Principle and Application

(If you haven’t read it yet, back up to the previous post)

A thoughtful conclusion from G. I. Williamson:

What we need, then, is to get away from mere reaction to the word theonomy. Instead, we need to get down to specifics. If you say you’re a theonomist, fine but tell me (as Calvin did) what this particular case law means for today. What is the principle in it, and how does it apply? If you cannot do that, then it is neither here nor there to me that you are a theonomist.

Likewise, if you come to me and say you’re not a theonomist, I will say, “Fine! But now you show me the principle here, and its application.” If the best you can say is “Well, that’s Old Testament, and we’re New Testament Christians,” then I will not be able to buy your antitheonomic position. What we need, then, is an end to knee-jerk reactions and name-calling. We need, instead, to start treating one another with respect, and to discuss our differences patiently, carefully, and — above all — calmly, with constant reference to the text of the Bible.


47 Responses

  1. […] In my previous short post, when Williamson says "as Calvin did", he refers to Calvin's A Harmony of the Law, a four-volume work on Exodus — Deuteronomy. Four books = four volumes is merely a coincidence, as the work is organized by the Ten Commandments, with the rest of the Law sliced and diced into his judgement of which Commandment each individual Law demonstrates. Looking around on the web, I discovered that the complete texts for all four volumes (1 2 3 4) are available online from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (as well as for Calvin's commentaries on all of the books of the bible, (as well as the apparently complete works of Calvin (as well as as the work of other theologians starting with 'C' (heck, the whole alphabet's in there!)))). Not only can the works be read online, in HTML, but each work has an "About this book" link that contains links to downloadable .rtf or .xml versions as well! How cool is that? […]

  2. I have been asking for specifics for some time – you know, the list. I want the list. And I can’t wait to see the civil authorities carry out the demands of Lev 24:16. This will be a public execution won’t it?

  3. On the one hand, the 1646 WC listed as one of the duties of the Civil Magistrate "that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed".

    On the other hand, I for one don't want to hand over to any body outside the church the authority to judge what is and isn't blasphemy! This alone seems a good reason to have excised the Civil Magistrate chapter from the confession, although exhaustive explanations probably have a lot more to say about King George III.

    On the gripping hand, Calvin approved of the public execution of Servetus for heresy/blasphemy (pleading only that burning was too cruel, he recommended the sword). See here (scroll down to III)

  4. Offline, Jeff & I have been exchanging some emails discussing the logical principal of reductio ad absurdum. This is a perfect example:

    If (Theonomy) then (the state has authority to judge blasphemy and penalize it with death).

    That's not absurd in the Theocracy of OT Israel, where there is no separation of church and state, but it's pretty absurd after the expiration of OT Israel.

    As for the absurdity of the state convicting and executing for homosexuality, I can't say I like the idea, but as Williamson points out, it is certainly preferable to a state that allows genocide against babies. 

  5. Clarify this [If (Theonomy) then (the state has authority to judge blasphemy and penalize it with death).] please. Are you saying that no position on theonomy exists that includes that particular law as being under the aegis of the state and therefore, to bring it into the discusion, one is guilty of a reductio ad absurdum? If no theonomist holds this position, why not? On what grounds is it being excluded? Is this law not in the list of 613?

    One final question: Why is not your comment above not a license to refer to theonomy as absurd from here on out?

  6. It is my understanding that Theonomists do attribute to the State authority to execute for blasphemy. (Note that the proscription against blasphemy is even reinforced in the NT, so this can't be an abrogated law).

    And the point would be that if the reductio ad absurdum argument is valid, then indeed some premise of Theonomy is false. Which may just mean that Theonomy has a lot of good stuff to say about a proper understanding of OT Law, they just have no business enforcing OT penology in the civil sphere!

    The only way for Theonomy to wriggle out of the argument is to either deny the inference (explain how/why Theonomy does not affirm that the state has the authority to execute blasphemers), or explain why the consequence (state executing blasphemers) is not absurd.

    It would seem that the latter strategy is preferable, as Theonomy can enlist Calvin v. Servetus, while we would have to take the unfamiliar position that Calvin (and all of his buddies) were wrong to execute Servetus.

  7. Okay, you asked for specifics, I’ll give you a specific on this one.

    First of all, please quote the law you’re referring to about “blasphemy.” It’s not saying that any blasphemer is worthy of death.

    Second of all, when the law that is inadequately referred to above is properly understood, then yes, many a Theonomist, including myself, would say that God requires even today for those truly guilty of the real offense spoken about in those texts to be executed.

    Thirdly, since a Theonomist doesn’t accept the correct conclusion from the premise AS ABSURD, it no longer becomes a usable argument. Or, the reductio ad absurdum is ‘weak’ as the wikipedia explains ( In other words, both parties have to agree that the conclusion follows AND is absurd in order to use that type of argument successfully.

