’s theocracy and civil governments. Rather, he gives indications that civil magistrates are under a moral standard different from that stipulated in the law of Moses.

The two texts are Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Timothy 2:1–3.[40] In Romans 13:1–7 Paul states that civil magistrates have been instituted by God and exist to reward the good and punish evildoers. In order to fulfill this, magistrates must have the ability to distinguish between the good (τὸ ἀγαθόν, to agathon) and the bad (τὸ κακόν, to kakon; 13:3–4). But what constitutes the good that a magistrate rewards and the evil that a magistrate punishes? Two clues suggest that the “good” and “evil” Paul has in mind refer to a basic standard of justice and goodness, which accords with natural knowledge, being known through the created order. First, when Paul wrote Romans towards the end of his third missionary journey (probably AD 57), Nero was the emperor of Rome. While not yet as hostile as he would later become towards Christians, Nero was certainly no friend to early Christianity nor was he a paragon of virtue. According to the Roman historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio, his behavior was self-aggrandizing and debauched.[41] Certainly Paul did not think Nero was upholding the law of Moses or even simply the Decalogue. Nevertheless—and this is the second clue—Romans 13:1–7 contains numerous indicative-mood verbs, suggesting that Paul considered Romans 13 to be a reality, even under the reign of Nero. God truly institutes authorities like Nero (13:1–2), and Nero truly rewarded the good and punished evildoers (13:3–4). The indicatives don’t require that Nero did so perfectly, only that he did them truly and to some degree. Both clues—the historically impious Nero and the Romans 13 indicatives—suggest that the “good” and “evil” Paul had in mind wasn’t identical to the Sinai covenant legislation but expressed a basic standard of good and evil in keeping with natural law and the created order, which even a pagan emperor like Nero could protect, promote, and enforce through the use of the “sword” (13:4).

The second text where Paul lays out briefly his expectations for civil magistrates is 1 Timothy 2:1–3. Here Paul urges the Ephesians to pray “for all people, for kings and all those in authority.” The purpose of the prayer—marked by a ἵνα (hina) clause—is “that we might lead a tranquil and peaceful life in all piety and godliness.” The terms “tranquil” (ἤρεμος, ēremos) and “peaceful” (ἡσύχιος, hēsychios) connote a quiet, undisturbed, and orderly life.[42] The implied ideal for which Christians should pray and to which magistrates should strive to achieve and maintain is a situation in which Christians are able to live without fear of persecution and with the freedom to live in godly ways. This ideal situation is “good and acceptable before God our Savior” (2:3). The precise laws or policies in order to achieve such a situation Paul does not lay forth, and Christians can disagree on these matters in good conscience. Nevertheless, Paul’s minimal expectation for civil magistrates is that they enforce and abide by laws that would allow Christians a basic freedom of religion. At the same time, he gives no indication that in order to achieve such a situation, civil magistrates must abide by the law of Moses. Surely, Paul would not object to a legal code that resembles some of the second table of the Decalogue, but he would do so not because civil magistrates are beholden to the Decalogue per se but because some of the Decalogue resembles natural law.[43]

This brief survey of Paul’s application of the law of Moses shows that he consistently applies it to the church that through Christ typologically corresponds to old covenant Israel. On the other hand, he never applies the law of Moses to the civil government but instead expects civil magistrates to protect and uphold a basic standard of justice and goodness, which accords with natural law and the created order.[44] This is not to say that Paul would be unhappy if a magistrate became a Christian (e.g., Acts 26:28–29), and ideally legislative bodies will enact and enforce laws that are increasingly just and good. But the standard of justice and goodness to which those laws should conform is one distinct from the covenantal legislation at Sinai.


This essay has shown that, from the evidence from Paul’s letters, the tripartite view of the law of Moses cannot explain adequately Paul’s negative and positive statements concerning the law. Negatively, Paul taught that Christ had brought the entire law of Moses to an end, not just certain parts or aspects of it. Positively, he also reappropriated the entire law of Moses—not just the moral law—as illustrative of the wisdom and righteousness of God. Finally, in its reappropriated form, Paul consistently applied the law of Moses to the new covenant community, not the civil government—a fitting application due to the covenantal correspondence between the old and new covenant communities. Paul’s negative and positive approach to the law clarifies that he considered the law a fundamental unity with a particular function in redemptive history. The tripartite view of the law, in its variegated forms, fails to grasp the law’s unity and thus obscures its redemptive-historical function.

