Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Inseparability Thesis: Why There Cannot be a Separation Between Divine Law and Morality



Given that there are some teachers in the Messianic movement who, by holding to the Christian notion that Divine Law can be separated into moral and non-moral laws (note 1), have actually persuaded Messianics to only pursue a limited number of mitzvot--only the commandments your conscience tells you to keep (a position which leads to apostasy), I think it's now time that the One Law movement provided a theory of morality to explain the relationship between morality and Divine Law.  So, without further ado, I give you my Inseparability Thesis:

It should first be noted that there is a definitional issue with regard to morality.  While many people cavalierly refer to "moral law" as if there is a universal understanding of morality as a law, the value system undergirding it, its epistemology, the reality is that there are so many different approaches to morality that the term has become ambiguous.

Now, I'm not arguing that man doesn't have a conscience that informs him of a "higher" value system.  Indeed, there is an innate, natural "fear of G-d" that most people possess (with certain exceptions such as the Amalekites, Deut. 25:18) coupled with some inkling of understanding of what G-d considers beneficial and what G-d considers harmful.  But this feeling about right and wrong is not enough on its own.  We've seen in our own country, the United States, that the Supreme Court has taken that great instructor of morality, civil "law", and used it to preach that homosexual marriage is good, that murdering babies is a right protected in the "penumbra" of the Constitution.  I place human law in quotations because we, as Judaists, believe that human law is not law unless it conforms to the Divine Will.  It is merely prima facie law.

So if morality cannot be subjective but must be based upon objective, Divine values, then what is the purpose of conscience?  Martin Sicker explains eloquently:
"The question that begs an answer concerns the character of the relationship between natural morality and biblical teaching.  Is natural morality entirely subjective or is it discoverable objectively through human reason?  The traditional Judaic response to the first part of the question rejects the notion of subjective morality and insists that a valid system of ethics must be based on the explicit as well as the implicit teachings of the Torah.  Thus, natural morality or the prompting of human conscience cannot be pitted against the ethical norms specified in the Torah.  As Wurzburger put it:  'The Will of God represents the supreme authority to which all other considerations must be subordinated.  Conscience is merely complementary to the explicitly revealed provisions of the Law; it supplements but does not supersede them.  The role of conscience is limited (1) to discern the Will of God for situations that do not come within the purview of explicit legal norms and (2) to function as a hermeneutical principle to be employed to help ascertain the meaning and range of applicability of laws when their formulation contains an element of ambiguity,'" Martin Sicker, The Moral Philosophy of Judaism:  A Study of Fundamentals

"In considering how Judaic ethics differed from secular ethics, Byron L. Sherwin wrote that the essential difference is that it rejects the 'claim that ethics can be based upon individual subjective human criteria alone...The limited wisdom and experience of an individual who must make an ethical decision in a particular situation cannot vie with the cumulative wisdom and experience of a long-standing tradition in deciding what course of action is ethical.'  Thus, 'by providing both a subjective and an objective basis (revelation and tradition) for ethics, Jewish ethics maintains a kind of system of checks and balances upon the approaches characteristic of secular ethics and the problems they entail.'  At the same time, Judaic ethical thought and literature 'encourages the exercise of the individual intellect, intuition, and insight and the incorporation of sources of wisdom imparted from other traditions into the process of moral decision,'" Martin Sicker, The Moral Philosophy of Judaism:  A Study of Fundamentals
So to return to the definitional question, is there a moral law as some sort of second law to Scriptural Law?  Not according to Scripture.  Scripture informs us that the Torah contains the perfect revelation of the will of G-d and, as such, conveys ALL of the "higher" values:
"A moral decision is one that the man or woman making it makes in the light of what he or she believes is right or wrong...A moral decision might also be made in conformity with a rule or law; after all, the rule or law itself might express moral values....A decision doesn't stop being moral just because it is made in the light of 'divinely revealed law'.  On the contrary, since it is a self-evident moral duty to do what God wants, and since he would only want us to do what is good, then if there really is a known 'divine law', obviously we ought to follow it.  Traditional Jewish belief is that the Torah...is the authentic record of God's self-revelation....When Jews speak of the Torah as 'God's law', what they mean is that it expresses what God wants us to do; it is how God himself formulated the 'moral law'--'the Torah of the Lord is perfect' (Psalm 19:8).  It is not law as opposed to morality, but law which is morality," Themes and Issues in Judaism
So the Torah represents the concretization of morality--the perfect expression of all the values of G-d.
Now, one last thing...

If the Torah of Israel contains the full expression of the moral values of G-d and no other nation has such laws:
"He issues His commands to Jacob, His statutes and rules to Israel.  He did not do so for any other nation; of such rules they know nothing.  Hallelujah" Psalms 147:19-20
And:
"What nation is so great that they have such righteous rules and laws, like this entire Torah that I am presenting before you today? [Umi goy gadol asher-lo chukim umishpatim tsadikim kechol hatorah hazot asher anochi noten lifneychem hayom]," Deuteronomy 4:8

Then that means EVERYONE, out of yirat Hashem (fear of the L-rd), should adopt the Torah of Israel!




NOTES:

(1)

"Two kinds of old-covenant stipulations have clearly not been renewed in the new covenant...the portion of laws from the Pentateuch that no longer apply to Christians can be grouped conveniently into two categories: (1) the Israelite civil laws and (2) the Israelite ritual laws....some aspects of the Old Testament ethical law are actually restated in the New Testament as applicable to Christians....No other specific Old Testament laws can be proved to be strictly binding on Christians, valuable as it is for Christians to know all of the laws," pgs. 167-169 of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart

"We must therefore distinguish three kinds of precept in the Old Law; viz. ‘moral’ precepts, which are dictated by the natural law; ‘ceremonial’ precepts, which are determinations of the Divine worship; and ‘judicial’ precepts, which are determinations of the justice to be maintained among men," (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a, Question 99, Article 4)

"We must attend to the well-known division which distributes the whole law of God, as promulgated by Moses, into the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial law," (Calvin, J, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, James Clark & Co., 1962, Volume 2, Book 4, Chapter 20, Section 14, page 663)



4 comments:

  1. Is "Jewish roots" parf of "one law?" Or is "one law" a part of "Jewish roots?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dan,

      Neither. Both are forms of Judaism. Good to hear from you by the way. Happy Sukkot!

      Delete
  2. Fotms of judaism ? are you kidding? How many Jews can you find in each group? Are you making this up?
    There are more American trained fighters in sirrya about 5-6? Give us a break...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dan,

      We are students of Yeshua, our L-rd and Messiah, who also happens to be a practicing Jew. This is the warrant for the Jewishness of our faith. Or is that not good enough of a warrant for you?

      Delete