From the beginning, Christian jurisprudence has tried to distinguish the “moral” elements of the Mosaic Law, which continue to bind Christians, from the “ceremonial,” which do not. Richard Ross (University of Illinois) has written what looks to be a fascinating essay, Distinguishing Eternal from Transient Law: Natural Law and the Judicial Law of Moses, on the efforts of Protestants in early modern Europe and New England to grapple with this distinction. He ties their work to similar efforts by natural law theorists of the period to differentiate between eternal and merely local principles. The abstract follows.
This essay examines two interlinked efforts in early modern Europe and New England to distinguish legal provisions valid across different societies and time periods from those that were local and transitory and therefore not compulsory in the present. Consider, first, the judicial laws of Moses. A minority of Protestants, whom I will call the “Mosaic legalists,” tried to ascertain which Old Testament judicial ordinances were no longer obligatory because they were particular to the Jewish commonwealth, and which were eternally-valid “appendices” to the natural law and Decalogue. The challenge of differentiating the perpetual from the local also occupied early modern students of the law of nature. Whether one believed that God impressed natural law upon the world or that people deduced natural law Read more