Has the Judicial Law been Abrogated? | Francis Turretin

screenshot-2016-09-24-20-29-02Twenty-Sixth Question

Whether the judicial law was abrogated under the New Testament. We make distinctions 

Ends of the individual law.

I. The forensic or judicial law concerned the civil government of the people of God under the Old Testament and contained a body of precepts concerning the form of that political rule. There were various ends of it. (1) The good order (eutaxia) and legitimate constitution of the Jewish polity, which should be a true theocracy (theokratia), as Josephus calls it. (2) The distinguishing of that state and nation from all other people and states and that that polity might be the seat of the church and the place for the manifestation of God. (3) The vindication of the moral and ceremonial law from contempt, and so the enforcer of respect and obligation towards both. (4) The adumbration of the spiritual kingdom of Christ.

Three opinions concerning its abrogation.

II. There are three opinions about its abrogation: the first in defect (of the Anabaptists and Antinomians, who think it is absolutely and simply abrogated as to all things). On this account, whatever reasons are drawn against them from the Old Testament for the right of the magistrate and of war; for the division of inheritances and the like, they are accustomed to resolve with this one answer—that these are judicial and pertain to the Israelite people and the Old Testament, but are now abrogated under the New. The second, in excess, of those who think that law is still in force and should be retained and that Christian states are to be governed like the Jewish (which was the opinion of Carlstadt and Castellio, with whom the Lutheran Brochmann agrees). Both wander from the truth. The former because thus many moral things would be abrogated which are contained in the forensic law. The latter because thus many typical things would have to be observed which are most foreign to the reason of our times. The third, of the orthodox, who, holding a middle ground, relieve the matter by a distinction, both according to what has been abrogated and according to what is still in force.

III. In that law various ends must be distinguished. For inasmuch as it was a distinction of the Jewish state from the Gentiles and a type of the kingdom of Christ, it is simply abrogated because there is no longer any distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14). As the Jewish state and polity has been destroyed, so there is no need of a type to adumbrate the future kingdom of Christ, since it has already come. But as to the good order (eutaxian) or form of government of the Israelite people, it cannot be said to have been abrogated, unless relatively. Undoubtedly those things are to be accurately distinguished which in the law were of particular right (which peculiarly applied to the Jews in relation to time, place and Jewish nation: such was the law concerning a husband’s brother, the writing of divorcement, the gleaning, etc.) from those which were of common and universal right, founded upon the law of nature common to all (such as the laws concerning trials and the punishment of crimes, widows, orphans, strangers and the like, which are of moral and common right). As to the former, they may well be said to have been abrogated because the Jewish polity having been taken away, whatever had a peculiar relation to it must also necessarily have ceased. But as to the latter, it still remains because it enters into the nature of the moral and perpetual law and was commanded to the Jews not as Jews simply, but as men subject with others to the law of nature. For distinguishing those things which are of common and particular right, a threefold criterion can be employed.  (1) That what prevails not only among the Jews, but also among the Gentiles (following the light of right reason) is of common right. Thus the Greeks, Romans and others had their own laws in which are many things agreeing with the divine laws (which even a comparison of the Mosaic and Roman law alone, instituted by various persons, teaches). (2) What is found to be conformed to the precepts of the decalogue and serves to explain and conform it. This is easily gathered, if either the object and the matter of the laws or the causes of sanctioning them are attended to. (3) The things so repeated in the New Testament that their observance is commended to Christians.

Sources of explanation.

IV. In the laws founded upon the common right or the law of nature, the substance of the precept must be distinguished from its circumstances. Some, both as to substance and as to circumstances, are of common right; others, however, are as to substance of common right, but as to circumstances of particular right. The former are perpetual in all parts; the latter, on the other hand, only relatively. Thus in the laws concerning the punishment of crimes, the substance of the punishment is of natural right, but the manner and degree of punishment is of particular right and on that account mutable.

V. Whatever forensic laws are mixed with types are in their own nature changeable and so have been abrogated of right because their causes and foundations are temporary, not perpetual. Such are the laws concerning the right of primogeniture (Dt. 21:17), asylums (Dt. 19:2), the Jubilee, the not sowing of fields with different kinds of seed, the not wearing garments of wool and linen and the like. Although they might have had a political end also, they still (because they were typical) cease to bind on that very account.

VI. The forensic laws accommodated to the genius and reason of the Jewish polity were not only made useless to Christians living under a different polity, but neither can, nor ought to be observed any longer (such as the Levirate law, the law of jealousy, the law of the selling of a son [Ex. 21], the law concerning the rest of fields, dividing the land of Canaan between the tribes and the like). These had a peculiar relation (schesin) to the Israelite people and its government. This having been taken away, they can have no further use.

VII. The polity having been abolished, the laws must necessarily be abolished upon which that polity was founded. They are of positive right and referred simply to the Jewish state; but not forthwith the others founded in natural right and appendages to the decalogue. Therefore, the forensic law as to general determinations, founded upon the moral law, is not abrogated; but as to special determination, which concerned the state of the Jews, is abrogated.

VIII. The forensic law may be viewed either formally, as it was enacted for the Jews (and so is abrogated); or materially, inasmuch as it agrees with the natural law and is founded on it (and thus it still remains).

IX. Although the best and wisest laws (as far as the state of that people was concerned) were sanctioned by God, it does not follow that on this account they ought to be perpetual. God, from positive and free right, could give them for a certain time and for certain reasons, to some one nation, which would not have force with respect to others. What is good for one is not immediately so for another.

X. What is better than others in every way (in both the abstract and the concrete and both negatively and affirmatively) is to be preferred to the others. But the forensic law is better than other laws, not affirmatively, but negatively because it was determined to certain circumstances which do not now exist. Then again it is better than human laws (simply as human), but not inasmuch as they are founded upon the natural law, whose source is God. Therefore, when the Roman laws are preferred to the Mosaic, they are not preferred simply as enacted by men, but as derived from natural and common right they can be more suitable to places, times and persons.


Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Vol. 2, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1992, pp. 165–7.

Purchase Institutes of Elenctic Theology (3 Vols.)

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