2k – 2nd Table Only – Another Biblical Argument

(Reed DePace)

In a previous thread I presented a biblically based argument for the 2K proposition: in the new covenant era the civil magistrate’s duties are limited to the 2nd Table of the Ten Commandments (from honor to parents to no coveting of neighbor’s possessions). A number sought to challenge that argument by referencing Psalm 2, verses 10-12 in particular.

Some prayerful reflection on that passage led to a few observations, which when taken together, I believe present another biblically based argument in support of this Reformed 2K proposition. While you’re reading Psalm 2, go ahead and read Rom. 13:1-5 and also Heb. 13:17.

To begin, let’s note the context of Psalm 2:10-12. For the sake of the discussion here, let’s ignore the initial audience, the pagan civil magistrate under the Old Covenant era. (Although there appears to be an additional huge supporting biblical argument from reflections in that direction – maybe later).

Surely, given the reference in v. 6 (Zion) in part in view in Psalm 2 is Christ’s rule over His Church (2K terminology: the Sacred Kingdom). Yet it is also clear that the primary focus of the Psalm is Christ’s rule over the pagan nations of the world (2K terminology: the Secular Kingdom). In this context, the commands in Ps. 2:10-12 can only be understood as a direct command applicable to the pagan civil magistrates in the New Covenant era.

At the very least, it is a command for these civil magistrates to recognize from Whom they have their authority, and thus to Whom they are accountable for its use. Even more we could say the Psalm promise judgment to these civil magistrates for the failure to rightly use their God-given authority. Jesus is the Great King Who will demand an accounting of the civil reigning “in his name” as it were.

So now imagine the pagan civil magistrate who hears this warning? What’s the first question he is going to ask? “O.k., how do I rightly use this authority?” In the New Covenant era, the passage that best answers that question is Rom. 13:1-5. Here we see Psalm 2’s divine ordination of civil authority picked up and explained in practical terms. Again, tracking with the previous thread’s arguments, at the very least the civil magistrate would conclude he is responsible to use his authority with reference to 2nd Table issues, those dealing with man’s relationship with man.

But what about the 1st Table issues? Where in the New Covenant might I find insight into whether or not the civil magistrate’s authority includes these issues, man’s interaction with God? Hmm …

Turn to Heb. 13:17 and notice the some interesting comparisons and contrasts with Rom. 13:1-5. In both there is mention of a God-ordained authority. In both there is the notion of accountability for the exercise of that authority. Yet there are two critical differences between these passages. In the Hebrews passage, the ordained authority is the elders of the Church, not the civil magistrate. Further it is an authority that involves 1st Table matters, man’s relationship with God.

The parallels are pretty clear: both passages have in view the authority of the Great King Jesus, delegated to an ordained human authority, who will be held accountable for his use of that authority.

The differences are pretty clear as well: 2nd Table authority is delegated to the civil magistrate, and 1st Table authority is delegated to the church elder.

To be sure, these aren’t the only considerations for the authority of the church via its elders (i.e., they do exercise 2nd Table authority, but only spiritually, not materially). Nevertheless, the parallel/contrast does support the 2K argument that the civil magistrate is given authority only over 2nd Table issues.

I’m drawn to the hermeneutical principle that the unclear in Scripture is to be understood in light of the clear. This particularly applies from OT to NT. Psalm 2 is best understood in light of NT passages that inform its subject matter, such as the two here. This comparison/contrast between Rom 13:1-5 and Heb 13:17, coupled with the contextual considerations outlined in the previous thread, given me strong reason to believe the 2K proposition is right here: 2nd Table only for the civil magistrate.

(Reed DePace)


  1. TurretinFan said,

    February 22, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks. I’m still digesting the first argument. Do you think this one or the previous one is stronger?

  2. Reed Here said,

    February 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Tfan: definitely the previous one. This one is based in part on the previous one.

    (P.S. how in the world do you have time to comment here, with trying to stay on top of the solo/sola Scriptura debate going on at your place ;-)? Not complaining; instead expressing some admiration. Appreciate Dr. Mathieson’s response and your work defending it).

  3. Richard Tallach said,

    February 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    The main point is that the Church fulfils Israel and the civil laws of Israel find their primary fulfilment in the Church not in the State.