Further, we have seen that a tripartite view of the law is not required to uphold a standard of morality for the Christian life or the civil government. With regard to civil government in particular, sometimes theonomists are concerned that if the law of Moses is removed as the basis for civil legislation, effectively there will be no standard of morality and we will have societies based on “the sinful and foolish speculations of human beings.”[45] But as shown above, this fails to grasp the manner in which Paul cast his moral expectation for civil magistrates in light of the created order. Indeed, Christians must call their governments to pursue and maintain a divinely-given, objective standard of morality. But Paul did not hold forth the law of Moses as this standard; instead, he located it in that which every human being shares by virtue of their participation in the created order.[46] This is also not to say that the law of Moses cannot provide an example for civil legislation, but only that those laws are not binding on civil government today.[47] Paul’s approach to the law of Moses does not necessitate a standardless basis for morality and civil government.

Finally, it should be reiterated that the only hope for societal transformation is through the gospel of the new covenant, the heralding of which is the mission of the church, not the civil government. As a result, there are necessary limits on what Christians can expect and require a civil government to accomplish.[48] The responsibility of the civil government is to provide a place in which the church can fulfill its mission; the civil government and the church have complementary but not identical missions. The theonomic approach to the law confuses and conflates these missions. Rightly analyzing Paul’s teaching concerning the abolition and reappropriation of the law of Moses for the new covenant community clarifies and distinguishes the complementary missions of the church and the civil government.

* * * * *

Editor’s note: this article was originally published by The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology and republished with their permission.

[1] E.g., John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 vols.; ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; The Library of Christian Classics 21; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 2:1502–05 (4.20.14–16); Westminster Confession of Faith 19.2–5 (though there is debate as to whether the “general equity” called for by WCF 19.4 is theonomic; see S. B. Ferguson, “An Assembly of Theonomists? The Teaching of the Westminster Divines on the Law of God,” in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique [eds. William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], 315-49); Willem A. VanGemeren, “The Law Is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ: A Reformed Perspective,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel [ed. Wayne G. Strickland; Counterpoints; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 53-55.

[2] John Haverland (“Theonomy: What Have We Learned?” Ordained Servant 4.2 [April 1995], 30) provides a clear definition of theonomy: “[T]heonomy holds that God’s Word is authoritative over all areas of life, that within Scripture we should presume continuity between Old and New Testament principles and regulations until God’s revelation tells us otherwise, and that therefore the Old Testament law offers us a mode for sociopolitical reconstruction in our day, and that this law is to be enforced by the civil magistrate where and how the stipulations of God so designate.”

[3] In the late 20th century theonomy’s main proponents were Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, JN: Craig Press, 1973); Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace: The Biblical Basis of Progress (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987); and Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1979); idem, “The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Wayne G. Strickland; Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 93–143. Though differing from one another in some respects, these proponents argued stringently for the ongoing validity of the civil law of Moses for civil government. For a history of this movement in America, see Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

[4] One of the versions of theonomy trending today among some pastors is given the label “general equity theonomy,” which tends to resist the more maximalist theonomic approach of Rushdoony and Bahnsen and offers a more minimalist approach that finds the principles of the civil law to remain in force, at least in the event that the original applications of that law in ancient Israel no longer apply in modern societies. For a defense of “general equity theonomy” at a popular level, see Eric Luppold, “Defending Theonomy (Part 1)” [cited 8 August 2022], https://podcasts.strivingforeternity.org/programs/governed-by-god/ s2e17-defending-theonomy-part-1/; Lamb’s Reign Media (Cross and Crown Radio) [cited August 8 2022], https://www.lambsreign.com/search?q=theonomy). For recent popular criticisms of theonomy, see 9Marks, “On the Appeal and the Errors of Theonomy (with T. David Gordon)” [cited 29 July 2022], https://www.9marks.org/conversations/episode-147-on-the-appeal-and-the-errors-of-theonomy-with-t-david-gordon/; Andrew Walker, “American Culture Is Broken. Is Theonomy the Answer?” [cited 29 July 2022], https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/theonomy/; Timon Cline, “What Theonomy Gets Wrong About the Law” [cited 29 July 2022], https://mereorthodoxy.com/theonomy-gets-wrong-law/.

