Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses by Johannes Piscator
Adam Jonathan Brink, trans.
Dr. Joel McDurmon, Ed.
The topic of the applicability of the judicial laws of Moses is a sticky subject. Many feel these laws have been abrogated entirely, fulfilled in Christ and thus no longer binding in any sense.
Others take a closer view of the judicial laws, feeling they are the prototype and pattern for our civil government.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states the following on the law of God:
To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require. (19.4)
That term general equity can be a confusing one, especially if you don’t know the context from which the Westminster Divines were writing.
One thing we do know is that an influential work was Johannes Piscator’s work on the judicial laws of Moses. This work is taken from his commentary on Scripture which he completed on every book of the Bible. Piscator was known for being a close admirer of Calvin’s work (which shows in his own work) and for gathering many of the thoughts of Junius and Tremellius on this subject.
In this short work, Piscator lays out a rationale for why the judicial laws of Moses continue to bind Christian civil governments today. In the establishment of a Christian polity, one would expect that the laws would be based on those that God has revealed. There’s nothing to suggest that these laws are no longer applicable to the ordering of society.
“‘whatsoever things have been written beforehand, have been written for our learning.” (Romans 15:4). That is, for this end, that we should learn thereby of God’s nature, and then his will, which is twofold. First, of course, is what he wishes to be done by us, or in what way he wishes to bless us. Therefore, the Christian magistrate, more than anyone, is bound by the written word of God to know the will of God for his office. (p.13)”
In this book, he argues for the general equity of the judicial laws of the OT. In his Aphorisms, which he draws out of the work of Calvin, he states this:
Judicial law to the extent that it was properly accommodated to the Jewish people, does not obligate the magistrate of a Christian people. Nevertheless, insofar as it determines punishments for crimes, it obligates the Christian magistrate no less today than it obliged Jewish ones in the past.
The book consists of introductory material by the translator and the editor. It continues with a positive case for the abiding validity of the judicial laws. Then, the thesis is defended against 22 common objections. This is perhaps the strength of the work, since this is such a hotly debated issue. Finally, Piscator lays out a case study on theft. He demonstrates why theft cannot be considered a capital crime because it was not (except in cases of break in in which harm may have been brought to the persons of the home). Finally, the editors included a helpful appendix of quotations from Reformed and Puritan leaders speaking approvingly of Piscator’s work including George Gillespie, Samuel Rutherford, and Thomas Shephard.
Overall, I recommend this book highly. I think it is a helpful introduction to this topic and addresses in a succinct and reasoned manner the issues surrounding how we understand the law today.
PLEASE NOTE: I reviewed this book using my own personal copy, I was not provided with a review copy from the publisher.