(distributed by the Session of St. Paul Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, 1978), Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938
Rev. Greg L. Bahnsen, Th.M., Ph.D.
The editor of the Presbyterian Journal is to be thanked for introducing to his readers two vital theological questions relevant to the modern church: the questions of ethics and eschatology. Such matters bear directly on the lifestyle and hope of believers and, thus, are a concern to us all. In two lead articles and two main editorials which spread over three issues in volume 20 of the Journal (9-6, 9-13, 9-20) the editor has cordially and charitably given his own view of a particular outlook in eschatology (postmillennialism) and in ethics (theonomy), both of which I espouse. As a teacher of theology I rejoice at such healthy interaction and criticism regarding our doctrinal commitments. We must, in the Berean spirit (Acts 17:11), “prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (I Thes. 5:21).
I will begin by discussing the theonomic outlook in ethics, responding to the editor’s understanding and critique, and then later turn to the question of postmillennial eschatology, again offering an answer to the editor’s remarks.
The most blessed teaching of God’s word and the central joy of my life is that God sent His only-begotten Son to save sinners such as myself. When I became a Christian, it was with a sense of my sin and misery before God. Because of the Spirit’s work in my heart I recognized that “every sin . . . being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death” (Westminster Confession of Faith VI.6; hereafter “WCF”). Hereby I saw my need of the Savior freely offered to me in the gospel and embraced Him in faith. Accompanying this saving faith in Christ there was a repentance unto new life in Him. “By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, such as are penitent, so as grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments” (WCF XV.2). Such repentance gave meaning to my “accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life”; in terms of this conception of saving faith I found myself “yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come” as they were found in God’s inspired word (WCF XIV.2).
Because I came to Christ in this fashion it was only natural that, upon reflection, I would take a theonomic approach to ethics – seeing the binding validity of God’s commandments in my life today. The conviction of my sin, which was prerequisite to coming to Jesus as Savior, was possible only because of God’s holy law. “Sin is lawlessness” (I Jn. 3:4); “I had not known sin except through the law” (Rom. 7:7). John Murray said, “The word ‘ought’ can have no meaning apart from a rule or standard of right, that is apart from law . . .. Sin then is moral evil because it is a contravention of that which by its own right, apart from any extraneous considerations, binds and demands . . .. The law that sin violates is the law of God” (Collected Writings II, pp. 77, 78). Without God’s law there would be no sin, and thus no need for the Savior; the gospel would be expendable. The fact that Christ had to die to satisfy the law’s demand is dramatic proof that God’s commandments cannot be laid aside, changed, or ignored.
My salvation is not grounded in my own law-obedience, but rather in that of Christ (Gal. 3:11; Rom. 5:19). The Pharisees had made a religious show of adhering to the law, but it was a mere façade – vain hypocrisy (Matt. 15:7-9). In actual fact the Pharisees avoided the internal demand of the law, avoided its weightier matters, and perverted its teaching (Matt. 5:21-48; 22:23-24). They were, like many teachers today, blind guides who trimmed down the requirements of God’s la so as to make it fit into their own cultural tradition (Matt. 15:3-6, 14). Their form of obedience was a self-serving way of justification (Luke 16:15; 18:9-14) that left them full of iniquity, despite appearances (Matt. 23:27-28). Accordingly their trimmed down, self-centered righteousness could not ever bring entrance into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). If they had genuinely upheld the integrity and demand of the law, they would not have been driven to legalism but to the Savior. J. Gresham Machen put it well: “A low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail” (What is Faith?, p. 142).
So then, the law which convicted me of my ungodliness and my need of God’s Son was a reflection of God’s own perfect, holy character (Ps. 19:7; Matt. 5:48; Rom. 7:12; Rev. 15:4). Those who despise and break that law, then, can have no fellowship with God; the law can no more be put aside than God himself can be. “The law of God is simply the expression or transcript of his moral perfection for the regulation of thought and life consonant with his perfection . . .. Herein appears the perverseness of the idea that the moral law may be abrogated and is superseded by love” (Murray, II, p. 78). If God never meant for us to comply with this law, His wrath and curse would have been an arbitrary and instrumental play-acting. So Dabney maintained, “Everywhere, the law which we are still required to obey, is the same law which, by its perfectness, condemned us” (Systematic Theology, p. 633). Those who know Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin cannot, therefore, deny the validity and place of God’s law today.
After I came to Christ in faith and repentance, experiencing thereby the pardon of God for my transgressions of His holy law, the natural question became, how should a Christian live? I praise God for my reformed church training which taught me that those who have a new heart “are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them . . . strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (WCF XIII.1). For this reason I was taught to obey the commandments of God, looking to Scripture for my guidance rather than to myself as a sinner who was attuned to a fallen culture. Dabney insisted, rightly I believe, that “the preaching and expounding of the Law is to be kept up diligently, in every gospel Church” (S. T., p. 354). Such an emphasis is far from incompatible with a religion of free grace held Dabney: “the view I have given of the Law, as the necessary and unchanging expression of God’s rectitude, shows that its authority over moral creatures is unavoidable . . .. It is therefore simply impossible that any dispensation, of whatever mercy or grace, could have the effect of abrogating righteous obligation over God’s saints” (p. 353).
A.A. Hodge agreed that this was the outlook of our Confession. While Christ fulfilled the law for us, the Holy spirit fulfills the law in us, by sanctifying us into complete conformity to it. And in obedience to this law the believer brings forth those good works which are the fruits though not the ground of our salvation” (The Confession of Faith, p. 251). Samuel Bolton a participant at the Westminster Assembly wrote: “We cry down the law in respect of justification, but we set it up as a rule of sanctification. The law sends us to the Gospel that we may be justified; and the Gospel sends us to the law again to inquire what is our duty as those who are justified” (The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, p. 71). Because Christ is not simply my Savior, but simultaneously my Lord, it is incumbent upon me to live in obedience to His commandments (Heb. 5:9).
In sanctification I am to imitate the holiness of God, expressed in His law. “Sanctify yourselves, therefore, and be ye holy, for I am the Lord your God. And ye shall keep my statutes and do them” (Lev. 20:7-8; cf. 19:2 and I Peter 1:15-16). To attempt to be sanctified apart from this standard is to challenge the Lordship of God my Savior. Murray explains that “every depreciation of the law of God as the pattern in terms of which sanctification is fashioned invariably leads to the adoption of patterns which impinge upon the unique prerogatives of God” (II, p. 307). In sanctification I strive to live according to the example of Christ, who kept the law perfectly (I Jn. 2:5-6; Jn. 15:10). In sanctification I live by the power and leading of the Holy spirit who conforms me to the law. Christ “condemned sin in the flesh in order that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). Therefore, whether we consider the holiness of God, the life of the Son, or the work of the Spirit, sanctification finds its blueprint or pattern in God’s law. The basis for sanctification, however, is not the law (as the editor portrays my view, 9-13, p. 9b) but the dynamic ministry of God’s indwelling Spirit (Gal. 3:3) – as indicated by the Confession of Faith cited above.
What the above discussion indicates is that since Christians, living under the Lordship of Christ the Savior, are to avoid sinning (I Jn. 2:1), they must be concerned to obey the law of God (cf. Rom. 3:20). “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I Jn. 2:4; cf. 3:24). A.A. Hodge wrote in his commentary on the Confession: “In respect to regenerate men, the law continues to be indispensable as the instrument of the Holy Ghost in the work of their sanctification. It remains to them an inflexible standard of righteousness, to which their nature and their actions ought to correspond” (p. 258). In his 1841 Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, Ashbel Green declared that believers are fully under the law of God “as a rule of duty; and they account it their happiness and privilege to be so” (II, p. 16); such language merely reflected the commentary edited by Erskine and Fisher in 1765. In a similar vein Herman Bavinck wrote that “the moment we have learned to know that other righteousness and holiness which God has given in Christ and which through faith He makes our own, our attitude towards the law and our sense of its significance changes entirely . . .. We let the law stand in its exalted sublimity, and make no effort to pull it down off its high pedestal. We continue to honor it as holy and righteous and good . . .. We delight in it according to the inner man. And we thank God not for the gospel only but also for his law, for His holy, righteous, perfect law. That law too becomes to us a revelation and a gift of His grace. How love I Thy law; it is my meditation all the day” (Our Reasonable Faith, p. 490).
There is no evidence adduced by the editor from my book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, to warrant his bald claim that I give a different content to the Psalmist’s words, “O how love I Thy law,” than originally intended (9-13 p. 18b). The meaning of that exclamation is expounded above, in harmony with my book. The implication of that teaching, again as reflected in my book, can be stated in the words of John Murray, from his article “The Christian Ethic”: “Do we recoil from the notion of obedience, of law observance, of keeping commandments? Is it alien to our way of thinking? If so, then our Lord’s way is not our way. That is the issue and it is surpassingly grave. It is the issue of our day and it is aimed at the center of our holy faith. It is aimed at the Savior’s self-witness and aimed at his supreme example. Anew, therefore, may we appreciate the ethic that is derived from him who said: ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart’ (Psalm 40:8), and that follows in the train of a psalmist who said: ‘O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day’ (Psalm 119:97), and of an apostle: ‘I delight in the law of God after the inward man . . . So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God’ (Rom. 7:2, 25)” (Collected Writings I, p. 181).
From this quote we can also see how fallacious is the editor’s remark that from the very fact that Theonomy was published and argues against other views of law in relation to grace, its author intends to say something different and obviously thinks he is proposing something new (9-13, p. 10c); otherwise, says the editor, the Westminster Confession would suffice and Theonomy would be superfluous (9-13, p. 18b). These remarks are neither materially true nor reasonably inferred. As Murray points out, a supremely grave issue of our day that threatens the heart of our Christian faith is the current antagonism expressed to obedience to God’s law. This antagonism calls us to appreciate anew the biblical ethic of God’s law. That is why I penned Theonomy: not to go beyond the Confession, but to uphold and defend the position of the Confession regarding Christian ethics. The editor’s remarks notwithstanding, I did not intend to present a viewpoint which was new and different, but simply to argue biblically and consistently for the Confessional viewpoint I have always known and loved. It is not any inadequacy in the Confession’s position but rather the current crisis in Christian ethics that solicited the publication of a book like Theonomy. (The same could be said, obviously, for any number of books published after the Confession of Faith in exposition and defense of a reformed viewpoint in many areas of theology).
We have observed in the previous discussion that because Jesus is my Savior, the validity of God’s law must be upheld; and because Jesus is my Lord, it is imperative to strive to obey the law of God as the pattern of my sanctification. As saved, I have become the disciple of Christ and aim to live a disciplined life under His direction. The law which I was formerly obligated to obey, but failed as an unbeliever to do so (thus necessitating the work of the Savior), is still the proper rule for my life as a believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In light of this, I do not understand the editor’s exposition of Theonomy as teaching that once someone is saved the law takes on a different dimension wherein obedience becomes a must, and wherein the law is now both the pattern and the rule of life (9-13, p. 10a). The distinction between pattern and rule needs explanation. But more importantly, obedience to the law is a “must” for all men, saved or unsaved; it does not become a “must” after salvation. Failure to obey the law defines that sin which calls for the alien and imputed righteousness of Christ – a righteousness in perfect obedience to the law – if one is to be justified by faith; subsequently, in the power of Christ’s Spirit, the believer attains personal righteousness in some measure by obeying the very same required law. Moreover, since our justification and our sanctification are both according to God’s grace, I fail to see the “different dimension” of the law referred to by the editor. Thus I doubt that he was there expounding accurately my own views.
Well then, we have said that the Christian life is one disciplined by the law of God. The editor has said, to the contrary, that the disciplined life is a matter of proper motivation and direction – not a matter of a written code or a catalogue of specifics for behavior (9-20, p. 10b). The necessity and place of God’s written code in the believer’s sanctification has been explained and vindicated already in our discussion of Scripture and the Confession, I believe. Let me go on to observe, then, that the misdirection of the editor’s remark is perhaps to be found in his pitting of the goal (direction) and motive (motivation) of Christian ethics against the standard (written law) of Christian ethics. In reality the three perspectives require each other (cf. C. Van Til’s Christian-Theistic Ethics). We are to have God’s glory and kingdom as the goal of our behavior (I Cor. 10:31; Matt. 6:33). In all our thoughts, words, and deeds we are to be motivated by faith and love (Rom. 14:23; Matt. 22:37-40). However, please note that such moral considerations are delivered by the Author of the law; indeed, they are given themselves as commandments by the Author of the law; indeed, they are given themselves as commandments from God. They do not stand over against the law of God, as though we are to choose between them and the commandments. After all, God is consistent with Himself and has not revealed divergent paths of morality in the Bible. As things actually are in life, we cannot determine which of our actions seeks the glory of God and is consonant with love unless God’s law guides us into the paths of righteousness. Obedience to God’s righteous law is the way to glorify Him (Phil. 1:11), and it is the specific form of Christian love (Jn. 14:15; I Jn. 5:3). Therefore, the disciplined life of the believer is one of obedience to the written law of God (note how “disciplining” is connected with “teaching to observe whatsoever I have commanded” in the Great Commission, Matt. 28:18-20). In that case the editor has set before us a false antithesis and choice.
Jesus, as both Savior and Lord, does not dispense with the law of God, as we have seen above. According to the Confession, He does not dissolve it in any way in the Gospel but rather much strengthens its obligation (XIX.5). Bavinck said, “the gospel does not make the law of no effect, but restores and establishes it . . .. The righteousness of the law, that which the law asks in its commandments, is fulfilled precisely in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4) . . .. For Jesus and for the apostles the will of God . . . continues to be known from the Old Testament . . .. The moral laws retain their force . . .. Hence again and again that Old Testament is quoted in order to cause the Christian church to know the will of God . . .. In other words, the moral law is, so far as its content is concerned, quite the same in the Old and the New Testament” (Our Reasonable Faith, pp. 484, 485). Likewise, Dabney wrote with respect to Christ and the law; “we deny that He made any change or substantial addition . . .. Christ honored this law, declared it everlasting and unchangeable . . .. The moral law could not be completed, because it is as perfect as God, of whose character it is the impress and transcript. It cannot be abrogated or relaxed, because it is as immutable as He” (S.T., p. 357).
When God delivered His law in the Old Testament He indicated that it was not to become outmoded or invalidated. “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deut. 12:32). Ashbel Green comments “that all the requisitions of the moral law are immutably binding on man, unless he have an express dispensation in regard to positive precepts, from the lawgiver, God himself . . .; in no possible case, can they be altered, changed, or abrogated by man, without this appointment.” He goes on to add, “the moral law is a perfect rule of life and manners – so perfect that it admits neither addition, nor diminution” Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, II, pp. 14-15). Thus the Psalmist declared, “Every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Ps. 119:160), and “all His precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness” (Ps. 111:7-8).
God is not wavering with respect to right and wrong; He does not operate on a double-standard of morality. Whatever was evil according to the Old Testament law is also evil in the perspective of the New Testament. For example, God’s law explains that, as an application of the seventh commandment, homosexuality is abominable and prohibited (Lev. 18:22); as expected, the New Testament upholds this case-law requirement (Rom. 1:26-27, 32), seeing homosexuality is contrary to “the ordinance of God.” Similarly, the Old Testament law outlawed marrying your father’s wife (Lev. 18:8), and as expected the New Testament endorses this moral perspective (I Cor. 5:1). Those who feel that there is a discontinuity between the moral standards of the Old and New Testaments, or who feel that the New Testament ethic is limited to only the Ten Commandments, must be challenged as to whether they feel that it is permissible today to commit homosexuality or incest; they must be challenged to give a credible account of why, if only the Decalogue binds us today, the New Testament inconsistently departs from that artificial restriction and supports – without apology or explanation – details of the Old Testament law. The Biblical answer is that every one of God’s laws is righteous and unchanging; what was wrong yesterday cannot become right today. This is the Reformed perspective in ethics (and accounts for our belief in infant baptism): God’s word is valid and binding until He alone says otherwise. It cannot be broken (Jn. 10:35). And because God delivers only righteous laws, He does not alter them. Dabney put it this way: “the idea that God can substitute and imperfect law for one perfect, is derogation to His perfection. Either the former standard required more than was right, or the new one requires less than is right; and in either case God would be unrighteous” (S.T., p. 633).
We must conclude with Dabney, then, “that the Old Testament teaches precisely the same morality with the New” (p. 402). This perspective is well-grounded in the word of God, being explicitly promulgated by Jesus Christ our Lord. “Do not think that I came in order to abrogate the Law or the prophets; I came not to abrogate, but to confirm. For truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things have come to pass” (Matt. 5:17-18). This passage, as the editor notes, is the foundational authority for my book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (9-13, p. 9c); it should be noted, however, that it is not the sole foundation, nor a uniquely necessary one. The same premise is and can be verified from other passages and teachings of God’s word. Also, while I take the word ‘fulfill’ in the sense of ‘to conform’ (this is argued, not for forty pages – as the editor claims, 9-13, p. 10a – but only half as many), this is in no sense necessary to the thesis of my book. The salient point for Christian ethics is that Jesus forthrightly denies that His coming has the effect of abrogating the Old Testament law; He twice states this denial in v. 17, and thus whatever ‘fulfill’ might mean, it cannot imply abrogation of the law without making the verse self-contradictory. In v. 18 Jesus explains that not the slightest stroke of the law will cease to have binding moral force until heaven and earth pass away. If Jesus does not remove our obligation to any law from God, what right has any man to do so? Those who oppose the continued use of any Old Testament precept without warrant from God’s own word oppose the teaching of our Lord and Savior. Usually they attempt to “explain away” the clear and forceful declaration of Jesus, where He shows us how the New Testament gospel age interprets the Old Testament law as abidingly valid, through maneuvers that appear to be exegesis-by-embarrassment. Such tactics cannot overcome Christ’s own application of His teaching: “Therefore, whatsoever shall break one of those least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). Anyone who presumes to demote any of God’s law will be demoted in God’s kingdom, and that according to the word of the King himself.