    When somebody quotes the old testament law in question, I’ll be happy to give a specific explanation of how it is to be used today.

    Bruce: Do you believe that morality/justice is universal?

  8. As referenced above, Lev 24:16:

    Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.

    The argument is effective for any who believe the absurdity. Certainly you and I cannot come to agreement that the argument is effective if we don't both believe the inference and the absurdity of the consequence. But it may well be that the reason we disagree about the elements of the logical argument is because one of us is wrong about the elements of the logical argument. In particular, if you cannot dissuade me that Theonomy affirms the inference, and the consequence is absurd, then I am logically obliged to believe that Theonomy has an invalid premise in this respect.

    And I'll also take a stab at this: yes, morality/justice is universal, but 'vengeance is mine, saith the LORD'; it is not always appropriate for Christians, churches, states, or societies to pass judgment.

  9. Since I’m at work, I’ll wait to reply to Leviticus until tonight so I can give you good attention on it.


    Was it moral/just for David to execute a (properly convicted)murderer?

    Is it moral/just for G.W.Bush to execute a (properly convicted) murderer?

    Romans 12:19 “19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “VENGEANCE is Mine, I will repay,”[a] says the Lord.”

    Romans 13:4 “4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an AVENGER to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

    Context, Context, Context

    Why does Paul immediately after saying “overcome evil with good” go into a discourse about the Civil Magistrate?

    How does Paul define ‘evil?’

  10. Okay, I promised to give you an answer on the detail regarding “Blasphemy” and Leviticus 24:16. Here is my own opinion and then quite a few quotes from Bahnsen. I quote Bahnsen since in these discussions I am unashamedly defending him as who I have learned from and who I am using as my authority on the thesis of Theonomy. I quote much so as to give you a full in-context sense for his opinion on this matter as well. You asked for it!!! :)

    First of all, if God at one time felt that publicly cursing God was enough of a social crime as to warrant death, I think we need to take a step back and consider our own attitude towards blasphemy. What is it that has taught us to think that capital punishment doesn’t meet the crime? Why do we think that execution is an ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’ punishment for publicly cursing God? I submit to you that this is very similar to the unbeliever that just can’t fathom that God would eternally send someone to hell for his sins. “I’m a good person, how can God punish me eternally for that?” You see, this is blindness caused by sinful nature. Maybe the problem is the sinner and not God. Maybe we think too little of the crime. What are the “morally relevant changes” that made it moral and just for David to execute a blasphemer but immoral and unjust for Bush to execute a blasphemer? Morality is universal and the only change between then and now that matters has to be ‘morally’ relevant.

    Second of all, I believe this is one of those laws that can not be implemented by force. Society in general has to willingly and cheerfully submit to being ruled by God’s law, before this law can be put back in force. In the early puritan days, this law was the first of the capital crimes they mentioned in New England.

    Thirdly, a society that allows the public cursing of God is a society that shows very little regard for Him. On the other hand, a society that executes one who has the audacity to publicly curse God is a society that shows very high regard for Him.

    Fourth, this is a public act we are speaking of; something that can be witnessed and testified to. It is not a belief. The magistrate is not forcing a matter of conscience upon the offender. It is enforcing a code of public behavior.

    That is my personal opinion. To follow are quotes from Bahnsen. I think if you read them all you’ll get a sense for how well rounded and well thought out this guy can be. Enjoy.

    “The law does not grant the state the right to enforce matters of conscience (thus granting “freedom of religion”), but it does have the obligation to prohibit and restrain public unrighteousness (thus punishing crimes from rape to public blasphemy). The state is not an agent of evangelism and does not use its force to that end; it is an agent of God, avenging His wrath against social violations of God’s law. If one’s outward behavior is within the bounds of the law he has nothing to fear from the civil magistrate—even if one is an idolator, murderer, or whatever in his heart.” Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, Pg. 414

    “Effects of Punishment

    When the magistrate carries out the dictate of justice in executing one who has committed a capital crime according to God’s law, this has the effect of purging the land of evil and restraining others from committing similar crimes (Deut. 13:5, 11). Scripture lists the following as capital offenses against God: murder (Ex. 21:12; Num. 35:31), adultery and unchastity (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:21, 23), sodomy and bestiality (Lev. 18:23; 20:15; Ex. 22:19), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), rape (Deut. 22:25), incest (Lev. 20:11, 14), incorrigibility in children (Ex. 21:15, 17; Deut. 21:20 f.), sabbath breaking (Ex. 31:14; Num. 15:32 ff.; Ex. 35:2), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7), apostasy (Lev. 20:2; Deut. 13:6-17), witchcraft, sorcery, and false pretension to prophecy (Ex. 22:18; Lev. 20:27; Deut. 13:5; 18:20), and blasphemy (Lev. 24:10-16). With respect to social affairs the Lord looks with so much scorn upon these crimes that He commands the state to execute those who commit them. Christians do well at this point to adjust their attitudes so as to coincide with those of their Heavenly Father. Remember the seriousness of the penal law. Not even refuge sought by the altar could protect those who were guilty of capital crimes (Ex. 21:14; cf. 1 Kings 2:28, 34); not even cherished friends or relatives are exempt from the death penalty when they have violated God’s law (Deut. 13:6-9). The application of capital punishment to appropriate criminals contributes to the expiration of evil and produces reverence for God’s righteousness; it demonstrates and preserves the sanctity of life, truth, family, sex, property, and authority. It is not without significance that the major problems facing society today are listed among those things which God adjudges to be things worthy of capital punishment.” Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, Pg 431

