Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Some final thoughts)

It would seem to me that none of the arguments for a tripartite law offered by theologians throughout the years gain a sure footing in Scripture, and that even their philosophical arguments are strained at times. The early writers seem to have been driven by a theological motivation, versus the clear commands of Scripture, to use a tripartite division of the law, whereas the latter writers seem to rely on the early writer's arguments. Since several convincing Scriptural arguments have been offered for the unity of the law, it makes more sense to keep the law as one. This has a wide range of implications on theology and ethics, but those will have to be the scope of set of posts, which I do not have time to write now.

In closing, let me just suggest that even if one denies that tripartite division of the law and takes another approach such that the Mosaic covenant was conditional and that believers are now under the law of Christ, there is still room to look at the Decalogue as a picture of God's character, and therefore it is still useful to help us develop our ethics today.

In this series:
Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Introduction)
Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Historical Overview)
Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Analyzing Aquinas' arguments)
Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Analyzing Calvins' arguments)
Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Wrapping up with two more historical views)
Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Entertain generic arguments for flaws in the tripartite assumption)
Is the Mosaic law tripartite? (Some final thoughts)


Alan Knox said...


This has been an excellent series! I hope you find times to write some posts about the ethical and theological implications. To be honest, in school I've never heard the option of thinking of the law in any other way except the three part division.


Aussie John said...


Thank you for this first-class series, and for the conclusion of equal worth.

It has been my conclusion for many years, that the majority of the church leaders/teachers today preach a gospel/theology/doctrine according to the traditions of men, rather than according to Scripture.

We need to be grateful to God for the studious great men of God in times past, but, God's people TODAY need the studious great men of God of TODAY.

Maël said...


It might be a while before I have time to thoroughly think through the ethical and theological implications, but when I do, I'll be sure to write about it.

My experience has been similar to yours. My OT professor suggested that the tripartite position was not consistent with the OT, but he did not present an alternative. All the theologians I took classes under presented the tripartite division as a matter of fact; my ethics professor, after having read my paper and giving it an A, still did not see any issue with the tripartite division of the law.

Aussie John,

What surprised me is that it seemed that nobody ever even bothered to check where this tradition came from, and yet they had no qualms using it. Then when I saw how weak Aquinas' argument actually was, I was shocked.

I love reading the church fathers and other old theologians, but one thing I have learned is that we have to be careful just accepting their conclusions, just as people should be careful just accepting my conclusions; we need to be Bereans (Acts 17:11)!

Ray said...

I want to encourage you in your thoughtfulness and desire to know what scripture says.
Something I've been trying to work through is how the essential unity of the law interacts with, say, Hebrews 7:11-12, which argues that the law is received under the Levitical priesthood, and thus is principially obsolete when the priesthood is replaced. The law's fundamental unity implies that this is referring to the overturning of the whole law. It seems some balance is required here...

ebenezer geezer said...

greetings, just discovered your blog which interest me greatly. Have you read John Reisinger's book "Tablets of Stone". He is very clear on this view the law being all one and cannot be broken up. He was the first I read arguing against tripartite.

Stephen Garrett said...

I have read your entire series and I highly recommend it as a primer on this topic. I will be referring others to it.

I think you ought to look at expanding your writing.



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