Monday, December 16, 2013

Theodidactic Counsel From Martin Bucer

William Gouge, one of the delegates to the Westminster Assembly, once wrote that the judicial laws of ancient Israel, to the extent only that they rested upon "common equity," "remain as good directions to order even Christian polities accordingly" (Commentary on Hebrews 1:505).

If one may be permitted to quote oneself, "The judicial laws of Moses are indeed of great use to Christian magistrates today, being part of the whole of Scripture, all of which is 'profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness' ( 2 Timothy 3:16), and, although they are no longer nomos / law, having 'expired' with the state of Israel (WCF 19:4), they are still didache, that is, part of the teaching of the Word of God" ("The Puritan Legacy Considered," R. Andrew Myers, 2009). Hence, the term theodidactic.

Martin Bucer, like William Gouge, takes this theodidactic approach to the role of the judicial law in modern civil polity. In his classic work, De Regno Christi (On the Kingdom of Christ), dedicated to King Edward VI, Bucer addresses the matter by emphasizing both the expiration of the force of Israel's judicial laws and the continuity of their general equity, that is, in connection with their basis in the moral law of God, which is, the Decalogue. 

Lastly, the well-being of his people also demands of Your Majesty a serious and thorough modification of penalties, by which wrongdoing and crimes are kept in check in the commonwealth. But since no one can desire an approach more equitable and wholesome to the commonwealth than that which God describes in His law, it is certainly the duty of all kings and princes who recognize that God has put them over His people that follow most studiously his own method of punishing evildoers. For inasmuch as we have been freed from the teaching of Moses through Christ the Lord so that it is no longer necessary for us to observe the civil decrees of the law of Moses, namely, in terms of the way and circumstances in which they described, nevertheless, insofar as the substance and proper end of these commandments are concerned, and especially those which enjoin the discipline that is necessary for the whole commonwealth, whoever does not reckon that such commandments are to be conscientiously observed is not attributing to God either supreme wisdom or a righteous care for our salvation.
Accordingly, in every state sanctified to God capital punishment must be ordered for all who have dared to injure religion, either by introducing a false and impious doctrine about the Worship of God or by calling people away from the true worship of God (Dt. 13:6-10, and 17:2-5); for all who blaspheme the name of God and his solemn services (Lv. 24:15-16); who violate the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14-15, and 35:2; Num. 15:32-36); who rebelliously despise authority of parents and live their own life wickedly (Dt. 21:18-21); who are unwilling to submit to the sentence of supreme tribunal (Dt. 17:8-12); who have committed bloodshed (Ex. 21:12; Lv. 24:17; Dt. 19:11-13), adultery (Lv. 20:10), rape (Dt. 22:20-25), kidnapping (Dt. 24:17); who have given false testimony in a capital case (Dt. 19:16-21). [Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi, in Wilhelm Pauck, ed., Melanchthon and Bucer, pp. 378-279]

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