Dabney wrote, “To what extent, then, does the consistent Reformed theologian hold the old covenant to be abrogated? . . . God’s law being the immutable expression of His own perfections, and the creatures’ obligation to obey being grounded in his nature and relation to God, it is impossible that any change of the legal status under any covenant imaginable, legal or gracious, should abrogate the authority of the law as a rule of acting for us” (S.T., p. 636). Paul understands by the fact that we live under grace and not under law that sin (law-violation) shall not have dominion over us (Rom. 6:12-18); God’s grace in the New Covenant empowers us to keep the law (Titus 1:11-14). The law of the Old Covenant is still binding, therefore, in the New Covenant – even as God declared, “My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips” (Ps. 89:34). Can the law be deemed contrary to the promises of God? Paul answers, “May it never be!” (Gal. 3:21). When God promised and instituted the New Covenant of promise which we enjoy today He did not institute a new law or moral outlook. To the contrary, He declared “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days . . .: I will put my laws into their minds and I will write them upon their hearts” (Jer. 31;33; Heb. 8:10). The New Covenant enables obedience to the Old Covenant’s law-code; whereas the letter brought spiritual death for disobedience, the Holy spirit brings life and obedience (2 Cor. 3:6). “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek. 36:27; cf. Rom. 8:4).
“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; nay, we establish the law” (Rom. 3:31). Given the preceding study, I cannot agree with the editor when he says that life under God’s grace is not conscious of the law (9-20, p. 10c). “I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God” said Paul, and “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22, 25). We are to look carefully at how we conduct ourselves and to understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:15, 17), having God’s word in our mouths and in our hearts – as the law called us to do (Deut. 30:14) along with Paul (Rom. 10:8). Indeed, our moral decisions must be weighed in terms of the law: (e.g., I Cor. 9:9; 14:34). We must pay attention to the commandments as a standard by which to judge our relationship to God (I Jn. 2:3) and our love for the brethren (I Jn. 5:2). Thus the law of the Lord surely has a conscious place in the believer’s life. Righteous living in obedience to God’s law is not, as claimed (9-20, p. 10c), simply feeling right and being comfortable with compliance; it calls for mental attention to the written word (Jn. 17:17; Col. 3:16; I Thes. 4:1-2) and then subsequent action (Jas. 1:21-25). Nevertheless, it is still true, as the editor begins by saying, that there is a qualitative difference between law obedience under law and law obedience under grace (9-20, p. 10b). It is not the difference between utter inability to obey the law and Spiritual enablement to do so (Rom. 8:2-10; cf. 6:1-22). That is, because we are not under law but under grace, sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6:14).
Our present obligation to keep the law of God is plain and evident from the New Testament’s exhortation to love, for “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). According to the editor, under grace the believer’s relationship to the law is not a relationship to a list of specific stipulations but only to a generality summed up in two precepts, “Love God and love neighbor” (9-20, p. 10c). Jesus said that on these two commandments (which, by the way, were quotations from the Old Testament law at Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18) hang all the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:37-40). Yet these love commands did not, according to Christ’s thinking, dispense with the laws of God. John Murray points out that “If the law hangs on love, it is not dispensed with. That on which something hangs serves no purpose and has no meaning apart from that which hangs on it . . .. Love does not devise the norms of exercise nor the ways of expression” (I, p. 179). Love does not take the place of the law of God, it merely summarizes it. Commenting on Paul’s word that love fulfills the law, Murray says elsewhere: “if they are summarized in one word, the summary does not obliterate or abrogate the expansion of which it is a summary. It is futile to try to escape the underlying assumption of Paul’s thought, the criteria of that behavior which love dictates” (Principles of Conduct, p. 192). And in turn the decalogue does not stand alone but “summarily comprehends” the entire moral law of God (Larger Catechism 93, 98). Love summarizes our duty, but law gives it specific definition. “Love is not an autonomous, self-instructing and self-directing principle. Love does not excogitate the norms by which it is regulated"”(Murray, II, p. 78). Otherwise a person might reason that love permits adultery with his neighbor'’ wife. But Christ said, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15), and John taught that “this is love, that we walk after His commandments” (2 Jn. 6). Love to God and brother is known, recognized, and guided by nothing less than the commandments of God (I Jn. 5:2-3). And these commandments are not “a spiritually defined generality,” to use the editor’s words (9-20, p. 10c).
Three basic Reformed commitments have been rehearsed to this point. As my Savior, Christ shows me the necessity of the law. As my Lord, Christ directs me to live in obedience to the law. And this law of the Lord is just as binding in the New Testament as in the Old, not being invalidated by the institution of the New Covenant or by the principles of faith, grace, and love. To these can be added a fourth distinctive: Christ is Lord over all of life and over all mankind.
No area of a person’s life is a safety zone from God’s control and demands. The Lord will not tolerate a dichotomy of life into sacred and secular. He requires holiness throughout all the areas of life, “Like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living” (I Peter 1:15). Nothing in our lives can be withheld from Him. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). The first commandment of the decalogue requires us to glorify God by “yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to lease him” (Larger Catechism 104; hereafter “LC”). Thus nothing pertaining to my attitudes and behavior – whether they pertain to myself, my family, my church, my employment, my social relations, my society or state – is immune from the Lord’s direction. In repentance I turn from all of my sins in all relations, “endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of his commandments” (WCF XV.2; cf. LC 76), and thus sanctification “is throughout, in the whole man” (WCF XIII.2; cf. LC 75). Accordingly the law of the Lord guide, not simply my private and religious life, but every facet of my walk as a servant of God – in recreation, economics, friendships, culture, family, and all things. Wishing to please my Lord, I recognize that “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God” (LC 24). It is my reasonable and spiritual service to offer my body as a living sacrifice to God and my mind to be transformed completely by His perfect will (Rom. 12:1-2). Christ is Lord over all. This is essential to a Reformed world-and-life-view.
John Murray put it this way: “The law of God extends to all relations of life. This is so because we are never removed from the obligation to love and serve God. We are never amoral. We owe devotion to God in every phase and department of life. It is this principle of all-inclusive obligation to God, and of the all-pervasive relevance of the law of God, that gives sanctity to all of our obligations and relations” (II, p. 78). As Bavinck said, “this law governs all the relationships in which man finds himself, whether to God, whether to his fellow man, to himself, or to the whole of nature” (p. 489). Sanctification according to the pattern of God’s law must be throughout life, seven days a week, in every aspect of behavior. Christ is not simply my Savior, He is likewise my Lord – in every department of life, from private to public. He has given me a new heart on which is engraved the law of God (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26-27; Jer. 31:33; Heb. 10:16), and out of that heart flow all the issues of life (Prov. 4:23). Everything I think and do should be governed, then, by God’s law (Deut. 6:8). I have thus come to agree with Murray that “No one factor has been more prejudicial to the Christian ethic in the home, the church, and society, than contempt for the negatives of God’s law” (I, p. 177).
Not only is Christ Lord over all of life, but He is Lord over all men as well. He owns this universal Lordship in virtue of being Creator, Redeemer, and Judge. All things were created by Him and thus for His service (Col. 1:16). As Redeemer He expects all nations to be discipled to Him and taught to observe whatsoever He has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). This same Creator and Redeemer will one day judge all men according to their every deed (2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1). Christ is both the divine and messianic King; in the former capacity He is ruler over the nations (Ps. 22:28) who chastens them out of the law (Ps. 94:10, 12), and in the latter capacity He is head over all things (Eph. 1:20-22) who punishes all who act lawlessly (Matt. 13:42).
Therefore the Christian cannot deny that God’s law binds all men in all places, for to do so would be to detract from Christ the Creator, Redeemer, Judge, and King. In this light we can turn to our confession and Catechisms, where we learn that “The duty which God Requireth of man (without distinction or qualification) is obedience to his revealed will” (LC 91). In the scriptures “the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life” can be found (WCF I.6). The moral duty of all men in all areas of life is contained in God’s inspired word. Of God the Confession says, “He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them” (WCF II.2). No creature is in a position to resist doing what God directs him to do in any area of life, then, for “reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator” (WCF VII.1). Moral obligation, that is, does not rest upon a saving relationship to God; as Creator He demands that His law be observed by all men. By the law of God the Lord bound Adam “and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience” (WCF XIX.1); “the moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it” (XIX.5). Whether we consider the content of the law or its Author, we must conclude that all men are bound to it. As the exalted King Christ has all power over all things in heaven and earth (LC 54), and as such He corrects believers for their sins and brings vengeance upon unbelievers for their sins (LC 45). No person is given permission to violate the law of God in any respect. All men will give an account to Christ, as judge, for every aspect of their lives (WCF XXIII.1), and this fact should “deter all men from sin” (XXXIII.3).
A good summary of the implications following from the fact that Christ is Lord over all – over all areas of life, and over all mankind – is provided by the Catechism. “The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man” (LC 93). “The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly” (LC 95). “The law is perfect, and bindeth every one to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof, and unto entire obedience for ever; so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty, and to forbid the least degree of every sin . . .. What God forbids is at no time to be done . . .. What is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others” (LC 99). Given such teaching, I do not see why it should have struck the editor as somehow a “unique thesis” in Theonomy that every bit of God’s law is equally binding upon believers and unbelievers (9-13, p. 10b-c). This is but an expression of that classic Reformed thought found in the Westminster Standards. Consistent application of these premises may be unusual and unpopular today, but the premises are lifted straight from the historic Reformed position on ethics.
Reformed thought, consistent with the teaching of Scripture, has seen the law of God as having a “political use” in man’s government; that is, God’s law binds the sate, whether pagan or “Christian.” Carl F. H. Henry summarizes in this way: “Even where there is no saving faith, the Law serves to restrain sin and to preserve the order of creation by proclaiming the sill of God . . .. By its judgments and its threats of condemnation and punishment, the written law along with the law of conscience hinders sin among the unregenerate. It has the role of a magistrate who is a terror to evildoers . . .. It fulfills a political function, therefore, by its constraining influence in the unregenerate world” (Christian Personal Ethics, p. 355). Because Christ is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5), all magistrates in the state ___? Him obedience to His law. That law was specifically _______?, says Scripture for the restraint of those who are unruly in society (I Tim. 1:9-10). This is the New Testament perspective as much as the Old’s.
All men, Jewish and Gentile alike, are responsible before the law of God; this is Paul’s teaching in Romans 1-3. Indeed all men, including pagans, have God’s specific laws testifying in their hearts (Rom. 2:15) so that God says they know His ordinance, for instance, against homosexuality (Rom. 1:32). Evidently all men know the entire law of God as it defines and punishes, sin, then, and not simply the ten commandments. Thus Sodom could be destroyed for its homosexuality even before the special revelation of God’s law to Israel on Mount Sinai, and the New Testament identifies _________? Sodom’s judgment as “lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2:6-8). So there can be no mistake: God’s law (even outside the strictly summary statement of the decalogue) is binding on all mankind (even apart from redemptive, special revelation). God does not have a double-standard of morality; what was sinful within the borders of Israel was not condoned just over the state line. Homosexuality is just as forbidden today in the United States as in ancient Israel (see my book, Homosexuality: A Biblical View, available from Covenant Media Foundation). Up until the twentieth century, if you had asked any Reformed theologian, he would have told you as much, for God’s law has international civic relevance. In the giving of the law God made clear that He had only one standard of ethics for the native as well as the stranger in Israel (Lev. 24:22; cf. Eccl. 12:13). Accordingly God severely punished the Canaanite tribes, in exactly the same way that He would punish Israel, for their violations of His law (Lev. 18:24-27).
In revealing His law God intended it to be a model for surrounding cultures to follow (Deut. 4:5-8). Consequently David would speak God’s law before kings (Ps. 119:46) – obviously referring to other kings outside of God (Ps. 18:43-50). The kings of the earth belong to God (Ps. 47:9); thus righteousness and justice must characterize their thrones (Prov. 16:12; 29:4) even as it characterizes God’s throne (Ps. 97:2). It is axiomatic that those who rule over men must do so righteously, in the fear of God (2 Sam. 23:3). In the second Psalm David calls upon the kings and judges of the earth to serve the Lord with fear (Ps. 2:10-12), and he warns them of retribution from God if they do not. There can be no doubt, therefore, that all nations – even in their social and political morality – are bound to the standards of God’s law. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34). Accordingly it is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for their thrones are to be established on righteousness (Prov. 16:12). God’s law was taken by the Old Testament prophets as a light of justice for all peoples (Isa. 51:4; cf. Matt. 5:14), and for that reason the prophets condemned pagan states for their infractions of God’s holy law (e.g., Hab. 2:12, which is precisely the indictment brought against Israel herself in Micah 3:10). God’s law was impartially and universally binding on mankind. Hence Ezra praised the Lord for having a pagan emperor enforce God’s law (even the penal sanctions) in all the area surrounding Israel (Ezra 7:11-28). Consistent with this Old Testament perspective, Paul taught that civil magistrates in the era of the New Testament perspective, Paul taught that civil magistrates in the era of the New Testament were to be ministers of God who avenge His wrath against evildoers (Rom. 13:4) – which is to say, against violators of God’s law (cf. v. 10); to that end “they bear not the sword in vain.” When the magistrate does not rule in terms of God’s law but replaces it with his own law (Rev. 13:16-17; cf. Deut. 6:8), he is then considered a blasphemous “Beast” or “man of lawlessness” (cf. 2 Thes. 2:3, 7). So it is clear that all kings owe allegiance to “the King of Kings,” and none are immune from the stipulations of His holy and just law.
In accordance with this the Westminster Confession and Catechisms taught that magistrates, for the glory of God and the public good, have the right to punish evildoers (WCF XXIII.1); in this the law of God was to be their guide (LC 129-130, with Scripture citations, all of which pertain to civil rulers). The Confession teaches, consequently, that those who maintain practices which are contrary to the light of nature (God’s law revealed in creation and conscience), the principles of Christianity, or the power of Godliness may be lawfully punished by the civil magistrate (WCF XX.4); the Scripture proofs include God’s law against seduction to idolatry and the command to have Ezra enforce God'’ law, even with its penal sanctions. The authors of the Confession cited Isaiah 49:23 (at XXXIII.3) to show that magistrates were to be nursing-fathers to the church, seeing to it that God’s ordinances are observed; biblical texts were thus adduced which instruct the magistrate to execute blasphemers and idolaters. Elsewhere the magistrate is held accountable to rule according to the wisdom of God found in His law, which if slackened leads to unrighteous civil judgments (see LC 129-130, 145 with Scripture texts). In this light we can understand the assertion of Baillie and Gillespie, two prominent participants in the Westminster Assembly, when – at the appointment of the Church of Scotland – they subsequently wrote: “The orthodox churches believe, and do willingly acknowledge, that every lawful magistrate, (is) by God Himself constituted the keeper and defender of both tables of the law” (Proposition 41). So then, it is hard for me to comprehend why the editor maintains – totally without supporting premises or evidence – that “there is a great leap” from the outlook of the Westminster Standards to the view of Theonomy that the entire Mosaic law is binding today, even on pagan states (9-13, p. 18b). There is no gulf between the Westminster outlook and Theonomy which needs to be “leaped”. It is the modern, neutralist or secular outlook on the state (which emancipates it from the specific directives of God’s law in Scripture) that is at odds with the Puritan approach to the state – as almost anyone must acknowledge if he will but recall that embarrassment he initially felt when a modern instructor critically described the political ethic of his Calvinist forefathers (e.g., Puritan New England). That political ethic is no embarrassment to me any longer, having researched and carried out the biblical study that went into the writing of Theonomy in Christian Ethics. I fully endorse the Westminster Standards now. (The outlook of the Westminster Assembly and that of Puritan New England is expounded in Appendices 2 and 3 of my book).
My obligation to observe the law of God is evident from the fact that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord. The law of the Lord is unchanging from Old Testament to New, and it is binding in every department of life (including society and politics) for all men (even unbelieving nations) because Christ is Lord over all. What do these emphases, as rehearsed above, imply as to the extent to the law’s validity today? They imply that God directs political morality today by His law as much as He directs my private morality by His law; every stroke of that law has relevance for my actions and thoughts. The details of the law cannot be expunged or ignored by the New Testament Christian who desires to live under the pervasive Lordship of Jesus Christ. If I am to sanctify and transform all areas of life to the glory of God, then it must be according to the directions of His holy law and not my own wisdom and imagination. To that end I pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth even as it is in heaven.” In such a petition we all pray “that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed . . . , that (Christ) would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world . . . , that God would by his Spirit take away from ourselves and others all blindness, weakness, indisposedness, and perverseness of heart; and by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things” (LC 191-192). No area of life in any area of the world is a safety zone from the Lord’s direction, and thus we must pay attention to the whole law of God as found in the inspired word of the Lord. In this way we can obey the apostolic injunction to “abstain from every form of evil” (I Thes. 5:22).
Ashbel Green wrote that “it is the deep sense which the believer has of . . . his infinite obligation for redeeming mercy, which makes him earnestly desirous to obey all God’s commandments . . .. He loves the whole law of God, and loves it because it is a perfect law. If he could have a mitigated law, which some vainly talk of, it would only, on that very account, be the less amiable to him” (Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, pp. 10-11). That is, the believer ought not to settle for a “spiritually defined generality” that is indifferent to God’s list of specific guidelines (as suggested by the editor, 9-20, p. 10c). Paul taught that “every scripture” of the Old Testament is “profitable for instruction in righteousness . . . in order that the man of God may be perfectly furnished unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). To ignore some of those specific scriptures is to live by an incomplete and inadequate ethic, for without them one cannot be thoroughly equipped for righteous living. James taught that if we stumble at even one point in the law we are guilty of violating the entire law (Jas. 2:10). The details are just as binding as the whole, and they can be pushed aside only at the expense of disobedience to the Lord. So I cannot agree with the editor that after Christ some details of the law “might never again matter at all” (9-20, p. 11a). Every point of the law as found in every Old Testament scripture is profitable for ethical living today and is a measure of our obedience to the Lord; such is the united testimony of Paul and James. In this they were not echoing the teaching of Jesus Christ himself.
