Still, here it is, though the formatting will be sloppy compared to the college version.
Thesis Statement: The core tenant of theonomy, that the penal sanctions of the case-laws of Israel are obligatory for civil magistrates, is false, because the Scriptures do not show the penal sanctions being applied to any individual outside of the context of Israel.
- Expanded Thesis
- Nature of the Argument
- Judgment and Penology in the Scriptures
- Genesis 4:8-12
- Acts 5:1-10
- Civil Government and Penology in the Scriptures
- Matthew 22:15-22
- Acts 25:8-12
- 1 Corinthians 5:1-13
“…The issue addressed by this book (God’s law) is systematically basic to Christian ethical reasoning. It asks a question which is impossible to avoid and which influences every other aspect of of one’s ethical theory…The question is this: ‘by what standard are moral judgments to be made?” (Greg Bahnsen, By This Standard, 341-342).
It goes without saying (if one is a Christian; but if one is not, it is still true) that the Bible is the foundation and source for making all ethical judgments. The bible doesn’t specifically speak to all issues, but all issues to which it does speak it does so authoritatively, and any moral issues we face today will have their answer in scripture, either explicitly, or by necessary inference. However, it is the persuasion of a group of individuals and their followers (called “theonomists”) that a proper use of the Scriptures in ethics is to argue that the Mosaic civil laws and their corresponding penal sanctions are obligatory for civil magistrates today to follow. The position of this paper will be that this position is an errant use of the Bible for ethics.
This paper therefore will attempt to refute the convictions of theonomy (specifically the theonomic beliefs of Greg Bahnsen, the movement’s most scholarly contributor, and Joel McDurman, the only significant published theonomist in recent times), by arguing that nowhere in scripture do we find that God has judged an individual by the standard of the civil law outside the mosaic context, and likewise nowhere in scripture do we find individuals applying the civil laws of Israel including their penalties outside of the mosaic context. Because of the brevity of this paper, and the breadth of arguments that could be explored in depth pertaining to theonomy, the author thinks it more convincing to explore one facet of the overall case against theonomy in some depth, rather than spending an insufficient time summarizing more arguments against theonomy more briefly. This is, admittedly, only one argument against theonomy, and perhaps not even the most convincing one. There are many other arguments that can be discussed by those for and against theonomy, such as exegeting Matthew 5:17-20, Romans 6:14, or by discussing various nuances of Covenant Theology, Church History, etc. But, because of the forced brevity of this paper, and the limit of the authors knowledge, only one small corner of this argument will be analyzed.
The Nature of the Argument
However specific, the author believes this argument to be substantial, and the form to not be unconvincing. The style is basically that of an argument from silence–which is usually a fallacy. However, it is a fallacy only if the evidence that is lacking is expected. For instance, it is a bad argument from silence to say: “Paul didn’t hurt James’ feelings, because he told me he was fine.” We wouldn’t necessarily expect James to tell anyone if his feelings were hurt. However, it would be a good argument from silence to say: “John said he cut his finger yesterday and had to get stitches, but I don’t see any scar or mark, so I don’t think I believe him.” In this case, we would expect to see some signs of a recent wound bad enough to need stitches, but because we don’t see them, we are justifiably skeptical that he cut his finger. We haven’t deductively proven anything, it might have been possible for James to hide it using other ways, but it isn’t likely. In the same fashion, given the theonomist’s rhetoric about the eternal justness and relevance of God’s laws, including the Judicial laws, given Bahnsen’s understanding that the Judicial laws are really just specific expressions of the moral law (By This Standard 137-138) and their understanding that it is the duty of the civil magistrate in any nation to enforce these laws in order to be a Godly, just nation (225), and that these laws have “abiding validity” for the New Testament believer, it would be expected that in scripture we would be able to find some examples of someone being punished for not following the judicial laws of God who wasn’t an Israelite under the Mosaic theocracy. We should also expect individuals in scripture to apply/enforce this mosaic theocracy in other nations/governments, or even indicate that a transgression of a civil law should be punished using the prescribed penology of the civil law. We should also expect God himself, who is always consistent with his moral law, to act consistently by that law, if indeed it has “abiding validity”. But, we don’t find this.
