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Knowledge of the Law

By R. J. Rushdoony
July 30, 2015
1. The law must be published openly: Deuteronomy 27:1-4, 8.
2. The whole law must be read publicly at the end of every seventh or sabbatical year: Deuteronomy 31:9-13.

The number of laws given by God is a short one, 613 by the rabbinical reckoning which divides one law at times into several, less by Christian reckonings. It was mandatory that this body of laws be read and taught faithfully. In Joshua 8:30-32 we read that Joshua had the laws published in an open place; this assumes literacy on the part of the people. We see an instance of the public reading of the law in 2 Kings 23:1-3, an aspect of King Josiah’s reformation.

The proverb, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” has reference to Biblical law. Statist law, and especially bureaucratic law, requires great libraries to contain, so that ignorance of man’s law is inescapable. First, the laws are too numerous for even lawyers to know; and, second, humanistic law has no basis in the order of things, whereas God’s law is imprinted by the Creator in His creatures.

Where laws are too numerous for men to know, then knowledge of the law is restricted to specialists in the law, to lawyers. But humanistic law is too vast in volumes for even lawyers to know it all, so that specialization in particular fields becomes necessary. In the 1970s, the vice-president of an international bank said that the laws and regulations governing banking were so many and so contradictory that any banker could be imprisoned at the will of Federal authorities. This is now no doubt true of all of us.

It is questionable that a free society can long exist when its laws are unknown to most of the citizens. It is ironic that 20th century countries must emphasize education while at the same time keeping their peoples most ignorant of the law. This is a precondition of tyranny.

Today, who can know the law? Congress passes laws of more than 2,000 pages in length, which no member of Congress ever reads in full. This is a prescription for tyranny and dictatorship.

The Ten Commandments sum up God’s law in ten sentences. All the laws which develop these Ten Commandments are comprehended in a short number of pages. They are moral premises which all men know, whether they accept them or not. Who can know the law of any state now? One lawyer has observed that the best and most learned men in criminal law are convicted criminals who spend their time in prison libraries studying the law to find loopholes in it. A society in which criminals knowthe law far better than the law-abiding citizenry is a strange one, to say the least.

Ignorance of God’s law, a willful ignorance, is rampant in the churches, and by choice. For this ignorance, God will in some way exact His price.

3. The law must be studied: Deuteronomy 6:6-7, 20-25; 11:18-19. The requirement is that one teach them to the children and study them constantly, because God’s law is the way of righteousness or justice for His redeemed peoples.

4. There can be no adding to or subtracting from God’s law: Deuteronomy 4:1-2. The law is God’s law, and man has no right to alter it, add to it, nor to subtract from it. It is God’s grace that we are given His law as the way of life. Since we created neither ourselves nor this world, we must obey the Creator’s law as His way of life for us. As Psalm 1 makes clear, those who do not delight in the law of the Lord have chosen death.

Taken from Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 3: The Intent of the Law, p. 43.


Topics: Biblical Law, Pentateuch

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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