In Matthew 5:17 our Lord expressly taught that His coming did not abrogate the Old Testament law. In vv. 18-19 following He said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away not one iota or one stroke shall in any wise pass away from the law, until all things take place. Therefore whoever shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Until the end of history not the slightest detail of God’s law will become invalid, and thus teachers are warned by Christ himself from depreciating the details of the law. To say, as the editor does, that Christ’s fulfilling of the law suggests nothing about a check list of specifics (9I-20), p. 11a) is to fly directly in the face of the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:17-19. That He “fulfills” the law implies – according to His own reasoning – that nobody has the right to ignore the specifics of God’s holy law. In commenting upon Matthew 5:17-19, John Murray had this to say: “Jesus refers to the function of validating and confirming the law and the prophets . . .. Jesus is saying that he came not to abrogate any part of the Mosaic law . . .. If there is anything that is distasteful to the modern mind it is concern for detail, and particularly is this the case in the field of ethics. By a lamentable confusion of thought concern for detail is identified with legalism . . .. ‘One jot or one tittle.’ It is a clear assertion that the law in all its details must come to fulfillment and be accomplished . . .. Our Lord recognized that the minutiae of the law had significance. If we do not like minutiae or insistence upon them, then we are not at home with the attitude of Jesus. We are moving in an entirely different world of thought . . .. We are not to expect an undervaluation, far less disparagement, of the details of law; and we may as well expect from the outset that, if our perspective is one that looks for the wood but not the trees, then we shall not be at home in the teaching of Jesus . . .. Too often the person imbued with meticulous concern for the ordinances of God and conscientious regard for the minutiae of God’s commandments is judged as a legalist, while the person who is not bothered by the gospel. Here Jesus is reminding us of the same great truth which he declares elsewhere: ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much, and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much’ (Luke 16:10). The criterion of our standing in the kingdom of God and of reward in the age to come is nothing else than meticulous observance of the commandments of God in the minutial details of their prescription and the earnest inculcation of such observance on the part of others” (Principles of Conduct, pp. 150-154).
That is the perspective advanced by Theonomy, and I believe it to be in harmony with the entire word of God, which consistently teaches that the whole law is binding today in detail. The specifics of that law, contrary to the editor (9-20, p. 11a), applied wholesale to Christ, who was tempted in all points without sin (Heb. 4:15), who perfectly kept the Father’s commandments (Jn. 8:46; 15:10), and fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). In this He is our example today, and we should heed His instruction that, in the midst of keeping the weightier matters of the law, the minor specifics ought not to be left undone (Lk. 11:42). Every jot and tittle is our standard of Christian ethics. As Bolton, the Westminster divine, said: “Since Christ, who is the best expounder of the law, so largely strengthens and confirms the law (witness the Sermon on the Mount, and also mark 10:19); since faith does not supplant, but strengthens the law; since the apostle so often presses and urges the duties commanded in the law; since Paul acknowledges that he served the law of God in his mind, and that he was under the law to Christ (I Cor. 9:21); I may rightly conclude that the law, for the substance of it, still remains a rule of life to the people of God . . .. If Christ and His apostles commanded the same things which the law required, and forbade and condemned the same things which the law forbade and condemned, then they did not abrogate it but strengthened and confirmed it. And this is what they did: see Matt. 5:19” (The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, p. 62). The detailed specifics of God’s whole law are binding on all men today.
For convenience the law of God may be considered in three categories, each of which serves a particular theological or literary function, but all of which are confirmed by Christ for today. In the law God gives (1) general precepts, (2) illustrations of how those precepts are applied in particular cases, and (3) instructions pertaining to God’s covenant mercy or the way of restoration and redemption for infractions of laws in (1) and (2). The applicatory illlustrations are in the same general category with the general precepts, being but an extension and explanation of them; thus (1) and (2) are thereby reflecting God’s righteousness. The restorative laws, reflecting God’s mercy, typify the redemptive economy of Christ (i.e., point to the way of salvation) and illustrate the perfection and holiness required of the redeemed community.
Some examples can help us to understand these three kinds of law and how they apply to us in the New Testament age. In summary statement the law declared, “Thou shalt not steal”; this general principle is permanently binding (cf. Rom. 13:9). How does it apply however? God explained in His law that, among other things, this law meant that it was wrong to defraud or oppress employees (Deut. 24:14, cf. LXX) and that even an ox is not to be deprived of its livelihood from the work it does (Deut. 25:4). Such were illustrations of the general precept; with changed circumstances (or a different culture) the case-law illustrations or applications might be different, but the underlying principle remains valid and binding. Thus Christ utilized the Old Testament case-law in telling the rich young ruler that he ought not to defraud (Mk. 10:19), and Paul spoke of the church’s obligation to New Testament ministers in terms of the case of Old Testament oxen, quoting “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox as it treads” (I Tim. 5:18). Likewise, as an application of the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” the law of God required Israelites to place a fencing around the roofs of their houses. The underlying principle of this law still applies to us today, even though we may not apply it to entertaining on flat roofs since this is not part of our cultural experience; instead we might apply it today by placing a fence around our backyard swimming pools – again, in order to protect human life and thus obey the general precept of God’s law. Without these case-law illustrations or explanations of the summary ethic in the decalogue the ten commandments would certainly be twisted and applied to man’s own sinful desires. For instance, reading “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Men could prefer an extremely narrow interpretation of sexual purity and exonerate their premarital, incestuous or homosexual affairs. However, the case-law specifications of the law prohibit such activities, and the New Testament reiterates these prohibitions (Heb. 13:4; I Cor. 5:1-5; I Tim. 1:10).
It should be clear, then, that the ten commandments or general precepts cannot be read and understood apart from the explanatory context of all of God’s revealed law. Bavinck has noted that “the law of the ten commandments does not stand loosely and independently by itself; it finds itself, rather, in the middle of a rich environment . . .. In Israel that law . . . was taken up in a body of rights and ordinances which had to govern the whole life of the people. Besides, this law was explained, developed, and applied throughout the history of Israel by the psalmists, proverb writers, and prophets . . .. The law of the ten commandments may not be separated from this rich context of the whole revelation of God in nature and in Scripture. Understood in this way, the Ten Commandments are a brief summary of the Christian ethic and an unsurpassed rule for our life. There are also many other laws to which we are bound” (Our Reasonable Faith, pp. 488, 489). I put it this way in Theonomy: “The case law illustrates the application or qualification of the principle laid down in the general commandment"”(p. 313). Or to use the words of Patrick Fairbairn, A Considerable portion of the statutes and judgments are . . . a simple application of the great principles of the Decalogue to particular case of enactments referred to have an abiding value, as they serve materially to throw light on the import and bearing of the Decalogue, confirming the views already given of its spiritual and comprehensive character” (The Revelation of Law in Scripture, pp. 97, 99). The case laws outside of the Decalogue (also called “judicial laws” in Reformed literature) are thus moral in character. Because their details are often communicated in terms of ancient Israel’s culture these laws are not binding as such on us in today’s culture; rather, we are now required to keep the underlying principle (or “General Equity”) of these laws.
Such was the teaching of the Westminster Assembly as well. The language of this body can be readily understood in terms of the context of its day. Heinrich Bullinger, the primary author of the Second Helvetic Confession, had written that “the substance of God’s judicial laws is not taken away or abolished.” The English Puritan and presbyterian, Thomas Cartwright, said a generation before the Assembly that since some of the judicial laws were “made in regard of the region where they were given,” those who keep “the substance and equity of them (as it were the marrow), may change the circumstance of them, as the times and places and manners of the people shall require.” Likewise William Perkins spoke of “the law of Moses, the equity whereof is perpetual.” Another English Puritan, Philip Stubbs, said that the “law judicial standeth in force to the world’s end.” So also, George Gillespie, an important writer of the Westminster Standards, maintained in separate works that the judicial law of Moses should be the rule of the civil laws of a commonwealth – an opinion put into practice by John Cotton in New England during the same decade as the Westminster Assembly. From these brief examples we can underand the Puritan view of Moses was not binding, but rather the underlying principle, substance, marrow or general equity was perpetually to be observed by all. This is what we read in the Westminster Confession of Faith: in addition to the summary code of the ten commandments, God “gave sundry judicial laws . . . not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require” (XIX.4). In support of that assertion the Confession cites biblical passages which have also been used above to explain the interpretation offered in Theonomy. The “equity of a statute,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “according to its reason and spirit so as to make it apply to cases for which it does not expressly provide.” The Confession teaches that this equity of the case laws (e.g., Ex. 21-22) is required as the extent of our present obligation to God’s commandments. All sins and duties of the same kind are forbidden and enjoined under the one sin or duty mentioned in the decalogue (LC 99); the decalogue is but a summary of the moral law (LC 98). Thus the liberty of Christians under the New Testament is further enlarged, says the Confession, but not by our being freed from the judicial laws of Moses (WCF XX.1). Instead, the Westminster divines appealed to God’s commandments outside of the decalogue as elaborating and explaining the application of the ten commandments – as the proof-texting of the Larger Catechism at the ten commandments evidences (LC 103-148). If someone does not believe that these case-laws are currently binding, contrary to the Confession, then the theonomist could, for example, challenge him to explain why we should distinguish between manslaughter and first-degree murder today, prohibit homosexuality and incest, and punish kidnappers who do no harm to their victims – none of which is clear from the decalogue alone.
The final category of God’s law which was mentioned above was the restorative law (traditionally called the “ceremonial law”) which functioned to typify the way of redemption in Christ and to illustrate the holiness (or “separation”) of the redeemed community. For instance, Lev. 17:11 taught the necessity of blood atonement if sins were to be forgiven; for this reason the New Testament says that “it was necessary” that Christ sacrificially die and shed His blood for our salvation (Heb. 9:22-24). The law was but a shadow of things to come (Heb. 10:1), for the shed blood of animals was never in itself sufficient to atone for sins (Heb. 10:4). Those who were redeemed by blood atonement were to celebrate the passover in the Old Testament, just as believers saved by Christ’s blood are to celebrate the Lord’s Supper today (I Cor. 5:7). Because the redeemed community had been separated out of the nations by God, it was to remind itself of its holiness by drawing a distinction between clean and unclean meats (Lev. 20:22-26), by refusing to mingle different kinds of seed and clothing, and by not plowing with unequal animals (Lev. 19:1-2, 19; Deut. 22:9-11). These laws are not observed in this same outward manner today because the Savior has fulfilled the foreshadows of the Old Testament and established His holy, international, covenant community in the church; every jot and tittle of God’s word, when consulted, teaches us today that the system of commandments contained in such ordinances as created a wall of separation between Gentile and Jew have been abolished in Christ’s flesh as He reconciles the two into one body through the cross (Eph. 2:14-19). Consequently the laws typifying the separation or holiness of Israel are no longer observed in the manner of the Old Testament today (e.g., laws pertaining to unclean meats, Acts 10). Nevertheless these laws are still binding upon the New Testament church insofar as they teach the necessity of separation from the world and cleanliness before God – that is, the holiness of the redeemed community. Hence the New Testament requires that believers not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, that they be separate and “touch no unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:14-17). Likewise they are to purge out the old leaven of sin (I Cor. 5:7; cf. Deut. 16:4) and hate even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 23; cf. Lev. 13:47-52). All such exhortations are patterned after the restorative law of the Old Testament; the manner of observance is altered today after Christ, but the point of the commandments is the same. The Confession thus teaches that to Israel, as a church under age, God gave ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits, and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties”(WCF XIX.3; note the scriptural passages cited); under the New Testament Christians are freed from the yoke of the ceremonial law to which the Jewish Church was subjected (XX.1). Yet Christ confirms even these laws, being “the permanent and final embodiment of all the truth portrayed in the Levitical ordinances” (Murray, Principles of conduct, p. 151).
Therefore, in submission to the uniform teaching of God’s word as reflected in the Westminster Standards, we should conclude that, because Jesus is Savior and Lord, the law of God is binding today as a moral standard. The law of the Lord is unchanged from Old to New Testaments, and because Christ is Lord over all, that law must be obeyed by all men in all areas of life. Accordingly the Bible teaches us that the whole law of God is valid today, without subtraction of one jot or tittle. Theonomic ethics does not add without subtraction of one jot of tittle. Theonomic ethics does not add these jots and tittles to the “moral law” (in the Westminster sense of that term) but argues that they categorically are part of the moral law of God. The ten commandments cover the entire field – and in that sense are always “enough” to show us our duty – but in a summary fashion – and thus are in need of the explanatory application of the details of the whole law.
In the context of the above discussion we can evaluate the editor’s remarks about and against the theonomic position in Christian ethics. Misrepresentations of that position have been noted already in the preceding discussion; a much better summary (and evaluation) of the book can be found in the book review by the ethics instructor at Westminster Seminary, published in the Journal on August 31, 1977. In fact, the “Sunday School Lesson” written by Dr. Scott for the same issue in which the editor comments on Theonomy goes a great distance in expressing my commitments in Christian ethics (9-13, pp. 14-15). Many of the editor’s remarks, however, will tend to give an inaccurate conception of the theonomic viewpoint, and at many points he is simply attacking a “straw man” position that I myself would criticize.
We have also observed above that the theonomic position is not a recent novelty, as portrayed by the editor. The reader can go back and note how thoroughly the Westminster Standards and classic Reformed theologians support the premises, and in many cases the conclusions, of the theonomic viewpoint. Where the premises are held by theologians who refrain from the conclusions, I believe we must recognize an inconsistency that does not characterize the biblical writers or the Puritans who composed the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. But the relevant point is that the position of theonomic ethics has healthy historical roots. It is not “the latest approach to the law,” but has strong precedents in classic Reformed theology. Theonomic ethics does not ask that something more or new be added to the best tradition of law are now binding. Lest we tend toward a pharisaical or Romanist commitment to tradition, however, I must affirm as a theologian that our only supreme judge by which all . . . doctrines of men . . . are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy spirit speaking in the Scripture” (WCF I.10). I am glad that Reformed tradition stands behind the theonomic position, but it is theologically irrelevant.
The editor, as seen previously, has also maintained that in an age of grace the details of the law of God are not of central importance; the Christian, he says, does not live by a written code of specifics – which, if true, would tend to dismiss the theonomic outlook. However sufficient reason has been given from God’s word to disagree with the editor’s remarks here. The entire preceding discussion undermines the sufficiency of mere generalities in Christian ethics as taught in Scripture. God loves us so thoroughly that He has given us detailed guidance for all areas of our lives; in love for Him we must pay attention to His entire word and counsel.
The editor’s criticism that Theonomy has a “host of ‘missing links’ over which the argument leaps with no apparent warrant” (9-13, p. 18b) would be, if supported, an important observation and area for further discussion. However the editor has not given any indication of what steps in the argument were omitted by the book at all. The example he offers is that of moving from Christ’s endorsement of the law for the rich young ruler to the validity of the Mosaic penal code today. The problem though is that such an argument is nowhere utilized or even suggested by Theonomy! Thus the editor is far from proving his point. At this time I believe that adequate and complete steps or links in the theonomic argument are expounded in my book. In reviewing the book Professor Frame said that it “presents solid arguments which must be soberly discussed . . .. For those who disagree with Bahnsen’s position – well, the ball is in their court; they must come up with an answer” (8-31-77, p. 18c).
A particularly disappointing aspect of the editor’s own evaluation of theonomic ethics is precisely its lack of counter-argumentation, biblical exegesis, and serious analysis of the issues involved in the Christian approach to God’s law in ethics today. The editor does not rebut the positive arguments offered by Theonomy, he does not specify efforts, and he presents no interpretation of his own for the basic scriptural texts which are enlisted in support of the book’s thesis. Consequently the reader has no responsible way of telling whether theonomic ethics carries Reformed principles too far (stretching the classic view to the point of absurdity) as the editor says (9-13, p. 19a), or whether it simply and consistently applies those principles throughout the range of ethical issues. A careful understanding of the theonomic viewpoint has not been presented, and no reasoned argumentation against it (biblical or otherwise) is set forth. Thus the discussion of the book serves little constructive purpose in helping Christians think through their ethical position in a way pleasing to the Lord; at worst, some readers will have been misled as to the relevant questions involved and the viable answers available.
Therefore, although I appreciate the editor opening the door to discussion of Theonomy, in an overall and introductory sense his approach could be strengthened in a number of places. His remarks misrepresent the book at important points, overlook its Reformed and Confessional roots, mistakenly suppress details in favor of ethical generality for New Testament ethics, give no evidence of gaps in the reasoning set forth in Theonomy, and offer no counter-argumentation or biblical interpretation of his own. Thus in that light I would initially respond that the editor’s critique is somewhat crippled in attaining its proper goals.
Beyond this preliminary reply to the editor, however, we should consider his primary way of evaluating and criticizing theonomic ethics. When all is said and done, the editor directs his appraisal of Theonomy at what he takes to be its application and consequences. Being dissatisfied with those alleged implications, the editor casts a negative shadow over the theonomic position itself. The editor says that “to evaluate Theonomy . . . it would be necessary to test it against a ‘jot’ or ‘tittle’” because the book argues for the validity of every jot and tittle of the Old Testament law today (9-13, p. 18c). In the opinion of the editor theonomic ethics must be tested by the details of God’s law as revealed in the Old Testament. Accordingly he proposes nine or ten examples of what he thinks would be applications of those details to life today, telling his readers that such are “not facetious examples” (9-13, p. 19a). Because these alleged applications of the theonomic thesis are disturbing to the editor, he promptly dismisses the position as extreme. But in this he moves too hastily. If his examples are not facetious by intention, they are nevertheless false in most every case. Readers have thus been seriously misled and prejudiced against considering the biblical warrant for theonomic ethics.
Secondly, we must ask by what standard one would carry out such a “test by details” regarding the law of God. When someone finds a particular Old Testament law and discerns its proper application to life today, by what standard does he decide on the acceptability of that law? If the standard is Scripture itself, then one is reaffirming the theonomic approach to ethics; every jot and tittle of God'’ word (including OT as interpreted by NT) determines our ethical obligations today. Nothing is abrogated or subtracted from the OT law except at the word of the lawgiver Himself. So then, by what extrascriptural standard does the editor propose to “test the details” of God’s law as applied today (and thereby evaluate the theonomic thesis)? The uniqueness of biblical ethics and the unchallengable authority of the biblical God make it difficult to see that there could be an extrascriptural standard by which His law could be appraised. As Murray said: “The Christian faith is distinctive and the Christian ethic is correspondingly distinctive . . .. There is a new pattern, a new kind of conformity, eloquently expressed by way of antithesis when Paul says: ‘Be not conformed to this world (be not fashioned to this age) but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom. 2:2) . . .. In view of the radical distinction (between likeness to God in the sense of divine creation and recreation, and in the sense of the Satanic temptation), revelation specifying the respects in which likeness to God constitutes the pattern of human behavior is indispensable. Otherwise confusion would be unavoidable . . .. The law of God guards the distinction so germane to the basic obligation, namely, likeness to God. For the law of God is the will of God for us . . .. When the sanctity of God’s law is maintained and we reverence him in the prerogative that is his as the one lawgiver, then the likeness to God demanded by our creation in his image and by the new creation in Christ is realized” (I, pp. 174-176).
