Tripartite Law “Proof Texts” Examined, Part 1

INTRODUCTION: THE GAUNTLET THROWN DOWN

A few months ago I issued a challenge on our podcast (#CFTP) for any Reformed Christian to point me to a specific passage of Scripture that explicitly shows the Ten Commandments could be separated from the rest of the Law of Moses. For several hundred years those holding to Reformed and Covenant Theology confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and its Baptist counterpart, the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession, have steadfastly taught as doctrine that the Law of Moses was/is divisible into three parts (tripartite) and that one part, the “moral law,” is a part of the law that has always been and continues to be binding upon all men for all time. But is this true? Surely, there must be sold Scriptural support for such a teaching that been held by so many saints for so many hundreds of years . . . right?

Well, you will be shocked to find out, as I shall put forward in this series of posts, that there is absolutely no scriptural support in the entire Bible for this notion. However, in examining the “proof texts” put forward by Reformed theologians we will find that these text often do quite the opposite of their desired talks of proving a division of the Law, but instead, affirm time and again that the law was a whole unit. Even with its distinctions within itself, the law was one ball of wax. As already mentioned, this will be a series of articles based upon my notes for a response Podcast to those who put forward some of the “proof texts’ you will find here. These articles will be released sporadically as I have opportunity to “clean-up” the notes and make them presentable.

DEFINITIONS

Words mean things, so before we begin we must define a few terms. Understanding these words will help us to understand if Tim and Carlos were able to get even close to answering the challenge I issued.

Division vs. Distinction

Division – “The action of separating something into parts, or the process of being separated.”

Distinction – “a marking off or distinguishing as different; the recognizing or noting of differences; discrimination.”

From the definitions above it is clear that these words are not synonymous. A theological example might be useful to understand what we are talking about. The Trinity is one being, God, yet distinctly three persons. Though each Person of the Trinity is distinct within the Godhead they are not divided from the Godhead. NCT asserts the same for the Mosaic Covenantal Law, it is a unity though there is distinctions and even overlaps of such distinctions of moral, ceremonial, and civil.

However, these being merely theological and not biblical distinctions of categories, we are at liberty of going even further in theological categories if we had wanted to and dividing up the various ceremonial laws into its own division and thus the same with the moral and civil laws (and this has already been done). A plain reading of the Scriptures will show that thought there are distinctions there is no divisions in the Mosaic Covenantal Law (MCL).

Tripartite Law: The tripartite division is an attempt to classify portions of the law of Moses as either moral, ceremonial, or civil (judicial). Some see some laws as overlapping. The Westminster Confession of Faith defines each of these categories in this way:

Moral: This portion of the law was given to Adam before the Fall and continues forever to be a binding portion of law on all men, redeemed or reprobate, for all time.

Ceremonial: These laws contained “several typical ordinances, partly of worship,” but all these “ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament”

Civil: These laws were given to Israel “as a body politic . . . which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.”

SOURCES

Because this paper is primarily a response to the gentlemen and brothers of Semper Refermanda Radio podcast (Episode #5) I acknowledge them as a source. However, since they relied and quoted so heavily from another source I must include that work by Dr. Jonathan Bayes as a primary source as well.

In fact, I have gone beyond the biblical texts cited by SRR and have included the texts that Bayes lists as support for the tripartite law. I do have to admit disappointment in Bayes paper. Though it is only an 18 page paper he does not actually begin to quote Scripture and deal with “proof texts” until page 11 and then only spends 4 pages doing so, the rest being endnotes.

So, because this was a primary source for SRR, I will see my task as focusing more on Bayes paper. This, I think, is a good thing since when one “Googles” this issue his paper usually pops up first on the search engine. Let it be noted that I will not be dealing with Bayes’ first 10 pages of his paper where he attempts to establish the historical precedence of a division within the Mosaic Law (sometimes even a bi-partite law). While history is useful is it is never the authority of the Faith. Scripture alone holds that position.

Throughout the life of the church error has crept in, even during the time of the Apostles, so we must look to the Scriptures, infallible, God-breathed word, and not the practice of the historical church as our standard. To be honest I enjoyed and agreed with much of Bayes insights on some of the Scripture texts with the exception of his Reformed presuppositions he often read into the text to provide certain conclusions that the text is silent about or is actually contradicted within the context itself.

THE KEYS TO UNDERSTANDING

Just as having knowledge of some basic definitions will help us to understand the discussion better so too is in important, I think, to have in mind some texts that will help us better interpret Scriptures in light of the Scriptures (the “Analogy of Faith”). This is a basic hermeneutical principal that will be relied upon heavily throughout this paper. I’ll briefly hit upon each of the passages listed below and mention the key point that must be kept in mind when looking at the tripartite law “proof texts.”

Matthew 22:37-40 — He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

I would argue that if anyone is looking for a law “for all time and all men everywhere” this is it. I have argued elsewhere that this is the essence of the Law of God that all mankind it under from birth. Within covenants God makes with men he gives a “covenantal expression” of that “absolute” or “natural” law. Or to put I more biblically, this is the law upon which all other Covenantal laws (and the Prophets) depend or hang upon. So foundational is this Law of God that you will see its appearance in many of the “proof texts” is some manner or another.

Psalm 51:16-19 — You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart. In Your good pleasure, cause Zion to prosper; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on Your altar.

What we hear from the Reformed concerning many of the Old Testament “proof texts” given below is that they give clear evidence of divisions in the Mosaic Covenantal Law because God rejects the Israelites sacrifices or rituals because they have need of righteousness or justice, etc. But far from proving a division they show a need for one part of the law to be kept for the others to be accepted, thus proving the unity of the law. The Jews in these passages were guilty of doing just as the Reformed attempt to do with the Mosaic Law, cherry-picking. Only in the case of the Jews they were trying to uphold just the “ceremonial” at the expense of the “moral” and “civil” aspects (to use the Reformed’s terms) while the Reformed seek to uphold just 10 Commandments out of the approximately 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law.

Psalm 51:16-19 shows that God does want the Jews to offer sacrifice, but to do so with humility and brokenness. And that is what we shall see in the following OT passages when taken in their contexts. It is interesting that Bayes himself makes a similar observation when he states, “Fastidiousness in ceremonial observation is invalidated unless it goes hand-in-hand with obedience to the moral law and its social application in the civil law.” In other words, it is a unit, a whole.

Proverbs 15:8 –The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.

This is not a contrast between division of the law but wickedness and righteousness. Both are offing up worship but one is detestable before God while the other is delightful to Him. It is a matter of the heart, not a distinction or division of the law of Moses. This will be seen time and again in the “proof texts” offered up by the Reformed.

Christ is ALL!

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