    “Is blasphemy less heinous in God’s eyes today, or less destructive of social justice, or less relevant to the concerns of “God’s minister” in the state? It is perfectly true, as some point out, that the “evil” which Paul says the magistrate should punish (Rom. 13:4) must be restricted, since not all sins are crimes. But the reasonable thing seems to be to restrict it according to the law of God, not to make it more restrictive than the law of God!” Bahnsen, By This Standard, Pg. 334

    “5. Note well that punishing public idolatry or blasphemy is not to punish unbelief as such – any more than punishing a rapist is to punish the person for being an unbeliever (as indicated by his wicked deed). Furthermore, the Old Testament law did not punish with civil sanctions the making of a theological mistake, but rather false presumption to prophecy (inspiration).” Bahnsen, No Other Standard, Pg. 183

    “About the law of God, it should have been noticed that what the civil magistrate is called to punish is blasphemy (public cursing of God), not errors in doctrine. In the Old Testament the task of kings was not the same as priests (e.g., 2 Chron. 26) who were responsible for orthodoxy (cf. Mal. 2:7-8), even as in the New Testament the “keys” of the kingdom are separated from the coercive “sword” of the state (Matt. 16:19; 2 Cor. 10:4, Rom.13:4). There is no Biblical warrant for thinking that the civil magistrate has either the competence or the divinely-given authority to judge heretics or resolve theological disputes between different Christian schools of thought.” Bahnsen, No Other Standard, Pg. 184

    “I have no doubt that until our society is converted to a submission to God’s word, is brought to think God’s thoughts after Him, and willingly enacts laws against subversion to idolatry and blasphemy, the very idea of punishing such misdeeds will seem “rigid and problematic.” But I think that our society should be changed, rather than the law of God. The justice of God’s penal code (Heb. 2:2) should remain our moral ideal, totally apart from the rebellious and sinful evaluations of our society. The fact that unbelieving philosophers today deem the gospel “foolish” does not stop my apologetical efforts, and the fact that people today deem God’s penal code harsh, rigid, or impossible should not stop my spiritual and ethical efforts to convert them to a Biblical outlook. Let God be true though every man is a liar (Rom. 3:4).”Bahnsen, No Other Standard, Pg. 229-230

  11. 24 hours and still silence?? Okay. Like Rube said to me earlier today, this is a marathon, but I wrote a lengthy comment last night I think worthy of some reply. Come on guys, let me have it!

    I want to talk a little about a comment Rube made in comment #3 above:

    “That’s not absurd in the Theocracy of OT Israel, where there is no separation of church and state, but it’s pretty absurd after the expiration of OT Israel.”

    I just want to point out that this is a very common misconception. Israel DID have a separation between church and state, and in many cases it was much stronger than we have here in America. It’s where our founding reformed fathers got the idea. It’s a difference of ‘function.’ The magistrate bears the sword, not the priest, even and especially in OT Israel.

    Bahnsen has an entire chapter devoted to demonstrating this. I will quote one paragraph:

    The Separation Recognized in Old Testament

    However, the Older Testament indicates a standing separation of
    church and state, and this fact should be recognized. There was a
    distinction between the work of Moses and that of Aaron (cf. Ex. 16:33-34; 29:1 ff.), for Aaron represented the people in distinctly cultic matters while Moses rendered general, civil leadership for them (functioning a king over the gathered heads of the tribes, Deut. 33:5). So also in restored Jerusalem there was clearly a distinction between
    Nehemiah the “governor” and Ezra the “scribe”; it is specifically because the civil governor could not regulate the religious life of the people that Nehemiah called for Ezra to return to Jerusalem. (1)

    (1) F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations: From the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963), p. 107.

  12. Another common misconception is that God gave the law to Israel, Israel is no longer, therefore Israel’s laws are no longer.

    It is true that the ceremonies, the types and shadows of the then future reality found in Christ, was given only to Israel. However, the law was to be a model for other nations. Other nations were judged by breaking this law. The Psalms and Proverbs are full of scripture that the law is to be made known to other nations and that nations that rule in righteousness are blessed and so forth.

