The Law and Sin –

The Law:  Civil and Criminal

Exodus 21:28-36
Exodus 22:1-15
Exodus 23:1-9
Matthew 22:15-22
1 Peter 2:13-17; Romans 13:1-7

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Exodus 21:28-36 (5/9/11)

The children of Israel had THE LAW.  Here in the US of A, we have criminal law, civil law, tort law, divorce law, probate law, etc.  Even crimes are divided into crimes against property (e.g., burglary) and crimes against persons (e.g., robbery).  However, it’s easy to see that a lot of these subdivisions are also present in the Law.  God thought theology was important:  The Law starts with “I am the LORD your GOD, and don’t you forget it!” 

But the second important thing to know about the Law is that most of it is not directed at theology at all.  Instead, God paid great attention to the details of the interactions among people.  The 613 commandments spell out a number of specific violations of the Law, with specific penalties.  No longer can the owner of a vicious dog say, “oh, he’s just a sweetie with my own kids.”  If the dog kills somebody, it dies.  If the owner knew it was vicious and it kills somebody, the owner is punished.  If there’s a hole in your sidewalk and somebody falls in, it’s your fault, and you’d better have insurance.  The Law is more than 3000 years old, but we still recognize some of the specific details!

Exodus 22:1-15 (5/10/11)

The Law distinguishes several different kinds of property crimes.  Did the crime happen at night or during the day?  Was the property recovered or not?  Was the property stolen from the house of the owner, or was it loaned or rented? 

Two things strike me as being particularly interesting about all this.  The first is that God is very interested in how we behave toward each other.  The second is that, after 3000 years, we still make many of the same distinctions in Western law as God made in the Law he gave to the children of Israel.  For example, in some jurisdictions, whether a misdeed is burglary or some other crime depends on when it happens – day or night.  Modern laws also address how much force we may use in defending our property, as we see in vss. 2-3.

Exodus 23:1-9 (5/11/11)

God’s Law is against perjury, rioting, negligence, and taking bribes, and for equal treatment for the poor and foreigners.  We are not surprised.

Matthew 22:15-22 (5/12/11)

By the first century A.D., Judea was occupied by a foreign power, Rome.  The Romans had three basic rules for their occupied territories:  Don’t cause trouble; pay your taxes; worship the Emperor.  They had given up on making the Jews worship the Emperor, however, because the Jews just wouldn’t do it, period.  The Romans finally gave the Jews a bye on that one, as long as they didn’t cause trouble and did pay their taxes.

Now, there were four main political parties in Judea, and two of these were the Pharisees and the Herodians.  The Pharisees were the ultra-religious, God-is-our-king party, and they felt that paying taxes to Rome was offensive.  The Herodians were the not-very-religious, Emperor’s-okay party, who were willing to make a lot of concessions to the Romans for the sake of not giving them a whiff of trouble.  Both parties opposed Jesus.  In getting together, they believed that no matter how Jesus answered their question about taxes, he would offend one of these two parties.  Jesus said, “Taxes are a matter of secular law.  Pay them.  Worship is a matter of religious law.  Do it.”

1 Peter 2:13-17; Romans 13:1-7 (5/13/11)

Jesus said, in response to a specific question, that we have to pay our taxes.  Peter and Paul go even farther than that.  They say we must obey all the laws of the secular government (with the exception of laws that specifically contradict God’s Law, see Acts 4:19).  Peter even attributes this teaching to Jesus.  (By the way, Jeremiah 29:5-7 says about the same thing.) 

Paul implies that secular law is a subset of God’s Law, since God puts the rulers in place.  Both Peter and Paul recognize that the secular government is responsible for keeping order and punishing criminals, both of which are in line with God’s Law and should be supported by God’s people.

So we need to think carefully before deciding not to pay our taxes, to evade the draft, or to send our kids to school unvaccinated.  While we’re thinking, we need to thoroughly understand the scriptures showing that God gives his people civil and criminal law both directly and through the agency of the secular government.

More on The Law and Sin

The Law: Given by God
The Law: Civil and Criminal
The Law: Ethics, Morality, and Love
The Law: Written in Our Hearts
Sin: Breaking of the Law
Sin: Apostasy
Sin: Separation and Estrangement
Sin: Unfaithfulness to God is Adultery
The Doctrine of Original Sin
Dead in Sin

Copyright 2011, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

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