Word of the day: theos=God + nomos=law = Theonomy. In opposition to Autonomy (self-law) or Antinomianism (the doctrinal error of thinking that God’s grace means you can do whatever you want), it seems automatic to label all orthodox Christians as Theonomists. Indeed, Van Til famously said “There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy.” But it’s not that simple.

Theonomy is not a generic, abstract concept, but a concrete doctrinal movement (championed by Greg Bahnsen and R. J. Rushdoony) that, at least in my circles, has been getting a lot of bad press, and is guilty of association with clearly problematic movements, like New Perspectives on Paul, and Federal Vision. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what all the fuss is about. The number one premise, especially that Bahnsen uses, is:

  • All of God’s law (every ethical directive or principle found in the entire Old Testament) is still binding today unless the Lawgiver Himself (in the New Testament) does away with a particular part.

Some consequent aspects of Theonomy (alleged — I don’t claim to understand a true Theonomic position) that are uncomfortable to swallow include:

  • Assertion that the non-ceremonial laws in the Old Testament (10 commandments, moral laws, civil (case) laws) are binding on all Christians in the New Testament era.
  • Those laws (or their ‘general equity’ in our society/culture) are in fact binding on all men
  • Civil ‘magistrates’ are responsible to God and society for composing & enforcing laws that are concordant with the ‘general equity’ of the biblical standard (although obviously they are not fulfulling that responsibility now) — including the penal sacntions.
  • One Christian goal is to return to a society ruled only by Biblical law, so we should start heading in that direction, and maybe in a few thousand years, we’ll get there.
  • When Jesus said “I come not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law, ‘fulfill’ means not ‘bring to completion’, but ‘affirm’, or ‘uphold’.

Some even wilder rumors about Theonomy include things like

  • We need to be kosher (like Rushdoony)
  • We need to get back to stoning people
  • We can’t wear poly-cotton blend clothes

But my friend Jeff tells me that Theonomy has gotten a bad rap, due to the regrettable positions and actions of some of its more zealous adherents. So I’ve been looking into it, trying to find out what it’s all about, and whether it is heretical, or benign, or even something I need to cleave to. For starters, Jeff pointed me to a short (at least compared to the length that these matters usually run to) article by Bahnsen: “What is Theonomy?” (for those of you who read URLs, you might realize that it was through poking around in this neighborhood that I found fodder for this other post).

Also, at, there’s a pastor named Joe Morecraft III (Jeff pointed me to him, and noted that although he is Theonomic, he is against NPP- and FV-types) who basically posts all of his sermons, and he has a series of sermons titled “Biblical Law: God’s Revealed Will for Man”. Among those is a three-part sub-series called “What is Theonomy”. In that series (I think the last one), he finally gets around to a concise definition of the “3 basic suppositions of Theonomy”:

  1. Only God can infallibly distinguish good and evil, and He has done so in the bible.
  2. Only God can infallibly define what is criminal and what is not, and He has done so in the bible.
  3. Only God can infallibly define how crimes are to be justly punished, and he Has done so in the bible

Now with the repeated formula “Only God can infallibly“, these suppositions approach tautology, but the the real question is what do you do with them? How does one go about determining the general equity of an OT law? Is that not what the Pharisees & Saduccees tried (and failed) to do? Without direct revelation to assist us, how can we avoid falling into the same error?

I do believe that it is incorrectly Dispensational to claim that all of the Old Testament (law) is automatically invalidated by Jesus, except when explicitly reaffirmed or extended. And probably Theonomy arose partly in opposition to this trend, as an admirable attempt to get the most out of all those Old Testament passages of inspired scripture that so many prefer to ignore. But my impression is that Theonomy went a little overboard in that effort. I’m still studying. I pray that I will be able to approach the question with an open heart, so that God will give me wisdom. Whatever happens, I’m sure I will come to a better understanding of Law vs(equals?) Grace.

(Keep going onto the next post)


36 Responses

  1. Well, I think in all matters of Theology, we need to rightly divide the Word of Truth, and to very carefully handle it as well. We need to have faith the the Spirit of God will guide us to the truth.

    Also, the law gives us case after case after case explaining a detailed application of the summaries found in the decalogue. For example, Thou shalt not kill (murder). Put up a fence around your roofs. (In their day, they used the roofs as a place for entertainment. Here we see the general principle that human life is precious in the decalogue and the detail of protecting human life by putting a fence around the roof that gives us more light about the general principle. This principle is why we have speed limits.)

    Is your fear that men will wrongly teach from the law? If so, how is it different whether you affirm or deny the basic tenet of Theonomy? We always have the possibility that someone will wrongly use or teach God's word. Right?

    I am learning that there have been many Theonomists that have represented the teaching poorly. This is too bad and to their shame. I hope that I will never fall in that area. Theonomy is just one doctrine I hold as true among the many doctrines that I believe. It's just how I answer the question "how do we determine right and wrong for the individual, the family, the church and the state?"

  2. I read the first half of Romans this week, and I was refreshed in what I saw as a pretty obvious affirmation that something about Law drastically changed in the New Covenant. What is the Law of the Spirit and the Law of Christ, and how do they differ from the Law of Moses? (Although I was reading through ch 3 and thinking Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Until the v31 curveball — what? I think it must be just in the theme of the common-sense admonitions in 6:1 and 6:15).

    Also, I hear many voices back on the other side (not the dark side!) that say that in the Matt 5:17 lynchpin, 'fulfill' must mean fulfill, not merely affirm. A walk through all of the english translations available at shows almost all of them using 'fulfill', a few of them using 'complete'. (And check out The Message's "translation" of the 'jot & tittle' passage; could there be any clearer indication of how wacked Eugene Peterson is?) If theonomists are correct, where are the independent scholars who translate with 'affirm' or 'uphold'?

