Relation of the Tripartite Division of the Law and the Public/Private Distinction: Examining the Streams of Thought Behind Them -- By: Ronald M. Rothenberg

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 61:4 (Dec 2018)
Article: Relation of the Tripartite Division of the Law and the Public/Private Distinction: Examining the Streams of Thought Behind Them
Author: Ronald M. Rothenberg


Relation of the Tripartite Division of the Law and the Public/Private Distinction: Examining the Streams of Thought Behind Them

Ronald M. Rothenberg*

* Ronald Rothenberg is an independent researcher residing at 123 Dewey Ave., Unit G, San Gabriel, CA 91776. He may be contacted at rmrothenberg@outlook.com.

Abstract: Whether one endorses or dismisses the biblical consistency of the tripartite division of the law, this long held tradition has been interconnected with the public/private distinction in both secular and Christian streams of thought. The historical evidence indicates that the tripartite division of the law has been constructed in such a manner as to reflect or perhaps even presuppose the public/private distinction. Consequently, the histories of the tripartite division of the law and the public/private distinction are intertwined. Furthermore, the evidence in this study suggests several aspects of research into the tripartite division which may need to be expanded or in some cases perhaps reconsidered. Since the tripartite division has been a long and widely held construction in the Christian tradition and it implies the public/private distinction, then despite the current trend to dismiss the distinction, evangelicals have good cause to retain this heuristic and hermeneutic device that is necessary for biblical interpretation and unavoidable in ethical reflection.

Key words: theology, Reformed theology, ethics, applied ethics, tripartite division of the law, public/private distinction, contemporary issues, hermeneutics

In the present time in church history, magisterial works treating the history of doctrine itself (Harnack, History of Dogma) and individual doctrines (McGrath, Iustitia Dei) have been produced to the great benefit of the church.1 Such works treating the histories of various doctrines are invaluable not only as contributions to historical theology, but also for a systematic understanding of why evangelicals believe what they do now and in some cases pointing to what they should or should not believe are Scriptural teachings. While some major doctrines have been treated with a panoramic historic overview, others such as sanctification and the tripartite division of the law have been largely neglected. With regard to the tripartite division of the law, Ross’s From the Finger of God (2010) currently stands as the definitive contemporary work on the tripartite division in terms of its scope and

comprehensiveness.2 Ross’s concern is “to investigate the biblical and theolog...

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