Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Wrapping up with two more historical views)

To finish the historical analysis, I would like to look at two more instances: the 1689 Baptist Confession and a recent book on the topic.

Looking at the 1689 Baptist Confession, we see again that like Calvin and Aquinas, the authors of the confession related ceremonial laws with moral duties when they stated: "ceremonial laws [which] ... also gave instructions about various moral duties."[1] But, basing themselves most probably on the thoughts of Calvin, they also used these created categories. Since this is a confession of faith, as stated above, we should not expect to have a defense of the tripartite division of the law; instead we have Scripture references listed in support of their statement. In support of the ceremonial law, the following Scriptures are cited: Heb 10:1, Col 2:16-7, Eph 2:14-6. Yet again, the understanding of these Scripture hinges on the use of the terms for the law. As mentioned before by Moo and Hoehner, there is little to no indication that these are referring only to ceremonial laws, and therefore are deemed not to be sustentative proof for a tripartite division of such laws.

When reading modern theologians of the reform variety, the tripartite division of the law is also often assumed and rarely explained. In his presentation of the reformed perspective in the Five Views on Law and Gospel book, VanGemeren assumes the traditional tripartite division of the law when he states: “The laws of the Old Testament have also been commonly categorized as moral, ceremonial, and civil. Each one of the Ten Commandments expresses the moral law of God, whereas most laws in the Pentateuch regulate the rituals and ceremonies (ceremonial laws) and the civil life of Israel as a nation (civil laws)."[2] What VanGemeren fails to do, is to defend his view Biblically. Instead, he points to Calvin and the Westminster Confession, who themselves had accepted the tripartite view from earlier sources. This deserved Moo's criticism that VanGemeren assumed his tripartite position "without arguing the case. [Even though] this distinction, vital to his whole argument, is nowhere clearly stated in the Bible."[3]

In the next post I will start looking at generic arguments for flaws in the tripartite assumption. In the meantime, do you know of anybody else who tries to defend the tripartite division of the law?


[1] Samuel E.Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 3rd ed. (Webster: Evangelical Press, 1999), 232-3.

[2] Greg L.Bahnsen et al., Five Views on Law and Gospels (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 30.

[3] Ibid., 85. To be fair to VanGemeren, it seems very common for modern reformed theologians to rely on the formulations of Calvin and the Westminster Confession.

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