    Thus under the Old Covenant persons could sometimes be excommunicated/”cut-off” not just by shunning or temporary exile, but by execution by the witnesses and the congregation under the supervision of the elders. This happened if the offence against the 10C was deemed flagrant enough to deprive the person of access to a typological sacrifice and if the high level of evidence was met.

    There are potential paradigmatic fulfillments of these laws for the state, but the primary body being instructed is the Church – mature Israel – regarding her discipline.

    The Christian state can and will take an interest in breaches of the First and Second Commandments but will deal with them in such a manner as to recognise that salvation is by grace, in such a way as to avoid Holy War on its subjects/citizens, and be as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove.

    There is no reason why the Christian state should not prosecute flagrant breaches of the Third and Fourth Commandments without engaging in religious persecution. It would be demanded by a largely Christian populace.

    Would be American Reformers of the State would help themselves by studying the evolution of law in Post Reformation Scotland and England, where there was no wronheaded hewing closely to Moses, yet a genuine recognition of all Ten Words.

    Not that it was perfect and also that it was progressively eroded by the Enlightenment, but this notion that the Christian magistrate must confine himself to the Second Table of the Law in order to have a free society is erroneous. There is a via media between hewing too closely to Moses and not following closely enough. It partly depends on how evolved, mature and strong Christianity is in a particular society.

  4. paigebritton said,

    February 22, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    At the very least, it is a command for these civil magistrates to recognize from Whom they have their authority, and thus to Whom they are accountable for its use. Even more we could say the Psalm promise judgment to these civil magistrates for the failure to rightly use their God-given authority. Jesus is the Great King Who will demand an accounting of the civil reigning “in his name” as it were.

    Reed, I wonder if Psalm 2:10-12 can rightly be used to make an argument about the choices civil magistrates make about their authority? The reason I question this use is the abundant language in these verses that refers to spiritual submission to the Son / to the LORD — e.g., “be wise,” “serve the LORD with fear,” “blessed are those who take refuge in him.”

    It seems the choice presented here is of either submission and blessing or of fear-less foolishness and wrath, not “how do I rightly use this authority.” In fact, going by Romans 1, if pagan magistrates were aware of the warning at all they would most likely compound their judgment by violently rejecting and suppressing it.


  5. Reed Here said,

    February 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Paige: one thought – how is the civil magistrate’s submission or foolishness measured? By how well the rightly use their God-given authority, no?

    Sure you’re not splitting hairs too finely here?

    As to the necessary foolishness that Rom. 1 suggests, that does not deny the command in Psalm 2. It only gives us reason to believe that most will indeed ignore Psalm 2.

  6. paigebritton said,

    February 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Oh, I don’t mean to be splitting hairs — but I am recognizing in the words that David uses the spiritual dimension of the things the rulers are asked to do in these verses, which seems to be the only dimension in view here. To “be wise” (v.10) = to fear the Lord, which is repeated in v. 11, and the corollary to “blessed are all who take refuge in him” = “cursed are all who don’t.”

    I’m reading familiar OT phrases that divide humanity into those who believe and those who don’t, and I’m seeing that wisdom and foolishness is measured by one’s stance towards God and the Son, not by one’s practical, earthly use of authority. I would say that the mention of “rulers” at all in this passage probably serves to universalize the command, where the “rulers” are at once individuals and the representative heads of nations. What’s in view here is the question of whether they (and their subjects) are God’s or not, rather than what they are doing with their earthly authority.

    Make sense? Keep smiling at me, because I dont’ usually disagree with you this often, and I hate to do so. :)

  7. Reed Here said,

    February 22, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Paige: I’m suggesting hair splitting specifically because you are only looking a a spiritual dimension. What in the text actually calls for this exclusiveness? I don’t see that.

    Even if this is the case, the spiritual always yields material effects, no? At the very least, to argue for only spiritual considerations in Psalm 2 pretty much obliterates obvious meaning in the text. E.g., how exactly do the pagan civil magistrate’s break God bonds on them? This breaking is not merely spiritual.

