Friday, July 18, 2014

Martin Bucer and the Regulative Principle of the State

Martin Bucer (1491 - 1551), "the Conciliatory Reformer" 

Bucer urges an overhaul of penalties according to God's law

In his famous work De Regno ChristiMartin Bucer urges the young King Edward VI to conduct a "serious and thorough modification of penalties" for crimes in his commonwealth. 

The modifications are to be based on the law of God in Scripture, which Bucer must see as superior to "the light of nature," since he sees nothing as more "more equitable and wholesome the commonwealth" than biblical law. As such, kings must become well acquainted in biblical civil punishments—some of which Bucer goes on to mention:
Lastly, the well-being of his people also demands of Your Majesty a serious and thorough modification of penalties, by which wrongdoing and crimes are kept in check in the commonwealth. But since no one can describe an approach more equitable and wholesome to the commonwealth than that which God describes in His law, it is certainly the duty of all kings and princes who recognize that God has put them over His people that they follow most studiously his own method of punishing evildoers. For inasmuch as we have been freed from the teaching of Moses through Christ the Lord, so that it is no longer necessary for us to observe the civil decrees of the law of Moses, namely, in terms of the way and the circumstances in which they are described, nevertheless, insofar as the substance and proper end of these commandments are concerned, and especially those which enjoin the discipline that is necessary for the whole commonwealth, whoever does not reckon that such commandments are to be conscientiously observed is certainly not attributing to God either supreme wisdom or a righteous care for our salvation.
Accordingly, in every state sanctified to God capital punishment must be ordered for all who have dared to injure religion, either by introducing a false and impious doctrine about the Worship of God or by calling people away from the true worship of God (Deut. 13:6-10 and 17:2-5); for all who blaspheme the name of God and his solemn services (Lev. 24:15-16); who violate the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14-15, and 35:2; Num. 15:32-36); who rebelliously despise authority of parents and live their own life wickedly (Dt. 21:18-21); who are unwilling to submit to the sentence of a supreme tribunal (Dt. 17:8-12); who have committed bloodshed (Ex. 21:12; Lev. 24:17; Deut. 19:11-13), adultery (Lev. 20:10), rape (Deut. 22:20-25), kidnapping (Deut. 24:7); who have given false testimony in a capital case (Deut. 19:16-21).[1] ...
For thieves and robbers ... God has decreed only the penalty of restitution, either five times, four times, double, or simple repayment.[2]  

The sufficiency of Scripture in punishing crimes

Keeping in mind Bucer's high view of God's word in things civil—and lower view of "the light of nature" in comparison—Bucer later holds that every single civil punishment (and by implication, every single prohibition) must conform to God's word. Biblical civil law suffices for burning away "all licentiousness and boldness in wrongdoing":
In this institution, modification, and enforcement of penalties Your majesty will prove his trust and zeal for governing the commonwealth in a holy way for Christ the Lord, our heavenly King, if for every single crime, misdeed, or offense he establishes and imposes those penalties which the Lord himself has sanctioned. By means of these, in addition to changing and arousing to true repentance those who have sinned, he will strike the others with fear and dread of sinning; thus he will seek to burn away, i.e., deeply excise and exterminate, not only all licentiousness and boldness in wrongdoing, but also all yearning and desire for it. This is the purpose of penalties and punishments which God purposes in his law.[3]


[1] Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi in Wilhelm Pauck, ed., Melanchthon and Bucer (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1969), 378, 379.
[2] Ibid., 382.
[3] Ibid., 383.


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