So then, the standard by which we would judge the acceptability of God’s laws in our present culture cannot be the ways of this world (Rom. 12:1-2). Nor can it be the standard of revered tradition (Matt. 15:6), majority opinion (Rom. 3:4), the lifestyle of unbelievers (Eph. 4:17), the desires of sinful men (I Peter 4:1-5), other high-sounding ethical standards (Col. 2:16-23), the view of religious teachers (I Jn. 4:1), human wisdom (I Cor. 1:17-31), worldly philosophy (Col. 2:8), human laws (Acts 5;29), governmental decrees (Rev. 13:8, 16-17; 14:1, 12), public approval (2 Tim. 3:3, 12), personal convenience (Matt. 5:10), financial cost (Matt. 6:24), advancement in the world (Matt. 19:17, 29), protection of special favors (Heb. 11:25-26), ease of application in the face of the status quo (Acts 17:6), or simplicity of understanding and applying those laws (Heb. 5:11-14). If the editor wishes to judge Theonomy by a “test of details,” what standard does he propose for us to use in such an evaluation? The fact is that there is no acceptable standard of evaluation except the word of God itself – which is to say that our obligation to the whole law of God can be determined only by interpreting what the Bible itself says about such an obligation, and not by asking how acceptable the details appear to us right now. I trust that nobody will think that sola Scriptura is taking Reformed principles too far. Rather than allowing our present opinions and attitudes to be the standard by which we evaluate God’s law, we ought to take God’s law as the standard by which we evaluate our present opinions and attitudes.
As a third prefatory remark let me express my uneasiness with the manner in which the editor treats the details of God’s law that he chooses to mention. These specifics from the law are set forth as though any reasonable person would see how ridiculous they are; they are presented as apparent embarrassments to a modern theologian or believer – almost in a belittling light. How else can we account for the fact that the editor merely alludes to them – without argument or commentary – and expects the mere allusion to dissuade readers from believing that “every jot and tittle” of God’s law is valid today? He seems to think that it will be self-evident to everybody that these strange, extreme, or horrible laws cannot be accepted by us in the twentieth century church. This approach to God’s holy law is unworthy of us as believers in the inspired and infallible word of God; it is unbecoming of us who have renounced personal self-sufficiency and trusted in Christ, who Himself delighted in every detail of God’s law. Every specific Old Testament law came directly from God, and as such every detail calls for our respect and honor – even if we believe that God has put certain details out of gear for the present age. Since these laws were to be taken by God’s people as good and proper in the Old Testament, it cannot be simply obvious that they are not good and proper for God’s people today. What was the delight of the Psalmist is not an obvious absurdity to us. Such laws cannot be repudiated by modern believers without a sufficient, biblical argument to that effect. Current application of God’s law cannot be ruled out simply by inspection of the content of the law itself, for in itself that law is the transcript of God’s holiness. To depreciate those laws for what they say in themselves is to disrespect the holy character of their Author. We simply must not begin with the assumption that Old Testament laws are somehow funny or too strict. “The law of God was never too strict; had it been so, it would have been unjust, and unworthy of its Author. It was always perfectly holy, just, and good; and of course any mitigation, or change, would abate its excellence, and make it less worthy of the love and estimation of every holy soul . . .. We never render any acceptable obedience to God, till we conform to his laws from a regard to his authority, as the very ground and reason of our obedience” (Ashbel Green, Lectures in Shorter Catechism, Vol. 2, p. 11).
Finally, before looking at the details chosen by the editor, it should be observed that he has apparently mistaken what the theonomic perspective is when it comes to interpreting God’s word or law. According to the editor I attack the spiritualizing and allegorizing of the law – unlike classic Reformed scholars who sought to “get around” the details of the Mosaic law by spiritualizing them; thus on the basis of theonomic ethics the details of that law must be taken “straight” (9-13, p. 19a). This remark is highly misleading, all the more because it is entirely unclear how the editor is using his words. We can begin, however, by observing that classic Reformed thought does not attempt to get around the details of God’s law (as we have seen above), nor does it advocate an allegorical or spiritualizing approach to Bible interpretation. God’s word is its own best interpreter, and it must be understood contextually, according to the genre of the passage, and in a historico-grammatical fashion. When meant to be taken figuratively, it should be read literally. Context and the “analogy of faith” are determinative. This classic Reformed approach to hermeneutics is precisely the approach advocated by Theonomy. The Scriptures are neither completely figurative nor completely literal. Therefore, contrary to the editor’s comment, there is no place in Theonomy where literalistic interpretation of God’s law is insisted upon at every point. In fact, at appropriate points the book argues for a non-literalistic understanding of God’s command (e.g., recognizing the literary device of hyperbole: pp. 91-92, 97), or endorses a typological interpretation of some commands (chapter 9). Theonomy does not, moreover, teach that even the literally interpreted Old Testament laws are to be applied literally in the same way today. In a culture where entertaining is not done on the roof of the house (since it is sloped, unlike the flat roofs in ancient Israel) Theonomy does not argue that a railing must nevertheless be placed around the roof (pp. 540-541); it is the underlying principle of appropriate safely precautions that is binding today (for instance, a fence around your swimming pool). We see, then, that theonomic ethics is sensitive to changes in application of the Old Testament law to a new age and culture. Nowhere does the book argue that everything in the Old Testament law is literally binding today, for that would (1) assume a literalistic hermeneutic in general, (2) ignore the typological element of the sacrificial system, etc., and (3) overlook the illustrative nature of certain laws which must be applied to different “cases” today. The editor has oversimplified the theonomic interpretation of God’s law and thereby severely misrepresented it. His readers will have been drastically misled in their understanding of what Theonomy teaches. Of course, criticisms which rest on such a mistaken conception of the position are invalid from the outset.
With these introductory remarks we can now get around to replying to the editor’s alleged applications of the theonomic position. He recognizes the book Theonomy in Christian Ethics sets forth a theological argument for the general premise that God’s law is fully valid today; for the most part it does not address particular laws (9-13, p. 91). Indeed the Preface to the book clearly states: “I have not attempted to offer a commentary on the particulars of God’s law as found in the Bible. While such a discussion of the specific commandments of God would follow naturally upon the conclusion of this study, it is not the primary purpose of the study itself. Instead I aim to demonstrate from Scripture that we have an ethical obligation to keep all of God’s law. It is this formal requirement, rather than the details of the law or even the procedure for activating society and its rulers to observe that law, that I have taken as the subject matter for analysis” (p. xiii). The editor has not done anything to address the central thesis of the book at all; he has offered no counter argument to it. He has not shown or even suggested that Theonomy fails to prove its particular point. As long as he has not undermined the general thesis demonstrated in the book, the editor’s questions about the details are without force; if the word of God teaches their validity – as I believe it does – then no human objection to them can stand up, even if they appear odd or harsh to a twentieth-century mentality.
Having admitted that Theonomy deals with the general question of the law’s validity and not the detailed content of the law, the editor nevertheless goes on to address the content of the law. He seems to realize that he is not touching the central issue of the book at all. But more importantly, we must observe that what he alleges to be the application of God’s law today does not, with rare exception, follow at all from the teaching in Theonomy. That is, not only is the content of the law not the main issue here, but the editor has mistakenly represented what the law’s content requires today. Consequently his critique is doubly weakened in its effect.
For instance, the editor has misrepresented what the law of God originally required, saying that the lex talionix (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth . . . “) calls for literal application: “The appropriate punishment for the man who paralyzed George Wallace would be something done to paralyze him in the same way” (9-13, p. 19a). But this is a terrible misunderstanding of the law (found in Ex. 21:23-25, and expressed again in Lev. 24:19-20), whether one believes that it is binding today or not. As Kitto’s Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says, the lex talionis “was adopted by Moses as the principle, but not the mode of punishment” (p. 688b). Leon Morris writes that the lex talionis “assures an even justice . . . and a penalty proportionate to the crime” (Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, p. 430a). “The principle is not intended to be vindictive or a basis for cruel or unusual punishment” (H. P. Hook, in Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics, p. 566b). Patrick Fairbairn clearly shows that this principle was never intended for literal application, but simply required appropriate compensation that was neither too lenient nor too harsh (The Revelation of Law in Scripture, pp. 102-105); he also remarks that the civil legislation of all Christian countries depends on this principle of God’s law. Therefore, George Wallace deserves adequate compensation for the injury done to him but the punishment is not the literal maiminf of his assailant. I believe that it is not untoward to say that the editor ought to know as much. Theonomy does not require us to distort the natural understanding of God’s revealed law.
Likewise, when the editor alleges that a theonomist must hold that an offending hand ought to be literally cut off (Matt. 5:30), he attributes an interpretation of Christ’s command to the theonomist which no evangelical expositor finds in the passage to begin with. “These verses (Matt. 5:29, 30) are highly figurative, and we must once more be cautious about drawing inferences from metaphors” (Plummer, Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, p. 81). “This command must not be taken literally . . .. The eye and the hand that lead a person into sin symbolize and represent ‘occasions of stumbling,’ or if one prefers, enticements to do wrong, beguiling allurements” (Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 303). In these two examples, then, the editor has distorted the Bible’s original teaching and unfairly prejudiced his hearers against theonomic ethics by falsely suggesting that it misreads the Bible in the same way. God’s law does not require maiming by the lex talioni nor by Christ’s injunction for personal sanctification. The editor’s misrepresentations of the application of theonomic ethics here are particularly distressing since the book Theonomy in Christian Ethics happens to deal explicitly with the proper understanding of these two details from God’s law (pp. 97, 438). It seems, then, that the editor ought to know better than to attribute this literalistic understanding of the two commands to a theonomist. The editor’s criticism is actually directed against a straw man.
The same must be said with respect to the editor’s allegation that theonomic ethics would require that we refrain from mixing types of cloth (9-13, p. 19a). Theonomy does not teach that we must follow the ceremonial shadows of the Old Testament today, and as explained above the laws which taught and enforced Israel’s separation from the Gentiles (e.g., the law prohibiting mixed cloth) are part of these shadows which are kept in a different manner today after the saving work of Christ. Consistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith XIX.3, Theonomy recognizes a “ceremonial” category of laws in the Old Testament which prefigure Christ and direct the redeemed community; these are restorative laws, and they are discussed as such in chapter 9 of my book as well as in a previous section of this essay. Once again, the editor has simply misrepresented the theonomic position, even when there is adequate material in may book to correct his portrayal of its alleged implications. We have seen, then, that the editor’s examples of what theonomic ethics requires incorrectly interpret the word of God and misrepresent the plain teaching of Theonomy. These two kinds of mistake are combined when the editor asserts that theonomic ethics would require us to bar from the Christian church those who have testicles crushed in an accident and those who have grandparents who were born as illegitimate children (the reference is to Deut. 23:1,2). But in the first place the editor has misconstrued the original teaching of God’s word, as consulting the commentaries of Old Testament experts will indicate (e.g., Keil and Delitzsch, Drive, Kline). The law here dealt with self-imposed mutilation or castration (that is, eunuchs) and with children born of an incestuous union – not with those injured in an accident or those simply born out of wedlock, as the editor suggests (9-13, p. 18c). Such laws as these point to the perfection required of God’s people; they were not to be sexually blemished, for that was contrary to the nature in which God created man. Accordingly no man could be a priest who had crushed testicles (Lev. 21:20); such a blemish would profane the alter and sanctuary. No animal with crushed testicles could be sacrificed unto the Lord (Lev. 22;24), for the sacrifices were to be perfect and without blemish. These laws are part of a ceremonial system which typified the unblemished perfection of the Savior, and only through the salvation He secured can anyone become part of the redeemed community today. As ceremonial or restorative laws, these Old Testament shadows would not be literally binding today according to the teaching of Theonomy. Already the Old Testament indicated that the day was coming when those who had been formerly excluded from the congregation because of sexual blemishes (e.g., eunuchs) would be gladly received in God’s house (Isa. 56:3-5); the New Testament inaugurated this joyous day (Acts 8:27-28) and no longer requires external, visible exclusion of the sexually blemished. To allege that Theonomy calls for such exclusion is a serious error, one which unfairly maligns its character and its sensitivity to progressive biblical revelation.
One can now readily understand why I said earlier that the editor’s purported examples of theonomic ethics in practice are so mistaken. The original requirement of God’s law has been misrepresented at points, the position of theonomic ethics has been misconstrued in crucial ways, and occasionally these two basic errors have been combined. As a result the reader is left with nothing remotely resembling the genuine application of theonomic ethics today. We must preclude any criticism of theonomic ethics which depends on the editor’s erroneous portrayal of that position, for such criticism is merely jousting against a straw-man. However, I have even further problems in trying to respond to some of the editor’s alleged illustrations of theonomic ethics. His quick and easy manner of dealing with a serious and extensively reasoned position in theological ethics – with the editor’s avoidance of a detailed, qualified, and in-depth discussion or criticism – leaves me often confused as to what he is attempting to say. For instance, at one point he claims that in God’s law those wives who were “family” before marriage had more secure rights than wives who were “strangers” (9-13, p. 19a). The difficulty here is that he gives no biblical citation for this claim, and I do not know or recognize what the scriptural referent for such an assertion would be. I am not even sure of what the editor’s assertion maintains. Thus no response is possible (or perhaps necessary). To take another example, at one point the editor suggests that a probing question that could be put to theonomic ethics is whether the law’s prohibition of charging interest to a brother fits the law’s function as a schoolmaster bringing us to Christ (9-13, p. 18c). The difficulty here is that I just cannot discern what the critical thrust of such a question would be; that is, the answer is so patent that I cannot help feeling that the editor has not clearly communicated what he thinks is troublesome in this illustration for an advocate of theonomic ethics. My inability to keep this stipulation of God’s law shows me my need for Christ as Savior; when I profit from a brother’s financial distress by loaning to him on interest, the avarice of my heart and my lack of love is exposed, and I am driven to Christ for cleansing and forgiveness. My examples here are meant to demonstrate the dangers inherent in the hasty and undetailed manner of discussing a theological viewpoint found in the editor’s treatment of theonomic ethics. At best the analysis will be shallow, and at worst it will be confused or misleading.
We move into a different orbit of potential problems when the editor quickly mentions two aspects of God’s law as it touches on the institution of slavery. Given the social history of our nation, along with the emotional representation of it in contemporary literature and drama, the very mention of slavery today will usually carry negative connotations for a hearer or reader. Too often we hastily identify the practice of slavery in this nation’s past (focusing on its cruel features) with the institution laid out on God’s law for the Israelites. Apart from punitive slavery, the biblical notion of slavery is closer to the practice of indentured servitude than it is to our general, cultural image. The biblical concept was a most blessed one and certainly an “ancient improvement” on the modern practice of social welfare! Ordinarily a man would become another man’s servant due to poverty (Lev. 25:39-40). If the servant was the same faith as the master, the master was to be especially cautious not to rule with rigor over him (Lev. 25:43, 46). The insolvent debtor who became a servant only needed to serve a six year term (Ex. 21:2), and upon becoming a freeman in society again he was financially well off because he was given lavish provisions by his former master (Deut. 15:12-14). If the servant was ever mistreated, he went free (Ex. 21:26-27); if he had to run away from his master, he was not to be forcibly returned by those who found him (Deut. 23:15-16). I really cannot see any reason why we should be emotionally prejudiced against this biblical practice as regulated by God’s law. As John Murray wisely points out, we must take care to distinguish between the institution of slavery as presented in God’s word (basically, the convention of having property in another person’s labor) and the abuses to which this institution has frequently been subjected (Principles of Conduct, pp. 95-98) – abuses which, we must note, violate God’s law on slavery.
In dealing with the editor’s examples pertaining to slavery in God’s law we should also make note of the obvious need of discerning transitions from the society and culture of ancient Israel (in terms of which the language of God’s law is couched) to the situation in modern America. That is, to put it simply, the case-law literary character of many Old Testament laws must be taken into account in applying the commandments to the contemporary world. Nobody is arguing that the ancient culture of Israel mentioned illustratively in the case-laws (e.g., fenced roofs, flying ax-heads, goring oxen) must be reenacted today. Our moral duty is to discern properly the underlying principles illustrated in the case-laws (even about slavery), understand the facts of our own cultural situation, and apply God’s word with accuracy. The transition from Israel’s culture to modern America is sometimes not too easy, especially for those of us who have little practice in using God’s word to this end. Those who are without experience in the word of righteousness, those who do not by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil, will be immature in putting God’s word to ethical use (Heb. 5:1-14). Yet the job must be done – even with respect to slavery laws – if we are to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4, where Jesus illustrates authority). Of course, if not all of God’s law is binding today (which the editor’s discussion suggests), then we have very little incentive to gain competence in using God’s entire word in this way. Much of it, at least in ethics, can be causally ignored (which, I believe, is quite contrary to Paul’s point in 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Remembering the need to distinguish biblical slavery from historical abuses, and remembering the need to make appropriate transitions from ancient Israel’s culture to the modern world, we can now turn quickly to the editor’s alleged illustrations of how strange or unacceptable God’s law would be today as it touches on matters of slavery. When all is said and done, I find very little in it by which to be embarrassed or feel awkward; the editor has not turned up anything in God’s instructions pertaining to slavery which is readily subject to human criticism. He first mentions the provision in God’s law that a housekeeper could, at the end of his or her term of servitude, choose to stay with the master in perpetual servitude (9-13, pp. 18c-19a). We read of this in Deuteronomy 15:12-18, and I think that three factors in this situation are noteworthy. First, the servant would not have any obvious complaint with this situation because his or her choice was entirely voluntary. Second, this voluntary decision to stay with the master would actually be made in the face of being liberally furnished out of the master’s wealth if the servant chose his or her freedom. Third and consequently, such a free decision in the face of a financially beneficial option would obviously be made out of a motivation of love for the master’s house. All three of these factors are clear in God’s law, so I just cannot see what the editor could find objectionable about such a blessed arrangement for servants. This arrangement was a genuine expression of brotherly love – the perpetual moral obligation of God’s people toward each other. If it is the ancient cultural manner of indicating the servant’s decision to stay in perpetual servitude (viz., piercing the earlobe) which bothers the editor, let it simply be said that theonomic ethics would allow (but not require) that a different kind of indication be used today. If someone wishes to argue that the pierced-ear feature of this law is essential to obedience today, he would need to produce a convincing exegetical argument, but more relevantly he would be going beyond what is contended in Theonomy in Christian Ethics. At present I believe the pierced-ear indication reflects the case-law literary feature of the commandment, being couched in the culture of ancient Israel. It could be used today as well, but is not itself required by the law.