    If you want to argue that Psalm 2 is only about spiritual issues I’d say that is an inappropriate bifurcation. If you want to say that spiritual considerations are the primary focus, I’d respond with at the very least material issues are necessarily inferred.

    In other words, all that you’ve said can be true, and it still does not mean there are no necessary material considerations in view.

    Psalm 2 challenges all civil authorities to consider from whence comes their authority. It does so in the context of calling them to account for their rebellion against their source of authority, God.

    Psalm 2 has been used by some opposing the 2K position at this point (2nd table only for the civil magistrate). I’m observing that if a civil magistrate actually heeded what is in effect a call to repentance and faith in Christ, he would then ask the following question, “so how do I exercise this authority in a manner that honors the One who gave me the authority?”

    And when he does ask that question, going to Rom 13 (compared with Heb 13) will give him an answer.

    )Don’t sweat disagreeing with me. I’m a smiling nobody. ;-) )

  8. paigebritton said,

    February 23, 2011 at 6:11 am

    How is it “splitting hairs” to identify what the Psalm is about? Psalm 2 is about the spiritual dimension, NOT to the exclusion of any material effects, but in the sense that its entire subject is the relationship between the rulers and the Lord/the Son, the “material effect” of which is generally cast as a devastating thing for the rulers. I’m using “spiritual” as in, receiving or rejecting the Spirit of God, i.e., conversion. Whatever their earthly duties might be is waaaay in the background. To make it be about kings asking “how do I exercise this authority” is so far removed from the purpose of the Psalm as to seem unrelated.

    Frankly, I don’t see how this Psalm helps a 2-tables position either, because I don’t think an application of it to “how do I exercise this authority” is at all in view, especially because mostly it expresses how the unbelieving kings are just going to get smashed.

    You clarified a little just now in a way you did not do above in your post:

    I’m observing that if a civil magistrate actually heeded what is in effect a call to repentance and faith in Christ, he would then ask the following question, “so how do I exercise this authority in a manner that honors the One who gave me the authority?” And when he does ask that question, going to Rom 13 (compared with Heb 13) will give him an answer.

    Earlier you didn’t include the “heeding the call to repentance and faith,” you just went right to the pagan magistrate asking “how do I exercise authority?” So while I still think you are making too much of an earthly application of a psalm about conversion and judgment, now I see that you didn’t mean to just hop over the spiritual dimension. I also see that you’re stating what I have been trying to express about Romans 13 — that if it gives guidance to anybody, as an imperative, it’s to the Christian magistrate.


  9. Reed Here said,

    February 23, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Paige: how is the rulers’ breaking of God’s bonds expressed? Clearly in both material and spiritual matters. I think you’re trying to unnecessarily limit the scope of the psalm.

    Be that as it may, I only went to this psalm in the first place because it was a repeated one used by folks to object to my previous Rom 13:1-7 argument. If it is illegitimate for me to appeal to it, then it is to them as well.

    But again, I don’t think appeals to it are invalid. My point here is to answer the question, how does this apply to the civil magistrate? Would he in applying this (whether via reading or relying on GR) know both 1st and 2nd table are in his authority purview? I argue not, for the reasons listed here.

  10. Reed Here said,

    February 23, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Paige, I think your point about the Christian magistrate is off target. Rom. 13 is not written, as you’ve pointed out (I think) as advice to the magistrate. Rather Paul uses what he assumes is true about the magistrate’s responsibilities to apply it to the gospel-living Paul is teaching in these final chapters.

    It is only in looking at what Paul assumes to be true that we get an indirect picture of the civil magistrate’s duties. The issue of whether or not the magistrate is a Christian is not Paul’s concern, as the responsibilities apply regardless.

    One further point, this discussion here needs to be separated from the previous three long threads. Those ended up being about “how” the civil magistrate knows. In this thread and my previous one I am only looking at the “what” the civil magistrate knows question? Whether or not he/she is a Christian is immaterial, unless one wants to argue that God gives Christian magistrates and different list of duties than he does pagan magistrates. (An argument I’m not gonna make ;-) ).