Also, it must be admitted that this argument against theonomy, in addition to being specific and inductive, is also negative, that is, it seeks to inductively suggest the falsehood of something, without constructing an alternative in its place. In this instance however, it isn’t necessary to do this for the argument to retain its weight, though it would be more forceful and complete if it had a positive aspect to it. But, as mentioned before, because of time and space constrains, so shall the argument be. Let it suffice then, to briefly sketch out the alternative, positive thesis that would “fit” inside the hole left by the destruction of the opposing thesis: that instead of the civil government being responsible for punishing anyone who breaks the civil laws of Israel, it is the responsibility of the church, as the spiritual heir to Israel, to “purge the wicked from among [them].” (1 Corinthians 5:13) by discipline and excommunication. This is also evident in Hebrews 10:28-29). Further development of this thesis is necessary, but is beyond the scope of this paper. It is good enough, in this paper, to point to the “screaming silence” in the text about theonomy, without having to be ready with a fully articulated replacement theory. That can hopefully be done another time.
We may now sketch out our arguments.
Judgment and Penology in the Scriptures
Given Bahnsen’s belief that the civil law is merely the specific outworking of the moral law with no other distinction from the moral law other than a “literary” one (Bahnsen 137), and given both McDurmon’s and Bahnsens belief that these civil laws are obligatory for civil governments today, (Bahnsen 270-271), and given that they believe the civil law is for all nations, not just Israel (Bahnsen 243) we may also add to that their belief that these laws are obligatory because they reflect the eternal, unchanging standard of God (Bahnsen 52). Similarly, McDurmon says that “The argument is simple. If the [civil] laws are just…then they’re applicable. And not just applicable, but obligatory. Because what is the alternative? If you take away what is just, you have what is unjust.” (The Theonomy Debate, American Vision). He believes, as his opponent J.D. Hall wrote in his follow-up book to the debate, Embers of a Dying Fire, in the erroneous assumption that “Just’ must mean ‘unchanging” (Hall 22). Consider our first text:
“Cain spoke to Abel his brother.4 And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and akilled him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, b“I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cis crying to me from the ground. 11 And now dyou are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:8-12)
In Summary, Cain Murdered Abel, and God punished him by cursing him and banishing him, but not killing him. Obviously, even before God gave the law to the Israelites, Murder was a sin, and know to be a sin by Cain. Given theonomists’ belief that we should enforce the penology of the civil law because it reflects the eternal law of God, why does God violate the Mosaic code of Israel’s mandate that murderers should be put to death? This is significant, because this is a serious crime. It would be one thing to bring up an instance of nuance about a minor part of the judicial law, but this violates the second commandment “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). God neglects to inflict the “proper restitution” of having a murderer put to death, which would be the just punishment, according to Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed,” (given before the civil law!) and of course Exodus 21:12: “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.” It seems as if the penology attached to the civil law isn’t eternal, but only applicable to the mosaic theocracy. One might argue that this was before the civil law was set up, but doesn’t an eternal standard go forwards as well as backwards? (Hall 25). God never goes against his own eternal law, but here he punishes Cain differently than he prescribes the Israelites to punish murderers. Therefore, the punishment of death for murder is not part of the eternal law, but part of a temporary law.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. (Acts 5:1-10)
In summary, both Ananias and Sappira were judged by God with death for being hypocrites and liars. Though certainly all would agree this is a just punishment, since all sin deserves death (Romans 6:23) it was not a capital punishment under the mosaic law. Again, the Theonomic assumption is that if these mosaic laws are unchanging and just, then, to quote McDurmon again, “If you take away what is just, you have what is unjust.”…God’s smiting them would have been rendered, as with Cain, unjust. But if, to quote J.D. Hall again, “The moral law, but not the necessarily the judicial code penology, reflects God’s eternal and immutable righteousness.”(Hall 25)…then the punishment is still just. To summarize, it makes more sense that this instance was given as a warning to the church, rather than as an example setting the pattern of ecclesiastical or civil justice. (Knudsen, Theonomy, a Reformed Critique 34).