    Quote from Bahnsen taken from “No Other Standard” Pg. 114


    “…even the non-theocratic nations around Israel were held accountable by God to the same moral obligations as those revealed through Moses (e.g., Deut. 4:5-8; Lev. 18:24-30; cf. Psalm 2:10-12; 119:46; Sodom, Ninevah), these ordinances of the law being known by natural revelation and written on all men’s hearts (Romans 1:20-21, 32; 2:11-15).

    Assertions of moral uniqueness have been contested in Theonomy, but the counterevidence has not been answered by those making these assertions. God made a unique covenant with Israel, ruled uniquely in Israel, made Israel a holy nation, and specially revealed Himself to it — all very true. But God’s laws (made clear in written form for a redeemed people) were not revealed only to Israel. They were continually made known through general revelation (Romans 1:18-32; 2:14-15), and God held the pagan nations accountable to obey them ( Lev. 18:24-27; Gen. 19). Through Israel these laws were to be made known to the other nations (119:46) as a model for justice and righteousness everywhere (Deut. 4:6-8).


  13. In those verses re: Moses & Aaron, I don't see anything but delegation.  A better example might be when they found the guy gathering sticks on the sabbath, they went and asked Moses how to punish him, i.e. Moses was the arbiter of the Law.  But Moses was not just a civil magistrate; he was a Prophet who spoke directly with God, and (as you point out) basically a theocratic monarch.  If we get any more civil magistrates like that, I'll gladly cede them authority to execute for blasphemy. 

    There is no Biblical warrant for thinking that the civil magistrate has either the competence or the divinely-given authority to judge heretics or resolve theological disputes between different Christian schools of thought.

    Bahnsen's a great writer; this is exactly what I've been trying to express, although he tries to use this to mean the opposite of what I conclude! To me, it is absurd to imagine a civil magistrate meddling at all with affairs that properly belong to church government — I guess basically the first table of the law. Perhaps the proper answer to the Theonomic impulse is to strive for a return to church discipline — when was the last time you heard of anyone being disciplined for not respecting the Sabbath? Or how about abuse of the Lord's name ("Oh my God!  I must have those shoes!")?

    I'll go ahead and say "Render unto Caesar", even though the other day I just listened to Bahnsen rant about how Christians should not have to pay taxes to support 'the general good' (esp. public schools).

    I disagree, and think that attitude is uncharitable. We should work to reform public schools so they are not atheistically biased (let's get some evidence against materialistic evolution into the curricula alongside evolution; let's get some honest comparative religion teaching in the curricula: I'm not afraid to pit the truth against the lies). As a homeschooling parent who is likely to become a private Christian education-consuming parent, I don't begrudge the state my tax dollars for public education (I just think I should get my fair share back in vouchers for educational options of my choosing).  You might say that vouchers would essentially mean I am no longer supporting public education with my taxes, but what about Christians with no children?  Or Christian empty-nesters?  They still do (and should) pay taxes to support public education.

    A new thought (to me anyways) seems crystal clear: the whole concept of establishing the Kingdom of God in the civil sphere seems diametrically opposed to the life, ministry, and example of Jesus. Was he not a stumbling block partially because he did not come in earthly power? Where are we instructed to contradict his example in this respect? Where do we see the apostles instructing the growing churches to seek to reflect God's Law civilly?

    Rom. 1-2 it discusses the ridiculous state that man has gotten himself into by disregarding God's law, but it does not say that God's plan is to try again to reform society by reinstituting the law that He gave to the Israelites; it says (3 times) that He 'gave them up', and it speaks of judgment only in terms of His final judgment:

    1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. 3Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.

    6He will render to each one according to his works: 7to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8but for those who are self-seeking[a] and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11For God shows no partiality.

  14. OK. Jeff, defend the assertion that blasphemy is a social crime (“if God at one time felt that publicly cursing God was enough of a social crime as to warrant death”). That demands a defense as well as a definition of “social crime” since this is the very area under debate.

    Remember that I have major time issues WRT how I spend it, so I am not free to devote a lot of time writing here or even to my own “intrusion ethics” project. (IOW, I am reading seminary material for this fall’s classes).

  15. By that I mean blasphemy as a social crime in the context of Lev 24:16. Sorry for the lack of clarity.

  16. Hmm, I think rather the onus is on you to prove it wasn’t in light of Leviticus 24.

    How is it NOT social?

    He blasphemed in public (in the camp)

    THEY brought him to Moses and put him in custody

    The sentence was that ALL THOSE THAT HEARD stone him

    The law was decreed that WHOEVER CURSES God shall bear his sin and WHOEVER BLASPHEMES shall be executed.

    This applied to STRANGERS IN THE LAND as well as covenant children

    Other crimes were given penal sanctions in the same passage of scripture

    From elsewhere, knowing that the church and state were separated in Israel as well, we know that only the magistrate can bear the sword, or in this case pronounce civil punishment.