  11. Reed Here said,

    February 23, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Finally Paige, (sorry, I’m picking up on things slowly), let me clarify that my argument here is not to show that Psalm 2 is a rousing 2K position cheerleader :-) No, again going here because of opponents, I’m seeking to show that the psalm is not opposed to the 2K position, but actually supports it, even if indirectly at best.

    With you, Psalm 2 is not on the short list of where I’d go to demonstrate the 2K position in terms of the civil magistrate’s duties. Frankly, agreeing with what I think you’re trying to emphasize, its primary focus does not connect with the issue of the duties of the civil magistrate.

    Yet opponents have used this psalm to oppose 2K at this very point. Respect for them calls for me to at least consider it. That is what I’m doing here. Is the connection tangential? To be sure. Yet a connection can be made, even if it is many degrees removed from the main thrust of the psalm.

    Hopefully this helps. I’m only starting at Psalm 2 because my opponents want to end at Psalm 2 to deny my argument. If the connection is weak for me, then the same applies for them. I’m content either way.

  12. Ron said,

    February 23, 2011 at 7:25 am

    In this thread and my previous one I am only looking at the “what” the civil magistrate knows question?


    Many civil magistrates only know natural law. If that’s all you’re after, then this thread should have been over by now. What lurks behind the “what” the civil magistrate knows question is whether civil magistrates who are aware of God’s civil case laws ought to govern according to what they have available to them. Not to know the civil code by nature does not make the civil code a non-requirement for those who have it available to them.

    It seems to me that the R2K position entails a principle that suggests that invincible ignorance of the civil code implies that the civil code is not necessary in order to govern according to God’s precepts as set forth in his word. That would be like arguing that one need not hear of Christ in order to please God in worship.



  13. Andrew Duggan said,

    February 23, 2011 at 7:41 am


    I still think your exegesis is a little problematic, since you won’t deal with passages that break when you apply the same principle to them. How do you deal with Matt 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-30, and Luke 18:18-24. Like Rom 13, only 2nd table commandments are mentioned, and even the summary love your neighbor as yourself is included in Matthew’s account. Does that mean that rich young ruler was free of the 1st table commands (and by extension all) since only 2nd table laws are mentioned by Christ for what is required as far as obedience to merit eternal life?

    Your argument is that Rom 13 lists only 2nd table laws so the civil government is only required to enforce them. Since it doesn’t list 1st able laws the civil government does not have (and thereby should not) enforce those.

    Do we not all believe that the moral law is really one and not two or ten, and the fact that other NT passages refer to the entire law by listing only the 2nd table, (those three passages identified above)? So on what basis do you claim that Rom 13 use of only the 2nd table constitutes such a hard limit with respect to scope on what law is the business of the civil government?

    Since you’re arguing basically from silence (Rom 13 doesn’t list 1st table laws so they are excluded). How do you deal with the fact that Dan 3:29 records Nebuchadnezzar making a law against blasphemy, (a 1st table offence) punishable by death. Can I argue from silence that since Scripture doesn’t condemn Nebuchadnezzar for that, that is was righteous?

    Your argument is still one of argument from silence. Despite what you build on from there, is that really a good foundation?

    How do you get 1st table only law out of Heb 13:17?

    Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

    I don’t know about your, but when I see words like “obey” and “submit” it is the 5th commandment that comes to mind, if I have to be forced to see any specific or categories of law in that passage.

  14. proregno said,

    February 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    What would a R2K civil magistrate do when someone or a group openly, maliciously and persistently blaspheme the name of our Lord in public ? Absolutely nothing because it is ‘first table’ ?

    If the question has been answered already somewhere, just refer me to the article/comment in previous threads.

  15. Doug Sowers said,

    February 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    @Reed, FWIW I’ve always understood Psalm 2 verse 3

    “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us”.

    I see this as natural mans inclination, to rule autonomously. It’s a heart issue. The Pagan King doesn’t want to be *hemmed in* by the “Law of God”, (both tables) as in “burst their bonds apart”. He is being warned to bend the knee! Christ Jesus came to confirm the Law, autonomous man wants to do it, (like Frank Sinatra) *my way*, on his own terms.

    So the warning is clear to all Magistrates, serve God! Bend the knee; in all areas of life. All things are to be done, to the glory of God. Because anything that is not of faith, is sin. This of course presupposes that all the Laws that we pass, must be founded on, and in conformity to God’s Law. Even the freeways we build, must be built to the glory of God, for there can be no neutrality. IMHO.