The editor’s other illustration from the slavery laws of the Old Testament is again, unfortunately, a misrepresentation of the law’s requirement. He says, “servants may leave their servitude as free men after seven years, but it they do, they must leave their wives and children behind” (9-13, p. 19a). But in the first place, servants are to be released after six years service, not seven as claimed (Ex. 21:2). Secondly, the categorical claim that servants who are freed must leave their families behind is simply false; this provision is not, as indicated by the editor, generally applicable. Ordinarily the servant would leave the master’s home with his family (Lev. 25:41). Not all servants who are freed leave their families behind, but only those servants who gained their families in a special way. If a man already married became a servant, he left his servitude with his wife and family. If an unmarried man became a servant and married during his servitude, he left with his family. If the servant married another servant during his servitude, after his term of service he would leave with his family upon completion of his wife’s term. There was only one special case where his wife was a perpetual servant of the master and given to him by the master (see Ex. 21:2-6; the assumption must be that she was a perpetual servant because otherwise she would be free to leave after six years herself). Since the master owned her labor perpetually and gave her as a wife to his other servant, it would be inappropriate for the servant to leave with his new wife and thereby deprive his benefactor. It should also be noted that “leaving his family behind” would not mean abandoning them; he would become a freeman in society, free to labor as he would choose, but they would remain servants to the master. Nevertheless, this difference in social status would not preclude the family’s living together, etc. More importantly, the law itself encourages the servant to become a perpetual servant (like his wife) out of love for his family and love for his master. Again, it is hard to criticize such a motivation. If the editor finds fault with this provision of God’s law, he will have to specify what it would be. The provision appears loving, just, and fair on an accurate reading of it.
Although Theonomy in Christian Ethics does not set forth an argued commentary on the details of God’s law but maintains the general premise that we are obliged to honor and keep them, and although that premise cannot be defeated by a supposed test of the details of the law for today (as demonstrated above), we have nevertheless responded in some fashion to all but one of the editor’s alleged illustrations of the application of theonomic ethics. As yet we have found no hint of a reason to dispute with the theonomic approach to Christian ethics. The only remaining, specific illustration from God’s law to which some response should be given arises from the editor’s remark that Theonomy should not be tested by its claim that capital punishment continues to be valid for murder, but by its endorsement of capital punishment for other crimes specified in God’s law. The editor says, “What one must come to terms with in a decision for or against Theonomy is not capital punishment for murder but capital punishment for adultery. Or for cursing one’s parents” (9-13, p. 18c). That is, if you do not feel that the death penalty should apply to adultery or cursing one’s parents today, then you should not endorse theonomic ethics. Of course we cannot accept the editor’s theological method here, as noted earlier. The provisions of God’s law cannot be decided for or against on the basis of one’s preconceived notions, personal feelings, cultural traditions, or what have you. The editor is not free to reject some detail of God’s law just because it strikes him as somehow harsh or absurd today; his obligation is rather to bring his feelings and thinking into conformity with the word of God. Scripture alone should determine our theological convictions, not extraneous and unauthoritative human reasoning. Therefore, it is time to protest strongly the editor’s method of deciding for or against Theonomy – mind you, not for the sake of theonomic ethics, but for the sake of faithful and God-honoring procedure in all of our theology.
On the other hand, if the preceding quotation from the editor means (without saying as much) that the theonomic thesis must be weighed against the scriptural teaching about the continuation or abrogation of capital punishment for adultery or cursing one’s parents, then the theonomist rejoices for such a remark. This is precisely the point of Theonomy in Christian Ethics: we must explore God’s word to see what it authoritatively teaches about the continuation or abrogation of God’s law – even its penal sanctions – in the age of the New Covenant. Yet if this is the thrust of the editor’s remark, it is surely strange and abortive that he does not follow it up with any suggestion as to how God’s word teaches the abrogation of these penal stipulations. After all, Theonomy argues at great length and with a large score of supporting indications from Scripture that these penal sanctions are indeed binding today. The editor has not bothered in interact with the theonomic argument here at all. There are numerous reasons (many found in the preceding article) why we cannot simply presume that some law or body of laws from the Old Testament is invalid today. One of the strongest is found in these words of our Lord: “whosoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). I cannot bring myself to believe that the editor may choose to reject the outlook of Theonomy as it touches on the law’s penal sanctions, therefore, without some exegetical defense for his opinions. He does not have the prerogative of rejecting God’s laws arbitrarily. So then, what reason does he offer his readers from God’s Word for disregarding the penal sanctions of God’s law? To date, none. Accordingly the argument of Theonomy is itself a sufficient answer to the editor’s remarks.
This challenge to the editor’s position can be further strengthened. The editor has strongly censured a bishop for not correctly representing Christ’s attitude toward capital punishment (9-20, p. 10; from this I surmise that he feels strongly that Christians should advocate capital punishment for murder (since validity of the death penalty for this crime is taken for granted in his article on Theonomy, 9-13, p. 18c). But how can the editor criticize those who oppose capital punishment for murder without going to the Old Testament to see what kind of “evildoers” toward whom the magistrate “bears not the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:4)? And if he appeals to the Old Testament penal code as valid today, how can he be consistent and turn around to reject that same penal code for adulterers and incorrigible delinquents? As a covenant theologian, how would the editor pick and choose which commandments or covenants of God he follows? If capital punishment for murder is right, why is it not right for adultery? After all, both of these laws came from the same unchanging, holy God; the Lord placed both of these laws in the statute back of His people. How can a theologian be biblically consistent and reject (or adopt) one without the other? Moreover, if the editor does not endorse God’s law as it pertains to the punishment of criminals (other than murderers anyway), where will he find a more just, reasonable, and beneficial penal code to follow? What justice would the editor mete out, for instance, to a rapist or kidnapper? The theonomist believes that the righteous Judge of all the earth has set down a standard for social and penal rectitude that He expects His creatures to honor and obey. And not in a smorgasbord fashion. So then, we can challenge the editor to make good on his assumption that the death penalty is valid for murder today; given his assumptions, how can the editor defend that thesis? Given a biblical defense of the death penalty for murder, how can the editor reject the biblical social penalty for adultery or cursing one’s parents? He cannot have God’s law both ways, valid and invalid at the same time. (And it should be added, before someone begins to bark up the wrong tree immediately, that we cannot pick and choose between the covenants of God; they are all held to be binding in the New Testament, including the Mosaic covenant with its emphasis on law. Every scripture – and every jot and tittle thereof – of the Old Testament is set forth as authoritative for the New Covenant believer, for instance in 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Matt. 4:17-18).
It should not be thought that the Old Testament penal code (just as any part of God’s law) is rescinded in the New Testament unless otherwise indicated. God’s commandments are continuously valid unless the lawgiver rescinds them, and that abrogation of the penal sanctions has not been shown. Nevertheless, there is positive New Testament teaching as well which supports and confirms the Old Testament penal code. When Paul says that the magistrate does not bear the sword in vain (Rom. 13:4), it is because he is deemed God’s minister who avenges God’s wrath (cf. Rom. 12:19) against evildoers – that is, against those who violate His law (cf. Rom. 13:10). The sword may not be wielded independently of God’s direction at the arbitrary desire of the magistrate or populous. The sword is not used in vain when it is used in a way conforming to the standards of special rectitude as found in God’s law. It only makes sense that God would require “the minister of God” who is “ordained of God” be followed the commandments of God rather than the whims of wayward man. If the Old Testament penal code is deemed invalidated today, then what crimes are legitimately covered by Romans 13:4? The New Testament does not render an explicit catalogue answering that question. Do we infer, therefore, that any and all “evildoers” can be punished with death? Do we infer that the answer is open to varying human deliberation, apart from directives given by God? Or do we not rather, with Paul, find the answer to such obvious questions in the already clear directions of the Old Testament?
The law was given, and is lawfully used, to restrain criminal behavior in society – as Paul says in I Timothy 1:8-10. Accordingly, when many serious accusations were brought against Paul himself by adherents of the Old Testament law, he clearly affirmed his submission to the moral authority of God’s penal code: “If I am an evildoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die” (Acts 25;11). Note the fact that Paul here again speaks of a (supposed) criminal according to God’s law as an “evildoer.” He speaks of “anything” worthy of death (and not “the one and only thing now worthy of death”). He uses the standard Old Testament designation for capital crimes as those deeds which are “worthy of death” (e.g., Deut. 21:22), and he insists that the punishment ought to be carried out if any such criminal deed is proven. The New Testament perspective on the Old Testament penal code is clear: “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward” (Heb. 2:2). That is why Paul spoke of capital crimes according to the Mosaic law as deeds “worthy of” death – justice in such cases demands the death penalty, according to the supreme Judge over the affairs of all men and nations.
Do New Testament Christians want to do justice or injustice toward criminals in our society? Obviously social justice must be done. Then we must, with Paul, be advocates of doing what the perfectly just law of God requires, and we must praise God, as did Ezra, whenever God puts it into the heart of rulers (even unbelieving rulers) to have God’s law enforced even to the point of its stipulations for capital punishment (cf. Ezra 7:25-28). This is not a violation of the separation of church and state, for that separation does not legitimately mean the separation of the state from God and His directives to it. Both church and state are morally responsible to God, contrary to the unbiblical and humanistic doctrine of neutralism and pluralism in society. The New Testament, as well as the Old, requires all magistrates to rule as God’s ministers, following the model code of justice found in His law (cf. Deut. 4:6-8; Isa. 51:4; Ps. 2:10-12; 119:46; Prov. 16:12; 20:26). Humanist society does not have a wiser and more beneficial way of dealing with social problems than God’s – as history and present experience make quite obvious to all but the ideologically blinded. (One does well to reflect on the telling observation that current society is undergoing its most devastating difficulties in connection with acts which are capital crimes according to God’s inspired word.)
As Dabney maintained, the precepts of God’s law “guide secular laws, and thus lay a foundation for a wholesome civil society” (Systematic Theology, p. 354). For Dabney that obviously included the penal sanctions of the law, for instance against adultery (p. 407). If the sanctions were abrogated, the civil magistrate would be left with little positive direction at all because his key function is the punishment of evildoers (Rom. 13:3-4). Martin Bucer maintained that the penal sanctions of God’s law were binding on magistrates of his day in On the Kingdom of Christ (1557). Likewise John Cotton upheld those sanctions in An Abstract of the Laws of New England (1641). A prime participant in the Westminster Assembly, Samuel Rutherford, held forth the same outlook in Lex, Rex (1644), as did Duplessis-Mornay in A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (1689). The conviction that God’s penal code for societies has not become obsolete or unjust or invalidated is firmly rooted in the Reformed tradition. The Second Helvetic Confession enjoins magistrates to use penal sanctions according to God’s word, and the Westminster Confession encouraged magistrates to follow these sanctions, for instance, in executing idolaters and blasphemers. Influential Puritan authors such as Becen, Cartwright, Perkins, Stubbs, and Shepherd commanded the penal sanctions of God’s law to magistrates. Both Cartwright and Shepherd, in England and New England, maintained explicitly that the “equity of the judicial laws” of Moses included the penal sanctions of the law (a perspective obvious also in Cotton’s work, Moses, His Judicials); for them the constant validity of those sanctions was biblically and theologically demonstrable if anyone disagreed. In Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, George Gillespie (another prominent participant at the Westminster Assembly) gave his support to the conviction “that the judicial law of Moses, so far as concerneth the punishments of sins against the moral law, idolatry, blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking, adultery, theft, etc. ought to be the rule to the Christian magistrate.” Thus we can see that when Theonomy argues from Scripture that the penal sanctions of God’s law are binding today, it is not adding anything astonishingly new to the history of Reformed thought on the subject. (I have spoken purposely of the history of respectable Reformed thought, not of a mythological “mainstream of Reformed thought” because the latter is usually found by gerrymandering a canal under one’s own feet.)
So then, let us return to the editor’s remark that the acceptability of theonomic ethics should be tied to one’s view of the death penalty for adultery and cursing one’s parents. The burden of proof now lies on the editor: is this biblically acceptable or not? No reason has been offered to think that it is not. Many reasons have been offered to think that it is. Accordingly, on the editor’s own platform, it appears that the theonomic approach to ethics is acceptable – as it has been to many Reformed theologians of the past. Many today who say otherwise will be found to avoid the crucial question of biblical warrant for their opinion and depend almost entirely on emotional appeals. But our emotions ought to conform to the attitudes expressed by God in His word (of course, as it is accurately understood). If God sees adultery as so vile and socially damaging that it morally requires the death penalty in civil courts, should not our emotions match the true judgment of God on this issue? Who are we to think that we can be more “compassionate” or “enlightened” in our modern mentality than the living and true God who is characterized by justice and love? If you will overlook modern indifference to or encouragement of the practice of adultery, reflection can readily disclose the severe degradation and dire consequences of marital infidelity. Prior to our generation people have not been universally indifferent to the social offensiveness of adultery. In Western Europe the death penalty for it was common in the 16th century; it was defended by Martin Bucer, upheld in Calvin’s Geneva, enforced for over a century in English law, integral to the law codes of Puritan New England, and supported by various Reformed theologians since then. For instance, Dabney maintained that “The laws of Moses, therefore, very properly made adultery a capital crime; nor does our Savior, in the incident of the woman taken in adultery, repeal that statute, or disallow its justice” (Systematic Theology, p. 407); he went on to attribute the approach of modern nations to adultery to “the grossness of Pagan scuroes.” Can the editor or anyone else plainly tell us what our “enlightened” modern scholarship has turned up in studying Scripture that was completely unknown to, or incautiously overlooked by, previous adherents of the penal code of God’s law? What new discovery has demonstrated their previous error on this subject? The sanctity of marriage has progressively declined in Western culture since the abandonment of God’s law regarding adultery. Biblically and pragmatically I see no reason to prefer the viewpoint of modern secularism to that of the Puritans.
The editor’s other illustration pertains to the death penalty for cursing one’s parents. In responding to it we must again set the record somewhat straight. The editor has suggested that on theonomic principles “A Christian has the duty to press the state for the death penalty if he hears his neighbor’s son cursing his father” (9-13, p. 18c). this is not quite accurate. The state must first have a statute against cursing one’s parents before any prosecution could be contemplated; the advocate of theonomic ethics believes in the need for proper due process and does not promote a selitious, vigilant, or ex post facto use of the social laws of God’s word. Moreover, theonomic ethics does not teach that God’s law should be imposed with force on a rea***citant people or society. Only when the majority of a society have come to Christ as Savior and Lord, and only when those Christians work out their adherence to God'’ son in their various life-involvements – including social and political ethics – will the statutes of God’s law become the law of the land. Therefore, the editor is somewhat misleading when he suggests that a theonomist would presently urge civil officials to execute a son who was overheard cursing his father. What we need at present is revival (on the personal front) and legal reform (on the social front) if we are to anticipate and work toward a day in which the kingdom of our Savior will be more manifest in the state – which is not to say that the state is the only or even most important focus for the expression of Christ’s kingdom, but it is a legitimate and important one nonetheless.
A second way in which the record must be kept accurate regarding the death penalty for cursing one’s parents is this. The law of God never did require, contrary to the emotional misrepresentation of some antagonists today, the execution of small children for infrequent or minor offenses against their parents. We must pay close attention to what God actually commanded. The law here actually dealt with incorrigible delinquents, not with babies who cry too much or small children who are naughty (as some shamefully say about God’s stipulation). The kind of person who is brought to the elders for possible conviction and execution is one who smites his parents (Ex. 21:17; Lev. 20:9), is a drunkard and glutton who is stubborn and rebellious so as not to hearken to discipline at all (Deut. 21:18-21). If one wishes an illustration, you should envision here a nineteen-year-old delinquent who drinks to excess, will not work, swears in a filthy fashion at his mother, beats up his father, and cannot be made submissive or respectful by any form of rebuke or discipline. When matters get that far out of hand, so that there can be no law or order with certain individuals, Scripture requires the civil authorities to guard the sanctity of compliance with lawful orders by enforcing a just sanction against the incorrigible delinquent. One has to have fallen asleep not to realize that our society’s neighborhoods and prisons are plagued with this very problem today. God’s law prescribes a just answer, but secular humanism has none whatsoever.
As indicated already, some opponents of God’s law (or at least its social use) seem to make a cavalier sport of this issue, attempting to persuade themselves and others that the Old Testament commandments call for the execution of delinquent “children.” However, it is accordingly ironic that, as silent as the New Testament is on specific crimes which carry the death penalty (primarily because the Old Testament word was sufficient), one which receives explicit advocacy is the crime of cursing one’s parents! Jesus specifically endorses this Mosaic stipulation in Matthew 15:3-9, using it to indict the Pharisees for suppressing God’s clear requirement in order to confirm to their own cultural tradition and status quo. The same Lord who warned us against diminishing any of God’s requirements (Matt. 5:17-19) declared, “God said, Honor thy father and mother; and he who speaks evil of father or mother, let him die the death (surely die).” Far be it from us to speak in contradiction to the authoritative pronouncement of our Lord and Savior! And if the death penalty is valid in the kingdom age of the New Covenant for incorrigible children (which so many see as the most emotional case of all), how much more can we expect the death penalty to continue valid for the other deeds defined as capital crimes by God’s holy law! When we, without biblical warrant, disregard God’s just, social sanction against incorrigible children out of deference for the thinking, feeling, and ways of our own culture or tradition, then we too will come under Christ’s condemnation of the Pharisees.
