Saturday, January 5, 2013

Eleven Theses Actually on Natural Law

Adam Parker and I have composed this humble attempt at a response/critique/polemic to this post.

1. Natural Law is not to be equated with what people have said about natural law. The writings of John Rawls, for example, are not natural law. However, just because people differ about what is contained in natural law does not mean that natural law is deficient; the problem is with its interpreters.

2. Affirming natural law does not require a nature/grace dualism, simply because some who hold to natural law affirm this dualism. Luther and Calvin believed in natural law, and they were not friends of such a dualistic conception.

3. If someone accepts the reality of natural revelation, they would also need some doctrine of natural law. Natural revelation is a clear enough source, in and of itself, for what it is intended to reveal, and although it can be supplemented by other revelation, it does not have to be in order to be properly understood. Natural law is perspicuous, otherwise it would be unjust to condemn someone on the basis of it.

4. The God who speaks through nature speaks in Scripture, and the God who speaks in Scripture was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, but do not forget, God still speaks clearly through nature.

5. Those who accept natural law in this sense do believe that natural law can operate independently of special revelation because special revelation is consistent with natural law. The God who speaks in natural law, who was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, is the same God who spoke through Moses, the prophets, and the Apostles and thus speaks with one voice.

6. Every Christian who affirms natural law, by definition, must also hold to the exhaustive authority of Jesus over every last molecule.

7. If a person rejects natural law in all its formulations, but insists that special revelation is authoritative over the public square, this is a serious error.

8. The most serious dualism to avoid is not a nature/grace dualism, but rather the dualism that tries to pretend that God speaks with a forked tongue in special and natural revelation, as though one trumps the other.

9. The list given in Romans 1:29-32 confirms that natural law provides a rather extensive amount of detail when it comes to what God will judge. Natural law contains considerable detail that can be known on the basis of natural revelation alone. Natural law communicates these things, regardless of what special revelation says about it.

10. The Reformers held to a robust form of natural law theory.

11. It can be demonstrated that natural law prohibits homosexual marriage.


  1. A couple of questions for you if you don't mind:

    1) Do you agree with WCF 19.1 & 19.2 that natural law = the 10 commandments?

    2) Following upon this, do you believe natural law contains any information that is not included in Scripture?

    3) In your opinion, how does Romans 1:18 "suppress the truth" affect or integrate with the 11 statements above?

  2. Brandon, I'm just going to answer for myself. Josh may answer these questions with a different nuance.

    1) Yes, though I'd express it differently than the way you put it. I would say that the Decalogue is a general summary of the content of natural law.

    2) Yes. Although the Ten Commandments contain the basic tenets of what man's duty is to man and to God, there are other things taught in natural law which I don't think Scripture teaches about. For example, Democracy.

    3) Paul is actually talking about the suppression of general revelation, not necessarily natural law, which is a subset of natural revelation. They do, however, suppress that law and break it, but in order to be guilty of suppressing something, they have to know it's there.

  3. Thanks Adam,

    I appreciate the succinct answers. As a follow-up to #2, the LBCF changes 19.1 and 19.2 slightly to say:

    1. God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

    2. The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.

    Do you believe these are accurate summaries of what the bible teaches (ie do you believe natural law is written on our hearts as opposed to in the stars)? I'm just trying to reconcile the internal/external aspect of natural law from your perspective.

  4. I would say that the natural law is both internal and external.

    I would emphasize that it is primarily internal and universal. It is internal in the sense that we have the law written on our hearts.

    It is also outside of us. For example, you could point to a thing's proper function to determine its proper end, and from this natural law can also be seen. Based on the function of something you can determine how it ought to behave. A clear example of this could be seen in a natural law argument against homosexuality.

  5. Thanks Adam. Can you clarify? Are you saying that natural law starts in the heart and then we apply those principles to things outside of us? Or am I misunderstanding you?

  6. I'm glad to clarify. It would be better to say that natural law is best understood by DISTINGUISHING between its internal and external elements. It should not be understood as a separation, as though the internal is independent of the external. The internal and external aspects testify together as a dual witness.


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