    Generally, capital punishment is a “social” punishment. It is what happens to criminals of certain types. Not all sin is ‘crime’ but all ‘crime’ is sin. All sin is ultimately judged in the end. It’s like a boy gets in trouble at school. There are sanctions they put on him, but at home he gets punished as well.

    Now, why ISN’T THIS a social crime?

    Leviticus 24:10-23

    10 Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and this Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought each other in the camp. 11 And the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of the LORD and cursed; and so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) 12 Then they put him in custody, that the mind of the LORD might be shown to them.
    13 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 14 “Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.
    15 “Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 And whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the LORD, he shall be put to death.
    17 ‘Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal.
    19 ‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. 21 And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the LORD your God.’”
    23 Then Moses spoke to the children of Israel; and they took outside the camp him who had cursed, and stoned him with stones. So the children of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.

  17. Another: “Second of all, I believe this is one of those laws that can not be implemented by force. Society in general has to willingly and cheerfully submit to being ruled by God’s law, before this law can be put back in force.”

    Scripture has forecasted that this will not happen (Mt 7:14). To the contrary it has forecasted that a fireball awaits, so bad will it be (2 Peter 3). After the [blessing/judgment of] consummation, however, there will be no Law since we will be non posse peccare.

  18. Being done in public doesn’t make it a social crime. In a theocracy, there is no distinction between that which is sacred and that which is secular. (It gets to be that way real easy when God is physically located on the premises, so much so that He lets you know He doesn’t like stepping in your poo when He wanders around the camp at night). Of course, as a theonomist, I realize you reject that assertion. That’s a big part of what it means to be a theonomist.

  19. So whether that be true or not, what? We just give up? How does the “It can’t happen” have any affect on “It shouldn’t happen?” This isn’t an eschatology discussion. It is an ethics discussion.

    But as a short aside, are you saying that Christ’s enemies WON’T be made his footstool? What about Psalm 2?

    Anyway, I am arguing that this law is a reflection of the ideal.

  20. 'reflection of the ideal' is kind of pointless though; in a true ideal not only would God's Law be concrete actual law, but also nobody would ever break it!

    Not only do we have to answer individually how much of our precious resources we will spend blogging, as a church we have to decide whether God wants us to spend the finite life He gives each of us trying to set up a utopia.

    I know that sounds fatalistic, but I'm trying to draw a fine distinction. The question is not "is a secular society ruled by God's law better than a secular society not ruled by God's law", but "is a secular society ruled by God's law God's plan?" So I guess that moves us into eschatology. Are Christ's enemies to be made his footstool before the 2nd coming or not?  Perhaps this is why Theonomy is associated with post-millenialism (although Bahnsen asserts that you don't have to be PM to be Theonomic).

  21. Rube,

    You’re absolutely right, this is not as much an ethics discussion as an eschatology discussion.

    It seems to me that the big question in all of this is whether or not we are responsible for instituting the kingdom of God (partially) through cultural renewal.

    What I find deafening is the silence on the part of both Peter and Paul on this score. They both had chances to tell their readers to “redeem the culture” (I Pet. 2; Rom. 13), but precisely when they were in the middle of their respective discussions on the relationship of the believer to society, they both chose to highlight the “exiles and sojourners” motif rather than call for a re-ordering of society according to the OT civil law.



  22. Jeff: “Just give up what”? Give up somehow trying to get “society in general to willingly and cheerfully submit to being ruled by God’s law”? How can you give up something that you just admitted you can’t make happen in the first place? Why is that not an Arminian position?

    In short, you have my permission to “just give up”. I, not being a theonomist, am not trying in any way to advance the theonomic position. I can’t see spending any time working for a project that God has ordained will be a failure. Now, if I someday become an open theist, then I might change my mind.

  23. You can’t imagine how much deleting and editing I have to do to strike out anything that sounds offensive or too acerbic. I probably still fail. Just remember, to know me is to love me. At least that’s what everybody says. My sister will tell you that since I was about 6 years old, I was a verbal wise-donkey.

  24. I find it interesting how my investigations of Theonomy have rippled outwards; first I was most curious about implications for myself (what more law might I need to observe?), which led to questions about the church (what more law should the church be enforcing?), which led to questions about secular society (what law is appropriate for the civil magistrate to enforce, and with what penalties?), to eschatology (what is God’s plan concerning creation and New Creation?).

    Given that I don’t believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is intended to ever be any kind of earthly institution this side of the New Creation (even the Church is merely a para-Kingdom institution designed by God to facilitate the true Kingdom of Heaven), I think those ripples have hit a false conclusion, and must bounce back to unroll false premises.

  25. I agree, which is why I find the Two Kingdoms paradigm that Luther and Calvin taught more compelling.

    For Calvin, God’s Lordship is exercised in the civil (temporal) kingdom and the heavenly (eschatological) kingdom. To confuse or conflate these, he argued, is “a Jewish folly.”