It does not seem to me, now, that the editor has made any telling criticism of theonomic ethics by his “test by details.” Such a test misses the precise kind of case being made in my book, cannot theologically be carried out, much too often misrepresents the teaching of the law and the outlook of theonomic ethics, and has not produced even one example to which an adequate response cannot be given. This type of critique has not stood up. Nevertheless, before going on to the next area of our discussion, the editor may still wish to have some concrete examples of what theonomic ethics would mean in practice today; such examples could not settle the question of acceptability of the theonomic thesis, but they would give readers something to “get their teeth into” and reflect upon. Theonomic ethics is not such an abstract point of view that it has no clear, viable, concrete applications. Just because God’s law is endorsed by theonomic ethics and that law has undeniably relevant and useful applications, theonomic ethics will have useful applications that tend to illustrate its beneficial character. I hope that the following examples will be major ones, important enough to show some advantages to following God’s law in the face of current problems. The novelty of these suggestions, if they be deemed novel, arises from their contrast to recent practice, not from their contrast to the history of Reformed thought iin ethics. Since the editor is anxious to have some theonomic examples to evaluate, I will offer a few of my own, trusting that they are true to God’s word. Study the Bible and see if you agree with them.
Homosexuality is not a civil right (Lev. 20:13). Parents ought not to sell their children into the pornographic trade (Lev. 19:29). Transvestite and unisex clothing is prohibited Deut. 22:5). Those who commit sexual acts with animals must be punished (Lev. 20:15-16). Rapists are to be executed (Deut. 22:23-27). A young man who gets a girl pregnant must at least pay a heavy fine to her father (Ex. 22:17). Those who intentionally murder another should not be given reprieve from the death penalty (Ex. 21:14; Num. 35:31; Deut. 19:11-13, 21). Incorrigible criminal repeaters must eventually face the most stringent of punishments (Deut. 21:18-21). Sky-jackers should be executed (Ex. 21:6). Elective abortion ought not to be a constitutional right (Ex. 21:22-25). Prisons should be replaced with a system of restitution to the victims of theft (Ex. 22:1-4, 7-9). Those who are assaulted must be paid full compensation by their attackers (Ex. 21:18-19). It is unjust to punish homeowners who injure or kill trespassers at night (Ex. 22:2-3). People are responsible to stop and help others who are in distress or who are facing property loss, whether or not the person needing aid is an enemy or a brother (Ex. 23:4-5; Deut 22:1-4). The handicapped in particular are not to be ridiculed or taken advantage of (Lev. 19:14). Compensation should be made by a company for its industrial pollution (Ex. 22:6)l Local building codes must incorporate regulations that protect safety and life (Deut. 22:8). A manufacturer’s knowledgeable negligence about a proven defect in an automobile which leads to the death of someone using the car should be punished with death or an open-ended monetary ransom (Ex. 21:29); if it leads to property damage, the full replacement value should be paid (Ex. 21:36). When a man is guilty of damaging your property, say by destroying your car in an accident he (or his insurance) should make restitution from his best replacement material – for instance, purchasing a car for you and not simply paying “Blue Book” value (Ex. 22:5). Malicious malpractice suits against doctors should be punished with a fine equal to that the doctor would have had to pay (Deut. 19:16-21). Welfare to the poor through coercive taxation should be relieved by the biblical system of charity, wherein the poor are protected with respect to interest and collateral on loans (Ex. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:35-38; Deut. 23:19-20; 24:6, 10-13), can eat individual meals from the fields (Deut. 23:24-25), can collect from the fields on the seventh years rest (ex. 23:10-11), can glean the corners of the fields (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-22), have their debts remitted in the seventh year (Deut. 15:1-6), and can gain financial security and relief through indentured servitude (Lev. 1939-46; Deut. 15:7-18). Immigrants should be treated with dignity (Lev. 19:33-34). The rich are not to be favored or given special favors over the poor in the courts of the land (Ex. 23:6, 8; Lev. 19:15), and on the other hand the financial status even of the poor should not affect the decisions or judgments of the Supreme Court (Ex. 23:3,6). In order to preserve just weights and measures (Deut. 25:13-15), debased and inflationary currency should be outlawed (Isa. 1:22). Lobbying which amounts to bribery in Washington should be stopped (Ex. 23:8). The evening news should report established facts and not dabble in innuendoes or tales of gossip that are “leaked” to it (Lev. 19:16).
Well, the examples really could go on and on. But by now the point should have been made, even if the reader does not agree with every one of my suggested applications of the Old Testament law. Theonomic ethics has relevant and important alternatives to offer to humanist opinions. If the above examples do not strike you as pertinent to our day, then read a news magazine for six months and consider the examples again. If the critics of the social use of God’s law disagree with the Lord’s requirements in the above cases (provided I have interpreted them correctly), then what would they propose to do instead so as to resolve the social problems addressed? If the critics of theonomic ethics begrudge the choice of these particular examples because they are so obviously just and right, then they must be asked whether anything else but just and right laws could be expected from the Lord! And finally, if non-theonomists feel that some of the provisions of God’s law are binding, but not the rest, then they must be challenged to explain how and why they “pick and chose” among God’s righteous commandments (cf. Deut. 12:32).
Little remains to be said in response to the editor’s misleading portrayal of theonomic ethics or in answer to his critique of the position. I believe that the preceding discussion replies to each of the editor’s remarks about or against the view that God’s law continues to be binding, in detail, during the age of the New Covenant. One final misrepresentation of what theonomic ethics says about the use of the law will be reserved for the discussion of eschatology below. I would again thank the editor for raising the ethical issue of our standard for ethics today to a level of visibility for his readers. While we at present differ in our views on the subject, I agree with him that this question is not a touchstone of modern-day orthodoxy or Christian fellowship; we all must remain teachable and tolerant as the discussion continues, hopefully, to bring us closer to a clear apprehension of the Lord’s will for our life together as believers. While defending our convictions, let none of us draw the circle of doctrinal purity too closely around his own feet! Finally, I thank the editor for his gracious compliment of the book Theonomy, saying that it is “impressively biblical in its claims” (9-13, p. 19a) and shows massive research and exegetical scholarship (9-13, p. 10b). He has affirmed in the same place that it would take the work of a doctorate to reply adequately and criticize it. Seemingly he would intend for his readers to temper his brief discussion and criticism with such remarks and to understand his challenges to theonomists in that light. He would want, even as we would expect him, to produce a reasoned convincing, and biblical counter-argument to theonomic ethics before the position would be considered in any adverse light.
Let me now change the subject completely and turn to a consideration of the editor’s remarks about postmillennialism (9-6). Again, certain misleading descriptions and weak criticisms call for a response so that readers will have an adequate basis on which to evaluate and study this important millennial position, either negatively or positively.
When Jesus our Lord ministered among men, he made it dramatically clear that the kingdom of God had arrived (Mk. 1:14-15; Lk.4:16-21; Mt. 12:28). The inauguration of that kingdom was also a theme of the apostles (Acts. 2:25-36; 20:25; 28:23,31; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 1:5-6). The kingdom of Jesus Christ is here, established, and a functioning reality. Nevertheless, Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth” (Matt. 6:10), and the apostles anticipated future developments for the kingdom (Rom. 1:4-5; I Cor. 15:24-28; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:3-29; Heb. 2:8-9; Rev. 10:7; 11:2, 8, 13, 15; 19:11-21; 20:4-6). The kingdom is developing, growing, and will not be consummated until the end of history. Postmillennialism is particularly concerned with this dynamic element of growth and development for Christ’s kingdom before the final judgment of mankind (after which, of course, the kingdom does not increase but is complete).
The Bible teaches us that although the kingdom starts out small like a mustard seed, it will grow to large proportions (Mt. 13:31-32). Like a divinely cut stone which consumes the world empires, Christ’s kingdom will grow to be a mountain filling the whole earth (Dan. 2:31-45). All nations will flow into God’s exalted house and be instructed in His law (Isa. 2:2-4), so that of the increase of Christ’s kingdom there will be no end and justice will be established in the earth (Isa. 9:7). The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11: 1-10), with appropriate effects being felt throughout the various departments of life – every common thing will be devoted to the Lord’s service (Zech. 14:20-210. There will be, to speak in hyperbole, no need to evangelize because all men will already know the Lord (Jer. 31:34); from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same God’s name will be great among the nations (Mal. 1:11). Christ shall have dominion – with its appropriate effects in the daily and social affairs of men – from sea to sea, with all nations serving Him, and his enemies licking the dust (Ps. 72). The uttermost parts of the earth will be His possession (Ps. 2:7-9) as He rules in the midst of His enemies and makes them His footstool (Ps. 110:1-3). All the ends of the earth will thus come to praise and reverence Him (Ps. 67). He will not fail to establish justice in the earth (Isa. 42:1-4), meaning that He will send forth judgment unto victory as the Gentiles hope in His name (Mt. 12:17-21). Presently the Lord is reigning; He is progressively subduing every enemy so that He will be Lord over all (I Cor. 15:24-28; Col. 1:18). All nations are being brought to the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:4-5) because Satan has been bound (Rev. 20:1-3). Since all power and authority in heaven and earth belong to Christ, who is with the church continuously, He has commissioned it to make all nations His disciples and to teach them to observe whatsoever He has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20).
The postmillennialist believes that these things will surely be accomplished in the power of God’s Spirit prior to the great apostasy at the very end of history which will trigger the Lord’s return in fiery judgment (Rev. 20:7-10; 2 Thes. 1:7-10; 2 Peter 3:3-13). There will be no time or opportunity given for evangelism, conversion, or kingdom growth after that time; therefore, since no word of God can fail of accomplishment, the kingdom will increase in the ways described above prior to the Lord’s return. In broad strokes, this is the postmillennial confidence. We would gladly hear the Spirit’s word to the churches, beckoning them to “be victorious (or, overcome)” and thereby have an open door to missionary success (e.g., Rev. 3:7-13) and to ruling with Christ over the nations (Rev. 2:26-29; 3:21-22). God’s “kingdom of priests,” the church (I Peter 2:9), reigns upon earth with Christ (Rev. 5:9-10; 20:4-6); following her Lord, the church will conquer the nations with the preaching of the gospel (Rev. 19:11-21). The kingdoms of this world will indeed become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev. 11:15). The Great Commission is not a futile or impossible task laid on the church by her Lord; it will be accomplished in covenant blessing upon “all the ends of the earth,” who “shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee” (Ps. 22:27). The conversion (or “turning”) of the nations cannot take place after the Lord returns in final judgment, for that day itself will settle the final destiny of all men (Mt. 25:31-46).
With this brief sketch of postmillennialism (and some of its biblical under-pinning) in mind now, we can reply to the editor’s comments about it. The first and most important misconception that I wish to set straight is the editor’s claim that, for the theonomist and postmillennialist, “God’s law (is) the dynamic means of grace for the transformation of the nations” ((-6, p. 14c). Elsewhere he claims that for theonomic ethics, “The vehicle to accomplish God’s ultimate purpose for humanity on earth is God’s law” (9-13, p. 9c); in particular, alleges the editor, the carrying out of the law’s penal code by the state “is how the whole world ultimately will become obedient to God” (9-13, p. 9b). But this is a grotesque counterfeit of the actual position of theonomists and postmillennialists. It is so patently false that it can be disproved by simply looking at one of the editor’s quotations from me in his own article: I have clearly stated in print that “the church triumphs in the preaching of the gospel and discipling the nations through the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit,” and the editor has quoted me to that end (9-6, p. 9c). Moreover, in my book Theonomy in Christian Ethics I have gone to lengths to make explicit that the law of God is itself impotent to accomplish God’s saving purposes or to bring about obedience in us (chapter 4 is entirely devoted to those truths). The editor’s claims are so terribly mistaken, I will take the space to quote some relevant points from Theonomy so as to eradicate completely this false picture. I have written: “Only the Holy spirit of God can bring power to obey to the sinner, and that Holy Spirit was received not by law-works but by faith (Gal. 3:2). The law is simply not a quickening power; it is without power because of sin (Rom. 8:3), and therefore unable to impart life and righteousness (Gal. 3:21) . . .. Grace grants the power which the law fails to provide. ‘But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter’ (Rom. 7:6). Because of the weakness of sinful human nature the law could not overcome sin’s power, but in the believer the power of the Holy spirit frees him from the power of sin unto death, thereby enabling him to accomplish what the law demands (Rom. 8:1-4). The conclusion of the mater, then, is that a man must trust in God’s grace and Christ’s righteousness rather than his own works, which only condemn him under the law’s curse; the letter is unto death, but the Spirit gives new life and spiritual power” (Theonomy, pp. 132, 135). The same gracious truths are reaffirmed throughout chapter 7, whose title itself tells the story: “Sanctification by the Holy Spirit”; one subtitle in that chapter itself declares, “God’s Spirit as the Dynamic of Sanctification.”
It is a basic falsification to say that theonomic ethics or postmillennial eschatology teaches that God’s law is a transforming means of grace or vehicle for the coming of Christ’s kingdom to the nations. I have taught contrary to that portrayal in many of my publications. The power for changing the hearts of men resides in the Holy spirit of God (Jn. 3:3-8; Ezek. 11:19-20; Titus 3:3-7). The agency by which the nations will be converted and believe the gospel will be, not God’s law, but the pentecostal Spirit of power (Acts 2:1-47; I Cor. 2:4, 14-16; I Thes. 1:5). Revival is prerequisite for men to come to a saving knowledge of Christ and thereby expand His kingdom; men must be born again. And the law cannot accomplish that: “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). There has never been any legitimate question about this conviction of those who advocate theonomic ethics. The editor’s unguarded and irresponsible misrepresentation is a real low point that prejudices readers (quite understandably) against those of us who nevertheless praise God for His grace in our salvation and the salvation of others (even the nations of the world eventually). The law is not, for the theonomist or postmillennialist, a transforming means of grace for the bringing in of Christ’s kingdom.
Furthermore, the way that the world becomes obedient to God is not, as the editor alleges, by the state enforcing the penal sanctions of the Old Testament. While there might well be some favorable influence on it as a pedagogical device, evangelism does not accomplish its goals through the state’s use of the sword. Paul states quite directly that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:4), for we rather advance Christ’s kingdom with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). This truth is again belabored in my book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (see, for instance, pp. 1415 with its discussion of “The Two Swords”). I believe that the editor is responsible to be familiar with positions which he criticizes and ought not to paint such an obviously inaccurate picture of them as we find here. Nowhere do I claim that the world will become obedient to God through the use of the Old Testament penal sanctions.
The state’s endorsement and use of those sanctions is the result of Christ’s kingdom spreading throughout a nation and it striving to live in obedience to the king – not the cause for such advance. One almost gets the picture from the editor’s portrayal that theonomists would bring in the kingdom by violent means, harshly imposing an external law-code on an enemy people who resist it in a widespread and vigorous way; they are then dealt with according to the law’s penal sanctions. However the picture is pure fiction and a complete reversal of the truth. The penal sanctions of God’s law will only be enacted in a country where there has already been widespread turning to the gospel and an appropriate nurturing period of personal and social sanctification; those penalties are enforced (and can be enforced) only by a populous that loves the Lord and His blessed direction for its well-being. That is, the theonomist believes that there must be revival and pervasive success in evangelism; then those who are believers will more and more attempt to live obedient lives in gratitude to their Savior, and in time that sanctification will also be seen to call believers to a distinctive and righteous lifestyle in social and political matters. Eventually, graciously, and willingly the sanctions of God’s law will come to be obeyed, just as faithful believers will desire to obey all of God’s commandments. This will not be harsh eternal imposition (although criminals will always make such self-serving claims) but the natural outworking of an internal commitment and dynamic.
When and if Christians have the positions and influence necessary to bring about social change and establish public policy, they will naturally desire to gain as much guidance as is available from God’s inspired word. Only at that point – at the end of a period where God’s gracious Spirit has brought about kingdom growth and its subsequent strengthening in righteous living – will the sanctions of God’s law be popularly endorsed and enforced. The kingdom eventually brings obedience to the penal sanctions; obedience to those sanctions does not bring in the kingdom. The Great Commission requires us to work toward the day when the nations will have been discipled to Christ and taught to observe whatsoever He has commanded, and as I have said above as well as in many publications the Great Commission depends for its success on the gracious and powerful work of God’s Holy Spirit.
The editor’s contrary representation is a serious and disheartening misconstrual of the theonomic position – a misleading error that could have and should have been avoided. To use but one ready example from Theonomy, note that a fair reading of the book would have disclosed this and other statements: “The serious alternative which the church offers to a dying world is to turn in faith to Christ and keep His commandments; both elements are demanded by the great commission. As obedience to it is empowered by the Holy spirit, the law of God establishes righteousness in human affairs and human hearts” (p. 489). Or again: “The day is coming when, in the power of the Holy Spirit, all citizens and relatives, from the small to the great, will know the Lord . . .. The great commission will one day be fulfilled, a day in which all nations (not just representative individuals in them) shall have been disciplined . . .. The great commission includes the first mentioned provision of the New Covenant as well: All nations are to be taught to observe Christ’s commandments, in other words, all the law of God (Matt. 28:19f.; cf. Matt. 5:17f.). The power and presence of Christ is the seal and guarantee of the great commission’s success . . .. The New Covenant will bring with it the power to convert sinners to God; its prosperity will be overwhelming – such is God’s promise, and if the Spirit can convert one individual sinner, why should we hesitate to see Him having the power to effect a world-wide revival?” (pp. 192-193). There is nowhere to be found even a hint of the editor’s violent picture of imposing the penal sanctions of the law and thereby advancing Christ’s kingdom; such a representation is unfair to the thoroughly Spiritual character of the theonomic position.