  16. Richard Tallach said,

    February 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    I think it’s partly an American thing to do with the separation of Church and State that so many of the Reformed assume that the First Table in every respect is to be off limits to the Christian magistrate.

    In Scotland and England we have experience of free societies where it was basically agreed that certain things on the Sabbath would be regulated by civil law e.g. whether shops could open, whether sports events would happen. That isn’t oppression in a society where most people are at least nominally Christian.

    Neither is it oppression for the Christian civil magistrate to take to do with public blasphemy in a Christian society e.g. plays or films that deliberately try to target Christ or Christianity.

    There is a big difference between saying this is a Christian society and we are going to outlaw Roman Catholicism or Islam, and saying this is a Christian society and we are going to have employment laws that prevent people from having to work on the Sabbath or keep, unnecessary shops shut, or prevent grossly blasphemous films or plays being shown.

    There is also a big difference in saying you are not allowed to practice Islam or Romanism and you will suffer gaol or the ultimate sanction if you do, and saying that you will not be allowed to carry out certain important functions in society if you do, or you may not be allowed into the country if you are applying to come here.

    This isn’t religious oppression but just the Christian civil magistrate taking a wise, godly, gracious cognizance of all 10C, without coming between a person and his/her relationship – or absence thereof – to God.

  17. Richard Tallach said,

    February 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Holy War is now the realm of the Church – the New Covenant Israel of God – i.e. evangelism and is carried out by the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, not by the sword of iron or the bullet.

    It’s not for the Christian magistrate to interfere and cause diificulties for the free course of God’s Word by casting e.g. RCs and Muslims into gaol or worse, merely because they are following their religion.

  18. Vern Crisler said,

    February 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Reed said: “The differences are pretty clear as well: 2nd Table authority is delegated to the civil magistrate, and 1st Table authority is delegated to the church elder.”

    I don’t think this works. The (visible) church is not under the old covenant law any longer, but under natural law, just like the state. Natural law represents the BASIC moral laws of the old covenant law, minus the Jewish particulars. Certainly the Roman law (which Paul was probably referring to) did not contain Jewish regulations, but it did to a great extent reflect the moral principles of the covenant law.

    Thus, both the church and the state are bound by natural law, and it’s the whole law — the whole of the moral principles of the covenant law — that are binding on both church and state. It’s not a matter of a first or second table bifurcation. (In America, even many years after the Constitution was ratified, we still had laws against blasphemy on the books.)

    Obviously, the (visible) church has exlusive authority in the regulation of doctrine and worship, in America at least. But just like the State, the church is not bound by the exhaustive details of the covenant law (contra Bahnsen), but only by the EQUITY of the covenant law. I believe this is the proper Calvinistic view, no?

  19. proregno said,

    February 24, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    A Christian magistrate applying the first table does not mean ‘religious percecution’ (as Richard mentioned already above), but it must be a careful application of God’s Law recoqnizing not only man’s ‘rights’ (the second table of the law) but also God’s rights (the first table), as it applies to civil society.

    We are currently living under humanistic natural law today but it does not make me or you a humanist. Non-Christian does not and will not be forced to become Christians in a christian state governed according to both tables of the laws. If they transgress any laws of a Christian country/magistrate, then they are punished for breaking the law, not being a non-christian, etc. If the humanistic atheistic die-hard blashphemer recieves the death penalty after a just and proper trail, he are punished because of breaking the law, not because he is a humanist and or atheist, etc.

    I would say, if ever there will be a future godly just country with a godly magistrate, who loves Christ and serve Him wholeheartedly (true kissing the Son, Ps.2) by apply God’s law to all it citizens, in the fear of God and love of man, then I think a many people, Christian and non-Christian would be more than willing to live in such a just country, because rightly understood in the light of the Gospel, the law is holy, righteous and good for all men, whether they agree with it or not.

    Ask Moses: Deut.4:4-8

    Ask Dawid: Ps.119

    Ask Christ: Matt.5:17-20

    Ask Paul: Rom.13

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