Monday, August 17, 2020

Natural Law, Sola Scriptura

Can one arrive at natural law solely through Scripture?  I do not mean is the discovery of natural law only possible through Scripture; I recognize natural law can be discovered through man’s reason.  What I mean is: can one arrive at it through Scripture but without Aristotle, Aquinas, or Lewis? 

This is not to suggest that one can approach the topic of natural law without knowing something of these three men (and others); through them one gains an understanding of natural law, therefore gains an understanding of what to look for in Scripture. 

I write the following under the assumption that the reader has an understanding of natural law as developed by the aforementioned philosophers (and others); also, recognize that I am after natural law here, not natural rights – a related, but different topic. 

To summarize this second point:

·         Natural law describes the behavior expected of me, how I live, how I treat others; natural rights are those rights I can claim against others. 

·         Natural law requires me to act and behave in certain ways towards others; other than respecting life and property, no one has a natural right to demand any of these behaviors from me. 

·         Natural law describes ethics and behavior that is necessary for a free and peaceful society; natural rights define legal prohibitions – what could be called proper or good law.

 For a natural law ethic to be functional, I would expect to find the following points addressed:

·         Man’s reason for being

·         A recognized hierarchy

·         A recognition of man’s reason

·         A proper respect for one’s fellow man

·         An expected code of behavior

·         Some basis from which to determine prohibited acts

·         A properly ordered time preference

 There may be others, but this is what I have come up with.  So…can natural law be discovered or deduced solely through Scripture?  Let’s see….

 In the Beginning…

Genesis 1: 26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

There is much to take away from this: first, that God made man – all men and all women – in His image.  This suggests, rather strongly, that we are to afford a level of respect to all human beings.  If God made all men and all women in His image, who are we to set some high and some low – at least on some level?  In this regard, we can consider all human beings as equal.  (Please note: I said “in this regard.”)

Second, man has dominion over everything of the earth.  This places man in the proper hierarchy, below God and above His earthly creation.

The Spark of the Divine

Genesis 2: 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

What makes human beings different from the other non-human animals?  It is this: God breathed only into man, creating a living soul.

We are often told of how much human beings have in common with other beings on earth, how much DNA we share, etc.  With all of that in common, how did we end up with such different outcomes?  It is a waste of space to compare the creations of man – physical, emotional, philosophical, religious – to the creations of any other being on earth.  You get the point.

So, why so different?  God breathed into man – and only into man.  He gave us a soul.  More important for this discussion, we have something else that is far beyond any like ability in other animals: reason.  This, too, comes from God – from His breath, if you like.

God has no “image” in any physical sense.  So how is it that we are made in His image?  We look an awful lot like apes, but they are not made in God’s image; He did not breath into them.  So, what is it about humans that is different?  It is this: we have a soul; we are capable of reason.

The Role of the Woman

Genesis 2: 18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

I skipped the part where Adam had his choice of any of the other animals…. I am glad Adam held out.

A helper for man…. Oh, this will get me in so much trouble.  Please just hold that righteous anger, as I will come back to this later.

The Law

Exodus 20: 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

There is a being above us, a being to be respected in awe, not to be trifled with; something or someone outside of and beyond human reach, not subject to human manipulation. 

 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

We are to give Him one day a week; an outward physical manifestation of respect and worship. 

12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

This tells us something of proper earthly authority and hierarchy – honoring both father and mother.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

The brass tacks of natural law: don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff, respect the family, do not lie, do not covet.  And this applies to all men and all women, all of whom are made in God’s image.

Everything before these last five commandments – from the creation of Adam through the first five commandments – was setting the stage: who we are, why humans are different, hierarchical roles with God at the top, followed by husband, wife, then children.  In these last five commandments, we get the foundations of some functional natural law.

In this last five, we understand the killing and stealing part: good old-fashioned respect for person and property.  But is there a functional society without respect for the family unit (adultery), or if false testimony is considered acceptable, or if covetousness and envy is the functional social norm?  No, no and no.  All are part of natural law, and all are necessary for a sustainably peaceful and functional society.

The Archetype: Modeling the Good

Mark 1: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Mark 9: 7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

Matthew 16: 15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

John 1: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

The Son of God, the God who created man and woman in His image, who breathed into man, who set the hierarchical order for man and nature; the Son was with God and was God; He was the logos – reason.  The archetype is certainly not the most important role that Jesus played, but it is certain that He did play this role.

I won’t copy it all here: read Matthew chapters 5 through 7.  There is your archetype.  Now, I know that understanding the Sermon on the Mount is complicated, subject to countless commentaries and interpretations.  Thank God that Jesus gave us a summary version:

Matthew 22: 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Love is doing: love the Lord and love your neighbor.  Our neighbor, made in God’s image just as we are.  We would not murder one whom we love, steal from one whom we love, commit adultery against one we love, or bear false witness against one we love.

Oh, one more thing: 

John 15: 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

He did that, too.  There’s an archetype for you.