The second mistake in the editor’s description of theonomic ethics and postmillennial eschatology is his assertion that the two perspectives require each other. According to him theonomy and postmillennialism go “hand in hand” (9-6, p. 3a) and are “indispensable to each other” (9-6, p. 14b). Of course, if both positions are scriptural, then they would naturally complement and strengthen each other as part of a unified system of truth (just as do, for instance, the doctrines of sin and redemption). However such a harmony between the two positions does not mean that people must choose them in tandem or reject them as a pair. Logically there is a distinction to be drawn between what will in fact happen and what ought to happen. Let me illustrate. Someone can readily believe that Congress will increase the Social Security Tax, and yet not at all believe that Congress ought to do so. On the other hand, someone could believe that the church ought to develop a deaconal system for relieving the poor, and still not believe that the church will actually do it. What will happen, and what should happen are (unhappily) very often quite contrary to each other. Accordingly the editor has committed a logical lapse in saying that postmillennialism and theonomic ethics are indispensable to each other. Postmillennialism says that the nations of the world will be converted and come to enace God’s law in their societies, while theonomic ethics maintains (among other things) that nations ought to enact God’s law in their societies. One can believe one totally without the other. Someone might believe that nations ought to enforce God’s law, but never will do so. Someone else might believe that nations will enforce God’s law, but ought not to do so. Therefore, the two positions of theonomic ethics and postmillennial eschatology are logically separate from each other. They are also psychologically separate from each other, for as a matter of fact some postmillennialists are not theonomic in their ethical outlook – just as some theonomists are not postmillenial in their eschatological outlook. Many people come to these positions separately, as did myself, without the one suggesting or influencing the other. Again, I feel that there is a beautiful harmony between the two positions, for I believe that they are both the teaching of God’s word. But logically and psychologically a person can surely hold to one without the other.
Another passing indication that postmillennialism and theonomic ethics do not require each other is the existence of varying schools of postmillennial eschatology. Roughly speaking I can delineate at least four distinct options proposed through history which might be (with greater or lesser accuracy) designated “postmillennialism.” (1) Some have held that the gospel will prosper throughout the world, bringing widespread revival so that the large majority of people are believers; such gospel prosperity, with Christian nurture over time, is bound to have public consequences (cf. “Ye are the salt of the earth . . .. Ye are the light of the world”). Thus revival will eventuate in Christ’s commandments being obeyed in all walks of life. This is, I believe, the classic Reformed version of postmillennialism (as evidenced in my article in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. III, No. 2). (2) Others have maintained that the coming of Christ’s kingdom is to be identified with social progress, public reform, and better relations among all men; such goals will be accomplished through humanistic but peaceful means of persuasion and reform movements. Here we have the typical “social gospel” version of postmillennialism – a secularization and truncating of the Reformed perspective. (3) Still others have laid their stress on social reformation, but have advocated the means of violent revolt, overt warfare, and external imposition of new social conditions. This might be deemed a kind of Anabaptist version of postmillennialism, sometimes expressed in the Reformation period and condemned by many Calvinists as “secitious” or “stupid.” (4) Finally we can mention the view that many people around the world will come to believe the gospel so that our churches will be overwhelmingly filled with Christians and the nations of the world will worship God aright; however (amazingly) this gospel prosperity will not have distinctive and positive consequences for social and political righteousness. It is hard to find a fair, descriptive label for this position since it seems to me to truncate the Reformed view, to represent a retreat from a scriptural world-and-life-view, and to be biblically implausible; thus to label it pietistic postmillennialism or “purely revivalistic” postmillennialism simply reflects an adverse personal evaluation – and does despite to the full-orbed Reformed position by suggesting that it might be disinterested in piety or that genuine biblical revival could be restricted to internal matters of the heart and at best the church. So recognizing the inherent problem in choosing a fair designation, I will be content to call this fourth option ecclesiastical postmillennialism.
Thus it is manifest that for the editor to make theonomic ethics and postmillennialismindispensable to each other is unfair to those versions of postmillenialism which – in contrast to the Puritans, who were vitally interested in missions and the social use of God’s law – are indifferent to the public consequences of Christian belief (ecclesiastical postmillennialism), are indifferent to the revivalistic foundation of social reform (the social gospel), or are interested in altering social conditions in an antinomian fashion (Anabaptist postmillennialism). Not all postmillennialists would want to be affiliated with the position of theonomic ethics. This is not the place to critique such versions of postmillennialism (which I find biblically and theologically weak or inconsistent), but simply to make the relevant observational point. Therefore, on logical, psychological, and dogmatical grounds we must separate our consideration of theonomic ethics from that of postmillennialism eschatology. In what follows I will be defending postmillennialism in response to the editor’s critique of it; what I say will not be directly germane to theonomic ethics as such.
According to the editor the fatal weakness of postmillennialism is that it has a problem with the idea that the world will not be righteous at Christ’s return (9-6, p. 10c). The editor says that the key question to be posed in the millennial discussion is, “what does the Bible indeed have to say about the state of the world at Christ’s coming?” (9-6, p. 10a); he returns again to this question as something which, unlike other issues, is definitely not peripheral (9-6, p. 10c). However, the editor defeats his own criticism and demonstrates by himself its fundamental invalidity by turning around and admitting that postmillennialism can and does (for most adherents) incorporate and accommodate the biblical truth that the world will be apostate at the Lord’s return. That is, the editor undermines his own critique for us. Having said that postmillennialism simply ignores this biblical teaching, the editor goes on to indicate that postmillennialism teaches that the loosening of Satan at the end of the age will generate widespread apostasy and set the conditions for Christ’s judgmental return upon an unrighteous world (9-6, p. 10c-11a) – subject of postmillennialism (Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. 3, No. 2: Winter, 1976-1977)! To say that some position fails to account for something, and then to turn around and quote an adherent of the position so as to show that it does take account of that thing, is not only inconsistent, but cripples the criticism so that no answer is necessary.
The editor lightheartedly dismisses the postmillennial understanding of the passages which legitimately teach a final apostasy (namely, by the loosening of Satan at the very end of history), saying that this is “the best that postmillennialism can do with those passages” (9-6, p. 10c) and that postmillennialists casually “add” this explanation as an “afterthought” (9-6, p. 11a). But such an alleged criticism is completely without meaning and force. Here in this case “the best that postmillennialism can do” is completely adequate to account for the scriptural teaching, and that is surely good enough! What more does the editor hope for? All millennial schools see the loosening of Satan at the end of the millennium as creating the worldwide evil and apostasy that usher us into the final judgment (cf. Rev. 20:7-10). If this understanding of Scripture is a satisfactory handling of the text (and explanation of further texts) for other schools of eschatology, why is it for the editor merely “the best that postmillennialism can do”? Does Mr. Taylor expect more of the other schools of thought here? Does he have a better interpretation of his own to offer us all?
Let me also note that it is completely beyond me how the editor could determine that my rehearsal of this element of postmillennial thinking (taken from his quotation of my article) is a mere “casual afterthought.” In what relevant and interesting sense is this point in postmillennial doctrine “casual”? As long as it is true to the Bible, why should this point be condemned even if it is (in some sense) casual? What is the editor maintaining here? Presently I find his criticism purely connotive in character – without actual substance. Moreover, how does the editor know that this point in my postmillennialism is merely an afterthought? He has not asked me about it. And as a matter of personal fact, I held the view that the loosening of Satan would create a final apostasy long before I became a postmillennialist. It was not anything like a “casual afterthought,” then; I have always taken it quite seriously. I have duly emphasized this truth in my teaching and writing as well (for instance, in my tapes on Revelation, which were reviewed in the Presbyterian Journal a few years ago). There is no suspicious de-emphasis of this doctrine in my postmillennial expositions. But even if there were, that would be a personal observation and totally irrelevant to the theological adequacy of the position itself. The editor simply has no ground for complaint at this juncture. Postmillennialism is innocent of his charge against it.
Before moving on it should be added that, while postmillennialism teaches and fully accommodates the apostate condition of the world at the end of history (read, for instance, M. Kik on Rev. 20), not all of the texts which are cited by the editor should be understood as legitimately supporting that truth. That is, as an exegetical point (not intending to deny the theological conclusion drawn) we should recognize that some of the texts chosen by the editor do not after all deal with the subject of the final apostasy. For instance, the editor mentions Revelation 13, but this chapter deals with the fall of the ancient Roman beast (cf. Jay Adams, The Time is At Hand). The editor mentions 2 Timothy 3:13; however, this text is referring to Paul’s own day, posing a limit to the personal debauchery (not the mass numerical apostasy) of individual men (cf. the discussion of this passage in Iain Murry, The Puritan Hope). While I agree with the editor that Christ will return upon an apostate world, I do not agree with the interpretation offered for particular texts by the editor. (In passing, I would also wonder if the editor – or any adherent of premillennial or amillennial thought – can meaningfully speak of a final “apostasy” in the world if there has never been, as postmillennialists expect, an accomplishment of the Great Commission so that the world nations have a spiritual condition of Christian belief from which to fall in the generation of Satan’s release. Given the downward trend postulated by premil and amil writers, the release of Satan is almost “business as usual” or at best an intensification of the already declining state of spiritual affairs in the world. But this question must await a future discussion.”
Another alleged supreme “fatal flaw” in postmillennialism, according to the editor, is that the scriptural support cited by this position is also the backbone of the other eschatological views; this indicates to the editor that it is one’s personal theological presuppositions that make the final difference between eschatological schools and not the biblical teaching itself (99-6, p. 10a). The editor writes at some length, saying that this constitutes an “illegitimate hermeneutic” (9-6, p. 10b) – even giving an entire editorial to the subject under that title (9-6, p. 14-15). The example which he offers to show that theological presuppositions make the difference in one’s eschatology, and to evidence that all schools of thought can accommodate the passages cited by postmillennialists, is Psalm 22:27. He says, ‘There’s nothing in that verse which adds ‘. . . before Christ returns’” (9-6, p. 10a). What is his inference? That postmillennialists must of course add that qualification from their system of doctrine.
Well, is that so? Must postmillennialists add this qualification from their system of doctrine? And if so, is that to be deplored? I think the answer to both questions is a plain no. If we look at the verse itself we will notice that it speaks of the nations “remembering and turning unto Jehovah” – phraseology which typically points to conversion from unbelief and rebellion. Therefore, since conversion cannot take place after the return of Christ in final judgment (granted by all schools of eschatology), I believe that the verse itself implies the qualification “before Christ returns.” So postmillennialists do not need to read their distinctive eschatology into the verse to make it support that distinctive eschatology in return. But, someone may challenge, do you not after all add this qualification from your presupposed system of doctrine? The premise that there will be no opportunity for conversion after the Lord’s return is, you see, taken from one’s system of doctrine and not the verse itself. So now we must ask how deplorable this fact is. It all depends on what the source of one’s “system of doctrine” is! In the case before us I believe that the verse refers to some millennial period prior to Christ’s return precisely because Scripture elsewhere teaches that there will be no room to insert a millennial period of successful evangelism between the return of Christ and the last judgment of all men. That is, my “system of doctrine” – drawn from the Bible – will not allow me consistently to attribute a worldwide “turning” of the nations to the Lord to a period subsequent to Christ’s return (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith XXXII.2; XXXIII.1-2; Larger Catechism 87-90). So then, what we have is a case where Scripture (informing the system of doctrine) is brought to bear on Scripture (which is interpreted in the light of the system of doctrine previously gained). This is simply an illustration, therefore, of the cardinal rule of hermeneutics that Scripture must interpret Scripture (see Westminster Confession of Faith I.9). The editor’s taunts about an “illegitimate hermeneutic” are thus misplaced or without proof. This is the most legitimate of hermeneutical procedures – sanctioned by our Confession itself (which, in turn, is grounded in the words of Scripture on this point).
If, however, the editor is saying something else in criticism of postmillennial hermeneutics – namely, that postmillennialism “may be reading into Scripture conclusions drawn from his theological system of doctrine” (9-6, p. 10b) so that it will “bend Scripture to fit the system of doctrine” (9-6, p. 15a) – then he would indeed be describing an illegitimate hermeneutic. But it would also be one which no postmillennialist that I have read or known of propounds or approves of. Reading things into the Bible which are not there and distorting it teachings are deplorable theological crimes, to be sure! But that point hardly needs to be made generally. Is the editor actually suggesting that such disgraceful procedures characterize postmillennial expositions of Scripture? If not, his discussion is irrelevant. But if so, his discussion is irresponsible, for he gives absolutely no proof or documentation that this is the case. Even if the editor is not personally convinced by the expositions offered by postmillennialists, he has no warrant to accuse the school of thought (containing, mind you, such notables as Owens, Fairbairn, Alexander, Hodge, Dabney, Warfield, Terry, Murray, and others) of being characterized by such an illegitimate hermeneutical procedure. The allegation would be groundless, unspecified, and frankly untrue. We must have a responsible theological method in dealing with positions which are unagreeable to us. When criticisms are to be made, they cannot be pontificated without supporting evidence. Since the burden of proof lies on the accuser, if he offers no substantiation of his charges, then his critique is simply crippled under the load. This is, it seems, the case with the editor’s charge of “illegitimate hermeneutics” against postmillennialism. What does he exactly mean, and why should he believe it is so? To date, his charge cannot stand.
Finally, I must say that it was disheartening to see the editor make an effort to defend a qualified “newspaper exegesis” approach to interpreting the Bible (9-6, p. 10a). Similarly I was discouraged to find the editor saying that the question of why postmillennialism is resurfacing at this particular time is “perhaps more important” than the question, “Can it be supported by Scripture?” (9-6, p. 14b). These are sympathies and tendencies which unwittingly move us away from the principle of sola Scriptura and the imperial authority of God’s word over all human endeavors.
In his attempt to defend “newspaper exegesis,” the editor has – I believe – misconstrued the Copernican Revolution’s effect on scriptural interpretation, a subject of much study for me as an apologist. Scientific discovery forced biblical interpreters to ask themselves whether they had indeed been letting Scripture speak for itself or whether Aristotelian physics had been read into the Bible. The “newspaper” (we might say) made men study the issue again, and some of course gained infamy by refusing to do so honestly. However the church did in time respond sensitively to the question of whether the Bible was making a claim about the earth’s planetary location or speaking in figures of speech. The newspaper did not, however, determine what the Bible could be allowed to say – as it does when, with Bultmann, the results of modern science experienced in an appliance like the refrigerator “make it impossible” to believe in a bodily resurrection of Jesus. At the time of the Copernican Revolution, if restudy and responsible exegesis had turned up the same conclusions (which, of course, they did not), then God’s word would have necessarily been preferred to the word of men (cf. Rom. 3:4). As it actually came about, however, the Bible was not abandoned to the newspaper; rather, what had been assumed to be in the Bible was abandoned as the result of restudy – restudy stimulated by an apparent contradiction with the “newspaper.” This is not newspaper exegesis. The newspaper exegesis that disturbs the postmillennialist proceeds to delimit what the Bible can teach on the basis of events reported in history books or newspapers – in particular, saying that two world wars (etc.) show that the postmillennial confidence that Christ’s kingdom will prosper prior to His return cannot be the proper interpretation of the Bible, for the newspapers show it is not (presently) happening.
Men may be influenced by extrascriptural opinions (the “newspaper”) to reconsider what they have claimed to be taught in the Bible (cf. Lk. 24:18-27) and they may be encouraged by extrascriptural events as a confirmation of what the word of God claims (cf. Deut. 18:22; Jn. 14:29), and not be guilty of newspaper exegesis. The outcome of the Copernican Revolution illustrates the first, and the assertion by the editor that past postmillennialists were encouraged by the progress of their day (9-6, p. 9b-c) illustrates the second, I believe. These are not examples of extrascriptural events or opinions determining whether the Bible can or cannot be teaching on a particular doctrine; for instance, the Puritan postmillennialists and the professors at old Princeton Seminary did not insist that missionary successes in their day precluded a premillennial or amillenial understanding of prophetic Scripture. When men discard postmillennial teaching or will not even give it a hearing because of unhappy world events in our century, this is a categorically different thing; it is delimiting what God’s word can say on the basis of extrascriptural considerations.
That many modern believers have misconstrued what Reformed postmillennialism essentially teaches is illustrated and hopefully corrected in my article, "“he Prima Facie Acceptaboility of Postmillennialism"”(cited earlier). As it happens, there is nothing in basic postmillennial premises which precludes the unhappy events of our century taking place prior to (or hypothetically, even after) an age of widespread gospel prosperity. Consequently the “newspaper” critics of postmillennialism apparently do not realize that they have no logical basis for their attempted refutations. Such events as those to which they typically make reference do not contradict any legitimate inference from postmillennial teaching in the first place. There is no biblical basis for claiming that the wonderful success of the Great Commission predicted throughout the bible will become the case in our own generation. Nor does the postmillennialist claim that there will be nothing but systematic, constant, progress in the prosperity of the gospel; there is nothing to preclude up’s and down’s along the way. Therefore the newspaper criticism of postmillennialism is itself invalid, even if we overlook the impropriety of such a theological method. Again, I am discouraged to see the editor attempting to sympathize with it.
The last criticism made by the editor of postmillennialism is that its supporters “have unimpressive church growth statistics to support it” (9-6, p. 11c). Such a criticism is without point for many reasons. In the first place we can question whether the editor is in a position to know just who are and who are not postmillennial preachers in the various churches of the land; it is equally questionable whether he knows off-hand all of their church growth statistics. Moreover we can readily point to counter-examples which disprove the editor’s allegation; for instance, the PCA church with a postmillennial pastor which quadrupled in two years time would be an embarrassment to the editor’s remark. But more importantly, even if every postmillennial pastor to the man today had “unimpressive” church growth statistics, that would not constitute anything like a valid criticism of their eschatological position – since that position does not itself make its every adherent a gifted evangelist, nor does it predict impressive church growth in any particular locality at any particular time. It may be that the impressive growth will take place in non-postmillennialist churches (nevertheless in fulfillment of postmillennialist teaching!) or in another age or generation. So how does that undermine postmillennial eschatology in any way? Finally, contrary to their use by some modern believers, church growth statistics are not the be all and end all of theological disputes for those with a Reformed outlook (sola Scriptura apparently cannot be repeated enough); statistics may be a recent and man-pleasing fad, but they do not give us a test of truth – other-wise the rapid growth of certain heretical cults would be evidence of their veracity. Again, the editor’s critique is not credible upon reflection.
It turns out, then, that the editor has not raised a substantial criticism of either theonomic ethics or postmillennial eschatology. He has, however, painted enough of a misleading picture of both positions that it has taken far more space to set the record straight than to put it askew. I have attempted to respond to each of his basic misrepresentations and to give a reply to each of his separate criticisms. To make the long story short, his descriptions have strayed from accuracy at important points and his critical thrusts have not been on target. There has been no reason advanced by the editor which should make any reader hesitant to give an open and diligent hearing to theonomic ethics and postmillennial eschatology. The initial biblical support that can be marshaled for both of these perspectives makes them worthy of careful and responsible investigation by any Christian. I have found them to be scripturally sound and theologically defensible after painstaking scrutiny. I have also found them to be uplifting and beneficial to my walk with the Lord. Two very important issues in any person’s life are explicitly addressed in these theological positions: one’s outlook on history and its direction, and one’s final ethical standard for the decisions and attitudes that make up his behavior.