    Dude, many smarter ministers and theologians than either you or I have been around this tree, and the ones I know of warn against Theonomy, and I take that seriously. There is not time in my life to reproduce centuries of scriptural research and analysis on every possible topic, so I have to take somebody's word for most things in the end anyways.

  3. I didn't know that there were smarter theologians than you!! :)

    There are many issues and questions that you touch on here. I have so many other things to spend my time with (like baptism), but you touch on a few things that are definitely worthy of responding to. So, here it goes:

    It seems to me that whenever the word "law" is used, it doesn't always refer to the exact same thing. Today, we can talk of the "law of physics" and "the law of gravity." It seems to me that we find that type of talk in Romans 7:23 & 8:2 (maybe). Or maybe the same regarding "the law of the Spirit" or "the law of Christ." I don't know for sure, that's just always been a hunch on my part.

    Regarding Romans 3:31, 6:1 & 6:15, those are huge in the argument for Theonomy. One thing to keep in mind is 'what sin is.' Look at these this verse:

    1John 1:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

    Constantly, Paul is talking about 'not sinning.' In other words, 'do not transgress the law.' See what I mean? Replace the word 'sin' with a made up verb 'lawbreak' or 'lawbreaking' when you're reading Romans and see what you get. Romans 6:1 "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in 'lawbreaking,' that grace may abound?" GOD FORBID!!!

    It's funny, but through my devotions last week I was going through Romans and making notes about how it supports the fact that the law is still valid. Since Paul says 'don't sin' it seems to me he's saying 'don't break the law.' However, I think his push here is to make sure people understand that righteousness and justification DON'T come through us keeping the law. Romans 3:20a "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight:"

    But look in Romans 8. It is a response to Romans 7:24 & 25. Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Jesus Christ!

    Romans 8:3-7: For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

    See how WE are not to walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit? We are not to walk in the flesh because (for) "it is not subject to THE LAW OF GOD." Doesn't this seem like a very apparent contrast that if we walk in the Spirit, then we ARE subject to the law of God? If we walk in the Spirit, then "the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us?" Hmmm, fulfilled. So the definition doesn't matter. Same Greek word as Matt 5:17. So Jesus came to "fulfill" and now the 'requirement' is to be 'fulfilled' in us, too.

    Okay, moving on. Take a look at Bahnsen's "Theonomy in Christian Ethics" (which is available in our church library). The discussion of what 'fulfilled' means starts on page 54. The beginning of references that interpret it as 'confirm' or 'ratified' starts on 59 with none other than Calvin himself! Then to page 67 (at the top) Matthew Henry. Page 70 refers to the Septuagint usage of the same Greek word. The bottom of page 71 starts a discussion of how the word is used to 'confirm' in the New Testament. Page 73 supports that this is not a "novel" interpretation by quoting Calvin, Windisch, George Campbell, David Brown, Charles Spurgeon, Herman Ridderbos, W. C. Allen and John Murray. On the CD that comes with the book now, there is an MP3 file of Bahnsen discussing this issue of fulfill and he gives even more examples of well known scholars and commentators that interpret fulfill as confirm or ratify. (These pages are the numbers in the PDF of “Theonomy” that came with the book of the same title.)

    Now, you mention that “fulfill must mean fulfill” earlier. The problem with that is the very issue is “What DOES fulfill mean?” If we all had agreement on it, then this might be easier to discuss. However, in English there are many possible meanings of this word. On the same MP3 mentioned above, Bahnsen explains how he arrives at his understanding of this word fulfill within its context. In his book, he does this after discussion the 6 other popular ways of explaining it. Bahnsen explains that the Greek word translated in verse 17 of Matthew 5 as “but,” is always used to create a strong contrast or opposite meaning (I’m no grammar whiz by far so I’m not doing the best justice he deserves here). In other words, “I did not come TO DESTROY BUT NOT TO DESTROY.” Because of the word “but,” he says that we KNOW that the greek word we translate as “to fulfill” definitely is the opposite of the greek word we translate as “to destroy.” Then he goes on to say that to help in English, we can look up the word “to destroy” (actually he is saying “to abrogate” in the tape) in the thesaurus and find English antonyms. Among these we find establish or confirm or ratify. Then we need to ask ourselves if we find the same Greek work translated “fulfilled” used elsewhere in the sense of “establish” or “ratify” etc. and lo and behold we definitely do in the Septuagint, the New Testament, and I think he even mentions extra biblical writings, but I could be wrong on that point.

  4. The only thing I want to add at this point about the original introduction to this post, is that I as a Theonomy adherant do not aggree with the point that starts out: “The Christian goal is to return to a society ruled only by Biblical law…” I think that that is “A” Christian goal, not “THE” Christian goal.

  5. Good point. Noted, agreed, and corrected.

    As for whether you have ‘fulfilled’ my question, you certainly quoted a lot of big names, many of which I have heard of. I could also look up a lot of names: of every biblical translation committee, ever! If it’s so clear that this plero’o is not best translated ‘fulfill’, why didn’t any translators come to that conclusion?

    I think it is because Jesus is speaking theologically, not literally. Change focus for a sec to v18, which appears to be an even more sweeping reinforcement of The Law. It seems completely obvious to me that indeed quite a few jots and tittles have passed away from the law; we agree that everything ceremonial/sacrificial has been abrogated.