Man’s Special Purpose

Isaiah 43: 21 This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.

Deuteronomy 6: 5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Ecclesiastes 12: 13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Ephesians 2: 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

We are to love the Lord, keep His commandments, and do good works.  Here is our purpose, our end, our telos.

We now understand that all of the commandments are summed up in two, just as Jesus said.  What of good works?  These come out of love; in Latin, beatitudo.  It is happiness, but not as we moderns understand it.  It is fulfillment, and this comes through other-regarding action: doing good works.  In other words, love.  This is the means to our end or telos.

A Crown of Righteousness

Matthew 6: 19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Death is not the end.  What we do now, on earth, will count for or against us.  Concern for our eternal life and God’s eternal kingdom will properly order our life, not wasting it living for the moment but living for eternity.

We understand the importance of low time preference in advancing civilization.  Consider storing up treasures in heaven the ultimate civilization-building measure.

Oh, Yeah…the Man and Woman Thing

The Apostle Paul spells this out in Ephesians 5.  Wives submit to husbands; husbands serve, in love, the wives.  Husbands are to serve as Christ did, even unto death.

Ask yourself: what does this say of hierarchy?  As soon as someone sees the word “submit,” all kinds of social-justice anger comes spewing forth.  But, like many things in Scripture, we are required to think deeply on this topic.  Who is serving whom in this relationship?  Who is submitting to whom?  Is the hierarchical relationship so cut and dry?

We see service from each to each; we see submission from each to each.  When a man opens a door for a woman, is he doing it to show who is in charge, or is he doing it to serve?  Man’s way is the first; God’s way, as demonstrated by Jesus and explained by Paul, is the second.

Further, regarding women: on the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb to see the body.  An angel told them that He was not in the tomb; he is risen; he is not dead.  Go tell His disciples.

Matthew 28: 9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

The single most important event in human history – the resurrection of Christ – was told first to two women.  Not to Peter, not to John (the disciple who Jesus loved).  Two women.  These women were the first to preach the Gospel, the Good News.

Yes, there is hierarchy ordained by God and in the natural law.  Let’s just say it cuts both ways.

Conclusion

Now, one could say that I am selectively choosing passages to prove my point.  Well, maybe.  But go ahead and find for me other passages that shed doubt on those I have selected. 

I could write a separate post on each of these sections and probably include a half-dozen more.  I could then write several posts tying these altogether into a more coherent summary of how natural law is to be found here, to be deduced solely from Scriptural passages.

But I hope what I have done here is sufficient.  He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Epilogue

Does this mean natural law is discoverable only through Scripture, only through Divine revelation?  Hardly.  God created all men in His image, not only those men who read and believe the Bible.  God breathed into all men – all men have a soul and have the capability of reason.

Acts 17: 22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

26 And [He] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

These Greeks were in search of God, the God that the Apostle Paul spoke of; this God made of one blood all nations that they should haply (meaning perhaps) seek the Lord; the Greek poets said the same as Paul.  We are all His offspring.

All men have the ability (reason), through God’s breath, to search for God.  But many do not know anything of the God for which they search.

If this isn’t enough for you, try the Golden Rule:

The idea dates at least to the early Confucian times (551–479 BC), according to Rushworth Kidder, who identifies that this concept appears prominently in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and "the rest of the world's major religions". 143 leaders of the world's major faiths endorsed the Golden Rule as part of the 1993 "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic". According to Greg M. Epstein, it is "a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely", but belief in God is not necessary to endorse it. Simon Blackburn also states that the Golden Rule can be "found in some form in almost every ethical tradition".

The Golden Rule sums up the natural law.  Bible-believers don’t hold a monopoly on this idea.  Why?  (Hint: God’s breath.)

10 comments:

  1. re: God's breath

    The aspirate, the sound we make when we breathe, which is the letter "h" in English, is one of God's Names. Every human being from the moment of birth, including atheists, begins to breathe the Name of God.

    “BREATHING HIS NAME INTO ABRAHAM Originally, Abraham's name was Abram (Gen. 17:1). After God confirmed His covenant to him, God inserted the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a letter in His own sacred name, into Abram's name making the name Abraham. When you pronounce ABRAHAM you can hear the breathing sound of the letter hei (pronounced "hey") inserted into Abraham's name. Abraham's wife, Sarah, was formerly known as Sarai (Gen. 16:1), until God confirmed a covenant to Abraham in Genesis 17. God inserted the letter hei (H) into Sarai's name making it Sarah! Once again, we hear the breathing sound inserted into the names of Sarah and Abraham. Symbolically, God was breathing His name into this couple so a child could be born to them in their old age. God's Breath brought new life.” — Perry Stone, Breath of the Holies

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    1. Very interesting. Thanks for adding this. I love etymology, especially when it has to do with words in the Good Book.

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  2. This post is going into my Bionic Mosquito favorites folder. I don't even have anything to add. I may think of something later. But for now, all I can say is fantastic idea and execution.

