From the Finger of God

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From the Finger of God

The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law

Philip S. Ross

Pages: 448
Trim: Large trade paperback (216 x 138mm)
Isbn 13: 9781845506018
List Price: £13.99
Imprint: Mentor
Category: Theology & Doctrine > Doctrine > Theology General

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Featured Review

"A book of great relevance with an immensely important message for the contemporary church, From the Finger of God is to be welcomed with open arms. It is a fine example of careful, readable biblical, theological, and historical scholarship that leads to deeply satisfying conclusions."

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Associate Preacher, St. Peter's Free Church, Dundee


This book investigates the biblical and theological basis for the classical division of biblical law into moral, civil, and ceremonial. It highlights some of the implications of this division for the doctrines of sin and atonement, concluding that theologians were right to see it as rooted in Scripture and the Ten Commandments as ever-binding.

About Philip S. Ross

Philip S. Ross is a theological editor who studied in Wales. He worked extensively on the well-received Christian Heritage editions of The Marrow of Modern Divinity and subtitled seven John Owen works. Philip lives near Loch Lomond in Scotland with his wife and three children.

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"Philip Ross has done the Christian church a marvelous service by on the one hand affirming the theological roots concerning the Reformation blessing concerning the three-fold use of the Law in the Covenant of Grace and at the same time, unfolding for the reader of this book implications and vistas for the effective use of God's Law in the Gospel ministry. Philip has, on the one hand, cleared away the underbrush and overgrowth which has grown up in today's efforts of Biblical scholarship which at times has sometimes superficial and other times speculative for the purpose of novelty. Yet simultaneously Philip has pressed forward with insightful highlights as to the New Testament role of the Law of God as it is fulfilled in Christ pressed upon the hearts of the lost thereby sending them to Christ and used in the Hands of the Holy Spirit to direct believers as they follow Christ in the pursuit of joyful holiness."

Harry L. Reeder, Pastor of Preaching & Leadership, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama

"Philip Ross has dealt with issues lying near the heart of the Christian life (and indeed, of the healthy functioning of any human society) in this careful, fair, and, at times, humorous (or at least, entertaining and attention-holding) study of the continuing validity of God's law... I will be frequently referring to his volume in my classes, and warmly commend it

Douglas F. Kelly, Professor of Theology Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina

"The question dealt with in this book is the relationship between the laws and requirements of the Old Testament and those of the New. Are these still obligatory on the New Testament Church? In dealing with this question the author suggests a threefold classification, and provides a very full analysis of the arguments in favour of that classification from many authors down through the centuries, as well as of those who write against that classification. I commend it to all who wish to live by the Scriptures."

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Retired Lord Chancellor & Patron of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship

"This book is a valuable contribution to discussion about the question of the nature of the unity of biblical law in the context of the diversity of its threefold historical function. It demonstrates how the finality of the person and work of Christ is the crux of the matter and how the atonement has law as its background. A readable presentation of the biblical data relevant to the subject that leaves no stone unturned."

Paul Wells, Emeritus Professor, Faculté Jean Calvin, France, Editor in Chief of Unio cum Christo

Like me, you may never have thought that the division of the Law into the categories of civil, ceremonial and moral needed prolonged enquiry. When you read this book you will be glad that Dr. Ross thought otherwise. The book would be worthwhile if only for the discussion of the Decalogue or of the fulfilment of the Old Testament in the New , but there is something for the Bible lover on every page, as well as a demanding but readable opening up of a huge area of biblical enquiry, that takes us with profit from Genesis through to the Lord Jesus and his apostles. A real and rewarding mind-opener

Alec Motyer, (1924-2016) Well known Bible expositor and commentary writer

"It is a given for scholars in a variety of allied disciplines (e.g., biblical studies, systematic theology, Christian ethics) that the ancient Christian distinction between the civil, ceremonial, and moral laws is without foundation. Philip Ross dissents from the consensus and he does so thoughtfully, lucidly, and wittily. Those who are new to the question and those are willing to reconsider their views will find in Ross an able guide through the labyrinth."

R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology, Westminster Seminary, Escondido, California

"This is one of the most important theological books to be published for several years. And it is a book which is desperately needed and which should be read by pastors and church leaders worldwide as a matter of urgency."

Eryl Davies, Head of Research, Wales Evangelical School of Theology, Bridgend, Wales

Elegantly written, this work is an impressive achievement in biblical studies combining systematic clarity with exegetical analysis.

Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, Archbishop Professor of Orthodox Theology and Professor of New Testament (Emeritus) Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts

In this remarkable work Dr. Philip Ross studies the threefold Division of the Law as traditionally held by the Reformed, Orthodox and Catholic Churches and establishes this framework to be scripturally based. Ross's study is a welcome contribution to this topic especially in the context of challenges to this formulation from several modern authors who reject it as non-biblical, challenges which this study effectively refutes. This study is to be commended not only for its scholarly rigor but also for its ecumenical relevance.

George Keerankeri, S.J.,, Reader in Sacred Scripture, Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi

Customer Reviews

From the outset let me say that I've done little reading and little thinking on the topic of the law. Since I've read little about the law, this book has proven to be very helpful in helping me understand some of the discussion. This book targets more of the academy than the church, however, a series churchman would greatly benefit from reading it.

The subtitle of the book sets the purpose of the book well. Ross has written to explain and expound on a particular view of the law, that is, a threefold view. There are other views out there besides Ross', however, this is a work dedicated to the threefold view-ceremonial, moral and civil.

Philip Ross is a scholar who lives Scotland. He is a theological editor who has done work with some of John Owen's works. Unfortunately not much is known about Ross based upon the bio on the book. A few Internet searches yielded little information as well. Despite not knowing much about Ross, I trust his scholarship based upon the names that have given the book a favorable review; Sinclair Ferguson, Douglas Kelly, R. Scott Clark, and Alec Motyer.

Since I have little prior knowledge about books and works on the law I cannot speak to the clarity of the physical structure of the book compared to others. However, I can say that it was helpful for me in following his argument as it was arranged loosely following the structure of the Bible. There are a total of 8 chapters that work from an introduction of the topic to Moses and ends with discussion about Jesus, Acts, and the epistles. There is a very full bibliography and an extremely helpful Scripture index.

From the Finger of God is a welcomed work because there are few books out there that cover the law well. Many people today believe there is no binding aspect of law at all because of Christ. This is at the heart of what Ross cuts to as he tries to dis-spell, the teaching that the law has no regard for a Christian today or that there is no distinction within the law itself.

Ross does well to argue for the threefold division, however, some readers might not ever get to the argument. The book promises (by the subtitle) to be a biblical and theological treatment, however, Ross opens the book with an appeal to a "catholic doctrine" (catholic meaning 'general' in this usage). He appeals to tradition rather than to anything biblical in the opening chapter. It is laced with appeals to The Westminster Confession of Faith and other historical decrees. While I recognize the validity to appeal to history, his appeals would have been better placed later in the text. The second thing that might hold the reader from persevering is Ross' strong covenant language. This is not to say that this language is a bad thing, however, many dispensationalist would probably be frustrated and perhaps not continue to the meat of Ross' work having to comb through this in the early pages of the book.

Having read more on the law in this one book than in all other books I've read, I can say it has been a helpful book in helping me understand some of the conversation. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to dig deeper into the subject. Once through the first chapter the reader will find a thoughtful explanation of how the ceremonial, moral, and civil aspects of the law differ and apply or do not apply today. I look forward to going deeper on this topic in the future and that has been spurred on because of Ross' work in "The Finger of God."

Posted by G. A. Dietrich | at 00:55 on Thursday 16 June 2011