    So we must seek another way to understand Jesus’ statement; the jots and tittles do not pass away only because they are fulfilled in Jesus’ person and mission (dare I say active obedience?). To add to the paradox, here ‘jot and tittle’ is not meant to illustrate the literality of the ‘letter of the law’ (with which the Pharisees attempted to justify themselves), but the spirit of the law (which the Pharisees perverted).

  6. I think, respectfully, that you’re still missing a couple of my points. Regarding ‘fulfill,’ that is the correct English word to translate into. Unfortunately, it is not a univocal word. There can be many meanings to it, thus the controversy. Today, our common vernacular tends to use it as ‘complete’ or ‘perform.’ As to which meaning we put to it, there are methods to do so. The method I mentioned earlier regarding looking up antonyms to abrogate is one that Bahnsen says is a very widely accepted method in exegesis, though I just gave a short summary of his explanation of that method and am not an expert in exegesis myself.

    I would also take exception to the statement that the ceremonial/sacrificial has been abrogated. Jesus said he didn’t come to abrogate the Law and the Prophets which includes the sacrificial system. The Law and Prophets is an organic whole. You really can’t separate it into sections. Yes, for teaching and understanding, we can show distinctions within the whole, but be careful to cut it up too much. Once again I reger to Bahnsen on this. He explains that we have in the law two aspects. First we have the directives of what to do and what not to do. We might say that this is the moral, civil, penal, or what have you. But it is distinct in that by following these directives perfectly, we are then showing ourselves to be sinless. (Hypothetical! No one is good, no not one! Only Christ was able to do this). Now, what happens if you violate this ‘part’ of the law? You go to God with a sacrifice of some sort, or to your neighbor with restitution of some sort, or to the magistrate for penalty of some sort. See the distinction? The sacrifices are all typological. They foreshadow the REAL sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Hence, we STILL obey the restorative ‘part’ of the law and it’s not really abrogated. Every time we go to Christ for forgiveness, we are following the ‘ceremonial’ law.

    Yes, there is a sense of some tittles or jots that have been abrogated or have passed away. However, I think it’s better to understand that in some sense they are still valid through having either been a foreshadow or type of the real to come. Or the general principal is still binding, etc.

  7. I’m not following you completely; you had a ‘first’ there, but no second. Did you mean two parts, directives and, say, restoration?

    I did (I think) get your point about multiple possible meanings of ‘fulfill’, and I would buy that for the KJV, which was translated hundreds of years ago, but what about NIV (70s?), or the highly-reputable and brand-new ESV, or which 20th century xlation is that which is supposed to be closest to a transliteration (RSV? NAS?)? It would seem that one of the primary objectives of new translations would be to replace words that don’t mean what they used to with words that — in the ever-evolving common vernacular — mean what was actually intended.

    But I don’t think we can productively take this part of the discussion any further; since neither of us are Greek scholars, we have reached the point where we can only argue from authority.

    So what does ‘binding’ mean? I guess that we must do it. Or else…? What about the plenty of penal sanctions in the OT that do not allow for restoration, such as in Ex 21? Under the New Covenant, is forgiveness not available if I curse, dishonor, or revile my mother or father? A law without teeth is no law, but merely an ethic (note that even Bahnsen’s book is titled “Theonomy in Christian Ethics”). I see the distinction between laws and ethics as musts and shoulds. It is not feasible to legislate an ethic; it can only be written as a Law on our hearts, enforced by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

    BTW, I must say that the best idea I’ve heard so far is in terms of the common-sense admonitions such as Rom 3:8, 6:1, 6:15: which remind us of the obvious, that even though grace affords forgiveness, that in no way gives us license to sin. And what is sin, but lawbreaking. Westminster says it even better: Sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of, God’s law. But what is God’s Law?

    So practically speaking, in order to avoid antinomianism, we must seek out what things to do, and what things not to do, and scripture is the standard by which to judge that. And certainly it must be true that (abrogated or not) the OT Law is at least an inspired source of applied ethics, from which we must draw general equity, as appropriate. But the devil is in the details. What does general equity mean? What is to be left up to individual conscience, what is to be enforced legislated (and disciplined (and how)) in the Church, what is to be legislated (and disciplined (and how)) in the state? There’s a lot of fuzzy lines there, that I think Theonomy might be trying too hard to unfuzz.

  8. I get the feeling that this thread is lacking in focus. I would like to see a re-presentation of the basic questions involved.

    These are some of my questions: Which definition of theonomy is being argued? How much of this is about interpreting Mt. 5:17? How much of this is about Bahnsen’s bizarre interpretation of ‘play-rah-oh’ [fulfill]? Why does anyone think Bahnsen was a Greek expert? Why is theonomy (the strict version) the antidote to anti-nomianism? Who here believes that the state should be enforcing OT-NT law?

    I do have some thoughts, but mostly they will have to wait. But for now: (1)In my four semesters of Greek, never once did Bahnsen’s ‘antonym’ theory get presented. (2)The OPC/PCA is all about law-gospel. The law is everywhere presented from the pulpit. Both OT law and NT law. So what’s the big deal? (3)Can someone collate laws in the three groups for me? You know, the moral, the ceremonial, and the sacrificial. A good place to start would be by googling 613 Mitzvot. Give it a try. (4) I will come back tonight, maybe, with some help on the ‘play-rah-oh’ issue. And on Bahnsen’s Greek skills.

  9. Okay, first to reply to RubeRad in #7 above:

    Yes, I meant secondly the restorative.

