Title page for ETD etd-10032012-150207

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author McDurmon, Joel Edward
URN etd-10032012-150207
Document Title Rejections of mosaic civil law by the magisterial reformers, 1520–1536
Degree PhD
Department Dogmatics and Christian Ethics
Advisor Name Title
Prof J Buitendag Supervisor
  • mosaic civil law
  • magisterial reformers
Date 2012-09-06
Availability unrestricted
No name seems to have been associated with more systematic criticism in regard to political and social thought during the magisterial Reformation than that of the Old Testament lawgiver, Moses. Beginning early in the Reformation era, rejections of the need for Mosaic judicial laws are varied, broad, and explicit. In some cases, such as Luther’s and Melanchthon’s attacks on Andreas Karlstadt, alleged proponents of Mosaic civil law are given by name. In other cases they are anonymous. But what is less clear is whether anyone actually held the views attributed. After a review of literature of Melanchthon, Jacob Strauss, Karlstadt, Zwingli, Thomas Müntzer, the peasants of the Peasant War (1524–5), Luther, the Anabaptists of Münster, Calvin, and others, it is confirmed that none of the implicated writers between key dates of 1520 and 1536 actually held the view of exclusive Mosaic Law attributed, particularly by Calvin. Other motivations must have been involved in the accusations. An analysis of literature from Luther and Calvin as well as the historical background of the period makes it clear that social, political, and economic pressures influenced the magisterial reformers in regard to crucial theological expressions in which they strongly rejected the need for Mosaic civil law in society. The reformers in question restrained or altered their expressions according to the pressures of external circumstances - most importantly war and rebellion spurred by so-called “radical” reformers. As alleged theological positions were weaved with reports and denunciations of violence, Mosaic Law emerged as an allegedly dangerous ideological force, the accusation of which could marginalize opponents. In this crucible of history, in which the long shadows of rebellion and war were cast over Mosaic Law during the mid-1520s and mid-1530s, we find both Luther and Calvin (among others) writing their most vehement denunciations of Mosaic Law. Particularly, we find young Calvin, exiled, sitting down to write his denunciation of “some” who rejected the validity of a commonwealth unless it relied exclusively upon Mosaic civil polity. Luther, Calvin, and others thus warned against applying Moses in the civil realm and linked his laws with sedition and rebellion (even though the association was not accurate in any given case) mainly for their own utilitarian causes. Both Calvin and Luther subsequently employ the doctrine of two kingdoms in distancing themselves and their movements from the need for Mosaic laws in the civil realm, as well as to impede opponents who would use civil power to enforce reforms contrary to them, and yet both act inconsistently when enforcement of the first table of the Decalogue would favor their own reforms. As well, both go on to advance and approve of non-biblical civil laws more invasive and extensive than Mosaic polity would have allowed - including the execution of Anabaptists - all the while denouncing alleged proponents of Moses as dangerous, seditious, barbaric, murderous, and bloodthirsty.

© 2012 University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

McDurmon, JE 2012, Rejections of mosaic civil law by the magisterial reformers, 1520–1536, PhD thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-10032012-150207/ >


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