As for this argument applied to nations, one cannot analyze examples that one deems to be nonexistent (examples of nations being judged for civil infractions) so this section will be short. In Bahnsen’s chapter “Law and Politics in Nations around Israel” in his book “By This Standard” Bahnsen writes:
“What God revealed in writing to his chosen, redeemed people about their moral duties was also revealed by God–without writing out words–to all other created people. The Gentiles who were not given the law still have the work of the law written on their hearts, thereby condemning their sinful behavior.” (234-235).
Everything said here would find hearty agreement by most reformed Christians today.
The problem is that when Bahnsen writes “moral duties” he sneaks in the civil law with it, because he doesn’t believe in a significant separation between them. Thus, Bahnsen believes that the civil law is on the conscience of even the Gentiles, which would mean that Gentile nations–all nations, should follow the civil laws of Israel because they are in fact moral laws written on the conscience. If this is so, we should expect to find nations held to that standard by God. And yet, in all of the examples Bahnsen provides in this chapter, none of them are for civil infractions unique to Israel, but are for moral law infractions that meet the standard of natural law as revealed by God in both the conscience and nature (Romans 1:18-20 as an example). Again, Greg Bahnsen provided zero examples of a nation being judged by any civil law originally given to Israel. In a theonomy debate between J.D. Hall, a reformed Baptist Pastor and Polemics podcaster, and Joel McDurman, the President of the only influential think tank of theonomy left standing, which was the last public debate on theonomy since Hunt/Ice and Bahnsen/Feinberg in the 1980’s, Hall made this point one of his central arguments against theonomy. But, as anyone who has watched the debate can see, Joel offered no answer to this charge. Hall wrote about this argument: “Notice, again, even when given a direct opportunity to correct me on that assertion in the second cross-examination, McDurmon could not and did not attempt to refute my assertion that no nation has ever been judged for violating Israel’s civil code (except for Israel itself.) (Hall 34). It is not proof against theonomy, but it is an indication of it’s falsehood. It is a very loud silence.
Civil Government and Penology in the Scriptures
The next part of our thesis is similar to the first part, but as before we were looking for examples of individuals and nations being judged by the civil, as opposed to the argued moral law, we will now look for examples in Scripture that teach or indicate the enforcement of the Mosaic penology by the civil magistrate.
15 gThen the Pharisees went and plotted how hto entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent itheir disciples to him, along with jthe Herodians, saying, “Teacher, kwe know that you are true and teach lthe way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for myou are not swayed by appearances.2 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay ntaxes to oCaesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why pput me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.3 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, q“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they rleft him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)
Basically, both the Roman-aligned Herodians and the Jewish aligned Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus into offending one of them by his answer to the question of paying taxes to Caesar. If he said yes, then he would offend the Pharisees, because he would be supporting the Pagan religion of Rome, and if he said no, he would be looked upon by the Herodians as a rebel to Rome. We will flesh out this passage, referencing R.T. France’s seminal commentary on Matthew for contextual purposes, and then drawing conclusions for what this means for Theonomy and it’s penology, referencing some points from William Barker’s chapter entitled Theonomy, Pluralism, and the Bible published in the aforementioned Theonomy, a Reformed Critique.