    Yes, it probably is at the point to go the authorities yourself. I’ve tried to represent what Bahnsen says in hundreds of pages himself and hours and hours of lectures in just a couple of short paragraphs. If you can make the time, I can’t suggest strongly enough reading his book “Theonomy in Christian Ethics.” I believe anybody that wants to argue against Bahnsen and his thesis of Theonomy without having read the book is just being silly. He’s covered all the bases that we’re discussing here and I have yet to see someone come up with a critique that he hasn’t actually already answered in his original book or his follow up to criticisms called “No Other Standard.”

    I’m not sure about the distinction. Ethics to my knowledge is basically the answer to “what OUGHT we to do?” A law is different in that it does need teeth if it is broken, otherwise it is a suggestion. That’s what I’ve heard Bahnsen say at least. So that brings me to being stumped. Yes I admit it, I am stumped on how to answer the “or else what?” question you raise. That’s a good one. At least for the individual with his relationship with God. Maybe our friend LordRon is right in this area. Keep His law or else you’ll be cast out of the church and hence ultimately go to hell. I prefer to look at it from the other perspective though, a truly regenerate person has God’s law written on his heart, therefore he WILL keep God’s law and persevere to the end.

    It’s easier to identify the “or else what’s?” for the sheres of authority God has given us though. The family has direction from scripture on how to enforce the law’s that God gives into that sphere. More easily identifiable is the sanctions that the church has, such as the ultimate of excommunication. The easiest is the sanctions that the state has been given by God. Only it can bear the sword and we have something like 18 transgressions that call for execution.

    The state has is not allowed to show mercy when due process bears out the guilt of one accused. This does not mean that there is no restoration available to the person. That’s why we evangelize those on death row. They may confess Christ and be converted but this is no reason to stay their execution. Ultimately every violation of God’s law is a violation against God. David said he sinned against God when he murdered Uriah. The Last Day will bear out the “or else’s” that have been left undone, I dare say.

    I think you put too much distrust in the fuzzy lines thing. Theonomy is trying to get us back to the clear cut explanations that the case law gives us. It actually helps put hedges around the summary found in the decologue so that there are less issues to figure out, not more. The only thing fuzzy is that the rituals and ceremonies were precursors to the real thing, i.e. Christ’s sacrifice and Him now making intercession for us, etc. That doesn’t seem that hard or fuzzy either. When we try to go only by the big ten and ignore the rest, we make it MORE difficult to figure out what God meant by “Don’t murder” or “Don’t commit adultery.” It is His Grace that gave us the description of the decologue in the case, judicial, ceremonial, and penal parts of His law.

    Theonomy is basically saying that all people in all areas of life are to go to the scriptures and use it as their direction on answering the question “what ought I to do?” If it is a civil magistrate, then he knows for the sake of society and justice, he must put to death those who are found guilty after due process of violating God’s law where it commands the death penalty. If it is a church, then the church knows to excommunicate an unrepentant adulterer. If due process can occur for the same person, then the state simultaneously would be prosecuting that person and executing if there were two witnesses, etc.

    Okay, done for now. Coming soon my reply for Bruce.

  10. Bruce, welcome to the discussion. I look forward to meeting you! I hope that this discussion stays within Christian graciousness and that we all understand tone of voice, emotion, and such, do NOT translate well with text. That being said, I only want to write with an attitude of humbleness and sincere fellowship and discussion. Please don’t take anything I say as hostile or otherwise negative.

    Regarding the lack of focus, I’ll just say that RubeRad has basically been just putting me to task, asking questions of me regarding Theonomy. Hence the train of thought has been RubeRad asking questions, raising objections, etc. and then me answering them. I think if you just read the very beginning again, you’ll see what is being presented regarding Theonomy. I am a big Bahnsen fan and hold to his thesis of Theonomy as put forth in his doctoral thesis later published as the book “Theonomy in Christian Ethics.”

    Simply stated: “All of God’s law (every ethical directive or principle found in the entire Old Testament) is still binding today unless the Lawgiver Himself (in the New Testament) does away with a particular part.” That’s the definition being argued.

    How much depends upon Matthew 5:17. A lot and yet not much. We have been centering on it because I brought it up and Bahnsen spends a great deal of establishing his thesis with that section of scripture. So we have spent a great deal of time on it. However, the entire New Testament has so much to offer that Theonomy (hereafter understood when written by me to be defined with above definition) by no means stands or falls solely with this text.

    How much depends upon Bahnen’s interpretation of fulfill? Bizarre, huh? I mentioned MANY other well respected authorities that Bahnsen is simply just agreeing with. If it is bizarre, then I guess Jean Calvin himself was bizarre, right? Bahnsen by no means is pushing the limit, walking the line, or introducing ANYTHING new with his understanding of what ‘fulfill’ means. How much depends? Same answer as previous paragraph.

    Why does anyone think Bahnsen was a Greek expert? I’ll answer this question, but really it doesn’t have relevance, because if you read carefully, nowhere did I explicitly or implicitly infer that he was a Greek expert. You’ll note that I was actually infering that he was an expert in ‘exegesis’ and I will definitely stand my ground on that. Wow! What a genius he was. Even his opponents would grant him that (genius).

    Greek expert? I have to say that he probably was or at least was very adept with the language. I say this not only from the many pages he’s written that I have read, but also the MANY hours of lectures I’ve listed to him from tape. By heart when discussing in question and answer periods he states Greek words and then talks about the tenses moods etc. Many things that I haven’t learned yet, but hope to soon. This guy had at least one doctorate (I think maybe two), a masters degree from seminary and taught seminary. He was definitely by no means a novice, and has shown himself to be quite proficient at least.