[5] Douglas J. Moo (A Theology of Paul and His Letters: The Gift of the New Realm in Christ [Biblical Theology of the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2021], 424): “More than 90 percent of the occurrences of nomos in Paul refer to the Mosaic law.” Besides the law of Moses, Paul can use νόμος to refer to the Pentateuch (Gal. 4:21b) or (possibly) a “principle” (Rom. 3:27; 7:21; 8:2). For a brief discussion on this point, see ibid., 424–25.

[6] This point, while basic, is often forgotten in discussions surrounding the “law of God,” and the result is that the specific legal instruction God gave to Israel at Sinai is treated as his definitive and everlasting legal instruction for the world.

[7] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown–Driver–Briggs–Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1979), 435–36; William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1988), 388.

[8] Rom. 6:14–15; 1 Cor. 9:20 (4x); Gal. 3:23; 4:4–5, 21; 5:18.

[9] The absence of the article in Greek does not necessarily make a noun indefinite. Rather, in cases in which the noun is definite from its referent in the context—in its respective Pauline contexts νόμος has the established referent of the law of Moses—the absence of the article places the emphasis on the quality of the noun (in this instance, the legislative quality of the old law-covenant). See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 244–47, who applies this also to anarthrous objects of prepositions.

[10] Rightly Brian S. Rosner, Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God (New Studies in Biblical Theology 31; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2013), 47–59, though he notes (rightly) that in some instances the phrase connotes something negative because being under the old covenant was bound up with sin.

[11] For “under law” as “under the dominion of sin,” see Bahnsen, “Theonomic Reformed Approach,” 106–07. Douglas Moo (“The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel [ed. Wayne G. Strickland; Counterpoints; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999], 366) suggests it refers to being under the power or regime of the law.

[12] On 1 Corinthians 9:20, Bahnsen (“Theonomic Reformed Approach,” 107–08) claims Paul must have had only the ceremonial law in mind since Paul wasn’t free to break the Decalogue. In response, perhaps Paul had in mind primarily his adherence to the Jewish food laws and calendar when describing his ministry among the Jews, but if so, that is only because those elements were some of the most recognizable evidences of a life “under the law,” not because the phrase “under the law” itself admits any limitations or divisions within it.

[13] There is no small debate over whether the term τέλος means “end” or “goal,” but the race metaphor captures both senses (rightly Jason C. Meyer, The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology [NAC Studies in Bible and Theology; Nashville: B&H, 2009], 211).

[14] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (“The Law As God’s Gracious Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel [ed. Wayne G. Strickland; Counterpoints; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999], 180–88) suggests Israel stumbled due to a legalistic misuse of the law, and that therefore the moral law remains in force today, provided it is used rightly. The problem with this view, inter alia, is that it interprets Paul’s citation of Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5 as a misguided prooftext in the mouths of his interlocutors, not as something Moses himself taught. Kaiser’s approach to the problem of the law is often found among theonomists as well (e.g., Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 305, 735–38).

[15] The word νόμος does not occur in 2 Corinthians 3, with the term “covenant” (διαθήκη, diathek̄ ē) being primary. Nevertheless, Paul still is reflecting on the old covenant’s accompanying legislation (τὸ γράμμα, to gramma, 3:6), particularly the Decalogue as the legislation written on “stony tablets” (3:3).

[16] Grammatically, in 2 Corinthians 3:14 it is the face covering, not the old covenant, that is the probable subject of καταργεῖται, for the metaphor is of someone unable to see because they have a veil keeping them from seeing the glory of Christ (cf. 3:15). Nevertheless, given the contrast in the context between the old and new covenants and their corresponding ministers in Moses and Paul, what is “set aside” ultimately is the entire old covenant and its ministry.

[17] Contra Bahnsen (“Theonomic Reformed Approach,” 103–08), who consistently interprets Paul’s negative portrayal of the law as simply a statement of the abolition of the ceremonial aspects of the law.

[18] In using the word “reappropriate,” I am indebted to the manner in which Rosner (Paul and the Law) speaks of Paul’s continuing positive use of the law for Christians.

