If you spend any time on the internet, you will soon discover that there are many unbelievers who liken us Bible-believers to the Taliban, claiming that we want to oppress and harm anyone who doesn’t agree with us. Most of this sentiment, I hope, stems from ignorance of what Christians actually believe. But in case you ever come across this point of view, here is a summary of what John Calvin taught on the topic of how the Old Testament civil laws apply today:
“The commands given by God for the punishment of infractions against the second table of the Law are no longer binding for civil magistrates – “For,” says Calvin, “the Lord through the hand of Moses did not give that law to be proclaimed among all nations and to be in force everywhere.” The penalties pertaining to the second table are applicable and binding in comprehensive scope only for Old Testament Israel, for the people and nation for whom these laws were originally enacted.
Calvin emphasizes that a nation’s laws must…also must aim towards upholding the honour of God….For this reason, Calvin insisted that magistrates today have a calling to uphold the first table of the Law as much as the second. He wrote (4.20.3) that it is the government’s responsibility to prevent and punish “idolatry, sacrilege against God’s Name, blasphemies against his truth, and other public offenses against religion.” Calvin does not say anything in the Institutes about the appropriate punishment for these offenses. However, from other sources it is quite clear that he expected the most severe penalties to be used for crimes that were directly against God.
KEY POINTS: Calvin had a nuanced view of the Mosaic civil and judicial laws. His guiding principle was general equity – looking for the kernel that is universally applicable since it is written on the hearts of men. The entire Law of God as summarized in the Decalogue remains in force for magistrates today, both the first and the second table. However, the penalties attached to infractions of the second table can vary according to times and circumstances. The important thing is that such infractions are punished. When it comes to the first table, because God’s honour is at stake, Calvin maintained that the most severe penalties were appropriate.”