    Antidote to antinomianism. This one I won’t defend. I didn’t declare it. This is RubeRad’s impression of Theonomy. Me, I don’t know about antinomianism. All I know is that God gave His law and that until Heaven and Earth pass away, His law is still here and valid, even for the magistrates.

    I do! :) I believe that the state should be enforcing the laws that God has assigned them to enforce. Only the state has been given the power of the sword as Romans 13 states. Anything in the OT that demands execution therefore is in the states ‘sphere.’ There may be overlap with the church, but the church doesn’t bear the sword.

    I must pause here. Let me explain that I am now in the realm of ‘ideals.’ I don’t believe that if a small few of us could somehow seize power and enforce the death penalty for the duly processed and shown to be guilty of sodomy, that we ‘should’ enforce it. I believe that society first and foremost needs to be evangelized and then properly discipled (Theonomy being only one area of proper discipleship) before the society will start accepting God’s law as their rule, even in the civil sphere (which should never be secular).

    1. Okay, I touched on this a little. If you go back and read what I explained about the ‘antonym’ theory, this wasn’t talking about a method to interpret a Greek word. I even said, yes, the proper English word is ‘fulfill’ and so does Bahnsen. This is an exegetical method, not a Greek translation method. Nobody knows what the English word ‘fulfill’ actually means for some reason. It has way too many possible definitions. The method is and exegetical one to help understand what the English means since in our day and age, ‘fulfill’ in that context is confusing. You wouldn’t have so many different commentators giving so many different possibilities if that weren’t true. So, you’ve got two years of Greek right? What is the Greek word for the English ‘but’ in that context? Bahnsen insists that it is ALWAYS used as a direct contradiction. In other words, in that context, it has to mean “I did not come to abrogate BUT NOT to abrogate.” What do you think on this point? Can the word ‘but’ in this context be taken differently?

    2. The big deal may just be the slackening of our attention to God’s law. I believe the church in America, including the Reformed circles and the OPC/PCA has become unbalanced against the proper understanding and use of God’s law. We might give the law lip service. We might even apply it today in our own lives to some extent and maybe even the church’s. But, where are the Christian lawyers making a difference? The Christian politicians willing to stand for God’s law? The Christian politicians barely differ from the non-Christian politicians this day. Sure, they may vote pro-life and anti-homo, but that’s about it. If they were properly trained like a Theonomist would train them, then maybe we would see much less tyranny from the government and the government would not be usurping God’s authoritiy in the so many areas that it does now. I submit that Theonomy is the correct way to view ethics and that with it, society enjoys the most freedom and the least tyranny.

    3. Your point on the three groups is understood and agreed with. That’s why I have to say that there is one law, God’s. That’s not to say that there aren’t distinctions. Theonomy is a basic tenet. There is room within Theonomy for disagreement. Rushdooney somehow wanted to keep the dietary laws. (I don’t know how!) Bahnsen on the other hand sees that the New Testament did away with them. However, I submit that to exegete the law (there are only 613 of them; how hard can it be?) is necessary and even though it may be difficult in some aspects, it can be done with the help of the Holy Spirit, our teacher. Just because something is hard, is that any reason to reject it?

    4. I would like to suggest that if you want to criticize Bahnsen’s Greek skills, please do it with actual examples from Bahnsen himself and not what I’ve tried to represent him as saying. We may find that I didn’t do a good job in representing him and then you’d just be criticizing a misrepresentation anyway. I’m interested in your take on ‘fulfill.’

    This is taking way too much time! I’m way past bed time now and didn’t even get some other really important reading done. Oh well. Hopefully it will bear fruit.


  11. So for Theonomy, does the term ‘Christian Liberty’ in the New Covenant mean anything more than ‘You don’t need to sacrifice animals anymore, you don’t need to be kosher anymore, and you don’t need to be circumcised anymore’? I’m trying to think what else it could mean — eating food sacrificed to idols? Yay!

    And if you make a distinction between penalty (i.e. state-administered execution) and restitution (i.e. justification by faith for the death-row inmate), is the penalty not the same as the Curse of the Law? One can be forgiven a sin, and yet have to bear the punishment for it?

  12. Without commenting too much on the topic, because it would be too long and a waste of time (RubeRad is wise, as shown in his “scholars around the tree” comment), I do want to comment on two things: 1, I’m impressed by the gracious tone in your discussion. I half expected some Gary North-like zingers somewhere in there. 2, this sounds like a good Hoagies & Stogies topic (a hint to the soon-to-be H&S man). I look forward to seeing all 3 of you on Saturday.

  13. Wise?  I'm just trying to keep my mouth shut

    Indeed, I definitely hope to make this a H&S topic. I really want to focus it on a very specific question, though. "Theonomy: Pro/Con" is just way too broad, and probably somewhat of a moving target. I'm also wondering whether to invite Kazooless, or LordRon, or Wagner to present the pro side. I think I would ask Keith (or maybe Dr. Tom, but I'm not sure he would be interested (or able to stick to a time limit!) to be con.

  14. Maybe I can find some time tonight to add some analysis of play-RAH-oh. One doesn’t become an expert in Greek via the Greek curriculum at WSCAL. But, among many other things, including obviously reading/translating, one is trained how to use the tools for exegetical purposes and sermon prep- many of which tools I have. About all I could do is present data so that you can draw your own conclusions.

    I still want a list of OT laws I need to be obeying. I can supply the list of NT laws you need to be obeying if you like.

  15. I still want a list of OT laws I need to be obeying.

    Over on your site, kazooless has repeated the number 613, and I've heard him cite the figure "about 600", so I guess this is the list (although I guess some extra exegesising is required to divide that list into 'play-RAY-oh by Christ', and 'directly binding on me')

    I can supply the list of NT laws you need to be obeying if you like.