[19] It should be noted that the question of this section is not whether Paul considered Christians free from all moral norms. His letters clearly state otherwise, evincing a concern for righteousness and a life pleasing to the Lord (e.g., Rom. 12:1–2; Eph. 4:17–5:14). Rather, the question concerns whether Paul retained any use of the law of Moses to instruct the Christian in righteousness.

[20] Philip S. Ross (From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law [rev. ed.; Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2010], 341) thinks Paul’s citation in Ephesians 6:2 “is hard to interpret in any other way than as an immediate call for obedience to the fifth commandment.”

[21] For a detailed study on the extent to which Paul relied on the OT, including the law of Moses, to construct ethics for his predominantly Gentile churches, see Brian S. Rosner, Paul, Scripture, and Ethics: A Study of 1 Corinthians 5–7 (Biblical Studies Library; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994).

[22] They especially appear frequently in LXX-Deut., as the following sampling from LXX-Deut. 5–11 indicates: LXX-Deut. 5:1; 6:1–3, 16–18, 24–25; 7:11–12; 8:1, 6, 11; 10:13; 11:1, 8, 22, 32. But they also appear in other texts, such as LXX-Exod. 19:5; 23:22; 24:3, 7; 35:1; LXX-Lev. 18:3–5; 26:2–3, 14–15.

[23] Romans 2:13–14, 26 are the only possible exceptions to this point, and these verses are much debated. The debate surrounds whether Paul is speaking hypothetically of an individual’s obedience to the law (e.g., Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 148–53; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968], 72–78) or of genuine Gentile Christian obedience (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans [2nd ed., BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018], 128–33; S. J. Gathercole, “A Law unto Themselves: The Gentiles in Romans 2:14-15 Revisited, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 85 [2002], 27–49). It should also be noted that the relevant occurrences of φυλάσσω in 1–2 Timothy do not refer to keeping the law of Moses per se (cf. 1 Tim. 5:21; 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14), though 1 Tim. 5:21 perhaps suggests a close link between Paul’s commands and the principles found in the law of Moses since the former is grounded in the latter in the previous verses.

[24] See also 1 Timothy 6:14 for the collocation of τηρέω (tēreō) with ἐντολή (entolē).

[25] Rightly Moo, “Law of Christ,” 359; contra Ross, From the Finger of God, 339–41.

[26] Similarly, Roy E. Gane, Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017), 144–46.

[27] Similarly, Rosner, Paul and the Law, 185.

[28] Rightly H. Wayne House and Thomas D. Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? (Portland: Multnomah, 1988), 11

[29] Rightly Moo, A Theology of Paul, 136. In 1 Corinthians 9:21 there is a close relationship between the law of God and the law of Christ in this era of redemptive history. The “law of God,” grounded in God’s own character, probably is a broader category that encompasses divine instruction at different eras in redemptive history, including in the created order. The “law of Christ” is the law of God as seen in the definitive and final new covenant legislation, with Christ as its mediator and lawgiver. Thus, the new covenant is not at odds with divine instruction, nor does it overturn those moral norms grounded in God’s character and in the created order.

[30] This does not entail Moo’s view that says Christians “are bound only to that which is clearly repeated within New Testament teaching” (“Law of Christ,” 376). Nor does it entail Bahnsen’s competing view that “[w]e should presume that Old Testament standing laws continue to be morally binding in the New Testament, unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation” (“Theonomic Reformed Approach,” 142; similarly, Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 654). Rather, it entails interpreting the law of Moses in light of the biblical metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation (rightly Stephen J. Wellum, “Progressive Covenantalism and the Doing of Ethics,” in Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course Between Dispensational and Covenant Theologies [eds. Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker; Nashville: B&H, 2016], 226–28). For a good example of how to construct Christian ethics with a view to the biblical metanarrative, see Iain Provan, Seeking What Is Right: The Old Testament and the Good Life (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2020). This is a more objective and satisfying approach than that of Gane (Old Testament Law, 197–218), who considers the Sinai legislation as still in force if the purpose for which the law was given remains.

[31] Rosner, Paul and the Law, 204 (italics original).

