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The Law of Nature in the Bible

November 1, 2018

Saint Thomas Aquinas by Carlo Crivelli, 1476 (National Gallery). Drawing from the ancient Greek philosophy of Aristotle as well as Romans 2:14-15 of the Apostle Paul, Italian theologian Thomas Aquinas in his 1200s Summa Theologica notably identified the Law of Nature in man’s reason and “written in the hearts of men.”

In the Declaration of Independence of 1776, a key founding document, the American Founders presented the founding philosophy of the United States of America.  One important philosophical principle the Founders recognized in the Declaration is a universal moral law among mankind, the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God,” as the basis for self-government and just civil law.  The Founders’ view of this moral law was consistent with and supported by their God-centered and/or Judeo-Christian worldview, for this law is found in the Bible.

Emerging in the Old Testament and in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, the Law of Nature, or Natural Law, was understood as the moral law that dwells within the heart, conscience, and right reason of every person.  It includes mankind’s basic understanding of good and evil, right and wrong, and it supports the general view that one should not harm others but rather should love others, treating others with dignity and respect.  This basic morality exists among all humanity, regardless of nation, religious belief, culture, etc.  Indeed, it exists before civil society.

This universal moral law was arguably first found in the Old Testament in Genesis 9:6, written by Moses in 1400s BC, in which God sets a moral law to govern humanity:  “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”  It is also reflected in God’s great commandment in the Bible to love others as ourselves as found in Deuteronomy 6, Leviticus 19, Matthew 22, Matthew 7, and Mark 12.  One of the key verses where this law was specifically identified was in Romans 2:14-15 in 50s AD by the Apostle Paul.  Paul writes in Romans 2:14-15: 

Paul points out that this moral law written on the human heart is given by the Creator God to mankind in nature and is validated by a person’s innate moral sense and reason.

The Law of Nature was affirmed by God-oriented medieval and modern thinkers who recognized and cited Paul’s description in Romans 2.  These thinkers included Bible or religious scholars like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Richard Hooker, and William Ames; legalists Edward Coke and William Blackstone; and political philosophers Samuel Rutherford, Samuel Pufendorf, and John Locke.  These thinkers helped to shape Western Civilization and the American Founding.

From the Bible and ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, the Law of Nature was taken up by Christian thinkers and incorporated into European church theology and canon law.  It was then taken up by modern European political reformers as the basis for just civil law and government.  It also became part of Christian legal thought and English common law.  This idea, in turn, influenced those who migrated to and/or lived in the American colonies.  The principle of natural law was thus passed down from Christian thinkers to English legalists and European political theorists to the American Founders.

The Law of Nature was expressed in the United States’ Declaration of Independence as the legal foundation for a new, self-governing nation.  Further, civil laws in this nation aim to abide by this higher moral law.  Civil laws that align with the Law of Nature are considered just, while laws that contradict the Law of Nature are considered unjust.  While the Law of Nature is acknowledged by many secular rationalists, the expression of the Law of Nature in the Declaration shows that early American’s found it to be consistent with and complementary to the Bible and their God-centered, Judeo-Christian beliefs and worldview.  Indeed, the Law of Nature was largely advanced in Western Civilization by God-oriented thinkers.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Source for more information:
Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact Initiated Self-Government
3.  Great Awakening Principle:  All Men Equal Before God
4.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Judeo-Christian Law of Love
5.  The American Revolution
6.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
7.  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:  God’s Opposition to Absolute Rule
8.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
9.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
10.  American Revolution Debate:  God Desires Freedom, Not Slavery, for His People
11.  American Revolution Debate:  Obedience to God Over Man
12.  The American Quest for Self-Government
13.  The Creator God:  The Basis of Authority, Law, & Rights for Mankind in the United States of America
14.  The Law of Nature:  The Universal Moral Law of Mankind

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 7, Part 1, Activity 5:  Understanding the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God,” p. 235, 347-348, 360-361, 366-371.  MS-HS.

Understanding the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God”…. 

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To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

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Published by: The Founding

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