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    1. ATL, thank you. The idea wasn't mine. I took it on as a challenge. Someone felt that natural law theory could not be defended Biblically. It was a surprising statement to me, but I only felt this intuitively. I wanted to try and work it out.

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  3. Let me expand on the idea of man being made in God's image. The ability to reason is definitely at the top. But I think there are some other aspects we need to include to get a full picture. A set of fully developed emotions is also part of God's image. God has emotion. Mankind's emotions reflect God's. One big difference I think, but this is my speculation, is that God's emotions are infinite while man's are finite. The numb feeling we get when something really bad happens is us hitting the limit of emotion. I don't think God experiences that. I think He can always feel better or worse.

    The other things I include in God's image is having the ability to plan and the ability to create. These both are tied to reason but I think are something a bit different in that they involve bringing things into existence that don't today and reflecting on the future.

    I also just came across a great verse that further strengthens your argument for finding natural law in the Bible. 1 John 1:7 says, "if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."

    Walking is a metaphor for living or existing in a certain state of being. The Light refers to that which is good and proper. Being in fellowship with others shows that we are all living the way we were intended to live. Being cleansed from all sin shows we are living in a way in agreement with God's design for us.

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    1. I think that the most important aspect of being created in God's image is the tendency to be in relationship and thus unity. God is one. We're designed to seek out God and others and to value relationship.

      John, when he says "if we walk in the light" is talking about being right with God and keeping his commandments. Later in that same letter he'll tell his readers that the way they "know" that they know God is by keeping his commandments.

      He was teaching against a common heresy at that time that a person could continue sinning (ongoing continuous action according to the grammar he used) and be Christians.

      But he says, in the verses just prior to what you've quoted: "5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth."

      That phrase "in him there is no darkness at all" could also be translated "in him there is no darkness, not even one." (oudemia - not even one).

      John was explaining that even one sin takes a person out of relationship with God. Not that this was permanent but if a person tells themselves they have a relationship with God and yet they sin, they're lying to themselves. And relationship with God, is the most important thing. It's what we "grope" for - as Paul writes. And God hopes we find him.

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  4. I also agree that human beings tend toward to align their actions with natural law if they are thinking through what they see about what a human needs to thrive. Romans 1 mentions this too.

    " that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

    After reading this article, I wrote about some examples of how natural law would look when carried out in the family, in the economy, and in the church. If you are interested take a look.

    https://thecrosssectionrmb.blogspot.com/2020/08/defining-cooperative-individualism-part.html

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  5. One thing you might note when it comes to liberty and the bible is that nobody carried around ID and was subjected to immigration authorities to prove who they were. There was no concept of a nation's borders being "private property." In fact, the law of Moses commanded that the Jews treat "strangers" equally because "you were once strangers in a strange land."

    The right to travel freely has since in modern law ( or was) treated as sacrosanct. Even as recently as the 20th century, the Supreme Court viewed the right to travel as a fundamental and inalienable right. At issue only is the traveler's willingness to obey the legitimate laws which the border of a country represents - a demarcation of jurisdiction - not public property. The only time that crossing a border represents trespass is when a person veers from the right of way onto property owned by a private individual. And even then legal precedent has established that even travel over private property itself is no proof of trespass if a person is traveling to a land-locked piece of property of his own.

    Setting up checkpoints on public rights of way to harrass people who are exercising their fundamental right to travel, is not only morally bankrupt but it is legally bankrupt as well.

    "The claim and exercise of a constitutional right cannot thus be converted into a crime." [Miller v. U.S., 230 F.2d 486, at 489 (1956)]

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    1. The Bible tells us that in the fullness of time, God sent His Son. It has been said that the meaning of "fullness of time" was that in those days, everything being under the Roman Empire, people could move freely from one part of the world to another, without passports, visas, etc., so that the Gospel could spread easily.

      This in no way indicates that we are obligated to allow anyone under any circumstance, to cross our border from another nation, just because the land into which he crosses is "public." I welcome the stranger through my front door, but he is not welcome to break a window to get in. People who cross the border at a place other than a border crossing are "breaking the window", openly defying our laws. In order for the stranger to come into my house, I must open the door. I can choose to make certain conditions for my being willing to open the door. You may not give my children street drugs. You may not beat me up. I am not obliged to allow you to mooch off me indefinitely. I may feed you a meal, but unless you become a member of my household, I do not owe you room and board.

      Bionic Mosquito has indicated that part of natural law is that our rights do not diminish the rights of others. When we hold that a person from another country can come in and feed off the trough of the American taxpayer, we are no longer within the bounds of natural law. We have a right to make a law that says if you want to come in to our country, you come in through the front door. You don't poison our children with street drugs. You don't beat up an American (or anybody else). You do not take money which was taken by force from the taxpayer. Thus, your implied argument that because in the past there were no "borders" as we know them today, does not prove that we have a duty to allow any person from another country to cross over any part of our border whatsoever for any purpose he chooses.

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