Jewish extracanonical literature, including but not limited to the Apocrypha, provides the context and background which formed the mental furniture of the first hearers of the NT. It also provides the earliest example of how the OT (discussed in my previous post) was interpreted with regards to our subject matter. As long as we allow the scriptures to push back against this context if and when it wishes, we cannot be harmed by knowing more about it. And indeed, we will see, the NT largely agrees with the perspective I will survey here.
Sirach begins to praise the glory of the Creator in his works with this comment:
42:15 Now will I recall God’s works;
what I have seen, I will repeat.
Through the Lord’s word came his works;
he accepts the one who does his will.
16 As the shining sun is clear to all,
so the glory of the Lord fills his works; 1
Dr. Bockmuehl rightly identifies this speech (he refers to the entirety of 42:15-43:33) as an example of natural theology. 2 The point of 42:16 is obvious enough: the clarity of the Sun’s light to all people is an appropriate analogy to the glory of God which all people can see in all God’s works. Of course, the idea of God’s glory apparent in creation is not a “value neutral” description. Glory demands recognition, and so this text affirms N1, N2, and N3 in the space of two verses.
Testament of Naphtali
The Testament of Naphtali, part of the highly controverted apocryphal Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, 3 a book which claims to offer the dying commands of the sons of Jacob, provides an even clearer example of natural law thinking. Dr. Bockmuehl points to 3:2-5: 4
2 Sun, moon, and stars do not alter their order; thus you should not alter the Law of God by the disorder of your actions. 3 The gentiles, because they wandered astray and forsook the Lord, have changed the order, and have devoted themselves to stones and sticks, patterning themselves after wandering spirits. 4 But you, my children, shall not be like that: In the firmament, in the earth, and in the sea, in all the products of his workmanship discern the Lord who made all things, so that you do not become like Sodom, which departed from the order of nature. 5 Likewise the Watchers departed from nature’s order; the Lord pronounced a curse on them at the Flood. On their account he ordered that the earth be without dweller or produce. 5
Naphtali’s logic runs as follows: the heavens follow God’s order, and thus do rightly. Therefore, you also ought to follow God’s order. The Gentiles forsook the Lord, and began to worship created things, and thereby have “changed” God’s order. In contrast, the children of Naphtali must do the opposite: in the created order, they ought to discern God as the Creator (and, implicitly, worship that Creator, and not what they discern to be his creatures). The patriarch then gives two more examples from Genesis of figures who violated “the order of nature”: Sodom (known for its homosexual activity), and the Watchers, reflecting the common interpretation that “the Sons of God” who married “the daughters of men” in Genesis 6 were fallen angels intermarrying with humans. This would be a type of inter-species mating, obviously contrary to nature. What is obvious through this whole text is that nature itself is God’s order, and therefore violation of it means, ipso facto, violation of God’s will. The text obviously proves N1 and N2, and by describing the Gentiles as wicked in the very next line of the book, 6 it confirms what should be obvious from this paragraph alone: the Gentiles, Sodomites, and Watchers are culpable for violating the order of nature. Thus N3 is proven by implication, for absolute ignorance is exculpatory.
175 Do not remain unmarried, lest you die nameless.
176 Give nature her due, you also, beget in your turn as you were begotten. 9
…190 Do not transgress with unlawful sex the limits set by nature.
191 For even animals are not pleased by intercourse of male with male. 10
These sentences affirm N1 and N2, and the latter, by arguing that even animals recognize natural law, supports N3.
Wisdom of Solomon
The three most famous Jewish sources supporting natural law, however, are the Wisdom of Solomon, Philo, and Josephus. Dr. Bockmuehl refers to clear examples of this kind of reasoning in each source. In the case of Wisdom, Dr. Collins informs us scholars have concluded that, rather than engaging simply with Platonism and Stoicism, it rather assumes a background of Middle Platonism and Middle Stoicism, both of which more closely approximated the Jewish cosmology of a transcendent Creator alongside an intermediate order. 11 It is also worth noting that many scholars have seen Wisdom in particular behind Paul’s logic in Romans 1, which may be possible (if Paul knew pagan poets, he could have known Wisdom). In Wisdom we hear words such as these:
Wisdom 13 For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature;
and they were unable from the good things that
are seen to know him who exists,
nor did they recognize the craftsman while
paying heed to his works;
 but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air,
or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water,
or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.
 If through delight in the beauty of these things
men assumed them to be gods,
let them know how much better than these is their Lord,
for the author of beauty created them.
 And if men were amazed at their power and working,
let them perceive from them
how much more powerful is he who formed them.
 For from the greatness and beauty of created things
comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.
 Yet these men are little to be blamed,
for perhaps they go astray
while seeking God and desiring to find him.
 For as they live among his works they keep searching,
and they trust in what they see, because the
things that are seen are beautiful.
 Yet again, not even they are to be excused;
 for if they had the power to know so much
that they could investigate the world,
how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?
The author of Wisdom undeniably affirmed N1 and N2; the logic of this passage implies something like N3, in that even unregenerate pagans are blamed for failing to respond to what was visible.
