Puritan Law

John Winthrop

John Cotton’s Legal Code

John Winthrop, a Puritan founder, instructed city magistrates to search the Scriptures for the proper ruling in every case. Later, John Cotton drafted a legal code with passages taken from the Bible. The criminal chapters were taken entirely from scripture, especially the law given by God to Moses. Originating law from scripture led the way to introducing previously unknown concepts including civil and due process rights.

John Cotton’s code formed the legal basis for several colonies and when the official code for Massachusetts was adopted, Cotton’s draft was heavily used. Section 65 stated, “No custome or prescription shall ever prevaile amongst us…that can be proved to bee morrallie sinfull by the word of God.” The scriptures were used and preferred to any law in court when deciding cases in the community. The word of God was literally part of the legal code.

It is important that you get an inspired understanding of scripture. American law in the beginning was based upon scripture.

The Puritans are often criticized for their strict Biblical laws. In contemporary society, basing law upon scripture has become a negative, it is considered fanatical to look to scripture in politics or legal proceedings. Judges have even rewritten history to make laws based upon scripture “un-Constitutional”. As Latter-day Saints we have the Book of Mormon to correct this uninformed attitude.

When the Savior came to the Nephites, he proclaimed that He was the one who had given the Law of Moses. When moderns, regardless of their religious affiliation, attack these ancient commands from Sinai as absurd, they are literally attacking the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mosiah instructed the Nephite judges to “judge [the] people according to the commandments of God.” In other words, the Book of Mormon clearly teaches that all good laws must be based upon the scriptures. According to the Book of Mormon then, the Puritans were not fanatical in their ideals. This most correct Book can help us correctly discern between the Lord’s perspective on law and that of the world.

The Nephites relied on the same legal and moral foundation as the Puritans, Pilgrims and other righteous colonizers; the laws set forth by Moses in the Brass Plates on the one hand and the Bible on the other.

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