  26. Okay, we’re getting somewhere with comments. I am going to try very hard to NOT respond tonight and instead spend some much needed personal time in the Word and Prayer.

    I do want to come back to these comments though. There are very many of them that still show a huge misunderstanding of the Theonomic position. Also, I see many misunderstandings of Kingdom of God, Theocracy, etc.

    One short: Bruce, I don’t believe I admitted it won’t happen. It’s just that Theonomy doesn’t stand or fall with Postmillenialism, so I can ‘give’ that to you without being too bothered on the Theonomy discussion.

    Regarding words and offensiveness, I don’t know you. All I have are your words. If they’re sarcastic, I worry. That’s all. I REALLY want to keep this discussion in the realm of ‘intellectual honesty’ and good scharlarship, and not get into other types of arguing, such as sarcasm. Theonomist in the past apparantly done a good job of giving Theonomy a bad name based on their behavior instead of their doctrine. May I never fall into that sin.



  27. Say what?

    I think those ripples have hit a false conclusion, and must bounce back to unroll false premises.

    And this

    Given that I don’t believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is intended to ever be any kind of earthly institution this side of the New Creation

    bears a lot of similarity to G. Vos’ contention that the Israelite theocracy was never intended to serve as a model for either its surrounding culture nor for ours today. So I think your just discovered observation serves to indicate just how hard its gonna’ be for you to buy into the theonomic position.

  28. That’s what I’m sayin

  29. Sarcasm:

    A mocking or contemptuously ironic remark intented to wound another.

    I am not guilty.


    There are very many of them [comments] that still show a huge misunderstanding of the Theonomic position.

    No doubt but not for lack of trying. For example, I think a list would help. Does my plea for a list in and of itself expose a misunderstanding of theonomy? Note that this thread started with a request to turn to specifics.


    Also, I see many misunderstandings of Kingdom of God, Theocracy, etc.

    Surely you meant differences of understanding, not mis-understanding, right?

  30. Jeff,

    Since I have never dialogued with theonomists, I don’t doubt that I all kinds of misunderstanding about it. As far as I know, theonomy is the view that the Mosaic civil law ought to be our guide or model in the contemporary civil realm. I don’t agree with this, but I also don’t want to destroy any straw men. I’ll do my best to fairly engage with your ideas, and where I’m misrepresenting them, please point it out.



  31. Bruce,

    Sarcasm: Didn’t mean to accuse.

    Sure, this thread for specifics. I can see that (now). However, I think that you are RubeRad are at different places in your understanding of me since he and I have the benefit of face to face discussion as well.

    But, yes, I REALLY believe your plea for a list shows that you do not understand what I’ve been championing here. I haven’t seen that you’ve replied to any of my comments regarding the importance or unimportance of that list. RubeRAD does understand my point on this, and therefore the pursuit of a list is for a different reason than yours and serves a different purpose.

    I’ll try to state again, but I’ve written a lot about the ‘list’ idea previously and would appreciate it if you take all that into account if you reply on this particular point. Basically, you HAVE to discredit the thesis. If the thesis is true, then you have to accept ‘the list’ regardless of whether you like ‘the list’ or not. You can’t just decide that the thesis is false based on ‘the list.’ That’s why your insistence on the list shows your lack of understanding Theonomy’s thesis. The thesis allows for many differences in ‘the list’ as I’ve discussed previously.


    Obviously you took my meaning correctly so this is a symantic detail. Yes, it would be more accurate or at least polite to say we have a difference of understanding. But, if I think my understanding is correct, and yours is DIFFERENT, then obviously I think you have a mis-understanding. But you’re correct to point that out. I don’t mean to sound arrogant. I deal with that flaw much too often, so I apologize.

    I want to write all day on this stuff! It’s really addicting. I hate it! And I love it too at the same time. I never expected blogging to become such…

  32. Jason,

    Did you pick up on the first blog labelled Theonomy? Then Theonomy II? Then this one? If not, then you’re really behind and definitely behind the curve on what I am championing.

    The civil sphere is only a small tenet of Theonomy but it becomes one of the biggest areas of discussion since it is the most disagreeable today in the reformed world.

    Read all of the threads and you’ll be full speed in the discussion.


  33. Boy, my spelling can be attrocious (is that right?). Also, I see a type where I meant to say “and RubeRad.”

  34. RubeRad,

    Having read your two posts on theonomy, I’d like to weigh in on the questions at the top of your second post.

    Not being “under the law” (Rom. 6:14) means not being under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic (Old) Covenant. Herein lies the problem with theonomy, as I see it. It wrenches “law” from its covenantal context, and turns it into an abstract and timeless set of principles to be applied to all people everywhere.