That Philo supported the doctrine this essay is defending will surprise no one. I will provide just one clear example from Dr. Bockmuehl’s survey, 12 in the text of The Life of Moses 2.48:
…for he was not like any ordinary compiler of history, studying to leave behind him records of ancient transactions as memorials to future ages for the mere sake of affording pleasure without any advantage; but he traced back the most ancient events from the beginning of the world, commencing with the creation of the universe, in order to make known two most necessary principles. First, that the same being was the father and creator of the world, and likewise the lawgiver of truth; secondly, that the man who adhered to these laws, and clung closely to a connection with and obedience to nature, would live in a manner corresponding to the arrangement of the universe with a perfect harmony and union, between his words and his actions and between his actions and his words. 13
The great Jewish historian concurs, too, with our position. Dr. Bockmuehl gives several examples from his body of work, 14 but a few quotes from one section, Against Apion 2.190-219, provide the clearest:
(190) What are the things then that we are commanded or forbidden?—They are simply and easily known. The first command is concerning God, and affirms that God contains all things, and is a being every way perfect and happy, self-sufficient, and supplying all other beings; the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things. He is manifest in his works and benefits, and more conspicuous than any other being whatsoever, but as to his form and magnitude, he is most obscure. 15
And a little later:
(199) But then, what are our laws about marriage? That law owns no other mixture of sexes but that which nature hath appointed, of a man with his wife, and that this be used only for the procreation of children. But it abhors the mixture of a male with a male; 16
1Q27 1.i.9-11 and the Rabbis
On the other hand, according to Dr. Bockmuehl, two groups of Jews show little concern with natural law: the compilers of the Qumran scrolls, and the Rabbis. In the case of the former, Dr. Bockmuehl does provide one example 17 of a kind of natural law reasoning, in 1Q27:
It is true that all the peoples reject evil, yet it advances in all of them. It is true that truth is esteemed in the utterances of all the nations – yet is there any tongue or language that grasp it? What nation wants to be oppressed by another that is stronger? Or who wants his money to be stolen by a wicked man? Yet what nation is there that has not oppressed its neighbor? Where is the people that has not robbed the wealth of another …
In fact, this is more clearly a witness to ius gentium. However, it may assume some awareness of the “obvious” reason for these jurisprudential commonplaces, e.g., pain is self-evidently not desirable, and so no nation wants to be oppressed. Regardless, the Qumran writers recognize that when people break these laws, they do so not out of total ignorance of the good, but rather in defiance of their knowledge.
Before moving on to the NT data, it is worth considering what the significance is of the departure of these two groups from the pattern we see elsewhere. At this point, it may be relevant that, as Dr. James B. Jordan has noted in one place:
Jesus bluntly accused the Jews of His day of not understanding the Mosaic revelation, because they had reduced it to mere law (Mark 7:1-23). He stated that the first purpose of the Torah was to reveal God, and thus to reveal Him as the Son of God. Had the Jews been reading the Torah properly, they would have recognized Jesus as God (John 5:45-46). The fact that they did not recognize Him meant that they were misreading Moses (Luke 24:27).
How does the Torah point to God? Symbolically. Everything created by God reveals Him, and thus is a symbol of Him in some particular as well as general sense. The same is true of every aspect of the Bible. The Old Covenant is a type of the New, and everything in it symbolizes — points to — God and Christ. Everything in the “Mosaic law” points to God, and typifies the Christ to come. It is this symbolic dimension that is primary, because it is the symbolic dimension that reveals God’s person and plan.
We have to say, then, that the reason the Jews did not recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the Mosaic revelation is because they had abandoned the symbolic approach to the Torah. They had reduced it to mere law. 18
Is it possible that, just as the Rabbis misread the Torah, overlooking its symbolic figuration of Christ, so they might have missed the significance, or at least importance of, the way nature signifies God and the meaning of human life, because of the same spiritual problem? To put it a different way: the Rabbis and Pharisees missed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law because they were determined to understand the Jewish Torah as an end in itself. They were blinded to the end at which the Torah was pointed, and so in fact misunderstood the meaning of the Law. But this same psychological failure, this determination to see the Law as an end in itself, and to secure a unique importance for Torah as itself the foundation of the cosmos, could also blind them to the existence and importance of natural law. Indeed, the result of seeing the Law as an end in itself, was a failure to obey the weightier things of the law, such as mercy, justice, and faithfulness. The aims which embody the flourishing of human beings were the very things occluded by the Pharisaical approach to the Law’s purpose; and it is those weightier things of the Torah that natural law also most clearly communicates to human beings.
The law of nature cannot provide grounds for any one section of humanity to boast in its special characteristics, for by its very essence all people possess the natural law. It was thus of no use to, and perhaps could even threaten, the major concerns of the successors of the Pharisees. But the same characteristics of the natural law make it a priori likely that a catholic religion like Christianity would have some use for it. And, as we shall see in the next instalment, this a priori was realized a posteriori.