The most relevant section begins at 17: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” First, it must be noted that they weren’t merely asking whether it was legal for jews to pay this tax, because that was obvious (France writes: “there was no question about that!” ) and because given that they had earlier flattered Jesus about his knowledge as a moral teacher (“We know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully”). They were asking if it was morally right. Secondly, it must be noted that the tax they were referring to was the poll tax, a tax specifically levied on subject peoples including the Jews, and specifically hated by them as it reminded them of their subjugation. (France, 315). Thirdly, it must be noted that the silver denarius that Jesus requested by brought him “Show me the coin for the tax” according to France, was the only coin to be used to pay it. He writes: “For normal commerce special copper coins were minted without these features, out of deference to Jewish susceptibilities; so no Jew need handle the objectionable denarius except to pay his tax, for which it was obligatory.” (315). The reason the denarius was “objectionable” was due to its image and inscription. As any Study Bible (ESV, Reformation, MacArthur’s) and France will note, the silver denarius had an image of Tiberius Caesar on one side, with the goddess Pax on the other. The inscription would have read “Tiberius Caesar, son of the deified Augustus, and Augustus.” and “Highest Priest.” (Barker, 235). The Romans followed the Cult of the Emperor Augustus, where they worshipped the “genius” (think spirit or soul) of Augustus as a God, and every subsequent Caesar for having the spirit of Augustus within them. Emperor worship was revolting to the Jews, and they were given special exemptions from rituals and sacrifices in the Roman system. (James J. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World 100-103). Both Barker and France affirm that the image and inscription would have offended the Jews because it supported a false deity and because it had a graven image of the deities upon it. Some Rabbis and Jewish groups such as the Essenes wouldn’t even touch or look at the coin, which is why they would have been hypocrites–Jesus made them show him a coin they were carrying that they viewed as blasphemous and idolatrous and thought sinful to even look upon! But yet, Jesus tells them: “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God’s.” If the Mosaic law in it’s fullness is to be the purview of the civil magistrate, which includes punishing expressions of false religion and infractions of the decalogue, then why is Jesus here commanding obedience to a government not merely not theonomic, or even neutral, but idolatrous and blasphemous?
Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”
Greg Bahnsen sees this text as a pointer for theonomy and the continuation of it’s penal sanctions (279-280), arguing that Paul was submitting to the Jewish law when he said: “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.” The crucial question here is: To what law was Paul referring to? Under the authority of the Jews or of the Romans was he being judged? If he was referring to the Jewish law, then it would seem (though not prove) that we too, should submit to Jewish law, though it seem to be to the extra biblical traditions of the Jews, not the judicial law (more on that later). But, if Paul here is referring to the authority of the Roman law, then it would suggest that he is legitimizing a secular authority to hand out justice, not the mosaic law and its penology.
Chapter 21 is where this all began. Paul is in the temple undergoing purifying rituals when some hellenistic Jews who most likely had a grudge against him either assumed or made up the charge that Paul had brought a Gentile past the partition wall where they were supposed to worship, into the part that only Jews were to worship. Under Jewish law, Gentiles had to remain in the outer wall. Any Gentile seen past that point could be charged and put to death. This is what Paul was principally charged with: “…He even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (verse 28). He is then almost killed by a Jewish mob when the Romans, seeing the commotion, come and apprehend Paul. He later then makes his statement about the death penalty that we are concerned with here. A few points:
1. Perhaps the most powerful point is simply that the prohibition against bringing a Gentile into the inner wall of partition was NOT a law in the Torah, but was added sometime during the second temple period. Paul might have been guilty of death under the added Jewish regulations, but not under Judicial law. If Greg Bahnsen is going to make the argument that Paul is submitting to Jewish law as the authority, and we likewise should as well, then we should therefore submit to the thousands of extrabiblical Jewish regulations. For this reason alone it may be concluded that this passage does not support the mosaic penology.
