A Catechism on God’s Law (Part 1)

Based on by Greg Bahnsen’s “By This Standard,” 1991.


Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995) was one of the foremost Christian writers of our time, on a specific subject: the law of God. His book “By This Standard” is one that sets the standard in this important field of study. Because of his helpful insights, I’ve decided over about 20 weeks, to pose specific questions on the law of God in catechism style, then chosen brief sections from his excellent book to provide the answer to these questions.

1. What was the point of God’s law?

Over against the autonomous ethical philosophies of men, where good and evil are defined by sinful speculation, the Christian ethic gains its character and direction from the revealed word of God, a revelation which harmonises with the general revelation made of God’s standards through the created order and man’s conscience (p.2).

2. What should be our attitude towards the law?

When we explore what the Bible teaches about the character of God, the salvation accomplished by Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in making us holy in heart and conduct, or the nature of God’s covenantal dealings with men, we see why the believer should take a positive attitude towards the commandments of God, even as revealed in the Old Testament (p.2).

3. What should be our procedure?

The methodological point, then, is that we presume our obligation to obey any Old Testament commandment unless the New Testament indicates otherwise. We must assume continuity with the Old Testament rather than discontinuity. This is not to say that there are no changes from Old to New Testament. Indeed, there are-important ones. However, the word of God must be the standard which defines precisely what those changes are for us; we cannot take it upon ourselves to assume such changes or read them into the New Testament (p.3).

4. What is our obligation?

What is maintained is that our obligation to God’s Old Testament law should be interpreted and qualified by the New Testament Scripture, not by relative human opinion which can cite no Biblical warrant for departing from God’s stipulations (p.5).

5. What should be our presumption?

Our presumption must be that of continuity with the standing laws of the Old Testament (when properly, contextually interpreted) (p.6).

6. What is crime?

Not all sins are crimes, and thus the civil magistrate is not obligated to enforce the entire law of God. Rulers should enforce only those laws for which God revealed social sanctions to be imposed (not matters of private conscience or personal piety)… magistrates ought to submit to the law of God for socio-political affairs: they will answer to God ultimately for their disobedience to His standards (p.10).

7. What about procedures in convicting?

The Christian does not advocate ex post facto justice whereby offenders are punished for offences committed prior to the civil enactment of a law prohibiting their actions. Nor does the Christian advocate the punishment of criminals who have not been convicted under the full provisions of due process in a court of law. Those who believe that God’s law for society ought be obeyed must be concerned that all of God’s laws for society be obeyed, touching not only the punishment of offenders but their just treatment and conviction as well (p.10).

8. Are we being Reformed?

By paying attention to the question of God’s law in Christian ethics we are simply being consistent with the Reformed conviction that our Christian beliefs should be guided by sola Scriptura and tota Scriptura- only by Scripture and by all of scripture (p.12).