[32] James W. Thompson, Moral Formation According to Paul: The Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 116 rightly notes that the commands to remove the man (1 Cor. 5:2) and purge the evil one (1 Cor. 5:13) form an inclusio, establishing a common referent for the similar verbs in the entire pericope.

[33] There are elements of continuity and discontinuity regarding the punishment. On the one hand, excommunication clearly is not identical to capital punishment. On the other hand, excommunication is a kind of death—or at least a pronouncement that one is spiritually dead—and thus shares some similarities with the old covenant punishment. This combination of continuity and discontinuity makes best sense if the new covenant is seen as a genuinely new covenant that fulfills the promises of the old covenant.

[34] LXX-Leviticus 18:8 has the very phrase “the wife of your father” (γυναικὸς πατρός σου, gynaikos patros sou; cf. 18:11), which is virtually identical with 1 Corinthians 5:1.

[35] This point is recognized by many Pauline scholars. Contra Rushdoony (Institutes of Biblical Law, 399), who understands the “destruction of the flesh” to refer to physical death, and that the act of handing the man over for such was the church’s pronunciation of the Levitical death sentence on the man. According to Rushdoony, if ancient Corinth had been a godly society with godly magistrates, the man would have been executed.

[36] 1 Corinthians 5:13b differs from LXX-Deut. 17:7 only in the form of the verb used: ἐξαρεῖς (1 Cor. 5:13: ἐξάρατε) τὸν πονηρὸν ἐξ ὑμῶν αὐτῶν (exareis [exarate] ton ponēron ex hymōn autōn). Moreover, that Paul has the Deuteronomic stipulation of community removal in mind is clear, for as Rosner has noted (Paul, Scripture, and Ethics, 69), the five Deuteronomic texts where purging is stipulated (Deut. 17:3, 7; 19:1

[37] E.g., this objection is registered by Rushdoony (Institutes of Biblical Law, 399).

[38] For an explication of the Israel-Christ-church relationship, see Brent E. Parker, “The Israel-Christ-Church Relationship”, in Progressive Covenantalism, 39–68.

[39] Rightly J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), 23–36.

[40] Of course, numerous texts exhibit Paul’s concern that Christians live properly towards outsiders (e.g., Col. 4:4–5; 1 Thess. 4:11–12; 1 Tim 3:7; Titus 3:1–2).

[41] Tacitus, Annals, 14.1–15.74; Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, 6.1–57 ; and Cassius Dio, Roman History, 62.1–63.21.

[42] See Walter Baur, Frederick William Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 439 (ἤρεμος), 440–41 (ἡσύχιος); Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry Stuart Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon (9th ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 778 (ἤρεμος), 779 (ἡσύχιος).

[43] To clarify, I am not saying that the entire Decalogue summarizes, clarifies, or republishes natural law. Rather, some of the Decalogue—particularly some of the prohibitions in the second table—resemble natural law and thus appear, not surprisingly, in other ancient and modern law codes.

[44] Contra Rushdoony (Institutes of Biblical Law, 654–56), who claims God’s covenant law is for all peoples and nations, whether they know it or not.

[45] Bahnsen, “Theonomic Reformed Approach,” 116; cf. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 10.

[46] Additionally, the Noahic covenant probably is something like a charter for civil governments today since (1) it isn’t a redemptive covenant per se, (2) it is a covenant God made with creation, (3) its minimalistic stipulations specifically are meant to counter the effects of the fall in the post-diluvian age; and (4) its stipulations are fundamentally protective so that humanity can fulfill the dominion mandate. For a discussion of this, see Jonathan Leeman, Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016), 206–08; and idem, “Baptists in Babylon: On the Role of Politics in Modern Baptist Life,” in Explorations in Baptist Political Theology (eds. Thomas Kidd, Paul Miller, and Andrew Walker; Nashville: B&H, 2023), forthcoming; House and Ice, Dominion Theology, 130–31. As for the use of natural law in Reformed ethics, see Stephen J. Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Emory University Studies in Law and Religion; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).

[47] Similarly, Provan, Seeking What Is Right, 39; Ross, From the Finger of God, 300–06.

[48] Leeman, Political Church, 261-70.

Joshua M. Greever

Joshua M. Greever (PhD) is an Associate Professor of New Testament at Bethlehem College & Seminary.

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