    A person would be hard pressed to find a Pauline use of “nomos” that resembles this, especially in the context of Romans 6 or Galatians. In Paul, “nomos” almost always refers to the law of Moses, which, according to Hebrews 8 and Galatians 3-4, has expired and passed into the realm of “flesh” and “obsolescence.”

    That’s also how we’re to understand the letter/Spirit contrast in Romans 7 and II Cor. 3.


  35. Jason,

    “In Paul, “nomos” almost always refers to the law of Moses,”

    Romans 3:31 & 8:4

    Don’t forget that the law of Moses included the 10 commandments. If what you say so simplisticly (not trying to be rude here) about the law, then we have no 10, either. I think your argument proves way too much if you stay consistent with it.

    No, you must take the context into account to discover what he means by ‘nomos.’

    That’s all I’m doing tonight. There are so many hanging issues to address going all the way back to the first post. I really want to address everything, but it will take me many many hours if not a couple of days to do it.

    God bless you all for now and have a very good night! :)


  36. Jeff,

    Yes, the Decalogue is included in the Mosaic Covenant, and Paul’s use of “nomos,” you’re absolutely right.

    The “tables of the [Mosaic] Covenant,” as they’re often called (note their covenantal context), were a covenantal enshrinement of God’s moral will for Israel. The fact that the Old Covenant has passed away does not leave us with no ethical standards, however. Paul was not “hypo nomon” (under the [Mosaic] law), but he was “ennomos Christou” (under the law of Christ).

    And I am taking the context into account. Read Romans 5. “The law,” according to Paul, means the law of Moses. The period called “from Adam to Moses” is also called the period “until the law.” The law, he says, “entered” in order to make sin abound. It’s not “the moral law” (whatever that is), it’s the Mosaic Covenant. There’s just no other way that passage can be read.

    Further, my reading of Romans 6:14 (“you are not under the Mosaic law”) makes perfect sense of the objection that Paul anticipated in the following verse: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law?”

    I really don’t think what I’m saying is “simplistic,” at least, not any more simplistic than what Paul himself was saying.

    Blessings brother,


  37. By “simplistic” I mean to say that it is simplistic to put the one definition of ‘nomos’ you give in every or “almost always” place in Paul.

    Hence, be consistent with that, with the two scriptures I referenced. Using your definition above (“almost always refers to the law of Moses”)

    Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the law [of Moses] through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law [of Moses].

    This is a perfectly acceptable Theonomic reading using YOUR logic.

    Romans 8:4 that the righteous requirement of the law [of Moses] might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

    Again, a perfectly acceptable Theonomic reading using YOUR logic.

    What you set out to disprove by your assertion you actually prove.

    In the first Theonomy thread, early on, I talk quite a bit about Romans I think.

    Hebrews 8 and Galations 3-4 I think you can easily exegete that the ‘works of the law’ or ‘deeds of the law’ are in context the ritualistic or ceremonial aspects of the law. Hebrews 8:5 talk of the shadow of that which is to come. Again, the ceremonies. We don’t sacrifice lambs anymore because Christ was the REAL lamb sacrificed once for all.

    BTW, what do you do with Hebrews 8:10? How do you define nomos there?

    I can’t believe I’m so hooked! I can’t stay away! :(

  38. Am I a theonomist if I think I should obey the 10 commandments?

  39. Heb 8:10
    (a) isn’t Paul, and
    (b) is a quote from the OT, so it’s not a question of how the anonymous author chose to use the word ‘nomos’; he was constrained to faithfully quote.

    But the point of the quote seems quite obviously that God is taking a radical new approach to the law, “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt”, i.e. NOT like the law of Moses.

    I’m not sure what you were aking concerning Heb 8:10; it seems to me to totally undermine a theonomic position, especially as it reminds us how God planned to do away with the Mosaic law even within the OT

  40. Apologies to Jeff; I didn’t realize that a comment of his was held in moderation. It appears now as #11 above. Some responses:

    Is not Jesus the means by which God ordained to give the law to the nations? Would it not then be the ‘law of Christ’?

    And those quotes are pretty weak. Deut 4:5-8 rejoices that Israel has law and other nations don’t (and doesn’t seem to suggest that they should get it). Lev condemns the abominations of the locals, but it doesn’t take the Law of Moses to do that; Natural Law (Rom 1) or the Law of Christ can condemn them just as well. And the Psalms are not even talking about the law, but about the revelation of God’s glory to the nations.

  41. Jeff,

    I’d like to respond to your comment about Rom. 3:31 and 8:4 (and perhaps touch on Gal. 3-4 and Heb. 8).

    In Romans 3, Paul had just finished talking about the “law of works,” and the “works of the law” (vv. 27, 28). It is clearly the commanding aspect of the Mosaic law that is in Paul’s mind here. The fact that faith established the law is because, in this way, the righteous demands of the law are not set aside, but fulfilled.