As to its support of the legitimacy of a secular authority, a few points:
2. Though it must be admitted that the only reason this trial was a big deal was because the Jews made it such, and that Paul was indeed being tried over infractions of Jewish law, he was nevertheless being tried under the authority of Rome. Paul was the defendant, and the Jews were the prosecutors. Over and over again we read the phrase “brought him up” or “accused by the [the Jews]”. Yet, every time Paul is on trial, it is always with a Roman authority as the arbiter of justice, with the Jews bringing him to the Romans for justice. Yes, according to their laws, but appealing to Rome as the authority to have and carry out those laws. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records the Roman general Titus speaking to a Jew about the partition wall:
Have not you, vile wretches that you are, by our permission, put up this partition-wall…Have you not been allowed…to engrave in Greek, and in your own letters, this prohibition, that no foreigner should go beyond that wall? Have not we given you leave to kill such as go beyond it, though he were a Roman? (italics mine). (Josephus, Jewish wars, 6.124-126)
Clearly, the Romans are in authority here, giving the Jews permission to carry out their law. Lastly, it must be noted that Paul was a Roman citizen, and appealed therefore to his right to be tried by the Romans, not the Jews: “I am standing before Caesars Tribunal, where I ought to be tried.”
The above study serves both to discredit any standing argument that this verse might be for the continuing validity of the penal sanctions, as Bahnsen strongly uses this verse in his book, and also as a positive indication that Paul here appeals to the Roman law as a Roman citizen under which he desires to be tried, thus legitimizing Rome as a civil magistrate. Again, if theonomy, then why does Paul make such comments?
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ESV)
J.D. Hall uses an argument from 2 Corinthians 2 on the basis of the above text, but elects to ignore said text individually. He argues that the offender here in 1 Corinthians later appears in 2 Corinthians 2 as an example of someone who has been restored to faith. His point is that someone who has been restored by the church cannot also be condemned by the mosaic penology. It is a fair argument, but I believe its efficacy rests too much on the assumption that it is the same person. Most commentaries are divided, and there is no way to infer from the text with any certainty that they are the same person. If it is not the same person, the argument falls flat. I would rather go to the source and argue from 1 Corinthians 5.
The basic context of this passage is that there was a man that had committed incest with his fathers wife (most likely stepwife), and the Corinthian church was not dealing with it properly. Paul writes them to tell them how they should handle the situation. It is widely agreed by scholars that this was the main reason he wrote the letter in the first place–to deal with this issue. Paul tells the Corinthian church to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
All the major study Bibles and commentaries agree that Paul is referring here to excommunication. It is a “Remov[al] from among you” (verse 2) yet with the hope of reconciliation “…so that his spirit may be saved…”. However, marrying, or having sexual relations with your father’s wife is clearly to be punished by death according to Leviticus 18:8: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your fathers wife” (same phrase used by Paul, fathers wife), and then later: “For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people.” (Verse 29).
Paul clearly here is commanding the Corinthians to excommunicate someone who would have been executed under the Mosaic Law. The phrase in Leviticus to “cut off from among their people” is elsewhere clearly used to indicate death (Exodus 31:14 as an example: “You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. nWhoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.”). The theonomist’s response is that this is an argument from silence, because Paul isn’t necessarily precluding the man being dealt with by the civil authorities. Bahnsen writes:
Well, there may not be a specific illustration available (given the character of the society and the magistrate in those days), but the principles are indeed taught…Paul need not say anything further about the magistrates duty regarding incest, for instance, since the Old Testament and natural revelation were already adequate.” (336).
But it seems unlikely. Why would Paul command the church to cast someone out from their midst when he had done something so heinous and worthy of death in the Old Testament, without even mentioning anything about the civil government? Bahnsens assumption that Paul is going to also advocate that this individual be charged by the civil authorities seems to be more of an argument from silence than to assume we shouldn’t see this as a case where the absence of a civil infraction under the mosaic penology is now for the church to deal with.