    Love God, Love your Neighbor covers a lot of territory, but the devil is in the details — and where are those details?  If you have just a link, go ahead and post it, but if it's a long exposition, why not set it up as an independent post on your blog?

    In one of the Morecraft sermons linked above, he gives a story of a Theonomist debating a ??, where somehow he got the guy to agree that bestiality is OK because it is not prohibited in the NT!! It seems to me that the very many NT passages covering sexual immorality easily cover this case.

  16. Quickly, the list is not a focus I’ve personally arrived at compiling yet. You could go to Rushdooney’s Institutes of Biblical Law for one Theonomists answer to that question.

    However, more importantly, I want to point out something here. The basic tenet of Theonomy is what I’m arguing for here. Within the camp of those that accept that basic tenet, there is much room for liberty and disagreement on the details. So one Theonomist might come up with a list of 200 and another 600. But that really doesn’t matter as much because the basic tenet is trying to get Christians back to submitting to God’s law as the “Standard” or “Ruler” by which we measure any “modern” law we want to enact today. Hence, we come up with a speed limit law based on the railing around your roof law found in the OT. We determine what due process means via God’s law. When we use it and find one guilty of murder via due process, he is then sentenced to death because of the “standard” that God’s law gave us. Some might say the stoning needs to be re-enacted, while others say that execution is sufficient and the manner in which it is carried out is different.

    More importantly though is reasoning I want to make sure everyone is aware of that ‘could’ be in your minds that isn’t correct. It is fallacious to say to yoursef, “if so and so then that means such and such. If such and such, then so and so must be wrong!”

    See, even if ‘so and so’ did logically follow that ‘such and such’ were true, you can’t determine wether ‘so and so’ is true by that method. You must first examine the arguments for ‘so and so’ to determine if it is true. If you THEN find that it is, THEN you see if ‘such and such’ follows.

    Does that make sense? Okay, blessings to all.

  17. I’m guessing what you mean with all the so and such is what you expressed to me more clearly in person, which (to straddle specificity and generality) sounds like:

    If Theonomy is true, then I have to obey law X. Since law X is ridiculous, then Theonomy must be wrong.

    I agree that in general we should not approach the the bible with a list of things we will not submit to, but sometimes fallacies in very complex arguments can only be uncovered with the assistance of concrete counterexamples.

  18. FYI, here is a review of Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law from John Frame of WTS(PA). I skimmed it, and found that after an opening deliberately (possibly perfunctorily) positive section, most of the review is negative. From that opening section though, here is an interesting paragraph:

    Those who object to Rushdoony’s position on the civil law must examine themselves to make sure that their objections do not arise out of distaste for the law itself. There are various arguments against his view which arise out of legitimate exegetical and biblico-theological concerns (see below); yet it is hard to understand on the basis of those theological arguments alone the horror sometimes expressed at his position. Is it possible that to some extent these reactions arise simply because we don’t want a society which executes homosexuals, forbids hybridization and transplants (pp. 253ff), legislates against sexual intercourse during menstruation (pp. 427ff), etc.? If indeed we object to these laws as such, then we are questioning the wisdom of God, and that is sin. Moral offense at these statutes is moral offense at God’s word, his covenant rule. Whatever position we take on the present normativity of these laws, we must learn how to delight in them, to be thankful that God gave them to Israel, to covet the happiness which obedience to such laws must have brought to faithful Israelites. We dare not presume to oppose Rushdoony out of a humanistically tainted moral vision.

  19. Sometimes I wonder why I am in an intellectual argument with someone so much more educated with me. I have to pull up so many times because of you! And to make it worse, for some reason I can’t just copy and paste from the comments. I don’t understand why not.

    Yes, Frame’s paragraph you quote above makes sense and I agree to most of his point. That’s also one of the same reasons I have a problem with some of the recent writing I’ve read from our friend on consumation justice. I am seeing God’s direction being judged in a way I don’t think we have the right to judge.

  20. Use of sesquipedelian words is a good way to intimidate in any argument! I will continue to dictionary you into submission with my logorrhea (on my Blogorrhea)!

    Another interesting paragraph from Frame, implying that Rushdoony & Kline are (in the manner you suggest above) in the same camp, but merely exercising their liberty for disagreement (and he drives it back to details):

    These arguments are cogently presented and effective, I would say, against any position suggesting that God’s law as such is not binding. It is possible, however, to renounce antinomianism, to affirm our continuing obligation to obey God’s commands, and still to disagree with Rushdoony as to what particular obligations bind us today. The arguments against antinomianism call in question much Lutheran, dispensational, and modernist thinking on these matters, but they do not serve to establish Rushdoony’s distinctive view of the civil law as over against that of, say, Professor Meredith Kline. Those holding the alternative view would agree with Rushdoony that God’s law is binding, even upon civil magistrates, even upon political and social institutions, while disagreeing with him as to the specific ordinances now in effect. I am inclined to think that Rushdoony expects too much of the arguments against antinomianism and says too little on the precise question at issue within the Reformed camp, namely, what laws are now binding?

  21. Well, from everything I know about Kline (which is very little), I know he is against Theonomy for sure, so I’m not so sure that they disagree in the manner I suggest above.

    I find it interesting that Frame is inclined to think that Rushdoony “says too little on…” “…what laws are now binding?” He’s got 3 volumes written on that specific subject called “Institutes for Biblical Law.”

    I refuse to look up that word!