I am thankful for the editor’s critique of the positions, even though it may have misfired. It is valuable to examine the issues again and to think through their theological strength, of which one can be sure only through cross-examination and challenge. I am also thankful for the editor’s insistence that these theological questions are definitely not “something over which Christian should have reason to part company” (9-6, p. 91). A charitable, teachable, and tolerant spirit would adorn well all of us who have intramural disagreements as Reformed Christians. It is a telling observation that in those few places where these theological questions are being used to generate dispute and broken relations, it is the opponents of theonomic ethics and/or postmillennial eschatology who are stirring up the trouble and evidencing an intolerance in practice. Whether or not this represents a zeal inspired by unwitting ignorance or a reflex to being idealogically threatened, adherents of these two positions would do well to hear again the editor’s words and heed them. Let not those who support the full validity of God’s law or who are convinced that the gospel will see marvelous prosperity around the world not be party to any attitude or behavior which would unethically be an obstacle to the harmonious relationship and work of fellow believers. Our ethical growth and kingdom advances are corporate matters. Finally, at the end of this response, I am especially grateful for the editor’s suggestion as to why theonomic ethics and postmillennial eschatology are thriving today. He explains that this reflects a strong Reformed revival in our day (9-6, pp. 12b, 14c). I can only respond that I prayerfully hope this is so!
Postscript: (A very brief summary of the above article was published in the Presbyterian Journal, December 6, 1978. It was submitted as a short reply to the editor’s earlier criticisms of theonomic ethics. Since the editor published his own response to my reply in the same December 6 issue, and since he has endeavored to terminate the discussion at this point by speaking “A Last Word” on the subject – as he says in an editorial of the same issue – I will append here an answer to his further response. This answer expands upon a letter which I have sent to the editor.)
As before, I appreciate the complimentary and supportive words that can be found in the editor’s most recent article and editorial. He has said some most gracious things. Moreover, on many things we obviously agree (for instance, that theological questions must be faced responsibly, that believers should not become preoccupied with nothing else but one theological point, etc.). Nevertheless certain errors and misrepresentations in his remarks should not go unanswered; the need to respond further comes in the following areas.
(1) The editor cannot shake off his preconceived and erroneous notion that theonomic ethics simply “must” be offering something new. He previously claimed this, arguing that otherwise Theonomy would not have needed to be published. That is hardly cogent reasoning, as indicated in the above article (which reminds us that sometimes books are published to rehearse and defend older perspectives against modern opposition). This time around the editor insists that Theonomy “must be new because previous adherents of an apparently similar view did not create controversy in their day as Theonomy has today. Dubious reasoning again. First, it is just historically inaccurate to claim that such views did not previously generate controversy; they were disputed and debated by others, sometimes vigorously. Second, even if they did not previously cause controversy, the “new” controversy today could easily be explained by the new secular environment of opinion and society into which theonomic views have come – rather than by the alleged novelty of such views.
The fact is that the editor is mistaken both about the originality of theonomic views and about any church-rendering controversy being caused by them. As seen in the above article, theonomic distinctives are firmly embedded in the Reformed tradition and are expressed (sometimes more, sometimes less, consistently) by notable theologians of Reformed persuasion. An undisputed champion of that theological school is John Calvin, and his ethical outlook is noteworthy here (even if he might not agree with every last detail of my book). With theonomists, Calvin maintains that “a perfect pattern of righteousness stands forth in the law’ which is our “one everlasting and unchangeable rule to live by” – not restricted to the Old Testament age, “for it is just as applicable to every age, even to the end of the world” (Institutes 2:7:13). Against those who deny an obligation to the Old Testament law, Calvin appeals to Matthew 5:17-18, saying that Christ “sufficiently confirms that by his coming nothing is going to be taken away from the observance of the law . . .. Therefore through Christ the teaching of the law remains inviolable” (2:7:14). With theonomists, Calvin teaches that the judicial (extra-decalogical) commandments of the Old Testament have a divestible outward form or constitution that can be altered with circumstances, but that these commandments are founded on an underlying “equity” in each case which expresses a perpetual duty that must be the same for all men (4:20:15, 16): “this equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws,” he said. All men in every nation today are obligated to obey the underlying requirements expressed by the case-laws of the Old Testament, then, and this explains Calvin’s extensive use of those laws in explaining and setting forth the moral duties of the decalogue. Wherever possible and relevant, the extra-decalogical commandments of the Old Testament must be observed by us. Speaking of two such laws, Calvin said “Who can deny that these two things apply as much to us as to the Jews?” (2:8:32).
Furthermore, with theonomists, Calvin argued that the duty of civil magistrates extends to both tables of the law – to religious as well as interpersonal matters touching society (4:20:9). In the French Confession of 1559 he wrote, “God put the sword in the hand of the state to resist not only sins against the second but also against the first table of the law.” One major function of God’s law affirmed on the other hand the appointed end of civil government includes forming “our social behavior to civil righteousness” (4:20:3). Although earlier writings might seem to vacillate regarding the penal sanctions of the law, Calvin’s most mature, extensive, and explicit treatment of God’s law – found in his 1563 commentary on a Harmony of the four last books of the Pentateuch, written a few years after even the last edition of the Institutes and only a year before his death – speaks plainly and boldly in favor of them. For instance, he asserts “Capital punishment shall be decreed against adulterers” (Commentary at Deut. 13:5), and “it appears how greatly God abominates adultery, since He denounces capital punishment against it . . .. Conjugal faith should be held too sacred to be violated with impunity” (Commentary at Deut 22:22). Calvin is hard on Christians who do not believe the law’s penal sanction should be enforced today: “By the universal law of the Gentiles, the punishment of death was always awarded to adultery wherefore it is all the baser and more shameful in Christians not to imitate at least the heathen. Adultery is punished no less severely by the Julian law than by that of God; whilst those who boast themselves of the Christian name are so tender and remiss, that they visit this execrable offense with a very light reproof” (Commentary at Deut 22:22). He goes on immediately to answer those who attempt “to abrogate God’s law” by spurious appeal to the example of Christ, concluding that “their relaxation of the penalty has flowed from gross ignorance.” Calvin is zealous here to defend the validity of the Old Testament penal sanction, just as he is elsewhere regarding blatant and subversive apostasy: “in a well constituted polity, profane men are by no means to be tolerated” (Commentary at Deut. 13:5). In that place he openly mentions the opposition of some men to the law’s penal requirement, saying “God commands the false prophet to be put to death . . .. Some scoundrel or other gainsays this, and sets himself against the author of life and death. What insolence is this!” In his last years Calvin’s conviction that the law’s penal sanctions ought to be utilized took an obviously firm form; he defended the honor and validity of such sanctions with vigor. Magistrates are obligated to obey God’s law, held Calvin, and God’s penal commandments (just as all of the law) cannot be altered; thus if God said that capital punishment applied to some crime, then that settles the matter. Calvin wrote: “What is the meaning of this madness, in imposing a law upon God, that He should not make use of the obedience of magistrates in this respect? And what avails it to question about the necessity of this, since so it pleases God? . . . It is superfluous to contend by argument, when God has once pronounced what is His will, for we must needs abide by His inviolable decree” (ibid). With theonomists, Calvin saw that God’s just laws – when even once pronounced, in the Old Testament – could not be arbitrarily put aside in the Christian era; even magistrates must honor the punishments for crime decreed in the law of the Lord.
I have taken some space to summarize at least one dominant strain in Calvin’s thought and writings to emphasize indisuptable terms what is already manifest in the preceding article: namely, that whether theonomic ethics is right or wrong, its distinctives are anything but novel (contrary to the editor’s insistent claim). Surely Calvin stands in the classic Reformed tradition, and as we have seen, elements of his writings openly propound theonomic themes: (1) the whole Old Testament law is applicable today since Christ’s coming took nothing away from it; (2) the judicial or case-laws of Israel express an underlying equity which is our perpetual duty; (3) civil magistrates today are obligated to obey the law of God in its civil demands; and (4) the penal sanctions of the law are still valid and to be enforced in the present Christian era. Calvin may not always have been consistent with these teachings (just as I am not thoroughly consistent with them either), but they are definitely part of his corpus and stand in agreement with Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Theonomic ethics is anything but new in the Reformed tradition! Yet the editor continues to advance his preconceived notion of its novelty – in the absence of cogent supporting reasons and in the face of contrary historical evidence (e.g., John Cotton’s Abstract of the Laws of New England).
Not only are the editor’s remarks about Theonomy’s originality without backing, so are his claims about it causing disruptive controversy (as alleged “evidence” that its perspective must be new). He asserts that theonomic ethics ha produced controversy and problems in the churches, tearing some apart. Is that the case? Where are these churches? When did such disruption occur? Was it theonomic problems? Have whatever controversies that have been generated of the healthy or unhealthy kind? These are relevant and important questions, but the editor has offered no answers at all; his claim might very well crumble under cross-examination. Just where are the churches that have been “torn apart” by unhealthy controversy generated by advocates of theonomic ethics as such? I think the editor’s allegation is baseless – at best vague, unsubstantiated, and an unfair argumentative device. But even if it were true, such a claim would come nowhere close to demonstrating that the theonomic perspective is new-fashioned theology. Novelty and controversy are logically separate matters that do not require or imply each other.
Somewhat like Columbus, the editor wants to insist on his preconceived opinion even in the face of obviously contrary evidence. Columbus insisted that the new land to which he had sailed was India; accordingly throughout history we have mistakenly called native Americans “Indians.” Likewise the editor insists that my book must be presenting something new, and throughout his treatment of my viewpoint this preconceived – but equally mistaken – opinion will lead him into further and further mistakes, as we will note.
(2) A second facet of his article which calls for a response is the resort – always hazardous for scholarship – to presuming to know another author’s position better than the author knows it himself. The editor claims that my article in the Journal modifies, rather than defends, the position taken in my book – namely (according to the editor’s misreading) that the explicit details of the law are without exception to be literally applied today as they always were. His claim is simply false. Theonomy nowhere calls for crass literalism in interpreting the Bible; it throughout recognizes the illustrative and typological character of many Old Testament laws, as any adequate study of the book will indicate. The allusions and quotations from the book which the editor uses do not even come close to verifying his misleading claim. He has simply misread the book with a previously formed bent concerning it. Theonomy is not “literalistic”; it never was. You can take the author’s word for it.
When I teach the O.T. laws regarding sacrifice were preparatory shadows of the coming Savior’s work of atonement (pp. 207-209) and are not kept today in the same fashion as before, when I teach that O.T. dietary laws or laws against mixing seed or animals are no longer observed in the same outward manner (pp. 209-210), when I teach the obvious and traditional truth that the O.T. case-laws are applicable beyond their original, literal cases to new situations (p. 26) because such laws are meant to illustrate an underlying principle (p. 313), how can the editor responsibly portray my view as being that every detail of the law is to be literally applied today just as it was in the past? By caricaturing the theonomic viewpoint the editor only reveals the impoverished character of his own case against it; his criticisms apparently require a distorted view of the theonomic position in order to survive at all.
(3) As might be expected, given the previous two errors, the editor is now led to claim that he cannot “pin down” what Theonomy is saying. Indeed, he excuses himself from presenting a biblical argument against it on the incredible ground that Theonomy does not have enough substance to grasp! Numerous readers from varied backgrounds (social, educational, ecclesiastical) have accurately grasped the substance of the theonomic position. Why shouldn’t the editor be able to do so? Contrary to his claim, Theonomy stakes out a specifiable and clear alternative in ethics, one that makes major theological assertions and has definite distinctives. Otherwise, why would the editor be spending so much time criticizing it? Does he think it worthwhile to shoot at nothing at all? Why previously did he claim it was a “new” position if it has no substance or a position at all? The editor must make up his mind on where he will stand; he cannot have it both ways! Theonomic ethics has substance. What the editor is finding hard to put his finger on is a biblically based, legitimate criticism of the position.
Misguided though it is, the editor’s “logic” should not be overlooked. He began with the mistaken preconception that Theonomy simply “must” be new and literalistic in perspective. It was thus natural that when he received an article from me which showed its historical roots and non-literalistic interpretation of the law the editor was forced to conclude that the (allegedly) original position had now been “modified.” And if this was the case, then finally the theonomic position could not be “pinned down,” thereby lacking substance. The whole discussion, however, has been an extended exercise in the “Columbian fallacy” – remaining undauntedly true to faulty preconceptions. Theonomy is no more new, subsequently modified, or unsubstantial than native Americans are “Indians”!
When all is said and done, we still await the editor’s scriptural refutation of theonomic ethics. Sola Scriptura must be our governing principle regardless of the opinions (even the ridicule or persecution) of men. Surely the editor must agree.
(4) Let me also respond to some misrepresentations or misunderstandings on the editor’s part. Contrary to his objection, to recognize the ceremonial nature of an O.T. law is not to “pick and choose” which of God’s commands we will obey today. It is to recognize the theological nature of that particular requirement and thus the way in which such a command is appropriately observed by us today.
The editor elsewhere misunderstands me if he thinks that I would deny that O.T. case laws can ever be applicable today in terms of their very wording (for instance, about rooftops). It is certainly possible (and thus a few years ago I put a railing around our rooftop sun-deck while living in Manhattan Beach). My point is that the language of the O.T. case-laws, being illustrative from an ancient culture, is not necessarily directly applicable today. People with sloped rooftops are not required to have a railing around them, even though they are required by the Old Testament case law (as the Catechism says at Q. 135) to avoid all occasions which tend unjustly to jeopardize the lives of others. This is to pay attention to the intention of the law’s jot and tittle details. My remark about ancient Israel’s “rooftops, oxen, and ax heads” in the previous article was simply expressing our obligation to recognize the literary nature of the laws we seek to obey – precisely so that we can obey them correctly.
The last misrepresentation to note is the editor’s paraphrase of my understanding of the thrust of “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17. That Jesus confirms the full measure of the law against pharisaical perversions of it – the sense I give the word – means much more than the editor’s rewording lets on. Competent new Testament scholars do not dismiss my conclusion as somehow inappropriate or indefensible: “The word translated ‘fulfill’ can mean to ‘establish, confirm, cause to stand’ and need mean only that Jesus asserted the permanence of the law and his obedience to it . . .. In terms of Jesus’ total message ‘fulfill’ probably has the meaning of bringing to full intent and expression” (George Eldon Ladd, Theology of the New Testament, p. 124). Moreover, the editor’s alternative explanation of “fulfill” is already dealt with in an adequate manner in my book. Nevertheless it is noteworthy that if, as the editor suggests, Jesus is here saying that he came “to put the law into effect,” then the Lord thereby presupposes the validity of the law in exhaustive detail – precisely the point of theonomic ethics!
(5) Finally I must mention a few areas of direct dispute with the editor. He is wrong to ridicule me at one point for failing to comment on one of his alleged illustrations of the application of O.T. law today. I did not avoid comment at that point. Rather the editor would not grant me enough space to reply to his every alleged example. That does not strengthen his attack or give support to his position.
When the editor claims that some of my own examples of the application of theonomic ethics do not represent Theonomy because fair-minded men have agreed with such ethical points in the past, we can only chuckle. Where does he derive the rule that, in the nature of the case, theonomic applications must be outlandish and objectionable to fair-minded men! (Another “Columbian fallacy” is looming here.” What else would we expect from the Lord except fair laws? The difference between theonomists and anti-theonomists is that the former see all of God’s laws (where applicable) as fair and just today, while the latter think only some are.
Against my explanation of Deut. 23:1 as dealing with those who are made eunuchs the editor objects that the passage says nothing about self-mutilation. (Of course it says nothing about accidental mutilation either, which his interpretation demands.) In reply I need only recommend that he read it in the original Hebrew and consult a few exegetical commentaries.
Contrary to what he says at another point, Romans 2:12-15 firmly supports my earlier observation that without the law there would be no sin (and thus no need for the Savior). The Gentiles who do not have a written revelation of the law are still guilty before God, says Paul, because the work of the law is written on their hearts. They know the ordinance of God which they violate (e.g., Rom. 1:32).
In conclusion I must dispute the editor’s last remark that the two precepts of love laid down by Christ are better ethical guidance today than the details of the O.T. law. The fact is that these two love precepts are themselves precisely quotations of details of the O.T. law! Moreover, we could not know what love requires and prohibits without the law. (The mistake made by Fletcher’s “situational ethic” of “love” is just to overlook this fact.) Scripture authoritatively teaches that “This is love, that we walk after His commandments” (2 John 60. And in the view of Christ and the apostles, that includes all of God’s Old Testament commandments. The popular attempt today to restrict the continuity of the law in the New Testament to the ten commandments is simply contrary to biblical practice, as an inductive study of the New Testament use of Old Testament law will indicate. As already noted, when Christ wishes to summarize the entire thrust of the law, He authoritatively quotes Old Testament case-laws, not being confined to the decalogue. Moreover, without any excuse or apology, the New Testament writers readily apply Old Testament laws that go beyond the decalogue as though they are currently valid – for instance, laws pertaining to legal evidence (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; I Tim. 5:19), prompt pay for workers (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14-15; I Tim. 5:18; James 5:4), respect for ruling authorities and parents (Ex. 21:17; 22:28; Matt. 15:4; Acts 23:5), securing a livelihood to laborers (Deut. 25:4; I Cor. 9:9; I Tim. 5:18), putting away resentment and revenge (Lev. 19:17-18; Matt. 18:15; Rom. 12:19), and caring for your enemies (Ex. 23:4-5; Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:20). Any attempt to restrict the standard of Christian ethics to the summary commands of love, or even to the summary commands of the decalogue, is thwarted over and over again by the patent practice of the New Testament – a practice which is but the consistent application of the Lord’s words, “I have not come to abrogate the Law or the Prophets, for until heaven and earth pass away not one stroke of the law will become invalid; therefore, whoever breaks the least of those commandments and teaches men so will be called least in God’s kingdom!” (Matt. 5:17-19).