The clinching argument that Paul is clearly applying the Old Testament penology towards the purview of the church, not the civil government, is noted by Dennis Johnson, another contributor to Theonomy, a Reformed Critique:
…It is noteworthy that Paul seals this discussion with a formula quoted from the mosaic penal sanctions: ‘Expel the wicked man from among you’ [verse 13]…His wording follows that of the Septuagint so closely that his intent to appeal to this Old Testament formula is unmistakeable. In the Deuteronomy contexts this formula, whenever it appears, refers to the execution of those committing deeds ‘worthy of death’… (181)
He cites passages like Deuteronomy 17:7, 19:19, 22:21 etc, which all say something like “Purge the evil from your midst.” But here is one better: How about go to the same exact paragraph in scripture where this kind of incest is mentioned! In Leviticus 18:8 is the prohibition, and in 18:29 is the punishment: “For anyone who does these abominations…shall be cut off from among their people.” Though Paul was quoting from Deuteronomy 13:5 in verse 13: “Purge the evil from among you” the formula is, as Johnson says, is “unmistakeable”. The response from the theonomic camp, in their book attempting to rebut Theonomy, a Reformed Critique, titled: Theonomy: an Informed Response is to say about Johnson's point that we should expect Paul to cite such language using the Old Testament under theonomic presuppositions, since the church is supposed to remove wickedness from among themselves (126-127). But this is unconvincing. If Paul really were a theonomist, and wanted to apply Old Testament penology to this infraction, he might quote Deuteronomy 13:5 (as he did) but he should then apply it to the civil government. This he does not do. Not only is he silent about the civil government getting involved, which would be a pointer by itself, he goes the extra step of applying what used to be handled by the government and applies it to the church. The church excommunicating someone for committing incest is doing the job of “cutting him off from the people” as the civil government did under the mosaic theocracy.
These selected arguments are merely a sampling of what could be used to show the “screaming silence” that is in the Biblical text regarding theonomy. In preparation for this paper, twice as many texts were quoted and exegeted, but were removed before completion because of space restrictions. But, in the few select passages we have studied, we have seen that, given theonomists belief that the civil law is the specific outworking of the moral, and that it is eternal, we should not expect to find God going against his moral law by sparing Cain from death when he murdered Abel. If it was to be the pattern of the New Testament church to follow theonomic penology, then we would not expect God setting an example in the beginning of the NT church by going against theonomy by killing both Ananias and Saphira for committing crimes not worthy of death according to civil law. Likewise Jesus, when teaching the Herodians about the relationship of Church and State, taught that it was God’s will to obey the secular government, even a government that broke civil as well as moral laws. If theonomy, then why would Paul, who is being tried by Jewish law in Acts 21-28, appeal to Roman authority as a Roman Citizen, instead of wanting to be judged according to the Jews? and Lastly, as we saw in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul takes the Old Testament language that formerly applied to the civil government and applied it to the church. If theonomy, why not leave it alone? Why apply it to the church if it should remain applicable to the State?
At the end of the day, the theological differences between the author of this paper and Greg Bahnsen and Joel McDurman are not too great. We are all three reformed presbyterians, with much to celebrate in common. We all three heartily agree that the civil law is good and just. I don’t believe that just means unchanging, as theonomists seem to, but just all the same. I believe, along with the Westminster Confession, in the “general equity” of the civil law (Wesminster confession, 19.4). We can all agree with Charles Hodge, who, commenting on the last passage examined above, wrote:
We have here therefore a clear recognition of the Levitical law concerning marriage. (Hodge believed the man actually married his fathers wife, others disagree, but it wasn’t relevant to the discussion) The Scriptures are a perfect rule of duty; and, therefore, if they do not prohibit marriage between near relatives, such marriages are not sins in the sight of God. To deny, therefore, the permenancy of the law recorded in Lev. 18, is not only to go contrary to the authority of the apostle, but also to teach that there is for Christians no such crime as incest.” (An exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 81-82)
Amen! I might haggle with him over the word “crime” instead of “sin”, but generally speaking, I agree with Hodge. Christians should obey the entire law of God–the ceremonial (in its fulfillment by Christ) the judicial (in its general equity) and the moral (also in its general equity!). But, to argue, as theonomists do, and as we have seen by focusing on Bahnsen and McDurman, that the mosaic punishments once meted out in the mosaic theocracy are obligatory for civil governments today without finding any examples in Scripture, is an argument from silence less believable than the alternative argument from silence being articulated here.
American Vision. The Theonomy Debate: Joel Mcdurmon Vs. Jordan Hall. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.
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