  22. That’s also one of the same reasons I have a problem with some of the recent writing I’ve read from our friend on consumation justice. I am seeing God’s direction being judged in a way I don’t think we have the right to judge.

    Reading that admonition, I bet you have a problem with this:

    Galatians 3:24-25 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

    Talk about making a judgment about the law! After Paul’s earthshaking, thunderous analysis, my suppositions are lost in the noise. Although no less true, perhaps.

    What do you think this “tutor” is teaching? It is this: that we are unable to keep this law, that we are unable to fulfill our covenant obligations – and that we should be looking for the covenant servant who is able to fulfill the law for us.

    This fulfilling of the law is his active obedience. This is his role as the second Adam. This is his completion of the probationary task(s) (John 17:4).

  23. Okay Bruce, we don’t know each other yet so I’m not sure how to take this last post or your latest comment on your own blog. I was trying to keep it anonymous above so as not to go overboard or offend. It seems like there is a ‘barb’ of sarcasm in your last comment. I in no way am interested in anything that could put discord between brothers and I want to make sure that anything I am saying in response to questions is not cause for offense to you. I am only interested in continuing an intellectually honest discussion of the topics at hand with brotherly love and fellowship. Let me know directly if you feel that I’ve crossed the line. This discussion isn’t worth it to me if somebody is going to be angry with me for it. I’m just trying to be completely sincere and open to my questioner (RubeRad) who seems to genuinely be intrigued by my Theonomic position.

    In regards to your question above and your quotation of Galations 3:24-25 I will answer by showing the contrast of Paul’s statement to some of yours that I was referring to. Then you and the readers can be the judge of what I meant.

    Quote from Bruce: “The question is how can it be that in one breath God orders the execution of Abraham’s child and in a later breath lays down the law that says if a parent executes his child to the god Molech, that parent shall be executed? It should go without saying that this sort of murderous killing had long been excoriated.”

    1st question is fine by me and a valid question. The second statement to me is one that seems to be bordering on judging God with an inappropriate attitude. You are accusing God of commanding a ‘murderous killing.’

    Quote from Bruce: “How do you resolve this glaring contradiction in the Bible? Read Psalm 69 especially verses 18-28. Now read Luke 6:27-35.”

    Just pointing out that that’s a strong statement leaving yourself no room for being wrong about the contradiction being ‘glaring.’ Maybe it’s just a ‘seemingly’ contradiction but not one at all? Could it be that the scenarios or the contexts don’t have continuity? Is the word “enemy” being used equivocally here?

    Quote from Bruce: “Read Exodus 20, specifically verses 13 and 15. Now read Deuteronomy 3:1-7. Here we have both murder and stealing. Of course, this is not the only example of this kind of “atrocity” in Israel’s dark past.”

    Another ‘judgement.’ Israel’s dark past being referred to here isn’t the part in history where they rebelled against God. In this passage, THEY OBEYED GOD, and yet their obediance to God is being called an “atrocity” and a “dark past.”

    If you quote me correctly, you’ll see above that I mention “God’s direction being judged.” In context I was speaking about references such as what I’ve quoted above. I hardly think that what Paul was doing in the Galations scripture comes even close to attributing to God “attrocities,” self-contradiction, and murderous killing.

    Instead, Paul is telling us nothing about how bad the law is, or reprehensible, or ugly, or murderous, or contradictory or attrocious. He’s just showing that somehow we learn from it that we might be justified by faith, which has ALWAYS been true. Certainly Paul is not contradicting himself when in Romans he tells us in chapter 7 verse 12 “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”

    So, no, as one dedicated to “Scripture Alone” yet “All of Scripture” I do not at all have a problem with Paul and Galations 3:24-25. I do have a check in my spirit when I read others accusing God of the things I mention above.

    Praise the Lord! He is my Rock and my Salvation!

    BTW, I do believe in the “Active Obedience” of Christ as being imputed to me, and you, and RubeRad, and all of His elect. Just so you know for sure one thing that I stand on.

    Bless you Bruce.

  24. I guess if I had thrown the word “seemingly” in everywhere and stuck to “sacrifice” in lieu of “murderous killing”, and avoided hyperbole as a rhetorical device maybe then my readers would be better able to focus on the argument rather than the questions leading to the argument.

    What is a “check in my spirit”?

  25. “Check in my Spirit” = Hesitancy

    Same feeling I get when I’m tempted to sin

  26. How can I get one of those?

  27. You reformed guys from birth just need to learn how to interpret a reformed guy with a charismatic background, that’s all. I’m sure there is an “approved” term in reformed circles for the exact same thing. Silly.

  28. ‘Reformed from birth’ — HA!

    I was pagan until age 9, charismatic/pentecostal/nondenom until somewhere in my 20s, and have only come to know and love the rigor of Reformed doctrine over the last 4 years!

    Dad was born & bapt & bred CSC, spent many years in a period of ‘un-intensified sanctification’ before getting slammed by the HS w/speaking in tongues (see me above at age 9 (hold the tongues)), and also only rejoined the Reformed community within the past 5yr or so.

    Maybe ‘check in my spirit’ arose only recently…?

  29. Hey Guys,

    Great topic, I just had a chance to read this discussion. I haven’t had much time to study this doctrine (I’m still in the 16th and 17th century), but it has always interested me.

    I have a strong tendancy to agree with the thesis stated above. “All of God’s law is still binding today unless the Lawgiver Himself does away with a particulary part” The only problem is that I am confused at how this applies to the civil laws. My hope is that the state would use the Bible as a model for legislation (BTW, all laws are legislation of someones morality), but do I really mean this. I mean you could be stoned for disrespecting your parents, that means I should have been prosecuted and convicted of the death penalty.