    This is also the case in Rom. 8:4. The coming of the eschatological Spirit means that Torah’s day (vivdly described in chapter 7) has ended. But not by being set aside: “the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in [those] who walk according to the Spirit.”

    Thus the Mosaic law’s demands, in both passages, are fulfilled, not only because Christ kept them in our stead, but because of our Spirit-inspired new obedience. Sanctification under the New Covenant, then, is the demonstration of a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. We “walk according to the Spirit,” which, according to Galatians, means that “we are not under the law” (5:18).

    I disagree that, in Galatians, “works of the law” are ceremonial only. Paul uses “the law” and “the works of the law” interchangeably (Gal. 2:16, 21, 3:11, 5:4). These are coterminous precisely because of what I have been arguing: The very essence of the law is that it demands works.

    In Hebrews 8, it seems pretty clear that the author is arguing that the Old (Mosaic) Covenant is now superceded by the New. Jews don’t chop up the law into our categories of civil, ceremonial, and moral (at least the NT writers don’t seem to do this). The entire Sinaitic legislation is over; we now come to Mt Zion.

    In v. 10 the quotation is referring to God’s general demands (which actually bolsters my argument). These demands were enshrined in the Decalogue for Israel under the OC, and are now enscripturated on our hearts under the NC.

    The fact that “nomos” doesn’t mean “Mosaic law” here doesn’t bother me, because my argument is not that “All appearances of ‘nomos’ in Paul mean Mosaic Law,” but that “Most appearances of ‘nomos’ in Paul mean Mosaic law.” This position leaves room for exceptions, especially when the passage in question wasn’t written by Paul anyway.

    Last note: Some of the best stuff on Paul I’ve read is by Stephen Westerholm (“Perspectives Old and New on Paul”) and Douglas Moo (especially his Romans Commentary).

    Blessings brothers,


  42. It is clear that I take a Biblical Theology approach to a theonomy refutation. But obviously there is this systematic theology/doctrine approach as well. Could someone summarize the two theses being batted around WRT the systematic theo. approach? Cause’ while I can follow the English, I don’t see what is really being disputed WRT theonomy.

  43. Thus the Mosaic law’s demands, in both passages, are fulfilled, not only because Christ kept them in our stead, but because of our Spirit-inspired new obedience.

    Amen! (Only) because of Christ's imputed active obedience, our Sprit-inspired new obedience also affirms Mat 5:17!

  44. Could someone summarize the two theses…

    I think the question is whether statements like "not under the law" really mean (as Theonomy asserts) "not under the ceremonial law (but still under the moral and civil laws of Moses)", or (as non-theonomy asserts) "not under the mosaic law (but under the law of Christ)".

    And that is, I think the fundamental difference between Theonomists and non.  Everybody agrees that all Christians are bound to obey God's Law (and all non-Christians will be judged according to God's Law).  The question is "What exactly is God's Law?" 

  45. Guys, I have lot’s of answers and points to make, but I am very tired.

    I’ve got three people coming at me (not in a bad way, don’t get me wrong). Each of these people are at a different place in their understanding and belief. So, I have to answer three different viewpoints in many cases. Some of them you might all agree on, but definitely not all. It’s not like there are two viewpoints being argued here, which just makes it even more difficult.

    I really want to do Theonomy justice and defend it. There are lots of points and subpoints and agreements and disagreements. There are also lots of terms being used eqivocally as well as some presuppositions being revealed in your writings that will take lots of time for me to properly show them.

    At this point, instead of me trying to answer one or two little points here and there and then getting 3, 4, 5 or 6 comments to respond to, give me some breathing space. I need a breather, and then I’d like to go through from the beginning all the different issues and do some sort of write up.

    I may start my own blog thread on this when I finally can get around to it.

    Oh, and I’ll do my best, but I am not a college graduate, a seminary student or graduate, or a doctor in Theology. There is no way I can do justice to Greg Bahnsen. So, if you really want to refute Theonomy, even if you are successfull at beating me, you really need to refute “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” by Greg L. Bahnsen. I don’t believe anybody has been able to do that yet.

    Bruce, if you believe in the 10 commandments for today, and that God doesn’t and hasn’t ever had two standards of morality, a consistent outworking of that would make you a Theonomist. :)

    I love you guys. Talk to you in a week or so.


  46. Jeff,

    Right on bro, no worries. Please know we’re not ganging up on you!

    Talk to you soon,


  47. I may start my own blog thread on this when I finally can get around to it.

    I certainly hope you do! And I think you should enlist some help. I personally know only one other theonomist…

    Bruce, if you believe in the 10 commandments for today, and that God doesn’t and hasn’t ever had two standards of morality, a consistent outworking of that would make you a Theonomist. :)

    I think every Reformed Christian agrees with 1. and 2., but “consistent outworking” leaves you considerable room to reserve judgment. The devil is in the details.

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