    I have thought that God’s will for government has been revealed in the OT. Is this really true? Or was the purpose of the theocratic system primarily intended to preserve the Seed? And, have many of the commands served there ordained function of detering God’s covenant people from apostisizing too much until the Messiah was born?

    I concede that I don’t know the answer if Theonomy is good or bad. My gut is that it probably is good in some form or fashion. And I definitely do not feel comfortable telling others, which laws are okay to break.

  30. Mike S.,

    The more you study God’s laws such as the incorrigible child law, you start to realize just how gracious and just and merciful God was in giving us even his penal sanctions to use for all time for all civilizations as an outworking of his ‘common grace.’

    A rebellious ‘child’ was one that was guilty of drunkenness and beating up ones father as part of his guilt. So, first of all what we call a ‘child’ and what this law is referring to are two different things. This was at least a teen ager.

    This was basically a repeat offender that would not repent and behave himself and could not be made to deal peaceably in society. I believe our modern ‘3 strikes law’ is one with similar principles. This is God’s grace to the society to keep the society protected from these evil doers. It was also His grace to those that might lean toward being one of those repeat offenders but because of this law stays in his place and doesn’t cross the line.

    There are many reasonable answers to all sorts of these questions that the more and more you learn of Theonomy’s view toward God’s law, the more you realize it is just what God is revealing through His Word. Sola Scriptura, dude.

    If you are really interested in solving this problem for yourself, I HIGHLY recommend getting the latest print of “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” by Greg L. Bahnsen. It comes with a CD that has all three of Bahnsen’s Theonomy books in PDF format, over 15 MP3 lectures on the subject, and several more PDF arcticles. You can also look for free arcticles by Bahnsen at

    Bless you all everybody, I think I must be done with this thread if I’m to get back to a normal life of sleep. See you at H&S!


  31. […] In regards to Theonomy, I have learned that it is definitely not a single target. Everybody has their own specifically nuanced definition of the details. Apparently Rushdoony is a crackpot, and Bahnsen is more worth investing my research. But I still don't buy into the fundamentals of what (I think I have learned) Theonomy is all about. I think it makes too much of the Old Testament Law, and there is too much New Testament it can't account for. For instance: […]

  32. […] I have done a lot of reading, blogging (I, II, III), talking, and listening, and in the end, I have decided that Theonomy is not scripturally justified. And just to be crystal clear, what I mean by ‘Theonomy’ is specifically the Theonomic conclusion that God expects that civil magistrates uphold Mosaic death penalties for violation of 1st table laws, i.e. apostasy, idolatry, blasphemy, and sabbath-breaking. It seemed very clear to me that this position is required for any consistent Theonomist, and if you can swallow that, then it would be a cinch to accept other executable offenses, such as incorrigibility, adultery, witchcraft, sodomy, bestiality, kidnapping, rape, and murder. But this post is not about those second-table offenses. […]

  33. In response to comment #32 above, most of the time a discussion about Theonomy whittles itself down to the idea that the 1st table penal sanctions should still be enforced today by civil magistrates.


    But to define Theonomy as the “belief that God expects that civil magistrate uphold Mosaic death penalties for violation of 1st talbe laws…” is very misleading and inaccurate statement. It sadly leaves out very much of what Theonomy teaches. What’s the logical fallacy that focuses on a small point to the exclusion of the whole in order to disprove the whole?

  34. It’s not a logical fallacy. If the small point is a correct conclusion of the thesis, and if the small point is false, then the thesis is false (i.e. not 100% true). This is exactly why I am focusing on this small point. It’s proof by contradiction:
    p implies q; not q ==> not p

    To be more accurate, however, I should not say “I disagree with Theonomy, which equals 1st table death penalties, and to show that let’s just focus on 1st table death penalties”, I should say “The premise of Theonomy requires 1st table death penalties to be fully consistent. Therefore, I focus on 1st table death penalties to demonstrate that Theonomy is not correct.”

    Also, I am not trying to disprove all of Theonomy, only the parts which are wrong. One ‘part’ of Theonomy is that the Bible is the infallible word of God. That part’s just fine. Another part is that the Mosaic Law is a shadow that partly reveals to the Christian God’s True Law for how to live his life. That part’s just fine.

    The conclusion that is not correct is civil 1st table laws & death penalties. This incorrect conclusion is the result of the incorrect assumption that God’s Law is a valid political example for non-covenant bodies.

  35. I have tweaked the wording of the statement…

  36. […] A while back, I quoted John M. Frame’s review of Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law. Buried in another comment thread, I recently provided a link to Frame’s article “Machen’s Warrior Children”. I highly recommend that all (Reformed Christian) readers of this blog go and read that article. Here is the abstract, to give you a flavor of what it is about: From 1923 to the present, the movement begun by J. Gresham Machen and Westminster Theological Seminary has supplied the theological leadership for the conservative evangelical Reformed Christians in the United States. Under that leadership, conservative Calvinists made a strong stand against liberal theology. But having lost that theological battle in the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., they turned inward to battle among themselves about issues less important—in some cases, far less important—than liberalism. This essay describes 21 of these issues, with some subdivisions, and offers some brief analysis and evaluations. It concludes by raising some questions for the Reformed community to consider: Was it right to devote so much of the church’s time and effort to these theological battles? Did the disputants follow biblical standards for resolution of these issues? Was the quality of thought in these polemics worthy of the Reformed tradition of scholarship? Should the Reformed community be willing to become more inclusive, to tolerate greater theological differences than many of the polemicists have wanted? […]

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